Trevor Mendham

UK Compulsory National Identity Cards (ID Cards)

Briefings - Charles Clarke, 28/06/2005

This is page 2 of my personal response to Charles Clarke's speech at the Second Reading of the misnamed ID Cards Bill on 28/6/2005 Click here for page 1.

Charles ClarkeResponse from Trevor Mendham
Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP) rose
Mr. Clarke:
I will give way shortly.
I argue that the identity card has real benefits to the individual and society, and that it is a means of limiting abuse in our modern information society rather than a means of adding to it and creating it in a more complex way. It gives individuals the right to secure verification of their identity. Does Clarke really believe this? If so then he is a Jedi Master of Doublethink.

Can he really believe that collecting an unprecedented information about all of us in a central government database is in some way limiting abuse?

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con) rose
Mr. Clarke: I shall come to some particulars, but I before I do so I shall take a couple of interventions.
Mr. Gibb:
Given that the identity card database will have details of everyone's fingerprints and other biometric information, what assurances can the Secretary of State give that that database will not be used routinely by the police in their normal investigation processes so that, for example, a fingerprint left on a pen in a bank will not lead to innocent people bring questioned and having to explain their whereabouts on the day that that bank was robbed?
Mr. Clarke:
I can give the assurance that the law of the land requires that the police can operate only in accordance with the legal powers that they have at the moment. That is a very important requirement. It is right that police and security services should have powers as regards national security or serious and organised crime - whatever the issue might be. The House has agreed that it is right that they should have powers in those circumstances so that we can protect ourselves, but - I emphasise the point that I made earlier - those rights are already set out in the existing law and are not changed by this legislation.
Clarke is correct. What he fails to mention is that there is not - cannot be - anything in this Bill to prevent a future government from giving the police, or anyone else, new powers.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op):
My understanding is that up to 51 separate categories of information will be required for the register. That seems excessive to many people. Can my right hon. Friend justify the inclusion of so many pieces of information?
Mr. Clarke:
As my hon. Friend knows, the list is set out in the schedule to the Bill. I am happy, in Committee or elsewhere, to go through each of those categories and consider whether particular aspects are indeed necessary. That is a perfectly reasonable issue to address, but we need to be clear that the basic data on the database are about the identity of the citizen, including basic material about that person, and that is what the list of categories is about. I concede that, if there are areas where we could have less information, I will consider that in Committee.
Love is right to say that many people consider Schedule 1 of the Bill to be excessive. "Many people" including the Home Affairs Committee. They said last year:
"Before considering the detail of the draft Bill, we note that, as currently drafted, it goes far wider than would be needed to introduce a simple system to establish and demonstrate identity"
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC):
The Home Secretary has referred twice to national security and the protection of society, which appear in the Bill. If it is passed today, the system will not be on stream for 10 years. What on earth will become of us in those 10 years?
Mr. Clarke:
We fight all the time on all the issues that we have to tackle, including serious and organised crime and national security, to do our best to deal with the threats that our society faces. I observed that we live in an internationalised, globalised world. In all the matters for which I am responsible - serious and organised crime, immigration and asylum and counter-terrorism - we need to work internationally. We should improve our capacity to do that and that is part of the purpose of the Bill. However, it is not its whole purpose.
Again we see the constantly shifting justifications for the Bill. At the beginning of Clarke's speech, just a few minutes ago, it was to prevent identity theft. Now it is - amongst other things - to tackle organised crime, illegl immigration and terrorism.

Clarke appears to have been reading Sun Tzu's Art of War:

"Therefore the consummation of forming an army is to arrive at formlessness. When you have no form, undercover espionage cannot find out anything, intelligence cannot form a strategy."
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con):
Will the Home Secretary give hon. Members two pieces of information? First, what, according to his experts, is the likely number of identity checks in any day or week? Secondly, what is the highest percentage accuracy that he can expect of the scheme?
Mr. Clarke:
I shall deal with the second question later. The number of checks depends entirely on the extent to which and the purposes for which individuals use the identity card.
It will depend to the extent to which individuals are forced to use their identity card. Remember, once universal compulsion is introduced there will be nothing to stop your local video shop insisting on checking your card.
If the question is about police identity checks, the number will be about the same as it is now. The police check identity in their work now. Again, we must remember that there is nothing to stop a future government giving police greater powers. Once cards become universal I believe that it will be presented as a "common sense" next step to give the police powers to stop people on the street and demand to see their ID Card.
Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab):
Will my right hon. Friend confirm now or later that he would have to return to the House with further legislation to make the scheme compulsory?
Mr. Clarke:
A further measure would have to be introduced in both the House and the other place. An affirmative resolution would need to be passed in both Houses.
Two points here. Firstly, a "further measure" is very different to "further legislation". The Home Affairs Committee was highly critical of this "super affirmative" process.

The second point is that this refers to universal compulsion. Even during the so-called voluntary phase, it will still be compulsory to apply for a card and be entered on the Register if you wish to renew your passport or other "designated document".

Several hon. Members rose
Mr. Clarke:
I shall make some progress and then give way.
In the information society in which we live, identity cards will be a means of helping to control it rather than adding to it. Total nonsense.

Amongst other things, the scheme will create an audit trail of where we go and what we do. It will give the government an unprecedented amount of information about our lives.

How can Clarke claim that this will not add to the amount of information held on us?

I want to give full particulars, dealing with personal protection, access to private companies, the role of the police and the position of ethnic minorities. All those points have been raised with me. They are all important points, but again Clarke is ignoring the basic issue that this data should never be colleced in the first place.
I deal first with personal protection. I want to make it explicitly clear that, under the Data Protection Act 1998, everyone has the right, without qualification, to check the record that is held on them. Moreover, the same right to check who has accessed the database that currently exists in data protection legislation will apply to the identity database in the Bill. I know that many of my hon. Friends in particular have been worried about those aspects. I therefore take the opportunity not only to set that out clearly and openly but to state that, in Committee, I am prepared to consider amendments that might make it more explicit.

I acknowledge that people have concerns because the matter involves the Data Protection Act and they are worried about what might be perceived as a potentially secretive database. I am keen to draw that out.

To be fair to the government, this is a change from Blunkett's first draft Bill last year. It's a welcome change but still the equivalent of giving an aspirin to someone about to face the guillotine.
Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab):
One cannot obtain data under the Data Protection Act if the information refers to security or criminal matters. Under the Bill, the Home Secretary has the power to include, through secondary legislation, issues that relate to security and criminal matters. By definition, they would not be accessible under the Data Protection Act, yet they are the most important matters. Will the Home Secretary give his mind to that and let us know the answer?
Mr. Clarke:
I shall, but I want to reassert the point that I made a second ago. Protections under the Bill for the database for which it provides are the same as those for other databases under the Data Protection Act. As my hon. and learned Friend says, the Bill has implications for the way in which the police and security services operate, as does the Data Protection Act. However, there is no division between our proposals for the Bill and existing provisions under data protection legislation.
This is an important point. You will be allowed to see if the credit card companies have accessed your records. You will not be allowed to see if the security services have accessed your records. You may not be allowed to see if the police have accessed your records.

In fact, as the Bill currently stands, there may not even be any record of such police or security checks taking place. The Bill leaves open the possibility of anonymous, unaudited access by these groups.

Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) (Lab):
If someone examines the data held on them and finds that they are inaccurate, what procedures exist for a fast-track tribunal system to correct that? Nothing can be more damaging for an individual than finding that there is information on the databases that can destroy one's credit rating, business and one's life. Will the Home Secretary ensure that the Government table amendments in Committee to establish a quick tribunal system to correct incorrect information?
Mr. Clarke:
I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. The obligation to make the information correct - to which his central point relates - is accepted, and we can include in the Bill a procedure to ensure that that is clear. I do not think that a tribunal case would be involved, because there is no interest whatsoever in putting inaccurate data on the database. If he feels that some aspects require an appellate structure, I will give thought to that, but it is in no one's interest for wrong data to be on the database. If a mistake of some kind is made - which can of course happen, as he implied - it is important to correct it, in the interests of everyone including, as he suggested, the individual, but also the system.
Currently the Bill places the whole obligation to correct information on the database on the individual. There are heavy penalties for failing to do so. Hopefully Clarke's statement here means that this will change.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con):
Given that, even for the Home Secretary, this is the beginning of a new Parliament, and given all the his undertakings to provide for detailed consideration in Committee, why is the Committee timetable so congested? It requires the Bill to be out of Committee three weeks from today. Why can he not further consider my suggestion on the last Second Reading that the Bill - complex as it is, and affecting every man, woman and child in the country - should be referred to a Joint Select Committee of the Lords and the Commons for the most critical and detailed scrutiny?
Mr. Clarke:
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's maiden intervention, if that is the right way to describe it.

I understand, although I am open to correction, that the Committee timetable was agreed through the usual channels. If that is not the case, we can certainly discuss it again. As I said earlier, there has been substantial debate on these matters in both Houses over a considerable period. That includes pre-legislative scrutiny going back to 2002. I believe that the procedures now being followed are correct.

The government has taken every opportunity to rush this Bill through the House. Cormack is right: this is a complex Bill that will affect everyone in the country. It is a major change in the relationship between citizen and state. It will change our way of life forever.

So why is the government guillotining the Committee stage? Because they know that the more people learn about this scheme, the less they like it.

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