Chris Grayling told a House of Commons debate on scrapping identity cards on 6 July 2009 that a Conservative government would not go ahead with the National Identity Register (NIR) database.
In response to a question from his predecessor David Davis MP, Grayling said: “It remains our intention, as it was when my right honourable friend was shadow home secretary, not to proceed with the National Identity Register. I see little reason why the rules that apply to the application for a passport should change radically given the current circumstances.”
Grayling added that cancellation would rapidly follow a Conservative election victory.
“One of the first acts of an incoming Conservative government will be to cancel the ID scheme. The scheme and the register are an affront to British liberty, have no place in a Conservative Britain and are a huge waste of money,” he said.
The government’s current estimate of the specific cost of identity cards, above what it plans to spend on passports, is £1.31bn over the next decade. However, this does not include the cost of the NIR, which all passport applicants will have to join under government plans. Figures released by the Home Office in May said that, compared with the current generation of passports, the total extra cost of the identity scheme is £4.3bn over a decade.
Grayling did not commit the Conservatives to cancelling the collection of fingerprints for passport applicants, which the government plans to introduce in 2012. “We might be in a position in which, in order to allow people to travel to the United States, we need to process biometric data and to pursue the introduction of biometric passports,” he said. “Clearly, data collection will be necessary for biometric passports.”
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Chris Huhne said that passports’ biometric data should be stored only within documents, and not on a central database. Grayling answered Huhne: “My view is that we should do the minimum that we have to do. If data are submitted for a passport application, they will probably be retained in the passport database.”
He said that his main concern came from storing other pieces of data which are mandated under the Identity Cards Act on the central system. “We do not need to store somebody’s national insurance number and biometric data side by side with all the other items to which the honourable gentleman is referring on a national identity database. We need a passport system,” he said.
In reply to a question from Labour MP Nick Palmer on why he had voted in favour of his bill to introduce identity cards in 2002, Grayling conceded that the Conservative Party has changed its mind on the subject. “We have become completely convinced by what we have seen over the years from successive home secretaries that this government are incapable of delivering this scheme,” Grayling said. “I have spoken with many people in the security world and not one has argued that we are wrong about ID cards and that they are an essential part of the security toolkit.”
The motion to scrap identity cards, which had been put forward by the Conservative Party, was defeated by 293 votes to 206.