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This business of fingerprints is not completely simple. The final inquiry has not yet take place, and we may hear more. I urge a little bit of caution, particularly if it is more problematic with children. A six year-olds fingers are a bit podgy. I have a fruit bowl with some of my great nephews and nieces fingerprints on it, which they did at school, and it is pretty blurred. I am sure that the system is very much better than that, but I can see that there might be problems.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Carnegy, because she has highlighted the two issues of the reliability of fingerprint technology per se and the reliability of its use regarding children. I am glad that she quoted the case in Scotland, because as a result of that case I looked more closely at the science of taking fingerprints. Perhaps I, like so many lay peopleeven though I had been a magistratehad assumed that when matching fingerprints there was a standard number of points that one used to achieve a match. It was only as a result of the case in Scotland that I appreciated that different methods are used in different parts of the world. It would be very helpful if the Government were able to tell us how points of reference would be used for the matching process in regard to fingerprints.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I shall not be able to do that this afternoon. Cases like that are very rare. We all know that fingerprint collection has been going on in the world of criminal investigation for well over 100 years and probably longer than that. From time to time, of course, there will be an occasional error, but it has proved to be an extremely reliable source of providing evidence and matching a person to a crime. Without it, many high-profile cases would never have been cracked. It is a proven science. There will always be the occasional error, but we have a great deal of
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Baroness Anelay of St Johns: In his kind offer, the noble Lord referred to this as a proven science. I hope that the letter the Government will send us will reflect on the fact that it is less a science than a matter of interpretation. One relies on those matching the evidence to give their interpretation. It is not a science as such.
Lord Selsdon: Being the exception, I had not wanted to intervene, but the other day I found out that in 45 years, I have spoken more on the Identity Cards Bill than on any other subject. Like my noble friend, the system has failed to recognise me. I have become something of an expert on fingerprints. Whenever I travel now, I put my finger into a slot in various terminals and if I am recognised I am admitted and given a free drink, but my recognition rate is only two out of seven. One of the reasons is that if one works fairly hard at various jobs in rural areas, one can rub away the end of one's fingerprint, so it is not reliable. I can assure the noble Lord that fingerprints may be reliable in certain circumstances, but for the traveller it is a most unreliable science. It is also great fun. As I have explained before, if one fails to get in for the free drink, one can take a piece of plastic, put it on ones finger and press it into the slot it recognises again the fingerprint of the previous person and one is admitted and given a free drink.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I congratulate the noble Lord on being persistent in getting a free drink. I hesitate to say that Conservative Peers are always after a free drink because I think that would be a terrible calumny on my part. I am extremely amused by the example.
Lord Avebury: It is remarkable that we have only a dozen people in this Grand Committee and two of them have been the subjects of erroneous recognition. I am particularly alarmed by the story told us by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, because it is an absolute calumny to describe her as the system did. I bitterly resent such a result from a system in the House of Lords. If we in the House of Lords cannot get it right, what likelihood is there that the tens of thousands of systems spread across the country will be more accurate?
The noble Baroness mentioned the different levels of accuracy to which a system may be set, and as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, will remember, we heard evidence in Sub-Committee F of the Select Committee on the European UnionI have the report on SIS II in front of mewhen we were told by the expert witnesses that one can set the system to varying degrees of accuracy which would enable the fingerprint recognition system to let through a given percentage of false positives. The technology is not 100 per cent. The Minister should not pretend that we have a foolproof
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I accept, however, that the Government have very little option, considering what the Minister told us about the compatibility that we need with European systems and the need to carry on with the fingerprint system for the time being. He mentioned that the standard residence permit, which is being developed to require the inclusion of biometrics, will apply across the European Union, and thus our system must be aligned with it. I therefore fully accept that we have no option for the time being but to go down that route.
Lord Avebury: I cannot have been listening very closely. I do not remember him doing so, but I will read Hansard and see whether the explanation given by the Minister at the beginning of his remarks satisfies me. In general, it is a mistake for draftsmen to give groups of clauses headings that do not correspond to the Bill. I believe that that has happened in this case. We keep on talking about registrationa word that occurs both in the heading given to the clause and to the groupbut nowhere in the Bill is registration mentioned. That is anomalous. Nevertheless, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanations to the Committee and, for the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: Clause 5 gives the Government a very wide discretion to make regulations on the specification of the biometric immigration document, the purposes for which it is to be used, the circumstances in which the holder must produce it, and so on. At our last sitting on Monday, I commented on the useful practice that had been adopted in another place of taking expert evidence in a Public Bill Committee, and suggested that we might do the same in Grand Committee. Although we elicited no reaction from the Minister at that time, I am grateful to him for saying that he has already written to us about the points that were made on Monday, and I very much hope that he will see that it is included in his remarks.
At its 1 March sitting, the Standing Committeeor Public Bill Committee, as I must learn to call ittook evidence from Professor Ross Anderson, the professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge. He said, as I mentioned already, that the Government were going down the wrong route in using fingerprints rather than irises, as that made the system far more prone to errors. However, he also made some interesting comments on why public sector IT projects are so much more liable to over-run on cost than private sector projects. Perhaps I may quote from his evidence:
That should sound an alarm bell for the UK Borders Bill, and the ID and e-borders project. The stated goals are shifting too much and too often for us to be confident that robust systems will be built on time and within budget. Translating that warning into a procedure for scrutinising the Bill, we should be challenging the enormous breadth of the BID regulations and seeking to persuade the Government to tell us what they intend to do and whether they have any idea at this stage of how the systems are going to work. I am glad to see later amendments where the Government attempt to go into a bit more detail than we have had hitherto.
This amendment is intended to elicit from the Minister an explanation of the meaning of this paragraph as one example out of the many that we could have picked. Can he explain the meaning of the expression,
and can he give us any examples? If the document is to be used, that implies that it has to be produced. The official for whom it is produced will then have to be able to read the biometric information on it, presumably to compare it with a database of BIDs. Which officials will have the technology to do this and where will they be located? Is this another case like that of passport applications, a point raised by my noble friend Lord Roberts, where there were only 67 locations in the whole of the United Kingdom to which a person could apply? Although it was claimed that remote locations were being provided with places where the information could be inputted into the system via a webcampresumably the same thing could be done with fingerprintsthe number of locations was few and far between. There were whole areas of the country in which people would have had to travel considerable distances in order to access the system. Further, will there be different levels of use, with a larger number of officials looking only at the alphanumeric information and being able to refer the holder to someone else if a question arises that can be answered only by the biometrics? If the Minister cannot answer these questions, we will be walking into a situation where the contractors who are to provide the technology are given only a very general specification, the details being filled in as the project develops. That is the very scenario which Professor Anderson has warned leads to cost overruns on public sector IT projects.
I turn now to another set of concerns raised by the JCHR and I shall be interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has to say about them. The Joint Committee complained about the open-ended powers in the biometric clauses and voiced its fear that Article 8 rights would be infringed. It was unable to assess the compatibility of the power with Article 8 because there were no draft regulations. The committee wrote to the Minister asking for further details. As we would expect, the Government reassured the JCHR that the Bill and its secondary legislation would be fully compatible with Article 8, their objective being to ensure that everyone subject to immigration control has a secure BID confirming his or her immigration status and identity. The document would link into the national identity schemethere was some discussion in another place about these proposals being a pilot for identity cards which was not denied by the Government and is now, I think, common knowledgeand would enable other government departments, employers and public agencies to confirm that the holder was eligible for employment or state benefits, and presumably for medical treatment, although this was not mentioned. It would stop anyone fraudulently obtaining a national insurance number.
The JCHR, having considered the Governments response, found that it was unable to assess the compatibility of the scheme with the right to respect for family life in Article 8. As examples of the information the committee would have needed to reach a conclusion, it mentioned the type of biometric information, the purposes for which it was to be used, the extent to which it would apply to childrenas we have just discussedand the length of time it would be retained. The answers to these questions are now gradually seeping out, but are not such as to alleviate wholly the concerns on human rights raised by the JCHR.
The more we extend the uses of the document beyond immigration control into purposes that are wholly unrelated to immigration, such as access to benefits, health, education or employment, the more likely it is that errors will occur and that some holders will be deprived of their rights. The inaccuracy of one-to-many searches, as I have mentioned, was explored by Sub-Committee F in its inquiry on the Schengen Information System II. Clearly, for some of the purposes envisaged by the BID, one-to-many searches will be necessary where the biometric on the document is compared with all the others on the database.
With SIS II, the legislation permits the use of one-to-many searches only once the Commission has reported that the relevant technology is available and ready, and Sub-Committee F recommended that independent experts should referee that report, and that it should be adopted by the Council only after consultation with the European Parliament, and that it should be deposited for scrutiny by the Select Committee.
In their reply to the Select Committees recommendation, the Government accepted that one-to-many searches using fingerprints would be possible only when the Commission had produced its report. Therefore, I invite the Minister to tell the Committee
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In addition, if the system is to satisfy an increasing number of requirements which have nothing to do with our borders, but which are concerned with the internal policing of everybody of foreign appearance who applies for unemployment benefit or goes to a jobcentre or attends an interview with a prospective employer, or needs a dental check-up, the document is effectively already an identity card, as it will become in law in due course.
Professor Anderson told the Standing Committee in another place that he was unable to hazard a guess about how much of the £20 billion that the London School of Economics estimates the scheme will cost overall would be carved out in developing the BIDs. When is this project going out to tender? What figure is included for it in the new spending estimates?
The same considerations apply to Amendment No. 13B. I very much regret that the Explanatory Notes give the Committee no idea of what sort of specified circumstances the Government have in mind where a persons immigration or nationality status would make it necessary for the BID to be used. If it is to ascertain whether the person is eligible for employment, immigration status would be relevant. But would nationality every come into the picture, or could this sub-paragraph be a means of enabling employers to discriminate? The Minister no doubt saw the article in the Guardian yesterday about the denial of antenatal care to a migrant worker, reported by Médecins du Monde, and the comment on its findings by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Mr Paul Hunt. The average length of stay of the 349 women in the study was three years, so they obviously had not come to the UK for the purposes of getting free health treatment. Will the BID be a necessary passport to healthcare generally, and to prenatal care in particular? Are PCTs entitled to refuse care to failed asylum seekers? Is not this a despicable way of persuading them to leave us, in addition to the forced destitution under Section 9? I hope that we shall have some answers to these questions before we leave this clause. I beg to move.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful to the noble Lord for explaining the thinking behind his amendment. The expert evidence point is beyond my reflection, although perhaps it could be taken up through the usual channels. It would be novel; but it is not a bad idea for being novel. I always like to think that we can innovate. Whether it would be appropriate for all legislation is an open question. I can see some of the arguments that the noble Lord is making and their relevance.
I shall try to explain why Clause 5(1)(b)(ii) and (iii) are integral to how the biometric immigration document works, and therefore why the Government are resisting the amendment. It is perhaps worth briefly reminding your Lordships of the rationale for the introduction of biometric immigration documents. Currently, foreign
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Over the coming years, therefore, we intend to phase out the use of old style immigration documents and endorsements and replace them with the biometric immigration document, which will serve as the document which authorises the holder to enter or remain in the United Kingdom. It will be the way in which the United Kingdom will comply with a forthcoming European regulation that will require the UK to issue a biometric document when leave is granted.
As the Bill states, we intend that the biometric immigration document should be used for specified immigration purposes, in connection with specified immigration procedures and in specified circumstances, where a question arises about a persons status in relation to their nationality or immigration. The types of immigration procedures and circumstances relating to nationality or immigration that the Secretary of State intends to specify will be set out in regulations and will be subject to the affirmative procedure. That seems to be the right way to proceed, because it provides for that secondary level of scrutiny and accountability.
Clause 5(1)(b)(ii) makes it clear that regulations can require the use of the document in the course of an immigration-related procedure. Accepting the amendment could mean that regulations could not require the holder of the document to produce the document in connection with certain immigration procedures. That could include the procedures that apply and which he must follow when the holder arrives at a port in the United Kingdom to show an immigration officer that he is entitled to enter the United Kingdom, or when a person applies to vary their leave. To avoid any suggestion that a person cannot be required to use the document as part of an immigration procedure, Clause 5(1)(b)(ii) is essential.
Amendment No. 13B would mean that regulations could not require a holder of a biometric immigration document to produce the document in specified circumstances when a question arises about their nationality or immigration status. That could mean that we would not be able to require the holder of a biometric immigration document to produce it to a prospective employer as evidence of eligibility to work, nor could regulations require the holder to produce it when accessing public services where immigration status is a relevant consideration to their entitlement.
As the project is rolled out, initial immigration uses will be where a person arrives at a port in the UK to demonstrate reliably their immigration status, or where a person applies to vary their leave to remain. As I have explained already, the biometric document will be used to establish whether a person is entitled to work. I hope that covers the points that the noble
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Lord Avebury: I am grateful to the Minister for that information. I am left with some questions, which have not been answered. The Minister gave examples to illustrate why sub-paragraphs (ii) and (iii) are necessary, but those were covered in previous discussions on the Bill. I should like to know whether any circumstances other than those connected with employment and access to benefits are being concealed from the Committee. I mentioned one in particular that the noble Lord did not coveraccess to healthcare. I quoted the example that was given in yesterdays Guardian about women being denied antenatal care because it was alleged that they were failed asylum seekers. I particularly asked the Minister for a reply to that question. Apart from employers and jobcentres, it would be very useful for the Committee to know whether PCTs, general practitioners and others delivering health services will be required to examine the BID to see whether a person is eligible for healthcare. If that is the case, what are they to do in an emergency
Lord Judd: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. As I shall do repeatedly in our proceedings, I plug the work of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I encourage him to read the report on the administration of asylum policy which was recently published. We spent a great deal of time and took a great deal of evidence. It is worth looking at the evidence on this matter. If he intends to pursue it, he will find some very interesting material in that report, and the evidence on which it is based.
Lord Avebury: I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I hope that the Minister will also take note of what he said. Presumably, as the report was submitted on 30 March, the Select Committee will have had a reply to it by now, and the Minister ought to be able to give us an answer to the concerns that were raised by the JCHR. Therefore, I hope that before we leave this amendment the Minister will explain in precise terms how the BID is to be used to gain access to the health service and in what circumstances
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I should clarify that. At present foreign nationals may in certain circumstances be charged for using the National Health Service. I think that it is fairly and properly understood that that is the case. We would never be in a position where someone suffering from a life-threatening condition would be denied healthcare as a result of their immigration status. That would never be the case. However, we currently require some verification. I think that most people would accept that that is right.
Lord Hylton: Before the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, finishes his reply, I must say that the point he raised about access to health and pregnancy services is extremely important. It applies particularly to those who have failed to establish an asylum application but
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Lord Bassam of Brighton: Members of the Committee can get into a lather on this issue and I do not want that to colour our deliberations. Our staff and our healthcare staff are very sensitive about this issue and respond sensitively to it. Occasionally there may be examples of bad practice but they are very few and far between. I should not like it to be generally thought that bad practice is apparent. As I say, this is a very sensitive situation, and I am sure that healthcare will be provided. The sort of circumstances to which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, refers are precisely those where I am sure that assistance will be rendered.
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