Identity Cards Bill
Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office; Labour)
My Lords, I found the noble and learned Lord's intervention extraordinary. He will be very cautious about asperity of speech, but I think that he has gone very near its mark.
Let us look at the position that we are in. In response to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about my demeanour, I of course thank him for his compliment about charm. I take in good measure the fact that he finds me scary. I do not necessarily think that that is how the whole House finds me, but I am content if it is so.
The Government do not rely on the Salisbury convention in our arguments; we rely on the fact that the amendments have been rejected twice by the elected House. As my noble friend Lord Carter pointed out, it is noble Lords opposite who are relying on what is—I regret to say—a perverse version of the Salisbury convention, according to which the Opposition can ignore the will of the elected House on the basis that they contend that we have not complied with our own manifesto.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, encourages the Government to rely on the Parliament Acts as a mode of general disposal for all our legislation. We need to pause long and hard in relation to that. The reason I say that that is the natural consequence of what he proposes is that, if history continues to repeat itself, this House will find itself in a position similar to this, time and again. We ask the other place to think again, and it does. We repeat our request, and it responds. Sometimes it gives this House huge pleasure when it responds, because it has the wisdom to agree with us. On other occasions, it has the audacity to disagree. It is entitled to its audaciousness because the people of this country elected it and did not elect us. Therefore it is entitled to have its say because, when the time comes, it is its Members—not us—who will go back to the country and say, "I plead for your vote", and the people of this country will have an opportunity to reject them.
For so long as our constitution remains as it is, we in this House have the privilege of not suffering the consequences of our own conceit. Therefore, we have to think very carefully about how our conventions have evolved. The respect in which this House is held is rightly high because we have acted judiciously; that is our history. My noble friend Lord Carter is absolutely right to remind us that this would be the first time since 1949 when we would have departed from that.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, sought to suggest that this was really only a tiny little amendment, of no fundamental consequence. In case there is any misunderstanding, this is one of the most fundamental clauses in the Bill. The reason that it is of fundamental importance is that it goes to the very root of how we have constructed the way in which ID cards will be implemented. It goes to costs, in terms of facilities. We need to understand its very nature.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, spoke about Sweden, Finland and Denmark. I say to him that we have to remember that they have compulsory population registers. That is what we were talking about: the register. That is an important consideration.
Looking at the other issues that have been raised, I was taken aback that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, talked about abandonment of policies. I was trying to count in my mind how many policies noble Lords opposite have now abandoned—immigration policy, selective education, health passports and opposition to student fees. I would respectfully invite the noble Baroness to remember that the current leadership of her party has very little connection with that which went before. We have not abandoned these provisions or the way in which we dealt with this matter. We have affirmed and confirmed that what we said we were going to do we are about to do.
I invite noble Lords to give real weight to what was said by the right reverend Prelate, who, if I may respectfully say so, expressed himself with great clarity, proportion and balance. My noble friend Lord Peston was right in his powerful intervention to remind the House of what our role is. The comments of my noble friends Lord Richard and Lord Barnett were also right. They have the sagacity to guide us, and I think that we should listen carefully.
We now have to make a decision. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, talked about a major difference. On driving licences, we already have a provision that if one fails to notify a change of address, a £1,000 fine is liable. We know that that is the case. On these provisions, I remind your Lordships that the scheme that will operate under the first stage differs from the compulsory stage. We have already said that those matters are to be returned to. I will not again go through, as I did last time, the difference between the database and the information you have to provide for ID cards. I set it out on the previous occasion—I remind your Lordships that there are very few differences indeed.
We have once again had the privilege of having a very extensive debate. One has to ask just a couple of questions. What is new in the arguments that we have explored today which differs from the two occasions when we discussed the matter before? If the noble Baroness opposite succeeds in the vote, we propose to ask the other place to think again, but on what basis? What is the new fact that they have failed to give adequate consideration to on the previous occasion that we are inviting them to consider again? I have not detected one. In that case, are we simply going to ask them again and again and again, until they—and, frankly, we—lose the will to continue?
I hear reference to "the will to live", but I know that this House is more resilient. For as long as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, stays in his place, we can all know that we have a long journey yet to make.
I know that noble Lords enjoy these debates, but there is a time when we have to come to an end. I hope that we have now absolutely exhausted ourselves in relation to this issue and that we will not have to return to it again—and we will not trouble the other place to shout even louder than on the two occasions that they have said "no".
I propose that we now conclude and that this matter should not be pressed to a vote; if it is, I invite noble Lords to vote for this House's reputation and to vote for the other place.