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EDITIONS
Thursday, 4 July, 2002, 12:01 GMT 13:01 UK
Entitlement Card
Entitlement Card

The Home Secretary wants ID cards - but he says people won't have to carry them all the time.

Under his favoured scheme everyone would have to apply for an entitlement card which they would then have to brandish to get certain services - healthcare, for example, or benefits.

We're promised we won't suddenly be asked to carry the cards all the time - but then the question arises, what actually is the point of re-resurrecting an idea that seems to pop up and get knocked down every couple of years.

Jeremy Vine spoke to Mr Blunkett at the Home Office and asked him what he hoped to achieve from the consultation exercise.


DAVID BLUNKETT:
I want us to have a robust consultation. I'd like us to come to the conclusion, but I can't predict, that we should have a universal entitlement card which would replicate the information on the vehicle licence and passports, but allow us to use the card for a whole multiplicity of identifying ourselves correctly.

JEREMY VINE:
And that is what you want?

BLUNKETT:
I would favour that.

VINE:
Why not come out and argue for it?

BLUNKETT:
Because the Government are putting forward an intelligent consultation over a six month period on a difficult issue, on which we did not have a manifesto mandate. We need, not a party-political, but a sensible, rational debate.

VINE:
You say it will be universal. If a person doesn't register for that card, what happens to them?

BLUNKETT:
Well, under the way in which we take the census, of course, people who aren't prepared to identify their presence are open to a fine. We would link this to accepting that if you're in our country then identifying yourself correctly is better than either not identifying yourself and allowing you to work illegally, for instance, or to act fraudulently on someone else's identity, or, of course, to be misidentified. There's nothing at all to merit wrongful identification. There's everything in favour of being correctly identified and being able to use that identity freely and openly.

VINE:
Yes, but if people say this won't be compulsory, registering for it will be compulsory, won't it? People will be punished if they don't?

BLUNKETT:
We'd expect people to register.

VINE:
They might not want to!

BLUNKETT:
There's a second option which is that we have a voluntary card. You don't have it unless you want to have it. It would help marginally, with correct identification.

VINE:
What if we go with the first option, what if people don't register?

BLUNKETT:
Well, you have to register if you want to drive a car. You have to register if you want a passport. 38 million people have a driving licence. 44 million, including some youngsters, have their own passport. There's nothing new about registering. All those people do. There are a few people, not many in this country, who have neither of those documents but do need to identify themselves for access to a variety of services, usually, at the moment, in the private sector. If you want to open a bank account you need to identify yourselves.

VINE:
OK, so this is more about entitlement to those services. It's not, even though we're in the Home Office, about combating street crime, for example?

BLUNKETT:
It would help with organised crime. It wouldn't help in terms of normal police enforcement.

VINE:
Is it supposed to?

BLUNKETT:
Well, that was debated seven years ago and it was a thumbs down. And it isn't intended to. But organised ID fraud is actually growing expediently. It's estimated to be 1.3 billion for identity fraud alone. In France they're using technology to have a PIN number. They've reduced to a sixth of our level credit card fraud.

VINE:
Do you really think, Home Secretary, introducing a new card, however technologically complex, is it's going to cut down fraud?

BLUNKETT:
Well, there are two sorts of card. One is a plastic card that would replace the driving licence or passport and be used for a range of identifications. There's then the sophisticated smartcard which would allow people verification wherever they were of their entitlement to that service. That technology is available. It's more sophisticated and we need to debate it. Alongside that, of course, is the biometric techniques for avoiding forgery. Biometrics, I mean taking the iris and being able to photograph that, which is extraordinary difficult, even for the cleverest forgers.

VINE:
It's pretty difficult for the Government to store 60 million irises, isn't it?

BLUNKETT:
No, it's no more difficult than for storing our passport photographs.

VINE:
But you decided to discontinue the Conservative scheme, which was a benefit payment card which only involved 20 million claimants.

BLUNKETT:
That's because it had to be done separately, because it was only done for benefit recipients. This isn't. This is being piggy-backed on the back of the DVLA in Swansea and our UK passport agency all of which already possess both the information and in the present guise, a photo. Now, a photo of your iris is more accurate and would ensure that fraudulent misuse could be cut down. Regrettably, fraudulent misuse and stealing of our IDs is growing.

VINE:
The terrorists who struck on September 11th didn't fraudulently misuse anyone's identity, did they? They went under their own names.

BLUNKETT:
No, there are two issues here. Firstly, the US are looking rigorously now at different forms of identification, including those entering the country and if we don't do something here in Europe we're very likely to find that we'll need visas to get into the US. Secondly, I've never pretended, in fact, I went out of my way to say it wasn't an anti-terrorism measure. I was asked this time and time again after 11th September. I deliberately said this is not the moment to engage with something which is much more about long-term investment in our entitlement to services and avoidance of fraud or illegal working than it is about anti-terrorism.

VINE:
The Home Office has slalomed on it all over the place, hasn't it? The Home Office select committee in 2000 asked the Home Office about having a look into this and they just rejected it out of hand. I've got the Home Office response. It said it would carry the potential for fraud. You would need all these biometric features which you've mentioned. The entitlement card has to be produced for all services. It would risk being seen as a compulsory identity card. Have you addressed all that?

BLUNKETT:
Well, I've said it does risk the misinterpretation of all that. I've set all that out in the document. I think they've taken a bad drubbing after the failed consultation in 1995. The difference today is not only that we have the work of the licensing and passport authorities, but they're having to introduce themselves the techniques and technology to keep up with what's happening in Europe and the US. So let's debate now what will be required in five or ten years' time. Let's safeguard our interests. Let's have a rational debate, rather than one in a terrible hurry on the back of recognising we've missed the boat or made a mistake. I hope people take it in that spirit.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

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Home Secretary David Blunkett
"I would like to have a robust consultation"

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