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Baroness Morris of Bolton: I support Amendments Nos. 48 and 64 to which my name is added, and I share the concerns so powerfully expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and by my noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns.
We live in an age when our children are old before they are young, and we should endeavour to afford them as many freedoms as we can before they get into what at times seems like the remorseless grind of being an adult. And yet through successive legislation, our children risk becoming the most registered and watched members of our society. I am particularly troubled that the Bill would extend to the Secretary of State the power to lower the current age of registration. I simply cannot understand why that would be necessary or desirable, and I look forward to the Minister's explanation of that power. The difference between the ages of 16 and 18 may be small in numbers but it is vast in the questions that it raises in this Bill, and it is absolutely right that we probe the Government on these issues.
Baroness Stern: I support this amendment. As the Minister will know, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member, expressed a number of concerns about this Bill and its compatibility with the Human Rights Act. In particular the committee said that,
"the Bill's provision for the retention of extensive personal information relating to all or large sections of the population may be insufficiently targeted to be justified as proportionate to the statutory aims and may lead to disproportionate interference with Article 8 rights",
which as the Minister will know is the right to privacy. That sentiment applies to all of us, but in particular to children, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, made clear. I have little to add to the admirable advocacy of the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley, Lady Anelay and Lady Morris, except perhaps to say that I have read with great care the Committee proceedings in the other place on the question of why the Government had fixed the age at 16. After reading it I was far from being any wiser than before I had read it. I am glad to support this amendment.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I should hate for this amendment to be proposed with no masculine affirmation of its merit or indeed for my noble friend not to have the support of her colleagues. It seems to me to be an unarguable case but no doubt the Minister, with her usual powers of advocacy, will prove that to be wrong. We await with fascination.
The Earl of Northesk: I support these amendments as well. Having been actively involved with the scrutiny of the database provisions of the Children Act 2004, I know that those databases will include all the details currently envisaged by paragraphs 1 and 3 of the schedule, and possibly even the majority of its paragraph 4, as being the registrable facts that individuals may be required to enter in the register. Therefore, to all intents and purposes, the only information envisaged by the ID register scheme that it will not hold will be the biometric identifiers. With this in mind, it seems both unnecessary and wasteful to duplicate this data within the register for any individuals between 16 and 18, if only because the two databases taken together afford the Government cradle-to-grave data sets of every individual in the land.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I hope that I will be able to assist the House. I know that the four noble Baronesses who spoke to the amendment have an acute concern in relation to young people and are rightly anxious about the provisions, to make sure that they do not inure to the disadvantage of those below the age of 18. I hope I will be able to assure them on that point. For the purposes of clarity I turn to a point about which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, spoke on a number of occasionsthe need to carry an identity card. I hope that she will accept that nothing in this Bill makes that necessary; it has expressly been excluded.
Amendment No. 48 raises the age of entitlement to registration from 16 to 18. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asks for a rationale as to why we chose 16 as opposed to 18. The age of 16 is set out in the Bill for good reason. It is the age at which the adult 10-year British passport is issued and is also the school leaving age. Under proposals announced by the Government all new passport applicants aged 16 and over will have to attend a personal interview starting in 2006. Unlike younger applicants, a 16 year-old can apply for his own passport without requiring a parent or guardian to do so on his behalf. The noble Baronesses,
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Lady Walmsley, Lady Morris, Lady Anelay and Lady Stern, will know only too well from the work that they do with young people how fractious the relationship between parents and children aged 16 and 18 can behow children often want their own autonomy. They want to be able to travel, can legitimately leave home, and do not like the concept of asking a parent to countersign on their behalf. This is an interesting and difficult time for many young people.
The Government believe that 16 is the appropriate age at which to issue identity cards as it ties in with the issue of the national insurance number. Combating illegal working is one of the main aims of the identity card scheme. The scheme will make it easy for employers to check entitlement to work as well as the age of potential employees. At 16 young people are more likely to become economically active, needing to open bank and building society accounts if they do not already have them. An ID card would make it easier for them to do so.
Amendments Nos. 48 and 66 would make an order amending the age of entitlement subject to the "super-affirmative" rather than affirmative resolution procedure. This would require an amendable report to be laid before and approved by Parliament before the laying of the draft order. The identity card scheme is being designated as a scheme for those aged 16-plus. That is not to say that in future there might not be a good reason to vary this age. Whether this is to extend the scheme to capture those approaching their 16th birthday and so registering them in time for when they turn 16, or allowingas is currently the case with passportsregistration from birth, the flexibility to modify the age may be required. In some other countries ID card schemes allow separate ages for registration and the issue of ID cards. In Hong Kong, for example, registration is compulsory at birth but an ID card is not issued until the individual has reached the age of 15.
I hope your Lordships will agree that the age of 16 that we have set in this Bill is right and that we should retain the power to vary this age in future. I add a further issueone can get married with one's parents' consent at the age of 16. If one was married at that age and able to have one's own household it would be unusual if one was not entitled also to possess one's own identity card without asking one's parents' permission.
There will be lots of practical questions to deal with if any decision to reduce the age of registration below 16 is made, but I reassure noble Lords that that is not our current intention and that we are in many ways looking at a framework Bill which will not become compulsory for some time to come. Therefore, we hope amendment will not be needed for some time to come.
We also argue that the current affirmative resolution process provides adequate parliamentary scrutiny for any order to modify the age of registration. We have listened to concerns and changed the original negative resolution process to provide that additional scrutiny. It is noteworthy that
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the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee did not comment adversely on either the nature of the power or the level of parliamentary scrutiny. There would be significant public debate on the issue of age modification. It is not something that would be brought in surreptitiously.
Amendment No. 61 would allow the Secretary of State to raise the current age of registration from 16 but not to reduce it. As I have already indicated, we have no immediate plans to reduce the age below 16 as the cost of doing so outweighs any benefits that may arise. This is due to the fact that children have unstable biometrics which would result in them frequently having to re-register. However, we may wish in the future to register "rising 16s" to tie in more closely with the NINo allocation, and to do so would require the use of the order-making powers to modify the age. Any orders laid under this clause are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, and therefore Parliament would be able to agree to any modification of the age of registration. When orders cover an issue on which it is clear that the House is able to say "yea" or "nay", that obviously gives greater potency to the affirmative process.
Amendment No. 62 would prevent the Secretary of State reducing the age of registration if a national register of children had begun or had been established. Amendment No. 63 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, would prevent the Secretary of State transferring any information from the children's register to the national identity register without the written permission of the parent or guardian of the child. I have already made it clear that we have no plans to reduce the age of registration. Therefore, in my view, the proper time for discussions relating to the children's register will be if and when the Secretary of State lays an order to reduce the age of registration.
As any order of this sort is subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, Parliament, as I have already indicated, will have ample opportunity to debate such points. In any case, the children's register has not yet been set up, and therefore in my view it is premature to discuss the interfaces between the national identity register and databases that are not yet in existence.
However, I reassure the Committee that the children's register and the national identity register have two very different functions. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, is very familiar with those differences. The national identity register is a database concerned with the identification of individuals, whereas the children's register will allow practitioners to share information about children in order to improve their well-being and to safeguard and promote their welfaresomething that I know many noble Lords have wanted for a long time and have celebrated. Just as the national identity register will not hold details of medical or tax records, nor will it hold any information that might relate to the welfare of children.
Amendment No. 60 would completely remove the Secretary of State's ability to modify the age of registration by order. Once the Bill is enacted, the only
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way to amend the age of registration will be by primary legislation, but I am sure that Members of the Committee agree that that is not an appropriate use of parliamentary time. In any event, as the order-making power to modify the age is already subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, I strongly argue that there is already sufficient parliamentary oversight of this matter. No criticism of this power or the parliamentary procedure was made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee.
I turn to some of the more specific questions raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Stern. I turn, first, to the issue of young people and unaccompanied asylum seekers with limited leave to remain. Anyone over the age of 16 with leave to remain in the United Kingdom for more than the prescribed periodas I have already indicated, that is intended to be about three monthswill be entitled to registration for the period of their leave to remain. I have already made plain that the children's database under the Children Act would have no such linkages.
I turn to the human rights aspect. Both the noble Baronesses, Lady Stern and Lady Walmsley, raised the issue of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The convention parallels the protection of the right to privacy in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. If the relevant articles of those conventions are engaged and interfered with, the noble Baronesses are right to say that any such interference will need to be justified on proper grounds. An interference with Article 8 will need to be justified in accordance with Article 8.2that is, it must be,
"in accordance with the law . . . necessary [and proportionate] . . . in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others".
The same applies to the specific rights of children to privacy under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Clause 1 sets out the statutory purposes of the identity register, which are to provide the individual with a convenient method of establishing identity and to provide a secure and reliable method for individual identities to be ascertained or verified where it is in the public interest to do so. All those issues apply equally in relation to children.
We think that the measure is an appropriate and proportionate response. We have to recognise that there is a difference between children of tender years and young peoplethe latter deeply resent being seen as children in the pure sense of the wordwho have not yet reached their majority. Those who are between the ages of 16 and 18 have a greater degree of autonomy, which they cherish and would not wish us to impinge upon improperly. Many young people would find an identity card extremely usefulso useful that many of them already download different forms from various Internet sites and use them. So we think that this is an appropriate and proportionate response. I hope that I have given a better explanation of why 16 is the appropriate age and that I have satisfied the expectation of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, with regard to my ability to deal with this issue.
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