Civil Liberties

Taking Liberties

The British Library's "Taking Liberties" exhibition opens tomorrow, and will be open until March. It is free, and should be well worth a visit. There is an interactive online tool which examines a lot of the issueshere.

I previously wrote about this exhibition in August.

Combining this with the Royal Academy's Byzantium exhibition could make for a good day out in London.

Now That's British!

"When Gordon Brown called on the British Library to stage an exhibition about Britishness he perhaps envisaged a patriotic celebration of the national identity. " begins the story in The Telegraph. It continues to tell of the new exhibition called 'Taking Liberties' - which is a very British response to such a request from a Prime Minister seeking a publicity tool. It's an exhibition looking at Civil Liberties in the UK, and how they've been slowly but steadily eroded since 1997.

David Davis, the former shadow Home Secretary who recently stepped down from the Parliament to force a by election on the issue of civil liberties, said: "It is an astonishingly good idea but is clearly a snub to the Prime Minister and must be accurately embarrassing for him. Gordon Brown likes to talk about Britishness a lot without understanding that liberty is at the core of Britishness. It is our institutional DNA. Our history and tradition of freedom run longer and deeper than any other country."

(snip)

Iconic objects such as the Magna Carta, the death certificate of Charles I and Cromwell's Oath of Loyalty from 1857 will be on display among less well known items some of which have never been on display before.

The exhibition will open on the 31st October and end on the 1st March 2009. Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it.

The British Library is at St. Pancras - very convenient for tube and rail connections.

Brown and Davis

Gordon Brown recently wrote to David Davis to say this:

Dear David

As you know, Prime Ministers are available once a week at Question Time to debate all the issues of the day, and I was disappointed that you chose to step down as a Member of Parliament in advance of Question Time on Wednesday, 11 June rather than coming to the House to debate with me the issues around the use of CCTV and DNA evidence, and the measures we have taken to protect our national security.

Nevertheless, the leader of your party has the opportunity each week to ask six questions on those issues that caused you to leave his Shadow Cabinet. He has had two such opportunities to date, but he has yet to ask any such question. He has two further opportunities to raise these issues before the 'by-election' on July 10th, and I am sure that if he shares your strong feelings about them, he will not duck those opportunities.

Gordon Brown

David Davis has replied, with a masterful letter:

Dear Gordon,

Thank you for your letter of 26 June. This is the second time you have responded to me directly, since my resignation from the House of Commons in protest at your relentless assault on British liberty.

First, you gave a speech on 17 June at the IPPR, a favoured Labour think-tank, hardly an environment that allows for the vigorous and open debate we so sorely need. Now, you insist that any questions I wish to ask on this vital national issue be raised within the narrow confines of Prime Ministers Questions, where you have developed the novel practice of asking - rather than answering- the questions.

I note from your speech on 17 June that you genuinely believe in the positions you have taken and stand behind the sustained erosion on British liberty, which regrettably means that the country must expect more to come in the future. Equally, it is deeply disturbing how ill-informed you are about the basic effectiveness of your security policies - from 42 days, ID cards and the DNA database, through to the ineffectual deployment of CCTV at immense cost to the taxpayer.

We need a proper national debate on these important matters - not just set piece speeches to carefully choreographed audiences or the weekly one-liners you deploy at PMQs. If you were serious about debating these important issues, you should have put up a candidate or at the very least allowed your Ministers to debate publicly with me. Having cowered from both options, it is a bit rich to snipe from the sidelines in a serious debate that will proceed with or without you. Even at this late stage, I would be only too willing to adjust my schedule to debate you or any Cabinet Minister in public, if you feel able to relax the restrictions currently in place.

Yours sincerely,

David Davis

In short, Brown has said "You lost an opportunity to 'debate', but you should have got more support, nah nah ne nah nah." and Davis is saying "Anytime, Any place, Anywhere - bring it on".

Pots and Kettles

A great BBC 'Have Your Say' Comment from John McKay:

"The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has described Mr Davis's move as a 'stunt that has become a farce'."

If I might draw M'Lud's attention  to the case of Pot versus Kettle...?

Well done.

David Davis has been interviewed for the 'Today' programme. Humphreys is interviewing as a politico - Davis is responding on the issues.

"If the Labour party chooses not to defend their own policies on this... they're gonna show that they're ashamed of their own policies... if it comes down to it and they don't run then I will think that's just another piece of cowardice by Gordon Brown.... but there will be a debate, I promise you, there will be a debate

This 'stunt' has now elevated Davis above Boris Johnson as 'Favourite Tory'.

Please direct comments to this post.

Have Your Say on Davis

I've browsed through the most recommended comments at the Beeb. Several pages of comments without one recommended comment (so far) being critical of Davis. (If you haven't seen his speech yet, it's really worth a look). This comment summed it up, quoting one of the rare (less popular) anti-DD posts:

What is the point of posting comments to the BBC when they are biased. I can only see comments from people who agree with David Davis! Typical BBC! ...

J L Graham, Frimley, Surrey.

Didn't you actually consider it might be because the majority of posters actually agree with David Davis????

Josh Rogan, United Kingdom.

The move may well be a stunt, but it's a stunt that'll keep the spotlight on some important issues for quite some time. Well done DD.

Update: The BBC has a roundup of the press today. Unsurprisingly the Murdoch press are quite negative, other press is applauding the reasons for his stance, but are suggesting that it could backfire by causing his party embarrassment. Personally, I'm really pleased that someone is putting this front and centre as an important issue and making the principled case.

Understandably, given that they'd lose, Labour look like they'll refuse to fight the election. Cowards. They probably would lose anyway in that seat, but if they really have the courage of their convictions, let's have the general election which we should have had last year. No? Didn't think so. Cowards.

Please direct any comments to this post.

David Davis Speech

This is a phenomenal speech, which sums up just how  this government has been eating away at our historic libertarian legal system. The speech has been placed on youtube.

There are only two ways this could be more spectacular.

  1. If it were Cameron
  2. If it were someone in a marginal seat.

Yes, this is a stunt, but it's a fine one - and it kicked off with a great speech - one that I hope doesn't get ripped to shreds by the time it's disseminated in the News at Ten and in tomorrow's papers.

Please direct any comments to this post.

Update: The Lib Dems, recognising this is a protest on an issue they wish to support, are not fielding a candidate. This has precedents, they did not field a candidate in the election against the Hamiltons. Quite the right decision - though it does highlight the need for Single Transferable Vote instead of First Past the Post. They have said that in a general election they would fight for this constituency.

David Davis: Man of Principle

David Davis has resigned from the commons to force a by-election in which he'll stand. He will fight the campaign based on his opposition to the 42 days detention without charge and the slow erosion of civil liberties seen under this government.

BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson said it was an extraordinary move which was almost without precedent in British politics.

True, it's an MP taking a stand on principle (cynical, moi?)

Labour MP Denis MacShane said he was sure Mr Davis would win the by-election but added "I think this will be seen as a stunt" which showed the Conservatives were "utterly unfit" for government.

Thus spake a man who is avoiding the argument on the issue.

In his resignation statement, he said he feared 42 days was just the beginning and next "we'll next see 56 days, 70 days, 90 days."

But, he added: "In truth, 42 days is just one - perhaps the most salient example - of the insidious, surreptitious and relentless erosion of fundamental British freedoms."

He listed the growth of the "database state," government "snooping" ID cards, the erosion of jury trials and other issues.

"This cannot go on. It must be stopped and for that reason today I feel it is incumbent on me to make a stand," said Mr Davis.

"At least my electorate and the nation as a whole will have had the opportunity to debate and consider one of the most fundamental issues of our day - the ever intrusive power of the state into our lives, the loss of privacy, the loss of freedom and the steady attrition undermining the rule of law," he said

Hear, Hear!

Good luck DD - I do hope that it's a landslide (and can't be argued that it's just the core vote of a safe seat).

This could only be more dramatic if it had been Cameron.

Update: The speech is online (it's a great speech).

Related:

  • Iain Dale
  • Labour@Home (who seem be arguing on the party lines, not the issue)
  • It might be a publicity stunt, hopisen, but it's one that we need with this nasty government.
  • e8voice (Davis has balls and they're in the air)

42 Days

The BBC has a list of the Labour MPs who rebelled in the recent vote to allow people to be locked up without the evidence to charge them for 42 days.

  • Diane Abbott
  • Richard Burden
  • Katy Clark
  • Harry Cohen
  • Frank Cook
  • Jeremy Corbyn
  • Jim Cousins
  • Andrew Dismore
  • Frank Dobson
  • David Drew
  • Paul Farrelly
  • Mark Fisher
  • Paul Flynn
  • Neil Gerrard
  • Ian Gibson
  • Roger Godsiff
  • John Grogan
  • Dai Havard
  • Kate Hoey
  • Kelvin Hopkins
  • Glenda Jackson
  • Lynne Jones
  • Peter Kilfoyle
  • Andrew MacKinlay
  • Bob Marshall-Andrews
  • John McDonnell
  • Michael Meacher
  • Julie Morgan
  • Chris Mullin
  • Douglas Naysmith
  • Gordon Prentice
  • Linda Riordan
  • Alan Simpson
  • Emily Thornberry
  • David Winnick
  • Mike Wood

Ann Widdecombe voted for the government bill, as did the DUP.

If I were in a labour held constituency, the only way I'd vote for them is if one of those people were the MP. The reverse goes for Ann Widdecombe (although she is quite popular in her constituency, and I can appreciate that she went out on a limb here as a matter of conscience - she's wrong though).

Six Weeks

So, Brown gets his way to lock people up for six weeks without the evidence to charge them. Still, it's one way to get the kids out of the way for the summer holiday...

The arguments used are pitiful, 'the police tell us they need the extra time, so...'. The police, with the best will in the world, aren't going to argue for a shorter time. They're the ones who get it in the neck if wrong, it's a tough job. It is the job of the lawmaker to balance the interest of the individual against the rest of the public. Do we really want to have a society when someone can be locked up for a month and a half because they are a suspect?

It's worth remembering that a Terror Suspect is just that. A suspect. Not a convict. Suspicion is not evidence.

Surely, it would be much less of a compromise to allow for questioning after a lesser charge?

For a millennia the rule has been that one could not get locked up without evidence and a trial. A six week detention, equivalent to a three month sentence (with good behaviour) can now (at least, assuming the Lords don't throw it out) be served without trial.

Strange, how in this 'free and democratic' country, once again we look to the Lords to safeguard our rights.

We never came anywhere near this even when the IRA made a successful bomb attack which threatened the cabinet and nearly killed the prime minister.

Brown is playing the politics of fear, long may his electoral approval slide.

Demagogue

Sir John Major, writing in the Times, criticises the ID cards scheme as part of a wide-ranging attack on the erosion of civil liberties under the Labour government:

But it is not only the case for 42 days detention that is bogus. So is the case for identity cards. They were to be voluntary. Now it is clear that they will be compulsory. Yet the Government has admitted that such cards would not have stopped the London bombers. Nor will they cut illegal immigration, since asylum-seekers have been obliged to carry ID cards for nearly eight years. Nor will they have any real impact on benefits fraud, as this is typically caused by misrepresentation of financial resources rather than by identity.

The Government has been saying, in a catchy, misleading piece of spin: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” This is a demagogue’s trick. We do have something to fear - the total loss of privacy to an intrusive state with authoritarian tendencies.

This is not a United Kingdom that I recognise and Parliament should not accept it.

Via No2ID.

John Major may not have been a great PM in many people's view, but he makes a damned fine elder statesman.

The Nasty Party

'The Nasty Party' used to be a term applied to the Tories. This is most emphatically no longer the case. Putting aside historical issues for a moment and looking at recent weeks:

Kathz wrote about an issue (mirror) which I noted, but did not post about until now. That is of Labour playing nasty in Crewe.

The Labour Party is putting out an official leaflet which carries a picture of the Conservative candidate and the question, "Do you oppose making foreign nationals carry an ID card?"

Maybe the Conservative party policy isn't clear on the issue. But Labour (government) policy isn't just about foreign (non-EEC, by the way) nationals. Soon we shall all have to carry ID cards. The government is preparing to collect our biometric details so that it can store them on a database. The ID scheme targeting foreign nationals is simply starting with a soft target - people who don't have votes.

The Labour leaflet in Crewe hasn't been published to open up a debate on ID cards. The government has made it very clear that the introduction of ID cards is not open to debate. This leaflet is about race. It's about fuelling fear and race hatred to hold a vulnerable seat in a parliamentary by-election. The implication of the leaflet is that foreigners are dangerous and only the Labour Party will keep them under surveillance.

Spreading suspicion is dangerous. Mistrust is often a two-way process.

(Another source)

In other news, Labour want to institute a database recording the internet activity and phone calls of everyone in the country 'just in case'. (source)

Jonathan Bamford, the assistant Information Commissioner, said: “This would give us serious concerns and may well be a step too far. We are not aware of any justification for the State to hold every UK citizen’s phone and internet records. We have real doubts that such a measure can be justified, or is proportionate or desirable. We have warned before that we are sleepwalking into a surveillance society. Holding large collections of data is always risky - the more data that is collected and stored, the bigger the problem when the data is lost, traded or stolen.

Let us all recall that Government doesn't have a good track record with large databases, with multiple leaks over the past year - including the one leak of the records of some 25million families.

As an interesting aside, Guido notices that the number of stress related sick days at the treasury has dramatically reduced since Brown became PM.

Taking Liberties

Taking Liberties is to be shown on More 4 tonight Taking Liberties

Details on the broadcast are available online. It is to be transmitted at 10pm, and repeated on more4+1. at 11pm. It'll be shown again at 1:10am in the morning.

Blurb from the More 4 site:

About the film Riding in on a wave of optimism and real belief in their mantra that things can only get better, they proceeded to enact some of the most authoritarian legislation in recent history.

With fast-paced satirical style, this Bafta-nominated film shows how, in just over a decade, some rights and freedoms that took centuries to build up have been rolled back or cut away.

Erosion of civil liberties The entitlement to habeas corpus – no detention without trial – established when the barons took on King John in the 13th century has, in some circumstances, been abolished.

Millions of CCTV cameras up and down the country undermine our right to privacy.

A series of measures has made it more and more difficult to exercise freedom of speech and already led to the arrest of a large number of peaceful protestors.

Director Chris Atkins has assembled footage to demonstrate how oppressive these new powers can be.

Walter Wolfgang The 82-year-old holocaust survivor was lifted bodily from a debate at the Labour Party conference for, as talking-head Tony Benn points out, "rightfully" saying that Jack Straw is talking "nonsense" about Iraq. We see a man who tries to protest against the treatment of this old man also set upon by security, and learn that he was later handled roughly – and that poor old Wolfgang was next detained by the police under the 2000 Terrorism Act.

Moulad Sihali We meet Moulad Sihali an Algerian refugee. He was cleared of all charges relating to a non-existent plot to manufacture the poison Ricin (a non-conspiracy that was "discovered", conveniently enough, in the propaganda run up to the invasion of Iraq), but has now been made a prisoner in his own home. He's been fitted with a tracking device, is only allowed outside at certain hours – and then only within a one mile radius of his house – and is forbidden to meet anyone who hasn't been vetted by the Home Office. The specific charge against him? There isn't one.

We hear how Maya Evans, a vegan chef, and her friend the writer Milan Rai were arrested under the Serious Organised Crime and Police act for reading out the names of people who have died in Iraq and occasionally ringing a (very quiet) Buddhist bell.

Brian Haw We watch David Blunkett describe in a Commons debate how he is going to use a "sledgehammer" to "smash" a "nut". The "nut" he's referring to, ("and he is a total nut" booms Blunkett) is Brian Haw, a man whose peaceful protests in Parliament Square so enraged the then home secretary that the law had to be changed to get at him – and more than 70 police officers used to remove his one-man anti-government stand.

And so it goes on.

Occasionally the footage is very funny. The police justify taking Haw's signs away on the grounds that "terrorists can hide bombs in protestors' placards", for instance. Elsewhere, protestors are told that if they step off the grass verge they have been crowded onto they could be arrested for blocking a public highway. They are told this by a massed group of policemen who actually are blocking the road.

Maddening revelations There are recordings of the police intimidating grandmothers; protestors being strong armed; 80-year-olds being dragged along on their backsides by police; Tony Blair staring on silently (in contravention of international law against complicity with torturers) as George W Bush praises the facilities at Guantanamo Bay.

Atkins even succeeds in arousing sympathy for a group of bankers – the Natwest three. Thanks to a 2003 treaty they were extradited to the US – for a crime they allegedly committed in Britain but that British authorities declined to prosecute due to lack of evidence. The ability of the US to take these men from their homes and support networks without presenting any new data to the British government is enraging. "In this matter we are the 51st state" says one observer, and it's hard to disagree.

Shock tactics As you might expect from a product that shares a co-producer with Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, Taking Liberties is partisan, loud, in your face and all-the better for it.

"This film uses shock tactics. We needed to be unashamedly populist," said director Chris Atkins and his judgement has been vindicated.

The complex legal issues surrounding civil liberties may not set everyone aflame, but the great gift of Taking Liberties is to show how vital they are.

True, Atkins sweetens the pill with all that dramatic footage and eloquent contributions from talking heads like the ever reliable Mark Thomas and Tony Benn, but it's the central message of the film that really hits home.

The erosion of these rights and freedoms has the potential to impact seriously on each and every one of us – and if we don't do something about it, things will only get worse.

Reply from Hazel Blears

Hazel Blears replied to my MP after I wrote a letter stating my concerns about the government trying to claim the power to remove liberty without due process. My MP forwarded my concerns to the home office.

Coincidental that this should occur today... the letter from Hazel Blears is undated, but it was forwarded to me yesterday.

Hazel Blears, as expected, put out the usual government spin, and my MP did nothing that couldn't have been done by a post office forwarding system. I still don't know where the man stands.

Thank you for your letter dated 1 February 2005 on behalf of XXXXXX of YYYYY about the Home Secretary's control orders proposals.

The ATCS Act 2001 introduced exceptional powers to counter the risks posed by terrorist activities. Part 4 of the Act is an immigration power which enables the Home Secretary to certify and detain foreign nationals who are suspected of involvement in international terrorism and who are believed to present a risk to our national security but cannot, at present, be removed from the United Kingdom. They cannot currently be removed, as a result of either practical considerations or the United Kingdom's international obligations, such as those under the European Court of Human Rights. However, the detainees are free to leave this country voluntarily at any time, as two have already chosen to do.

Whilst Article 5(1) (f) of the ECHR permits the detention of a person against whom action is being taken with a view to deportation, UK caselaw is clear - a person can only be detained if there is a reasonable prospect of their removal within a reasonable time. In the Part 4 cases, where there is a barrier to removal, we would therefore be prevented from detaining these individuals, pending their ultimate removal, without a derogation from the ECHR.

This is why a derogation was sought from Article 5 of the ECHR in relation to the part 4 powers. The detainees challenged the legality of the derogation. On Thursday 16 December 2004 the House of Lords allowed the appeal in the case of A and others V the Secretary of State for Home Department.' The Law Lords ruled that the powers in Part 4 section 23 of the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 were incompatible with Articles 5 and 14 of the ECHR in so far as they are disproportionate, and permit detention of suspected international terrorists in a way that discriminates on the grounds of nationality or immigration status.

This appeal was about the compatibility of domestic law with ECHR and it is ultimately for Parliament to decide whether and how the law should be amended. There is no legal obligation to release the detainees as a result of this judgment.

The part 4 powers have been used sparingly, a total of 16 people have been certified and detained under the part 4 powers. One other person has been certified but detained under other powers. Of these 10 people remain in detention. One individual appeal against certification was upheld, two certificates have been revoked by the Home Secretary and one detainee has been bailed under strict bail conditions.

There are extensive legal safeguards, including an individual right of appeal against certification to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). SIAC is a superior court of record chaired by a high court judge. SIAC also conducts statutory reviews and those detained can also apply to SIAC for bail at any time.

As the Home Secretary announced in his statement on 26 January, we are seeking to develop alternatives to the part 4 powers. We are continuing with the work on deportation with assurances for foreign nationals who we can and should deport. We are also planning to introduce control orders, which would enable a range of preventative measures to be placed on a suspected terrorist irrespective of nationality, where we can neither prosecute nor deport. These will be preventative measures designed to disrupt and restrict an individual's activities where intelligence assessments indicate involvement in terrorism.

These orders will:

  1. be capable of general application to any suspected terrorist irrespective of nationality and, for most of the controls, the nature of terrorist activity.
  2. consist of a range of provisions from a ban on the use of communications equipment to restrictions to premises in very serious cases
  3. allow for a criminal sanction for a breach of any order imposed include independent judicial scrutiny of each case involving the hearing of evidence in both open and closed session, both against the imposition of an order and any subsequent variations of the provisions. There will also be regular reviews of extant orders.

As the Home Secretary said in his statement on the 26th January "A careful balance has to be struck between the rights of an individual and the protection of society against threats from organisations which seek to destroy". We believe that these powers will address this balance in a proportionate and effective manner.

It is ultimately for Parliament to decide whether and how we should amend the law. The Governments intention is to introduce a bill to give effect to control orders as soon as is practicable. It may be possible to enact the bill in a time scale that makes renewal of the part 4 powers unnecessary. Should that not be possible the Government will seek to renew the Part 4 powers for a limited time to enable the new powers to be put in place.

The Home Secretary will not be revoking the certificates of the current detainees between now and when the new powers are in place unless the threat they pose changes and they no longer meet the criteria for certification.

Andy Hamilton on the news quiz: 'What a topsy turvey world we live in when our best hope of opposing draconian laws is Michael Howard'. and 'Am I alone in having an extreme dislike for ... Hazel Blears'. The consensus was 'no'. The news quiz is available for download from saturday afternoon and will be available for a week.

Kofi Annan made a Keynote address to the Closing Plenary of the International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security in Madrid

By the same token, the United Nations must continue to insist that, in the fight against terrorism, we cannot compromise the core values I have listed. In particular, human rights and the rule of law must always be respected. As I see it, terrorism is in itself a direct attack on human rights and the rule of law. If we sacrifice them in our response, we will be handing victory to the terrorists.

Quite so, Kofi.

House Arrest

I've had a letter from the Office of the Leader of the Opposition in response to the letter I copied to Michael Howard.

It reads as follows:

Thank you for your recent letter to Michael Howard about the Government's policies on house arrest, as laid out in the Prevention of Terrorism Bill currently before Parliament.

The Government's proposals centre around house arrest for suspected terrorists on the say so of the Home Secretary. David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, and Mr Howard have thought long and hard about these proposals. They have serious misgivings about both their effectiveness in protecting life and their consequences for the British way of life.

We have always said that this was a bad Bill. The Government have not allowed anything like enough time for Parliament to consider it.

In the time available, the Conservative Party has put down a number of amendments to improve the Bill which we will continue to press. These include, for example, that there should be judicial decisions on all the control orders and that there should be a reconsideration of the appropriate burden of proof in relation to the making of the orders.

But even if the Government give way on all the amendments we regard as essential, the Bill will still be unsatisfactory. That is why we are calling for an additional safeguard which is that the Bill even with those essential amendments will need to be replaced in November. This will give the Government of the day the time necessary to bring forward a properly considered Bill to deal with terrorism.

However, if the amendments we regard as essential are not passed, including the sunset clause, the Conservative Party will vote against the Bill.

Thank you for taking the trouble to write.

Yours sincerely,

(name removed)
Office of the Leader of the Opposition

Reply from the Home Office

I've had a reply to the letter which I sent to the Home Office regarding ID cards (the concerns expressed seem to pail in the light of internment proposals! Still, it shows the principle of giving an inch....)

The reply is signed by a civil servant, so the name is removed.

Any comments? (Please let me know of any obvious OCR errors in the comments). The No2ID site is here.

The letter reads as follows:

Thank you for your letter of 29 January to Des Browne MP about identity cards. Your letter has been passed to me in the Identity Cards Programme Team to respond.

As you may be aware that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has established standards in the use of biometrics in passports. From next Autumn, British tourists who need a new passport will have to get a biometric one to visit the US or obtain a visa in advance and have their biometrics recorded on arrival. The European Union has also recently considered Regulations on common standards for biometric security features to be included in common format visas and residence permits for foreign, i.e. nonEU, nationals. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) establishes standards in the use of biometrics in passports and the UK is committed to compliance with these standards. On 13 December 2004 the EU adopted a Regulation on biometric features (digital image and two flat fingerprints) in the EU common format passport

The decision to introduce biometrics into existing identity documents has therefore already been made. What we gain with the ID card and the added requirements for these, over and above just adding biometrics to existing documents, are the benefits of secure identification and a register to hold the information.

It is envisaged an identity card will help UK residents establish their identity and entitlement to services in a simple, easy, convenient way and to regulate access to public services to reduce fraudulent use of services by those not entitled and in time to deliver more efficient access to services.

However, I must emphasise that we have never said that the identity cards scheme is intended to be the sole solution to identity fraud, illegal immigration and working, or terrorism. The scheme is therefore not being designed to be the primary method of combating these problems. Nevertheless, the Security services and Sir John Stevens, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, have stated that they believe an identity card scheme will help in the fight against these problems. The Spanish police have also stated that their identity cards scheme makes life harder for terrorists and easier for the police. Terrorists have had to find other ways to carry out their activities such as staying in hotels, renting accommodation, hiring cars and purchasing mobile phones. The culture of identity cards in Spain has marginalised terrorists who are driven to reside outside Spain. Identity cards have also meant that the police have a better idea of who they are looking for when tracking down a terrorist as they will have information available such as a photograph, age, fingerprint and addresses and can focus their investigations faster.

With regards to the checking process, applicants will also be asked to produce their current identity documentation, which will be checked for authenticity and validity. This is to ensure that individuals are who they say they are. The precise arrangements for what information will be necessary for making an application vOll be decided as the identity cards programme progresses following further preparatory work and testing of different options.

It may also be necessary to make changes to the application process over time. These arrangements are therefore not spelt out on the face of the Identity Cards Bill. Rather provision is included for the detailed arrangements to be set out in Regulations. These arrangements must be scrutinised by Parliament and no information may be required unless it is required for the statutory purposes of the scheme as set out in the primary legislation.

ID Cards will be issued by an executive agency incorporating the functions of the United Kingdom Passport Service which will work closely in conjunction with the Immigration and Nationality Directorate of the Home Office in respect Of foreign nationals.

With regards to cost, our assessments to date have indicated that the benefits outweigh the costs of the scheme.

The fact is that we are having to incorporate certain biometric identifiers into existing identity documentation. What the identity cards scheme does is take this opportunity to ensure we maximise the benefits to the UK. These include reducing unauthorised access to benefits and public services, reducing illegal immigration and working and tackling organised crime and terrorism.

There are considerable benefits to individuals from the introduction of identity cards and the principle will be that overall costs of the scheme will be met from charging. This principle is well established for documents like passports and residence permits, which as we have pointed out will have to be upgraded anyway. We have made clear that ID cards will be subsidised for those least able to pay.

However, no date has yet been set for a decision on a move to compulsion. There are a number of factors which the Government will need to consider before recommending a move to compulsion to Parliament. These are explained in Identity Cards: The Next Steps (CM 6020).

The exact format of ID cards will be set out in Regulations to be approved by Parliament. It is likely that all ID cards will be credit card sized plastic cards with a photograph of the holder, and containing a secure chip where biometric data may be stored. They will be designed to be convenient and easy to carry in a purse or wallet.

As mentioned earlier, the identity cards scheme is an inclusive scheme intended to cover everyone in the UK for longer than 3 months. Nothing in the legislation is discriminatory and we are working now with interested groups in the early stages of the design of the scheme to make sure that it operates in a way that is not discriminatory.

A card scheme that is open to everyone and treats everyone on an equal basis, alongside rules on the production of cardslidentity checks that are consistent and do not single out particular groups will help to reduce discrimination as everyone will have an equal means of proving of identity when using public services.

The administration of the scheme is covered by the Race Relations Act 1976, as amended by the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. Therefore, the scheme must have due regard to the elimination of unlawful racial discrimination, the promotion of equal opportunities and good relations between people from different racial groups. We have taken advice from relevant sections within the Home Office as well as outside consultation, involved CRE as well as a number of other race organisations, individual in the community, focus group and minority ethnic polling.

Research done with the minority ethnic groups in 2004 showed the majority of all four ethnic populations were in favour of the proposal to introduce ID cards in the UK, with the Chinese group being the most favourable (84%) and the black group the least (60%). Favourability towards ID cards has increased since the study was last conducted in 2003.

Clause 14 of the Bill enables checks to be made on the Register with the consent of the individual in order to provide an identity verification service. This clause limits the information that may be provided to the organisation as part of this check, this includes information within paragraphs 1, 3 and 4 of Schedule 1, the photograph, signature, information concerning whether the ID card is valid, voluntary information and security questions. This limitation on 'the information that may be checked means that information failing in other parts of Schedule 1, for example the records of provision of information, may not be provided to organisations verifying identity. This type of information isalready provided with the consent of individuals to a wide variety of organisations on a daily basis.

In addition, the identity cards agency will be accrediting user organisations based on the type of information they are requesting provision of, as well as a justification of why they are requesting it. We will also reserve the right to audit any user organisation processes to ensure they remain compliant with the ultimate sanction for those who are misusing information being the removal of accreditation.

The statutory purposes of the Register as defined in the Bill set boundaries for its use to prevent function creep. The "registrable facts" listed in the Bill set limits on the types of information which may be held on the Register. Only Parliament would be able to change the statutory purposes of the scheme or the information which could be held by the scheme.

Clause 1(2) of the Identity Cards Bill sets out the statutory purpose of the Register. It makes clear that the register is to provide a record of "registrable facts" about the identity of individuals who are resident in the United Kingdom or have applied to be entered on the register. The Schedule in the Bill lists the categories of information that may be held on the Register, although not every item listed need be included when the National Identity Register is established. The Schedule includes the following information:

  • personal information - names, date and place of birth, gender, addresses;
  • identifying information - photograph, signature, fingerprint, other biometric information;
  • residential status - nationality, entitlement to remain, terms and conditions of that entitlement;
  • personal reference numbers - for example the National Identity Registration Number and other government issued numbers, and validity periods of related documents;
  • record history - information previously recorded, audit trail of changes and date of death;
  • registration and lD card history - dates of: application, changes to information, confirmation; information regarding: other ID cards already issued, details of counter-signatures, notification under clause 13(1) and requirements to surrender an ID card;
  • validation information - information provided for any application, modification, confirmation or issue; other steps taken in connection with an application or otherwise for identifying the applicant and verifying the information; particulars of any other steps for ensuring there is an accurate entry in the Register; and particulars of notification of changes;
  • security information - personal identification numbers, password or other codes, and questions and answers that could be used to identify a person seeking provisions of information or the modification of an entry; and
  • records of provision of information - how and when any information from an entry was provided to any person or body.

However, there is absolutely no question of an identity card holding sensitive personal information such as medical records, racial or ethnic origin, political opinions or religious or other beliefs.

The Identity Cards Bill is available on the Parliament website:

Link to the Bill

or if you would like to obtain a hard copy of The Bill, this would cost £6, however you will have to write to:

Her Majesty's Stationery Office
St Clements House
2-16 Colegate
Norwich
NR3 1 BQ

More information about identity cards is also available on

Link to the site mentioned.

I am grateful for the time you have taken to comment further on this issue.

Yours sincerely

(name removed)
Identity Cards Programme Team

House Arrest and my Prospective MP (Tory)

I've received a reply from the Conservative Candidate in my area regarding the house arrest of terror suspects.

My apologies for not replying earlier.

I take the threat of terrorism very seriously. Which is why I want to see terrorists face trial and be punished, not be placed under house arrest at the request of the executive.

I'm sorry you found it so hard to find my website. I'll explore what we can do to ensure a higher profile. And thanks also for your blog tips

(I made some comments about putting in an RSS feed, and how it was so difficult to find out who the conservative candidate was given that the current guy was deselected - though I don't support the chap in all things, he'll probably be my MP as this is a safe seat and I want to keep tabs on what he's doing.)

Reply from Nick Hawkins MP

I've had a reply from Nick Hawkins MP (Con) to my letter.

It reads:

Thank you for your letter of 29 January on the subject of the decision about Belmarsh. I will send the Home Secretary a copy of your letter so that he too is aware of your concerns in this regard and will write to you again when I have a reply.

Yours sincerely,

NICK HAWKINS MP

He has completely ignored the bit which says 'I would be extremely interested to hear your personal views on this matter.'

I know the views of Charles Clarke, though I'm happy that the home secretary will know that he is opposed - what I don't know are the views of my own MP. If when he replies he simply forwards the response of Clarke, then I shall press him on this issue. Especially as he lists his special interests on his website as 'Home affairs, law and order...'

I don't hold out much hope though... he's been deselected as the Tory candidate in the next election. What I don't know are the views of the new conservative candidate (this is a safe tory seat).

The new candidate seems to be someone called Michael Gove.

The Lib dem candidate is Rosalyn Harper (eek, I've got to the age when parliamentary candidates are younger than I am).

I've emailed them both with a copy of the letter I've sent to Nick Hawkins and asked for their responses. I haven't bothered with the labour candidate as they don't stand a snowball's chance in hell of getting in here.