HC Deb 24 February 2003 vol 400 cc8-11
4. Andy Burnham (Leigh)

What representations his Department has received on the consultation on compulsory identity cards. [98760]

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes)

The consultation paper on entitlement cards and identity fraud was published on 31 July 2002 and the deadline for submitting responses was 31 January 2003. However, we are keen to see the debate continue.

We have received more than 2,000 letters and e-mails from individuals and organisations on the consultation paper. Many of those arrived very close to the deadline for responses and are very detailed, and we will study them thoroughly over the coming weeks.

Andy Burnham

I thank the Minister for that reply, but I would urge her to go further than the preferred option and consider introducing a compulsory identity card scheme, with a requirement to register and an expectation that cards should be carried. That would be necessary to unlock the full benefits of identity cards in fighting crime and, in these uncertain times, might help to give people a greater sense of security. Who knows, it might even be helpful to the Tory party, which seems to be going through another identity crisis.

Beverley Hughes

My hon. Friend knows that the consultation paper ruled out introducing a card that it would be compulsory to carry at all times. I can reassure him that I do not believe that a compulsory scheme is necessary in order to reap the benefits. There is no point in having a card unless it is universal and, therefore, it will be compulsory to register and obtain a card if Parliament decides to introduce a scheme. I agree with my hon. Friend about the benefits of a scheme, because if we are really serious about tackling some of the problems that have been raised today, such as illegal immigration, illegal working and identity fraud, we need a very secure method of establishing identity.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Does the Minister think that there is any reliable way to stop a supposedly voluntary card being required for an increasing number of purposes? How do Ministers intend, if they pursue this idea, to prevent the system failing to deliver the correct identity card to an individual? Do they have the Child Support Agency or the Criminal Records Bureau in mind as models?

Beverley Hughes

We are still considering the responses to the consultation. The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of how we can make sure that certain organisations do not start requiring a card. That would be a matter for the terms of the legislation. He is also right to imply that it is a long-term commitment; it would be a big enterprise—a big project. In determining our response—I mean the response of every Member, not just that of the Government—we need to think about how to address the issues and make the project a success, rather than using them as an argument for not entertaining its possibility. We need to think about where we need to be as a country, not now but in 10 years time, because it will take that long to set up the issuing equipment and to get every member of the population registered. We should not necessarily be thinking about whether we need the system now but about the future: where do we want to be in 10 years time?

Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton)

Many responsible licensees and retailers with off-licences on their premises would welcome the speedy introduction of such an identity card. It would also assist communities that are plagued by young hoodlums on drink-related offences. I urge her to address the matter more seriously.

Beverley Hughes

One potential use of such a card for young people would be as a proof of age. It is interesting that in many of the discussions that I held during the consultation process and in some of the qualitative research that we have carried out with different groups, including young people, many young people themselves have told us, "This would be really good and would enable us to prove how old we are". They would thus not get into difficult situations with retailers and others.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)

Any system of identity cards, whether voluntary or compulsory, would work only if the information source on which they were based was accurate and up to date. The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety recently conceded to me that, although there is a target of only three days from a court hearing for inputting data to the police national computer, in fact no police force achieves that in less than 11 days, more than four fifths of them take more than 20 days and some of them take more than a year. Given that for months the right hon. Gentleman denied that the statistics even existed, can the hon. Lady tell the House whether and when she will publish, in full, the Carter report into the Criminal Records Bureau so that we can then all judge—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is not about identity cards.

David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is it not the position that there has been a marked lack of enthusiasm for any form of identity card on the part of other Departments—namely, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury? Why does not my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary understand that there is little evidence that any such card would deal with the abuses that have been mentioned or with terrorism? The idea is wrong and it should be dropped.

Beverley Hughes

We have had an extensive consultation exercise in order to get the views of ordinary people and of organisations which, rightly, want to express a view about the way forward. Among the 2,000 responses from individuals and organisations to which I referred, there is—on a cursory glance—support in favour in the ratio of about 2:1. As I said, we shall look at all the responses in great detail and the decision on whether to bring forward proposals will be a Government decision— not simply a Home Office one—and will be endorsed by the Cabinet.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton)

What security measures will be in place in any Government ID card scheme to prevent unauthorised access to the vast array of personal and confidential information that will be stored on such cards?

Beverley Hughes

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has actually read the consultation paper. If he has done so, he will realise that he has just mistakenly implied that the card itself will contain a whole range of data. The card itself would simply contain identifying data, possibly including a biometric. Those data would be a gateway offering access to other databases, thus enabling the card to be used to access other information. The card itself would not hold a great deal of information about any individual.