HL Deb 16 May 2002 vol 635 cc419-22

3.8 p.m.

Lord Selsdonasked Her Majesty's Government:

What documentation is acceptable as proof of identity to permit British subjects to travel without let or hindrance within the European Union.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Rooker)

My Lords, a British passport is the only official document issued in the United Kingdom which establishes both the holder's identity and nationality for travel purposes within the European Union, or anywhere else for that matter.

Lord Selsdon

My Lords, while thanking the Minister for his gracious reply, and not wishing to correct him in any way, perhaps I may remind him that, on the back of our parliamentary passes, it states,


Will the Minister therefore give consideration to obtaining authorisation for noble Lords to travel without let or hindrance throughout the EU as we have a pass which states that it is an official document? Further, can he tell me why it is necessary for British subjects abroad sometimes to present their passport at least five times before arriving at an airport and clearing Customs in the United Kingdom?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I think that that is a preposterous suggestion because the photo-identity pass does not identify the person concerned. It might state that it is an official document, and the notice to turn it in to a police station if lost is helpful, but what on earth does that really tell anyone? I therefore find it difficult to take the suggestion seriously.

As for the serious part of the noble Lord's Question, various nationality and identity issues need to be addressed. Although the barriers are more or less down in a common area, even airlines, for their own security, like passengers to show a photo-pass. That may not be a requirement but they like to know who is on the plane, for various reasons. As far as the United Kingdom is concerned, the only document that covers both nationality and identity is the passport. That rules out such documents as the photo driving licence, for example.

Lord Clark of Windermere

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that an increasing number of our European Union partners now insist that holders of British passports must have passports with at least six months still to run before they are allowed to enter those countries? Is that a fair way to permit freedom of travel within the European Union'? Does my noble friend realise that it clearly reduces a 10-year passport to a 9½-year one?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, my noble friend makes some important points but his final sentence is incorrect. We changed the rules on that matter some time ago. Some countries require travellers to have passports with a minimum of six months still to run as a condition of supplying a visa. I refer to the efficiency of the Passport Agency. I take no credit for its performance as the Minister responsible for it. It is one of the most efficient executive agencies in government and processes 100 per cent of normal passport applications within 10 days. If one applies in sufficient time, the Passport Agency will extend the relevant date of a passport to prevent people losing out and having, in effect, a 9½-year passport.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, on a number of previous occasions when speaking from the Dispatch Box my noble friend has used the term "entitlement card". Will he review that language and refer to the entitlement card in future as the national identity card as that would be much easier for people to understand?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, the Home Office-speak is "entitlement card". As I have said repeatedly—I am grateful to my noble friend for reminding noble Lords of this matter—in the summer we shall produce a consultation paper on the possible uses of entitlement cards. The consultation period will be much longer than usual to permit a national debate on the issue. Given the configuration of dates involved in this matter, the date of 21st May with regard to British overseas citizens and the constant references to Gibraltar in this House, I should say in case I am asked about the matter—in that way I shall avoid being asked about it—that the Gibraltarian passport, which is a British dependent territory passport, allows free, unhindered travel within the European Union.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, does the Minister consider that it is strictly relevant to have babies of under six months photographed for passport purposes? I make that point as this afternoon I shall have to take my daughter who is under three months and stick her in a photo booth. I believe that the photograph will resemble just about any baby of that age.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, technical discussions are taking place with regard to biometrics and passports. In due course there will be an international requirement for passports to be produced with the use of biometrics. That requirement will apply irrespective of the use of identity cards or entitlement cards. I am told that it may be possible for the photograph to involve the use of biometrics in facial scanning. I did not inquire about the minimum age at which facial scanning is accurate. However, I suspect that it is not three months.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I have every sympathy with anyone in another European country who will not accept a pass of a Member of this House as proof of identity? I cannot even use my pass as proof of identity in some of the larger London stores. There is a problem in that regard. However, as increasing numbers of people travel there is an increasing need to simplify the matter. Given the Prime Minister's new found enthusiasm for European issues, should not this matter be looked at urgently? Whether it is decided to have an entitlement card or an identity card it seems to me that that will be the way in which the Government will be forced to move.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, it is not a question of being forced to move. It is well known, as it has been published in the business plan of the Passport Agency, that in due course it is proposed to issue a passport card to make travelling easier. That would not be a substitute for a passport but would be issued in addition to it. There is already an experiment under way at Heathrow as regards fast scanning of frequent travellers. Frequent travellers can register with an iris scan, for example, and will not require a passport. They will not need to queue at passport control as they can be scanned. We are introducing such initiatives to make travelling easier. Some 90 million people move in and out of the country each year. We want to make travelling as convenient as possible for the majority but ensure that we keep out or apprehend the minority whom we do not want. We are moving in that direction. That matter may be included in the consultation paper on the entitlement card.

Lord Grenfell

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister recall that the late and great Lord Hunt of Everest fame said that if you look like your passport photograph you are too ill to travel?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I plead guilty. I do not know whether I am one of the younger Members of the House but I do not like my photograph and I shall get it renewed as soon as possible.