Trevor Mendham

UK Compulsory National Identity Cards (ID Cards)

Briefings - Charles Clarke, 28/06/2005

This is page 4 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
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab):
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
Mr. Clarke:
Not at this stage. I will do so later.
 
I argue that the ID card system is in fact a bulwark against the surveillance or Big Brother society, and not a further contribution to it. [Interruption.] This is a serious point. People must understand the nature of the society in which we now live. Today, large quantities of information exist for all of us, throughout our society. Truly amazing. Clarke is proposing to build the mother of all databases. It will hold an unprecedented amount of information about everyone in the country. There will be an audit trail that gives the government a record of where we go and what we do.

And that is a bulwark against the surveillance society?!?

The question is how we best regulate that and deal with identity fraud. Yes, they are important questions. The answer is not to collect yet more personal information about people.
Several hon. Members rose
Mr. Clarke:
I will make some more progress at this stage.

I turn now to the second concern, which many Members across the House have raised with me: the cost of the scheme and the way in which that operates. I acknowledge that the concerns expressed by Members are genuine.

 
The starting point for the discussion is the biometric passport. As the House knows, the UK Government propose to introduce biometric passports to keep in line with developments in international standards through the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

The discussion about passports is interesting - but irrelevant.

A passport is a specific document used for a specific purpose. Not everyone has one.

The government is planning a single, universal document to be forced on everyone, used everywhere and tracked centrally.

If there is any connection between ID Cards and passports it is that the government's proposed ID Card will probably become in effect an internal passport.

Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con):
Will the Home Secretary give way?
Mr. Clarke:
Not at this stage. The first phase of biometric passports, in line with ICAO standards, incorporating a facial image biometric, will be introduced during 2006.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD):
Will the Home Secretary give way on that point?
Mr. Clarke:
I will give way to a number of Members when I come to the end of this passage, as I have been doing.
 
In the case of Europe, facial image and fingerprint biometrics, in line with those standards, will be required in passports issued by EU states under Council Regulation 2252/2004. Facial biometrics must be introduced by August 2006, and fingerprint biometrics three years after the technical specification has been agreed. All EU member states will have to introduce the same biometrics into the EU common format residence permits and visas for nationals of non-EU states. So Clarke is saying that the EU will go far beyond the rest of the world. Why might that be? Well, the UK is "at the heart of Europe" and this government will have been actively involved in drawing up these standards. It's a bit of a cheek to say we will "have to" follow particular requirements when we were involved in determining them!

In reality, of course, the "have to" bit applies only to documents for non-EU nationals. Not to passports. Clarke himself confirms this later in answer to an intervention from Lynne Jones:

"On the European Union, the regulation to which I referred is binding on the Schengen countries, although not necessarily on us"
So any further reference to "EU standards" is irrelevant.

The United States has issued a further deadline for visa waiver programme countries to introduce facial image biometric passports from 26 October 2006. Biometric passports, or e-passports, incorporate an integrated circuit chip capable of storing the biographic information from the data page, and a digitised photograph or other biometrics. Once all those United States requirements are implemented, nationals of those countries not issuing biometric passports will require a visa to visit the United States. The current cost of a United States non-immigrant biometric visa is 100, requiring a personal visit to London or Belfast and currently taking 31 working days to make an appointment for fingerprints to be recorded, and a further three days to issue a visa.

 
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab):
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
Mr. Clarke:
In a second. The effect of moving to a biometric passport is to raise the cost of the passport to of the order of 65 on each occasion.

Members in all parts of the House must acknowledge that that can be avoided only if the United Kingdom were to choose to stand aside from the international biometric development that I have described, which would, in turn, lead to costs for those of our citizens who wish to travel in any given way. So that 65 is a cost that we meet without any reference to the Identity Cards Bill now before the House. That is an important and critical point.

On top of that biometric passport cost, the biometric ID card would cost an additional 25 to 30. That is the unit cost published in the regulatory impact assessment. It is not the charge that the Government agreed...

Lynne Jones:
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
Mr. Clarke:
I told you that I will give way later - [Hon. Members: "Ooh!"] My hon. Friend is very persistent and very effective in her arguments, if not always in her resolutions. I promise her that I will give way at the appropriate point. I rather liked the "Ooh!" from Members. I must try to acquire that effective tone.
The "cost per card" has excited the press, but is actually irrelevant.

The really significant costs are the massive costs to the country of implementing and maintaining this scheme. Here are some, there are probably more that I've missed:

  • The costs of designing and building the mother of all databases - far bigger than required for the new passports
  • The costs of maintaining this vast system, including the communications facilities to allow for remote verification
  • The costs of dealing with all the changes to personal details, eg every single address change by every resident of the UK
  • The costs of installing scanners in libraries, hospitals, benefit offices
  • The costs of training staff to use that technology
  • The costs to business if they have to install scanners to vet job applicants
  • The costs of enforcing compulsion and dealing with the estimated three million ID refuseniks
All these are costs to the country. Whether they are recouped through increased central taxation, through a charge for the card or through increased costs to business they are costs that, one way or another, we will all pay.

As I have said, the 25 to 30 that I have described is the unit cost published in the regulatory impact assessment, but I emphasise that that is not the charge that the Government have agreed. The actual charge will be determined by the Government at the time of introduction, depending on the business plan for the card's introduction. It will include, first, the cost of producing the card following the tender process; secondly, it will include the income in respect of driving licences or the Criminal Records Bureau, for example, which we could use to deal with the costs associated with the card; thirdly, it will include the possibility of cheaper cards for poorer citizens, which many of my colleagues have argued is a necessary development; fourthly, there is the possibility of a maximum charge for the card, so that it is capped at a particular level.
Several hon. Members rose
Mr. Clarke:
I will give way in a moment, but at a time of my choosing.

I intend to provide more detail on the Government's intentions before the Bill leaves this House, but as a result of that clarity, many of the concerns that people have about the cost will lessen. I want to emphasise one other point before I give way. The Bill already makes it clear, in clause 37, that once the legislation is enacted, Parliament has to approve the fees and charges for ID cards. That is done by way of the negative resolution, but I am prepared to consider changes in Committee, such as making the initial charges subject to the affirmative, rather than the negative, procedure, if that will give the House some confidence that the charging regime is being established in accordance with people's wishes.

All of which is, as I explanied, irrelevant.

Whatever the charge for the card, this huge scheme will cost many billions of pounds of our money that could be better used elsewhere.

Several hon. Members rose
Mr. Clarke:
Of course, the Government are entirely of the view that it would be ridiculous to have an expensive card that people were in some sense forced to buy. But that is not what we will have. I give way first to my hon. Friend - my admired friend - the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones).
 
Lynne Jones:
I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind remarks and for giving way. What is the status of the proposed EU-wide passport with fingerprint biometrics that he mentioned earlier? Is it just a proposal or a definite agreement? Will he also address the question, raised by the Opposition, of the cost of accessing the data held on an individual, and will he say how long it would take to get that information and to make any changes to it, should the individual in question identify an error?
 
Mr. Clarke:
On my hon. Friend's second point, I have already made it clear - I hope that she accepts that this really is the case - that individual companies and private-sector organisations simply cannot buy the database.
That is not what Lynne Jones asked. She asked about the cost and inconveniece to individuals of an error in the register. Clarke chose not to answer.
On her first point, as far as the United States is concerned, it will do what it does irrespective of anything else. On the European Union, the regulation to which I referred is binding on the Schengen countries, although not necessarily on us. However, it is expected that all EU member states will have to introduce the same biometrics into the EU common format residence permits, and into visas for nationals of non-EU states. That's a very important admission by Clarke: EU regs will not necessarily force us to put fingerprints in passports. The UK has a Schengen opt-out.

We will have to put fingerprints into residence permits and visas for non-EU nationals, but if we put them into passports it will be because we choose to do so.

I should point out to my hon. Friend and to others who are concerned about this issue that in the view of all observers, there is absolutely no doubt that the development of biometric travel documents in the ways that I have described is the future. Given that environment, we would seriously disadvantage the citizens of this country if we did not go down the biometric route. Biometric passports, yes. Fingerprinting the entire population, no.

Remember, the ICAO standards only require a digitised photo. Secondary biometrics are optional.

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