HC Deb 25 April 1989 vol 151 cc812-6 3.56 pm
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to introduce a unique personal identity number for all persons born after 1st January 1990 and for other residents on application. The Bill would provide for a universally applied identity number for all persons born after 1 January 1990, and for any other United Kingdom resident on application. That would allow public authorities and private institutions increasingly to utilise a standard reference which would assist in the detection of benefit, tax and credit fraud, and other crimes. Furthermore, it would provide opportunities to facilitate passport issuing, crowd control—not least at football matches—and the rapid identification of accident victims, together with their medical records and intentions relating to organ donation.

At present, a multiplicity of reference numbers applies to every one of us. We start off with the registrar, who no doubt puts a number on our birth certificate. We then move on to the NHS, which provides yet another number. We then progress to the education authorities, some of which apply a number. We may call on the services of the social services departments; a minority of us will then receive yet another number. At the age of 16 we are given a national insurance number. When we start work, the Inland Revenue provides us with a number linked to the PAYE system, and should we fall on hard times the Department of Social Security will apply yet another number—and the district council will give us a housing benefit number, to boot.

We are given another number for our driving licence, this one giving away our date of birth to those who can interpret it. When we travel abroad we are given yet another number—a passport number—and, by the grace of the Government, we are shortly to have a community charge number. Finally, if we fall foul of the law, we are given a police national computer number.

Sir John Boreham, head of the Government Statistical Service, said in 1985 that the process was "all rather ramshackle." We have no common denominator; the whole system is confused. Every Member of Parliament finds himself weighted down, his pockets bulging with different cards of identification. My Bill recommends that the Registrar General at the time of birth should record for every individual a number with six digits showing the date of birth, two letters showing registration district and numbers to differentiate uniquely between individuals. The registrar would solely register the full name of the individual, the date and the place of birth and his current address—this last being the only variable that would be changed; at the time of change of address, with forms issued through the Post Office for that purpose. The data would be available for the verification of other organisations, which would be able to check off their data against the list and a charge to them would fund the whole exercise. The sophisticated computers we find nowadays in so many organisations would enable the matching of records with the provision of exception reporting.

Which organisations should have access to the use of such records? They should be the public authorities authorised by this House: they should be those involved in criminal inquiries and recognised credit institutions authorised by the Bank of England, and this for verification of data provided by the individual only. The advantages of such an identity number would be to combat benefit fraud, for there is nothing so corrosive to our constituents than the knowledge that some of their neighbours may be effectively fiddling the benefit system by exploiting the lack of verified information by different organisations. Far too frequently the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing, and this fact is compounded by the revenue-collecting agencies, particularly in respect of moonlighting activities.

Equally, we should make this facility available to the credit-granting agencies. Their inability to verify sources of funds and liabilities of potential borrowers not infrequently leads to fraud. A common reference number would facilitate both positive and negative checking of the existence of alternative accounts. For Labour Members who may be in some doubt, I point out that this system would provide potential for stamping out multiple share applications and the like.

The Lindopp committee, which reported in 1978, said: It can be argued that if a single and unique identifier were given to every member of the population and if it were to be used by all data users on all occasions, the overall cost to users might be reduced. It could also be argued that the citizen too would benefit by not having to remember or record different means of identification for each of his many activities. But the use of such a universal identifier in many different data handling activities would also create another facility. It would make it easier and cheaper, especially with the use of computers, to relate or merge the information about individuals held in different sets of records. This could be said to yield a substantial gain in administrative efficiency both in the public and the private sector, especially for organisations dealing with large numbers of people. Perhaps more succinctly Philip Redfern, in a paper to the Royal Statistical Society last year, claimed that the principal advantages to be found in such a system would be that it would provide a brake on fraud, crime and illegal immigration, and lead to a fairer society so that burdens and duties were fairly shared and benefits and rights went only to those entitled to them. To put it another way, freedom should not extend to the freedom to cheat the rest of the community. I believe that this Bill is particularly relevant in light of the Hillsborough disaster and the Taylor inquiry, and the Football Spectators Bill currently before Parliament. Clubs would have a common identifier which they could use to ban undesirable elements by means of their own issue of magnetic cards or otherwise. Equally, in the tragic case of fatal accidents, victims could be identified by reference numbers on documents, for instance on driving licences. An inquiry made by radio by the emergency services to central records would identify important factors such as the victim's blood group, allergies or other medical conditions. In the event of death, organ donation intentions—which often involve critical time factors—would also be known.

What of 1992 and the European context? Identity cards are compulsory in Belgium, West Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain, and, in accordance with those countries' laws, must be carried at all times. In Italy and Greece, identity cards are issued but need not be carried —right hon. and hon. Members can make what they will of those two countries. Cards are also presumed to be compulsory, but actually are not, in France. The use of an identity number such as that which I propose is the practice adopted in Denmark and in Sweden. It is only in the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Netherlands that no identity number system exists.

The Bill provides an opportunity to air an important subject, and it is a nettle that the House should grasp. Admittedly it will create problems in safeguarding civil liberties. They must be overcome, but the proposal offers terrific practical advantages. I hope that the debate will commence.

4.5 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

It is interesting that a party that is supposedly concerned with the rights and freedoms of the individual should be associated with such a proposed measure, which is totalitarian in concept. Listening to the hon. Gentleman's comments about "undesirable elements," "blood groups," and the rest, one is reminded that last week marked the centenary of Hitler's birth. Hitler also was fanatical about identity numbers, blood groups and undesirable elements. As one listened to the hon. Gentleman making his insane proposals, one wondered whether the identity number he proposes for every person born after 1 January next year will perhaps be tatooed on their wrists or arms. No doubt that would be a better and more effective way of identifying the individual concerned.

It may be argued that the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) does not represent mainstream Tory opinion.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Yes he does.

Mr. Winnick

My hon. Friend says that he does. We shall know very shortly whether that is so, because there will be a Division. We certainly have no intention of allowing such a proposal to go through on the nod.

Many right hon. and hon. Members are genuinely and increasingly concerned about the way in which the state controls information about the individual. We are concerned about the effects of information technology and about the way in which civil liberties may be eroded, even without inane proposals of the kind made by the hon. Member for Gravesham.

How many times have we been told that the Government are opposed to state interference, and all the rest of it—yet along comes a Conservative Member suggesting that every individual born from next year should be given a "unique personal identity number."

Mr. Skinner

Mark Thatcher should have had one when he got lost in the desert.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has not been called to help in this debate.

Mr. Winnick

Today, the hon. Member for Gravesham introduces a Bill that will no doubt be defeated. However, how long will it be before No. 10 Downing street comes to the same view and introduces a Government Bill, as it has in respect of an identity card for football spectators? The poll tax and other Government measures originally arose from ten-minute Bills.

My right hon. and hon. Friends should be very much on their guard. In defeating the hon. Gentleman's proposed measure today—and no doubt Ministers will abstain—we should be very much on our guard that No. 10 does not get the idea into its head, so that before long a Minister will come to the Dispatch Box saying, "In all the circumstances, and bearing in mind undesirable elements, we believe that there should be a unique personal identity number for all people born in this country." The House should defeat this nonsense and no more should be heard about it.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):

The House divided: Ayes 47, Noes 129.

Division No. 174] [4.09 pm
Alexander, Richard Janman, Tim
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Kilfedder, James
Boswell, Tim Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Marlow, Tony
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Buck, Sir Antony Page, Richard
Burt, Alistair Patnick, Irvine
Butler, Chris Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Colvin, Michael Stanbrook, Ivor
Conway, Derek Thornton, Malcolm
Dickens, Geoffrey Townend, John (Bridlington)
Dykes, Hugh Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Evennett, David Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Whitney, Ray
Favell, Tony Widdecombe, Ann
Gow, Ian Wilshire, David
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Winterton, Nicholas
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Woodcock, Mike
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Hague, William
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Tellers for the Ayes:
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Mr. Bob Dunn and
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Mr. Julian Brazier.
Hunter, Andrew
Abbott, Ms Diane Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Buckley, George J.
Ashton, Joe Callaghan, Jim
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Battle, John Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Beith, A. J. Carrington, Matthew
Bell, Stuart Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Clay, Bob
Bermingham, Gerald Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Blunkett, David Cohen, Harry
Bradley, Keith Coleman, Donald
Corbyn, Jeremy McAllion, John
Cousins, Jim McAvoy, Thomas
Crowther, Stan McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Cryer, Bob McLeish, Henry
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Madden, Max
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Marek, Dr John
Dewar, Donald Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Dixon, Don Meacher, Michael
Dobson, Frank Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Doran, Frank Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Dover, Den Moonie, Dr Lewis
Eadie, Alexander Mullin, Chris
Eastham, Ken Murphy, Paul
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Nellist, Dave
Faulds, Andrew Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Fearn, Ronald O'Brien, William
Flannery, Martin Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Flynn, Paul Patchett, Terry
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Foster, Derek Radice, Giles
Foulkes, George Redmond, Martin
Fraser, John Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Galbraith, Sam Reid, Dr John
Godman, Dr Norman A. Richardson, Jo
Golding, Mrs Llin Robertson, George
Graham, Thomas Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Ruddock, Joan
Harris, David Salmond, Alex
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Sedgemore, Brian
Haynes, Frank Sheerman, Barry
Heffer, Eric S. Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Hinchliffe, David Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Home Robertson, John Soley, Clive
Hood, Jimmy Spearing, Nigel
Hoyle, Doug Steel, Rt Hon David
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Stern, Michael
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Strang, Gavin
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Vaz, Keith
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Wall, Pat
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Wallace, James
Illsley, Eric Walley, Joan
Irvine, Michael Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Janner, Greville Wigley, Dafydd
Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn) Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Winnick, David
Kirkwood, Archy Wise, Mrs Audrey
Lamond, James
Leighton, Ron Tellers for the Noes:
Livsey, Richard Mr. Dennis Skinner and
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Mr. Tony Worthington.
Loyden, Eddie

Question accordingly negatived.