Trevor Mendham

UK Compulsory National Identity Cards (ID Cards)

Briefings - Charles Clarke, 28/06/2005

This is page 6 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. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con):
As usual, the Home Secretary is generous in giving way and we appreciate that.

May I take the right hon. Gentleman back to the issue of the common travel area with the Republic of Ireland? He was not as explicit about that as he might have been If the House votes for the Bill, is not it the case that we are heading towards a scenario in which, in 10 years' time or so, there will be three categories of people in the UK? First, citizens of the UK will have to have the identity card. Secondly, people from outside the UK and the Republic of Ireland will have to have a passport to be in the country legally and in practice at that time it may in cases be a biometric passport. Thirdly, citizens of the Republic of Ireland will be able to enter Northern Ireland or the rest of the United Kingdom, live there and do whatever they like with no document at all. Is not that a major hole in the intended comprehensiveness of the Home Secretary's system, and is not it an anomaly and an unfairness that will be difficult for the British people to accept?

Mr. Clarke:
I do not think that it is a major hole. There is no doubt that the Irish Government, the Dail will look at the issues and decide what they want to do, but it is not necessary for us to say in the House that we shall require Irish citizens coming to the UK to have the same ID card as us. That would not be an appropriate course for us to follow. Equally, as was pointed out earlier, we have no obligation whatever to give any data held under our system to any foreign Government. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to say that we should work towards a situation where the joint travel area evolves well in a good working relationship. I agree, and that is what we shall do.
This doesn't really address the point about there being different categories of people in the UK. That point is one of the main reasons that the terrorism argument has been demolished.
Several hon. Members rose
Mr. Clarke:
I will give way again later, but I want to make some progress.

The next stage of my argument relates to the benefits that the ID card will bring, because I do not think that they have yet been clearly set out. First, I shall set out the benefits to every individual who has a card. That builds on the point made about access to services by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones). Before addressing the alleged benefits, let's remember that is seems perverse to legislate to force people to accept benefits. If Clarke really thinks the cards will be welcomed as bringing benefits, he should make them truly voluntary.
It will be a benefit to the individual to be able to make clear their identity in financial transactions - for example, opening bank accounts and in a wide range of other transactions - without having to produce a series of proxy documentation Opening a bank account is something I do very rarely. I'd much rather go through the hassle of providing proxy documentation a few times in my life than be forced to register for an ID Card, risk being fined £1000 for not telling the government when I move house and have my privacy destroyed.

As for money laundering rules, only a tiny percentage of people in this country regularly undertake large cash transactions - I certainly don't! Why not have a specific authorisation system for those people? A voluntary system, used for a specific purpose by the people who need it.

In terms of obtaining public documents, I have already mentioned driving licences, passports and Criminal Records Bureau certificates. There is no doubt in my mind that the card will help individuals who need and want those documents. Only because the government will make it impossible to get those documents without one!

It is totally disingenous to say "You'll have to have an ID Card to get a passport" then claim "ID Cards will be great because they'll make it easier to get a passport".

For the reasons that I set out earlier, to have a card will be of major benefit in terms of international travel, whether for travel to the United States without a visa or more widely elsewhere in the world Nonsense. Biometric passports will provide this benefit, ID Cards are not needed.
Proof of identity in relation to law enforcement is also a benefit to the individual How many of us need to prove our identity to the law on a regular basis? Unless Clarke is hinting that we will have to start doing so more often then this will be a benefit to almost no-one.
Access to public services, as decided by those service providers, whether a library or any other form of public service, is another example of such a benefit. Again this is twisted logic. I have access to my library and a right to access public services today. ID Cards will not give me anything I don't already have.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Alison Seabeck) raised the issue of identity fraud. She is entirely correct. In 2004, an average of 50,000 people in the UK were victims of impersonation fraud. On average, it takes each victim 60 hours to resolve their case and clear their name. ID cards will make it more difficult to perpetrate identity theft and the high-quality verification service will reduce the time that it takes to deal with the damage. The British Bankers Association has stated that general banking losses due to identity fraud amount to £50 million. Those are substantial issues and show that the card will be of benefit to the individual. So-called "identity fraud" is difficult to define and figures are hazy. Much of it is in fact old-fashioned credit card fraud.

We are already getting chip and pin which we are told will wipe out much credit card fraud. Most of the rest takes place over the phone or via the internet - where, by definition, an ID Card will not help since there will be no way of checking it!

Let us be generous and assume that Clarke's figures are right and that ID Cards could wipe out all of this so-called identity fraud. The population of the UK is about 60 million. If 50,000 people are affected each year that means that on average we'd each expect to suffer from this less than once in a thousand years!

I think I'd rather take that tiny risk than put up with a vast, intrusive national identity scheme.

The benefits to society include more effective crime fighting in a wide variety of ways; reducing serious and organised crime, people trafficking, money laundering and drug dealing; and reducing illegal migration and benefit fraud None of these have been proven they are at best "hopes". The government switches from one to another every time they are attacked.

It's not enough for the government to simply assert in one sentence that the scheme will solve all these problems. They must give a detailed argument to demonstrate each case.

Some hon. Members have been sceptical about the benefits of the card in dealing with terrorism, but I shall consider as an illustration the widely aired suggestion that ID cards did not stop the terrorist bombings in Madrid.

In fact, ID cards helped the Spanish police to identify who was responsible for the Madrid bombings, because in order to buy a mobile phone in Spain a person has to verify their identity with an ID card. According to the Spanish police, ID cards were a key element in tracking down the bombers. The cards also helped to identify the victims of the bombing so that their families could be informed.

Sounds a bit like shutting the stable door to me.

We are always being told that the most serious terrorist threat is from suicide bombers, like the 911 terrorists. In the case of suicide bombers, identitfying them after the act is hardly a priority.

Of course, Spanish ID cards do not contain the biometrics that we are discussing, so they can be forged more easily than the kind of card that we are describing. Our ID cards will be more successful. It is no coincidence

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Clarke:
I will give way in a second, but I want to make my argument in my own way.

Jean-Louis Bruguière, France's top counter-terrorism investigator - it was reported in The Times on 1 June - claimed that identity cards would help Britain to protect itself from terrorist attacks. The head of Interpol said that in cases of terrorism multiple identities have been used by terrorists If we're trading quotes, guess who said, back in 2002: "it is important that we do not pretend that an entitlement card would be an overwhelming factor in combating international terrorism"? It was David Blunkett.

All the evidence shows that countries with ID Cards - even biometric ID Cards - suffer from terrorism as much as those without.

Of course, no Western democracy has ever imposed a system as large and as intrusive as the one Clarke is proposing. So by definition there can be no evidence that it will or won't work. Clarke is simply crossing his fingers.

Against the possiblity that this scheme might help to slow down the terrorists we must weigh the certainty that it will destroy our privacy and way of life.

The quantification of the benefits depends on the assumptions that we make and the programme that is established, but they are of the order of at least £0.5 billion a year. It depends on how fast the various benefits come on stream - the Criminal Records Bureau benefits and so on - but in sum, the benefits of this ID card system, first to every individual who has one, and secondly to the society, are real and substantial. If ID Cards offer any benefits to the individual it is only because the government intends to make impossible to operate in society without one. To quote Blunkett again: "But my own view is that the minimum is you can't actually work, or draw on services unless you have the card".

The so-called "benefits" will simply be rights we already have.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate) (Lab):
My right hon. Friend has referred to banks and to libraries, and he has referred to the ability of an ID card to prevent acts of international terror, but he has failed to tell the House how. Must every library have a machine that can ensure that the ID card that is presented is accurate? How are these cards to be verified in every single aspect of national life, from banks to libraries, to police stations, to accident and emergency, to hospitals, to doctors' surgeries, and who is going to pay for the machines that can read them?
Mr. Clarke:
In each case, it will be a matter for the authority providing a public service to consider whether it is in its interests to have an ID card system. For example, if Camden council decides that it is beneficial to Camden council to have a different form of ID check in its libraries from the system that currently exists to ensure that people do not steal books, it will decide to put in the readers that are necessary. We are not requiring the authorities to do it; no one says that they have to do it. They will make a decision.
It's interesting that a number of local authorities, councils and even countries (Scotland and Wales) have already decided not to use Clarke's cards to restrict access to services that they control. So much for the clear benefits to everyone - public service providers are already telling Clarke what he can do with his cards.

The danger is that once universal compulsion is introduced there will be an increasing pressure on every local service to use the card on the grounds that "everyone has one".

[Interruption.] I hear a sedentary intervention saying that we are requiring people to carry cards. That is simply untrue, as I have said before, and that is precisely the point about this whole approach. This is a vital point. Clarke is absolutely right to say that this Bill introduces no statutory compulsion to carry. However:

1) Once universal compulsion to have a card is introduced I believe it is only a matter of time before compulsion to carry is introduced by a future government.

2) Even without legal compulsion to carry, function creep and the use of cards by private companies will make it impossible to operate in society without carrying one

My point, and it is a very serious point when we look at the benefits, is that each organisation will make its own assessment as to whether there is a benefit in having an ID card system. Public services will be allowed to make their own assessment, local authorities will be allowed to make their own assessment, private companies will be allowed to make their own assessment. It seems that the only people who will not be allowed to make their own assessment are the individuals who are supposed to benefit so much from this scheme.

For the people of this country there will be no assessment, no choice, no consent.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab):
I am very grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way. When the Leader of the Opposition told The Daily Telegraph last December that he had taken advice from senior police officers and security chiefs regarding the security of British citizens and that he could not disregard that, was he right then, or is he right now to ask my right hon. Friend to disregard it?

Mr. Clarke:
To be quite candid, I decided not to go into this type of partisan political point, first because it is obviously alien to my character and is not the kind of thing that I would want to do, and secondly because it would be unfair. The hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) made the point earlier that he voted against his party in December 2004 and intends to continue doing so. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) has reversed his position.

John Bercow: The party is on side now.

Mr. Clarke:
From a sedentary position, the hon. Gentleman makes the position quite clear - and the embarrassed smiles of Opposition Members also make it quite clear - when he says, accurately, that the party is on side now. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) has to explain his stewardship of the party over that period, and that really is a matter for him. I will not give in to the temptation that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Steve McCabe) has offered me by suggesting that I deal with the matter in a particular way.
Clarke is right to avoid getting into cheap party political shots. This issue is too important and cuts across party boundaries.

Sticking to the issue raised by McCabe, we should obviously listen to any advice from the police and security forces. However it is an essential element of a free society that the police and security forces do not automatically get everything for which they ask.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con):
May I bring the Home Secretary back to the benefits to the citizens of this country, particularly some of the most vulnerable citizens of this country? The Disability Rights Commission has said that the Government's own research
"shows that 62,000 disabled people will not be able to register their biometrics in any way",
"many hundreds of thousands of disabled people"
"likely to experience significant barriers to enrolment".

Mr. Clarke:
There are two points to make in response to that. First, the organisations concerned will decide whether they want to follow that course. Forms of identity can be used other than the ID card if that is more appropriate, but they will decide. Secondly, all of this has to be compliant with the current disability legislation; that is self-evident and that is how it stands.
Hang on a minute. Clarke is planning to impose a compulsory ID Card scheme - but if there are problems when organisations decide to use it then that's not his responsibility. Hmm.

Again, this raises the fundamental point: if organisations will be allowed to make this decision, why not allow us as individuals to make our own decision?

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