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The noble Lord said: My Lords, we are committed to securing the United Kingdoms borders, improving immigration control and reducing identity abuses as part of our wider national identity scheme. We introduced the biometric registration powers in the UK Borders Act to allow the Secretary of State to issue, in time, secure and reliable biometric documents to all foreign nationals who are subject to immigration control. By recording a persons fingerprints, we can fix them to a single identity and make it possible to check their identity against centrally held records. This will help to strengthen our border security and to combat illegal migration and identity abuses. These powers will also be the way in which we comply with a forthcoming European regulation that will require the UK to issue a biometric card whenever it grants a foreign national leave to remain.
We will roll out the identity cards from the end of November 2008. The cards will confirm the holders immigration status and entitlements to work and to access public funds in the UK. The regulations are the first set of regulations to be made under the biometric registration powers in the UK Borders Act, and are designed to enable us to operate a pilot to test the biometric enrolment technology and processes. We will test some of the processes and technology by enrolling the fingerprints and photographs of around 10,000 foreign nationals who are subject to immigration control. Under this pilot, the biometric immigration document, which is the technical name for the document issued under the Act, will be issued to those granted leave to remain in the form of a vignette sticker attached inside their passports. This is the same as the one that is currently issued because the pilot is about testing limited biometric enrolment processes and not about testing the actual identity card.
I will set out what the regulations are designed to achieve. The first five regulations concern the name of the regulation, the date of the pilot, definitions and the categories of those who are required to apply for a biometric immigration document. The regulations will affect those foreign nationals applying for leave to remain as types of student, spouses, civil partners or unmarried partners under the immigration rules. They will be required to apply for the document, as will their dependants, when making an application in person at the public inquiry office in Croydon, or, if applying by post, if they reside in one of the London postcode areas listed in the schedule to the regulations. It is also provided that the application for leave to remain is made within the period of the pilot.
The next set of regulations, Regulations 6 to 9, concern the collection of biometric information. Regulation 6 enables an authorised person to require a person applying for a biometric immigration document to provide a record of their fingerprints and a photograph of their face. Where the Secretary of State already has a persons biometric information, Regulation 7 allows her to use or retain the biometric information she already has in her possession, rather than requiring the person to come in for a second time to enrol their biometric information where this is unnecessary. Regulation 8 provides safeguards for registering the biometric information of children under 16. In essence, biometrics can be taken from a child under 16 only if a parent, guardian or other adult who takes responsibility for the child is physically present. The processes by which the biometric information may be recorded are set out in Regulation 9. This regulation permits an authorised person to require the person to make and attend an appointment within a specified timeframe and place and to specify any documents that they must bring to the appointment, or action which they must take, to establish their identity.
Regulations 10 to 13 are concerned with the use, retention and destruction of biometric information held by the Secretary of State. Regulation 10 sets out the various purposes for which the Secretary of State can use biometric information collected under these regulations. They reflect the purposes contained in Section 8 of the UK Borders Act 2007, but with two additions. Regulations 11 to 13 set out when and how
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Provisions about the issue of biometric immigration documents are set out in Regulation 14. The Secretary of State may issue a document to a person to whom she has decided to grant leave to remain. This regulation also provides that the document has effect from the date of issue, and that it ceases to have effect on the date that the persons leave to remain ends. Regulation 15 provides for the contents of the biometric immigration document, which for the purposes of this limited pilot is the same as the current vignette sticker attached inside a passport. The Secretary of State may cancel or require the surrender of a biometric immigration document that she has issued. These powers are set out in Regulations 16 and 17.
In circumstances where a person is required to apply for a biometric immigration document and fails to comply, Regulation 18 will enable the Secretary of State to refuse to issue a biometric immigration document, to disregard the persons application for leave to remain and to refuse the persons application for leave to remain. This could be, for example, where the person refuses to give his biometrics when required to do so.
Once a person has complied with a biometric registration requirement his or her application will continue to be considered in line with normal immigration processes. Postal customers will be informed of their immigration decisions by post and those who have successfully applied for a premium same day service will continue to receive a decision on the day of their appointment.
I am pleased to have brought these regulations before noble Lords today. It is essential that we run the biometric registration pilot to enable a successful introduction of the identity card for foreign nationals later this year. The rollout of identity cards is part of our strategy for tackling illegal migration-associated abuses arising from such activities. I beg to move.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his succinct way of introducing these regulations, which certainly presage the start of identity cards. We will find out in due course whether they will be just for foreign nationals or for everyone in this country. We were of the impression that the enthusiasm for ID cards in general had worn thin, but clearly that is not so in terms of the UK Borders Act and where that came from.
Before going into the details, I want to ask the Minister about the state of preparedness of any IT system which is to hold this biometric information and the details of everyone recorded on it. The Government do not have a happy record on IT systems. Is this a new system or is it already up and
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It appears that the pilot will effectively last from 28 April to 25 July, with applications from dependants being received only between 16 June and 25 July. Perhaps the Minister can explain this convoluted timetable. I understood him to saybut it is nowhere in the regulationsthat these biometric cards will be available or will be used from the end of November. I do not understand the timescale that starts in April. Nor do I quite understand the reason for the original applicant having to make the application so far in advance of his dependants. I should think that one would want it all done together. Presumably, one knows the situation as regards each applicant at the same time.
Regulation 5 specifically refers, as do others, to a person under the age of 18 who makes an application. I presume that this means someone between the age of 16 and 18. But if so, that is not clear. It needs to be clear in the regulations, because a student could be under 16 years old. Will that be all right? The Minister says that the pilot effectively applies to anyone living in London. No other postcodes are listed. What will be the process whereby an applicant will provide his face and his fingers for photographing and printing when they are making a written application? It seems unlikely that such features will already be recorded and kept. How will they be taken if the application is made by post? Will it mean that whoever makes the application will have to go to a centre to have their biometric details taken? The only place mentioned in the regulations is Croydon. I hope that it is not the Governments intention that all 10,000 applicants should wander out to Croydon to have this matter sorted out.
This is a three-month trial. What will happen to the information obtained during that trial? I think that the Minister said that the documents will be valid until and unless the person was removed or sent away from this country. Will the Minister confirm that? How likely is it that those who need to make such applications will try to stay outside these time limits to avoid having to supply their photographs and prints? The anticipation is that there will 10,000 applications, but if people know that this is a pilot and that they can delay their application, the chances are that they may try to do so.
Is there a timetable for a further rollout? What group is it anticipated will be next? We have the various tiers under the new immigration rules. Will it start at tier 4, for example, or will there be a differential on how these applications are made? I anticipate that this will be the first of many such regulations, so it would be helpful to know the order.
I cannot say that I am content with the regulations. I do not think that any of us is clear that this biometric information will make us much safer and secure, but the regulations are there and we must cope with them as best we can.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, as the Minister stated, the pilot will affect anyone who applies for leave to remain in the UK and falls into one of the categories in Regulation 4; namely, students, prospective students, student nurses, people who want to re-sit an examination or to write up a thesis, sabbatical officers, spouses or civil partners and the unmarried or same-sex partner of someone already present and settled in the UK. We on these Benches are concerned about the new immigration regulations, which restrict so many people from outside the EU, particularly those from African states who need to be trained here to learn skills to take back to their native lands. Because of the qualifications required, these people now will not be allowed into the UK. We must look again at that.
There are expected to be 10,000 applications in the first three months of this pilot scheme. We had pilot schemes in three areas for asylum and immigration applicants under that Act. If I remember rightly, there were pilots in east London, Greater Manchester and the East Midlands, and they were withdrawn. Pilot areas can be looked at and one can say, Gosh, this is not working, so we will withdraw the scheme. But this pilot is merely the thin end of the wedge. As this is to be applied throughout the UK, it is not a pilot; it is just the first stage. It is also the first stage of the implementation of identity cards, which the Liberal Democrats have opposed from the start.
We know exactly what is happening here. The Government have created 69 passport personal interview offices for the 600,000 people a year who apply for a passport for the first time to undergo a personal interview. We are told that 73,000 interviews have been held so farno doubt the Minister will put me right if I have given the wrong figureand not one applicant has been refused. So I would ask whether this is really fulfilling the need that was originally envisaged. The 69 personal interview offices took a long time to open, but in some 30 areas there is a remote facility. A council office or other building is taken over and the interview is conducted with a video link. Is this the beginning of setting up a framework for identity cards as well as passports? If so, how will you take someones fingerprints or iris scan by video? The time will come when we have to say, Gosh, this isnt working. The noble Baroness asked about people who apply by post. How will their fingerprints be recorded? We can see many problems here. I do not see how biometrics can possibly stop illegal working because foreign nationals and later on everybody with ID cards will be here legally. People holding passports or identity cards can be admitted legally, so how will that help in the battle against terrorism or against those coming to the UK without good intentions?
I do not want to take too much time, but I want to ask about the initial cost of this scheme. About six months ago I asked about the cost of the 69 passport personal interview offices. The answer from the Home Office was that they would cost £69 million to set up, or £1 million per office. It is a very costly scheme. So I ask the Minister how much this particular scheme is going to cost and, as has already been mentioned, how
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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their input. As is often the case with dinner time debates, a small number of noble Lords are present. However, the points raised are pertinent and I thank both noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, suggested that perhaps we are not that keen on ID cards any more. I have to say that I do not agree. There is still a very good case for ID cards. While I would not introduce them solely on the basis of counterterrorism, even though people say that they are useful in that context, there are much broader reasons for them. I still believe that on balance it is a good thing to take this route.
As regards the preparedness of the IT system, I can tell the noble Baroness that the system will be based on one that is already in place. It will not be based on the passport system and the noble Baroness was right to say that there were some problems with it initially. This type of system is already being used overseas in biometric visa processes. I believe that we have taken 1.6 million of these since 2002, so we are fairly content with the IT system and believe that it will work under pressure.
I have to agree with the noble Baroness that the timing seems to be rather confusing. Basically, we start the pilot on 28 April for single people aged 18 and over without dependants. On 25 June, we allow those with dependants to become involved in the pilot. The postal element will be complete by 25 July. However, people will continue to go to Croydon to go through the process right up until the full introduction of cards. At that point we will move into the production of cards. It is quite confusing, but that is the breakdown.
On the age of applicants, this applies to all applicants under the age of 18 who need to apply for leave to remain and therefore to all children. The point about the age of 16 applies only, I believe, when applicants have to be accompanied to have their fingerprints taken.
The trial will test the processes and the technology. On how written applications are to be made, those who write in will have to attend a biometric event in Croydon at some stage. Initially this is for those in the London postal areas. That is the position as I understand it, but if I am wrong I will write to the noble Baroness. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, there are a number of centres around the UK and the processes and technologies being introduced in Croydon will in future be available in all those centres. People will then be able to attend the centre closest to where they are located.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I want to ask a little more about going to Croydon and postal applications. What the regulations do not say is that everyone making an application will have to go to Croydon to
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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I will make sure that it is made clear. Those whose fingerprint data are already being held because their fingerprints have been taken abroad will not have to go to Croydon. However, I will come back to the noble Baroness in writing on the point.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, I apologise profusely for coming in at the last minute, but I had not realised that this debate was taking place in the dinner hour. I want to put one important point to the Minister. A few weeks ago, I entered the United States and was duly fingerprinted. To my surprise, the official told me that my fingerprints were not the same as they were the last time I came in. I was then interrogated while an enormous queue of people with queries formed. What is the probability of having the wrong fingerprints in an immigration investigation?
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I do not know about the particular case, but my understanding is that fingerprints are unique and therefore I am rather taken aback by that account. It sounds as if there was a problem in how the noble Lords fingerprints were checked off against his name. I do not know the details, of course, but fingerprints are unique and I have no doubt whatsoever that applying biometrics means that you have a unique record that goes with the name of a person. That, I believe, is extremely valuable.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. I hope that our technology check-through and processes will ensure that that sort of error will not be made in our system. I see no reason why we should have such an error. The fact that we have biometrics tied to a name is extremely valuable in a whole raft of areas to ensure that we have the right peoplepeople who are entitled to be here, who are not making other claims or claiming benefits to which they are not entitled. I am sure that that is extremely valuable. The noble Lords point is absolutely valid and I am sure that all noble Lords would agree that we must have a system that does not make such errors.
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