|Charles Clarke||Response from Trevor Mendham|
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con):
Yes. May I return the Home Secretary to the Data Protection Act? The Government propose that the
citizen will have to pay a large fee for the identity card. If the regime laid down by the Act is
followed, he will have to pay another fee to gain access to the register to see whether the
information about him is correct. Will the Home Secretary assure us that he will not charge a
fee to people using the system for that purpose?
I will give assurances on charging in a moment.
Various questions have been asked about whether private companies would be able to buy information
from the national database. Let me make the position clear. There will be no open access to
information on the register. Private companies will not be able to gain access to or buy national
identity register entries.
Again, there's nothing to stop a future government changing the rules. Once this database
has been running for a few years the information it contains will be extremely valuable. A
future government might think it "prudent" to change the rules. Especially if this is
presented as a way of raising money to improve public services.
With the consent of the identity card holder - I emphasise that - banks or other approved
businesses will be able to verify identity by checking an ID card against the national identity
register. That would mainly involve confirming that the card is valid and has not been reported
lost or stolen, and that the information shown on it is correct.
The card holder's biometric details may also - with the card holder's consent - be confirmed
against those held on the register. Clause 14, however, specifically prevents fingerprints or
other biometric information from being conveyed from the register to a private sector organisation,
even with the consent of the individual concerned. It also does not allow administrative
information not related to confirmation of identity to be given to a private sector organisation
- again, even with the card holder's consent.
Clarke is wrong.
As I stated earlier, 18-2-c of the Bill means that once universal compulsion is introduced
any private company will be able to make an ID Card check a condition of providing
service. Your only choice will be to choose not to use that service. If (for example)
every supermarket decides to check ID Cards before accepting credit cards then in reality
you will have no choice.
Why does this matter? Because every time such a check is made, the audit trail will
contain a record of when that check took place and to whom the information was given. In
effect a record of where we go and what we do.
I am concerned about that point. We have heard that private sector companies will have access
to the database to check information. If the identity card is a gold-plated proof of identity,
why should those companies need access to the database behind it?
I am sorry if I was not clear enough, but I just said as clearly as I could that private sector
companies would not have access to the database. I also said that, with the consent of the card
holder, banks or other approved businesses would be able to verify identity. That is all they
would be able to do. It is not the same thing.
Clarke continues to repeat the word "consent" in a context that few people would
Under this scheme there will be no consent, only compulsion.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con):
Clause 15 says that the Government can demand the production of an
ID card for purposes connected with the provision of a public service. Which public services
have the Government in mind, and how many abuses does the Home Secretary think are currently
taking place because of false identities?
The Bill states clearly that the ID card cannot be used as the sole means of verification of
identity for the provision of any public service. It sets out a procedure whereby a public service
provider - a local authority, a library, or whatever - can join the system if it wishes to do so,
as it has the right to do. Linked to the point that I have just made, that can be done only with
the consent of the individual identity card holder. I think that that is a perfectly reasonable
system to operate.
Again, any "consent" disappears once universal compulsion is introduced. In the case of
public services this is made clear by the last part of section 15 para 2.
Since it is unthinkable that a Right Honourable Member would deliberately mislead the
House, I can only conclude that Clarke is ignorant as to the details of his own Bill.
Concerns about police powers have been widely expressed, particularly in regard to stop and
search. I want to make it clear that the Bill, and the introduction of identity cards, will make
no difference to the general powers of the police to stop people for no reason and demand proof
of identity. The Bill will make no difference to the powers that exist under the Police and
Criminal Evidence Act 1984. In fact, quicker, reliable access to confirmed identification would
help to reduce the time a suspected person might spend in police custody. The effect of that would
be to reduce the number of people wrongly held in police custody while their identity was being
checked, which would be of benefit to the individual and to the police.
I also want to confirm that there is no requirement to carry an identity card at all times,
as there have been many questions about that. In regard to the power to make regulations to
require an ID card to be produced to access public services, clause 15(3) specifically prohibits
any "regulations the effect of which would be to require an individual . . . to carry an ID with him at all times".
Again, remember that there is nothing to stop a future government granting the
police such powers. A prohibition on regulation does not prohibit changes to
primary legislation. No parliament can bind a future parliament.
Once "everyone has one" there are bound to be demands for compulsion to carry as a
"common sense" next step.
I also want to address the concerns expressed by ethnic minorities. A spokesman for the Muslim
Council of Britain has been reported as urging the Home Office to reassure Muslims that they would
not be singled out, saying that the key point would be whether the community would be "unfairly
targeted". It will not be, and I can give that assurance quite specifically, for the reason that
I have just given. Similarly, a spokesman for the Commission for Racial Equality asked whether
there were "adequate safeguards in place to address the potential adverse impact on
particular groups in our society".
Again, I can give that assurance. The race equality impact assessment, which was published with
the Bill, sets out quite clearly how this situation will be addressed. The fact is that ethnic
minority communities, like other communities, have no reason to fear the ID card system, and still
less reason to fear that they will be targeted in any way.
It's not for me to discuss in detail the fears of the ethnic minorites. Suffice to say that such
fears exist and remain despite all the attempts at assurance from Clarke and others.
No-one is suggesting for a minute that Charles Clarke is a racist. Despite my disagreements
with him I believe him to be a fundamentally decent human being. The problem is that
future Home Secretaries - or other people in power - might not be so decent.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab):
If we should not be at all concerned about these proposals, following all the reassurances that
my right hon. Friend is giving, why would the Information Commissioner say that the ID card would
be an "unnecessary and
disproportionate intrusion" into our liberty? Should not we take Mr. Thomas's comments very
seriously indeed? Is it not also a fact that, if we had a free vote on the Bill tonight, it would
certainly be thrown out?
First, I cannot speak for the Information Commissioner. I do not think that he is right. He is a
long-standing opponent of the identity card system. I think that his analysis is incorrect,
for the reasons that I have already set out. An identity card will provide a means of dealing
with the information that society issues that would not exist if we did not have those powers. On
the question of a free vote, I simply observe that, when we voted on the Bill's Second Reading on
21 December 2004, the Opposition all voted in favour of it. Now, like sheep, they have moved in
the other direction [Interruption.] We have some good dissension going on here.
This is quite amazing. Clarke appears to be suggesting that the Information Commissioner
is wrong because he opposes ID Cards.
The Information Commissioner is an expert. Protecting our data is his job. His only job. If
he describes the government's plans as an unnecessary and disproportionate intrusion into
our liberty then the government need to give a better response than "He's wrong".
Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con):
The Home Secretary obviously intends to make these things compulsory, and he has already talked
about the penalties for refusing to register. Will he now let the British people know exactly what
penalties they might face, in fines or imprisonment, for refusing to have anything to do with
I shall cover the cost aspect in a second. Were there to be compulsion - that is, after a vote
had been taken in this House and in another place, some considerable time down the line - the
penalties for non-registration are set out in the legislation.
Let me help Clarke out on this one.
The penalty for failing to attend for registration at a specified time and place (which
need not be "reasonable") is £2,500. (Section 6, para 4) Each time. (Section 6, para 6)
The penalty for failing to ensure that your details are kept up to date (eg failing to
inform the government when you change address) is £1,000 (Section 12, para 6).
Once universal compulsion is introduced, the penalty for failing to renew an expired ID Card
is £1,000 (Section 9, para 5).
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con):
Will the Secretary of State tell the House how he believes ID cards protected the people of New
York on 11 September 2001? The Government talk about national security, but ID cards clearly
did not help in those circumstances, or subsequently in Madrid.
I will come to that matter in a second.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab):
On the impact of ID cards - which must necessarily become compulsory in due course - on black and
minority ethnic communities, the whole House accepts that the Bill does not extend the powers of
the police. But it does extend the pretexts on which the police might stop people. All of us who
live and work in our inner cities know what that could mean. The Home Secretary should take
seriously the concerns of the Commission for Racial Equality and the Muslim Council of Britain,
because the last thing that we need is legislation that will further turn the screw on community
relations in our big towns.
I do take seriously the concerns of various organisations representing minority ethnic communities,
and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), with
whom we have also discussed this point in the past. I do not accept her argument that the Bill
offers a pretext for police to behave differently from how they do now. The powers are there right
now for the police to act in the way that they do.
The ID card does not change that regime.
But it does provide a perfect opportunity for future changes to that regime.
Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD):
The Home Secretary has just said that ethnic minorities have nothing to fear from this measure.
Why, then, does the Government's own regulatory impact assessment state:
"There are also cultural problems about getting service providers to ask only certain groups for proof of identity for fear of being accused of discrimination"?
Is not that proof that there is a danger for ethnic minorities?
Not at all. The introduction process that we have discussed links ID cards to the passport,
possibly to the driving licence, and possibly to the Criminal Records Bureau. Those are all ways
of introducing the card that are not linked to specific ethnic minority groups in any way. What
the regulatory impact assessment means is that some people might have concerns about those
matters, which is why I have sought to address that specifically in the House.
Again, Clarke seems to be saying "We're nice people, so what have you got to worry about?"
Not a great long-term reassurance.
Future governments might not be so nice.
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