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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My noble friend on the Front Bench referred to the current system for the registration of births, deaths and marriages. Is it the intention that, when a baby is born, the family have to go to the registrar of births, deaths and marriages to register the birth and also, separately, enter the baby on the computer? Likewise, when somebody dies, does the death have to be recorded with the registrar of births, deaths and marriages and also put on the computer? That seems the only sensible interpretation of how this is intended to work, but is that right? With this great system of national computers, surely it would be possible for the registrar of births, deaths and marriages simply to get the relevant facts from the national identity computer, or the other way round. Is it really intended that people should have to do both? I am interested in that, because it seems extraordinary that we cannot interrelate the two.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I have sat with some incredulity through debates on previous amendments, not understanding the purpose for some of the interventions and wondering why we were spending so much time on them. However, on this amendment, the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, have put forward some very convincing arguments, backed up by a short but telling intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. I hope that whichever Minister replies, they will give some serious consideration to the matter. As the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said, it seems strange if the
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requirement is on individuals to provide the information, as it is manifestly impossible for them to do so after their death. It is strange, too, that the date of death is required.
The Opposition have made their arguments cogently on this matterthough that is something that I wish I could have said about the previous amendments, when the arguments were not quite as convincing. I hope that the Minister will give some sympathetic consideration to what is a very cogent and rational argument.
The Countess of Mar: Is not the answer to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, that babies will be registered on a computer system that has been set up under the latest Children Act and that when that baby becomes 16 or 18I cannot remember whichit will then be transferred on to the national identity computer?
Lord Crickhowell: This is not of course information that may be recorded in the register under Schedule 1. Presumably the Government, reasonably, want proof that someone is dead for the purposes of the register. The point has been reasonably made that while it may be possible to produce proof of death, the date of death is very much more difficult. One has only to consider the case of members of our armed services who are now at risk in many parts of the world. We may not know when and where they were killed, if that tragedy has occurred. If they have been fighting in the remoter parts of Afghanistan, a body may be found but we may not know the time of death. Similarly, if there is an earthquake of the kind that has recently occurred in the northern Indian subcontinent, we shall not know the time of death. Surely all that is required for the purposes of the Bill is proof of death, in order not to have the kind of register described by my noble friend Lord Northesk, which is one with an infinite capacity for perpetual growth. Perhaps the amendment that we have is not the right one to provide a solution; what we want is proof, not the date.
The Earl of Erroll: I thought that one of the vaunted purposes of the identity cards and the national identity register was to join up government. Is this requirement therefore a proof that the Government know that it will not do so?
include the date of his death. But when you look back at subsection (5)(e) it refers to "his current residential status". I am not sure what the residential status is going to be of someone who has died. The drafting really does need cleaning up.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: Echoing the noble Lord, Lord Williams, I recall two well attested cases, first of the Times correspondent in the Boxer Rebellion and, secondly, of a former Lord Bessborough, both of whom read their obituaries in the Times. When they called the Times to verify or to demonstrate that they were not in fact dead, on both occasions the sub-editor replied, "Before you go any further, where are you speaking from?". Clearly, it was a standard operating process at the Times to respond to questions of that nature in that manner.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Before the Minister replies, I do apologise for bringing births into my argument. I realise that the register we are talking about does not apply until someone is 16. However, I think I made a valid point about deaths.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I shall deal with the amendments in turn. Amendment No. 41 removes the date and place of birth, as well as date of death, from the list of registrable facts. One of the main reasons for holding details of date and place of birth is, fairly obviously, in order to differentiate between two individuals with the same name. I am sure noble Lords could imagine the confusion of trying to differentiate between all the John Smiths in the United Kingdom without being able to refer to the date of birth.
In addition, the International Civil Aviation Organisation requires that a valid travel document must show the individual's date of birth. If the date and place of birth are not held as registrable facts, this information will not be able to be printed on the face of the card. In those circumstances the ID card would therefore not be valid for travel. This would remove one of the main benefits of the ID card scheme, that of travelling within the EU using only the card without the passport book, which is how many people travel within the EU currently.
A number of the age-related benefits of the ID card scheme would be reduced by this measure. Without the date of birth printed on the front of the card, it would be no use in preventing the sale of age-restricted productscigarettes and alcohol come to mindto those not entitled to purchase them.
Amendments Nos. 41 and 42 would remove the date of an individual's death from the list of registrable facts. It may not at first seem necessary to include date of death, but it is important not only to retain records of people who have died, but also to include the date of death in the list of registrable facts and on the register itself. That is to prevent fraudsters from assuming the identity of individuals who have died. The noble Earl, Lord Northesk, made reference to The Day of the Jackal. We understand the impact that can have when he makes reference to that.
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Lord Crickhowell: Will the Minister give way? I may have misheard him, but I think he said that the date of death had to be recorded on the register. In Schedule 1, though, this is not given as one of the pieces of information that may be recorded on the register. How does he explain that?
I assure noble Lords that the Identity Cards Bill contains no such powers. We are planning to link electronically with the General Register Office to obtain death notifications. This means that families will not have to be burdened with additional administration when a loved one dies. As soon as the agency is notified by the General Register Office that a death has taken place, the ID card will of course be cancelled, thereby preventing any fraudulent use of that card.
As with passports, next of kin will be requested to surrender the identity card of deceased family members. However, it is hoped that this information can be included in information provided by the General Register Office, so no unnecessary communication with the family is necessary at what I think we accept would be a very difficult time.
Where a relative has died abroad, however, and the death has been reported to local authorities, the agency will not be notified by the General Register Office. It will thus be in the family's interest to do so, to reduce the likelihood of the deceased person's card being used in a fraudulent manner. There is however no requirement in the Bill, or power to impose a penalty, if the family forgets to inform the agency.
The Secretary of State can require surrender of an ID card under Clause 13 and failure to do so could, in theory, give rise to a civil penalty. That power is important, given the history of misuse of documents belonging to dead people, but it would not be appropriate to impose a penalty on family members where there is no suspicion of abuse. The code of practice under Clause 36 will make that abundantly clear. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, asked where that appeared in Schedule 1; I understand that it is in paragraph 5(c) of Schedule 1.
A number of other points were raised. The noble Earl, Lord Northesk, made one about the date of death being a registrable fact. I explained that it needs to be held on the register, but obviously it does not mean that if you are deceased you have to notify your death. That would just be nonsensical. Nor will there a duty on bereaved relatives to inform, as I also explained. Those cases where death is uncertain raise an interesting point. Here, it is intended that records on the register could be flagged if it seems possible that someone has died. However, a formal record of death
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would not be logged until there was certainty and a clear decision on that. On the specific point of why there would be a date, it can be recorded and will in some cases be highly relevant to the prevention of fraudthough it need not be. There is no legal obligation on anyone to provide it but, if known, it may well be recorded. I am sure that will most usually be the case. The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, ultimately answered her own question. It is obvious that babies will not be entered on the register, as 16 is the minimum age.
There is no obligation to notify the registrar of death, so there is no penalty against relatives who do not inform the national identity register of a person's death. Existing obligations under current law to inform the Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages continue as they are. I think that has answered the majority of points raised in discussion.
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