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Lord Maxton: My Lords, I pay tribute to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Soley, although he is not present. I do so because he and I entered Parliamentthe House of Commonstogether on 3 May 1979 and we worked together in the House. I expected from his past that he would give an assured and amusing speech and he certainly lived up to that expectation.
Surprisingly, everyone on this side who has spoken so far has supported the principle of the Bill and the Bill itself. I am going to be no exception. I have to confess that I have listened to speeches opposing it from those opposite and have some difficulty understanding why they are against it. In particular, I
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have to ask those who are supporters of the European Union how identity cards can be an intrusion of privacy and civil liberties in this country when so many of our democratic partners within the European Union insist that their citizens have them.
I believe that 21 out of 25 countries in Europe have ID cards. I am assured by the Home Secretary that under the Schengen agreement, whereby people move within Europe using just identity cards, the relevant authorities are looking to introduce a common, biometric identity card so that all the countries involved can have the same system. Although the United States of America is not introducing its own identity cards, next year it will insist that people from this country visiting the USA either have a biometric passport or go to the considerable expense and inconvenience of obtaining a visa. The 80 per cent of the population who have passports will either get a biometric passport straight away or they will do so when they renew their passports.
As I said, banks are concerned about the level of card fraud and therefore seek to introduce biometric bank cards as soon as possible. Certainly the Japanese banks are considering a common system in that regard. I am surprised that no one so far has mentioned my next point. All of us who work in the parliamentary estate, from the Prime Minister to the cleaner, or from the cleaner to the Prime Minister, whichever way you wish to put it, have to carry an identity card. It is a very poor identity card. Apart from the photograph there is no way of recognising whether or not the person who is wearing it is the person who it is supposed to describe. That is fine for us but it is not necessarily fine for everyone who works on the estate. I am fairly certain that within a short time those who are in charge of the security of these buildings will insist on our identity cards being biometric. It is not the only way but it is one way of guaranteeing someone's identity.
Nearly all of us trust computer systems. Perhaps I am reasonably unique in this place but I buy goods on the Internet. I give the details of my bank card to the companies from which I buy goods. I tax my car on the Internet. I top up my pay-as-you-go phone on the Internet. All the time I assume that the computer system I am using is trustworthy and so far I have been proved right. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said that he did not want people to gain information about him. He and I have travelled home from here on the same bus, using our freedom passes which Ken Livingstone so kindly gives us because we are pensioners. London Transport knows our addresses and dates of birth. It has to have that information. It also knows exactly which bus we travelled on and the time we travelled. If you are travelling on the Underground, your ticket tells you where you got on and where you got off. Therefore, I do not understand why the noble Lord is so concerned about this issue. All of us have passports, bank cards, library cards and wallets stuffed full of cards with which we prove our identity, and we have no difficulty in doing so. How many noble Lords would deny security the right to ask
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for their pass if security so wished it, or say, "I am not showing my passport when I come back into the country"? Of course, they would not.
Those who oppose the Bill and the introduction of identity cards seek to deprive those 20 per cent who are less fortunatethe 20 per cent who do not have passports tend to be the unemployed, pensioners and the elderlyof services and privileges that we enjoy and take for granted. If you fly on Ryanairperhaps I should not mention Ryanair todayor easyJet, you will find that they demand a passport or identity card before allowing passengers to board internal UK flights. I am not talking about external flights. Recently two of my relatives flew from Glasgow to Bournemouth for the princely sum of £47.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord when he is in full flowit was a very fascinating full flowbut does he agree with me that the reason Ryanair and other such airlines require documentation has nothing to do with identity fraud or misrepresentation? They are trying to prevent their customers transferring their tickets to others free of charge. They want their customers to return the tickets and pay an administration fee or a penalty for transferring the tickets.
Lord Maxton: My Lords, I accept that there is something in that but the fact is those airlines demand such documentation. We cannot fly with them without showing some form of identification. Until we introduce some form of identity card we are denying the 20 per cent who do not have passports, who perhaps could benefit most from these cheap airline fares within the UK, the chance to take holidays and to visit relatives.
I turn to the cards that are proposed. First, in my view they should be compulsory straight away and free. The cost of them should be met from taxation. Secondly, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and one or two others, that we live in a world of fast-moving technology. I ask noble Lords to think back five or 10 years and consider how far we have advanced in that time. We have to accept that as regards technology we are moving as fast as we ever have done, if not faster. The world will change even more within another five or 10 years. Therefore, I say to my noble friends on the government Front Bench that I consider what they are proposing is rather limited and unambitious. I believe that they could do more to ensure that the cards could be more readily used for other purposes. I see no reason why instead of having a separate passport, a separate driving licence and a separate identity card, they should not all be combined on one card. After all, it will have a microchip in it. That microchip will be able to store an almost infinite amount of information. So why not just have the one card to serve all three purposes? When in the very near futureas I hopewe move to a system of electronic voting, which must come and will come, that card could also be used as a voting card. You will not have a vote unless you have that card.
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I remember my good friend, who is now the noble Lord, Lord Clark, saying, when he was a Minister in 1997, that there was no reason why an identity card should not be capable of having social security payments downloaded on to it so that it becomes, if you like, a bank card. If you do that, you give those who are most disadvantaged in our society the opportunity to use that card to buy cheaper goods than they can at present. It is one of the anomalies of our society that the poorest pay most. This new system would not get rid of that but it would begin that process. Let us think very seriously about where we are going with this, be a little more ambitious than we are at present and see how we can use the card in other ways. I give my full support to the Bill.
Lord Bridges: My Lords, I should explain that I put my name down rather later than I should have done to speak in this debate because in earlier debates in the House on identity cards I spoke in favour of such projects and I wish to add a few modest words in support of the proposition. I was not intending to address the larger constitutional issues on which we have heard some important and extremely moving speeches, and we will no doubt return to these broad issues at later stages of the Bill.
Perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I make my few rather modest suggestions about the practicalities of the suggested identity cards. Most other countries in the world have identity cards and find them useful. The doubts that I have about the scheme which we are considering at the moment concern points of detail such as the following. I find the scheme too extensive, too ambitious and all-embracing. It would evidently be extremely expensive and it fails, in my view, to meet the desirable objective of providing maximum utility to the citizen at a moderate cost.
My preference would be for an identity card that produces real and tangible benefits for the citizen. The present proposal is more ambitious than that and would cover a wide range of activity. It would, for example, enable the police and other public authorities to identify a citizen by name, address and occupation. The scheme that I would favour would help the citizen in various daily transactions such as in ordering an article on credit, paying a telephone bill or on e-mail.
Also, most importantly, it would be for use as a travel document, particularly in the European Union where identity cards are accepted in lieu of passports when entering and leaving a member state. That already includes European Union citizens arriving in this country. In my view, we should have reciprocal opportunities in return. It would also help if the authorities who maintain order could be assisted by identifying with certainty the identity of a person whose conduct has caused them concern. It would also be important to limit the opportunity for fraud in commercial transactions, which misuse of the cards might make possible. My little list is by no means exhaustivepublic health is another subject that is much on our minds at present.
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I have no objection to those functions, which are part of the responsibilities of a modern state, but the ambit and coverage foreseen by the Bill is wide and would give rise to much expense. My preference would be for a much simpler document dealing with a narrower range of functions, some of which would be of real benefit to the citizen. In particular, an identity card that could be used when entering or leaving member states of the European Union would be extremely useful. I notice when travelling between Britain and Italy, which I still do quite regularly, the ready acceptance of Italian identity documents by our own immigration authorities. I compare that with the extremely extensive personal information that may be sought from a British citizen travelling to the United States. No doubt that is partly because of 9/11 and the decision of the United States Government that they need much more information about those entering their country than is given by our present passports.
Perhaps I am wrong, but I suspect that the United States would like much more information about our citizens going to the United States than is available to them under the present passport and visa system. As someone who travels quite often to the United States, as I have a daughter who is now a US citizen, I am amazed on every occasion by the length of time it takes to study a British passport at a major American airport such as JFK, Dulles or Boston. Also, I notice that a British citizen who arrives in the United States and presents a valid British passport that shows a recent visa issued particularly by Egypt would be subject to close personal examination. Of course, the American authorities have the right to ask such questions, but I see no reason why we should collect personal data on their behalf as part of our ID system. I do not know whether such information would be available to the Americans under the system that we have in mind, but I hope that some careful thought can be given to it.
In short, I welcome the idea of a national ID, but the present scheme strikes me as being too elaborate and expensive. Nor should we forget the recent but unfortunate record of Whitehall in dealing with major computer projects, which is hardly a matter that one can think about with confidence when considering how such a scheme could be handled. I hope that the Government will be able to refine their proposal to focus more on some of the essential details, a few of which I have mentioned, to produce a result that is of real utility to the British citizen and not just to the state. As more British citizens travel to the EEC than to the United States, I suggest that the European use of our new system of identity cards should be the main focus of the detail when the design is carried through.
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