Trevor Mendham

UK Compulsory National Identity Cards (ID Cards)

Briefings - Charles Clarke, 28/06/2005

This is page 3 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. 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?
Mr. Clarke:
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. Good, but...

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.

Mr. Weir:
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?
Mr. Clarke:
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 recognise.

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?
Mr. Clarke:
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?
Mr. Clarke:
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 the scheme?
Mr. Clarke:
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.
Mr. Clarke:
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.
 
Mr. Clarke:
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?
 
Mr. Clarke:
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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