No Compromise

The BBC are reporting that ‘Ministers compromise on ID cards

Ministers have compromised on plans to introduce identity cards in an effort to head off a Commons defeat.

The government has accepted that completely new legislation will be needed to make the cards compulsory, following defeats in the Lords.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke said he had “listened to the concerns that people have expressed”.

Have you really, Safety old boy?

Well let’s have a look just how far you have compromised, then.

Links first – the current text of the bill, as it came back from the Lords is here, then we have the Lords’ amendments here, and finally the government’s consideration of the Lords’ amendments here in case anyone fancies doing their own comparison.

First thing to note, quite obviously, is the list of keys Lords’ amendments that the Government plan to oppose outright, these being:

1. This is linked to the Lords’ demand for full costings of the system and would prevent the system going ahead if the costings were rejected by the House.

4. This would alter the role of the system in relation to public services, limiting its use to the prevention of fraud and removing, as a purpose, the goal of using the system to deliver public service efficiencies – this is important and the Lords amendment would limit the extent to which government information systems could be linked to the ID cards system and the identity register.

21. This is the amendment that the government have accepted, albeit in a different form from the manner in which it was laid down by the Lords, and which requires a further full Act of Parliament to make registration compulsory. This is not, however, much of a concession at all, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.

22. This would make being being issued an ID and placed on the Indentity Register optional when applying for ‘designated documents’ such as passports and driving licences – the page numbering is out here due to clauses being removed from the bill that went to the Commons; clause 8 as refered to in the list of amendments is now clause 5 and can be found on page 5, line 13 of the Bill.

47 & 48. This deals with the appointment of the Commissioner who will oversee the system and would switch the power to appoint the Commissioner from the Minister to the Crown.

50 & 51. This would alter the procedure for Commissioner’s report, which would be delivered directly to the House of Commons and not to the Minister.

68-70. These clauses deal with the requirement that full costings should be approved by the House before proceeding with implementation of the System. Instead the government are proposing their own system of cost reporting to the House, which again I’ll get to in a moment.

Most of the other amendments are minor wording changes and correcting typos, there being only one other substantive amendment that the government has accepted in relation to biometric identifiers – as Spyblog explains here:

The most important amendment, which was a Government one based on a suggestion made previously by the Opposition Lord Phillips of Sudbury, was:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 2, line 34, leave out “physical” and insert “external”

This explicitly prevents using certain biometric identifiers, some of which have been used experimentally at airports, such as hand geometry i.e. the shape and length of the bones in your hand as revealed by a strong light, and any types of X-Ray images etc. in the National Identity Register, except in the “voluntary information” section e.g. the useless idea of putting your own blood group information on the database.

So, in reality what concessions have the government actually made?

Very little at all.

Yes, the constraint in biometrics which rules out addition of DNA profiles has been accepted and yes, the government has accepted that full compulsion will require a further full Act of Parliament.

However, if the government is successful in striking down amendment 22, then their defacto system of ‘voluntary compulsion’ under which applicants for ‘designated documents’ such as passports and driving licences are required both to be entered on the Indentity Register and automatically issued with an ID card will remain entirely intact – and I’m sure it won’t be too long after this Bill become law that a whole range of other documents also become designated – one things immediately of NHS medical cards and whatever the DWP issue these days in lieu of what used to be your UB40, plus anything they can think of which might force people into ‘voluntarily’ going into the system.

So, when it comes to compulsion there is no real concession at all.

In fact one can see the argument for eventual compulsion taking shape already – you force enough people into the system by using designated documents and then you go back to the House and argue that as 80-85%, maybe more, are already in the system then you might as well finish off the job by adding that last bit of compulsion… and anyway, if someone’s not in the system by now then they’re trying to avoid being in there and that’s means that they maybe, probably, definitely, are hiding something.

Too, too, predictable, I’m afraid.

The other supposed concession is this, which is a government amendment replacing one liad down by the Lords:

Report to Parliament about likely costs of ID cards scheme

(1) Before the end of the six months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must prepare and lay before Parliament a report setting out his estimate of the public expenditure likely to be incurred on the ID cards scheme during the ten years beginning with the laying of the report.

(2) Before the end of every six months beginning with the laying of a report under this section, the Secretary of State must prepare and lay before Parliament a further report setting out his estimate of the public expenditure likely to be incurred on the ID cards scheme during the ten years beginning with the end of those six months.

(3) References in this section, in relation to any period of ten years, to the public expenditure likely to be incurred on the ID cards scheme are references to the expenditure likely to be incurred over that period by the Secretary of State and designated documents authorities on—

(a) the establishment and maintenance of the Register;

(b) the issue, modification, renewal, replacement, re-issue and surrender of ID cards;

(c) the provision to persons by the Secretary of State of information recorded in individuals’ entries in the Register.

(4) If it appears to the Secretary of State that it would be prejudicial to securing the best value from the use of public money to publish any matter by including it in his next report under this section, he may exclude that matter from that report.

There are, of course, two key differences between the reporting process that the Lords want and the one put forward by the government.

First, and most obviously, in the Lords’ version, proceeding with the ID Cards system is contingent on Parliamentary approval of the full costs – if the costs are rejected as too expensive or unrealistic then the system goes nowhere at all.

Under the government’s amendment this simply becomes a six-month report back on how things are going, without any provision to pull things to a halt should the costs start to spiral out of control – in short nothing more substantive in the way of scrutiny than is already done by the Audit Commission and the Public Accounts Committee.

But that’s not all going on here. Take a good close look at subsection 4 of this clause – here, I’ll pull it out on its own to make it easier:

If it appears to the Secretary of State that it would be prejudicial to securing the best value from the use of public money to publish any matter by including it in his next report under this section, he may exclude that matter from that report.

So this new clause specifically empowers Ministers to exclude from the report on costs anything they deem to be commercially sensitive, which means that this report will not provide information about the full costs of the system, but only tyhose costs that the Minister thinks its safe to release.

Or to put it another way, what the clause means – as opposed to what it actually says – is…

If it appears to the Secretary of State that it would be prejudicial to his political career or the government’s prospects at the next General Election to publish any matter by including it in his next report under this section, he may exclude that matter from that report.

What there are here are NO substative concessions over and above the change which prevents DNA information being recorded on the Identity Register – which is no concession at all as all that is required to link the register to the Police’s rapidly growing DNA database is the inclusion of National Identity Registration numbers at the DNA database end of the system – at which point a simple SQL JOIN will hook the two systems together.

There is no concession on compulsion because the government’s amendments leave the main mechanism for compulsion – designated documents – entirely intact.

And to add insult to injury, the government has the nerve to write into the bill a clause giving them carte blanche to continue to withhold information about the full, real costs of the system from Parliment.

There are no concessions, so there is no compromise on this Bill – its as simple as that.

If your Parliamentary represnetative is a member of an opposition party or a Labour member who may consider rebelling on this Bill, then I would urge you to write to them and make it plain that there should be no backpeddling on these issues and that they should, when the divisions are called, take to the No lobby and support the following Lords’ Amendments:

1, 3, 4, 21, 22, 47, 48, 50, 51, 68, 69 and 70.

UPDATE

Spyblog has very nice outline piece covering the government’s treatment of LSE academic, Simon Davies, for daring to question their claims about the cost of ID cards.

I’m also bumping this to the top of the blog for the time being.

  • Longrider

    The safety elephant got “compromise” from the same dictionary he used for “voluntary”.

  • pip

    Is the safety elephant on some sort of acid trip? I don’t think I have EVER heard him say ANYTHING which makes any sense at all. Perhaps he is a gonzo Home Secretary?

  • The “six monyhly report to Parliament on costs” would be a good idea if it were to be in addition to the Lords’ demand for an initial, independent National Audit Office cost / benefit analysis of the entire scheme across the whole of Government and the Private sector.

    However, the amendment which Frank Dobson seems to have been conned into putting his name against replaces the Lords’ Amendement on cost / benefit reporting, and , as you point out , allows for the figures to be censored, on an ongoing basis, for the entire lifetime of the scheme.