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2 June 2005

(S2F-1689) Identity Cards

5. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the First Minister what discussions have taken place about the use of data originating from Scottish Executive departments and agencies in relation to the planned introduction of ID cards and biometric passports. (S2F-1689)

The First Minister (Mr Jack McConnell): We have maintained regular contact with the Home Office on the development of plans for identity cards, including provisions around the verification of information.

Stewart Stevenson: The First Minister will be aware of the serious and growing concern about the cost of the identity tax surrounding the proposals. Of equal concern is the important issue of whether data that are transferred from Scottish Executive sources will be treated in a secure way. Does the First Minister share my concern that the technical standards that will be used will allow any commercial organisation to retrieve data from a biometric passport or ID card, without the person even being aware that that is taking place?

The First Minister: Mr Stevenson puts a bit of a hole in his own argument by mentioning biometric passports. He has tried to make a political point about identity cards by making a technical point that goes far wider than the issue of identity cards. I will be happy to respond to him on that issue in due course.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): I draw the First Minister's attention to the identity tax that Stewart Stevenson touched on. According to the Home Office, the figure for the cost of an ID card has risen to £93 but, according to independent researchers, those costs will rise further, to up to £300. Does the First Minister agree that even those members of his party who are untroubled by the civil liberties implications of ID cards should be deeply troubled by the social justice impact that such a high cost will have on the poorest individuals in society?

The Presiding Officer: This is about the implications for devolved matters.

The First Minister: The Presiding Officer and members in the chamber will understand that the two parties in the Executive do not share a common view on the introduction of identity cards—

Stewart Stevenson: The First Minister is on his own.

The First Minister: No, Mr Stevenson. As First Minister, I believe in doing these things reasonably and fairly, so it would be inappropriate for me to defend the Government's scheme in detail today.

I will say that, in the debates that we have on such issues, it is important that we are accurate and that we refer to the costs accurately. Many of the costs relate to the introduction of biometric passports, rather than to identity cards, and it is wrong to distort the debate in a way that implies something other than that. If Mr Harvie wants to ask me about the implications for devolved matters of the UK Government's bill, I will be happy to address that issue. I am sure that Mr McCabe will address it in the statement that he is due to make to the Parliament.

Stewart Stevenson
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