HL Deb 24 June 2002 vol 636 cc1055-8

2.52 p.m.

Baroness Sharples

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many government departments now issue entitlement cards as identification documents.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin)

My Lords, three departments do so. The DVLA issues photocard driving licences. The Home Office is issuing application registration cards to asylum seekers. The passport, which helps travellers prove their entitlement to consular assistance, is the other widely accepted proof- of-identity document in the United Kingdom. The Passport Service is seeking to develop a card form of the passport book.

Baroness Sharpies

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his helpful reply. With fraud running at a rate of about £1.2 billion a year, would it not be a good idea to introduce a voluntary entitlement card to cover all aspects? I believe that a consultation White Paper will be published shortly on this matter. Does the Minister know when it will be available?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. Identity fraud is a growing crime. A figure of £1.2 billion is the current estimate—although it is difficult to be definite. It is clearly one of the issues that will be debated when the Government publish a consultation paper in the summer on the pros and cons of an entitlement card. Without being able to give a precise answer as to the date, the last two days appear to imply that summer is getting closer, do they not?

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, given the appointment of my noble friend to the Home Office, might he consider doing what his predecessor felt unable to do? Will he rewrite the language and use the term "national identity cards"? That is what we are talking about in principle. Is it not true that in every area of public administration—health, taxation, law and order, credit regulation, the benefits system and higher and further education among ithers—there is an overwhelming need for the introduction of a national identity card? That is now the overwhelming view of the British public, as would be found if only we were to test their view in opinion polls.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, my noble friend is well known for the vehemence of his advocacy of the need for an identity card. I do not think that the Government are interested in an identity card. All that an identity card does is to prove one's identity—or to seek to do so.

Noble Lords


Lord Filkin

The issue, therefore, is to what extent an entitlement card which effectively allowed a range of other documentation to be collapsed into it could be of benefit to the public. The Government are unlikely to take a hard view one way or the other but they are keen to see a full and thoughtful debate about the benefits to the public of an entitlement card which might mean that they no longer needed to carry a range of other cards and identity documents.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords—

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, approaching this subject from the opposite direction to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, are the Government aware that there is a risk, and in some circles considerable concern, that we are approaching the introduction of a national identity card by stealth? Does the Minister agree that, if we are to have a national identity card, there must be an open debate about it and the Government will have to prove their case? They will have a seriously difficult case to prove.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I strongly agree on the importance of an informed debate about the pros and cons of an entitlement card and the possible benefits to the public. That is why the consultation paper, when it comes out in the summer, will set out those arguments and seek to engage the widest possible cross-section of the community in reflecting on what might be the benefits and the costs of having or not having an identity entitlement card. This House will no doubt play a vigorous role in the discussion and appraisal of that consultation paper.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, I must say, first, that I tremble with anxiety at having been so presumptuous as almost to have got in the way of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. That said, I beg the Minister to go further than merely discovering that an identity card is about revealing identity. It could have other uses. I ask the Government to open their mind. My noble friend asked a very sensible question, as did the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. I should have hoped that the noble Lord would take the great risk of accepting those encouraging questions.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I have not been here long, but long enough to know that it never pays to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil. That was exactly what I sought to signal when I made what the House thought a slightly semantic point. A document that merely purports to prove identity does not add great benefits to an individual citizen. If, on the other hand, a card identified one's identity but also acted as a driving licence and a passport, and gave access to a range of public services, it could be of benefit and constitute an advance. An identity card by itself might not be so advantageous.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that my noble friend Lord Woolmer of Leeds has asked Her Majesty's Government how many separate electronic databases they hold on average on each male and female United Kingdom citizen? The question was asked as long ago as 15th March. It relates without question to the issue of identity cards. Will my noble friend give some indication as to when a reply is likely?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, the short answer is considerably sooner than if the question had not been answered in oral Questions today. I do not seek to answer it totally. Clearly, a Written Answer should come rapidly forward. This is not a Home Office responsibility, I am delighted to say, but to the best of my knowledge there are some five major databases operated by central government or the devolved administrations: the departmental central index which holds national insurance numbers; the NHS central register; the UK passport central database; and the databases of drivers and vehicles held by DVLA. No doubt there are others, and I shall do my best to ensure that the proper Written Answer comes as soon as possible.

Baroness Sharpies

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that one of his honourable friends in another place stated quite clearly that the document for discussion would be out in the spring or in early summer?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I think that the House is clear that it has been an appalling spring and a rather late summer.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, will my noble friend give more information on one of his three options for photo-identity cards—those for asylum seekers? Do they get the cards when they arrive in Calais or when they land in this country? When are they convertible into an asylum entitlement card?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, the cards are currently issued to people who are registering a claim for asylum in this country at Croydon. That started in January. They will be progressively rolled out across the rest of the asylum management process during the course of this year. As the noble Lord implied, the aim is to reduce fraud or any multiple applications that have been known to be made by some asylum claimants.