Harry Potter and the Fork-Tongued Home Secretary

I’ve set up a new subsection called ‘ID Cards second reading’ specifically to make a series of posts, using extracts from the second reading debate to look at the questions asked by members and the Government’s response to them.

Think of this as a handy-dandy, easy to use, bullshit detector.

We’ll start with this exchange between Nick Gibb and Charles Clarke – extracts come from Hansard by way of the excellent ‘They Work For You’.


Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis & Littlehampton, Con)

Given that the identity card database will have details of everyone’s fingerprints and other biometric information, what assurances can the Secretary of State give that that database will not be used routinely by the police in their normal investigation processes so that, for example, a fingerprint left on a pen in a bank will not lead to innocent people bring questioned and having to explain their whereabouts on the day that that bank was robbed?

Charles Clarke (Secretary of State, Home Office)

I can give the assurance that the law of the land requires that the police can operate only in accordance with the legal powers that they have at the moment. That is a very important requirement. It is right that police and security services should have powers as regards national security or serious and organised crime—whatever the issue might be. The House has agreed that it is right that they should have powers in those circumstances so that we can protect ourselves, but—I emphasise the point that I made earlier—those rights are already set out in the existing law and are not changed by this legislation.

Quiz Question:

Your starter for ten is…

If the Police were, as in Nick Gibb’s example, to find a fingerprint on a pen in a bank that had just been robbed, would they?

A. Check the fingerprint records in the Police National Computer – which is incomplete and only stores information on people who have previously arrested – find nothing and assume that the pen had no relevance to the robbery.


B. Check the fingerprint against the National Identity Register, which will have everyone’s fingerprints, identify who’s fingerprint it is and send a couple of officer’s round to the their house to ask them to prove where they were at the time the bamk was robbed.

What the Home Secretary’s answer really means.

Despite his best efforts to avoid answering the question be refering to other legislation, one of the statutory purposes of the Bill is to assist with the prevention and detection of crime – all crime, not just serious and organised crime – so you can expect that the Police will be getting a substantial ‘heavy user’ discount on whatever it costs to access the register as checking fingerprints against it will be a matter of routine.

Mr Clarke is correct that the Bill does not change the rights of the Police as set out in other legislation – this will be found mainly int he Police and Criminal Evidence Act. What it does change is the information it will have instantly at its disposal – a complete register containing the fingerprints of every adult in the UK as opposed to one which only contains the fingerprints of people who have been arrested, at some time, by Police.

One thought on “Harry Potter and the Fork-Tongued Home Secretary

  1. The bank robbery story is so implausible as to be laughable. Just think about it. CCTV footage. Those actually in the bank at the time usually end up making statements anyway. Nobody would be arrested because of a fingerprint on a pen.

    If anybody is asked about any such fingerprints in a bank, the NIR would help them prove their whereabouts and therefore innocence. If the robbers do leave any prints, it would make it far easier to catch them, thats all the NIR means.

    Also the EU fingerprint regulations will be in place by 2007, 1 year before the planned introduction here, so it is very likely standards will be matched up.

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