Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Hylton: Competitive tendering may well be desirable in this matter. It raises the question, however, of the confidentiality of very sensitive personal information. Does the Post Office, for example, have any experience at all in handling such personal information? If sensitive personal data are to become known to outside private-sector commercial organisations, what guarantee is there that it will not be further divulged? I look forward to whatever the Government can tell us.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord makes a perfectly respectable point. I agree that it will be crucial to the effectiveness of the scheme that ID cardholders have confidence in its integrity. For that reason, some of the key functions and roles which are critical to the integrity of the scheme will have to be maintained within the public sector. I cannot speak for the Post Office, as it is not my job to do so, but I can confirm that it will be the beneficiary of fair competition for those parts of the programme that are open in terms of procurement.

One could recall the days in which the Post Office issued passports. It certainly issued many other permissions and licences. No doubt, in making its bid, it will explain its track record in handling sensitive details and processing applications. It does have experience in those fields, as do other organisations. We are entirely at one with the noble Lord's concern to ensure that confidential data are handled sensitively. We are determined to ensure that the integrity of the scheme will be properly maintained and, where appropriate, contained within the public sector.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: Can the Minister confirm to the Committee that the identification-related services already handled by the Post Office—the existing passport check and send service—deal with virtually the same sort of information that will be required under the new system?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am not an expert in that field. I am going to take the noble Lord on trust and agree with him that it is probably quite similar.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: The Minister said that this service would be put out to private tender.
14 Dec 2005 : Column 1270
However, the Post Office is still a public authority. I take it that there is no intention to privatise the Post Office and that, as a public authority, it will be able to tender.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The term that we use is "competitive tender" and we are seeking best value. Privatising the Post Office is not part of this legislation and that is not what we are about. The Post Office is there and can compete on terms with others which may wish to provide this service.

Lord Crickhowell: I have listened very carefully to what the Minister has said. I have nothing so difficult to ask as a question about privatisation. He anticipated the question that I was going to ask, which was about the European requirements. It seemed very clear to me that the European requirements would have to be complied with. The Minister has already indicated that the United Kingdom Passport Service is going ahead with the new arrangements to meet international air traffic requirements and so on. In the letter that the noble Baroness helpfully circulated last weekend, the United Kingdom Passport Service's current estimates for that first phase were set out, and we have the Government's estimates of what the new and total package will be.

As I understood what the noble Lord said, while the United Kingdom Passport Service has to go ahead with its phase, there has to be a wholly separate tender arrangement for identity cards. If the whole arrangement is to be based, as the Government say it will be, on the operations of the United Kingdom Passport Service, there may be difficulties in having that total separation. May we not be so far down the process that the United Kingdom Passport Service is undertaking that it may be quite difficult to have a wholly separate tender for the ID cards? It may be that there is a simple answer to that, but it is the question that struck me as I listened to the Minister's response.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I am grateful to the Minister for a reply of clarity which it was perhaps not possible to give on 7 November. I say that in my most charitable way. I assume from what the Minister said today that he just gave a resounding "Yes" to the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead. In that spirit, I am delighted to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [ID cards for those compulsorily registered]:

[Amendments Nos. 152 to 160 not moved.]

Clause 9 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 161 not moved.]

Clause 10 [Functions of persons issuing designated documents]:

[Amendment No. 161A not moved.]

Clause 10 agreed to.
14 Dec 2005 : Column 1271

Clause 11 [Power to require information for validating Register]:

Lord Phillips of Sudbury moved Amendment No. 162:

The noble Lord said: I see the finishing post in sight and it would be good if we could get there tonight. In this group I have Amendments Nos. 162, 163 and 164. I will therefore not move Amendments Nos. 163 and 164 and speak only briefly to Amendment No. 162. This amendment relates to Clause 11, which is entitled,

It gives the Secretary of State the right to call upon, broadly, government departments to validate or verify something recorded in the register about an individual; or something that he has been provided with which is capable of being recorded; or—and this is my amendment; and again it is a probing one designed to elucidate quite what Clause 11(1)(c) means—

Presumably, that would cover the London telephone directory if he was looking for addresses. But, truly, this is a probing amendment and I would be delighted to know whether the paragraph really is necessary and what it is all about. I beg to move.

Baroness Seccombe: Clause 11 deals with the provisions that the Government feel are necessary to permit data to be shared with the Secretary of State and designated documents authorities for the purposes of verifying information to be placed on the national identity register, where no such powers already exist. The amendments in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Phillips of Sudbury, highlight the fact that a person can provide information about themselves only if they indeed possess it and it would be unreasonable to expect otherwise. Amendment No. 162 goes further and questions the legitimacy of the Secretary of State being able to use "something otherwise available" to him,

Will the Minister please outline to the Committee the sort of information and situation Her Majesty's Government envisage will call for this provision in subsection (1)?

I have two further questions. First, does the Minister have current examples in mind? Secondly, what verification efforts will the Government make to ensure that the information which the Secretary of State has available from whatever sources is correct and will not open up problems of error which have already been debated, such as whether the individual will be compensated if the information, for whatever reason, turns out to be incorrect?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I am more than happy to help. Clause 11, as the noble Lord indicated, empowers the Secretary of State and designated documents authorities to impose requirements on people to provide information for verifying the
14 Dec 2005 : Column 1272
register. But the power applies where it appears to the Secretary of State or a designated documents authority that the person concerned may have information in his possession which could be used for verification. The rationale behind this clause is the rigorous biographical footprint check that will be undertaken when a person applies to be entered onto the register. That is the most important moment when we have to be absolutely sure that the person being entered is the person that they say they are. We therefore need to ensure as far as possible that no false or inaccurate details are entered into the register. A requirement under the clause can be imposed only on a body named in an affirmative order approved by Parliament.

4 pm

Amendment No. 162 would remove paragraph (c) from Clause 11 (1) and would thus not allow information to be validated unless it were either already on the register under subsection (1)(a) or had been provided for the purpose of being recorded in the register, such as an individual's own application under subsection (1)(b). I shall try to give the noble Baroness some examples to assist her so that she better understands what we are trying to do.

It is quite possible that there will be information that needs to be validated that is not on the register and has not been provided for the purpose of registration; for example, information already known about a person from existing Home Office immigration records, or if in checking someone's address with, say, the DVLA, a different address to the one on the application was given. The second address would not have been provided for the purpose of being recorded on the register and could be out of date. In making any further checks with, say, the Department for Work and Pensions, it would be right to check both addresses—the original provided by the applicant and the second provided by the DVLA. I am not suggesting that every inconsistency will mean that the applicant is deliberately submitting false information, but there needs to be sufficient powers to make such checks not just on the information that the applicant has provided with their application.

Amendment No. 163 would restrict the Secretary of State to requiring information from a person only if that person had the information. Amendment No. 164 has the same effect but in respect of designated document authorities. In our view these amendments are unnecessary. The Secretary of State has power to require validation information if it appears to him that a person or body designated in an order under the clause may have it, but the duty to provide it under Clause 11(3)(b) applies only if the person has the information in his possession. So at least in that respect the Bill already has the effect that I believe that the noble Baroness wants and that the noble Lord has expressed a desire to have.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page