Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
[The page and line references are to Bill 28 as first printed for the Commons.]
16 Clause 5, page 4, line 44, leave out "must" and insert "may, if the individual so chooses,"
22 Clause 8, page 7, line 42, leave out "must" and insert "may, if the individual so chooses,"
The Commons disagree to these amendments for the following reason—
22A Because the Commons consider it appropriate that a person applying for a designated document be required at the same time to apply to be entered in the Register and to have an ID Card issued to him
The Lords insist on their Amendments Nos. 16 and 22 for the following reason—
22B Because the Lords consider it inappropriate that a person applying for a designated document be required at the same time to apply to be entered in the Register and to have an ID Card issued to him
The Commons insist on their disagreement to Lords Amendments Nos. 16 and 22 but propose Amendment No. 22C in lieu
22C Page 4, line 45, after "include" insert "or be accompanied by"
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 16 and 22, in respect of which the Commons have insisted on their disagreement; and do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 22C in lieu.
Amendment No. 22C was agreed by the other place on
Amendment No. 22C is largely technical. It clarifies Clause 5 by adding, where it says that an application for a designated document,
"must include an application to be entered on the Register",
the words "or be accompanied by" after "include". We have already enjoyed the delightful opportunity on two separate occasions to discuss Amendments Nos. 16 and 22 at length. The first was on Report on
We believe there is a persuasive reason for the linkage that exists in the Bill as it now returns to your Lordships' House. Last week, we started to phase in the issue of e-passports, incorporating a facial image biometric. Once we have moved on to the next phase of biometric passports, including facial image and fingerprint biometrics, anyone applying for a passport will have to go through the same sort of application process as for an identity card and will have their personal details and biometrics recorded on a central passport database. Without the linkage with identity cards, this would be without the safeguards that we have introduced into this procedure by virtue of this Bill.
Our plans to link passports and identity cards have a long history. This should, therefore, not come as a surprise to anyone. I wish simply to summarise the chronology. In July 2002, the Government issued their first consultation document about a card scheme and one of the options canvassed was for a universal scheme linked to passports. In November 2003, we announced the decision in principle to introduce identity cards. It was then made clear that there would be a two-stage scheme. In the initial stage, as well as introducing a voluntary plain identity card for those who do not have a passport, we would link identity cards to more secure passports. In Identity Cards— The Next Steps, the policy document published in November 2003 (Cm 6020), we stated at paragraph 16(ii):
"linking more secure passports and perhaps eventually driving licences to the scheme on a compulsory basis so that they will be acceptable forms of identity card. By linking the card scheme to widely held identity documents most people will get a card conveniently and automatically as they renew an existing document".
In April 2004, we published the draft Identity Cards Bill, and the same word, "must", was included in Clause 5(2) as we are now debating. We were again very clear that in the initial stage of the identity cards scheme there should be no possibility of obtaining a designated document, such as a passport, without an identity card. Paragraph 2.17 of the consultation paper on the draft Identity Cards Bill, published in April 2004, (Cm 6178) said:
"Once a document such as a passport has been designated as an ID card, this will be the only form in which it will be available—i.e. there will be no 'non-ID card' variants. It would undermine confidence in the system if there were to be identity documents available, on demand, at different levels of security".
In November 2004, we introduced the first Identity Cards Bill, which was agreed by the other place and passed at Second Reading by this House in March 2005. The same provision requiring applicants for passports or other designated documents to obtain an identity card was included in that Bill.
In May 2005, this Bill was reintroduced. Yet again, we made it absolutely clear that, once designated, obtaining a passport would also mean being issued with an identity card. That is the background against which we now consider what happened in this Bill.
I believe we have been clear and consistent on this point. The Government have listened and made concessions on a number of other points in the Bill, including: the requirement to publish the six-monthly estimates of cost; the removal of Clauses 6 and 7, to bring forward compulsion by secondary legislation; as well as a large number of other technical amendments, many originally proposed in this House by noble Lords opposite to clarify and to improve the Bill.
That is the function of this House: to clarify, to improve, to amend, to ask the other place to think again and, if necessary, to think again. The simple fact is that this Bill, with the provisions in Clauses 5 and 8 linking designated documents and identity cards, was passed by the House of Commons on
The Lords Amendments Nos. 16 and 22 were rejected by the elected House by a majority of 31 on
We have the result of having asked the other place to think again. We have debated this issue and voted on it, and it has been rejected twice by the elected House. Therefore, we have to ask ourselves whether this is not the moment when this House should give way to the elected Chamber, because our role is to review and not to wreck.
If that is so, there comes a moment when we have to bow to the other place. I would respectfully suggest that we would honour the function of this House better if we did that with a degree of grace.
I simply ask, therefore, that your Lordships consider whether it would be proper and in the tradition of this House to go further. I remember with great clarity what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, when he was pressed on this matter on Radio 4. He responded:
"At the end of the day the House of Commons will have its say".
It has spoken. It has spoken loudly. Its voice is rising, and I do not think that we need a cacophony to tell us that the time has now arrived. Therefore, I move that your Lordships' House should not insist on Amendments Nos. 16 and 22 and that, having done a valiant job, we should now bow and accept in lieu Amendment No. 22C, proposed by the other place.
Moved, That this House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 16 and 22, in respect of which the Commons have insisted on their disagreement; and do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 22C in lieu.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)
My Lords, in the House of Commons two days ago just 60 minutes were allotted to debate the amendment that we passed in this House on Monday of last week by a majority of 61, making the ID card scheme voluntary. It overturned us on a heavily whipped vote by a majority of 33. None of the 14 speakers, besides the Home Secretary, supported the Government.
By far the major part of the Home Secretary's opening and closing—
My Lords, I was hoping to get into my amendment, but I will answer the noble Lord's point. There is a huge difference in terms of severity. The noble Lord shakes his head—I shall leave it at that and continue with my speech.
By far the major part of the Home Secretary's opening and closing speeches were devoted to trying to reinterpret the Labour Party manifesto at the election last year. At col. 1249 he quoted from the manifesto—and these words have been repeated several times:
"'We will introduce ID cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports'".
Having repeated that, Mr Clarke continued:
"Passports are voluntary documents—[Laughter.]"—
that was not me, but Hansard—
"Well, of course they are.",
said Mr Clarke. He continued:
"No one is forced to renew a passport if they choose not to do so".—[Hansard, Commons, 13/3/06; col. 1249.]
I am afraid that my primary school teacher, Miss Lovelace, would have give Mr Clarke 0 out of 10 for that. She would have pointed out in the sweetest way, because she was never nasty to a wayward child, that the word "voluntary" in that sentence related to ID cards, not passports. It plainly did not say or mean to say, "We will introduce ID cards initially on a compulsory basis as people renew their passports voluntarily". Indeed, more than 80 per cent of the population have passports. Yet that is the cock-eyed interpretation that is now pressed on the public by a Government who seem to be losing their sense of shame.
Only an administration that desperately needed to dis-impale itself from the hook of its own making would resort to such double-speak. If this was a City prospectus, the financial equivalent of an election manifesto, the FSA would be down on it like a ton of bricks. The Square Mile may not be a beacon of moral scrupulousness, but it would scoff at the verbal gymnastics being employed by the Government. Noble Lords should listen to the Home Secretary again. In the same speech, he stated:
"That position is that the scheme will initially be based on a stand-alone identity card, issued on its own on a voluntary basis, or together with a document such as a passport, which is also issued on a voluntary basis. That seems to be clear and unequivocal".—[Hansard, Commons, 13/3/06; col. 1249.]
Conceivably, Mr Clarke, that is so, but only so long as you do not link the two, as the designation process under Clauses 4 and 5 does, and only so long as the designation process does not, in making that link, force the citizen seeking or renewing a passport to take out an ID card as well. But that is precisely what it does. It staggers me that we are still discussing that point. Try that argument out on anyone in the high street or in a pub and you will get an "are you mad?" look.
The inglorious reality is that the reason the Labour manifesto last year talked only of "voluntary" ID cards, was to disarm the opposition that was already apparent from civil liberties lobbies, among whom there are many Labour voters and for whom the issue of compulsion was important, if not vital.
When Mr Clarke wound up on Monday, he stepped yet deeper into his own verbal bog, arguing that what really matters is not the manifesto at all, but what was said before the manifesto—namely what was in the Bill published in 2004. Indeed, the noble Baroness gave us a long peroration today of what happened before the manifesto. But that, too, is patently feeble. We all know full well that what matters for the purposes of the manifesto mandate—and the Salisbury convention—is what is in the manifesto. You cannot sanctify manifestos by claiming, as the Commons regularly does, the right to override this place on the basis of commitments in them—most recently on the Hunting Bill—and, at the same time, ignore a particular commitment on the grounds that you do not much like it and have had second thoughts. We know full well that manifestos sometimes very intentionally change old policies and priorities and adopt new ones to attract wider public support at elections. If, besides scanning the 111 pages of Labour's last manifesto, the public are also supposed to have reviewed what Labour Ministers said and what Bills were before this House and the other place in the previous year or two, the situation would be as daft as it would be unrealistic. What would the poor voter be supposed to make—
My Lords, while the noble Lord is in the middle of this argument, I put it to him that he may be confusing two separate, albeit related, issues. One is what is included in the manifesto and the other is the primacy of the elected House. Will he deal with the second one, which is the matter before us today?
My Lords, I can deal with it very simply. I am the first and last to acknowledge the primacy of the other House. I would never challenge it for a second. But here we are dealing with an exceptional case in which this House is seeking to uphold the manifesto of the Government, and that is the truth of it. I shall continue if I may.
What would the poor voter be supposed to do, confronted with a Bill, which, as we said, came before the other place and this place before the manifesto, which says one thing, and the later manifesto, which says another? It is perfectly clear that the manifesto is what counts when the electorate go to the polls. It will not do for the Government to argue otherwise, in particular, because the Home Secretary is, after all, the embodiment and guardian of law and order, and that in turn depends on the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I sincerely say to the House that the example being set by the Government in this instance is self-damaging—indeed, it damages us all at a time when public trust in politics is already fraying. I say all this with genuine reluctance because I recognise what a hugely difficult job the Home Secretary does and what ability, energy and, in normal circumstances, decency the present incumbent brings to that onerous task.
Before I sit down, I need to say a word about the effects of our amendments because they have still apparently not hit home. Mr Clarke's first argument on Monday, and we heard it again this afternoon, was that unless, as he put it, the processes of taking out a passport and taking out an ID card were merged—that was his word—citizens would be deprived of what he called,
"the statutory safeguards provided by the Bill, such as the creation of a national identity scheme commissioner".
The answer to that is simple. If you believe that there are extra safeguards by having an ID card, as the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness said last week, you will no doubt take out your voluntary ID card. That is fine. That is up to each of us to decide.
It is also for us to decide whether or not we better protect our identity against fraud by having an ID card. Again, voluntarism is best: first, because there is considerable disagreement as to whether the ID card will do that—I refer to the honey-pot risk—and, secondly, because the overhanging and perhaps dominant issue in the general debate is whether we should be forced to hand over to the state the mass of Schedule 1 information that will create the database standing behind every card, as Tony McNulty, the Minister, put it on
"The same data will be held in both cases".—[Hansard, Commons, 13/3/06; col. 1250.]—
referring, of course, to ID cards on the one hand and passports on the other. The noble Baroness gave a comparable impression to that in our debate on
For a passport, you need give only your present principal address, compared with the prospect for ID cards under Clause 1 of providing not only all your addresses in the UK and abroad, but the time you have spent at each of those addresses—back without limit. Your file at the ID registry will also contain 13 categories of personal reference numbers, compared with one or none for the passport, plus your record, registration and ID card history, validation information, security information, and, above all, your intimate audit trail information. None of that is needed for a passport.
Why do the Government continue to pretend otherwise? Add to that the danger of future pressure to add to the list of required data and the managerial imperative—the economic rationalisation—favouring merger of all state information on to the ID register. The Information Commissioner was surely right to deliver his sombre warning last October.
Like the noble Baroness, I do not propose to repeat the general arguments that I and many others of your Lordships deployed on
The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, picked out Sweden, Finland and Denmark at the end of her speech last week to support her case, and said that they were "hardly totalitarian states". How true, but let us consider the facts. Sweden introduced a simple national ID card on
Our Motion would allow those who favour cards, for whatever reason, to have them voluntarily without the compulsion of the Government's proposals. Very many would have cards; very many would not. I received a message when I arrived this afternoon from a woman who said that she represented a large number of embattled and battered women. She said, "For goodness sake, don't let them have compulsory cards because the register will be fallible and we will be vulnerable".
Over time, compulsion is likely to have a profoundly damaging impact on that trust and allegiance of the citizen towards the state and its organs without which our most cherished hopes and, indeed, the stated aims of the Government in this Bill cannot be realised. We and the Conservatives have abandoned the other several votes that were taken and won in this House during the Bill's passage. This is not conceivably a wrecking amendment, but a saving one. I beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to Motion A, leave out from "House" to end and insert "do insist on its Amendments Nos. 16 and 22, and do disagree with the Commons Amendment No. 22C in lieu".—(Lord Phillips of Sudbury.)
My Lords, I support Motion A1 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and oppose government Motion A. The objective of the noble Lord's Motion is admirably simple. It would enact the Government's manifesto commitment. The Minister said that she does not want to return to that lengthy argument and instead gave us a history of other government documents—all of which I have read because that is my job. The public, who go to vote in a general election as their citizens' duty, rely on a manifesto. If we cannot rely on it, why bother with elections at all?
The manifesto commitment said that the Government would introduce ID cards, including biometric data, such as fingerprints, backed up by a national register and rolling out, initially, on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports. This Bill and the Government's Motion would not do that. For all those who need a new passport, it would make the right to leave this country conditional, on us coming into compulsion, on being entered on the register and on buying an ID card. I could not put it better than the Minister's honourable friend, Mr Mark Fisher, did in another place on Monday evening this week. He said:
"If we believe in a voluntary scheme, as the Home Secretary and the manifesto say that we do, there is no way that we can reject the Lords amendments . . . By rejecting the amendments, the Government will be opting for compulsion".—[Hansard, Commons, 13/3/06; col. 1260.]
Mr Fisher is right.
Compulsion it would be—compulsion by stealth, but compulsion no less. The government amendment in lieu does not change that. It is not just technical; it is cosmetic. I do not give way unless the noble Lord is to say that the government amendment is more than cosmetic. Perhaps he will wait until there is a relevant part of my speech on which he would like to intervene. If he wishes to speak on the government amendment, I shall give way.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. In this House, as in others, for a good debate it is essential for these kinds of interventions to take place. That seems to be sensible. The noble Baroness has been very helpful in e-mailing me various points following last week's debate. She is very anxious to ensure that we maintain and keep to our commitments in our manifesto. Suppose we had agreed in our manifesto to double international development assistance but we quadrupled it. Would that be keeping to our manifesto commitment? I think it would. If we go beyond and improve on our manifesto commitments we do better than we promised.
My Lords, I am always so pleased to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. I sometimes think he is my greatest ally on the Benches opposite. When I consider the manifesto commitments on education reform and what is happening in another place today, on reforming the health service and on smoking issues, of course, the noble Lord is right to point out that this Government can be relied on to abandon their manifesto commitments. He asked whether I would allow interventions and explained how important they are. What a pity that the Home Secretary in another place refused to do so on Monday night.
The Government's technical amendment would simply mean that compulsory application to the register with a designated document could be made either on one form or two, so compulsion by stealth is still there. As the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has said, we are then left with a huge audit trail of our lives. In the course of proceedings on the Bill we have heard many arguments. The Home Secretary has many admirers in this House and in another place. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, that for much of the time I am one of those admirers, but I believe that the argument put forward on Monday by the Home Secretary was surely one of the most extraordinary that we have yet heard and it should not be given house room by any Member of either House. He said that the manifesto commitment that a scheme would be voluntary would be true even in a regime where free British people would not be allowed a passport to travel unless they paid up and enrolled for an ID card because,
"That is the free will that people may exercise in deciding whether or not they wish to have a passport . . . That is the free will over what they can do and how they can operate. That is what the wording means".—[Hansard, Commons, 13/3/06; col. 1261.]
Oh, that George Orwell were alive today to hear those words. The Home Secretary says that it is all free will. I do not think that that is a definition of freedom that our parents and grandparents had in mind when they took up arms to defend it. On
Under the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, the individual would have a real choice and genuine free will and, if they wished, they could choose to go on the register and have an ID card. There is nothing to stop them. The individual could have exactly what the Home Secretary is trying to say that they have; they would have free will—free will to have a passport and, separately, the free will to have an ID card.
The Home Secretary and the Minister have repeated their Second Reading arguments about the purposes of the scheme. The Home Secretary went into some detail on Monday night. I simply remind the Minister as gently as I can that we set out five clear tests on purposes in Committee. We took great care to go through them, but the Government have failed to come up to scratch on each one. We believe there are quite simply other and better ways of securing our safety, reducing the fraudulent use of services, and managing migration—ways that would not pose a risk to our freedom to the extent that this grandiose scheme will do, and that would be more financially prudent. Even government departments have recognised that. The Minister in charge of the Bill in the other place, Mr Burnham, confessed to the press that government departments have not exactly been rushing to him with cheques in their hands to sign up to the Home Office scheme.
The Minister argued last week, as has the Home Secretary outside this House, that we should be bound by the advice of the Wakeham commission in recommendation 7 of its report—a report that the Government have not fallen over themselves to implement in other areas. The commission, chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham, recommended that the House should be cautious about challenging the clearly expressed views of another place on issues of policy. I entirely agree. We are always cautious, but every now and then come fundamental issues of freedom and ancient liberty. I believe this is one such issue.
We agree with the view of the Select Committee on the Constitution, which said:
"we continue to believe that the constitutional significance of the Bill is that it adjusts the fundamental relationship between the individual and the State".
If we believe that a government have got the balance wrong on such a significant matter, and one that is not covered by the manifesto, surely, if we have any role in this Parliament, we should have the right to insist on our view. I therefore strongly urge this House to support the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, and to defend the right of the people of this country to exercise their free will.
My Lords, surely the noble Baroness, in urging the House to accept the amendment, will also want to consider its cost to the Exchequer. She has referred to the cost of the proposal. Surely maintaining two registers will increase the costs. Will she tell us the cost of the amendment which she is supporting?
My Lords, I will be delighted to do so as soon as the Government are prepared to tell us the costs of their scheme. So far, they have refused.
In urging the House to follow this road, it is important that we uphold the right for the people, not the Government, to decide voluntarily if they want to be enrolled for an ID card. Why do the Government not trust the people to exercise their free will? That is my advice to the Government; trust the people, and accept Motion A1.
My Lords, first, may I say what pleasure it gives me that the alliance on the other side continues? Every week that the relationship continues these days is good.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, says that nothing undermines the state of politics more than passing a Bill of this kind. I say to him that nothing undermines people's trust and confidence in politics than a Bill that is increasingly supported by a majority of the people, that people want to be enacted, and that has twice been approved by the other place—an elected assembly—but which the alliance opposite believes should be rejected. It is that which is undermining the political process and undermining trust.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, referred to the surveillance society and the noble Baroness last week referred to this being a fascist Bill. I can tell her what fascism is: it is the destruction of the individual. This Bill is about recognising the individual and giving the individual an identity. Members opposite laugh. That is because they do not have a clue, frankly, what the people of this country think. They do not understand why the people of this country wish to have identity cards.
My Lords, the first way in which I know is that there was a general election—a party won and a party lost—and this measure was in the manifesto. The union opposite distorts what, to me, is a clear move towards a stage of compulsion. That is the first way.
The second way—I know this is modern—is that we asked people.
My Lords, the manifesto states quite clearly that it will be the case that as people apply for a passport they will, as time goes on, be able to have their identity card.
I shall tell noble Lords opposite why I know what the public think: it is because we asked them what they think, and they said that they support identity cards—and they support identity cards in significant numbers, with a great majority. It is such a failure for the House and Members opposite not to understand that if the people's will is rejected time and time again, confidence in this process will be undermined. I say to the House that enough is enough. Let us follow the will of the people. Let us trust the people, as the noble Baroness opposite said, and let us move on.
My Lords, perhaps I may say in answer that if it is really the case that the people were mad enough to choose voluntarily to bring themselves under a system of compulsion which will expose the innermost secrets of their lives to identity theft, which is already growing and which will make them extremely vulnerable, I am very disappointed in the public. I would be most interested to meet the kind of people the noble Lord meets because I can imagine no one saying, "Yes, I want a passport, but I also insist on having compulsorily an identity card which will put me at risk".
Incidentally, the very creation of such an enormous national identity register will be a present to terrorists; it will be a splendid thing for them to disrupt and blow up. It will also provide valuable information to organised crime and to the intelligence services of unfriendly countries. It will be accessible to all of these. I find it extraordinarily difficult to believe why anyone would voluntarily and enthusiastically come forward and say, "Do let me join this dangerous club".
My Lords, I am not sure whether there have been many contributions from these Benches at the earlier stages of the Bill. I hope that this one brief contribution will be allowed now.
I come to this matter in relation to the other Bills which have been before the House relating broadly to the area known as civil liberties. On those matters, I found myself siding quite clearly with the concerted opposition to the Government's proposals. However, on this matter I find myself more persuaded by the position the Government have taken, while accepting that there is a judgment to be made and, as with all these issues, a balance to be struck.
We are told that to have identity cards and the national identity register as eventually a compulsory measure—and, as an interim step, a compulsory measure for those who have other documents—would fundamentally change the relationship between the individual and the state. We must recognise, however, that that relationship has been changing for a long time. A hundred years ago, you could travel anywhere in Europe, and get a job anywhere in Europe, without a passport. The world changed during the 20th century. Of course, restrictions were introduced during the two world wars. In the context of the 21st century, it is inevitable that, sooner or later, something like the proposal before us will come.
For those reasons, I think that the Government are probably doing a sensible thing in taking this step. Technically, and in reality, it might be somewhat different—perhaps, to some noble Lords, very different—from what was in the manifesto. Is not it likely, however, that prevention of terrorism is precisely the area in which government thinking would move on relatively quickly? I agree that a great deal of information will be provided that currently is not provided when we apply for a passport, but I find the description of the details to be requested as the innermost secrets of our lives or an intimate audit trail to be an overstatement. I note, however, that we must give the date of our death as part of the information, which is perhaps food for thought.
In the 21st century, we face difficult threats to determine and assess. We live in an ever more global age in which, to some degree, there is a clash of civilisations—perhaps of several different civilisations— with a whole series of interfaces. Our global culture of communications and travel makes that extremely sensitive and difficult. I believe that it would be wise for the House to accept the will of the other place on this matter and then to concentrate on the things that really matter—how the register is to be protected, how it is to be safeguarded, how it is to be used, and all the other questions including costs.
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the right reverend Prelate, but I am not sure that this is the appropriate time for a Second Reading speech. Had he been in the House at earlier stages he would have heard all the debate about the protection of the register and the other points that he raises.
My Lords, I believe that I am responding to the points that have already been made in the debate.
To conclude, it is a balance, but on this matter I believe that I can in good conscience go with the Government.
My Lords, in her winding-up speech on this matter nine days ago, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, suggested in so many words, at col. 568 of the Official Report, that acquiring an identity card was no more cumbersome or intrusive than acquiring a new biometric passport. At that point it was clear that the House was anxious to proceed swiftly to a Division, so I did not intervene. Will she now concede, however, that there is one major difference between ID cards and biometric passports? A person who acquires a biometric passport will not be obliged to inform central government every time he or she moves house, on pain of a penalty of up to £1,000. It is this prospect that will infuriate members of the public once they discover it, which, at the moment, very few have.
My Lords, I intervene with reluctance. I say immediately that I have no intention of debating identity cards in what I have to say. Unlike Mozart's music, hearing the speeches on this subject once is enough. We do not need to hear them several times, as seems to be offered at the moment.
This is not about identity cards. It is a serious constitutional question about the relationship between this House and the other place. I am just about to enter my 20th year here, and I know of no example of misbehaviour—I use that word advisedly—of this House corresponding to what is being proposed at present. We are a scrutiny House and any legitimacy that we have is based on our dispassionate scrutiny of legislation. Our role is to expose the nature of Bills and to ask the other place whether it would like to think again. I remind your Lordships that the Government do not have a majority in this House, nor do the Official Opposition. In my judgment, there will never, in our lifetimes or beyond, be a majority in this House for an elected government in this country. The House will always be as it is now, balanced broadly between the Government and the principal Opposition, with plenty of other Peers as well.
Unless the Official Opposition have come to the conclusion that they will never form the government of this country again, they are behaving in the most foolhardy way imaginable in suggesting that we should send this back to the Commons yet again. The other House may be wrong—I do not want to argue about that; it is often wrong—but it is the elected Chamber. I thought that we had for some time accepted that it was the primary Chamber, and whether it was right or wrong, it must get its own way. I have not the slightest doubt about that. Noble Lords who are in favour of the amendment may well be right—I do not know as I do not have the expertise. But whether we are right or wrong is now completely irrelevant to what is confronting us. What is confronting us is a very deep constitutional matter. We have asked the other place to think about this twice, and twice is sufficient. Not only would it be unconstitutional, but I advise noble Lords opposite that if they are ever in government again, they will be deeply sorry if they create a precedent on this matter today.
My Lords, I feel that it is right to respond to the very serious point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. His argument is based on the convenience of government not the rights of Parliament. I argue that what we are talking about are the rights of Parliament.
My Lords, I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord because he probably has a lot more to say, but "convenience" is an understatement. I think we are discussing something much deeper than the convenience of government; we are discussing the rights and wrongs of the position of this House relative to the other place when we have done our scrutiny job. And no one could accuse us of not doing our scrutiny job.
My Lords, I understand now and I can follow the noble Lord's argument even better.
It was very interesting to hear the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Gould. It was nice to see the sorcerer's apprentice in the flesh, telling us how these things are done. On the substance of the argument, voluntary means voluntary and compulsory means compulsory. I invite the noble Lord, Lord Gould, to tell us whether one of his focus groups tested those two words before the general election. I suspect it did. The reason that "voluntary" went in the Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, pointed out, is that it is a softer and more acceptable word.
I took part in writing four manifestos and fought on two, so I know a little about them. Some are kept, some are changed and some are quietly forgotten. The issue here, as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has rightly said, is the relative responsibilities of our two Houses. I do not accept that the Salisbury convention stands any more. It is absurd that a convention set up 60 years ago between a Labour government with 48 per cent of the electorate behind them and a wholly hereditary, Conservative-dominated House of Lords should still apply, with a Labour Government elected by 34 per cent of the vote and Labour now the largest party in the House.
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord can tell us what percentage he believes one should have to govern this country?
My Lords, clearly they have the right to govern this country on 34 per cent, but I think it is a very dangerous percentage—a very dangerous percentage from which to appeal to manifesto commitments and a very dangerous percentage from which to ask this Parliament to start giving away some of its powers.
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for giving way. Surely the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, was that the House should accept the words in the manifesto. That is the Salisbury doctrine. The noble Lord is therefore picking and choosing, as we would expect him to do, those items in the manifesto with which he agrees and which he will therefore support. He will then say that the Salisbury convention does not apply to the items that he does not support.
My Lords, I am not saying that at all. I am saying that legislation is either well written or badly written. To start relying on a 60 year-old doctrine rather than the argument to get your legislation through—particularly when you have changed the wording to which you committed in the manifesto—is the last refuge of legislative scoundrels. What we are really debating today is what this House should do at this point.
I know that the Minister has two means of addressing this House: sometimes she is charming, and sometimes she is scary. I suspect that this afternoon we are going to get "scary". We will be told what this House should not do, what it must not do and what it dare not do. But I suggest that the powers of this House were not given to it by James I or Charles II. They were given less than eight years ago by the democratic House of Commons. Included in those powers was the power to reject part or all of legislation. If we do not retain that sanction, then ping-pong becomes mere shadow boxing. All Ministers have to do is to sit pat, knowing that they will ultimately have their way. I therefore think it is very important in the relationship between the two Houses that this House retains the right to say no.
The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has intervened about 12 times today. He makes me think of an American footballer from Chicago a few years ago called the Refrigerator. He was not very good at American football but he used to fall on opponents from a great height. I always think of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, as the Refrigerator of the government Benches. The fact, however, is that we have the Parliament Act. That ensures the right of the elected House to have its way. But this House must retain the right to say, "Not in our name". That is the process, and that is the process we are going through today.
My Lords, the Parliament Act has been used four times since 1949. Three of those occasions were on free votes, not whipped votes. The only occasion when it was used on a whipped vote was the European Parliamentary Elections Bill. I will not go into detail, but that was a very special case and an arrangement between the parties. Since 1949, however, the Parliament Act has always been used on a free vote.
My Lords, I shall end on the Parliament Act and the power of this House to say no. Last time, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, quoted Wakeham, which sent me back to a document that we greatly underestimated on its publication. I am glad that she drew our attention to it. Perhaps I may quote from it at greater length:
"We take the general view that even the limited powers"—
the power to say no—
"to refer issues back for consideration or to impose a delay could, if exercised with restraint and only when occasion clearly demanded it, have a substantial political impact. If a reformed second chamber"—
and we are a reformed second Chamber—
"were to express concern about a particular Government proposal and exercise whatever powers of delay or referral were available, that would lead to (renewed) public and media interest in the issue, with opportunities for the concerns to be set out. It would force the Government to reconsider the issues in light of that interest, and it would give members of the House of Commons an opportunity to revisit the issues and make the final determination in the light of all relevant information. The Government of the day would have to take such powers and their consequences into account in drafting its legislation in the first place as well as seeking to put it on the statute book".
That is my argument. The government of the day cannot come to the Dispatch Box at a late stage and say, "Whoops, sorry, it was infelicitously drafted".
My Lords, is the noble Lord, Lord McNally, therefore saying that we have now reached a pass where this House is entitled to veto the will of the other place?
No, my Lords. The Minister will see that the machinery was in the 1998 Act. If this House says no, as it did over fox hunting, the other place—the democratically elected House—can and should prevail. But it has to take the consequences of that. When it comes to legislation as important as this—one of those rare occasions to which Wakeham referred—we have the right to say no. It is not a veto; it is this House using the powers that it was given by the democratically elected House. If you take that power away, you are left with an emasculated House of Lords and a House of Commons that is dominated by an over-powerful executive which was elected on a very small majority of votes. That is a very dangerous way to run a democracy. Lord Hailsham described it 30 years ago as an elective dictatorship. We are the barrier to that today.
My Lords, perhaps I may respond directly to the noble Lord, Lord McNally. His argument fell into two parts: first, that the House of Lords has the power to say no; and, secondly, that in this case it ought to say no. The argument would be nonsense if the second part were not taken in with the first. Let us examine the first part—that the House of Lords has the right to say no. I expect that it does. I do not have statutes in front of me, but I expect that what the noble Lord says about the legal position between the two Houses is probably right. But it is not a question of rights; it is a question of judgment. It is a question of whether it makes any sense in the operation of the British constitution for this House to insist on something which twice has been rejected by the House at the other end of the corridor.
I am bound to say, looking at that part of the Opposition—not that part of it, but that part of it—that when they were in government they would conceivably—
My Lords, with respect, I will not give way. I listened to the noble Lord in peace. He should subside for a time.
I cannot imagine that the Conservatives, when they were in government, would conceivably have accepted a doctrine which in essence gives this House a veto over the decisions of the other House. It is not on. However you look at it, this House is nominated. This House is not elected; that House is elected.
My Lords, then why not write into the 1998 Act or whichever legislation contains the next reform, "Two strikes and you're out"? Why leave in the power if you are assuming that it will never be used?
My Lords, if we were today discussing a reform of the House of Lords Act, no doubt that is an issue that would be considered. I have sat through a number of these debates in the 15-odd years that I have been in this House. About once every 18 months, we have this absurd wrangle between the two Houses. Ping-pong is played. Ping-pong, frankly, is an absurd game anyway, played primarily by people—
I am warned, my Lords, and I take the warning. It is played primarily at least by people who are not constituted in the way that I am. However, that seems a pretty futile and absurd way in which to run a government and a country. This House has its views and that House has its views, but what is the relationship between the two? What the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is proposing is a relationship of almost permanent dissent and dispute. The noble Lord shakes his head at me but, with respect, that will do him no good. The fact is that we have to devise a system of resolving the differences between the two Houses. Until we have in this country a proper disputes resolution procedure such as the one written into the American constitution, then it will be the basic relationship between the elected House and the unelected House that continues to matter. There is no doubt whatever in my mind that the House that should prevail ought to be the elected one.
Should the elected House prevail now? That argument has gone round and round, but there is nothing new to be said on the issues. It is perfectly clear from some of the contributions from the other side that the argument is not about whether it should be tied to a passport, but whether there should be identity cards at all. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, was—to put it slightly neutrally—pretty strong in what she had to say about identity cards as such. That view was not shared by everyone in your Lordships' House and is certainly not shared by the general public.
My Lords, I listened carefully to what the noble Baroness said. She said she objected to it being compulsory and could think of no conceivable reason why a sensible person would do it voluntarily. If that does not add up to anything other than an attack on the whole principle of the Bill, I do not know what it is.
With respect, my Lords, it is. Read it tomorrow in Hansard and your Lordships will see so, but it is no worse for that.
I finish on this note. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, is raising profound constitutional issues. We all know that, yet the way he raises them will produce an almost permanent confusion between the unelected House and the elected one. I have no doubt whatever which one should prevail.
My Lords, I have taken no part in any debate on this Bill so far, and I assure your Lordships that I shall be extremely brief. However, I have been stung by some things that were said by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and to some extent by the noble Lord, Lord Richard.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, said that this debate is no longer about identity cards but about the respective or relative responsibilities of the two Houses. It would be irresponsible of this House, he said, to stand its ground at this stage; I believe that he used a word even stronger than irresponsible. Yet it is not only about the relative responsibility of the two Houses; it is also about the rights of the individual against the Executive. Those who are now the Executive gave the clearest promise to the people that identity cards would be rolled out on a voluntary basis. I can see no ambiguity at all in the manifesto—and ambiguity cannot be created out of it, however much they may wish to do so. That promise having been given, the Executive ought to be kept to it. That is why, on this occasion, I will vote in favour of the amendment.
My Lords, unlike my noble friend Lord Peston I have been a little involved in these debates and agree with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, on the whole question of being voluntary rather than compulsory. I shall also explain to them why I will not vote with them this evening.
However, I wish that my noble friend would accept that, for 80 per cent of passport holders and, indeed, growing numbers wanting passports, it will not be voluntary. In that sense, it would be better if she conceded that particular point. That being said—and even if she accepted that—the fact is that, as my noble friend Lord Peston rightly said, this is now a bigger issue. This House has been voting in one way and the Commons has twice defeated the views of this House. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, specifically said that he believes in the primacy of the other place. "However", he said, "this is an exception". Those were the words he used—or, "This is an exceptional case". I would be happy to give way if the noble Lord did not say that, but I see that he is not willing to proceed further on the matter. He said that the other place—the elected House—should be able to have its way, but that this case was exceptional, which was not what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said. But I do not mind the Liberal Democrats disagreeing among themselves. That is perfectly reasonable.
My Lords, how simple is it? The House of Commons can have its way via the Parliament Act. What is it there for, if it is not for such an impasse—a rare impasse? I am as much a House of Commons man as the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, but to play with semantics about it is ridiculous. We have a right to say no, and the House of Commons has a right to prevail. That is simple.
My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Lord, when he was writing manifestos, put that in. Maybe he did—but he lost on many of the manifestos that he wrote. It is not the point—of course, the House of Lords has the right to say no; I do not dispute that at all. The only question is how often it should be allowed to say no. I thought that my noble friend Lord Peston made an excellent point. For any party that wants to be in government to know that in this place it will never have a majority, however much this place is changed, and that it will always have to use the Parliament Act when it is defeated, umpteen times, is to turn this place into a nonsense.
Of course, we have the right to say no. I welcome that—indeed, I voted on one occasion on this Bill to ask the other place to rethink. But the other place has "rethunk", to coin a phrase—it rethunk and voted twice. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, wants the other place to do it again; he is nodding his head. But why? How many times does he want the other place to do that? The thing is absurd.
I am not concerned here with the manifesto or the Salisbury convention. The only people who seem to read our manifesto are the people on the opposition Benches. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, who said—and I hope that I am quoting her correctly—that the public rely on it. Perhaps my noble friend Lord Gould believes that as well. But the idea that 60 million people read the manifesto, although I wish it were true—
My Lords, I do not mind disagreeing with my noble friend—I do it often. I am making the central point that the elected House, which we all basically agree should have its way, has voted one way. I see that even the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is nodding in agreement with that—but he wants the other place to keep on having its way, I do not know how many times. The plain fact is that the other place must have its way. We have asked the other place twice and we have said no; to keep going on is wrong, and I shall certainly vote against the Motion proposed by the noble Lord.
My Lords, we do not have a power of veto in this House—all we have is the power to delay things. If we keep on voting no, they will then use the Parliament Act. The only consequence of that is that the Home Office will have to wait one more year before it can have its new, shiny, half-a-billion-pound-a-year department to issue the ID cards. That will be the sole consequence. Therefore, we might as well push the matter to the limit to point out that the Magna Carta established the concept that the Executive should not have an unfettered right to do what they want. Since then, Parliament has tried to control the Executive. Unfortunately, the balance of power has changed in another place over the past century in such a way that the Executive to a large extent now control another place and what goes through. The strange doctrine has arisen that the Government have the right to get their business through Parliament—meaning that the Executive have a right to get their business through Parliament. That is the tail wagging the dog and is the opposite of what Magna Carta said. We need to remember that.
The other point, which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, made so well, is that if governments are being elected by a minority of the electorate, what they put in their manifesto statement is very important because that is what the people put them up there to do. For them then to say that they have changed their mind is very dangerous, because you effectively have then elective dictatorship. That is what we are seeing happen. To answer the earlier question, if they had more than 50 per cent or perhaps 60 per cent of the electorate voting for them, maybe we might rethink. But until that situation arises, let us leave it as it is. We do not have a power of veto but we do have a power of delay. I see no problem in using it. It might change things, because it will give people time to think about the issue a bit harder and see whether they really do want to push the Bill through in a year's time.
The right reverend Prelate said that people did not have to worry about things like this a century ago. In the 1850s Britain did not have passports and ID cards, and we could go to the Continent and do what we liked. The continentals could not; they had ID cards, and unless you were either a criminal and bribed your way or one of the ruling elite, you could not move around the place and work where you liked, which is part of the point of this entire debate. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Monson, because I am very annoyed that I will be one of the few people who will be liable to a £1,000 fine if I do not notify a change of address quickly enough when I need to renew my passport. Most of the population will be quite free of that obligation.
My Lords, with regard to the Parliament Act, we ought to be entirely clear what we are talking about. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, have said, "Use the Parliament Act". That Act has been used only once on a whipped vote on a major item of government policy, and that was the Parliament Act 1949. The Acts since—the Act changing the age of consent, the Hunting Act and the War Crimes Act—were all passed on free votes. The only other one was the European Parliamentary Elections Act, which, as I know the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Henley, will remember, was an arrangement between the two parties.
The official Opposition have to decide whether the killing of the Identity Cards Bill for a year or longer is the issue on which they wish to force the will of this House. I have just had a quick count: there are more than 20 former Members of the other House sitting on the opposition Benches. Perhaps they will win today. I think they intend to vote—it would be awfully hard for them not to do so today—but then the official Opposition will have to think very carefully indeed. Is this the issue on which they wish to create a precedent?
Former Chief Whips have a very long memory. If the official Opposition create this precedent, we shall eventually use it. It will be a long time before they are in government, but we shall remember it. This is a major step: the first time since 1949 that the official Opposition have forced the use of the Parliament Act, which has been suggested. It will be interesting if we hear again from the official Opposition whether they agree with the use of the Parliament Act. I will give way to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, if he will tell me whether the official Opposition are prepared to envisage the use of the Parliament Act on this Bill.
My Lords, I always thought the rules of the House were that you should listen to the whole of the debate before indulging yourself in it. However, on this occasion I am prepared to make an exception because of the kind invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Carter.
This House should always proceed with caution when it is trying to defeat the Government, even when it is asking the House of Commons to think again on a Bill it has passed. Generally speaking, we do that; I think we always do that. What is so unusual about this aspect is that the Government have already been defeated on two occasions, and therefore this is the third occasion on which we are dealing with this matter.
In this context, perhaps I may make three points. First, I think the House should proceed with caution and should deal with matters as controversial as this only when they are very few in number. This is the first time in this Session that we have come to an issue of this kind. Secondly, we should proceed only on an issue where there is good deal of public support for what this House is doing. Thirdly, we should not proceed if there are issues to do with the Salisbury convention. My noble friend and the Government may disagree about the use of the Salisbury convention; I am entirely satisfied that there are no Salisbury convention implications if the House were to return this small point back to another place.
Let us look at the Parliament Act. The Government, in the House of Commons, have three choices: They can accept the will of this House, the amendment proffered by your Lordships; or they can amend it and seek some form of compromise. I must say that the ability to find a compromise between "may" and "must" is relatively limited, but there are great minds in the Home Office—perhaps they can find a way around this impasse. I am sure my noble friend Lady Anelay and, in another place, my right honourable friend David Davis would be very glad to meet the Home Office to discuss such a proposal. The third option is to do that which has been recommended by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. They would get their way but they would have to wait to get their Bill through the use of the Parliament Act. I have said many times that using the Parliament Act is a sign of failure of the parliamentary process. It may be that we have got to that stage. I do not think we have got to that stage quite yet. So I have no difficulty in answering the question of the noble Lord, Lord Carter. If the Government regard this as being so important that they should get their way, then the Parliament Act is there to do precisely that.
My Lords, if I had been asked a few weeks ago whether I subscribed to the doctrine advanced by the noble Baroness, I would have had absolutely no hesitation in agreeing with her. It is an intolerable idea that an unelected Chamber should hold up the will of an elected Chamber. However, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, pointed out, the noble Baroness has a skilled ability to move from being conciliatory to being scary. When she is being scary, she tells us that we are going to be elected. Well, roll on the day. Roll on the day that we are going to be elected.
No, my Lords. I was simply pointing out that the other place is elected. Members have gone through the inconvenience of putting themselves up, answering questions and competing with others. Then the public—the people in this country who clearly have the real power—have the advantage of voting for them and choosing them; whereas many of us who have the privilege of sitting in this House arrive here by an entirely different means.
My Lords, looking at the parliamentary dobbins, and the unelected on the other side, I am not surprised that the noble Baroness takes that attitude. My view is: roll on the day that we are elected. I will tell the noble Baroness that if she likes to wait until that time, the constitutional crisis between this House and the other House will have been nothing compared to what happened before 1688. We will have a real crisis on our hands. I intend to vote vehemently—not only tonight but on any other night that it comes before this House—because I am against it. Furthermore, I am practising for opposition again in this House. I detest this Prime Minister. If I were to knock on doors in Arbroath or Montrose and say to people, "I want to be there, in the House of Lords. I wish to be elected, because I am going to help that nice Mr Blair get his legislation through". They are going to say, "Oh, no, we want you to get rid of the nasty Mr Blair". By the time that I am on the third doorstep, I will be changing my tune.
I will not be part of an upper House that will accept a modified power, but I will argue that we ought to have absolutely coextensive powers with those of the House of Commons—if not slightly greater. I anticipate that, if that is what we are being threatened with at that time, we will have an electoral system for this House superior to that for the House of Commons. We will certainly not have any dodgy postal vote system round the country such as we have experienced in the recent past. I warn the noble Baroness that I am not in the least impressed by the argument of an elected Chamber fighting against an unelected Chamber. I am practising for the time that we are going to be elected—with which I am threatened—and so I shall vote.
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.
My Lords, the first thing to clarify is that, because the other place gave an amendment in lieu and did not simply reject our amendment, we are not at the end of the road. That may depress many of your Lordships, but I provide that information as a matter of fact.
The other thing worth saying is that last Monday, the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, in levelling his defence against our proposal to make the scheme voluntary, did not in any sense call upon the constitutional justification of the Commons' position that has been the mainstay of the noble Baroness's closing speech and has been the subject of speeches from various noble Lords. Mr Clarke attempted to justify the Government's case according to the issues that he raised in the other place—none of them were constitutional issues; they related to the merits and demerits of this Bill. It was those arguments that I sought to address in opening the debate on my Motion.
It is inevitable, I fear, that there will be repetition in the proceedings as we pursue them under the Parliament Act, because, frankly, the only tools at our disposal are to come back, come back and come back. It is scarcely surprising that no brand new points were raised in this debate.
What I accept completely is that this House should not return this measure to the Commons without grave and considered thought. I attempted to say that earlier, and the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, was kind enough to say that he still supported our arguments but, for constitutional reasons, would not support us in the Lobby. In my point that he picked up, I was saying that I believed that this was the exceptional case which did warrant taking the process to its conclusion. That process, as my noble friend Lord McNally said, was put there for a purpose.
The Parliament Act was not legislated for on a whim or without immense care and consideration. There were two elections leading up to it—but what was arrived at gave this place powers that we are now exercising. Apart from the merits of the Bill itself, the only constitutional issue is whether we are right this evening to take this one whole step further—whether we are right to put it back to the Commons in the hope that, even now, it may think again or, at least, may compromise again.
It is for each and every one of your Lordships to decide whether you think this is such an important matter. The noble Baroness talked about the respect with which this place will be held. Yes, there is a respect issue if we put the matter back to the Commons tonight. But there is another respect issue that is much broader and deeper—whether this Government should be allowed to pursue a measure on a compulsory basis, when they expressly and specifically said that it would be voluntary. I have to tell your Lordships that I have never had such a unanimous mailbag in my eight years here. That is not a long time. I have not had a single representation made by any organisation or individual in support of the Government's position in making this card compulsory for every citizen.
However, a great many organisations and individuals have said to me, "Relieve us of a step that we believe will take this wonderful country of ours one pace further along a road down which we do not wish to proceed". That is a road towards a managerial state, an intrusive state and a surveillance state. We have had a great deal of legislation—I shall not bore noble Lords with it—which has added to those characteristics since this Government came to power.
I end by appealing to your Lordships to share with me the sense that this is a Bill of the highest possible importance, the consequences of which will be long term and strategic and could go to the whole culture of our society. On that basis and that basis alone, I wish to test the opinion of the House.