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ID Card Bill powers need more scrutiny, says Select Committee

The Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform has concluded that Parliamentary scrutiny of the ID Card Bill needs to be enhanced. It described powers being sought in the Bill by the Home Secretary as "inappropriate."11 Nov 2005

Unlike three other Parliamentary Committees which have criticised the substance of the Government's ID Card proposals, this Committee was established in the 1990s to counter "the considerable disquiet over the problem of wide and sometimes ill-defined order-making powers which give Ministers unlimited discretion". In other words, the Committee looks at whether the executive arm of Government is seeking excessive powers or whether the powers being sought are subject to sufficient scrutiny by Parliament.

In relation to whether public services should be conditional upon an ID check, the Committee stated, "we consider it is not appropriate to leave the application of that policy to subordinate legislation" – i.e. it should not be left to the discretion of Ministers.

In relation to the Government's mechanism to make the ID Card compulsory, it wrote: "We consider that the super-affirmative procedure is not an appropriate alternative to a bill for potentially controversial measures of great public concern".

In both cases, the Committee suggested that these issues be determined by fresh primary legislation at a later stage in the ID Card project.

In relation to a wide power to disclose personal data from the ID Card database without consent of the cardholder the Committee wrote: "we consider it to be inappropriate unless it can be shown to be justified."

The justification proffered by the Home Office – that "it is regarded as essential to have a reserve power to use in the public interest if it should be necessary" – was dismissed as "an insufficient justification".

In relation to order making powers which relate to consent, the Committee said: "We are not persuaded that the case for so wide and significant power has been made".

On the powers which relate to the content of the database, the Committee noted that, "the power is not necessarily limited to information needed to prove identity" and "extends to matters such as previous addresses, terms of residence in different parts of the UK and elsewhere and an 'audit trail' of disclosure of register entries".

The Report thus adds to the weight of the three other Parliamentary scrutiny Committees who are expressing alarm on substantive privacy matters:

  • The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) Report stated last month that the database associated with the ID Card risks infringing the state's obligation to respect private and family life.
  • In the same week as the JCHR Report, the Constitution Committee reported that the ID Card scheme so alters the relationship between the state and the individual that the Home Secretary should not be in charge of the ID Card's database.
  • The Home Affairs Select Committee called the powers in relation to the database "unacceptable."

Each of the above reports contain detailed evidence from the Home Office concerning the provisions in the ID Card Bill. In most cases, the critical comments found in the various Committees' Reports show that this evidence has failed to assuage these Committees of their concerns.