24 February 2005

S2M-2463 Identity Cards

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 24 February 2005

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

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Identity Cards

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The second Scottish Green Party debate this morning is a debate on motion S2M-2463, in the name of Patrick Harvie, on identity cards.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Like some of the older members of the Parliament, I still have my identity card from the previous time. Identity cards were abolished when I was six so I have some experience of them, on which I will, of course, draw. When identity cards were abolished in 1952, they had 39 purposes as distinct from the three for which they were introduced. Patrick Harvie was right to remind us of function creep, just as we have seen mission creep in military campaigns.

In order to consider the matter pragmatically it might be useful to apply the tests that the Tories applied when they examined the issue in 1995, as I suspect that those tests are relevant, pragmatically, today. The tests are that identity cards have to be sufficiently reliable, they have to be accompanied by protections to civil liberties and they must not entail disproportionate cost. I hope that by the end of the debate we will be able to see that, on a pragmatic basis, the proposed ID card scheme fails all three of those tests. Of course, I also take principled issue with what is going on, but my colleagues will develop that aspect later.

I will test the proposals pragmatically. Let me look at the reply that Tony Blair gave in the House of Commons on 9 February. He stated that a biometric passport might cost £70 and an ID card a further £15. No price is given for an ID card on its own, but it is expected that it would cost between £55 and £70. It is not a cheap item for the individual.

On 11 January, Alistair Darling appeared to confirm to my Westminster colleague for Banff and Buchan that it would cost approximately £500 million to introduce these cards in Scotland. On 20 December, Charles Clarke illustrated the other side of the equation when he confirmed that he envisaged that we would reduce benefit fraud by only £50 million. That is compared to a cost of £5,000 million and rising for the introduction of the system. That is without even thinking about the costs that will not appear in the bill. It is clear that the technologies involved are challenging and would need to be operated by skilled operators. People from Mr Morrison's constituency would not be greatly pleased to find that if they wish to have access to an identity card or a biometric passport, they must get on a plane or a ferry to the mainland to go to one of the few centres that have the skills and equipment to issue the cards. Another issue is whether equipment for checking the cards will be available elsewhere.

Clause 1(6) of the Identity Cards Bill states that the database entry continues after death—even if someone is dead, they are in the database. Of course, the information is absolutely perfect in law, despite the fact that there are opportunities for the secretary of state to change it.

Let me, as a fan of Sewel motions, point to a fundamental issue that the Executive must consider carefully. It is perfectly clear that clause 17 of the bill treads on the feet of the Scottish Parliament. Clause 17 refers to "any other enactment" and clause 17(6) specifies that that includes

"an Act of the Scottish Parliament."

We need to debate the matter further in this Parliament. We should have a Sewel motion to do so; it would be improper to proceed further without that. I will wait with interest to see whether we get an opportunity to discuss the issue on an occasion when ministers respond to the debate.

I move amendment S2M-2463.1, to insert at end:

"and expresses concern that the data format and operation likely to be associated with proposed identity cards conform to no formal international standard and carry the real risk of data disclosure to commercial interests."


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