|Baroness Scotland||Response from Trevor Mendham|
The identity cards scheme is being introduced not only as a convenient way for individuals
to prove their identity, it is also necessary in the wider public interest. This is the
second arm of the statutory purposes as set out in Clause 1(3)(b) and (4). The public
interest is defined in five ways, and I think it would be helpful if I deal with each of
them in turn.|
Even if the scheme is in the public interest - which I question - it is certainly not
necessary. There are other cheaper, less intrusive ways of meeting the government's
First, we have national security. Identity cards on their own will not stop the risk of
terrorism. However, we have been advised that they will help. We have also been advised
that more than one third of terrorist suspects are known to have used false identities. We
should be clear that identity cards will not somehow prevent suicide bombers, but they
will disrupt the activities of those who aid and abet terrorism by hiding behind multiple
and false identities. By making it harder or impossible to assume a false identity, or to
use multiple identities, it will be much more difficult for terrorists to ply their trade,
and there is no doubt that the introduction of identity cards will help the police and
security services in their work.
Good to see the admission that ID Cards won't stop terrorism. The degree to which they
will even deter it is doubtful and unproven. Independent reports have shown that countries
with ID Cards - such as Spain - suffer just as much from terrorism.
The second part of the public interest definition is the prevention or detection of crime.
I can reassure your Lordships that the police will have no new powers to demand proof of
identity or to require people to produce an identity card in the street as a result of
this Bill. It will be possible for the police to seek information from the national
identity register to check an individual's identity with or without that individual's
consent, provided that it can be justified for the prevention or detection of crime.
Note that although the current Bill grants no new "stop and scan" powers, there is nothing
to prevent a future government giving the police such powers. Once the cards become an
integral part of our daily lives I am convinced a future government will claim such powers
a "logical" next step.
In the case of biometric information, Clause 23 means that the police will have first to
check their own records before seeking the provision of information from the register
about a suspect's photograph or fingerprints, and Parliament will also be able to agree
specific rules as provided for in Clause 23 on how information will be provided to the
police or other organisations. These will include provisions such as the level in the
organisation at which the request must be approved.
We have also protected the most sensitive area of the register - the records of how the card
or database entry has been checked previously (paragraph 9 of Schedule 1). This
information can be provided only for purposes connected with the prevention and detection
of serious crime or for the existing statutory purposes of the intelligence and security
This is the infamous audit trail - the most dangerous part of the Register.
The restrictions are welcome, but the access allowed is already far too wide. And
we know from experience - see RIPA - that such restrictions tend to be watered down in
time. That's before even considering the threat from hacking and simple incompetence.
Even ignoring those points, the government seem to be saying: "Only the police and
security services will be allowed a complete record of where you go and what you do - so
that's all right then." I beg to differ.
The third part of the public interest definition is the enforcement of immigration
controls. Most people will be entered on the register when they apply for a designated
document. Clauses 4 and 10 provide for this. It is intended to designate British passports
issued to United Kingdom residents. Once designated, anyone over the age of 16 applying
for a British passport will be entered on the national identity register and will be
issued also with an identity card. The passport and identity card will be issued as a
package and it will no longer be an option to obtain a passport on its own once it has
In the case of foreign residents, the intention is to designate the residence documents
issued to foreign nationals and for these to double as an identity card. What this means
is that, once designated, anyone applying for these documents and legally resident in the
United Kingdom will have had their identity verified to the highest standard and will have
been issued with a biometric ID card. This will act as a major deterrent to illegal
immigration as eventually everyone resident here legally will have a biometric ID card
which will confirm their identity as well as their right to reside here and, if they are
only a temporary resident, such as a foreign student, any limits on their stay.
The fourth part of the public interest definition is the enforcement of prohibitions on
illegal working. One of the key pull factors for illegal immigrants is our healthy
employment market, combined with the fact that even the most reputable of employers can
find it is too easy to be hoodwinked by forged papers.
We are stepping up our enforcement activity against illegal working. During 2004 the
Immigration Service carried out 1,618 operations against illegal working. In the future,
the possession of an identity card which confirms an individual's right to work in the
United Kingdom will make it much easier for the vast majority of legitimate employers to
ensure that they comply with the law. It will also make prosecution of unscrupulous
Illegal immigration and illegal working go together. It's worth remembering that many
illegal immigrants risk their lives crammed into cattle trucks to get here - do we really
believe that the thought of an ID card will stop such desperate people from coming?
So the real question is, "will ID Cards help us to catch illegal immigrants once they are
here?" I think not.
Such people today tend to work in the illegal economy, cash in hand, no questions asked.
Many are in the thrall of criminal gangmasters who make them risk their lives for pennies. Will
such gangmasters ask for ID Cards? Hardly.
If an ID card scheme is effective then it will simply drive more illegal immigrants into
the arms of gangmasters. The criminals will make more profit and more people will die.
The final public interest is to secure the efficient and effective provision of public
services. Clauses 15 to 17 allow Parliament to approve regulations for public services to
require an identity card to be produced before an individual accesses a particular
service. This is not a "one size fits all" provision. Parliament will have to approve
individual regulations for individual services and there are obligations on the Government
to consult about any proposals. However, the principle is surely right that when seeking
access to a public service such as free health treatment, or applying for the payment of
state benefits, an individual should be asked to produce an identity card that confirms
his or her identity as a first step in proving entitlement to the service. Of course, as
we have always made clear, this will not interfere with the delivery of emergency
healthcare or other services. As I have already explained, we expect that most people will
obtain their ID card when they apply for a British passport or a foreign national's
As I have explained before, entitlement is not the same as
identity. It is perfectly possible to separate the two. Instead the government choose
to conflate them in order to justify their identity control scheme.
However, the Government have been clear that the identity cards scheme which is being
introduced is designed to become compulsory. We therefore need to have the debate on the
principle of compulsion now. The provisions on compulsion are in Clauses 6, 7 and 9 and
are about the timing of compulsion and the precise categories of people who will be
required to register. It would be possible to phase in this requirement for different
categories at different times and to exempt certain groups, such as, perhaps, the very
elderly. The Government must publish their reasons for compulsion, they must allow both
Houses of Parliament to comment on their proposition for compulsion and must take account
of these comments before laying an order before both Houses. Under this so-called
super-affirmative procedure both Houses must then agree to the order setting a date for
By discussing the introduction of compulsion the government is continuing to imply that
the scheme will initially be voluntary. As mentioned earlier, it will within a few years
be compulsory for 80% of the population, without any "super-affirmative" process
The means of enforcing the compulsion to register are via civil financial penalties. It
will not be a criminal offence to fail to register when the scheme is compulsory because
we do not see the need to burden the police and the criminal courts with enforcing the
scheme. We will use civil means. Clauses 34 and 35 set out the procedure for objecting to
or appealing against any civil penalty that may be imposed
To clarify, Baroness Scotland is talking about the £2500 fine for failing to attend a
registration centre for scanning and indexing and the £1000 fine every time you fail to
inform the Government of an address change.
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