Alan Travis / The Guardian – 2005-08-05 23:17:22
LONDON (August 4, 2005) — The government has admitted that it has been guilty of “overselling” the case for a compulsory national identity card scheme in Britain and conceded that it will not prove a panacea for fraud, terrorism or the abuse of public services.
Tony McNulty, the Home Office minister now responsible for identity cards, has also admitted that “in its enthusiasm” the government also mistakenly emphasised the benefits to the state rather than arguing its benefits to the individual citizen.
His comments mark a significant change in gear in the Home Office approach under home secretary Charles Clarke to the national ID card scheme and contrasts sharply with the far more enthusiastic, almost “cheerleading” tone adopted by his predecessor David Blunkett. The legislation for the scheme is now going through parliament.
The switch follows support for ID cards nosediving in the polls in the face of speculation about the possible cost of each card.
He also confirmed that ministers are to announce a “ceiling” on the cost of each ID card in October in an attempt to restore public confidence in the scheme in the face of speculation that it could range between £93 and £300 each.
Mr McNulty also revealed a fundamental flaw exists in the current ID cards legislation and acknowledged that a likely battle over whether the cards become compulsory between the Commons and the Lords will end in deadlock.
Praise the Lords
The government will not be able to use the Parliament Act to overturn the Lords opposition as the move to compulsion will be through secondary legislation.
“Perhaps in the past the government in its enthusiasm oversold the advantages of identity cards. We did suggest, or at least implied, that they may well be a panacea for identity fraud, benefit fraud, terrorism, and entitlement and access to public services.”
He said ID cards would help where fraud and abuse of identity were part of the equation: “I think, maybe in the past, we were offering the system as a panacea to all these ills when it will help and benefit each one but is not going to solve any one of them.”
Government Still Committed to ID Cards
Mr McNulty stressed the government was still committed to going ahead. “We don’t resile from it. Perhaps we ran away with it in our enthusiasm. I apologise for our overselling the case for ID cards …
“We have been arguing what the state can get out of it rather than what it can do for the individual in providing a gold standard in proving your identity. There are now so many almost daily occasions when we have to stand up and verify our identity.”
In the immediate aftermath of the London bombings Mr Clarke argued that ID cards would not have prevented the attacks but said the scheme might make it harder for terrorists and their supporters to hide their activities behind multiple and false identities.
Mr McNulty also disclosed that the double-lock “super-affirmative” procedure for parliament to approve the move to compulsory ID cards by which both houses have to vote in favour is flawed.
“We are looking again at it to see if it achieves what we want to do,” he said. It was “an algorithmic recipe for deadlock because it does not resolve the situation if one house says yes and the other says no”.
He warned that the battle over compulsion would end up being constantly batted back and forth because the government could not use the Parliament Act to override the Lords opposition because it is to be done by secondary legislation.
Guardian Unlimited ¿ Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.