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Lord Marlesford: My Lords, but it will not work in that way if the biometric details on the card are used. Someone could have faked the card, complete with the valid biometric details for that person.
The United States immigration service already checks the fingerprints and facial records of all arrivals against earlier records. It is building up its own database without basing the information on biometrics that exist. It takes your biometric details when you arrive using your two index fingers and your iris. That is way ahead of what the UK Immigration Service can do.
That brings me to one of my main concerns about the Government's aspirations. I simply do not believe that the Home Office is capable of introducing such a system as the Bill envisagesprobably at any price. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, will be well aware of the shambles that occurred at the Home Office over an attempt to set up a central register of firearm certificate holders, which is required by Section 39 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997I repeat: 1997. It still has not been done, although only some 300,000 records are needed. Since 1998, Lord Williams of Mostyn, the noble Lords, Lord Bassam and Lord Rooker, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, and most recently the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, herself, have told the House that the
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Government are fully committed to meeting their obligations under the Act. In June, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, told me in a Written Answer that the Government were fully committed. Yet, on 10 October this year she said that efforts had failed once again and would be rescheduled for the autumn. The noble Baroness will probably know that we are to have an Unstarred Question on that failure, scheduled to take place, I believe, before Christmas. I hope that she will bring some news of progress on the matter, otherwise what possible hope can we have of introducing an ID card?
It is not that large-scale computer systems in the public sector necessarily fail. I have mentioned two that work extremely well: the vehicle registration centre at Swansea, which has been going for 25 years, and Ken Livingstone's London congestion charge system, which works all too well for some of usas a by-product, it gives much help to the police. The Home Office is the problem.
Let me mention one or two other defects. It is a mistake to limit the scheme to people of 16 years and over. Everyone born in the United Kingdom is given a National Health Service number. Interestingly, those NHS numbers were the same numbers as the old wartime identity cards to which reference has been made by a number of noble Lords. Recently, for reasons that I have never understood, all those numbers were changed to a new series. Why not, therefore, give the identity number and card, if there is to be one, at birth? Why not scrap the national insurance numbers that have been discredited for years? Perhaps the Minister will tell us how many more national insurance numbers exist than there are people in the system. Last time I heard, it was over a million.
I was interested to hear that from 2007 the first applicants for passports are to have personal interviews. Two of my grandchildren, now aged two and a half and five months, have had passports since they were three months old. At what age does this personal interview start? I can assure noble Lords that they would do their best.
There would be much more support if the Bill were to propose to scrap other numbers and focus on one number for the NHS, national insurance, passports, tax, criminal records and so on. We might then achieve some net savings. The information could be satisfactorily protected electronically. I shall do my best to support the Government in what they want to do, but frankly they will have to do it rather better than is proposed in the Bill at the moment.
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Soley on his arrival in the House, and I welcome him. He is a great parliamentarian, and I have long admired him for his great commitment to social justice. I look forward to being his colleague here in the House. It was wonderful to hear him speak, and I know that we shall have that pleasure many times in the future.
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I mention again my opposition to identity cards, of which I have spoken in the House on repeated occasions. The Government have told us that ID cards will help to deal with a panoply of crime: fraud, illegal immigration, benefit fraud, illegal working and so on. However, they never tell us exactly how any of that will be achieved. It is time that we heard how crime will be reduced by ID cards.
The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, described the processes of globalisation. All that serious crime, which is the underbelly of the free market, unfortunately is the kind of crime that I deal with regularly in the courts. Adam Hunt, who heads a government agency in New Zealand, is one of the foremost computer forensics and fraud experts in the world, and he has said very clearly:
Even if the system of ID cards is really robust, the most that it will do is limit the use of forgeries to those with the funds: terrorists, foreign governments, high-end criminals such as fraudsters, gun-runners and drug importersprecisely the people of whom the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, has spoken. So those people will have no difficulty in forging or in obtaining forged documents. They will be unaffected by the system.
Will identity cards stop benefit fraud? Ninety-five per cent of benefit fraud is committed by false representations and not by false identities. People claiming asylum are already fingerprinted and given identification cards, so they are already covered. ID cards will work on illegal immigration only if they are made compulsory for all and only if they are produced on demand on pain of arrest. That is the only way that they will work. An ID card is not like a driving licence, when you can say, "I'll produce it at the police station in the next seven days". What possible help would that be if one thought one was dealing with an illegal immigrant who would then disappear into the ether?
We have to be clear and foresee the situation. We shall have compulsory ID cards that will have to be carried at all times. We could then have the spectacle described to me by a young Asian woman the other day. She was in Paris, queuing up to go up the Eiffel Tower, when she watched two French policemen cycling along, stopping and pulling aside a young Arab-looking man and asking him to produce his identification. He did so but was clearly very dejected and miserable about the process. The policemen examined it and went merrily on their way. I am sure it did not give him a sense of belonging. I am afraid that the ridiculous notion that somehow ID cards will create unification and embrace our new immigrants is pie-in-the-sky.
I must make it clear that I have no objection to enhancing passports, if that will help to control borders and create synergy with other countries. However, I object to the idea of an internal passport, which the Bill creates. Undoubtedly, brown- and black-faced men and boys in particular will be asked with regularity to produce the document. One of the policing issues that blighted race relations in this country was a feature of my early days at the Barthe
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old business of the suspected persons laws. Of course, they applied to everyone, but they were selectively used against young black men, which created great alienation. Increasingly used is the stop-and-search provisioneight times more frequently used against young black people than it is against white people. There has been a 16 per cent increase in the stopping and searching of Arab- and Asian-looking young people since 11 September.
Many people seem to be mystified when exception is taken to ID cards, thinking that they are going to be yet another convenience and an efficient addition to life, making it easier to open bank accounts, to obtain a mobile phone or to rent videos from the store. They will be just another card to slide in with their many pieces of plastic, such as the American Express card; a means of acquiring that to which they are entitled. What they do not realise is that we are creating something different from anything that exists in the rest of Europe. In fact, we are creating something unprecedented in the western world; that is, a national identity register. It was celebrated by the previous speaker, but it is something about which, I believe, we should have considerable alarm because of the way in which it will bring together huge quantities of information about us. The joining-up of databases creates such an affront to liberty.
We are told that the rest of Europe does it, so what is the problem? It is to succumb to the Napoleonic practice of having to prove one's identity to the state. What is misunderstood is the fundamental way in which identity cards change the relationship between the citizen and the state catastrophically and permanently. You will have to ask yourselves why most of the rest of Europe has at some time or another succumbed to fascism but we have not. Was that just luck? Was that something to do with the plucky British personality? No, the reason we are as a people the way we are is that we have had institutions and law built on an inherent scepticism of the state. And a good thing, too.
English law is based on the common law tradition, which is utterly and profoundly different from the system of law in the rest of Europe, which has the civil law systemthe inquisitorial system. Although Scotland is something of a hybrid when it comes to law, in that regard it is very close to the English law system. No other common law country in the world has an identity card scheme. Ask yourselves why. The reason is that we built into the system of common law an understanding of how power works and how power will be abused.
We in Britain, as free citizens, know that we are not here courtesy of the state but that the state is here courtesy of us. That is the difference, and I will say it again: we are not here courtesy of the state, demanding of us that we say who we are and prove our identity; the state is here on our behalf. The collective wisdom acquired through our history and experience has fed into our culture. Values that are profoundly British are to be found in all that has gone into the making of our law. It is why the rule of law was invented here in Britain and exported to the rest of the world. It was not
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invented in any other part of Europe. The rule of law was saying that everyone, however mighty, was subject to law; that law mattered; and that law was not a tool of the state to be used only in the state's interests. It is why we were the first nation in the world to outlaw torturegifted again as a principle to the world. We invented jury trial. Why? We wanted to keep the state from becoming too powerful, so we had ordinary people involved in the processes, making those basic decisions on guilt or innocence. And why was it that we invented the presumption of innocence; why did we say to the state, "You have to prove your case against me, the citizen"? It was because we know how the state can abuse. That is why we did not go down the road of the inquisitorial system, when the options came for the kind of law that we would have.
I find myself repeatedly rather shocked that we have to revisit the history of why we have that system. When we are stopped by a police office who says, "Who are you and where are you going?", we are entitled to say, "Why are you asking?". We are entitled to say, "Unless you give me a reason, you are not entitled to stop me". That establishes in us a spirit of citizenship of a kind that says, "We are not bowing easily to authoritarianism". It is why we are as we are. It is why we have to instil that word "why" in our children and in future generations. It is the word that should be seared into the heart of democrats. It is at the core of our citizenship.
So I go back to the question that I cannot help but reel from. That is, when there are attacks like this on the deeply rooted things that exist in our system that make living in Britain so precious, I cannot understand why we are not arguing more for those intangible assets. If we are going to talk about patriotism, they are the things that we should be patriotic about. This is not about jingoism; it is about the roots of our democracy and the traditions of our law. We are in the process of damaging them profoundly, not out of wickedness but out of failing to understand our history and why we are who we are.
My noble friend Lord Giddens said that the assertion of identity was a mechanism of freedom. A requirement to assert your identity is a mechanism of oppression, and that is why so many people in this country, when it is explained to them, will feel affronted by the idea that we are going to be the first common law country to carry identity cards.
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