The Identity Cards Bill received Royal Assent today, placing on the statute book important measures which will help Britain meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The National Identity Scheme will provide all UK residents aged over 16 with a universal, highly secure means for safeguarding their identity.

The Identity Cards Bill received Royal Assent today, placing on the statute book important measures which will help Britain meet the challenges of the 21st century. The National Identity Scheme will provide all UK residents aged over 16 with a universal, highly secure means for safeguarding their identity.

The new agency that will issue passports and ID cards will be called the Identity and Passport Service (IPS). Incorporating the United Kingdom Passport Service (UKPS) and working closely with the Home Office's Immigration and Nationality Directorate, it will become operational on 1 April 2006.

The Home Secretary Charles Clarke, said:

"Being able to prove who we are is a fundamental requirement in modern society. Building on the experience and proven excellence of the Passport Service, the IPS will ensure the UK is at the forefront of the worldwide drive to increase document security, safeguard borders and protect identities for use by those who are entitled to them.

"I believe that the National Identity Scheme will bring major benefits. It will give UK residents an easy and convenient way to prove their identity; deter illegal immigration and illegal working; help tackle organised crime and terrorism; and provide a means to defend against the abuse of public services. At the heart of the scheme, a secure national database linking basic personal details to unique biometric information will strengthen, not erode, civil liberties by protecting individual identities."

The National Identity Scheme, to be phased in over a number of years, will link basic personal information, such as name and address, to secure biometrics - a computer image of a person's iris, face or fingerprints. These are unique and provide a hi-tech form of security for every citizen.

The new agency will be responsible for:

* issuing passports and providing passport services;

* issuing ID cards and providing the means of verifying the identity of individuals for accredited organisations;

* delivering the National Identity Scheme including the establishment of the National Identity Register; and

* promoting the use of the National Identity Scheme across the public and private sectors to improve identity management and ensure full realisation of the benefits of the scheme.

It will not be compulsory to carry a card and there will be no new powers for police to demand to see a card. However, this would be a universal scheme for everyone legally resident in the UK and, subject to further primary legislation, it will be compulsory to register on the scheme.

Notes to Editors

1. The Identity Cards Bill was approved in both Houses of Parliament on 29 March 2006.

2. The Act covers the whole of the UK and:

- Establishes the National Identity Register;

- Provides powers to issue identity cards;

- Ensures checks can be made against other databases to confirm an applicant's identity and guard against fraud;

- Sets out what information would be held and what safeguards would be in place;

- Enables public and private sector organisations to verify a person's identity by checking against the National Identity Register, with the person's consent, to validate their identity before providing services;

- Includes enabling powers so that in the future access to specified public services could be linked to the production of a valid identity card; and

- Provides, through further primary legislation, for it to become compulsory to register and be issued with a card, including penalties against failure to register.

3. The Identity and Passport Service will become operational on 1 April 2006.

4. The Act includes an opt-out which means that until 1 January 2010, people applying for or renewing a passport can choose not to get an ID card, although their details will be entered on the National Identity Register.

5. The role of Chief Executive of the New Agency will be advertised as soon as practical. The successful candidate is expected to take up their role later in the year.

6. The new agency will build on existing UKPS capabilities and a senior management structure has been developed through extensive consultation with managers and unions. This will also be in place from 1 April 2006.

7. UKPS, an Executive Agency of the Home Office, is responsible for issuing passports to British nationals living in the UK. Its role is to ensure the integrity of all passports that are issued, and that the British Passport remains amongst the most secure worldwide. During peak season in the year 2004-05 the UKPS employed 3,303 staff, 90% of whom work in the regional offices.

8. In 2004, UKPS was one of four nominees (and the only UK organisation nominated) for the prestigious international Carl Bertelsmann award for public sector efficiency, and became one of the few organisations to win a fifth 'Charter Mark'. In 2005 the UKPS also took the top place, for the second year running, in the Comparisat customer satisfaction benchmarking exercise.

9. There are currently around 47 million British passports in circulation, with 80% of the population holding a passport. The number of applications is expected to rise to around 7 million in 2006. With the exception of the USA (8 million) this is more than any other country in the world. The UKPS will have processed a record 6.6 million passport applications in the financial 2005/06, while delivering continued high levels of customer satisfaction, exceeding its customer satisfaction target.

10. Also receiving Royal Assent today are the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill. A copy of the Act can be found at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200506/ldbills/074/2006074.htm (Home Office PN 094/2005) and the Terrorism Bill (Home Office press notice 051/2006) The full text of the Act and explanatory notes can be found at: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2006.htm

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