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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 20 November, 2002, 14:24 GMT
ID card plan: You asked the Home Office minister
Entitlement cards

  Click here to watch the forum.

  • Click here to read the transcript


    There are now two months left of the government's six-month consultation period on the introduction of so-called entitlement cards.

    If the plans go ahead, the move could herald the first ID scheme in the UK since wartime identity documents were abandoned over 50 years ago.

    Home Secretary David Blunkett is in favour of the new system which would bring existing forms of identification - such as driving licences and other documents - together.

    Supporters of the scheme say the cards would be used to clamp down on fraud by checking rights to receive NHS treatment, education and state benefits.

    However critics believe they would make us "suspects" and not "citizens".

    The consultation will allow the government to test the appetite for the new cards and try to come up with a way to meet critics' concerns.

    Do identity cards have advantages? Would you be happy to carry one? Are they an infringement of our rights?

    You put your questions and concerns to Home Office minister, Beverley Hughes.


    Transcript


    Newshost:

    Hello, and welcome to this BBC interactive forum, I'm Peter Gould. The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, is in favour of introducing so-called entitlement cards. It will herald the first ID scheme in the United Kingdom since war time identity documents were abandoned over 50 years ago.

    The government argues that the cards would help to cut down on fraud but critics say entitlement cards are just ID cards by another name and will turn citizens into suspects. Well we've had a lot of questions including many from our on-line audience abroad and here with the government's response is the Home Office minister Beverley Hughes. Good morning.


    Beverley Hughes:

    Good morning, Peter.


    Newshost:

    Let's get straight into the questions, as I say we have quite a few of them. The first one from Richard Gregory in Southampton, who wants to know isn't an entitlement card that you are compelled to own and must produce to obtain all manner of services simply New Labour spin to avoid the unpopular term compulsory identity card?


    Beverley Hughes:

    No, it's not. We are consulting with the general public as you know about whether they want an entitlement card. It would be a massive exercise and we don't want to go down this road at all unless the majority of people can really see value in it. And we don't see any value simply in an ID card. We do think if we put the investment in this and people make a commitment to having an entitlement card it should be something that really is of use to people and we do think, and the consultation document outlines some of the many uses and benefits to citizens that such a card could have.

    It could provide access to better services, it could be something that people can use quite freely, it could be something that local government could take on, it could enable you to register to vote. It actually has the potential for a wide range of uses that really are beneficial to people. But as I way the real issue is whether people want it or not. We've got an open mind on it, we want to hear people's views.


    Newshost:

    OK, another view from Christopher Franklin in Guildford who says, even if you assert that ID cards will not be compulsory if introduced, are the benefits to be gained from introducing voluntary ID cards today large enough to justify the increased risk to civil liberties that will be that much easier for some later government to make them compulsory once they are in the hands of the general public?


    Beverley Hughes:

    What we are proposing is, if people want it, is a card that would be compulsory to register for, because there would be no point having a card where you could just opt in to having one or opt out. Everyone would have to have one to justify the scale of the operation and the investment. So you would have to register. You would not have to carry it all the time and you would not have to use that form of identification in any particular circumstance.

    If you are asked to produce your ID, as people are now, you could use the card or you could use some other form of ID. It is the case that it could be, as I have said, that the card could be used as an access to some specific services. And yes, in those circumstances, that would be the form of ID you would use for those specific services. But actually that's a help to people. That is a way of accessing services to which you are entitled. Perhaps in a much easier way than people can do at the moment.


    Newshost:

    A question from Mr Ray in London. Is it planned to make the carrying of an ID card law? If so, what are the envisaged penalties for non-carriers?


    Beverley Hughes:

    No, as the consultation document makes clear, we are absolutely adamant that the carrying of the document will not be compulsory. And the registration, if we have a scheme, as I've just said, would have to be, because you can't have a scheme unless everybody registers. But it would not be compulsory to carry it and it would not be compulsory for most purposes to have to produce the card, as opposed to some other form of ID if you are asked, for instance by the police, to do that.


    Newshost:

    Another question from Stephen, who again seems to be doubting the motives behind this. He says, my question is, is the government dressing the card up as an entitlement card just to make its introduction more acceptable, as its real purpose is an identity card? That seems to be a fairly widespread concern, that they see it as an ID card by another name.


    Beverley Hughes:

    It is certainly the case that as a government, taking our responsibility seriously, there is a need for a more secure form of identity in this country, if we are going to tackle things like the crime that results from identify fraud, which affects many citizens throughout our country now. Their identities get stolen, their credit cards are used. If we are to tackle illegal working, and also illegal immigration. So having a more secure form of identity will certainly help with those issues. And those issues are important, they do affect people's lives. But it's not just about identity. This would be a massive task, it would take a long time, it would involve some major investment.

    And if we are going down this route we want this card to fulfil some other functions, to be useful to the citizen, and also, and this is a perhaps more intangible topic really, but I feel quite strongly about it. If people look in the consultation document about the way in which in practical terms we think the card could be delivered, it's not about having in a sense a separate card, it's about being able perhaps to graft on to the passport card that we are already going to have, or a driving licence card, the entitlement and identification element.

    And I think in that way having a universal family of cards which not only serve as a passport or other travel document or a driving licence, but also can symbolise your entitlement as a citizen or a permanent resident of this country is also something that has a usefulness and a symbolism which I think many people may welcome.


    Newshost:

    An e-mail from Liverpool from Peter Shaw who wants to know how much will it cost the taxpayer and how much could it potentially save?


    Beverley Hughes:

    In terms of identity fraud at the moment we reckon that the cost to the economy, and when I say the economy it is actually to all of us, either collectively or sometimes individually if we are the victims of ID fraud crime. We reckon that the total cost is about 1.3 billion to the economy at the moment. So that's the kind of scale of criminality that the card could help with.

    The card itself, if we go down this route as the document makes clear, would have to be self-financing. And it would be financed by a top-up charge on the cost of the passport card and the driving licence card that people are going to have to have anyway. The amount of that top-up would vary depending on what people wanted. For instance, if we made that free for people on low incomes, then the rest of us could expect to pay about an extra 15-18 on the cost of the passport card, for example. So it would be an addition to something we are already going to have to pay and that would make the scheme self-financing.


    Newshost:

    An e-mail from Dominic Connor in London who wants to know, why do you think that this can be made to work? He says the identity card will be an inconvenience for law abiding folk and as useful as net curtains against burglars.


    Beverley Hughes:

    He's probably right, it may not help with burglars, it's very unlikely that they will carry their cards with them when they are breaking into dwellings, so I agree with him there. But as I've said I think it does have a potential use for other people. And I'm sorry I missed the first part of his question.


    Newshost:

    He's simply asking how do you think this can actually be made to work?


    Beverley Hughes:

    I don't know if that caller is talking about the kind of technology involved, but we are confident that we can deliver a scheme that would provide a universal card for everybody and I think I have already outlined some of the uses that people would find beneficial.


    Newshost:

    Alex Jenkins, in London, has an interesting question, he wants to know what about the affect on race relations? Who are the police more likely to stop and ask for a card? This will put back race relations 30 years.


    Beverley Hughes:

    I don't agree with that. As I have already made clear, the police would not be able to demand that you produce your entitlement card. The police can ask you to produce, as they can now, proof of your identity and there are a range of things people use to do that. And that will still be the same. The police will not be able to require people either to carry or to produce their entitlement card as their form of identity.

    In terms of race relations I think there are some positive potential benefits to having an entitlement card. I think because the card will be available to everybody who has a right to live in the UK, whether they are a British citizen or whether they are here with some other legal permission. I think that's potentially a very unifying and binding thing, that, I think, people from minority groups themselves will actually find very positive.


    Newshost:

    A question from Julius in London. Forging one card is going to be much easier than forging the three or four items required for ID currently. Presumably, that's something the Home Office is going to have to look at fairly carefully about how easy it would be to actually counterfeit these cards.


    Beverley Hughes:

    Yes, you are right, that is an issue because obviously if we are attempting, as we would be if people agreed with having an entitlement card, to produce a form of identity with a very, very high degree of security, then obviously the currency of that card as a potential forge is also very high. But that's also why we are proposing that the card should contain biometric information, which is much more difficult to fabricate.

    That means that the card would contain, perhaps a fingerprint, or a picture of your iris, which is becoming one of the most effective ways both of achieving security and identifying people and in fact we've already got machines like that to help people progress through Heathrow Airport, for instance. And it's very quick to take the image, to impregnate a card with an image, and then very quick to check the image of your iris, with a very high degree of accuracy.


    Newshost:

    I've said we've had quite a few e-mails from overseas. Darius Nader in the United States says would British citizens living abroad who hold valid British and in my case an American passport be entitled to an ID card?


    Beverley Hughes:

    I'm not sure of the answer to that but I think probably not. I think the criteria is actually being in the UK. Certainly if we proceeded along the entitlement route which we very much want to, because clearly it would be about entitlement to services here, but I wouldn't like to give a definitive answer on that. I think that's something that we will respond to at the end of the consultation because I am sure we will have had other questions like that from people overseas.


    Newshost:

    OK, back home, John in Stoke on Trent, says, I would like to see ID cards as I hate to carry loads of cards around. Also I have nothing to hide so I am afraid of nothing. Though if I have to carry a card I would hate to have a British flag on the card. I am English and resent being labelled as British so I will not carry it. I guess you haven't really got to the stage yet of what this would actually look like. But are those sort of considerations going to be in your mind?


    Beverley Hughes:

    There are some examples in the consultation document of what we think a card might look like. And this is really to illustrate the point I was making earlier that we think that the best way forward would be to add into some cards that are going to be available anyway to people, passport cards, driving licence cards, add in the entitlement element to that and also produce a free-standing entitlement card for those people who either don't want or don't need to have a passport card or a driving licence.

    And we'd want to make all three cards look as similar as possible so that people can tell they are all in the same family, this is all about entitlement and identification and travel or permission to drive, and so on. So the detail at all in terms of what they'd look like isn't fixed, whether it be a flag or whatever, but they would all look the same, they would like the a family of cards, they would be very recognisable as being of the family of entitlement cards.


    Newshost:

    OK, we are just about out of time. Can I finally ask you if people want more information, or want to make a contribution to this debate, what should they do?


    Beverley Hughes:

    Well, Peter you have very helpfully produced an article on the website which I think is a very good article, it puts the arguments for and against quite fairly and at the end of that there's the address of the unit in the Home Office to which people can write, there is also the e-mail address and our own site and I would be very happy for people to use any of those mechanisms to tell us what they think.


    Newshost:

    OK, fine, people know where to log on. Thank you very much.


    Beverley Hughes:

    Thank you.


    Newshost:

    As I say, that's all the time we have today, many thanks to our guest, the Home Office minister Beverley Hughes and to you for all the e-mails. This has been a BBC interactive forum. I'm Peter Gould. Good-bye.


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