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Lord Lyell of Markyate: My Lords, I wish I had the same confidence in technology as the noble Lord, Lord Bhattacharyya. When I was a member of the Conservative government in the mid-1990s we looked carefully at the potential for identity cards in the context of crime, social security fraud and
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immigration, but we drew backrightly in my viewfor reasons that remain all too true today and which we must test very carefully in Committee.
The first essential is to identify one's objectives. The Government have indicated five objectives at present: the potential benefits in relation to terrorism, crime, immigration, social security fraud andmost recently and most strongly today in a persuasive speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotlandthe fact that we would all love to have these cards to protect ourselves from the theft of our identities. I confess that that thought had not entered my heart but I shall ponder on it over the coming months to see whether it passes the test.
On terrorism, until I heard what the noble Baroness said today, I thought that the Home Secretary had conceded that it would have had no significant effect on the bombers of 7 July. Again, I shall listen most carefully in Committee to what the noble Baroness says about its peripheral effects and assistance to the security services.
On illegal immigration, a card is already provided for asylum seekers, but I would have thought that it was entirely clear that the real way to tackle illegal immigration is much more likely to lie in having more police, more and better trained immigration officers with better equipment and a general willif any will currently existsto tackle the problem of migrant workers which is rife in so many areas.
In relation to social security, the Government acknowledge that identity is relevant in only a very tiny proportion of casesfewer than 5 per cent. Fifty million pounds is quite a lot of money, but it is not a lot of money in the context of the huge sums that the Government admit they are proposing to spend, let alone the much larger sums that careful independent commentators believe that they will have to spend. I seriously fear that identity theft could be exacerbated by what is proposed in the Bill. Primarily, I see it as a matter for the commercial credit card companies and insurance companies. The figure quoted of £1.3 billion seems to cover a very broad spectrum of dishonesty in which identity does not play a major part.
On costs, the Government must face up squarely to the massive problems of cost, technology and overall practicality. If they fail to convince the public on this, we shall experience exactly what happened in Australia where, in the year before we began to consider it, it was wildly popular; they then introduced the system and within 12 months 90 per cent of the population had turned against it very strongly. As I understand it, they have dropped the system.
In Committee we shall have the opportunity to confront the Government with a well thought-out and well expressed comment on the 300-page report produced in the summer by the London School of Economics, which has now been updated, and which has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords. As we know, the Government have said that the basic card will cost £30they can fix the price, but cost and price are not the same thingand that then becomes £93 in connection with a passport. I suppose we can
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live with that but that is a considerable burden on many people. The Law Society estimates an overall cost to taxpayers over 10 years of £8 billion and the authoritative LSE report puts the figure significantly highersomething between a low of £12 billion and a high of £19 billion. Those are very serious sums indeed.
I believe that there are serious practical problems with biometric characteristics: fingerprints, facial characteristics, the irises of our eyes and DNA. From the way the debate has gone today, DNA does not currently appear to be part of the Government's thinking but it is certainly provided for in the Bill if they wish it. The noble Lord, Lord Stevens, who is not in his place at the moment, showed great confidence in fingerprints. My understandingand my recollection from my period closely involved with criminal justicewas that the analogue system of fingerprints then in use was remarkably accurate, but in relation to this Bill we shall be using a digital system. Commentators are indicating that that can fail in at least 3 per cent of cases. With particular types of individualfor example, those doing heavy manual workand some ethnic minorities, fingerprints are even less accurate.
It is accepted that facial characteristics cause real problems in relation to disabled people. They require an update for everyone approximately every five years. Iris detection is only 91 per cent accurate and less so for partially sighted people, for those over 60 and for some ethnic minorities. This is serious. We are talking about 10 per cent of peoplesome 5 millionin this country for whom the iris test may not be accurate.
Then consider the interplay of cost and practicality. I urge noble Lords to read Clause 37; the Government's all-embracing charging system. Let us take the most simple aspect, mentioned by many noble Lords: the notification of change of address. It seems clear from the Bill that one will be obliged to notify a change of address. Forty per cent of Londoners change address every year. However, as a great many of us do not move home, it means that a significant number of people must change their address more than once a year, sometimes frequently. Indeed, one knows that with younger members of one's family and friends that is often the case.
Will it be a civil offence to fail to have registered your address? When the policeman gaining this huge benefit from the card stops a young man in Brixton and asks where he lives, will his address match with his identity? Will the identity card match with the last three addresses? If you fail to be identified, you will receive a civil penalty. That will probably be sent to a previous address and you will be out of time to appeal against the fine. The authorities will then seek to enforce the fine as a civil penalty. If you ever get respectable enough to want credit, you will suddenly find that you have a county court judgment against you and the bodies which keep records of every county court judgment make life very difficult indeed. I confess that I have known that happen once, and it took a long time to unscramble it, notwithstanding that the county court summons had never even been served.
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Consider the effects on the vulnerable in our society. My mind goes both ways, but we must look carefully at what the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants says about these problems. How they bear on ethnic minorities will have a serious bearing on the feelings in society and, consequently, on the sense of belonging or not belonging, which is so important if the fight against terrorism is to be successfully carried on.
We must tease out of government what is really meant by "voluntary" and "compulsory". It seems clear that the card will be compulsory for everyone who wants a driving licence and for everyone who wants a passport. The Minister's own figures indicated that that would be 80 per cent of society from 2008. Therefore, I can just see the argument: "It is compulsory for 80 per cent so why should it not be compulsory for the lot?". If the Government are still in office, that is the argument that will be deployed in a short time.
On function creep, we are rightly reminded of the Second World War when the purposes of the free identity card being issued to everyone rose from the initial three to 39 before the cards were abolished by Sir Winston Churchill's government in 1952, to no adverse affect at all. This is the 21st century and the situation is entirely different, but we got rid of the cards then to no adverse effect.
Furthermore, we should not overlook the problems of forgery. The wonders of high technology that were rightly referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bhattacharyya, are not only in the hands of the great and the good. The criminal elements are extremely skilful particularly in IT forgery. Israel, which uses identity cardsI will be corrected if I am wrongwith a population of perhaps less than a third of our own, estimates that no fewer than half a million forged identity cards are in circulation.
Finally, we must look carefully at the constitutional issues. As soon as we start to talk about those and the citizen's relationship with the state, one tends to glaze over, but authority has the ability to know where everyone has been and to recognise every use of the card. Most citizens worry enormously if they have done something wrongsomething quite small produces a serious worry. You may have failed to register your address or you may have given a wrong address, possibly in a small way even dishonestly. Someone who is not normally dishonest can behave stupidly. The more intrusion there is in the system, the less people will feel free. We must pay attention to noble Lords whose families came to this country and said how wonderful the sense of freedom was. It is something precious in our society and we should take great care to heed not only the advice of the Joint Committee on Human Rights but also of Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner. I had a great deal to do with him during my years in government and I have great respect for his good sense and good judgment.
In conclusion, the position remains that the worthwhile purposes for which this massive scheme are said to provide benefit have not yet been
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established. The potential threats from an unproven technology and the practical burdens on citizens are onerous. I am not saying that in some areas, taken step by step, some practical benefits cannot come from the new technologies and cannot with great care be achieved successfully. However, I am not sure that the Bill is the way to do it and we must examine it extremely carefully in Committee to see how far it can be improved.
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