House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
HOME AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
Tuesday 4 May 2004
RT HON DAVID BLUNKETT MP, MR DESMOND BROWNE MP,
KATHERINE COURTNEY and STEPHEN HARRISON
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 4 May 2004
Mr John Denham, in the Chair
Mr David Cameron
Mr James Clappison
Mrs Janet Dean
Mr Gwyn Prosser
Mr Marsha Singh
Memorandum submitted by Home Office
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Rt Hon David Blunkett, a Member of the House, Home Secretary, Mr Desmond Browne, a Member of the House, Minister of State for Citizenship and Immigration, Katherine Courtney, Director, Identity Cards Programme, and Stephen Harrison, Head, Identity Card Policy Unit, Home Office, examined.
Q609 Chairman: Good afternoon, Home Secretary, Minister, thank you very much indeed for joining us this afternoon. Perhaps for record if your two other officials could introduce themselves.
Mr Blunkett: Obviously Des Browne is with me and I am very pleased to have him alongside. We have Katherine and Stephen, who have given evidence to you before. Do you want to introduce yourselves?
Katherine Courtney: I am Katherine Courtney, the Programme Director for the National Identity Cards Programme.
Stephen Harrison: I am Stephen Harrison and I am Deputy Director leading on policy and legislation on ID cards.
Q610 Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. Obviously, Home Secretary, we will want to ask a number of questions this afternoon about the ID card scheme as a whole as you were the promoter as the Secretary of State for the Government but we will also want to ask some questions, as we did to Ministers from other Departments last week, about how it will work in relation to the particular areas of policy for which you are responsible. Could I open, though, with a general question. The scheme in the Government's consultation paper that was promoted last year called the scheme "entitlement" cards, the Bill that has been published relates to "identity" cards. Does that mean that the focus of the proposal has shifted from the broader idea of a card that gives entitlement to public services to something much more narrowly focused on identity and on security?
Mr Blunkett: Yes, I think it would be quite useful just to give a bit of background. Post-11 September 2001 I was asked on a number of occasions, starting on the end of the week of 11 September, whether I believed that we should have ID cards as a consequence of the attack on the World Trade Center, and I said on record several times, and I still believe it, that whilst there could be a contribution towards countering terrorism this was not the primary purpose, and although it would be part of any such scheme it should not be seen as the sole focus. I went on to say that it was probably sensible, if we were going to move towards such a programme, to describe it as being part of entitlement - entitlement to services and benefits - which we had built up by the contributions we made and the mutuality that has stood us in good stead and is part of the National Insurance concept of the post-Second World War settlement. I then took that to the appropriate Cabinet committee the following January, that is January 2002. When we launched the consultation proper in the July it soon became clear that people did not like the term "entitlement" card. They thought that it should be an ID card, that it should be explicit rather than implicit, that it should give a clearer picture that it encompassed tackling terrorism and organised crime, and they believed that it would be more honest and transparent of the Government to do so, so in a nutshell we agreed after listening to the results of the consultation that that is what we should describe it as.
Q611 Chairman: Thank you very much, that is very helpful. One of the issues that you have highlighted in written evidence is tackling illegal working and immigration abuse. How exactly do you think an ID card is going to help in tackling immigration and illegal working?
Mr Blunkett: Firstly, people come into the country for a variety of reasons. If they are not coming as visitors and tourists then they are coming for other purposes, either for the desire to work or because they find the country attractive, including its services and its welfare state, or obviously because they already have connections and relatives and they can settle more easily, so we believe in order to ensure that people are legitimate, that their presence in a country is known, that their entitlement to draw down on services is affirmed, that their legal right to work is affirmed, then, firstly, we should have them on the register; secondly, in order to get people to comply we need more than simply compulsion, we need that to be attractive and for that to be attractive you have to ensure that you do not have entitlement to those services or to be able to draw down on the provision in this country or to be able to work unless you can correctly identify yourself and thereby identify that that legal entitlement exists. We therefore believe that in terms of gradually eliminating the sub-economy and dealing with the situation of people remaining here illegally and being able to survive because they can draw down on a variety of services without having to identify themselves correctly and therefore verify their right to those services, we will have a major tool in our hands with both the register itself and the ID card which is the simple way of producing the link to the register although, as you know, the biometric can be taken from the individual directly, so the card is an easy, compliable and sensible way of making that simpler for people. As far as the process is concerned, we obviously believe - and this is why we are taking it steadily - that it is possible to offer that requirement for correct identification more speedily to people coming into the country once the scheme is up and running, to get that register up and running and to require employers to be able to gradually use the proper identification of the register in a way that they have not been able to undertake under section 8 of the 1996 Act. You will recall from your own time as a Minister that this has been a problem in the sense that employers have not found it easy to be able to verify or to challenge the individual in circumstances where there has not been that requirement.
Q612 Chairman: At any one time, as you say, there will be many people in the country quite legally who do not require an ID card because they are visitors or they are here for a short period of time and not requiring the three-month period of time or they are from other EU countries, together with those who might, for example, have forged EU papers who would present themselves as EU citizens but do not require an identity card. Is it not still going to be very difficult to enforce any action against illegal working by relying on the existence on an ID card?
Mr Blunkett: If you are here for a very short period of time and you are not drawing down on services or requiring public support, then you are effectively a visitor/tourist and there is no immediate problem with that. The issue that we are engaging with is people staying any length of time and, incidentally, if they are engaged in organised crime or terrorism, all the evidence from both the security service and from NCIS and NSIS is that people do have to spend time preparing and planning events, they do not just wander in and do it, then the three-month cut-off makes sense. It makes sense in terms of ensuring that people who are here for any greater length of time have to be part of the process. It fits in - and we have fought very hard to maintain this to ensure it was not moved to six months - that we can translate the EU registration into the ID card so that people coming from the rest of the EU and remaining in the country for any length of time would have to have an ID card. It is perfectly feasible if they are here for a fixed period of time for the card to expire and to be able with the appropriate technology over the years ahead to ensure that that is the case. So the minute that anyone who is not properly registered on the database, and is therefore not entitled to be here, tries to access services or to engage in a way that would require their proper verification of identity, that would show up and we would be able to deal with it in a way that we cannot at the moment.
Q613 Chairman: Still on the issue of illegal working, if, for example, I had been able to obtain false documents or legitimate documents falsely obtained from another EU state (perhaps one of the accession states) I would be able to go to an employer in this country, present myself as an EU citizen looking for work for a month or so, and I would not require a three-month identity card because, as I say, I was only in the country for a few weeks. That person would not require an ID card so how would the ID card system bite on them when they go to the employer looking for a short-term period of work?
Mr Blunkett: Des, as the former Employment Minister, will be able to assist me in this but let me be clear; you use the example - and I would say that it is current - of people from accession countries wishing to present themselves to an employer, and they would be required to register. They would, of course, be revealing they were only just here because they had not got the necessary ID card which would be issued on the back of their registration after three months, so the employer would know that whilst they were registering for employment under our new scheme and therefore entitling themselves to all that goes with it, because people who do not register get no entitlement whatsoever to in-work support or on-going right to claim long-term residency benefits because they have not registered to verify that long-term residency therefore they would disqualify themselves and their families from it. Having done that, the employer would know the individual would have to seek after three months in this country registration in the normal way, as a French or German or Italian citizen would have to do. If they provide false papers then they have to retain that false identity for the rest of their lives and the rest of their stay. I do not think this has been fully understood. Once you are on the database and once your card and biometric have been verified in terms of that, then you try and switch to a different identity, you immediately reveal yourself as having fraudulently identified yourself in the first place. Des, do you want to add to that?
Mr Browne: The only thing I have to say, of course, is that there is the requirement for people to have a National Insurance number if they are to work, and there will be an engagement with the government administration and an opportunity to check their identity in relation to the papers that they produce. It does seem to me that the important improvement that this identity card brings is that the problem that has been revealed by the inability to be able consistently to enforce section 8 of the Immigration Act, which we have had to amend recently in tightening up the documents that can be produced, and in fact it has been tightened up significantly since 1 May, does seem to be quite a significantly greater tightening up to say to employers - and it will of course be known throughout the country - that people who are here for more than three months would require to have an ID card, a secure form of identity, and that that form of identity would be better than almost any other combination of documents, which will then put employers into a clearer situation, I think, in relation to checking identities, a simpler situation in relation to checking identities, and we will be able to police both the employee and the employer side of section 8 far better than we have been able to since it was enacted in 1996.
Q614 Chairman: In the period of time before the ID card comes into play, are you planning any further measures that would lead to tougher action against the firms who knowingly employ illegal labour? I accept the point you make that some firms are legitimate, decent firms which can be conned by people with the wrong documents. We know there are companies that are, at one level or another, either knowingly or, frankly, wilfully employing illegal labour. It is a long time before the scheme comes in. What else is going to happen between now and then to deal with that problem?
Mr Browne: What you say, Chairman, is entirely correct and of course, as in every area of policing regulations of this nature, there has to be a balance between policing the regulations against the individual and policing the regulations against those people who are creating the circumstances where there is a continual breach of the regulations and that is the balance, of course, that faces our Department right across almost every single area that we work in. For example, how much effort do we put into policing the misuse of drugs as opposed to the supply of drugs or the importation of drugs, or do we use information that we can get at the bottom end of the chain to interdict what is further up the chain. It is not, as you will appreciate, a simple case of looking to see how many employers get prosecuted to see how well you are policing that particular area because I know, as you will know from your experience, there is a significant amount of information which comes from people whom our investigators deal with. What was clear to us was that we needed to tighten up section 8. We did that from 1 May. We now require employers to use a far more secure form of identification than the forms of identification, just like the documents that you yourself referred to, Chairman, that are easily forged, so from 1 May we will have a different scenario. Employers now know - and I know from the number of employers who have been contacting our help lines that they do know because they have all been written to individually. Indeed, one of the first things that happened in my name was a letter went out to all employers telling them about this. They know what the position is, they know what is expected of them, and they will be given help and assistance to ensure that they can enforce it properly and we will police that properly and investigate it properly between now and the time when we can start to see the roll out of ID cards offering employers a more secure and simpler form of identity.
Q615 Chairman: Are you proposing to take tougher action against those employers who fall foul of the new regime?
Mr Browne: I have only been in this job for a short period of time as you know.
Q616 Chairman: Your predecessor used to express frustration about the low number of prosecutions and the very low penalties for people.
Mr Browne: The point I make, Chairman, is that we always intended that but the problem was that some documents that were being produced to employers were so easily forged and so well forged that the view was that we could not get the evidence to prosecute employers that we felt would stand up. What we have done is taken out those documents so it is a far clearer situation for an employer now. If they do not get secure forms of identity then the evidential base will change quite significantly.
Mr Blunkett: We have a lot of support from employer organisations because quite clearly there is an issue of fair competition here. It goes back to the old adage from 1909 and Churchill in terms of "the worst being undercut by the very worst", and I think we have got a lot of support from both the Small Business Federation and the CBI for toughening up and for being clearer.
Chairman: Thank you. Can we move on to the issue of terrorism and Mr Winnick.
Q617 David Winnick: Home Secretary, others will deal no doubt with aspects of illegal working and the flaws in your argument but, be that as it may, you have put a great deal of emphasis, have you not, on ID cards in the fight against terrorism?
Mr Blunkett: The media have. I have been very circumspect and I have indicated what the security services have said to me, which is they believe that in excess of a third of those who are engaged in supporting terrorism use multiple identities in order to be able to evade detection and to evade us being able to disrupt their activities, and in tracing those who have undertaken terrorism, even the limited identification that is possible from traditional ID cards has been helpful, as it was in the post-Madrid 11 March attack, but I actually believe it is about recognising the interchangeability of the issues so organised crime, illegal presence, working within the sub-economy and being invisible is part of the stock-in-trade of those who are currently part of new network of terrorism.
Q618 David Winnick: In information which I have, obtained from the US State Department regarding 25 countries, Home Secretary, which have suffered most from terrorist attacks since 1986, out of those 25 countries (which obviously I will not list because it will take too much time) 20 have identity cards and out of those 20 eight have some sort of biometric information. The question I would put to you is: do you really feel that in any way whatsoever that what happened in Madrid and Istanbul would have been avoided - both countries have identity cards by the way - if the scheme which you have in mind (because you want to go further with biometric details and I understand that) had been in existence?
Mr Blunkett: No, I cannot give such an indication and I do not think anyone could. I just know, having talked at great length to the head of the security service about this, that a clean database with a proper register with the use of biometrics would actually assist them in being able, firstly, to be aware of those coming in and out, those who are resident, those who are engaged in activities around terrorism, and, secondly, would assist them in being able to track people in that way.
Q619 David Winnick: If you take 9/11, there their identities were known. They were actually in the United States and if there had been ID cards in that country either they would have had a temporary one or a permanent one as the case may be.
Mr Blunkett: Knowing people are there and the use to which a proper ID card with a register can be put are two different things. I am not disputing that the Americans may well have through their social security number a way of knowing, in part, who is in the country and where they are, but that has never been applied in any systematic way in terms of tackling either organised crime or for that matter terrorism, nor was it likely to be until people recognised the nature and the extent of the current terrorist threat.
Mr Browne: I want to make the general point to David that there cannot be a test of anything that you deploy in your armoury against terrorism that on certain occasions it may or may not have been unsuccessful. There is no doubt that terrorists employ multiple identities. There is no doubt that they employ false identities for money laundering. In fact, our information is, as the Home Secretary said, that 35% activity involves the use of false identities, and I know from my own experience in Northern Ireland how successful we were in terms of policing terrorism by being able to stop people from using false identities and using them in many other circumstances. However, I have not got access to the document that you have shown us, David, or that you have spoken from and I would quite like to see it. I do not know of any other country - and if you know of one maybe you could correct me - that has the biometric database that is being proposed as part of this scheme. It is the existence of the independent database not the card that secures against the use of multiple identities. It is the ability to be able to check the individuals against the database to ensure that multiple identities are not being used, not the card, as you rightly point out. If it is only the card then of course the same biometric can be on more than one card or alternatively different biometrics can be on cards with the same names on, but if you have this database and if the database secures that there was no multiplication on it, then you can check against multiple identities. If you know those eight countries that have suffered terrorist crimes have the secure database, then I would be happy to know about it because I do not know of that.
Q620 David Winnick: Home Secretary, I do put this point to you: there are people in this country who are reluctant about ID cards. I know they may well be the minority at this given point in time but there was also a minority in Australia and then opinion shifted. There are people in this country who are opposed who would change their mind if there was any strong feeling that identity cards would help to prevent terrorism and with respect to what your colleague has said and what you yourself have said, nothing has been said today which would give, in my view at least, any reassurance that if you had the ID card with all the details Des Browne has mentioned it would prevent in any way at all the sort of attacks that have occurred against innocent people, more recently in Istanbul, Madrid and 9/11.
Mr Blunkett: There is a difference between "any way at all" and a guarantee that it would have stopped them, and I am just answering your question honestly. Of course I cannot indicate that I am certain that it will ---
Q621 David Winnick: --- If I may interrupt, Home Secretary, no one is asking for guarantees because guarantees do not work in this world but any sort of reassurance that this would really undermine international terrorists who will use every form of entry into the country if they are not here legally in order to carry out the attacks?
Mr Blunkett: To use your words, any way at all, yes I do believe that. I have also made it clear this afternoon and it is on the record (I did an interview with John Humphries on 14 September 2001) that whilst I believe that such a card and register would help, it would not resolve the terrorist threat; it cannot. It can make a contribution, which is precisely what the head of the security service is saying, not simply because of the importance of the register and the fact that we would have a system that was verifiable but also because terrorist networks do go for weaker targets. The weaker we are, the less we are up-to-date with what is taking place across the rest of the world, the changes that they will be bringing in, the more vulnerable we become.
Chairman: Mr Cameron?
Q622 Mr Cameron: Do you think there is a danger that those in favour of ID cards can fall into a sort of excuse culture of saying, "There is a problem with illegal working but we are going to use ID cards to deal with it. There is a problem with illegal immigration but we are going to use ID cards to deal with it," rather than getting to grips with the issue itself?
Mr Blunkett: There is undoubtedly a danger if people believe that ID cards themselves and the register itself solves the problem. I have never claimed that. I have always said that it will be a tool, a means to an end, and that the other actions we need to take in terms of overcoming illegal working, organised fraud and the rest of it that draw down on services to which people are not entitled, all that has to go along in parallel. It would be of assistance but it would not in itself be a panacea for all those ills.
Q623 Mr Cameron: Those of us who are sceptical just listening to evidence sessions today and other evidence sessions believe that finding benefits of the ID card is like nailing jelly to the ceiling. Just when you think you have got a benefit and you think it is about terrorism suddenly it shifts and we are on to crime or illegal working. The last point we have heard from Mr Browne is that it is the database and being able to check against the database rather than the card. If we take the case of illegal working is not the problem at the moment nobody is checking? How many prosecutions have there been in the last few years for illegal working?
Mr Blunkett: Partly because it is difficult for employers to check, partly because those inspecting and following through on enforcement have difficulty in proving that the employer did not take under the section 8 of the 1996 Act steps within the bounds of what is available to them at the moment to check whether the person was bona fide. The difference with a clean database and the ID system that we are putting forward is that there would be one clear, verifiable, reliable way of doing that and employers would not be able to say that they did not have it at their disposal.
Q624 Mr Cameron: Would you not have the case of people saying, "I have only been here three months," or, "I have lost my card," or, "The dog has eaten it," or, "The database is wrong," or, "I am sorry, you will have to go and check." The last time we had ID cards there were half a million people who claimed to have lost their cards.
Mr Blunkett: Yes, but no one would be able to claim they had lost their card and could not renew it simply by presenting themselves and having the verification of their specific biometric identifier to check that they are on the register and have a fresh card issued. None of "the dog has eaten this" or "the cat has messed on that" would hold up for more than a few days. In terms of the question you have put to me about employers, the employer would still have to require them to identify themselves whether they had a renewed card or not. If they have been here for less than three months they would be registered in terms of the right to work if they came from outside the EU and they would have to have a work permit to do so. The reason I am not saying that ID cards is solely for security in terms of terrorism, organised crime, illegal employment, illegal entry and residence, draw down on services to which people are not entitled and have not paid is because it is precisely going to contribute in its own way to all those things. The fact that it contributes to all but not to one so significantly that it eliminates it does not in any way reduce the validity of the card.
Q625 Chairman: Could I pursue one point for clarification. Home Secretary, you said those who are here for less than three months have to be registered if they are working. Are you saying if somebody presents themselves within the first three months when they are in the country even though they would not have an EU card they would in some way have to give biometric information about themselves so that they were added to the register so they could not pop up somewhere else two months later?
Mr Blunkett: There would be two things. Firstly, if they are from outside the EU and EEA area they would actually have to have a work permit if they were working. If they are from inside the EEA area then, of course, under the proposals that apply to accession countries they would register for work. If they were coming for a short term from Europe that would apply after three months, they would register as an EU National and the ID card, instead of the piece of paper that we now give them, would become their registration.
Q626 Mr Cameron: That is really what I am saying. If you have to have a work permit, is not the problem that we are not checking enough people's work permits? Have you done any analysis of the enormous costs of an ID card system against a modest investment in more people checking whether people have a work permit?
Mr Blunkett: I do not believe we are talking about an enormous cost, I think we are talking about a steady state of around 200 million a year. The accumulated 13 years' roll-up of everything obviously frightens people to death and, in retrospect, perhaps that figure has misled people. In my view, the actual steady state is a very reasonable way, taken alongside biometric passports, because let me make it clear that I would not be advocating this if it were not that we were going to have to engage for international travel with biometric identifiers in passports and visas to ensure that those documents are secure and, therefore, be able to run the ID card and the secure register alongside that aspect which in itself will be the expense that has to be incurred by us whether we go for ID cards or not.
Q627 Mr Clappison: Home Secretary, going back to the point of terrorism, I think the way you have put it today is that you are not looking for guarantees or panaceas but you see this identity card as an important help in the fight against terrorism. I think in your consultation paper you refer to this as being "vital" in order to help deal with the threat of global terrorism. We have to take that seriously if you are saying that to us, but would you accept that it might strike some people as strange that if you are making the case that it is very important to have identity cards to deal with terrorism, it is going to take such a long time to bring this project in and for identity cards to be compulsorily required. On the timescale which you have told us about, identity cards will not begin to be issued until 2007 and it would only be in something like 2013 that significant numbers of people will have them, but even then they will not be compulsory, and under your scheme it is at that stage that we will begin to have a debate on whether they should be compulsory or not. That is an awfully long time ahead, is it not? Is that not somewhat strange given that it is said to be vital to have them to fight against terrorism?
Mr Blunkett: Let me take it in two parts. I am very happy to deal with the issue of incremental introduction. Across political parties and politicians of all persuasions there is an understanding of how vulnerable we are if we do not take the necessary steps that are required and, in my view, there is quite widespread understanding across political parties of this. Take one quote that I would simply put on the record for you. I do it because I think it is important to recognise the universality of this point. The quote is: "Britain is the easiest country in Western Europe in which criminals and terrorists lose themselves. If we are serious about tackling this problem there is one obvious remedy: identity cards." That was said by the now Leader of the Opposition just three years ago and I agree with him. I agree with him because as we build up this database and as we issue the cards, we gradually, incrementally, secure ourselves bit by bit. The reason it is incremental is, firstly, because I know of no technology that could allow us to do a big bang approach, ie that we could introduce it in three or even five years' time in one go. Secondly, because I think we have learnt the lessons, and goodness me there are enough of them from governments of all persuasions over the last 20 years, that technology, because it is a moving feast and because of its complexity, is extremely difficult to implement and if you are going to implement a substantial scheme you need to make sure you get it right. I share the public's belief that the most challenging part of this programme is to get it right. Having, in my own Department, a recent history of having to learn firstly from what happened with the computer at Croydon from 1996 and then the UK passports difficulty and then the Criminal Records Bureau, all of which are now correct and working properly, we need to make sure that we do learn those lessons so we get it right. Finally, in doing so we are able to take people with us, so because we are using the parallel process of biometrics for passports we can renew the passport and issue the card, we can take the biometric for the passport and use it for the clean database and the card and we can do so in a way which is acceptable in a democracy in terms of the speed and the compliability of the population. I happen to believe that once we have got this up and running, as with the pilot for biometrics that we announced a week ago, people will queue up for it and we will have to deal with the flow and the flood of people wanting it much earlier, wanting to renew their passport and get an ID card very fast. That is my belief, but I cannot work on that belief, I have got to work on a system which is manageable, and that is why it is taking a time.
Q628 Mr Clappison: That will be for the people who actually want to have one of these ID cards, it will not have the full coverage so it will not give you the security that you will be looking for against potential evil doers, will it?
Mr Blunkett: We have talked about moving to 80% of the economically active population and at that point delivering to Parliament a report on the technology, on the acceptability, on the financing and on the purposes and then being able to move to an affirmative order rather than having a whole session of Parliament to have to deal with the question of making this mandatory and, therefore, the registration compulsory. We believe that at the point that I have just described Parliament would wish to do it, and I hope that I am right. I certainly believe that we will then be able to implement the remaining phase which is for those who do not have a passport, who have not renewed or who have not wished to take up the card that they would not have to have. At that point it would be manageable technically, process-wise and in terms of public acceptability.
Chairman: I am sure you will be pleased to know, Home Secretary, that some of us at least are going along to have our irises scanned on Thursday to see how the procedure actually works.
Q629 Mrs Dean: How confident are you that your registration procedure will ensure that all entries on the National Identity Register are accurate and there are no duplicates or false entries?
Mr Blunkett: The reason why starting from scratch and having a clean database is so important is that the moment someone presents the same biometric but with a different identity, a different name and presentation, that would automatically show up as already existing on the database. It would automatically trigger, if you like, just as even low level technology systems, like ANPR in terms of car registration do at the moment, on a central database. One of the other reasons why I do not believe that this scheme could ever have been put forward before is that even as late as the mid-1990s when the previous government were considering the issues around ID, the technology did not exist to be able to do just that.
Q630 Mrs Dean: What sort of details will you be looking for as part of the "biographical footprint"? How will you check if they are correct?
Mr Blunkett: We have got the three known biometrics but we have not gone firm on a decision as to which of those, or more than one, should be used. There are discussions taking place in North America and in Europe now about moving to biometrics in relation to visa and passport requirements and we are arguing that we should keep the door open so that it is not closed to using a combination. A chip in the future will be able to cope with that and it is very important that we do not have a situation where we make a choice that is not compatible in terms of other world developments but also that those world developments do not close down our ability to make a choice of our own internally which would still remain compatible. Did you want to add?
Mr Browne: I just wanted to reinforce what you are saying, Home Secretary, by saying that while we have not yet decided exactly what checks we will make, and that is something that we will need to trial as well ---- Part of the reason why this is going to take such a time in our view is that we need to trial a significant number of steps in the process and a lot of them involve interaction with the people and we need to test in collecting the biometric information how the public will react to it, how long it will take us to deal with individual people and what that will cost apart from anything else, which is a subject we may well get on to subsequently in this session. We have not yet made up our minds exactly what we will check but we do have the Glasgow Passport Service pilot to call on where we checked against credit references, with people's consent, National Insurance numbers and the DVLA. We have improved our ability to be able to check against the possible abuse of using dead people's identities by collecting information from the registration process into our system. We have some experience of doing that.
Mr Blunkett: I think you will be quite familiar with dead identities from your previous job.
Mr Browne: We have some experience of doing that and we will build upon that. One of the big advantages that we have with this database, which will be helpful for all the purposes we have been discussing, is that we can hold this information forever and even after people are dead people will not be able to come and assume their identities because that information will be held there, it being a clean database and moving forward. Can I say something quickly in response to the two comments that were made by Mr Clappison and Mr Cameron. The point Mr Clappison makes is a point which is consistently made, which is that this is of no use against the baddies until we get compulsion. In fact, that is one of the reasons why we intend to build on the existing documentation, the passports and driving licences. I am certain from my previous professional experience that baddies both have passports and driving licences. 80% of people in this country are documented. By definition, we will pick up a significant number of people who may have bad thoughts or bad intentions by building on the existing documentation and putting them into the system, whether they like it or not, if they want their passports and driving licences. The second point I would make to you is I went through a very similar process to this in Northern Ireland when we were seeking to get photographic identification to secure the election and we discovered that the people who did not have existing secure photographic identification tended not to be the sorts of people who may have taken advantage of the existing system but they tended to be the elderly, not to be people who were active and about but people who we probably would want to have ----
Q631 Chairman: I am sorry, we will come back to this later.
Mr Browne: In relation to Mr Cameron's point about ----
Chairman: I am sorry, I would like Mrs Dean to carry on. We do need to move through the questions and the Home Secretary was able to answer those.
Q632 Mrs Dean: What estimates have you made of the numbers of registration centres you will need?
Mr Blunkett: I am not giving a number at the moment. They would have to be accessible. We believe that there needs to be mobility. In terms of being able to provide mobile provision we are very mindful that we need specific support and help for the frail and those who would not be able to reach a centre and obviously we would have to make special arrangements with rural areas. Given that the process in future can be made as easy as having to take your photograph for the passport that we all hold at the moment, we believe that this should not be a problem.
Q633 Mrs Dean: Thank you. In addition to the National Identity Register, there are plans for a Citizen Information Project. Departments and public bodies, such as the NHS, have their own separate databases. Can you be confident that they will all be maintained to the necessary standard?
Mr Blunkett: The CIP - and I know Len Cook has been giving evidence to you about this - is about bringing together existing information. The reason why we are convinced that we have to have a clean database and start from scratch is that simply drawing together existing material, albeit that it can be used for back-up verification of identity, and will be, would be unsatisfactory because you would pull into the system mistakes and fraudulent identities that already existed. Whilst it can run alongside and whilst in the interim it would be helpful, they are two entirely different operations.
Q634 Mrs Dean: The Office of National Statistics told us that it will not be possible to eliminate all multiple identities on the population register and their records will need to be authenticated from the National Identity Register. So each of you expects to rely on the other. Is that an example of the potential for muddle and confusion?
Mr Blunkett: They will be complementary. Obviously this is something that has got to be worked through because the Citizen Information Project was a glint in the eye of the ONS long before people thought, believed, or were led to believe, that Government would actually take on the issue of a biometric ID card system and it was not all that long ago that I kept reading that we were not going to be doing it, it had all been overturned. I can understand why they had progressed in that way but obviously they will be able to draw down for a complete clean-up of the system from the ID Register, from the database, once we have completed it.
Q635 Chairman: Can I be quite clear, Home Secretary. If I have successfully assumed a fake identity in this country, obtained a National Insurance number, somebody else's name, and perhaps I had done this a few years ago, can you be absolutely sure that I would not be wrongly issued with an identity card and able to register on the National Identity Register?
Mr Blunkett: It would be possible for you to be issued an ID card on the identity that, to use your words, you had assumed some years ago, but that would be your identity for the rest of your life coming in or going out of the country. You would have adopted by your own actions an identity that you could not change.
Q636 Chairman: Will that put a premium on people establishing false identities in the next few years before the register comes into play?
Mr Blunkett: As we are moving, firstly, to ensure that people coming into the country - we had a long discussion about this earlier this afternoon - would be issued with a card, whatever method of entry they came by if they were staying and, secondly, that we are using the passport renewal system to engage with identity, I think it would be the opposite. I think people who have adopted a false identity will either return home or they had better get on to their true identity pretty quickly otherwise they are going to find themselves in a real mess in terms of what it is they think they have done to establish what would be an identity for life, including their family, their heritage and any other relationship they have outside this country, including inheritance.
Mr Browne: It is also the case, of course, that background checks can go back quite far. There is absolutely no reason why background checks cannot go back quite significantly in the records and we have been discussing other government records that exist that can be checked, subject to the frailties of it. The important thing about this process is that if somebody takes an actual identity and does not make one up, but takes an actual identity, as the register builds progressively their chances of getting away with that will be reduced and eventually they will be discovered, and they may be discovered sooner rather than later.
Q637 Mr Clappison: Can I ask you about the costings of this because your officials giving evidence to the Committee in December refused to be more precise about the costs of the scheme except to say that they would be between 1.3 billion and 3.1 billion, which may strike people as being a rather wide range. Is there any reason why you cannot give more details about that?
Mr Blunkett: The figures that were given at that time related to the nature of the scope of the card and what was going to be required from it, particularly usages. If we take the figure, and I repeat this is the roll-up over the 13 years, then we do so in a way that does not allow us, ie all of us, to be ripped off by people being able to get into the detail before that commercial competition has taken place. Perhaps I can just spell out what we have done so that people can see that we take seriously the need to engage the commercial, the expert sector in this and to build up a picture of the total costs and to ensure that we get the best possible price for what we are asking. In May 2002, as I was moving towards making the first statement in the consultation to Parliament in early July, we started to engage with the private sector on a confidential basis. We have built up that relationship since then, and you are familiar with this because our officials have given evidence about it, in terms of the process that has been undertaken with the umbrella body. They would not describe themselves as representatives but they have got over 1,000 component parts in the Intellect group and we have been working with them. As part of their recommendations and as part of going through zero gateway we agreed to develop a development partner, which will be done this month, and will hold a seminar on 24 May with the sector to try to ensure that we now bottom this once and for all in terms of the ongoing costs, the technology that is known to be available, the challenges and the pitfalls. With a private development partner, which again has been done under proper competition rules, and this partner will not be seeking to win contracts, so they have won a contract to be the partner, they will not seek to be a contractor, they will be able to advise and helps us. That is a crucial part of ensuring that we get the final costings right given what we are demanding from the scheme. Of course, it can be as cheap or as dear as you like in terms of what you are requiring of it.
Q638 Mr Clappison: Perhaps Mr Browne would be the right person to ask this question of. As far as you can say, what exactly is going to be included in the costing which you have just given? Does the costing include, for example, the biometric readers and equipment which is going to be installed in other Government departments, such as the Department for Work and Pensions, the Health Service and so forth?
Mr Blunkett: It does not, and the reason it does not, and this is another reason why taking this incrementally makes sense, is having made the decision, and it is only recently that we have decided this, to publish the draft Bill and to indicate that we will legislate and we are serious in going forward on this - it has taken me two years of very constructive discussion to get to this point - we are now in a position to say to department agencies and to the private sector that you will over the next ten years be in a position where if you choose to do so, or if we designate a service to do so, the technology that you are using for other purposes should now be presumed to have an appropriate reader for your proposes, depending on what it is. As with the Minister of State, who I think gave evidence to you last week, we would have a situation where as the electronic medical record programme is developed across the whole of the NHS, that it is done so in a way that the equipment they are using and the computers that they are operating can also build in this facility. That will be true of JobCentres, that will be true of GP practices, it will be true of the commercial sector. We are giving fair warning that we will be developing over the next few years the capacity of everyone to be able to build in. I think this would be a tremendous opportunity commercially in this country if we were ahead of the rest of Europe and North America. We know they are moving in the same direction and what a tremendous piece of enterprise and innovation can now be offered by British companies and by us in terms of delivering a set market for them to be able to determine their likely take-up, to be ahead of the game, and I hope that British enterprise will rise to the occasion.
Q639 Mr Clappison: I do not want to probe you too much on some of the constructive discussions which you have had with other Government departments, and I know you cannot give precise details of them, but do you expect that the card readers which there will be in other departments and other Government organisations will be reading cards or biometrics? Do you have a view on that?
Mr Blunkett: I think it depends on their particular level of identification required. Where there is absolute security required then it is important that they are able to read the biometric and not just the card. For other purposes, people would be quite satisfied to take alongside a credit card or whatever the card itself to be read. I think both the services and the commercial enterprises, who have great use of this, need to think this through and make decisions as to what level of verification they actually required.
Q640 Mr Clappison: Are you proposing to have any further public debate, technical debate, about the architecture of the system?
Mr Blunkett: Yes. Part of the process to be launched on 24 May is to be able to open this up, so all the experts, all the backroom experts, all the people who think they know it all, and I certainly do not, will be able to place their potential as well as their doubts on the table. I think this is going to be a really crucial three years ahead in getting this right.
Q641 Mr Prosser: Home Secretary, I want to just follow up on some of those questions about the practicalities of coming to the identity card system. The Home Office has already described to the Committee a potential scheme of card checking which ranges from a basic check, which checks that a person looks like their picture on the card, to phone checks which checks identity against the card, the identity of the individual and the fact that he exists on the National Identity Register. At this stage, have you got any estimate of what proportion of the total checks will fall into those various categories?
Mr Blunkett: I think the general checks would be the majority because people will be moving from one use to another. For instance, just to use the employment analogy that we were using earlier, if you are moving from one job to another within the Civil Service or you are moving from one teaching job to another, there are all sorts of other verifications that would not require you to have to go through the full personalised biometric specifier, not least because in some of those jobs it would have been checked anyway through the CRB. There will be horses for courses on this. The most intensive checking process, in terms of everyone living their day-to-day lives, would have to be sensibly confined to those areas where you are challenging and you are at a point of challenge in terms of needing to ensure absolutely crucial identification. That would bring us back to issues around criminality or terrorism, it would bring us back to people starting out on a road for the first time in a particular service or job.
Q642 Mr Prosser: Are you in a position to estimate which way those proportions will work out? For instance, if I said perhaps 90% of all checks will just be a check against the photograph on the card, would you argue with that or have you got your own figures?
Mr Blunkett: Certainly I would not argue at this stage about any of the proportions. I am very happy for Katherine or Stephen to say if they have done an estimate, but it would be very rough. Have we done that?
Katherine Courtney: In the underlying assumptions that went into the business case for the scheme obviously we made some assessment of how the system would be used based on the best available evidence at the time. What it is important to be clear about is that over the course of this period, and I believe we said the same in our evidence last December, this year we are working through feasibility testing, model offices, prototyping those systems and working very closely with key user groups to not only analyse their requirements out of the system, ie what sort of functionality they need in order to fit their business requirements, but also the demand profile against those requirements so they will be able to feed into us more data on the level of checking and the volume of different types of checks. We are not expecting to be in a position to be more definitive about what proportion is likely to be direct on-line checks against records and the database versus a one-to-one check against the person presenting themselves with the card until we have done that further work with key user groups.
Q643 Mr Prosser: In the latest consultation document it makes it clear that when we move to a compulsory form of identity card it will not automatically follow that there will be compulsion to prove ID to access various services, be it employment, health or education or the rest, and the decision on each of those areas will lie with those ministries. Bearing in mind that will have some impact on the amount of investment those ministries will have to make, are they going to have biometric readers at every counter or are they just going to have one per unit? Critics say that could be a major disincentive against those agencies and ministries falling in line with this and implementing it in the way that you want. What is your view on that?
Mr Blunkett: My view is that departments will have to make up their minds over the coming period as to whether they believe that this would be a major advantage to them. The Department of Health, for instance, both the Secretary of State and the Minister of State, are committed to doing this and believe, quite rightly in my view, that we could save very large sums of money by ensuring that because we have the only free health service in the world we do not provide a free health service to the rest of the world and, therefore, we ensure that people are accessing the service for initial registration, primary care, and for acute treatment in a way that either entitles them to it or that they have a means of reimbursing if they are from overseas. That seems to me to be perfectly sensible. The same is true of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions who is committed to looking at how we can usefully, both in terms of the job market and in terms of benefits, use a card effectively. There will be other departments where they will believe that the ID card may be taken up at local level, libraries may choose to use it, but it is not central to the crucial nature of correct identity and verification.
Q644 Mr Prosser: During the time that the card is still voluntary, we know that it will be illegal to make the provisions of a service solely dependent on showing or using the identity card. How will you ensure that this does not result in those services, those agencies, requiring a very complicated and cumbersome alternative method of showing identity which will effectively press or force people into getting the identity card rather than sticking with the old, traditional methods?
Mr Blunkett: We have indicated that there would need to be a civil remedy in this case. The reason we have put that in is because people have said to us, and I understand this very well, that there is no point in having a situation where banks or particular services require you to have a card when you have not renewed your passport and we have not got to a point of mandatory card issue and, therefore, you could not be expected to have one or at that point be made to have one. It has to be said that at the moment there are commercial institutions that require people to produce their passport as a means of identity. I had a constituent who wrote to me when he thought that we were not going to go ahead saying, "Please do so because my daughter has had a terrible time opening a bank account" because she did not have a passport at that point and she has actually taken out a passport to ensure that she does not have even more hassle than she was already getting. We have got to presume that people will behave sensibly but we have got to put in the Bill, as we have, a civil remedy if they do not.
Q645 Mr Prosser: We know that the devolved administrations in Wales and in Scotland have already said that they do not intend to make access to services dependent on the production of the identity card. Is there a danger that we will have a two tier system or two different regimes for the provision of health services, education services?
Mr Blunkett: The Minister of State will no doubt want to add something from his experience as a Member of Parliament from a Scottish constituency. As far as I am aware, they have said that they will not necessarily wish to take it up, which is slightly different. Let me pose this to you, and given that I am in Scotland on Thursday and Friday I will be very careful what I say: it seems to me that in a world where correct identification, and therefore entitlement to draw on services, becomes more and more important, any part of the United Kingdom that did not require that robust verification would find itself, its politicians, its administration, under considerable pressure from its population if they believed that the services to which they are contributing and their benefits were being fraudulently drawn down on. Democracy is about pressure being brought to bear by the population for things they want.
Q646 David Winnick: They may be satisfied, Home Secretary, that the measures that they now take are sufficient without identity cards.
Mr Blunkett: If they believe that very strongly then they would be able to prove it.
Chairman: We will follow the reports of your visit to Scotland with great interest, Home Secretary.
Q647 Mr Singh: Home Secretary, I understand that you intend to set up an accreditation system to allow the private sector to access the Identity Register. Have you had any thoughts on what this will entail and whether the private sector will be charged for accessing the system?
Mr Blunkett: We are indicating that there will be parliamentary scrutiny and consideration of regulation of entry, and entry would only be allowed for the purpose specified. This is not entry into people's details. We are talking here about being able to verify that the card is owned by and being used by the person who is on the database. That is what is meant by "entry". This is not selling off for commercial purposes people's details so that you get junk mail. This is about the fact that if you are using the card and being required to use the card in circumstances of a commercial enterprise by handing over the card there has to be an agreed compliance with the card being used to access the database. I do not know whether Des, Katherine or Stephen want to add to that. I think that is as far as we are going.
Mr Browne: It seems to me that routinely we all go through a process that is similar to the process that will be required. Every time we hand over a credit card and an authorisation for its use for a transaction it is checked on-line with the bank or the credit card company. We do exactly the sort of thing that we would allow people to do if they were accredited to do it. The banks have accreditation systems that allow restaurants, shops and other people to use these for their purposes. I am not suggesting that those are the sorts of places where people would produce ID cards but already there is a template in existence and we just need to discuss with the people who need to have that sort of access those sorts of protocols and arrangements.
Mr Blunkett: Data sharing gateways, Chairman, is a different matter entirely and is strictly limited now and would be in exactly the same way in relation to ID cards.
Q648 Mr Singh: I understand that. How can you guarantee or safeguard the fact that I have given my consent for my details to be checked? How will the system safeguard that?
Mr Blunkett: The only details that will be held are those that are required for verifying the identity and, therefore, the handing over of the card will automatically be taken as an agreement that that identity could be checked, unless that is expressly allowed for in the Bill and the Bill does not. That is now explicit. I am struggling, not to understand what you are saying but to understand what the thoughts behind it are.
Q649 Mr Singh: If a private sector organisation gets access to the Identity Register, how do you know they have got my consent to do that?
Mr Blunkett: They cannot have just by ringing. This is the point as to why a card actually is the most sensible form of upfront verification, because the person would have to be swiping the card or taking the direct biometric specifier, ie my iris or facial recognition, to be able to access the database in the first place. You cannot ring up and say "I want some details". In any case, the only details that are held are the details that are already held in relation to passport and DVLA. It is nowhere near the kind of database held by the big retail outlets which know where you shop, what you shop for, how much you spend and in which particular locations.
Q650 Chairman: The FLA when they gave evidence to us, Home Secretary, stressed that for many financial transactions they need to be able to do them over the phone and, therefore, it would not be possible to present physical evidence of the card, let alone somebody's biometrics.
Mr Blunkett: The Finance and Leasing Association, I think, in that case would want the most low level confirmation that there is a person on the database called whatever, Des Browne, because that is the lowest level of check that they require. I have got a card here and it says "this person is who he says he is, can you confirm he is on the database?" If they wanted to do anything more sophisticated than that they would not necessarily have to have a reader themselves but they would have to require that somebody used a reader in the local library, the JobCentre or whatever. Am I getting there? Is this what you are fearful of?
Q651 Mr Singh: Let me move on to illegal working, Home Secretary, which we have already talked about. Is it envisaged that every employer will have to have a reader?
Mr Blunkett: No, it is not. Every employer would be able to gain access to a reader in the circumstances we talked about earlier. They would not have to do it on the day that the person was interviewed, they would have to do it in the subsequent week or two weeks. This is for the verification purpose of the fact that you want to know that the person is who they say they are and that would be very easy to do. In discussions with business and commerce we have had no problems in being able to persuade them that in years to come that will be a very easy process.
Q652 Mr Singh: Will employers have to be part of this accreditation system for the private sector?
Mr Blunkett: Yes.
Mr Browne: Anybody who has the right to gain access would have to be accredited, of course they would.
Q653 Mr Singh: So a corner shopkeeper, for example, would have to get accreditation?
Mr Browne: They would have to get accreditation if they had a reader. If they had a reader then they would be accredited to have a reader, but if they went to use a reader the accreditation for the reader would be with the operator. That is to stop people being able to simply be free-booters where we do not know who is reading what and where. There is no great shakes about this, the operators of the Lottery know where their machines are in the various retail outlets across the country already and credit card firms know where something has been used. This is just a common part of life now.
Q654 Mr Singh: The Home Office memorandum says that libraries and video shops might require people to produce their cards to access those services but the Information Commissioner has said that would be entirely unacceptable. Where do you stand on this, Home Secretary?
Mr Blunkett: Wherever someone is required to prove their identity and those operating that particular service have registered so they can use a reader then that would be fine. Do you want to add anything to that?
Mr Browne: I heard of the memorandum, I did not read it. I think there is a basic misunderstanding. I think what the Home Office was saying was that these cards will be very useful to people and they will be very useful to people in their ordinary everyday lives. I am a member of a video club and I had to produce certain forms of identification to join in order to hire videos. I think what the Home Office was saying was that a secure form of identity could be produced and would be helpful in that situation, so instead of having to go into the shop and produce photographic identity in the form of my driving licence and a services bill then I could just produce this card because it would be a secure form of identity. In order to reassure you about how this information would be gathered, you will see in the Bill that there is a process of collecting the information as to who has checked the information, so people will be able to see through the data protection process who has been accessing the information and in the unlikely event of somebody who is accredited abusing access to a card to gain information then that would be recorded and the person's card who was being abused would be able to tell and the Commissioner process would be able to police that. That information is going to be collected and an audit trail will be used of information on-line.
Q655 Mr Cameron: On the nature of the compulsion when you move to a compulsory system as you envisage, do you rule out completely making it an offence to not carry the card or have the card? I just want to understand the process. I am walking along the street, a policeman stops me and says "Can I see your ID card?", I say, "Sorry, I have left it at home", what happens next?
Mr Blunkett: They could not because this is a means of identification for a particular purpose and the police, therefore, have to have reasonable belief that you are up to no good.
Q656 Mr Cameron: Okay. I look like I am up to no good and they stop me and say, "Can I see your ID card?", I say, "Sorry, I have left it at home", what happens then?
Mr Blunkett: If they believe that they need to investigate this further and, therefore, there is the potential for taking action against you, they could actually ask you to accompany them down to the station and if they had any doubt by asking you to go and retrieve your card that you would abscond, they would take your biometric specific identifier there and then. Actually, it is perfectly feasible now for them to take fingerprints using the new portable machines that they are trialling anyway for other purposes. The real issue here is that no-one should be stopped or required to produce their identity in circumstances where their identity is irrelevant and where there is no belief that the person is actually committing, or is likely to commit, or is about to commit, a crime. We have brought in the phased-in requirements in relation to stop as well as search in order to ensure that where people are stopped as well as searched, they are given a note of why so that we overcome the belief, particularly in minority ethnic communities, that there is disproportionate targeting of particular groups.
Q657 Mr Cameron: Let me just explore this for a second. At the moment if you are stopped, for instance, for some minor driving offence and you do not have your driving licence, the policeman cannot take you down to the police station to check your identity; you say "I am sorry, I have left it at home" and you have to produce at a later date.
Mr Blunkett: Yes.
Q658 Mr Cameron: Are you saying that with the ID cards they would be able to say, "Ah, well, you have committed a minor driving offence, you must come down to the station now, I must check your biometrics"?
Mr Blunkett: No, I am saying that commonsense would apply and they would apply the same reasoning, namely that you will produce it within a specified period, we know the car, the registration number and we have the details. Thank goodness we still operate in a country where there is no real fear that that will not do, ie people do comply. They have got to comply if they want to drive again and want to operate in a free society again.
Q659 Mr Cameron: You are being absolutely clear that there will be no change in the way that things operate now in terms of when ID cards come in?
Mr Blunkett: No. It will make it a lot easier for people to prove their true identity which, as the CRE have rightly pointed out, will actually be of great benefit to those who are most likely to be and are most often misidentified.
Q660 Mr Cameron: So it is a response that anyone can use, "Sorry, I do not have my card, it is not with me"?
Mr Blunkett: Not anyone anywhere. You gave a perfectly reasonable example, if I might say so, and I responded reasonably, but if the police believed there was a very real danger that your identity was absolutely crucial to the pursuance of an investigation they would require the card or your specific identifier there and then.
Q661 Mr Cameron: But it is a change to the current situation. At the moment, because there are no ID cards, if the policeman stops me and I say "My name is Des Browne" and he does not believe me, he cannot drag me down to the station to check my identity. You seem to be saying that in future he will be able to. That is quite an important change.
Mr Blunkett: I am saying in terms of someone being asked to accompany them, as the police put it, to the station for further investigation on the presumption that there may well be an arrest, they can do that. It will make it a lot easier for them in terms of very rapid and verifiable identification but it will not change the nature of the law and the way that it is applied.
Q662 David Winnick: Home Secretary, clause 6 of the draft Bill covers the requirements for a move to make it compulsory to have an ID card. This is going to be done through affirmative resolution procedure. Should not a change of this importance from voluntary to compulsory require primary legislation?
Q663 Mr Blunkett: No, I do not believe that for a minute. I think that when we pass the substantive legislation, as I hope we will, we will be making a commitment in this country to developing the clean database with the identifiers and the card. It is the point of practicality and technology and funding and acceptability and purpose that will be affirmed following a report to Cabinet and to Parliament and then an affirmative order to be debated in both Houses. It is actually irrelevant whether it is an affirmative or negative order actually, let us be clear about that, the real issue is that there has been a report that the card system itself is agreed nationally to have been successfully implemented and is working and that both Houses of Parliament believe that, therefore, it should become mandatory and fully useable with the database completed. That is the issue at stake. I say it with all temerity; if people do not want to go down this road we will have the debate on the substantive legislation. To do otherwise is pure prevarication, to say on a wing and a prayer we think we would like to have this new database ID system but what we really want to do is put it off and, therefore, come back to the real decision on primary legislation at some unforeseeable date in the future.
Q664 David Winnick: That will be the subject of a good deal of comment, I am sure.
Mr Blunkett: It will.
Q665 David Winnick: You have mentioned debate. Home Secretary, as we understand it there was quite a debate in Cabinet at various stages over having such a measure as an identity card. Would I be right in saying that the press reports were pretty accurate, that there were divisions of opinion in the Cabinet over the scheme?
Mr Blunkett: No, not that we did not have vigorous discussion either. I am a believer in Cabinet Government and all those who preach Cabinet Government should welcome vigorous discussion and proper checking that when someone puts forward a very substantial change of this sort it stands up to scrutiny, that it has been thought through and that we have continuing scrutiny of the detail. I agree entirely with that. I would take with an absolute pinch of salt the people who have been named as for or against. You have had one or two of them in front of you already who were quite wrongly named as being against. Were it not for the fact that we get used to this, we would all be very aggrieved about it.
Q666 David Winnick: When you say reports were wrong about those who were in favour and those not in favour, does that imply there were some in the Cabinet who were not overtaken, shall we say, by your enthusiasm for ID cards?
Mr Blunkett: I have been absolutely clear about this for two years. There are people throughout Government and beyond, in Parliament and beyond, who are more sceptical than others about (a) whether we can manage the technology, (b) whether people will find it acceptable and (c) whether the modest combined claims that we make for the benefit will stand up to scrutiny. I think that is a perfectly reasonable stance in a democracy. The idea that I go on Radio 4 and do an interview with John Humphreys and immediately everybody agrees with me is a halcyon world about which I shall dream when I am old.
Q667 David Winnick: Home Secretary, without sounding at all patronising, that was a very sensible answer because clearly you accept there is a division of opinion in the way in which you put it so diplomatically. Would you therefore accept that the debate over ID cards, certainly in the House of Commons, and for that matter in the Parliamentary Labour Party, is not over and a good number of people, including some of your own colleagues, have yet to be persuaded of the arguments that you have put forward?
Mr Blunkett: I think the old adage is that the party is not over until the fat lady has sung and nothing is over in terms of Westminster until Parliament has voted and I take none of that for granted.
Q668 David Winnick: Good answer.
Mr Blunkett: Thank you, I am very grateful for that.
David Winnick: I am sure you are.
Q669 Mr Prosser: Home Secretary, you might be comforted to know that on the day you published your draft Bill I launched my local consultation in Dover and at the moment people are voting more than ten to one in favour, albeit on a very slow turnout.
Mr Blunkett: Fortunately the turnout can be as slow as you like at the moment.
David Winnick: You have won over Dover.
Q670 Mr Prosser: I want to turn now to some of the impacts of identity cards. One of the concerns raised about identity cards by the Race Equality Impact Assessment is that they might be abused in some circumstances by the police, and you have agreed to study this during the consultation process. You have said that at the very least there will be a need for special training. Are there any specific safeguards that you have in mind to prevent this happening?
Mr Blunkett: I think the phasing in of the new arrangements in relation to stop and search will help a lot. I think training needs to be sensitive to the particular areas that are being policed, the nature of what is happening. Over the last decade we have seen that, particularly in the Metropolitan Police area where there has been a different form of policing and people have learned enormous lessons since, for instance, the Macpherson Report. That is something we need to be mindful of in implementing any scheme of this sort.
Q671 Mr Prosser: You say that before the move to compulsion you would want to be sure that there is "significant coverage" of the population and also that there is "clear public acceptance" of the principle. How do you propose to measure these two?
Mr Blunkett: The first is easier than the second. We will know whether people wish to accelerate the renewal of their passports and the issuing of ID cards, the speed with which we get to the density of take-up that is clearly identifying the population as a whole. The report that I have mentioned to Parliament needs to deal not simply with the numbers but with the acceptability of the different usages and the way in which people are comfortable with what is happening and the technology that is available that we have discussed this afternoon. The report itself will have to be wider merely than whether people have enthusiastically taken it up, but how they have used it, how comfortable they have been with it, and I think that is quite important.
Q672 Mr Prosser: There has been some discussion this afternoon about the passport pilot project. That was some months late in starting, we think that it will have less coverage than was anticipated and will be over a shorter period. In fact, three attempts by this Committee to meet with that group have been postponed because of all of those delays. What is that an indication of? Is it an indication of the complexities or difficulties of the technology behind the ID card or something else?
Mr Blunkett: It is an indication, firstly, that there has been a change from previous methodology which was not as successful as the new programme. Secondly, that it is important to get it right rather than to get it quickly, which is what we have explored already. Thirdly, that it is the number in the pilot, not the time. I do not know where this differential of five or six months has come from. We want 10,000 people and, as was being indicated a moment ago by you, a lot of people are queuing up to be part of this right across the country, which is very encouraging, including parts of the country where there is not a pilot. We are enthused by that. It is the 10,000 pilot we are interested in rather than whether it takes five or six months. I hope very much that we can learn very rapidly from it. The whole point of the pilot, the whole point of this process, is to learn the lessons, and I do not mean just go through the motions but actually learn what it is, and the development partner and commercial consultation and the scrutiny by Parliament is all part of that same process.
Q673 Mr Prosser: How thorough will the testing be? For instance, will there be attempts to deceive the system or to feed in fake and false information?
Mr Blunkett: Yes. We already did that with the previous technology and one of the reasons why it is important to get this pilot right is that there has been enhancement having learnt the lessons from that. I think worldwide it has been known, and it is one of the reasons why it has taken until now to move to such a scheme, that it was possible in the past to be able to defraud the equipment. Do either of you want to say a word about this because you have been on top of it?
Katherine Courtney: I think it is important to say that while the pilot itself is not really about testing the robustness and scalability of the particular biometric technologies that are being deployed, it is about studying the enrolment process and the customer experience and being able to validate some of the assumptions that we have built into the business case around the time that it takes to enrol and the customer acceptability. I am pleased to say on the limited sample so far that is bearing out our assumptions. I am quite pleased about that. We will be attempting to re-register duplicate identities even with this technology, which is not being tested as the technology that we would expect to take forward, to gain some lessons from this experience about how robust this particular configuration might be. Also we are considering the security risks around the enrolment process, ie the environment in which people enrol, the process itself, how people arrive, how they go through having their fingerprints recorded, their irises scanned etc to ensure things are built into the system like the inability for somebody to replace themselves with somebody else half way through the process so that the application is actually reflecting more than one individual, that sort of thing. We are building those things into the pilot and gaining a lot of experience from that.
Q674 Mr Prosser: Finally from me, how will you make your final assessment? How will you say, "Yes, this works well enough to go ahead"? Will any of that assessment be done independently?
Mr Blunkett: Yes. Do you want to add to that?
Mr Browne: The contract for this particular piece of work is a number of what are called deliverable milestones. Payment will be made on the contract on the basis of people reaching those milestones and there will be an independent element in the assessment of those results. Tony Mansfield from the National Physical Laboratory is an independent assessor of progress and outcome of the trial.
Q675 Mr Singh: Home Secretary, my colleague's constituents were overwhelmingly in favour of ID cards, even more so than the recent Mori poll suggested, which was 80%. That is all very well for the moment but the Mori poll also showed that 40% are not confident that the Government can deliver the information securely and 60% have little or no confidence in the ability to introduce ID cards smoothly, maybe half do not want to pay anything for an ID card. Does that suggest to you that whatever the Mori poll shows now you could face resistance when the time gets nearer?
Mr Blunkett: The first two are understandable in terms of the enormity of the scheme and the experience which I have mentioned myself earlier today, which is why we are doing this incrementally, why we are using the renewal of passports for domestic purposes initially. The third is a misunderstanding and the third is about understandable failures - not the public's fault but the way we have explained it and we were not able to explain this until we had agreement - that we would be using the renewal and the greater security of passport and visa requirements to develop the biometric. It is that which is the expensive part of the process. The vast bulk of the cost will be incurred irrespective of whether we move to the ID card and the clean database. I think once people understand that, that what we are being is transparent about the likely cost over a ten year period as the scheme builds up rather than simply increasing the price of a passport, which is how securer passports have been dealt with previously, then they will understand that the small additional amount for the use of the card and the secure database to be used in that way is worth it. A small amount, our estimate at the moment is an additional £4 over the ten years for those who have the passport and, if we use them in future, driving licences. That is not the case, of course, for people who have got neither, they would obviously be paying the substantive sum of around £35 over the ten year period.
Q676 Mr Singh: Home Secretary, I understand that if somebody refuses to register they could face civil penalties of up to £2,500. Do you envisage a situation where taking that approach we might create ID card martyrs who refuse to pay?
Mr Blunkett: It is precisely to avoid people being martyrs in relation to the ID card, if they get fined £2,500 for disobeying the law and not being able to correctly identify themselves then the consequent enforcement action would be on the failure to pay the fine. I think it is very important that we do not have martyrs; certainly I think if people were going back on an entirely different scheme 50 years, they certainly would not have got involved in the skirmish which led to the original post war ID card being abolished.
Q677 Mr Singh: Finally, Home Secretary, at what age do you envisage a person should carry an ID card? I understand that National Insurance numbers, for example, are issued at age 16, how would that tie in with National Insurance cards? Secondly, do you foresee any exemption for the elderly, for example, who might be very worried about this?
Mr Blunkett: We envisage that people on their 16th birthday would be issued with a card and the first card they would be issued with would be free. We envisage that those elderly people who clearly have established their identity would be issued with a free card at a particular point we have to decide which age group would be most appropriate. There would be a concession for those on lower incomes more generally and we built those costs into the totality of the scheme, as it stands at the moment. I am hoping that we will have satisfied the various requirements and demands on us. The issue about subsidised free cards is actually one that also runs alongside the sensitivity with which cards are issued. There is no reason at all for people who are in long term residential care to have to have a biometric card, they could have a plain card which just indicated that we had issued it on the basis of knowledge about the person.
Q678 Mr Singh: Forgive me if I missed it, Home Secretary, what about the minimum age of having to carry a card?
Mr Blunkett: Sixteen.
Chairman: Home Secretary, I know you have other commitments. We have just got three short questions if we could go through those please.
Q679 Mr Cameron: Home Secretary, we had some very interesting evidence from a Professor Thomas of the UK Computer Research Council. I just want to put this point to you. It is a technical systems engineering issue which is captured in popular wisdom by the phrase "don't put all your eggs in one basket". I am just going to read you a little bit of what he said in his evidence. "If you create either a single card that has multi functions or a single database then you are adding to the nation's critical infrastructure unnecessarily and by doing that you are making a very large range of services, probably a growing range of services, vulnerable to a single attack, either a deliberate attack or a fault that arises as a consequence of misimplementation or accident. This seems (and undoubtedly is) an extremely foolish thing to do if you do not need to do it." We have not heard from the Home Office on that point and I wonder whether you can respond?
Mr Blunkett: Is this the Foundation for Information Policy and Research?
Q680 Mr Cameron: No. I am sorry for misdescribing, I could not read my own handwriting. It is the UK Computing Research Committee, Professor Martyn Thomas. It is certainly quite persuasive. Just on the surface it is quite a sensible point.
Mr Blunkett: I am sure it is, except of course we do have these databases already and the fact that the National Insurance database is not clean does not actually reduce the salience of the same argument about having the National Insurance database or a social security database in the United States.
Q681 Mr Cameron: I am sorry to interrupt but the point is he is saying this is not just the National Insurance database, you want to make it the database for driving licences, for passports, for everything else.
Mr Blunkett: I want to make it the database for correct identification of those legitimately in this country, that is all. I am making no great claims for it, we have a database of 42 million people for passports, it is the highest density of take-up of passports in the world and it is used for passport purposes in terms of identification for going in and out of the country. The corollary of the card is the usage within the country and not just the coming in and out of the country or to use the DVLA, which has 38 million people on it, for actually being able to prove that you should be allowed to drive a car. The difference at the moment is that you can have it forged at the moment. I love academics when they get into these areas. I would be very happy to have a debate with Professor Thomas about this but the difference is that unlike the DVLA people will not be able to steal my identity, as they did in the BBC television channel one programme which managed to get a driving licence in my name, a very dangerous thing to do!
Mr Browne: The assumption which underlies that opinion which, as you say, appears on the face of it very strong is that all the other databases disappear, but they do not. We are not getting rid of the passport database which David has suggested covers 80% of the population, we are not getting rid of the DVLA database which covers a significant proportion of the population and we will, of course, build into the structure of this database back up systems and recovery systems should anything happen, just as all those other databases have those systems too. We are not progressing towards one single database for all purposes and that is why for the purpose of services those who provide the services will have to opt in.
Q682 Mr Cameron: Going back to the beginning of our session, the Home Secretary painted a picture that in future years this was going to be how you were going to access services, more and more people are going to have card readers, this is going to be ubiquitous. It is a valid point that the more important the identity card becomes for accessing services, and all the other things he spoke about, the more danger there is if the system breaks down.
Mr Blunkett: There is a truism behind this and the truism is that the more we use electronic transfer the more we develop databases and the more vulnerable they become to attack. I would not dispute that for a minute, it is blindingly obvious, let me put it that way.
Q683 Chairman: Home Secretary, just two brief points. 40% of the London population change address every year and you would save yourself a great deal of trouble if the National Identity Register had all the biometric information, the name, date of birth but not addresses.
Mr Blunkett: I think it is a very interesting point. It is more the data trail in terms of people being able, as they lose their card or as they change, as they are coming out of the country, to be able to show that they knew where they had been and when they had been there. I think there is a real issue about the challenge to processing technology there and I think it is well worth exploring over the months ahead.
Q684 Chairman: The final point is that we understand from what you said earlier that EU Nationals who come here for more than three months will be required to have an ID card, yet for the first few years at least it will be voluntary for British citizens to have an ID card. Is it legal for us to impose a requirement on EU citizens that would not be required at that stage of British citizens?
Mr Blunkett: It is. Just to pick up David Winnick's point, it is so long as we build into the legislation that we are intending to apply compulsion at some point to our own population.
Chairman: A very illuminating point on which to end, Home Secretary. Thank you very much and thank you very much, Minister.