The Identity Cards Bill had its last day of report in the House of Lords yesterday. The issues discussed were generally not as critical as the issues discussed earlier — compulsion and cost — but nevertheless, some important ground was covered, and some good amendments passed.
Unfortunately, amendment 76 was not among them. The Lords failed to pass this amendment, which would have required the Secretary of State to produce regulations specifying the people and organisations to whom information on the NIR could be disclosed.
Among other things, the amendment included these requirements:
- To specify the nature of the information being disclosed;
- To ensure that the disclosure of information is proportional and necessary;
- To ensure that the information is remains accurate and secure;
- To guarantee, “as appropriate”, the rights of people about whom information is disclosed;
- To require that information is kept only for an appropriate period, and to ensure that it is deleted in compliance with the Data Protection Act.
These safeguards were important, and their failure to pass is worrying. The result of the vote was deeply surprising: it tied, with 155 for and 155 against. The rules require that a majority be in favour for an amendment to pass, so it was disageed to. I might have a look over the results of the vote and see who voted against it!
It’s not all bad news, though: some things were passed yesterday; in particular, amendments pertaining to the role of the National Identity Scheme Commissioner. The first was a technical amendment that made the commissioner an appointee of the Crown, rather than of the Secretary of State. The purpose of this amendment was to distance the role of the Commissioner from that of the Secretary of State: if the Commissioner were appointed by the Secretary of State, they would essentially be an employee of the Secretary of State, and would thus lack impartiality. This is important, because a part of the Commissioner’s role is to “review … the arrangements made by the Secretary of State …”.
The second important amendment passed was to require that the Commissioner report directly to Parliament rather than through the Secretary of State. Hopefully, this will mean that the scheme will have real parliamentary oversight, since the ability of the Secretary of State to spin the contents of the report in their favour will be limited.
Third reading is on the 6th, but I’ve been reliably informed that it’s unlikey that anything much interesting will happen. The next big stage is the Bill’s return to the Commons, which could happen as early as the 13th of February — now is the time to write to your MP!