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Blunkett sets out store on compulsory ID cards

To ship with passports, new agency to run scheme

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The Home Office today confirmed, as first reported here, that the UK national ID card is to be issued alongside passports.* This effectively pre-empts a future Parliamentary decision on whether or not they should be made compulsory, because anyone who needs to renew their passport will be 'volunteered'.

The move, which comes alongside the announcement of a new executive agency to run and deliver the ID scheme, the publication of the results of the latest consultation and David Blunkett's riposte to the Home Affairs Committee, was made in order to "simplify the operation of the scheme, and reflects public support for a universal card."

The Register has already tracked the heavy massaging of process and procedure that has led to this verdict of "public support", and for the moment we'll confine ourselves to pointing to the procedure's failure to comply with Cabinet Office consultation guidelines, as noted here yesterday. Further massaging is however all too evident in the latest pile of documents, so we'll be returning to the matter. The latest consultation itself has been deemed to cover the rollout process alone, and we are told: "The Government has already announced its intention to introduce a national identity cards scheme... The consultation was therefore on the terms of the legislation necessary to introduce identity cards." And the legislation itself was brought in on the basis of "public support" - right?

In today's announcement Blunkett turns the ratchet further, saying "I am pleased that the Home Affairs Committee accepted the clear and convincing case in favour of a national ID card scheme... I welcome the constructive suggestions the Home Affairs Committee and others have made, and the improvements to the scheme I am announcing today will make our planned scheme simpler, clearer and more effective. I will now bring forward legislation to bring in a compulsory, national ID card scheme."

The Home Office's response to the Committee's heavily critical report appears to include a measure of dumb insolence and bobbing and weaving, for example on criticism governing the Parliamentary process ("proceeding by stealth") of the move to compulsion: "The Government notes the Committee's view, but does not believe that their proposal differs substantively from what is already proposed..." The general tone appears to be that the procedures proposed in the draft bill are perfectly adequate, and that many of the Committee's objections are in fact covered there. We will however subject it to a more detailed analysis later.

Having its cake and eating it, the Home Office includes in the 'you've decided already' consultation report some new opinion research data. This is based on focus groups and polling carried out in June and July, and seems of doubtful validity. The polling in particular appearing to indicate a general acceptance of ID cards as 'a good thing' on the part of a public that has scant knowledge of the ID card scheme, because it has not been told. For example: "Despite the low levels of knowledge regarding biometric information, the majority of UK respondents were in favour of providing all three types of biometric details (fingerprints, a facial digital photograph, and an iris digital photograph)".

So the government is telling us something like, 'seven out of ten people who don't know what they're talking about think this is a good thing.' Less helpfully, the public continues to fail to provide a clear indication of how much it's prepared to pay for an ID card, 'nothing' apparently not being one of the check boxes. So the verdict here is inconclusive, although by some alchemy we can't quite grasp the report settles on an 'indication' "that respondents would prefer to pay on average between £20 and £30." Hmm... ®

* Thank you, everybody, yes we know about the BBC story that says moving away from plans to combine passports, ID and driving licence is a change of plan in response to the Home Affairs Committee. In our opinion it has been clear for some time that a combined card was not going to ship, so we think the BBC is shooting at the wrong target here. In any event, if this was the story it would have been the story when Blunkett referred to a separate card shipping with passports at the Labour Party Conference last month. We expect the BBC will have some footage of this it could consult.

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