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"there will be no open access to information held on the register. Private companies will not be able to access or buy national identity register entries. However, it is right to spell it out that only with the consent of the ID card holder will banks or other approved businesses be able to verify identity by checking an ID card against the national identity register".[Official Report, 15/11/05; col. 1025.]
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, earlier referred to this point. That is all fair enough. I merely observe that, as I understand it, the Home Office's procurement strategy documentation estimates that 265 government departments and agencies and 44,000 private sector organisations will have access to the register.
I do not necessarily suggest that there is any inconsistency here, but it is important that we are given the opportunity to understand the scope of commercial access to the register that the Government envisage. Is that the content of the procurement strategy documents?
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: It is probably generally known by the Committee now that I am totally opposed to this Bill. I would nevertheless like to thank the noble Baroness and her colleague for the way in which they have dealt with the amendments so far. We have got a lot of information, and I am particularly pleased that the use of DNA has been ruled out.
There is one thing that has not been answered, though I have raised it a couple of times: the position of the European Union. This is a national identity card, and that is why I was insistent that it should remain a national identity card. We have had the assurances, which we all accept and respect, about the data which can be added in. The problem is that if it were decided by the European Union that we should have a Europe-wide card, they would, without further reference to this House or this Parliament, be able to insert various requirements themselves, perhaps even one for DNA. That would be imposed on our citizens, whether they liked it or not. If I am not mistaken, the decision would come not under the basis of unanimity, but on the basis of qualified majority. Therefore we could have items imported into our system of a national register for the national identity card which our own Parliament, after proper discussion and assurances have been given by Ministers, did not want and particularly sought to exclude.
I know I have a reputation about the European Union, but this is a serious point. What we are deciding here, and the safeguards being made and given by the Government, could be overruled from outside these shores. Will the noble Baroness comment on that? It is of some concern.
Lord Blackwell: I apologise to the House for not having been able to speak on the Second Reading of this Bill, but there is a question coming out of the debate on this Clause. Clause 1 is about the setting up of the national register of information. I am not clear whether the list of information that we have been debating that is meant to be recorded in this national register is there solely for the purpose of setting out the information which would be provided on the identity
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card, and whether the identity card is there to confirm somebody's identity, or whether this national register of information has a purpose that is separate from identity cards; that is, to bring together information which may be useful to the police and other people for other purposes, and may not necessarily be there purely for providing information to identify somebody on their identity card. It would be helpful if we could clarify what the purpose of the national register is.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Perhaps it would be convenient to deal with that point first, but I am happy to give the affirmation sought by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, in relation to those matters and to confirm that, as so often, she is absolutely right. The assurance is there.
We have discussed in Committee the matter raised by the Lord, Lord Blackwell, but I am happy to repeat my argument. The statutory purposes of the register are two-fold. First, it will facilitate a convenient method by which individuals will be able to prove registrable facts about themselvesthat is, to prove their identity. Secondly, it will provide a secure and reliable method by which registrable facts about individuals can be ascertained or verified where that is necessary in the public interest.
These statutory purposes have been expressed in an explicit manner following the recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee. We thought it important to make those two purposes absolutely clear. "Necessary in the public interest" is defined in subsection (4). It includes national security, the prevention and detection of crime, enforcement of immigration controls, enforcement of prohibitions, unauthorised working and employment, and securing the efficient and effective provisions of public service. Subsections (5) to (8) define registrable facts, and we spent time in the past three days in Committee discussing the definition of those details. Today we have talked about details of physical characteristics. Clause 1, then, established the national identity register, and that is rightly the foundation stone of the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, questioned whether agencies could by compulsion, indirectly, oblige people to give them the disclosure of information that they seek. We believe that Clauses 14 and 18 deal with that situation. Clause 14(1) states:
For clarity, Clause 14 means companies can get information but only with consent. Clause 18 makes it unlawful to demand consent to a check or production of a card except in the circumstances set out in that clause. I think that deals with the noble Lord's second question, whether indirectly you could somehow oblige people to make the disclosures.
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The point made by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, is covered by the comments I have already made to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, raised the issue of whether we should use the PNC. We have already had an extensive debate on that, and I hope I have adequately explained why we thought the PNC number should not be included, and why that was a proper response to the concerns that were raised in the other place and by several noble Lords in this place. We have come to a happy accommodation in relation to those concerns, and with a degree of clarity.
On the issue raised by the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, no one will have access to the register except those employees in the agency with authority to do so. The organisations mentioned may, with the individual's consent, seek confirmation of the individual's identity, together with provision of a limited amount of information that it is not on the face of the card, such as address.
Lastly, I come to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. I must say that if he and I continue agreeing with each other, people will start to talk. Identity cards are only an intergovernmental issue; the EU has no competence on the matter. I know the pleasure that that answer will give the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart.
I thank the noble Baroness for indicating that she is probing. However, I had hoped that we had cleared up a number of opaque issues, and I am going to do all that I can to ensurenotwithstanding the fact that the noble Baroness said that she would raise some of these matters at a later stagethat this matter will not be brought up again. I was hoping to close this part of the debate downbut I cannot do that, and I shall allow further debate.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I thank the Minister for giving way. She said that my fears were unfounded by pointing to Clause 18, which provides a prohibition on requirements to produce identity cards. But I believe that she would agree that the state of affairs that she described is true while the scheme remains voluntaryand we on these Benches want just that. But the moment the scheme becomes compulsory or there is a designation of passports, requiring an ID card to be issuedthat is, when designation is followedthe Minister's argument falls. Clause 18 is subject to subsection (2), and subsection (2)(c) says,
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