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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 April, 2004, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
ID cards
On Sunday, 25 April 2004, Sir David Frost interviewed the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, MP

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, MP
The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, MP

DAVID FROST: The Home Secretary has hardly been out of the news in the past three weeks and just when he was trying to get a day off we managed to persuade him to join us from the idyllic Derbyshire countryside near his Sheffield constituency. And we say, therefore, thank you for being with us and good morning David.

DAVID BLUNKETT: Good morning. I don't think they could ever describe me as a living saint. But it's very saintly here at the Cavendish Hotel.

DAVID FROST: Very good, well I don't think Jack Straw's describing you as a living saint at the moment, is he?

DAVID BLUNKETT: We work very well together.

DAVID FROST: He said! That's like a cricket tour. That's what you call playing a straight bat. Tell me something, on this great issue of the ID cards. What is your timetable, your putative timetable, for the introduction and extension of ID cards?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well, we'll publicly see a draft Bill this week. We'll then have a further consultation on it including opening up some of the complicated technical issues and inviting a development partner from the private sector with expertise to join us. That will be done in the next few weeks. We'll then have a full Bill in the session of parliament beginning in the Autumn.

We'll then of course be able to get underway with transforming the way in which we operate passports, because we're going to build this on the renewal of passports, so that within three years we'll be in a position to start everyone having a biometric passport issued, and along with it a biometric card, and for those who're still not familiar with biometrics that's the specific identifier, the iris of your eye, fingerprint, facial recognition, which because we're putting this on a clean database will not be forgeable, people will not be able to have multiple identifies.

DAVID FROST: I see. And when would it therefore be operating voluntarily, and when would you hope it would become compulsory?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well within three years I hope that we'll have started implementing it and obviously we'll want to get those coming into the country, foreign nationals, onto the scheme as quickly as possible because that will help with voluntary action in relation to protecting services, to enabling us to work with employers on clamping down on illegal working and clandestine entry. We'll then be moving obviously to the population as a whole. Now, I'm hoping that people will want to voluntarily their passport early.

But we're working on the presumption that because this is a technically challenging thing to do, and because we don't want a mess-up, we'd better take our time, do this incrementally so that within seven years we'd start to move towards a position where people would have generally, across the whole population, have got an ID card.

At that point we've agreed that we'll present a report to Parliament on how it's working, the objectives of compulsion and at that point we'll have a vote in both Houses of Parliament through an affirmative order on the floor of the House to actually ensure that we can then bring that in.

DAVID FROST: Because the thing is David really that voluntary is fairly useless compared to compulsory, because presumably the very people you want to keep tabs on are the ones who are not going to go for a voluntary ID card?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well it's why I've argued so strongly that it should be compulsory, and that we shouldn't have to have a whole new legislative framework to do it, and I'm very glad that Cabinet colleagues have agreed with that, very strong support from the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister on this. And it's been important to get across why we're doing it - this isn't some sort of fetish, this is about recognising the massive change that's taken place in the world around us.

Firstly because we've got biometrics, I mean, people say to me you couldn't stop the World Trade Center attack, you couldn't stop the Madrid bombing with ID cards. Well, you couldn't with, of course because the Americans although they have an insurance system, do not have an ID card as you know.

The Spanish do. But it isn't a foolproof biometric card with a database, with the ability to test not only the card vis-a-vis the database, but actually the person and the card they hold. That's what will be potentially possible.

And this will ensure that they can't have multiple identities. 35% of terrorists, I'm told by the security service, use multiple identities and forge other peoples' identities.

Secondly, we've got this enormous world change in communication, in travel, in people movement, and the exploitation of our services, particularly our health and welfare services, is something what they have to clamp down on.

And thirdly, we'll be able to ensure that through true identity we can actually avoid clandestine entry and clandestine working which is something that obviously leads to mistrust, to lack of confidence, and hence to making it more difficult to have a socially cohesive society where we can clamp down on racism.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of these, the cards. When they become compulsory, and the figure of 2013 has been mentioned, you were talking about seven years and so on. When they are compulsory, in order to be effective, will people need to carry them all the time?

DAVID BLUNKETT: No they wouldn't. It's like a driving licence. They'd have to have them available. And people have said to me well what if they won't get the card. Well, they've misunderstood. In circumstances where it was crucial to have a full identity check and there was not an easy way of getting the card.

You would actually be able to take the biometric of the individual, for instance, if they were being accused of organised fraud, or there was a counter-terrorism raid.

Even if the person didn't carry the card, they'd be able to check their biometric automatically with the equipment. So it's more than simply having a card.

This is about true identity, being known, being checkable, being used in order to ensure we know who's in the country, what they're entitled to and whether they're up to no good.

DAVID FROST: And will you, as you bring out this Bill, do you think you will have the support of all your Cabinet colleagues, or all except the four or five who are opposed to the idea?

DAVID BLUNKETT: No, we've had the most extensive discussion over two years. I first raised this in a Cabinet committee two years last January.

And since then we've discussed it to the point where we've reached a sensible consensus based on securing all the necessary safeguards in relation to civil liberties and at the same time an incremental approach that obviously takes into account peoples' correct identification of the fact that government as a whole, all governments, have not had a good record in relation to introducing new technology and new technical developments.

Because we're building it on the passport agency, because UK passports is going to be introducing biometrics whether people like it or not, because that's the way the whole world's going - Europe and North America - biometrics being demanded in terms of visas and passports on entry. We're going to experiment with that from tomorrow. Ten thousand people will be invited to have biometric passports.

We'll then be able to build on that. And because we're building on that the cost of actually issuing the card as opposed to placing the biometric on the database linking it to the passport and the card, will only be 4 over a ten-year period. There'll be a very substantial additional amount needed in order to update our whole passport security over the next 10-13 years. So that cost would come anyway.

DAVID FROST: But so, in fact, how much, I mean people are going to have to pay for these cards aren't they? How much will it cost them for the cards, and will the overall scheme David cost, as people are saying, three or four billion?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well that's the whole cost rolled up over 13 years. I mean it's a meaningless sum. The set-up costs will be over the next three years around, I'm averaging it, around 200 million a year. It starts smaller and builds up.

The actual card cost will, over ten years, and we've built in a very substantial leeway here because obviously we don't want to be accused of having made up a figure that doesn't stand up to scrutiny, will be an extra 35. 31 of that over the ten-year period would be required to bring up to date, to make secure, that passport and visa regime with biometrics. In other words, we're being transparent about it. We could easily without a card simply have increased year on year the price of a passport.

I mean it's gone up over the last 15 years at an extraordinary level anyway. We're not, we're being absolutely transparent and saying this is the cost, you will have to pay it, as other countries demand biometrics for passport, visa and entry requirements.

Let's be straight with each other about it, the extra 4 on top of that over a ten-year period with concessions for low income and for older people, and a free card for entry into the system at the age of 16 - all of that can be met from the charge I've just described.

DAVID FROST: So, the person, the individual, will be out of pocket to what sum? Just the 4?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well, they'll be out of pocket for 4 over ten years over and above the charge that would have to be made to bring out passports up to the security that we will have in ten years' time right across the developed world.

As you know, because you're a frequent traveller to America, there's an argument going on at the moment as to how quickly they want to bring in requirements for biometrics in relation to their entry clearance regime.

And the discussions I've been having with France, Germany, Italy and Spain in particular, there are also other European countries, indicate that they're obviously going to move towards this as part of what's known as the Schengen travel area, because they know that they're just as much at risk.

And those who don't take these steps will obviously become prime targets, not just for terrorists but for organised criminals, for gangs exploiting immigration controls, for clandestine entry. So it's really down to us, and as we have the only true free health service in the world, health is a particular issue.

And I believe and have always believed, that entitlement comes from contributing into a service and then being able to draw freely on it. A something for something regime. And that's why we need to protect it.

DAVID FROST: And talking about entry into the country and so on. Now that G, as he's called, has been released and there are another 12 people who are likely to try and pull the same effort. How are you going to stop that happening again?

How are you going to stop the next G from being released to your astonishment and your disgust or whatever? How are you going to deal with that, are you going to introduce instant legislation or what?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well, we've already laid amendments to the Asylum Bill which is to move through the House of Lords to ensure that there is a proper right of appeal for government.

There was right of appeal for the individuals. We've no argument with the superior Court of Record which is what this is, and the High Court judge testing whether we've undertaken the process properly, and whether my certification stands up to scrutiny.

In this case clearly it did, and they've affirmed that this man and those that they've also been hearing, the other 12, actually are terrorists, that they've been associating with Al Qaeda. The argument is whether we let people out on the grounds that they have psychosis, and whether they are mentally ill.

Well we say we have 5,000 people in our prison service with substantial mental health problems. They have to be treated. We've now got massive investment coming the Department of Health into the prison service. We've offered them specialist facilities at Woodhill Prison.

They've turned it down, and it would be extraordinary if we had any further events where because people were able to present themselves as being disturbed, and therefore having mental health problems because they're being held in our prison service, that we release them. If we took that view of our own domestic laws then we'd be in complete chaos. So that's why I described it as extraordinary.

DAVID FROST: And in fact, in terms of this particular guy, in terms of G. I mean, what were you planning to do? Were you planning to sort of detain him for life?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well we'd been working on, and I published at the end of February, a discussion paper in relation to where we'd go in not only countering terrorism and prevention, but also in dealing with that challenge of people who you cannot return to your own country without withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights and other requirements, but you know that they are posing a risk. I think we've got to do two things.

Firstly we've got to work with the lawyers who have got to be prepared to allow us to approach governments across the world to see if we can get them back to their country of origin with some guarantees that they won't immediately be executed. And secondly, to ensure that we have a review regime which matches the standards we expect.

These people are reviewed incidentally, every three months, and I'm putting in train from this coming week as a measure that I hope will secure confidence, that they will be checked for mental health every three months.

And psychiatrists, and we need to make sure that they're seen as independent, can then do the job. And I hope then that the Superior Court of Record and Justice Collins and his colleagues will accept that medical advice.

DAVID FROST: And would you like to have been able to prevent this weekend Mr. Le Pen coming into this county, or do you welcome him with open arms?

DAVID BLUNKETT: I'd rather Mr. Le Pen wasn't here. I'd rather the British National Party didn't exist in our country.

I think it's extraordinary that a fascist right-wing party should be inviting a foreigner to come and give them their support. But they're full of hypocrisy and contradictions.

If he behaves himself then he's free to come and go as any other citizen in Europe. If he incites or causes public disorder the police will act immediately and I will give them any support they need.

DAVID FROST: Were you as upset by the U-turn, David, as some of your colleagues? Were you upset or did you accept the generous apology by the Prime Minister?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well firstly, I think we just have to get this in some sort of perspective. This debate had been rumbling for several weeks.

In fact, I wrote an article in the little left wing Weekly Tribune three weeks ago saying that the change in the Spanish government and the subsequent reactions of Poland and others was just as important for these broader issues as it was for the issue of Iraq.

And I pointed out that there were going to be knock-on effects and there clearly have been. Obviously the momentum grew in a 24 hour, seven-day a week news environment.

You reached a position, and I think we're all absolutely clear about this by last weekend, where something had to be said. Waiting till Thursday to actually say what was being speculated about would not have been helpful to the government or to the Prime Minister. And incidentally, we do have telephones.

I pointed out on a Radio 4 programme it is possible to talk to each other without actually being in the same room.

So all this, I've read a lot of nonsense this morning before I came on the programme.

In Sunday papers, all this speculation needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. We're all grown up, we're mature politicians, we know the reality, we saw what was happening and we back the Prime Minister in taking those difficult decisions.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.


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