House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
HOME AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
Tuesday 27 April 2004
MR LEN COOK and MR DENIS ROBERTS
and MR CHRIS POND, MP
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 27 April 2004
Mr John Denham, in the Chair
Mrs Claire Curtis-Thomas
Mr Gwyn Prosser
Mr John Taylor
Memorandum submitted by General Register Office
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Mr Len Cook, Registrar General for England and Wales, and Mr Denis Roberts, Director for Registration Services, General Register Office, examined.
Q504 Chairman: Good afternoon. Thank you for coming to this session. Just as a housekeeping matter, it is possible we will have one or more divisions during the session this afternoon, in which case I propose to adjourn for 12 minutes to get through as much business as we can this afternoon. Mr Cook, if you would like to introduce yourself and your colleague, please.
Mr Cook: Mr Chairman, I am Len Cook. I am Registrar General for England and Wales and also a national statistician. Mr Denis Roberts is one of the board members of the Office for National Statistics and he is particularly responsible for the Civil Registration Service and the management of the Citizen Information Project.
Q505 Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. Obviously one of the things that we are interested in is the Citizen Information Project. The Government published a draft Bill for identity cards yesterday which proposed establishing a National Identity Register on which potentially every citizen of the country might be in future. Through the ONS you are proposing to set up a Citizen Information Project which is a national database on which potentially every member of the public may be a member, but there are different databases. Can you explain to the Committee why we are having two national databases with individual information on them and what the difference between them is?
Mr Cook: Mr Chairman, the identity card project is about ensuring that the state knows that it is dealing with the right person and so it is enabling the identity of a citizen to be confirmed at the point of contact with a common level of assurance about their identity. So the identity card project is very much about knowing now, with exactly the same level of quality, who we are dealing with. The Citizen Information Project is about increasing the capacity of the public sector to deal with citizens using all the information that comes from the key interactions that citizens have with the public service and it can draw on them by tying together the information that we have about their address. Basically the Citizen Information Project is about adding value to existing information and in building up the quality of the existing registers whether they are in health, tax, DVLA or other areas that contribute to the Citizen Information Project and I think that is quite an important distinction. The CIP in itself will not prevent fraud or detect illegal immigrants, it is about the efficiency and responsiveness and the integrity of the information managed by the state that it already has. The first proposal that I am aware of in the British government for a population register was actually by one of my predecessors in 1916, Sir Bernard Mallet, when he was Registrar General and for each of the last 30 years there have been additional proposals; Lord Moser was working on a similar proposal in the 1960s. It is very much about the efficiency of the information the state already has and bringing it together in a trusted environment.
Q506 Chairman: So this is a project that the Civil Service regularly dust off every few years until they can find a Prime Minister who is willing to support it and it has been so over several generations.
Mr Cook: I think it is quite natural for the state to want to make the best use of the information that it has got disparately organised.
Q507 Chairman: What is the difference? As I understand it the Citizen Information Project is going to have the name, address, date and place of birth, date of death, sex and a unique reference number. The National Identity Register is going to have the name, address, sex, a unique reference number plus some biometric and immigration information and it will not have the date and place of birth, but very largely you seem to be recording the same information about the same people on two separate databases. It is not obvious why Government, not having had one of these since 1916, now needs to produce two of them at the same time. Can you clarify for us exactly why we need two databases recording very much the same information about the same people?
Mr Cook: Firstly, the coverage of the identity cards project is persons over 16 and at this stage it is not clear whether it is voluntary or compulsory. The coverage of the Citizen Information Project, the population register, is essentially the total population of the United Kingdom and that will be obtained by bringing together the populations of the different registers that exist in health, tax, DVLA and education. By pooling the dealings that the state has with its citizens it will approximate the total population in its coverage. Firstly, the coverage is quite different. Secondly, the ID card process is building up a common level of assurance about the quality of the identity and the certainty of the identity of an individual. The population register contains information that reflects the quality of the relationship between the state and the citizen on each of the individual registers.
Q508 Chairman: So the Citizen Information Project has less reliable information on more people?
Mr Cook: Yes, and that reliability, of course, being reinforced by the way in which the information is brought together from the different sources and from which a single register is created. Ideally, if we were in a perfect world where all our registers were already of a very high quality, with no duplication or error then the population register would be less obvious in its benefits apart from the fact that it would provide a single unambiguous list of the population. If each of these registers were of low quality then we would probably spend so much time matching them that we would actually choose to emphasise the improvements in the quality of individual registers. So part of the whole evaluation project is assessing where we are in between those two positions in terms of the value of the project.
Q509 Chairman: When will it be complete?
Mr Cook: If this phase concludes that there is a cost-benefit analysis that justifies the project - and what is important to recognise is that wider whole of government push for effective infrastructure that comes from, for example, the Gershwin review, which is recognising that there are benefits in infrastructure regardless of whether it is a common address register or a common business register and a common person register across government - and if the issues in terms of the technical and administrative and legal side of the project can proceed then we estimate that two years after there were the legal authority to do so we would actually have a population register that was of sufficient quality to be providing benefits. Mr Roberts can give you more detail as to the precise nature of that.
Q510 Chairman: So you could have this population register in place in a few years time?
Mr Cook: Yes, because it is using existing information and drawing on registers that already exist and which themselves are independently being improved by initiatives within those departments.
Q511 Chairman: This project has been pushed for since 1919. What changes have you made to it in the light of the more recent decision of the Government to go for a National Identity Register?
Mr Cook: Between that decision and the very clear imperatives from the Gershwin review we see the phase two report reporting not only on whether there should be a population register or not but how we can achieve the goals of the population register in part to varying degrees. For example, one of the options might be that we have single comprehensive legislation to oversee information matching which in itself was conducted by individual agencies but which improves the quality of individual registers without actually going to the next step of creating a register. The step before that, of course, might involve us simply having some common standards for register management in the British government which allows us to match quite economically when we want to do it. Fourthly, of course, we could do nothing and recognise that doing nothing is not actually a status quo because the existence of the ID card is going to improve the quality of the identity of the people in each of the individual services and, secondly, in many of these services, health in particular, there is a huge amount of activity underway now to create a much more improved register for operating the National Health Service. So those are the four options that we would present and try and identify the cost benefits of.
Q512 Chairman: Can you give me as a citizen one example of what the Citizen Information Project will do for me that cannot be achieved through the National Identity Register?
Mr Cook: A very simple one is there will be one place where you could change your address and across all the systems that address change could happen. A second one could be the place where we draw the electoral register from. An example used some 20 years ago by one of my predecessors was it could be used as a way of identifying contacts for cancer screening, for example. In essence it is not only a way of identifying the population but helping recognise those people that may be the beneficiaries of services that with some stimulus they could participate in.
Q513 Chairman: As I will have to change my address on the National Identity Register, why cannot the National Identity Register be used for the same purpose?
Mr Cook: I think as we develop the second phase of this project it will take account of the emerging state of what the identity card project is doing and its form. Some of these questions are really still being addressed in terms of the development project at this stage.
Mr Roberts: I think there is still a procedure to pass on that information. If you change your address and provide another then the information has to flow to each of those two registers and that is really what the CIP will do. It may be in the future that one of the main channels for passing that information would be through the identity card register. If so, and subject to Parliament agreeing to that information being shared with other registers, then a process would need to be in place to pass that information to these other registers to keep them all up-to-date and that is really the role of CIP. Simply passing it to a National Identity Register does not mean that the information flows through to the other registers. One has to have a channel for passing that information on.
Q514 Chairman: Do you understand my slight scepticism that the Government is building two parallel registers and it now sounds to me as though I will have to report a change of address to the National Identity Register and in order to have my change of address usefully used anywhere else I will have to report it to a different register that you are running? Has anybody seriously looked hard at what you would appear to have done in bringing these two processes together?
Mr Cook: It could well be a consequence of phase two of this project that that seems a more sensible outcome to plan for. What is important to recognise is the fact that the population register could shortly cover completely the whole population is quite an important aspect given the limitations of the identity card coverage. Secondly, the value in terms of the capacity to accumulate the lifetime experiences of citizens more than the National Insurance contributions I think is something which we see as an as yet unevaluated aspect of the Citizen Information Project that we would see as part of phase two.
Q515 Chairman: Given what the civil liberties groups have said to us about their concerns with an ID card, it does rather sound as though your register is actually going to do far more accumulation of masses amounts of data about individuals and what they have done in their lives than has actually been suggested in the National Identity Register.
Mr Cook: Firstly, there will be no data about persons other than identifying material contained in the population register.
Q516 Chairman: You have just said that this is a way of accumulating information about a whole range of things that have happened in people's lives, so the register must either have or give people access to that.
Mr Cook: It could create the potential for that if there were a legal wish to do so. What is important is that the population register will create a legal context for a huge variety of information matching, some of which is occurring now on a bilateral basis to improve registers across the country. Citizens will be much more effectively protected in terms of the legal environment and the protections that would exist and the limitations that will exist for the use of the information on the population register.
Chairman: I wonder whether Liberty and others have not been looking under the wrong stone.
Q517 Mr Taylor: We have been led to understand that the National Identity Register will cover the whole of the United Kingdom. You are the Registrar General for England and Wales only. Would the CIP cover the whole of the UK and, if so, who would be in charge of it or in charge of the rest of it and will there be an independent statutory body to administer it?
Mr Cook: There would most definitely be an independent statutory body that would be involved in the operation of it, it would have to have UK-wide authority. Ultimately the implementation of the proposal of the Citizen Information Project may well be such that it no longer would be part of the responsibility of the Registrar General of England and Wales or it could involve a different institutional arrangement. In terms of the constituent data support that comes from the various registers, a large number of those are UK-wide registers, there is already a very high degree of engagement with the Registrars General of Scotland and Northern Ireland and this project would continue on that basis. There is a proposal to set up a project board which involves those authorities.
Mr Roberts: We have already set up a project board and we sent you details of that board in a separate letter and you will see that that includes representatives of the devolved administrations. So we are taking account of their interests in working up this project.
Q518 Chairman: So we have a project board for this project and there is a project board for the National Identity Register. The National Identity Register will have a statutory body of some sort overseeing it on which the government is consulting and you will have a separate statutory body to have oversight of the Citizen Information Project, is that right?
Mr Roberts: There are project boards for the National Identity Register and for CIP and there is Home Office representation on our project board, and I sit on the National Identity Register in order to ensure that the projects are developed in tandem.
Q519 Chairman: In a few years time we will have two statutory boards.
Mr Roberts: The role of the project definition phase that we have been asked to take forward by ministers is to report back on the viability of the project, on the costs and benefits of the project and on proposals for how it would be taken forward and, therefore, no decisions have been taken yet either on when the project should proceed or the form in which it would be taken forward. Mr Cook was saying that it is not axiomatic that it will be taken forward by the Registrar General for England and Wales at this stage. We have simply been given the task of carrying forward this stage of the project to check on its viability.
Q520 David Winnick: I am just curious. Arising from all the answers that you gave to the Chairman, do you keep a copy of 1984 in the office for inspiration?
Mr Cook: No, but I read it in my youth, naturally!
Q521 David Winnick: And you do not see any connection between the proposed data collection on every citizen being expanded further and what are now some sub-elements at least of the book?
Mr Cook: There are already a good number of countries that have population registers, the Nordic countries, Belgium for example. Ireland, Denmark and the United Kingdom are the three countries of the European Union that do not have population registers. If one looks at it in the broader context of our ability to understand our populations, in the very considerable new dynamic of population change and migration and movement not only within the country but within the European Union itself a population register would add considerably to the capacity of citizens to be clear about who they are and the knowledge that government has about them at any particular time. What is very clear is that if we could prevent the accidental denial of services to people through knowing who they are, through having services that fit people, we would probably improve the efficiency of government quite substantially. It is a matter of trading off the increased efficiency for the confidence that you have that what is being established is actually not changing the relationship between the citizen and the state but is in fact giving the citizen, if anything, a greater capacity to have oversight of the state's dealings with the person and I think that is a very important issue that we would see ourselves wanting to address in the second phase of this session. I have been discussing this issue with the Information Commission, for example, and this is something that we would want to have clear answers to.
David Winnick: Your interpretation may not necessarily meet with the approval of those who are concerned with civil liberties, but we will leave it at that.
Q522 Mr Prosser: Mr Cook, I am still puzzled about all the planned resources and efforts being put into two different databases which have got so much in common. Is it right that the details in your citizens' database would need to be checked and authenticated against the national identity card database?
Mr Cook: The national identity cards would be another source of information to the population register alongside that provided from the other sources because there are many members of the population who will not be included in the identity card population and they would be included in that. Just on the point of resources, this is a project which has essentially been involved in a progressive evaluation and development and it is being done in such a way that there is not particularly much money being spent on each phase so that we can actually justify the next phase of development at the conclusion of the previous one. Its iterative nature is ensuring that we are not getting into a large-scale development before all the other steps are improved.
Q523 Mr Prosser: You have suggested that during phase two there might be some coming together decisions made about running two parallel types of database. If the ID card database was already in place now would you still be putting so much effort into bringing forward the Citizen Information Project?
Mr Cook: There is no symmetry in that if we had a population register it would not influence the ID card debate. If we were to have an ID card system operating it would have an influence on the CIP debate. I think that is one of the reasons why the second phase of this project really will be influenced quite importantly by the developments that are now proceeding. Obviously part of that is also the time period over which the ID card proposal would develop.
Mr Roberts: I wonder if I could pick up the point about the common information that the Chairman referred to at the start. The whole rationale for the CIP is that there is this common information not just between the National Identity Register and the ICI but on all the registers and it is that information which is often out-of-date, it is that information that the citizen has to provide to Government on a number of different occasions often at great inconvenience to them and it is that information which is updated by Government across all of these different registers at different times and at considerable cost. If we can collect that information once, particularly the contact information, which is the one that changes most of the time, and make sure that all of the registers are updated then this will, firstly, reduce the costs and improve efficiency but, secondly, it will also mean that the information that these different registers have is up-to-date and therefore the delivery of services will be better targeted to the people because we will have up-to-date addresses. That is really the rationale of the CIP. When they provide that up-to-date information in a sense we will collect it from wherever they happen to provide it to. In the future that may well be the National Identity Register, particularly as there may be a compulsory requirement for them to keep those details up-to-date. Then it would be available, subject to Parliamentary approval, to update all those other registers so that all of the different departments had up-to-date details of the people they were dealing with and could direct their services to the right places.
Q524 Mr Prosser: I want to turn now to the accuracy of the database. In your evidence you say "... it will not be possible to eliminate all multiple identities either in the existing data or in future data held on the population register." How can you then provide what you have described as "a strong and trusted legal basis for holding personal contact information"? Are those two statements compatible?
Mr Cook: We will be able to provide information about the probable reliability of an entry, which is very different from now when we have to assume equal reliability or we have no way of testing that difference. I think the ID card will improve the reliability of information when it relates to a particular fraud or deliberate attempts to mislead. The population register proposal will increase the capacity to improve the quality of the registers across government which occurs simply because of the way those registers operate, the fact that some registers are very much out-of-date in terms of the time at which address information relates and so I think in some ways the CIP will actually influence the quality of the information that is willingly given more than have any influence on information that is deliberately given.
Mr Roberts: I just wanted to clarify the point that what we are saying is that without the authentication process it will not be possible to remove all of the duplicate identities. What it will be able to do just by matching the data and checking across is probably eliminate a large proportion of them, but you will not be able to eliminate all of them. The introduction of an identity card system with its verification procedures would probably allow that to be taken to a much higher level and possibly eliminate all duplicate entries at that sort of stage, but that would be at some stage in the future when one had a complete register on the identity card system.
Q525 Mr Prosser: If the CIP is to be used for access to public services it will also, I expect, become the target of fraud in some instances. What measures will you be taking to reduce or eliminate as much as possible the fraudulent use of the information?
Mr Cook: The contribution of the CIP to reducing fraud will be very underrated to the extent that it will increase the reliability of the individual registers that make up the CIP because of the benefits it will gain from having the most up-to-date information that exists in any of those registers, so it will be indirect. This is not a project which is focused on the reduction of fraud specifically, but it will be the improvement in the individual registers that will have an impact. With the ID card proposal and the authentication of identity being improved through that that will also have both a direct impact on the quality of the information that is validated by the ID card system as that accumulates to some 80 per cent of the population in eight years' time, but it will also be indirectly affected by the effect of the ID card proposal and its improvement on the way identity information is stored in each of the constituent systems, so it is very indirect.
Mr Roberts: The CIP project is about improving the efficiency of government and the delivery of services. It is not about denying access to services, it is about trying to help government to provide the services to the right people at the right time, so it is actually to improve the delivery of the services.
Q526 Mr Prosser: Let me give you a practical example. If I were to come along to the register and tell them I had been in South Africa for ten years and I had just come back to my home town, how would the register check those details to be true? Would you take it on face value or would I have to fill in a form? How would it work?
Mr Roberts: What we are talking about is existing systems and that is what the situation is already. Those different systems apply different processes to checking that sort of information. What we would be doing under this approach is looking across the different procedures and applying best practice so that overall we would improve the actual verification standard of checking, but it would not be the same as identity cards which introduces a much higher standard of knowing who the person is through the verification of their biometrics. We are not talking about moving to that stage in this project.
Mr Cook: If you returned to this country and your first contact was with the Inland Revenue department then the information they would require from you would meet the standards that they expect for you to continue to engage with the National Insurance system and the other obligations that you have. It would depend on the different system. Clearly the standards differ across each service to government.
Q527 Mr Prosser: You say that members of the public will have the right to access their own files and see what data is held against them, is that right?
Mr Cook: Yes.
Q528 Mr Prosser: How will you check that the person asking for that access is the person on the file?
Mr Cook: We would have to have processes of authentication that recognised the risk of not providing people with information. We have a whole series of registers we run now, for example adoption registers, and in each of the different registers we run in the registration service we have obligations to authenticate individuals and we would expect that the demand on people who authenticate themselves beforehand would reflect the chance of getting it wrong. That would probably be quite a reasonably significant obligation.
Mr Roberts: This is a challenge that we face in all of these registers at present because there is no fundamental way of checking the authentication of the person. They present themselves and we go through standard checks. What this would do would be to introduce a common high standard across all the different agencies.
Q529 Mr Prosser: I ask those questions in the light of your own evidence where it said "a strong and trusted reliable authentic record of the population".
Mr Cook: If I could just add one observation as to what could be the outcome of this project. One of the outcomes may well be not a proposal for a population register itself but a set of standards for the management of the registers across government and the exchange of information between them that brings us up to what you would expect in 2004 for the demands and pressures and opportunities that people have with the registers we have now.
Q530 Mr Prosser: Another concern people have is how many times their own register will be accessed and who is accessing it and why. It is difficult to find out why. Would they have the right to ask for an audit trail so that you could tell them what access had been made to their file over a particular period?
Mr Cook: We would expect that to be possible. This proposal was not intended to change the relationship between the state and its citizens. If there was activity carried out using information about you then you would expect to have knowledge of that. The whole system is about creating efficiency in the way information is used for the benefit of government services that exist for the benefit of the citizens.
Q531 Mr Prosser: I apologise for returning again to this issue of the two parallel registers. Putting aside the fact that you are the project leader of CIP and the fact that you are going through the process of phase one, phase two etcetera, what is your gut feeling just from a human sense point of view? Are we going to end up with one register which has been enhanced by the other or do you think we will end up with two separately managed registers and separately administered registers?
Mr Cook: I think we need to do all of the things in terms of standards and quality and the improved matching of information across government for the quality of registers. I think that third step I mentioned of having a very much more standardised protective environment for citizens for the way information is to be shared for their benefit is something that should come out of this. The Gershwin agenda provides an excellent push in terms of the efficiency argument. I do not think at the moment we can be certain that the benefits of setting up a distinct register would be easily seen not necessarily in terms of the simple cost-benefit analysis of the costs saved but the broader ability to explain the benefits of that in terms of setting up a specific register. I do not think we know yet whether we are able to provide a compelling enough business case to overwhelm the sense of need for an additional register in government that people would have. That is really what phase two is about and I think this is still an outstanding question, which is really why this whole project has been put into phases. The first phase was whether it was worth us spending the money to spend time working on these harder issues before other propositions come up.
Q532 Chairman: Are you surprised that this project has not had anything like the public scrutiny that the ID card has had even though it will have far more people on it? The ID card proposal as we currently have it does aim to join up all the information about every individual in each individual department, that is one of the things that critics of ID cards have stressed very strongly in their evidence to us.
Mr Cook: At this stage a very large amount of work with the CIP project has been about understanding its technical viability and the cost benefits in terms of its ability to work within different departments. So it has been very much about getting right the technical arguments but knowing that there are a huge variety of issues that are much more in the legal, political, constitutional domain. Being sure that we could actually do it has been the first part of this project. For example, my discussions with the Information Commissions before Christmas were really just the start of a much more broadening out of engagement that would be absolutely essential for a project of this sort. I am completely convinced, without doing any more work, that the statistical benefits of this project will be quite immense for the UK, but they are not at all relevant in a decision as to whether a project such as this should go ahead.
Q533 Chairman: If as a citizen I preferred to deal separately with health, with education and with the council tax department and not have, for example, my change of address automatically sent round the system, would I have a right not to be on your register?
Mr Roberts: I think that is one of the issues which we have to consider, whether people should still be able to update each of the different ones. It may be that the address that they provide for some of the different registers will be different in any event. People do have more than one address, second homes for example and it may be that it is right to have a different address for a different purpose. I think these are the sorts of issues which we have got to work through, how such a system would operate.
Q534 David Winnick: Have you put your proposals to Liberty at all? Have you had any discussions with them?
Mr Cook: Not yet. We have had some discussions in the very early stages of the project with quite a variety of people, but as the stage we are in now gets into its latter half, that is when we will expect to have more discussion. So it is really in the middle of this year that we will be doing that much more effectively.
Q535 David Winnick: With all the implications for private citizens and undoubtedly the controversy, I would have thought, Mr Cook, you would want to have such discussions with groups like Liberty and others who have been in the field for a long time over civil liberties at the earliest opportunity.
Mr Cook: I have just been reminded that we are meeting Liberty next week.
David Winnick: It should be an interesting dialogue, Mr Cook. Perhaps you could let us know how it goes.
Q536 Chairman: It is difficult to avoid the impression that your project has been developing within a corner of Whitehall for a period of time now. The proposals to develop a national identity card have come on to the agenda as concrete proposals much more recently and your project is simply carrying on like a supertanker, not really trying to be affected too much by all this work that is going to go on into another database. Can you assure me that from the top of the Civil Service downwards those responsible have got these projects working together so that we do not have a huge amount of wasted effort and we are dealing with the privacy and identity issues as one coherent whole and not as two separate projects?
Mr Cook: I can certainly do that. I have met with John Gieve and we have discussed the projects. We have agreed a set of processes by which our departments would have overlapping membership of boards. I will meet again with John Gieve. As each of these projects crosses a threshold on where it is going - and clearly the ID project is moving very much faster in the thresholds it is crossing than the Citizen Information Project - then we will need to bring them together because very clearly, even though there are very important reasons why they are distinct projects, they need to be understood together in terms of the relationship with the citizen and the state.
Chairman: Mr Cook, Mr Roberts, thank you very much indeed.
Memoranda submitted by Department for Education and Skills, Department of Health
and Department for Work and Pensions
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Rt Hon Charles Clarke, a Member of the House, Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills, Rt Hon John Hutton, a Member of the House, Minister of State (Health), and Mr Chris Pond, a Member of the House, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions, examined.
Q537 Chairman: We are obviously very pleased to have three ministers in front of the Committee this afternoon and we are grateful to you for coordinating your diaries in the way that you have for what is a very important inquiry for us. If I could kick off and really go straight to the heart of the issue and start with a question to you, Mr Clarke. One of the things that caused some surprise to some in the letter that you sent to us was that you are not intending to use any ID card in relation to access to education for those under 16. Am I right in thinking that there are no nationality or immigration status conditions for entry to a maintained school and is that a matter of concern? I take that to mean that the children of a family who are not here legitimately would be able to access state education without any checks being carried out.
Mr Clarke: You are essentially right, Mr Denham, and no, it is not a matter of concern. All our proposals in this area relate to the post-16 position. As I said in my letter to you, there are four areas where we feel that the ID card would help: in our proposals for a Children's Service passport, in our Connexions Card for 16 to 19 year olds that we already issue; in access to post-16 education and training; and in the development of our proposed Unique Learner Number infrastructure which is designed to help with personalised learning for every individual. In each of those we think the ID card has something to contribute, but none of those relates to the pre-16 phase of education where we do not see ID cards having any major contribution to make.
Mr Taylor: A point of order, Mr Chairman. I am concerned about the lack of facilities for members of the public in this meeting. I do not suppose for a moment there is anything we can do about it, but I did not want this Committee to go on sitting here unaware of the fact that the public were in some difficulty here in following our proceedings.
Chairman: That is obviously a difficulty, Mr Taylor, and thank you for raising it. We obviously cannot change the room at this stage. I did indicate that I had no objection to members of the public standing rather than being excluded from the room as long as they are not disrupting proceedings, which clearly they are not.
Mr Taylor: I just thought it rather inconsiderate not to register the fact that we were aware of them.
Q538 Chairman: If I could go back to the question of schools. Mr Clarke, are you saying to the Committee that you do not think the issue of whether some people might get access to state school education even though they had no immigration status here is really an issue of any particular size or importance that might be dealt with?
Mr Clarke: There is an issue, it is an important matter of policy and it is part of an ongoing dialogue about how we deal with migration to this country. I answered your question in the context of the ID cards debate because I do not believe that the ID cards debate has any locus in that precise discussion. I went on further to say that I myself see any likelihood of a change in the status arrangements that we are describing in this area and the current law of the land which says that we have a legal obligation to educate all children of the appropriate age within our education system as one which I think is the correct legal status and we have no plans of any kind to revisit that. That is not to say that the debate cannot proceed in these matters in all areas, but that is not in any way a part of our approach on ID cards, which, apart from general support for the principle which I personally have, I think is the right approach and it has some specific practical advantages for the education service in the areas which I identify.
Q539 Chairman: That is a very clear statement of the position. Thank you. Do you have any idea of what the current cost of abuse of the system post-16 might be and, therefore, potentially the gains of introducing stronger identity checks?
Mr Clarke: No, we do not. There is a whole range of provision, including private provision not from private collect sector but for people post-16 and there are a very large number of institutions, including some which in the classic language are bogus institutions, which are specifically designed to help some people evade our immigration regulations. In terms of the overall costs and so on of the fraud, we do not have a costing of that, but we believe that, nevertheless, there would be a benefit in having an ID card indicating people's access to post-16 education for the other reasons I mentioned.
Q540 Chairman: What are colleges doing at the moment to check identity and entitlement, and how much progress could you make by instituting more stringent checks at the moment without the benefit of the ID card?
Mr Clarke: They do ask for identification; a variety of forms of identification are required. One of the virtues of an ID card is that instead of a variety of different forms of identification we would have one clear and unequivocal form of identification. If you then follow the question after that, how much follow-up is there by colleges of people who are coming into a college and attending and so on, not a lot is the current state of affairs, but we think if there is a proper ID card regime that will help. There is one qualification I should add to that which is that, as you will be aware, Mr Denham, we announced at the beginning of last week our development and extension of the Education Maintenance Allowances to go national, which we think has been a very positive scheme. It is important in that context that people who are in receipt of an Education Maintenance Allowance do actually attend the courses for which they are receiving that allowance to attend. I said in the press launch we had last week about this question that that was a matter which we would give attention to, but again the biometric ID card would help with that.
Q541 Chairman: I can see how an ID card might greatly simplify the job of a college in deciding whether to give somebody a place in the college and help you ensure that EMAs go to people who are entitled to them or student loans. I cannot quite see how an ID card helps with the issue of whether students continue to attend a college.
Mr Clarke: I would not like to claim that that is a substantial element of it, it is not, but simply ensuring the people who are there are entitled to be there is a part of the process which might be necessary. You are quite right, Mr Denham, it is not a central part of the argument which I would advance.
Q542 Chairman: Mr Hutton, could I move on to you with the equivalent set of questions. At the moment am I right in saying that there are no identity regulations relating to someone's access to primary care or their ability to register with a GP?
Mr Hutton: Yes, that is right.
Q543 Chairman: Do you have any intention of changing the legislation so that somebody who registers with a GP does have to establish their entitlement to do so irrespective of whether an ID card is going to be used for that?
Mr Hutton: Yes, we do. I am concerned that there is scope for potential abuse here. As members of the Committee will know, in December we confirmed our plans to change the legislation around access to secondary care to close what we thought were loopholes in the 1989 regulations and I announced then that it was our intention to operate a similar regime in relation to primary care. I think we will be in a position to start the consultation on those changes in the next couple of weeks and obviously we will keep the Committee informed of that.
Q544 Chairman: What implications does that have for the way people working in primary care are expected to work, people who have never been asked to take responsibility for checking somebody's identity or entitlement?
Mr Hutton: These options will be set out in the consultation paper itself. Basically what we want to do is to minimise the bureaucracy on the front-line primary care staff. I do not believe it is their job to enforce these regulations in that sense. I think the primary burden of enforcement should fall properly on the NHS itself, on the primary care trusts. We will canvass a number of options in the consultation paper on how can we can minimise the bureaucratic burden of front-line staff, but it is not part of our plans - and I hope this will be confirmed shortly - to pass the principal obligation to police such a system directly on to receptionists or GPs or practice nurses, I do not believe that is part of their job description.
Q545 Chairman: Do you have any idea, even a ballpark figure, of how many people might be registered with GPs who are not entitled to be registered because it is unfair in relation to status, they are illegal immigrants?
Mr Hutton: I wish! I do not. What is true, and this is one of the odd things about the registered primary care population of late, is that there are more people registered with a GP than are living in this country. That is partly because of the fact that records are not up-to-date, people move and change their GPs and sometimes their records are slow to reflect that. All I can say to the Committee is that anecdotally during the course of my job as minister responsible for primary care I meet people in primary care, particularly receptionists, practice managers, who say to me that there is a significant amount of abuse going on, but unfortunately I cannot quantify that. The same is true in relation to secondary care, lots of figures have been chucked about. In relation to hospital care, we have never separately recorded or asked the NHS to keep information on the number of foreign nationals who are receiving treatment or the number of foreign nationals who are entitled to free care under the exemptions in the regulations and for perfectly good reasons. If they are exempt from charging they are just like ordinary NHS patients and they will be in the statistics for the numbers who were treated. We have just started a study in relation to secondary care to try and bottom out these figures because it is obviously not satisfactory. We are asking 12 NHS trusts across the country to participate with us in working to quantify some of the costs and that study will look at people from the accession countries as well as people who are regarded in the process as health tourists. I hope that will help us put some figures onto this subject. In relation to both secondary care and primary care, all I can say to the Committee is that I am convinced there is a significant problem because that is what the NHS tell me is going on, but very unfortunately I cannot say and it is costing the taxpayer and the NHS so much money. Lots of figures have been chucked about, but, honestly, Chairman, there are no reliable figures that I can bring to the Committee today.
Q546 Chairman: I will come back to you in a moment, but, going back to Mr Clarke, Mr Hutton has told us that the NHS is conducting a study of 12 trusts to try and get an idea of the scale of the problem. Have you considered doing a similar exercise looking at 12 FE colleges or 12 universities or a mixture of the two to try and identify the problem?
Mr Clarke: We have considered it. We have actually decided that the stage before that is to get to a proper system of accreditation of the colleges which actually exist in this country. We obviously know of all the publicly funded colleges immediately in our database systems and there is a range of other institutions as well. We would be ready to conduct a particular analysis of people who are coming into publicly funded colleges who are not entitled along the lines of what Mr Hutton has suggested, but it has not been something we have hitherto given priority to. As I said in my earlier answer to you, I do not think this is a major case for ID cards. The major case is simply having one simple system of identification, Mr Hutton's argument of a simple test of identification by front-line staff.
Q547 Chairman: But you would not be closed to the idea of it?
Mr Clarke: Not at all. In fact, subject to my considering it a little bit, I could say to you now that it is something which it would be worth doing and we would be ready to do it.
Q548 Chairman: Mr Hutton, if I can go back to you, one of the obvious areas of concern in the past is so-called 'health tourism' which can come in a variety of forms, but particularly the idea that people can access quite expensive, particularly hospital-based treatment without establishing their entitlement or without them being properly charged for the service. It is a slightly different issue from the issue of when they are illegal immigrants registering with a GP. Do you have any idea of how big that problem is and whether the NHS has got better at routinely identifying who is required to pay?
Mr Hutton: I think that the problem is not uniform across the NHS certainly. I think the problem of so-called health tourism, which I accept and acknowledge is a real problem, is concentrated, I would say, in most of Britain's urban centres, particularly in big cities like London, and there, I think, there is a higher awareness and I think a more effective attempt by front-line NHS staff to properly enforce the regulations that we recently changed. However, if you were to ask me whether there is a similar approach towards identification and establishing entitlement in every NHS trust, I would say no, I do not think that is the case.
Q549 Chairman: You are obviously, from what you are saying, determined to tighten up on these eligibility issues in any case under your own timescale. What assessment have you made of how helpful an ID card would be as opposed to simply imposing better administrative arrangements using the current forms of identity in private care and hospitals?
Mr Hutton: Well, our general view in relation to ID cards is that it would represent a very, very straightforward way and, therefore, a very helpful way and I think a more efficient way for the NHS to establish entitlement to free NHS care. It is the case of course that you can have entitlement to NHS care, but not an ID card and it is perfectly possible that you could have an ID card, but not be entitled to NHS care. I think the point is that on the production of an ID card, those issues would be established by checking the data on a national data register. At the moment NHS organisations have a variety of mechanisms and ways of establishing identity, such as passports and visas, and because there are some exemptions in relation to people who are here on the grounds of employment in the UK, evidence from their employer that they are working legally here. Now, none of those really addresses the issue of identity fraud and there are genuine issues there and I think from a logical point of view, if there is an ability with one swipe of a card to have current, up-to-date information of a person's residency and immigration status, their current address and so on, that simply would make the job of the NHS, I think, much more straightforward. I would not be able to say, Chairman, that we have quantified the value of that more straightforward check in cash terms and I think it would be a very difficult thing to do. I think our position is a very simple one. The NHS has always had a set of rules applying to it about who is entitled to free-at-point-of-use healthcare. There have been difficulties enforcing those rules and I think that is a common reality actually and we have a choice. We either have rules and we try to properly enforce them or we have completely open access. Now, of those two options, I am pretty sure where the public would be and I am afraid to say that probably at the moment, and this is why we are enthusiastic about ID cards, I do not think I could say to the Committee with confidence that the system we have currently got in place is the best that we could have. I do believe very strongly that the ID card will help the NHS to properly police the rules that this House has set and, in the process, it will be able to make sure that the resources that we have allocated in the NHS are used for the purposes for which they have been voted and are not wasted and misused. Therefore, I believe very strongly that it is going to be of benefit to the NHS, logic and commonsense dictate that that is so, and we will obviously have to look very carefully at the emerging technology and the biometric identification systems that come through the testing phase and also obviously the take-up of ID cards amongst the public as a whole. As we come to make the sort of decisions about what IT investment we need to make to support all of this, clearly there will be a cost, but I think it comes back, Chairman, to this very simple argument that we have got rules and we should enforce them, but at the moment I do not think we can enforce them with the degree of confidence that I and I think many others in this House would like to be reassured about.
Q550 Chairman: Mr Pond, if I turn to you, most, as I understand it, benefit fraud is actually for doing things like working and not declaring it, co-habiting and not declaring it. What proportion of the fraud which your Department faces comes from people who are actually not the person they say they are when they make a claim?
Mr Pond: Well, Mr Denham, there are two forms of identity fraud which we are seeking to tackle. One of course is, as you say, people pretending they are somebody they are not and the other is people taking on other people's identities. Now, together we would estimate that at the moment about £50 million is lost to the taxpayer in identity fraud. Now, in the context of the overall benefits budget and in the context of £2 billion which we lose in fraud each year and which we are reducing quite effectively, that is a relatively small amount currently, but we believe that over time it could become more significant as we clamp down on other forms of fraud, such as methods of payment fraud, and the organised criminals who enjoy that sort of activity may have to move elsewhere, and identity fraud is a potential area. I have to say as well that whilst we think that much of that £50 million is a potential saving through the introduction over time of identity cards, perhaps an equivalent amount in other forms of benefit abuse could also be tackled through the introduction of that sort of system.
Q551 Chairman: Could you say just a little more about the amount?
Mr Pond: Yes, we have broken down the figures as best we can, although I have to say these are early days and it is because much of the evidence is based on regional benefit reviews and because, by definition, identity fraudsters keep as much as they can under cover that it is difficult to estimate the total amount, but we estimate that the reduction in fraudulent claims using false identities costs something between £40-45 million. A reduction in general benefit fraud through additional information on addresses and foreign travel potentially is available if we had a more effective ID system of about the same amount, £40-45 million again, and then administrative savings of around £8 million. That does not include potential savings to local authorities through, for instance, an easier process of verifying identity for claims such as Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit.
Q552 David Winnick: Mr Pond, you are not telling us, are you, that unless the identity card project goes ahead, you are not able to do anything whatsoever about the sums of money which are being lost?
Mr Pond: No, I am not saying that at all, Mr Winnick, and, as you know, we are very vigilant in trying to make sure that we do drive down fraud in every possible way in the benefit system, and we do have at the moment quite a wide range of methods of establishing somebody's identity, which of course is a requirement before the claiming of benefit. At the moment we require people to come along with as much information as they have to establish their identity. Of course if they have a passport, that is helpful, but we might also look at work permits, letters from employers or contracts, payslips, evidence of actively seeking work, marriage or birth certificates, deed polls, a long list of documents which we might require. Now, the advantage both to ourselves and also to our customers is that if we had an identity card, that whole process would be both more secure than it currently is and probably a lot more convenient for the customer as well as for us.
Q553 David Winnick: So on the basis that any compulsory card is not likely to come in before 2013, you are clearly confident that the sums of money which are being lost to the public are being tackled?
Mr Pond: Yes, I am very confident of that, Mr Winnick, and we do favour, we are very much in favour of the idea of an identity card, but we also favour its gradual introduction to make sure that the processes are properly in place and that our customers, many of whom are very vulnerable, are not going to lose out in this process. However, I do believe that there are real benefits for many of those customers as well perhaps in identifying those who are entitled to benefits, but not claiming them presently and whom we may be able to contact through this, but in the process of the take-on of identity cards, we will continue to drive forward on identity fraud and all other fraud.
Q554 David Winnick: Of course you are working on the basis, Minister, are you not, as indeed all ministers must be in this regard, that once the card comes into being, if it does come into being, there will be no fake cards and the criminal gangs will not be able to reproduce cards, and you are working on that assumption of course?
Mr Pond: Yes, we have to be aware that there are limits obviously to the security even of this system. What we are also aware of is the fact that it is going to be a lot more secure than the systems that we currently have in place.
Q555 David Winnick: If I could come to you, Secretary of State, you told the Chair that you are a keen advocate, though you did not use exactly those words, of the ID card. I take it that you are one of the more enthusiastic members of the Cabinet in favouring the scheme?
Mr Clarke: I would not like to make any comparative comment. 'Keen' is a word I try to use to describe myself in many different circumstances, so yes, I am keen to improve the way in which we operate in the ways which I have set out, but I am not going to get into a league table, and you know how my Department has got different views about those, of Cabinet members' keenness.
Q556 David Winnick: I think that since this Select Committee has been looking into all aspects, there have been reports in the press, and they may be totally inadequate reports and I think that may well be the case, but there seems to have been an ongoing debate in the Cabinet more public to some extent than normally happens when Cabinet decides, a more grown-up approach and that Cabinet members understandably have different views about the desirability of an ID card.
Mr Clarke: The reports in the press, Mr Winnick, are correct insofar as they describe me as generally a supporter of the ID card proposition both in general and in particular in relation to my Department for the reasons which I have set out. I do think we are having a grown-up debate about it as a matter of fact, and it is easy to turn it into great pros and cons, but the kind of considerations that my colleagues have been expressing here are the kind of considerations that I have been generally supporting.
Q557 David Winnick: No Secretary of State, if there is perhaps a division in the Cabinet on an issue, could have given a better answer.
Mr Clarke: I am very grateful. I am trying to improve my technique!
Q558 David Winnick: I am sure the Prime Minister would be equally impressed! You did say, Secretary of State, that the central argument is not one about how it affects your Department. That is not the main argument, is it?
Mr Clarke: No, but I do believe we are moving into a situation in public services, like education, where we are trying to focus much more on the support which the system can give to an individual learner and the various projects which I have described about the Unique Learner Identity Project and the way in which we view post-16 education and so on are designed to get a system which gives the individual more identity and more focus in the way that a service like education provided and, in that, it is important to know about an individual and their achievement to be able to do that. The example which I give sometimes, which Mr Denham will be very familiar with, is education support to people within the criminal justice system, prisoners and so on, that often there is a dotting around as people are moved. If you have a central identity saying this is how we can move and take things forward, it can make a big difference. A different type of example is people moving from primary to secondary school where there is often a complete break at that point and some people are actually lost out of the system sometimes in tragic circumstances. I think that kind of development is the way that society is moving and I basically welcome that, and the ID card is something that will help in that.
Q559 David Winnick: Yes, it will help and you are keen, as you have been telling us, but in no way trying to put words into your mouth, the problems which you face, which do not seem to be quite the same as in social security, are not problems which could not be resolved to a large extent without an ID card? You are in favour of an ID card for all kinds of other reasons, are you not?
Mr Clarke: That is broadly true, Mr Winnick, that it is not a central issue for my Department. On the other hand, it is also true that in each of the four areas that I identified, there are important benefits. One which I have not talked about is the one of the Children's Service passport and, subject to what Sir Michael Bichard is going to report following the tragedies at Soham, the fact is that the whole operation of the Criminal Records Bureau, the need to have protection for children from people working around them in a proper way, is an important and an increasingly important element of their security there, so there is an important security element which an ID card, in my opinion, would help. Now, could we solve it without an ID card? Well, yes, we could make a good stab, but I believe we would make a better stab if we had an ID card than not.
Q560 David Winnick: So that is where the debate continues, Secretary of State?
Mr Clarke: Indeed.
Q561 David Winnick: If I can turn for a moment to the Health Minister, and in some respects you have answered the question, is there not this danger that however keen you are yourself, as you have indicated, on an ID card, inevitably if there is a compulsory card in due course, when one goes for treatment in an emergency and the rest of it, the first question which will be asked, and if the person concerned, the patient, is not in a position to answer, then a close relative, is for evidence of an identity card as for any other public services?
Mr Hutton: Well, that will not be the case in an emergency. Emergency treatment will continue to be free at point of use and we are not going to chase people into the operating theatre, asking for their ID cards.
Q562 David Winnick: No, I said a close relative.
Mr Hutton: Well, as I say, in relation to emergency treatment, that is always free and we are not changing the basic rules on that.
Q563 David Winnick: I am not really suggesting that with a compulsory ID card, people would not get emergency treatment, and I would not want to give that impression, but what I am coming back to is that the ID card is required almost certainly when one goes to a hospital or, for that matter, to the GP for the first time?
Mr Hutton: Yes, and what is wrong with that? The basic proposition, Mr Winnick, I think, is this: that there are rules about who is entitled to free NHS care and I think we have got a decision to make here in this House and our society has about how we want those rules to be properly policed. At the moment, as I have suggested in my earlier comments, we are making very good efforts to try and clamp down on potential abuse, but I believe, rather like Charles Clarke, that with identity cards it will allow us to improve our effort in tackling abuse. I think the question about how frequently an NHS patient will need to confirm their entitlement to free NHS care is a very, very important point. What we do not want is an endless waving and flashing around of cards every time one thinks of going to see their GP or a community nurse comes out to change a dressing. That would be over the top and unreasonable, but I think at key moments it is absolutely right, given that we do set the rules in this House for who is entitled to free care, that we provide a better and more robust system for someone to demonstrate their entitlement. I think the example you have given of when you first register with a GP, that is a perfectly reasonable point, I think, to confirm your entitlement to free NHS care and I think the majority of people would say that is not unreasonable. I think it is probably also true that in relation to the first in a series of hospital appointments, outpatient appointments or whatever, that that is also the case and I think there is an argument too for periodic checks as well because a person's residency and immigration details can change over time. Therefore, I think it goes with the terrain, that if you are going to have rules, you have to ask yourself, "What is the best way to enforce them?" At the moment there are checks in place and people are required to prove their entitlement and at various points in the process they do that. I think the point about ID cards is just that it makes it more straightforward.
Q564 David Winnick: Well, that is a very straightforward answer and, as you may or may not agree, the argument on ID cards varies from day to day. Usually it is about terrorism and you have given us a very frank answer, but you see, Minister, we are also told that when there is a compulsory ID card scheme, again if it comes about, it will not be necessary to carry the card. Now, of course what you are saying in effect is that when you are asked for the card, and quite rightly for various reasons there could be valid reasons, if the person is genuine and does not have the card on him or her, problems will arise arising from what you have just told the Committee.
Mr Hutton: I think there are likely to be cases when that happens and I think we would want to try and make sure that the NHS had as much flexibility as possible to deal with those situations. I would not want to argue that care would be withheld or withdrawn for somebody who did not have an ID card, but who was able to establish satisfactory confirmation of their entitlement to free NHS care.
Q565 David Winnick: But the whole emphasis once the ID card comes into being is that it should be produced along the lines that you have indicated.
Mr Hutton: Yes, I believe that, but I think, as I also made clear earlier, there will be some cases where someone will be entitled to free NHS care, but will not be required to carry an ID card and in those circumstances that person will clearly need to have other evidence of their entitlement.
Q566 Bob Russell: Mr Hutton, you have given the assurance that accident and emergency departments will not be requiring identity cards when treatment commences and presumably ambulance drivers likewise will not be searching for identity cards, but at some point a road-crash victim or indeed any patient may be transferred into a hospital ward, not discharged, so at some point they are going to be asked, are they not, about their identity card, so what happens if they have not got an identity card?
Mr Hutton: Well, then they will be liable, so if they cannot prove their entitlement to free NHS care, that treatment will be chargeable.
Q567 Bob Russell: How can they prove they are entitled to it if they are a UK citizen, but they choose not to have an identity card?
Mr Hutton: Up until the point where it becomes compulsory to have one?
Q568 Bob Russell: Yes.
Mr Hutton: Well, there are other ways. We do not have ID cards now and people are able to establish their entitlement to free NHS care. They will have a passport, a driving licence; a variety of different evidence can be accepted.
Q569 Bob Russell: Mr Clarke, the identity cards, as far as you are concerned, are relevant to post-16 education. Can you give an assurance that as this is going to be an entitlement card, any tuition fee debt will not be included within the data contained on an identity card?
Mr Clarke: Well, we have not looked at the detail at all. I think I can give that assurance, but, to be quite candid, we are going down the process of considering consultation on this very carefully and we have no plans whatsoever for that kind of data to be included on an identity card of that kind. It is not an entitlement card, it is an identity card that we are talking about here, but it is for checking the access to the various services which are there, different from the NHS's medical services, to ensure that people are entitled. We will look very carefully and follow very carefully the Home Office's consideration of these questions to see how cards can be developed and in what way they can be, but the precise use of them is something for further consideration and carrying forward. What I am certain of is that in each of those four areas I mentioned, they will help us develop our programmes of support for individuals.
Q570 Mr Prosser: Mr Pond, I want to ask some questions about the practical aspects of identity checking. If in five years' time Mr Winnick has an identity card ----
Mr Clarke: Is this fantasy or reality!
Chairman: An early volunteer!
David Winnick: I am afraid not!
Q571 Mr Prosser: Seriously, how often would you expect Mr Winnick to have to show his identity card for checking to access your services?
Mr Pond: Well, Mr Prosser, in the run-up to, in the period before identity cards become compulsory, if they do become compulsory, there are a number of ways in which they might represent, as I have said, a simpler and more secure means of verification. For instance, where people are coming to claim various forms of benefit, the ID card would be probably the preferred form of identification. Now, where people are coming to claim a benefit, such as Jobseekers' Allowance or Income Support, where they are expected, and would expect, to come along to one of our establishments, such as the job centre, to register their claim or perhaps to have an interview about their work options, then of course we would expect the card to be presented, and there are about 750,000 people claiming, for instance, Jobseekers' Allowance at the moment. In other cases where increasingly we are trying to make sure that people can claim their entitlements perhaps over the phone, as with Pension Credit, then of course the identity card is at the moment going to be used in very much fewer cases. Post-compulsion, we would expect in those circumstances as well that we would have fairly automatic backroom checks, if you like, against the National Identity Register to make sure that the person who was presenting the card matched with the characteristics that were on the register and of course it would then be a yes/no reply, so the number of people and the balance of people will change over time as we have the take-on period towards the identity cards becoming more universal and perhaps compulsory.
Q572 Mr Prosser: You have mentioned one benefit for the customer, the citizen, and that is convenience. Are there any other benefits you can think of?
Mr Pond: I think for the customer one of the main further benefits would be that we do recognise that there are a number of groups who are not receiving the benefits to which they are entitled. We have recently launched a campaign for the take-up of Council Tax Benefit and, as you know, we are driving forward on Pension Credit take-up which, from the latest figures, show there are now 2.9 million pensioners receiving that, so well on target. If we were to have the information on the register and if it was introduced in such a way that it fits with the modernisation of our own processes, that might make it much easier for us to make contact with those people to ensure that they knew about their entitlement and had an opportunity to claim, so I would hope that as well as being a more effective and secure check against benefit fraud, this might also be an option for us to improve take-up.
Q573 Mr Prosser: After identify cards come in, if they come in, would you expect your staff to be making more checks of identity than they are now or about the same?
Mr Pond: I think it would probably depend on the design of the card, Mr Prosser. Inevitably, with benefits such as for those of working age where people's circumstances are changing on a more frequent basis, then we would expect the checks would be more regular. For pensioners where, as with the Pension Credit, on the whole we are saying that once we have the information, we will not be troubling those people for another five years, one would expect that the identity card checks would also be much less frequent than it would be, for instance, for jobseekers.
Q574 Mr Prosser: You say in your evidence that many of the checks would be done without the person or without the card physically being present?
Mr Pond: Yes, we would be able to do it on a backroom and a semi-automatic basis by checking with the register and, as I say, making sure that the information we were being given, perhaps the number on the card, did match with the details that were on the register and of course we would hope that in this process there would be some link between an identity card reference number and a National Insurance number. That is still an issue open for debate about whether a National Insurance number would be the appropriate unique identifier, but if the decision in the fullness of time was that it was going to be a totally new number, we would need to make sure that those two matched up.
Q575 Mr Prosser: Are you in a position now to estimate the proportion of checks which would be taken backroom as opposed to front office?
Mr Pond: I think, Mr Prosser, that is going to change over time. At the moment we are probably, and perhaps I could do a note for the Committee on this, but my guess is that we are talking about roughly fifty-fifty, but over time we might expect that to change because increasingly we are hoping that people who received a disability benefit, such as the DLA, or pensioners will be able to make their claims without actually presenting themselves at one of our establishments and, for that reason, it may be that that balance will change in the process that we have the voluntary introduction of the identity cards.
Q576 Mr Prosser: There is no relationship, is there, between the introduction of identity cards, the ease with which identity can be checked with the Government's wish to reduce quite dramatically the number of civil servants in your Department?
Mr Pond: No. Certainly I have no information about the impact that this would have on the numbers involved, but certainly it has not been factored into any of the discussions we have had on the reductions in staff numbers in DWP.
Q577 Mr Prosser: Have you given any thought to the number of biometric readers the Department would need?
Mr Pond: We have given some thought to that, Mr Prosser. It is fairly high-level estimates at the moment. These estimates were actually provided, I think, to the Committee in the Home Office data. We think probably we would need 4,500 of the readers to cover mainly the job centre establishments, but also some for those parts of the DWP concerned with the National Insurance numbers alongside Inland Revenue.
Q578 Mr Prosser: How would they be paid for?
Mr Pond: We would have to seek funding for that from hopefully within departmental budgets. As I have said, we are expecting that there will be considerable savings, administrative savings as well as the savings on the amount of benefit lost through fraud, as a result of this process, and I would expect that a part of the costs would be met through that, but I have to say it is early days and no decisions, by definition, can be taken on that until we are a lot further down the road.
Q579 Mr Prosser: In the evidence from the Department, you say that access to the ID card database would need to be "sufficient to facilitate the counter-fraud efforts we envisage". What does that mean?
Mr Pond: Well, it means really that we need to be in a position in certain circumstances where we have significant evidence that a serious crime is being committed, like benefit fraud, and very often of course this can be organised crime, that we will have access to the register without the consent of the person whose identity details we are seeking. I have to stress that that is only that minority, probably a very small minority, of cases where we believe, as other agencies may believe, that a serious crime is being committed. In other cases of course, it would be with the consent of the person because, as part of the normal process as it is now of claiming a benefit, you have to establish what your identity is in order to be able to claim a benefit now, and in order for us to be able to make sure that we can verify that identity, we would require the consent of the person to check those details.
Q580 Mr Prosser: Picking up the point of your rights perhaps or your wish to have special access without consent, is that over and above the powers you have got now or do you need separate legislation on the powers?
Mr Pond: No, it is very much in line with the powers that we already have under the Fraud Act and all we are doing, I have to stress, is changing the method of verifying someone's identity and we are not changing anything about the substance of those powers or the process of checking.
Q581 Chairman: Just on a technical point, when you talk about 4,500 readers, are these readers which can take the biometric information on a card to check against the central register or are these readers by which the individual could check their fingerprints, check their iris-scans in order to show that they are the same person whose card they are holding?
Mr Pond: No, this is going to be a mix overall of different sorts of reader and inevitably most of them will have to be card-readers, but we will need in certain parts of the Department and some of the agencies readers which are able to do the scans and to collect or to register biometric information.
Q582 Chairman: How many of those do you expect to have?
Mr Pond: I do not have figures on the breakdown of how many of those as against the 4,500 in total. I would expect that it would be a minority of those, but perhaps again, Mr Denham, I could do a note for the Committee on that.
Chairman: That would be helpful.
Q583 Janet Anderson: Minister, your Secretary of State has said that he believes that the development of a single, cross-government standard of identity checking would be a significant aid in the fight against fraud and you yourself have identified that identity fraud losses are currently assessed as upwards of £50 million a year. You have slightly touched on the question of savings in your answer to Mr Prosser, but I wondered whether your Department has made any kind of rough initial assessment of how much in fact you may be able to save and by what amount you may be able to reduce that figure with the introduction of identity cards?
Mr Pond: One of the difficulties in answering that question precisely is that of course we are all the time seeking to reduce that identify fraud anyway through the processes that we currently have, so it is difficult to say how much of that would be due to introducing a new form of verifying identity in the form of a card. I would expect that most of that £50 million, as it currently stands, would be the potential for us to save through the introduction of this more effective and secure method of verifying identity. I have to say also that that is the figure that we estimate currently and I did, in answer to Mr Denham, make it clear that this was based on regional benefit reviews and inevitably, because of the nature of that type of fraud, it is difficult to assess the full and accurate amount. We think that is generally right, but over time we do believe that there is potential for that form of fraud to increase because it is, as I have said, a type of fraud which is attractive to organised criminals and as we close off other options, such as method of payment fraud, then it may well be that that element of it increases.
Q584 Janet Anderson: So you think that the introduction of identity cards will substantially eliminate that cost to the public purse?
Mr Pond: We hope that not only would it substantially eliminate that cost, but that it would have knock-on effects on other elements of benefit fraud which would give us savings perhaps of twice that amount overall, so we are working at the moment on a figure of somewhere between £90 million and £100 million of savings in benefit fraud through the introduction of identity cards, but I have to stress that those are, to use a horrible phrase, ballpark figures and I am afraid the ballpark is going to move over time as we move towards the introduction of the ID cards.
Q585 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: Mr Pond, have you heard of 'federated identity architecture'?
Mr Pond: It is one of those moments, Mrs Curtis-Thomas, when I really wish I had!
Q586 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: We have been learning quite a lot about federated identity architecture.
Mr Pond: I think I am about to as well!
Q587 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: Well, I ask the question because you take us into a very interesting area about the transfer of information from one Department to another and federated identity architecture, as we all learned last week, was about this very problem, about how you gain access to different departments, particularly as the architecture of different departments may differ from your own. You have referred already to a relationship with the tax department. Is that a free movement between the tax department and yourself or do you have to gain the permission of the recipient of benefit to access the tax department?
Mr Pond: No and no to both questions, Mrs Curtis-Thomas. The first is that it is not a free flow of information between, say, the Inland Revenue and ourselves or indeed other departments. There are very clear and quite stringent information gateways, many of which are established by the Fraud Act which we can use to access information, but only subject to very specific conditions and that is true between ourselves and other agencies as well, for instance, between ourselves and local authorities on the administration of Housing Benefit. However, although we have considerable powers under the Fraud Act, we have to be very stringent in the way that we use those powers.
Q588 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: Could you see that requirement changing? Could you see the sort of conditions by which you access information from these other departments changing now?
Mr Pond: I do not think that we need to see those conditions changing. As I have said, we already have quite considerable powers conferred on us by the Fraud Act in order to address benefit fraud and, as I have also stressed, what we are talking about here is changing the nature of the identity verification rather than the process or the substance of it, so I do not expect that we will need to be seeking greater powers than we currently have simply through the introduction of the identity card or the National Identity Register.
Q589 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: One of the criticisms of your Department is that people never receive benefits to which they are entitled. Do you see the identity card being able to deliver, or better target, benefit to those who are entitled?
Mr Pond: Yes, I do and our Department is not only very keen to make sure that we bear down on fraud and error, but also that we make sure that we get benefits to those who are entitled to them and need them. That is particularly in areas like Pension Credit or the Council Tax Benefit, Attendance Allowance, Carers' Allowance, et cetera, and, as I have said, I think that the information on the national register may well allow us, without being intrusive, to identify those groups who may be entitled to those sorts of benefits who at the moment are not receiving them.
Q590 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: Without recourse to other government departments?
Mr Pond: I think most of that information will be available to us. There may be areas, such as tax credits, where it would be important for both the Inland Revenue and ourselves to seek access to the register, but this certainly would not be a free-for-all in terms of the use of information and we would both be paying very serious regard to those information gateways and the restrictions which are placed on us quite properly in the information which we are allowed to access and to exchange with other departments.
Q591 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: Secretary of State, you have referred already to the access to the criminal database in some aspects of your work in relation to the security of teachers who are teaching the profession. Are there any other departments you can see which you would need access to over and above the access you already have to information within that Department?
Mr Clarke: No, but there is a very big subject implied by your question earlier to Mr Pond about under-16s and children. In fact we have in the Children's Bill, which is now before the other House and due to come back to this House, specific clauses seeking to give powers to exchange data between various departments of both government and local government, meaning the education authorities, social services authorities, police authorities and so on, in order to protect children and there is a lot of evidence that some of the greatest child protection disasters which have arisen have been people not covered at all by that process. Moreover, I could see, in dealing with people with special educational needs, advantages of much closer co-operation between education authorities, primary care trusts and health teams. Now, all of those are for under-16 and, therefore, not covered by the discussion that we are having and I was racking my brains as you were interrogating ruthlessly Mr Pond to see whether there was post-16 the set of questions you were implying, and I do not really think there are, except in that context of the identity of people working with children as covered by the current Criminal Records Bureau where the interdepartmental issues are there, but there would not, I think as I emphasised, for the ID card because we are not talking of pre-16, but pre-16 there are serious issues about the exchange of data which the House will have to consider later this session in terms of the Children's Bill.
Q592 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: Just as a sort of objective question really on the biometrics, will you be intending to check students going into college, check their cards, how will you do it and have you assessed how many biometric readers you are going to need?
Mr Clarke: No, we have not. We have not done the detailed work that Mr Pond referred to. At the moment for further education the information required to check your eligibility is residency, nationality and immigration status, which is very complicated, and we think that the ID card will help us with that. Biometrics will help us to ensure there is no identity theft involved in that process, but we do not see this as a substantive and complicated process with a whole series of different testing and retesting people. We see it that at the moment at which a student is accepted on to a course or into a college, being asked, as they are now, in precisely the same way as they are now, for data, the ID card will provide that data rather than the other complex information which is there at the moment and I do not think our fraud issues, which are there to some extent, are anything like as substantive as some of the fraud issues particularly of the Department for Work and Pensions, so we have not costed it in a way that the DWP have obviously done with the precise number of readers we thought we needed.
Q593 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: Mr Hutton, have you considered what departments you would like to have routine access to in order to help you execute your work in relation to improving services to your patients or do you envisage that your access requirements will stay very much as they are today?
Mr Hutton: Do you mean checks on the National Identity Register?
Q594 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: No, I mean access to other departments which could provide you with information about individuals which might help you in terms of better understanding the needs of that particular individual.
Mr Hutton: Well, I think in relation to health planning it is important, as the Secretary of State has made clear, that our partners in local government are involved with us in designing and improving the local delivery of services. The NHS does not operate time in a vacuum in relation to schools and social services and the Home Office in fact, but it has an important partnership role and support role to play and that will obviously continue. I think in relation to the issues that the introduction of ID cards raises, there is one important point I would like to make clear, Chairman, and it is this: I think it is very important to send a very clear signal to patients that with the data that will be stored on the new National Care Records Service, which is the new electronic records we will be introducing now over the next few years, there will be a kind of cordon sanitaire around it, that swiping an ID card through a card-reader in a GP surgery or an NHS outpatient clinic is not going to allow anyone to see details of a patient's individual healthcare records. Now, we are determined to ensure that and in fact the draft Bill produced by the Home Office has confirmed that because none of the details which will be on the patient care records are registrable facts in the definition of that term in the Bill, so I think in relation to the National Identity Register, we want to keep that separate from the electronic care records that patients will have in the future. However, in relation to your question about the wider need for information across departments, that will continue, but I do not think that the introduction of ID cards has any direct bearing on that.
Q595 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: Again how often would you be seeking to check the biometrics of the individuals who present themselves either as patients at a doctors' surgery or as patients at a hospital?
Mr Hutton: Well, I think I tried to raise that in relation to Mr Winnick's question. I think I would just summarise it as those key moments in the system when the patient really needs to access a free service and at those points there would have to be an exercise of establishing a patient's eligibility.
Q596 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: So you would expect to see biometric readers in a hospital?
Mr Hutton: Well, that in turn depends on precisely what form of biometrics we might eventually take if we do move to an ID card and then the ID card becomes compulsory. As you know, there will be a variety of different options which the Home Office will be looking to test in the next few years, but I think there will be a need in some cases, yes, for biometric identification to accompany the swipe of the ID card, yes, because that is the route through which identity of the card-holder can be established beyond all reasonable doubt.
Q597 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: You said earlier on that you already have a relationship with social services and other government departments, particularly local government departments and that is very beneficial. What you did not say is whether or not you would expect to gain access or expect a sort of structured ID card to allow you access to the information on the individual that you were considering which had been gathered by somebody, say, in the Social Services Department or in the Education Department.
Mr Hutton: I do not know what that information would be which would then appear on the National Identity Register.
Q598 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: Well, it might be information to say that that individual might be homeless or that individual might be vulnerable.
Mr Hutton: It would certainly confirm an address, but I do not think the National Identity Register would have any assessment about a patient's or a person's vulnerability. I am not sure that would be a registrable fact.
Q599 David Winnick: There would inevitably be quite a long queue at the hospital while a person was being examined to make sure that the ID card was a genuine one. It is not just a question of producing one, as you have indicated.
Mr Hutton: Well, I am sure there are ways of organising that so that we do not end up with a long queue in the National Health Service. We have a few of those, but I do not think we want any more. I think in a sense these questions are perfectly reasonable and fair ones. They, in part, depend on precisely what eventual technology is employed to support the introduction of ID cards in terms of particular biometrics. I do not think a basic swipe of the ID card through a card-reader is going itself to contribute to a big queue in a busy outpatient clinic. I do not think that is the case.
Q600 David Winnick: If there is an iris-scan, you would have your iris scanned?
Mr Hutton: Well, if that is necessary as part of patient identification, then I accept that that is an issue that we need to address. I am not saying that in every case and every context where an ID card is presented in the NHS it would necessarily have to be accompanied by biometric identification as well if that had been done in an earlier part of the process whereby a person's entitlement has been established.
Q601 Mr Taylor: I wonder if I could put a proposition to each of you three Ministers and perhaps if you were continuing your congenial spirit of this afternoon, if I may say so, you would all be sporting enough to have a go at it, and in what order I do not mind. The proposition I put to you is as follows: it would be possible that some people, not me, but some people could make a very good, articulated argument for not having identity cards at all on civil liberties grounds and other people could make a very good argument indeed for having compulsory identity cards for the better management of the State, a more efficient delivery of services and the elimination of fraud, but between those two poles, something that might be called a voluntary identity card fails either or both arguments and it is not much better than futile and it would be rather like dog licences used to be, that only honest citizens would apply. Would you care to comment on that proposition?
Mr Clarke: I think a voluntary identity card, from the point of view of the better management of services and the elimination of fraud which you describe, would lead to efficiencies and benefits both to the citizen and ----
Q602 Mr Taylor: This is the voluntary one?
Mr Clarke: The voluntary one, and would lead to benefits for both the citizen and the State in relation to a number of the areas I described, the Children's Service passports, the Connexions card, 16 to 19-year-old access and some of the Unique Learner number infrastructure, and I think there would be advantages to the citizen and the State in my narrow area of education of even a voluntary card compared to where we are now. I actually believe, which goes outside my brief, that the advantages would be so great across a wide range of different services, not simply education, that the overwhelming majority of citizens would decide that it was more convenient to have an identity card than the other alternative, the driving licence, the passport or the kinds of documentation we have been discussing which arise. I accept that if you only went to the level of the voluntary card, there would be a question about evasion of that group at the end who would not be there and then it would be a matter for Parliament to decide that, having got to that point, taking a step towards the compulsory card would be the right course of action to follow and there are issues there to be debated. I think I am right in saying that I cannot comment on the proposed Home Office legislation in detail, but the precise proposition is that there would be a parliamentary debate for consideration of that matter before any decision was taken, but my answer to that question, Mr Taylor, would be that a voluntary card would be significantly better, both narrowly within the education system and, I would argue personally, more widely, than the status quo and it would have no civil liberties threats, if I can put it like that. There would then be a debate about whether it was rational for some reason to go for compulsion in relation to some or all services.
Q603 Mr Taylor: I am grateful. Would either of the other Ministers care to comment?
Mr Hutton: No, thank you! I think Charles has made the argument very clearly and I certainly do not want to detain the Committee with similar answers.
Q604 Mr Taylor: You can simply say that you agree with him if you want to.
Mr Hutton: All right, I agree with Charles.
Mr Clarke: Good man!
Mr Pond: And if I can agree with the Secretary of State at slightly more length, I do think that is the process we are going through. We are seeing that on a voluntary uptake this does provide benefits to the citizen as well as to the institutions which are seeking to serve them. Certainly in the area of DWP, I am sure a lot of people would rather present an identity card even on a voluntary basis than go through the process of the list of documents they might have to use to verify their identity and I do believe that it will make a big contribution towards fraud, but at some stage Parliament will have to make a decision as to where the balance lies between the two extremes that you specified and indeed individual Secretaries of State will have to decide for their own departments whether or not the identity cards are going to be required for access to services.
Mr Clarke: And to put that to Parliament.
Mr Pond: Indeed.
Q605 Mr Taylor: I have one final question particularly for the Secretary of State for Education, reminding him that he plans to introduce the Unique Learner numbers and asking him how these will fit with the unique personal number for each person on the National Identity Register? In short, what do you mean by the common identifier?
Mr Clarke: That is precisely a matter for discussion. It is one of the reasons why I favour this whole process, because I think we already have obvious numbers, like the National Insurance number and the Health Service number, which are different from the passport number and the driving licence number, all of which exist and are different. We are developing in education the Unique Learner number for the reasons I indicated earlier, to help and support individuals as they go through their life and their learning and it is a question for us whether we set a completely different number or we take the NHS number, the NI number or one of the other numbers, and these are the questions which are there. Now, I would much prefer a framework in which there was one simple register in which we had that number for all of these things and that is precisely the route we are going down.
Q606 Mr Taylor: Well, you are currently working, am I not right, on databases for children, so how will that work which you are doing on databases fit in with the National Identity Register? Will they fight each other or will they assist each other?
Mr Clarke: Well, I hope they will work together. We are currently investigating the feasibility, including the potential costs, benefits and savings of introducing the number and we need to think of that in the context of ID cards. The number that we mean is the number which may well be alpha-numeric which will be used to link and share information and, as I said a second ago, there is a plethora of different types of number and we think it would be better to have one. The Unique Learner number and the information-sharing systems which we are considering under the Children's Bill, which I mentioned a second ago, are both about improving the sharing and management of information, but there is a focus that whatever system needs to identify children and learn these more broadly by using numbers. We are not yet ready to say what the numbers should be and both projects are participating in the cross-government work on identifying numbers, including ID card numbers and the system information project led by ONS. The point I am trying to make is that it will massively assist this development, which we feel is important, if we get clarity about where the Government is going, which is actually what I think the document published by the Home Secretary does offer us, and the fact there is some degree of certainty about where we are going. I cannot answer the question you asked directly for the reason that it is precisely that dialogue which is taking place at the moment.
Mr Taylor: Thank you very much.
Q607 Chairman: Can I ask each of the ministers, following our last question what assessment have you made of the Citizen Information Project?
Mr Clarke: For us not a great deal of assessment, we are rather Johnny come lately to this debate to be blunt, we are less advanced than either health or DWP. We are enthusiastic participants in the debate for the reasons which I have identified. The Connexion Card is a relatively new development in what is happening. We welcome the broad framework that is there. We have not made a detailed assessment of the Citizen Information Project which takes us in a particular way which will inform the discussions of the Committee but we will obviously be watching it very carefully.
Mr Pond: Because DWP have already had both the National Insurance number process shared with the Inland Revenue and also because we do require the verification for benefits we have been involved at an earlier stage perhaps in some of these discussions. It is early days and we have started discussions with ONS and we welcome those developments, but there is clearly a long way to go.
Mr Hutton: We are in a very similar position to the Department of Education, we are obviously following the progress of their initiative but we have not made a detailed assessment of those issues yet.
Q608 Chairman: Earlier this afternoon the Committee had ONS as a witness and we were a little perplexed as to why having never had a database the Government is embarking on having two, I wonder if either Minister can shed any light on why we now want to have two databases and whether either of the Ministers want to hazard a guess as to whether that is a useful thing to do or not?
Mr Clarke: As I understood, and I am open to correction, you have probably analysed it more than I, I thought the whole purpose of the ONS study was statistical, to look at what was happening across the country to form a statistical scientific base of where things were moving. That is different from an entitler and a card which gives identity for the various reasons we have here. I may have misunderstood.
Mr Pond: Just to add to that, it may be that over time there will be opportunities for the two to be complementary. I think they do fulfil different functions. It seems to me that both at the moment have different jobs to do and let us hope that over time they can complement each other rather than conflict with each other.
Chairman: I cannot speak for the Committee but the Committee may have gained the impression that the Citizen Information Project was about joining up government services in the way we have talked about in the second half of the session but we will have to return to this one later on in our inquiry. Ministers and Secretary of State, thank you all very much for coming this afternoon. Thank you.