Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Seccombe: I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell of Markyate. I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply. I feel that there is an enormous amount of information to digest and will therefore study Hansard in great detail. But for now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 47 not moved.]

Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 48:

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 48 is in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St. Johns. I shall speak also to Amendment No. 60.

Amendment No. 48 raises to 18 the age at which a person must be on the national identity register and have an identity card, from the current age of 16 which appears in Clause 2. The accepted definition of a child in this country is someone under 18—not 16. That is the age at which we are entitled to vote, and to drink alcohol for 24 hours in a pub. That is the age at which you come into the adult criminal justice system, the age up to which your interests are represented by the Children's Commissioner, and the age accepted by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I therefore see no justification for making anyone younger have a card.

When a child is forced to submit to the collection of personal data and does not consent to the sharing of that data, it is a breach of Article 16 of the UNCRC, which provides children with the rights to a private and family life. Any interference with that would have to be justified in the public interest, and Article 8(2) of the
 
23 Nov 2005 : Column 1676
 
convention covers that. It allows the public authorities to interfere with an individual's right to a private life only in six circumstances: the interests of national security; public security; the economic well-being of the country; the prevention of disorder or crime; the protection of health or morals; or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. Neither in her reply on Second Reading nor in her belated subsequent letter did the Minister say which of those was the excuse for surveillance of children.

How can any of those circumstances apply to a 16 year-old who is probably not even economically active yet? Where is the evidence that we are overrun by 16 year-old terrorists or benefit frauds? I am not convinced that a child will know what information is held about him, whether it is correct, or with whom it is being shared and for what purpose. Simply sharing such information without the child's knowledge is an infringement of the convention, but the Government are quite used to that. Of course, as many of my noble friends have said in debate, it is not so much the card that the people of this country need to worry about; it is the database behind it. In this country there are already three databases relating to children. Section 12 of the Children Act 2004 provides for an information-sharing database. There is the Connexions customer database of 13 year-olds to 19 year-olds and the national register of unaccompanied children. All those contain a great deal of sensitive information about children.

I asked at Second Reading how those databases will be related to the NIR. In the Minister's letter, she said that the NIR would be,

But the NIR will presumably give the child a unique identifying number. I cannot believe that it will not also be used at the head of any entry about that child in any other database, making cross-referencing very easy. In addition, I cannot see how the NIR can possibly comply with the requirement of the Data Protection Act 1998 to have only the absolutely necessary information for the minimum length of time. The Minister said in her letter that Clause 41(5) enables us to make arrangements so that some of the obligations under the Act could be placed on parents and guardians rather than children. Will it therefore be the parents who are supposed to let the register know when the child moves home from school in the holidays if he is a boarder, or when a student changes his digs? It seems unnecessarily onerous in relation to a child.

If people are to use an ID card to access public services, the Bill may discriminate against all children, who tend to use public services more than adults. In particular, it may discriminate against asylum-seeking children. Unaccompanied children are usually given limited leave to remain until they are 18. That means that they are not qualified to get an ID card from the age of 16, as they are neither British nor have the right to live here permanently. What will happen to them? How will they get access to those restricted public services? That situation breaks Article 24 of the
 
23 Nov 2005 : Column 1677
 
UNCRC on the right to access healthcare services, and it would also affect children who had been abandoned by their families in the same way.

What about the cost of those cards for children? For families with 16 year-olds and 17 year-olds, the cost could be quite punitive. In particular, the penalties for non-compliance would be punitive. I have had 16 and 17 year-old children, and they cannot remember their heads unless they are screwed on; they will certainly not remember to carry their ID cards. In Holland, where they already have ID cards, 4,000 14 year-olds have been fined €50 for not carrying one. That would happen here. Governments are never satisfied; the cards will become compulsory soon, no matter what the Government say. Indeed, they are no earthly use unless they are compulsory.

Amendment No. 60 removes the power of the Secretary of State to change the age at which children must have an identity card and be registered on the NIR. We already believe that the age of 16, which is in the Bill, is too young. If the Government wish to lower the age to include children younger than that, they should come back to the House with primary legislation to achieve that, not just affirmative resolution, and explain properly the reasons why they need to do that. Those reasons must comply with one or more of the six reasons that the convention allows, which I listed a few minutes ago.

I feel somewhat at a loss to know what the Government's real reasons are for including children in the legislation. I raised all these issues at Second Reading, and the Minister in her summing-up did not have time to answer any of my questions. She promised to write to me; she did so three days after the start of the Committee, despite three phone calls from my office explaining that I sought her response before the deadline for tabling amendments to the early parts of the Bill. Although her letter made a number of claims about the impact of the Bill on children, she has still not explained why they need to be covered at all by the legislation. She has not yet made that intellectual argument. I hope that she will do so today. I beg to move.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My name appears on the amendment, and I was delighted when the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, agreed to move the amendment and even more delighted when I heard her robust argument. In another place my honourable friends took the lead on these matters; I decided that it was more appropriate for the noble Baroness to do so because of her expertise on them. Children's needs come well before any matter of party pride.

These are probing amendments. I wish to go to all those organisations that have the interests of children at heart between now and Report to ask their views on the Minister's response. I know that she will try to help us on these issues, given her past responses. I am grateful to Alison Linsey of the National Children's Bureau for sending me the child impact statement of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Children. I would be grateful if the Minister could address some
 
23 Nov 2005 : Column 1678
 
of the following points made in the report. First, there is no explicit rationale for including under-18s in the proposal. The accepted definition of a child in the UK is up to 18 years, with some exceptions for particularly vulnerable groups such as care-leavers or children with learning difficulties. Secondly, there is a lack of clarity about the purpose of the national identity register. Powers in the Bill allow for the possibility that the database could be used for purposes as yet undisclosed and for groups of young people as yet undefined. The information-sharing indexes to be established by the Children Act 2004 need to be taken into account. Will the Minister explain the relationship between the proposed national identity register, the information-sharing indexes to be established under the Children Act 2004, and—as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, alluded to—other databases such as the Connexions card? The report also points out that the powers for the Secretary of State not to correct data unless he feels it is appropriate to do so may contravene children's rights under data protection law and international conventions under Clause 2(5).

Finally, I ought to comment on my Amendment No. 63, which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has not referred to. The amendment reflects my questions on the National Children's Bureau report, because it places a firewall between the national identity register and a national register of children.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page