IDENTITY CARDS BILL
I thought it might be helpful for you to have an update on the Identity Cards Bill before it returns on Monday.
Agreement has been reached on the issues of cost and the route to compulsion (ie primary legislation). The only remaining area of disagreement with the Lords is over the consequences of 'designating' a document. Clauses 5 and 8 mean that where certain official documents are designated (with the approval of Parliament) a person applying for one of those documents must simultaneously apply to be registered on the National Identity Register and be issued with an ID card.
The Government has always made clear its intention to designate the passport. This proposal was at the heart of the original Bill introduced before the last election. Biometric information (fingerprints and possibly iris) will be introduced into the British passport from around 2008-09. People will have to enrol such information when applying for a passport and this will require the UK Passport Service to enrol and store more information on an expanded database.
Our proposal is to use this development to create a clean database - the National Identity Register - as the source for the issuing of the biometric passport and identity card. It will mean that we can extend to our everyday life the benefits of much higher standard identification in international travel documents.
Last week, the House of Lords voted to weaken the consequences of designation, by rendering registration on the National Identity Register (and an application for an ID Card) optional extras when applying for a designated document. We will be resisting this amendment because it goes to the heart of our plans for delivering a successful scheme that we have always said should become compulsory in time. Our detailed reasons are set out here:
- We have a clear manifesto commitment to introduce the National Identity Register (NIR) and the identity cards scheme "as people renew their passports".
- The manifesto reference that this process would initially take place on a voluntary basis refers to the fact that no order setting a date for compulsory enrolment would be laid in this Parliament.
- It is a fact that people have an element of choice (albeit small) about whether to have a passport. However, all passports holders are able to choose when they renew their passport and can do so at any time.
- Irrespective of the Identity Cards Bill, people will have to register fingerprint biometric information when applying for a passport from 2008/09 to keep us in line with standards being adopted in the rest of the EU . Last week, the United Kingdom Passport Service began issuing first generation biometric passports to the public, containing an electronic chip with a digital facial image of the holder.
- Introducing the scheme alongside the passport allows for a managed introduction that will enhance the likelihood of successful delivery and keep overall costs down.
- Many members of the Lords have made clear that their principal concern is the creation of the biometric database. One of the perverse effects of their amendment would be to create two biometric databases instead of one - the NIR for those choosing to join and an expanded passport service database for those who don't - adding cost and complexity.
- It would mean that strong safeguards that the NIR brings would not extend to the other database. These include: the creation of the statutory National Identity Scheme Commissioner with powers to scrutinse the use of the NIR; the introduction of extra criminal sanctions for misuse of the NIR over and above what normally applies for misuse of databases ; and the provision of much greater information to individual citizen about use of their personal data (such as the audit log).
There has now been a long public debate about identity cards, but the fact is that this is a manifesto commitment that still commands majority support in the country.
It is also worth remembering that at the last CCLA the Commons disagreed with the Lords' amendments on designation with a healthy majority of 31.
I hope this is helpful. Please do not hesitate to contact me on 0207 035 8796 if you need any further information.
ANDY BURNHAM MP