HL Deb 11 November 2003 vol 654 cc1221-34

3.18 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a Statement on identity cards and the publication of an explanatory paper which is in the Vote Office.

"The Government have decided to begin the process of building a base for a national compulsory identity card scheme. We intend to proceed incrementally, beginning by establishing a database and introducing new technology in passports and driving licences.

"As I spelt out in the policy paper published in July last year, a scheme of this scale and complexity would always have to be phased. I said then, and I quote, 'it will, by its very nature, take some time should the Government decide to legislate to get the card into place'. "The House will know that since I made my statement, I have been consulting widely, including on issues of secure and verifiable identification. We are on entirely new territory here. There appear to be many people who think we are talking about an old style card with a photograph. We are not.

"We undertook the consultation because of the enormity and pace of change. Such changes make it increasingly difficult to protect and authenticate the identity of those seeking work, or drawing down on free public services. But at the same time the development of specific personal identifiers, which are known as biometrics, offer us an opportunity to do just that. This would mean that identity could not be forged or duplicated. Techniques such as fingerprinting, face recognition and the use of the iris, allow us to develop a database capable of foiling duplicate or stolen identity. These developments will enable us to deal with the growing threats to the security and prosperity of Britain from identity theft, fraud, and illegal migration.

"Two things have changed from the discussion of identity cards on previous occasions: the changed world in which we are operating and the introduction of new biometric identifiers. There is near universal support internationally for the idea of developing biometric identifiers. For example, the United States is about to introduce a scheme where you must have a biometric passport in order to benefit from existing visa waivers. Those without such developments will increasingly find themselves exposed to and targeted by international criminals.

"In such circumstances public demand for action would become overwhelming. But Britain without such developments would have missed an opportunity to protect ourselves and promote the best interests of individuals and families. In addition, the security services have indicated to me that they would value improved methods of verifying identity and counteracting the use of multiple identities. Again, it is obvious that terrorist networks would target those countries that had made least progress in developing the capacity to provide this protection.

"All of us know that identity fraud costs us dear. As individuals, as corporate entities and as a nation we are open to tremendous exploitation. It is therefore common sense to prepare now for the future. As I have indicated, it would not be possible to issue cards to the whole population through a big bang approach, even if this were desirable. We therefore intend to proceed in two phases.

"In phase one we would begin to issue biometric identifiers through the renewal of passport and driving licences. As I said in the consultation paper last July, 'as well as being convenient for the general population, building on the driving licence and passport systems would help to spread demand for the new documents and avoid delays in issuing them promptly'. As soon as the database is available we would commence issuing identity cards to EU and foreign nationals seeking to remain in the country. We would also make available an optional card for those who do not have or wish to have a passport or driving licence.

"We will move ahead now with all the necessary preparations, but the final decision on a move to the second stage of the scheme, which involves compulsion, will rest with Parliament. Clearly, the Government will take that step only after a rigorous evaluation of the first stage, when we are confident that there is widespread take-up and acceptance of the scheme and that the benefits outweigh the costs and the risks.

"We would also need to be sure that the concessions were working satisfactorily for those on low incomes and other vulnerable groups. Finally, we would need to be satisfied that all the technical, financial and administrative preparations are in place for it to deliver the benefits we have described. Draft legislation will allow further consultation on all those issues.

"Parliament would determine under strict criteria what identifiers were necessary on the chip contained in the card, and therefore what should be held on the database. It would not be necessary, for instance, to hold the address of the individual on the face of the card, as with current driving licences, therefore reducing rather than increasing risk.

"Let me now turn to a number of issues that I know have been of public concern. In relation to cost, were we to add biometrics to existing identity documents, which I think most people believe is inevitable, we would incur all the expense and the technological development necessary, but without securing the gains. These include clamping down on illegal residents, illegal working and the exploitation of free public services.

"The ID card scheme will make it possible to make all these benefits available to those who might not need or want a driving licence or passport and who could not otherwise afford such an identity document. We will provide a free card for 16 year-olds, a concessionary charge for those on low incomes, including those in retirement, and the option of a lifelong card for those renewing at the age of 75.

"We are also looking urgently at how benefits in the business and commercial world can further reduce the overall cost, again in a way which would not be possible simply by updating passports and driving licences.

"In order to avoid accusations of under-estimating the cost, we have chosen to build in a substantial contingency. We estimate that the basic cost would be, over a 10-year period, £35. All but a very small amount of this would be necessary in introducing biometrics in any case. This addition would be in the region of around £4 over the 10-year period. We would ensure that the basic cost of a card could be paid for by individuals in a variety of ways. Some people could choose to pay incrementally, through such mechanisms as saving stamps and credits.

"I should emphasise that it will not be compulsory for anyone to have to carry the card with them, any more than it is with the driving licence today. Although its use would be very helpful to public services, until the scheme became compulsory, it would not be necessary to present a card to access those services. Clearly, however, as the most reliable form of identity, it will gradually become commonplace and convenient to use the card. But of course no one will be denied access to emergency services because they do not have a card.

"In order to protect the private details of individuals, Parliament will prescribe the information to be held on the chip and on the database. Information would be limited to that required to verify identity. Privacy and confidentiality would be an essential part of the system. The protection of civil liberties would be assured in a way which is not the case for a whole range of commercial identifiers and card systems in widespread use at the moment.

"Let me make it clear: no one has anything to fear from being correctly identified, but everything to fear from their identity being stolen or misused.

"Focus groups and polling evidence demonstrate around 80 per cent support for identity cards. With the cost of secure identification being necessary, with or without an ID card, I believe that the proposals I am setting out will win widespread support.

"This is about asserting our sense of identity and belonging, about our citizenship and about reinforcing the balance between rights and responsibilities. That is why I commend this Statement to the House and ask for a sensible and thoughtful debate. This is all about addressing the future and having the courage to modernise, to take on the challenges of the 21st century".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.38 p.m.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, I thank the Minister for letting me have an advance copy of her Statement.

We from these Benches are deeply concerned that these proposals for the introduction of ID cards fall between two stools: they comprise a considerable threat to civil liberties and personal privacy, but meanwhile bring about none of the benefits that the noble Baroness foresees. I believe that I am not alone in being extremely sceptical about the effectiveness of such a scheme in combating illegal immigration, illegal working and identity fraud and in enhancing security in general.

Why will the scheme not work? First, it certainly will not provide an obstacle to would-be suicide bombers or terrorists plotting an attack in Britain. It is clear that foreign nationals will be able to remain in this country for three months without an identity card. That will provide more than enough time to implement any plot, especially given the nature of international terrorist cells with the means and resources to fly regularly in and out of the United Kingdom. I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether she fosters any hope that identity cards will make life more difficult for terrorists, and, if so, to hear precisely how.

I turn to how introducing ID cards would help to tackle illegal immigration. As I understand it, to begin with at least, there would be no compulsion to carry ID cards. The Minister made that clear. That being the case, surely an illegal immigrant would be able to remain constantly one step ahead of the police, always promising to go to the police station to produce the card when requested, but then vanishing into thin air. Moreover, there is the loophole made explicit by the Home Secretary in another place that a large number of people would be able to access employment and services without ever producing their card. Illegal immigrants will be able to use the fact that EU nationals can stay in Britain for three months and work without any papers.

I really cannot see how identity cards would create any difficulties at all for those whom the cards are supposed to trip up, while providing a considerable invasion of privacy for the law-abiding citizens of this country. With this, as with all new fraud-busting techniques, the criminal would rapidly develop the technology and expertise to get one over those who are trying to catch him. While this does not mean that we should not try, it does mean that we should be extremely wary of introducing a scheme that places significant powers in the hands of government at the expense of the individual.

The Statement provides worryingly few clues about who would be able to access information held on the database. As the shadow Home Affairs Minister in another place, my right honourable friend Mr David Davis explained, when the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act was introduced, there were reassurances that private communications would be accessible only to the police. This has now been expanded to include a large number of organisations, including local authorities and the Post Office. What reassurances can the Minister provide to the House that the same will not happen here?

I understand that Parliament will have the opportunity to debate the principle of the ID card but I should welcome an assurance from the Minister that any move towards a compulsory card will be the subject of primary legislation rather than an order.

There is much at risk with the introduction of ID cards. A huge financial investment is on the line quite apart from risks associated with the threats to civil liberty, and I am afraid that those risks are not even close to being matched by benefits that an ID card could bring under the present proposals. The possibility of combating illegal immigration and identity fraud is hugely important, but I cannot see that happening as a result of the proposals set before us today. The whole subject of ID with the latest electronic techniques is a matter of great urgency but we feel that the proposed implementation as announced today is an opportunity missed.

3.33 p.m.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I thank the Minister for providing me with an advance copy of the Statement.

The ID card and the Government's plan for its introduction smack of an incremental approach which is unsatisfactory. I am always suspicious when the Government announce reforms in two stages. What we need is a legislative framework that clearly sets out the uses of the new passports, driving licences and plain ID cards. What is even more important beyond the protection of civil liberties is how this approach would protect privacy. We trust that the draft legislation when introduced will address all those points. The incremental approach means that it will take up to eight years to complete the task of registering the entire population at a cost, I understand, of some £10 billion and an annual running cost of some £500 million.

I do not wish to be unkind to the Home Office but the Government have a poor record in implementing computer systems on time. Only today we hear that a powerful committee of MPs condemns the huge project to put all the nation's magistrates' courts on one computer system. The cost of the scheme has risen from £146 million to almost £400 million while it still does not deliver.

The contents of the Statement will come as no surprise to anyone—as it seems that the Home Secretary is determined to push ahead with ID cards despite considerable opposition from his own party and, I suspect, the Cabinet. While his measures to upgrade passports and driving licences with new technology may sound initially attractive, does he not recognise that many people will see these as the first step to identity cards? Will the Minister confirm that any legislation on ID cards and new technology will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny? Will the Minister also confirm that the cost of updated passports and driving licences will be no more than the additional charges people incur, and that the device is not used to inflate passport charges?

On ID cards themselves, does the Minister acknowledge the dangers of falsifying cards and the false security this can create when it comes to terrorism? On benefit fraud will the Minister confirm that the majority of cases are about over-claiming and not falsification of identity? Will the Minister acknowledge that tackling illegal working with ID cards is futile given that illegal work by its nature is part of the black economy? Will the Minister also confirm the estimated cost of the ID cards at £40 per card, and confirm that the poorest members of society will be expected to pay less for that?

There is evidence that ID cards do not cut crime. From what I have read there is not a shred of proof to suggest that they serve that purpose. Indeed, police officers complain that they rarely have trouble identifying criminals—it is catching them that is the real problem.

In addition, does the Minister accept that many people are opposed to compulsory ID cards, but that unless the cards are compulsory and unless the police have the power to arrest—something we should all be worried about—there is little hope of cutting crime as criminals will just not bother to carry their card?

Will the Minister clearly state the purpose of ID cards? Are they for identification purposes only, entitlement to public services or both? Will the Minister acknowledge that if the card is to store biometric data that is a hugely costly and complex undertaking which not a single private institution has seen fit to attempt? If the Government cannot properly roll out their electronic fingerprinting devices in police stations, why should we trust them to make a better go of this?

Finally, does the Minister recognise that the billions of pounds involved in the project outlined today would be better spent providing more police, making our streets safer and tackling crime in this country?

3.37 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I say immediately to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that we do not agree that this is a matter of concern. 1 hear what the noble Lord says about the incremental approach in two phases. I reiterate what was said in the Statement; namely, that we have to grapple with some clear realities. First, this is a huge technological endeavour with which we have to grapple. We cannot avoid the reality that biometric data are here to stay because our international partners are developing them and increasingly they will demand, if our systems are to have free and easy passage through their countries—not just the EU but the wider world—that we should have the sort of data which will enable them to do that. That is the reality.

I hear, too, what the noble Lord says about this country's historical inability to undertake large IT programmes. However, I say to the noble Lord that that was under a different administration.

Noble Lords


Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, it was but I shall develop why I say that. We inherited a position of some difficulty which has taken a little while to sort out.

Noble Lords will remember that the UK Passport Service, for example, was a particularly challenging service, about which there were a number of justifiable complaints. We now have a UK Passport Service that achieved a 98 per cent satisfaction rating from its customers in 2001-02—something that would have been undreamt-of before. Also, UK work permits are now issued within 24 hours. So we are getting better and learning all the time. It is for that reason, in part, that: we perfectly understand that we shall have to tread carefully. Technology is developing very rapidly; we are reaping the benefits of that technology, and will continue to do so.

The noble Lord also said that there was difficulty and opposition. However, we should recognise that, on all the surveys of the wider public, there is 80 per cent support for what we are trying to do. There are clear benefits. I take issue with the noble Lord when he says that the benefits are not clear, because we believe that there are major benefits in identifying fraud and limiting the opportunity for others to steal identity. Noble Lords will know that that has been a real difficulty. Although the issues are very difficult, we believe that the benefits are very clear indeed. I hear the noble Lord's scepticism, but we do not believe that that scepticism is justified when one considers the facts.

We must give a clear message, and identity cards will enable us to do that. We shall have to combat terrorism and take arms against those who wish to take adventitious advantage of the current system, making it much more difficult for them to do so. We believe that identity cards will help us to do that. Terrorists will try to use false identities in the same way as organised criminals, to help to finance their activities in the United Kingdom and abroad. Organised criminals use false identities to launder money, to abuse the immigration system through people trafficking, and to facilitate drug smuggling. Disrupting their activities is a key priority, which also has a direct effect on the crimes that cause the most misery in our community, such as drugs, trafficking women for prostitution and/or people working illegally in unsafe and crowded conditions.

Identity cards will also be a major help in tackling clandestine residence and illegal working, making it easier for employers to check a worker is here legally. Residence permits, issued to foreign nationals, will state whether they are free to work in the United Kingdom. It is planned to arrange for a call centre to answer any queries from employers and for that to be backed up with enforcement action targeted at those employment: sectors most at risk from illegal employment. Those are very profound advantages. Therefore, I cannot accept the assertions made by the noble Lord in that regard.

There has been a debate on the principle. Noble Lords should be in no doubt that the expression now contained in the Statement is the view of Her Majesty's Government, and the Cabinet has endorsed that view. We have made a decision that, in principle, it is something that will inure to our long-term benefit. However, we are being utterly sensible. We understand that there are hurdles that need to be overcome—first, the practical hurdles. We must demonstrate the utility of what we wish to achieve and that the same is achievable. We believe that that will take a little time.

It is true that the costs will be greater than those currently envisaged for passports or driving licences, but there is a reason for that. The technology—biometrics— that we shall introduce will be more expensive, and has to be paid for. A full driving licence will cost £38 to obtain from next March, and the minimum passport fee is now £42. Under the proposed scheme, we estimate that the enhanced fee for a driving licence will be £73, and for a passport £77. However, holders of both documents will pay the enhanced fee only once, and for the first document they renew. We have made it plain that we shall seek to cushion the burden of the costs for those who are less able to pay.

The Government should be congratulated on finding a sensible and balanced way forward, which will enable Parliament to have its say once those practical hurdles have been overcome, so that if and when the debate is heard, all Members of your Lordships' House and the other place will have their say.

3.45 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords—

Baroness Sharpies

My Lords—

Lord Barnett

My Lords—

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I believe that it is this side.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, I agree in principle with my noble friend the Minister about the need at least to examine how we should move towards a form of identity. I confess that I must have missed the long-standing concern about civil liberties on the part of the Opposition. However, I am concerned about the overall cost.

My noble friend and the Liberal Democrats referred to some figures. There is concern about the widespread nonsense being put about relating to total costs. As my noble friend rightly said, we are moving into an advanced technological era. In those circumstances, will she ensure that figures are published giving an analysis of potential total costs so that we can see where there might have been waste? The Public Accounts Committee might at some point in time examine those figures.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I have tried in my response to give an indication of what we currently believe to be a relatively robust estimate. We have tried to err on the side of caution. One of the realities with which we have all had to deal is that, as technology advances, the costs have come down. We can see that things have changed dramatically if we compare the costs of a computer five years ago and the costs of a computer now, and the size of the computer and the extent to which we are now able to use it. We all know that almost as soon as something comes off the assembly line it is already obsolete, because something faster and better is coming through. Therefore, the figures that I have given are the figures at today's date; I would reasonably anticipate that they may change, but I personally would very much doubt that they will go up. However, we shall obviously have to look to see what the reality is.

Baroness Sharpies

My Lords, I should like to congratulate the Minister on her Statement, with which I agree a great deal. Candidly, I am completely at odds with my Front Bench. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, may be aware that I began to raise the issue some nine or 10 years ago and got nowhere, but I am delighted that we are now getting somewhere.

We must obviously weigh the cost of fraud against the cost of the cards. I am very glad that the cards will not be made compulsory, as that point was made to me over many years by the police, who felt that that would be confrontational. That may alleviate the problems referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. Will the Minister confirm the timetable for the production of the cards?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, it is very difficult to be certain. We hope that we shall be in a position to move to the biometric cards for ID, passports and driving licences by 2007–08. Noble Lords will know that that is the first stepping stone to getting all the technology right. Obviously, we do not know how long it will then take to move that forward. Realistically, we are looking at the end of the decade, but I cannot give noble Lords a fixed period, as the most important thing is to get the measures right.

Viscount Bledisloe

My Lords, am I right in understanding that, even when the cards become universally compulsory, there will still be a charge for them? What possible justification is there for that? If I want to travel with a passport or to drive with a licence, all right, I must pay. But what justification or precedent is there for saying that you must pay a compulsory fee if you wish to exist? Or is the Minister's simple answer that if I do not wish to pay I am perfectly at liberty to commit suicide?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

No, my Lords—the noble Viscount will, of course, be greatly missed. The most important thing is to move to a stage when the biometric facility is generally available. Noble Lords will know that more than 40 million people currently have a passport and, I believe, more than 30 million already have a driving licence. The bulk of our nation already has some form of identification available to them. We will build on that, because biometric technology will have to be made available if we are to be consistent with our international partners. That is the reality of our position.

There is a question about how we move forward. We anticipate that, as the facilities become available, more and more people will choose to use them because they are beneficial. Obviously, we will need to cushion those who do not have the facility of large sums of money or who are financially stretched. We will also have to look at provisions relating to groups with other forms of vulnerability and try to manage those costs.

Before we move to a compulsory system, there will be a proper opportunity for us to have what undoubtedly, if we continue to hold our current views, will be a very robust debate on whether we should move from a voluntary scheme to a compulsory one. Parliament will have an opportunity to have its say and so will the people. We believe that, by then, people will have a proper understanding of what they are agreeing to or disagreeing to.

Earl Russell

My Lords, will the Minister respond to the point made by my noble friend Lord Dholakia about the cost of the cards to the poorest members of society? The cost comes very close to a week's income support. The Minister will be aware that such people are under an obligation actively to seek work, and that that obligation may take the form of exercising their rights of freedom of movement within the European Union. If that right should cost some members of the European Union more than it costs others, might that be found to be an infringement of Article 7 of the Treaty of Rome? If so, do council tax benefits and community charge benefits provide a route along which the Government might look for a solution to the problem?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I have tried to answer that question as fully as possible. As I said in repeating the Statement, we would also need to ensure that the concessions worked satisfactorily for those on a low income and other vulnerable groups. The noble Earl is right in saying that we would have to address that issue. Those without access to a form of independent verification of identity already feel disadvantaged and have greater difficulty in getting credit, and in other matters. For example, one of the constituents of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary had to get a passport for use in opening a bank account. We already have those difficulties. We understand them and will continue to look at such issues to try to ensure that, if identity cards are introduced, they are available to all on a reasonable basis, taking into account the inability of certain vulnerable groups who already have limited access to such forms of identity.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate

My Lords, I welcome the measured Statement by my noble friend. Identity is important, certainly from a law enforcement perspective. The Statement has been welcomed by the police and other law enforcement agencies. Identity is critical when dealing with people. For obvious reasons, you need to know exactly who you are dealing with. Further to some of the comments from the Front Bench opposite, if we had taken that attitude a few years ago, we probably would not have developed fingerprints or DNA. Clearly, the necessary technology exists. Does my noble friend agree that the technology looks so good that forgery would be virtually impossible?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I endorse much of what my noble friend has said. I am always timorous about saying that something is impossible to forge, as we know the ingenuity of some criminal elements, whose sole purpose is to defeat anything that we seek to do. I endorse wholeheartedly the statement that forgery will be exceptionally difficult. The card will be more difficult to replicate than any other document that we have. It is therefore of major interest for us to pursue the issue vigorously. I also agree with my noble friend that the technological developments have benefited our ability to detect and deal with crime efficiently and effectively. We have an aspiration that those technological developments will continue to our benefit.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, will the noble Baroness explain why making it compulsory for someone on a low income to buy an identity card is not a tax? What she has just said, I could have heard in South Africa from Verwoerd, Home Secretary in 1947, arguing for the pass law. I could hear a Waffen-SS officer saying, "Ihre Papiere bitte". That is the road down which we are going if we make people have identity cards.

A Noble Lord

My Lords, that is rubbish.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, it is not rubbish. If people must carry papers wherever they go, or possess them, that is the road to tyranny. Does the noble Baroness understand that?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I would like to quieten the noble Earl's beating heart. We do not propose to make the carrying of papers compulsory. We will have two stages: I have explained the first, and the second will be debated. I do not agree that we might subsequently be accused of being improper in our actions, as implied in the examples that the noble Earl has given.

I reiterate, and it is stated in the documentation, that the scheme would fund free cards for all 16 year-olds and a reduced charge of £ 10 for those on a low income. We are also looking at how those in retirement will be looked after. We are looking at all those issues. We do not accept that it is a tax. None of the European compulsory schemes that charges a fee is classified as a tax by its own statistical authorities. We do not believe that it can so be described either. We have exercised our own independent judgment, and we do not believe that it is a tax. In particular, it will not be a tax for those with the benefit of getting the cards free.

Lord Tanlaw

My Lords, we have to provide a lot of information to obtain firearms and gun licences, including eye-to-eye confrontation with a policeman, a visit to the home and a similar expense to that of an identity card. Yet there seems to be no decrease in gun crime. From questions asked in this House, the Government cannot say what proportion of gun crime has been committed by holders of current firearms or shotgun licences. If the Government are unable to monitor the information given in great detail by holders of firearms and gun licences, what hope is there of being able to monitor or distinguish the information that is to be given by identity cards?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, in trying to bring the provisions together, we have been assiduous in the crafting of the proposals so that they will give the best opportunity to monitor issues that arise. That is why we are doing it incrementally. There are a number of issues with which we must grapple. At the end of the first stage, we will have the information which will enable us to have a proper, full and robust debate about these issues. That is what we will do. Noble Lords should know that our attack on crime is becoming increasingly successful. Obviously, I hear what the noble Lord says about gun crime. But even there there are significant improvements.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, perhaps the Minister could return to a question asked by my noble friend Lord Russell about a statement in the Statement; namely, that as soon as the database is available—before the second stage of the process—we will commence issuing dentity cards to EU and foreign nationals seeking to remain in the country. Is that part of a mutual process which will ensure that we will have to produce identity cards if we want to live, for example, in France? Living and working in each other's countries is part of the constitution—long before the creation of the existing new constitution— of the European Union. How do those two things fit together?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the means by which the two things fit together is that, as noble Lords will know, there has been an issue for a while about what documentation is available to foreign nationals resident in this country for more than three months. As much as possible, we wish to make free movement backwards and forwards easier for those people. Noble Lords will know that the majority of our EU partners have an identity card which is also used for travel.

Making the facility available for nationals from countries in the European economic area will enable full compatibility with European law. It will not change the ability of our citizens to move throughout those countries using the passport, which is recognised as an appropriate means of travel. It is right that, as a group, this is an issue which we should seek to address. The noble Baroness will concede, too, that our European partners do not have the difficulties about an identity card in terms of the principles that exercise us. I hope that it would be very much welcomed by foreign and EU nationals who live here for more than three months.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, that is excellent news for those of us who have campaigned on the issue of national identity cards for years. Perhaps my noble friend will turn to the question of draft legislation and the manner in which it will be handled. We hear that there will be a Bill produced perhaps in the new year. Would that not be an excellent opportunity to use the pre-legislative scrutiny arrangements referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia? That would enable both Houses—it is a joint committee structure—to penetrate the argument very deeply and to get to the main issues.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, of course I hear what my noble friend says. I also know of his passion for these issues. I thank him very much in the way that I hope I thanked the noble Baroness, Lady Sharpies, for her support. My noble friend is right. This is something for which many have hungered, and which some almost gave up hope of ever obtaining. I am very pleased to satisfy the noble Lord in that regard.

As to pre-legislative scrutiny, the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee indicated that it will want to examine the Bill. We cannot make a commitment at present about the timing of the draft Bill. As I say, we intend to proceed by incremental steps. That is as much as I can say to my noble friend now. But I hear what he says; those matters will be looked at and taken into consideration.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, in relation to the use of first-phase cards as a combined driving licence and passport, will it be the intention to write to the cards such information as endorsements on the licence and visas, where required? In the latter case, will that not require that we have international agreement on data standards and encryption to be used throughout all the countries which are to accept these documents as passports?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I have tried to make clear that we understand the enormity of the task at hand. First, we must get the biometric data in an acceptable form for passports and driving licences. The noble Lord will concede that no decision has yet been made as to which methodology will prove to be the most felicitous. There is iris identification, fingerprint identification and face recognition, all or any of which may prove the best way forward. No decision has been made.

Once advancement has been made as regards passports and, perhaps later, driving licences, consideration will be given to how and whether to merge and what use could be made of it. All the questions raised by the noble Lord will have to be considered.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, international?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the noble Lord said international, but I am not sure what he means by that.