Catherine speaks on identity cards and security

I am grateful for the opportunity today to be able to explore some of the issues regarding the Identity Cards that the former government brought into effect, and in particular to take the opportunity to clarify some of the myths and misconceptions that seem to now dominate the discussions.

I think it is important to move out of the recent highly charged and politicised debate surrounding the issue leading up to the general election and to place the subject matter in its wider context. This debate is one that has existed for generations.

Indeed , it was in 1995/1996 under the previous Conservative – majority – government was in power that this whole scheme was commenced and the Home Affairs Committee published its report on Identity Cards and made recommendations that a voluntary scheme be put in place.

In terms of the public popularity of such a scheme, in 1995 a Mori poll showed that 75% of the population were in favour of a national identity card scheme, and this rose to 85% in the wake of the September 11th attacks.

This leads me onto the subject that I would like to comment on today and the potential benefits of a national identity card scheme to the aviation industry.

Newcastle International Airport is based within my constituency. It is a key regional and national asset and a key contributor to the regional and national economy. In my duties as the member representing a constituency that houses an international airport, I therefore take a key interest in aviation matters.

I believe that the case for ID cards in relation to airport security to be both straightforward and compelling.

The debate can be reduced to a few very simple points – ID cards would make air travel safer, quicker and more convenient.

I say this for a number of reasons;

Firstly, the information contained on an ID card would mean that the ability of an individual to travel using multiple identities or to enter a country under an alias would be reduced.

This would eliminate many of the problems that we currently face when policing our borders, streamlining travel and freeing up resources.

Many existing passports contain nothing more than an aged, unflattering photograph that after a few short years, perhaps thankfully, can no-longer be taken as concrete proof of identity.

An ID card containing fingerprint information alongside this, for example, would remove this problem at a stroke and prove easily and beyond doubt that a person is who they claim to be – an absolute pre-requisite for effective airport security and one which, I would suggest, cannot be lightly dismissed.

Every state has the right to know who is crossing or travelling within its limits and the government has an unqualified duty to ensure that it guards against criminals or terrorists who may arrive with intent to endanger the British public.

Unfortunately, under the current system, terrorists have been able to use photographic ID and falsified passports that have enabled them to mask their true identity due to the lack of rigour in current airport security. This is why, I can only assume, the British Social Attitudes Report published in January 2007 showed 71% of people think that having compulsory ID cards for all adults is a “price worth paying” to help tackle the threat of terrorism.

However, the merits of ID cards in relation to air travel do not begin and end with security and although the benefits of the system in this key area are clearly apparent, it would be remiss to focus exclusively upon this benefit.

Another strong recommendation for ID cards in this context is quite simply, the low cost. A standard UK passport costs upwards of £80 and is a cumbersome, easily mislaid document that is of limited use as a form of ID in any setting other than an airport.

ID cards have been intentionally designed to have multiple roles and along with fitting easily inside a wallet or purse, they are durable, hard to break and would cost less to replace than either a passport or driving license.

Indeed, this raises another issue – how can we even assume that a person holds either of these two alternative forms of ID? The simple answer of course is that we cannot.

Not everyone has either the finances or for whatever reason, the inclination to become a motorist. These people will quite obviously, not see the need to purchase even a provisional license, let alone undertake the expense and effort required to gain the full version. Nor, I would say, should they be expected to.

In a similar way, not everyone has a passport. For a large number, travelling abroad is something to which either circumstance does not permit or they simply do not aspire. Why then should we expect people such as this to purchase a passport at such a high cost?

ID cards are a viable voluntary alternative to both of these existing forms of identification and at around £30 would be less expensive than both. Photo identification is a requirement for a vast range of activities and an ID card system would be an inexpensive and convenient way of empowering those who previously

They enable British citizens to travel within Europe which is more than adequate for many UK citizens who will never in their lifetime travel outside of the EU.

One of the major concerns for travellers now, and particularly those choosing to fly, is the amount of time it now takes to pass through the security checks involved prior to flying, and the majority of people would welcome measures that would reduce and minimise this disruption.

May I refer to a four month study undertaken at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2007? Fingerprint and iris scans were used for screening more than 3,000 passengers who volunteered on flights to Dubai and Hong Kong and passenger feedback was very positive. For example 81% rated the service ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ and 87% felt that the enrolment process was ‘easy.’ All who took part remarked upon the faster journey times.

Perhaps most impressive was the average time of 17 seconds for passengers to pass through the border clearance gate and that 96% of passenger background checks were processed in less than 30 seconds.

I would therefore like to ask that with results as impressive as these, does the Government have any plans to increase the use of biometric data? If so, I would question the Government’s commitment to dismantle the infrastructure that has already been established to store such details. The system currently in place works well and to simply remove it when it could still serve a valuable purpose would represent an enormous waste of taxpayer money. As I mentioned at the outset, ID cards have the unrivalled potential to make air travel safer, quicker and more convenient and I would caution strongly against letting any political agenda take precedence over the agenda of improving air travel for the British people.