Home Affairs Committee Press Notice

Session 2003-04, dated 30 July 2004


A wide-ranging report published today by the Home Affairs Select Committee gives broad backing for Government plans to introduce identity cards but warns of a number of key problems that must be tackled to ensure the scheme's success. 

The Committee concludes that the ID card scheme should go ahead and says it can make a real and important contribution to the fight against organised crime and terrorism by disrupting the use of multiple identities, identity fraud and related crimes like money laundering. An ID card scheme, accompanied by wider enforcement measures, could play a significant role in helping to reduce illegal working and immigration.

The report notes it would be easier to establish entitlement to public services and to prevent abuse and says the scheme has the potential to help with joined up government.

Civil liberties' objections to the scheme were carefully considered.  Whilst recognizing that it would change the relationship between citizen and state, the report concludes that identity cards should not be ruled out on grounds of principle alone: the test should be whether the costs are proportionate to the benefits.  International experience indicates that compulsory and voluntary ID cards and population registers operate successfully in other countries. The Committee concludes that the Government has made a convincing case for proceeding with the introduction of identity cards.

However, the Committee is concerned about the lack of clarity over the scheme's scope and practical operation: the report warns that key elements in the proposal are poorly thought out and that the draft Bill goes far wider than is necessary to introduce a simple system to establish and demonstrate identity.

It is unclear how the card and the register will work in practice. The Government should clarify the number, type and costs of card readers and supporting infrastructure required by the scheme. It should also be clear about the number and level of checks on card use that it anticipates.

Stressing that the detailed design of the ID card and the national identity register is critical to its successful operation, the Committee calls for the current proposals to be open to wider scrutiny by technical experts and the public.  Concerns were also raised about commercial confidentiality and the current IT procurement process with MPs concluding that more openness is needed.

The report expresses concerns about the proliferation of Government databases and says that an opportunity for joined up Government is being missed. It notes the significant overlap between the General Register Office's proposal for a UK population register-the Citizen Information Project-the proposed identity cards database and other databases. MPs believe that there should not be a central database holding all individual information, but the identity card should enable access to all Government databases.

The Committee makes a number of recommendations to strengthen the draft Identity Card Bill, including a clear statutory aim for the ID card scheme, a powerful and independent regulator, and new primary legislation before a compulsory scheme is introduced.

Commenting on the report Committee Chairman Rt Hon John Denham MP said:

"The Government's ID card scheme can help in the fight against terrorism, serious crime, illegal immigration and abuse of public services. It could also help the development of joined up government. The potential benefits justify its introduction.

"The Government has only one chance to get it right: whether public support continues will depend on how the scheme works in practice, and its impact on everyday life.

"This ID card scheme should go ahead but the Government must take serious note of the criticism we make of the way the plan is being developed. 

"A successful scheme depends on whether the cards and the national register are used and checked effectively. We need more clarity on how the card and the register will work in practice. We don't know how many card readers and biometric readers will be needed or paid for, or how may times each card will be checked and whether that check will be visual, card reader or biometric.

"The Home Office has allowed commercial sensitivities to stand in the way of proper technical and public scrutiny of the practical details of the scheme. Too many major IT projects have failed in the past and the Government must adopt an open procurement process. At the same time, the proliferation of Government databases must be tackled.

"There is a golden opportunity for joined-up Government here, and a real risk that the opportunity will be missed. An ID card scheme could play a useful role in improving the co-ordination of access to public services. But the Government has not yet put forward clear proposals to do so.

"The draft Bill must be strengthened, and clear statutory limits placed on the use of the national identity register. The Bill creates, for example, a statutory national fingerprint register. This is a major step to take without any legal aim or purpose."