I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The discussion is an important milestone in the lengthy dialogue that the country has had on identity cards. The debate is of long standing, but it has increased in intensity in the aftermath of the terrorist atrocities in the United States on
In preparation for the legislation, we have had a six-month public consultation exercise, an inquiry by the Select Committee on Home Affairs and further consultation on a draft Bill. The Government listened carefully to the many comments that were received. Changes have been made both to the Bill that we are debating and the plans for delivering the scheme.
I assure the House that the Government and I will continue to listen to and act on constructive comments and proposals as the Bill goes through its various stages, but I want to emphasise that, both in principle and in practice, the case for it is in my opinion very strong. Quite apart from the security advantages, there will be enormous practical benefits. ID cards will potentially make a difference to any area of everyday life in which one already has to prove one's identity. Examples are opening a bank account, going abroad on holiday, claiming a benefit, buying goods on credit and renting a video. The possession of a clear, unequivocal and unique form of identity, in the shape of a card linked to a database holding biometrics, will offer significant benefits of various types.
Moreover, the help that the cards can offer in tackling fraud will save tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money. Some £50 million a year is claimed illegally from the benefit systems alone through the use of false identities—money that could of course be far better spent on other public services.
I shall deal with the costs at the appropriate point in my speech, but I hope that it is clear to everyone that fraud in the benefits system and other public services is unacceptable and that we should do whatever we can to deal with it as effectively as possible.
Those who succeed in repeatedly creating fraudulent credit cards are clearly very efficient at it. Is my right hon. Friend absolutely certain that the first cards on the market will be the genuine ones, not those that are fraudulently produced?
I am. Perhaps I could confirm that by making another point. Credit card fraud has been a major issue. When I was first a Home Office Minister, I chaired a meeting of all the companies concerned and the various police agencies, which led to the PIN system that is now being introduced throughout the country. That had to be introduced because existing credit card security simply was not adequate and led to hundreds of millions of pounds worth of fraud. The biometric card that we propose is a further refinement that will enable things to be dealt with far more effectively.
May I help the Home Secretary answer the question of Mr. Allan? The DWP said that there would be 4,500 identity checkers, each costing a minimum of £250. That means that £1.1 billion would have to be spent to save between £20 million and £50 million a year. If there is depreciation over 10 years, it will cost £100 million a year to save between £20 and £50 million. Does the Home Secretary consider that a good deal?
It means exactly what the First Minister said, which is that the system in Scotland will decide how the cards would be used for access to services there. That decision will be made by the Scottish Parliament and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's parliamentary colleagues—if they are still working with him—will make their voices heard.
I shall make a bit more progress and then give way to another Liberal Democrat.
The point that I want to emphasise in considering this question is that the drive towards secure identity is happening all over the world. For example, under current plans, from next autumn, British tourists who need a new passport will have to have a biometric one to visit the United States, or a biometric visa instead. We will rightly have to bear the costs of introducing the new technology to enhance our passports in any case, but I believe that we should take the opportunity of that investment to secure wider benefits, such as those that I have just set out.
The security issues here are critical and they need to be faced up to by those who oppose the introduction of the scheme. A secure identity scheme will help to prevent terrorist activity, more than a third of which makes use of false identities. [Interruption.] A third of terrorist activities make use of false identities and we need an identification process to deal with that. It will make it far easier to address the vile traffickingin vulnerable human beings, which ends in appalling tragedies, and the exploitative near slave labour or forced prostitution that exists as a result of the traffic in people. It will reduce, as we have just discussed, identity fraud, which now costs the United Kingdom more than £1.3 billion every year.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that his predecessor, when giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, conceded that identity cards, including biometric ones, would not have prevented the kind of atrocities that we saw, tragically, in Istanbul and Madrid, and therefore there are high expectations, with regard to terrorism and many other factors, that in practice are not likely to be realised?
My right hon. Friend Mr. Blunkett, in his evidence to the Select Committee, simply emphasised the straightforward point that there is no panacea, no rabbit that can be pulled out of the hat, in the form of identity cards or anything else, that will solve all the issues of international terrorism. The issue is whether such measures will improve our capacity to deal with international terrorism. My right hon. Friend said that they will, and that is what I say.
That proposal is specifically excluded by the legislation. I shall come to precisely that issue later. It is one of the myths about the proposal that the Liberals continue to perpetuate without any foundation at all.
Since I introduced this proposal as a private Member's Bill some years ago, I have had overwhelming support from my constituents and many others around the country. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Spanish police have said that identity cards have been helpful in investigating both the identity of the victims and the identity of the killers in the Madrid bombing?
I pay tribute to the pioneering nature of my hon. Friend's contribution to these discussions and confirm that security forces in countries throughout the world recognise that a system of identification of this kind will help them in the challenges that they face, which are very serious. The question that we have to face is whether we will help them to face those challenges. I acknowledge that there are difficult problems, but I make it clear that I am not arguing that ID cards will somehow solve the issues and prevent the tragedies that arise throughout the world, but I do argue that they will help to solve them, and that is why we should support them.
It is easy to see how all the benefits that the Home Secretary refers to could flow from a fully compulsory identity card scheme where citizens are required to carry those cards at all times, although most of us, I suspect, would find that objectionable. It is very, very hard to see how anything more than tangential, minimal benefits flow from the kind of voluntary scheme that he is proposing, which many of us see as an expensive waste of time.
With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I simply do not think that that assertion is correct. The police themselves are very clear that having a national identification base of the kind that is set up in the scheme will lead to serious policing advantages for them and that is the basis of the argument with which they are principally concerned. We are also clear, as we have already said, that we will not require people to carry cards in that way because we do not believe that it would have significant policing advantages of the kind that the right hon. Gentleman suggested.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way again.
The suspicion that many of us have and the reason why we feel that the police are so enthusiastic about this is that it is an incremental process. First, there will be a voluntary scheme. Gradually, as the money will have been spent on it, it can then be argued that the only way of getting value for that money is by introducing compulsion, which will then mean carrying the card at all times. It is a salami-slicing process, which is why so many people are very suspicious about it.
I have no sympathy with the "thin end of the wedge" argument. People may have argued when national registration of births was introduced in 1837 that they would at some time arrive in a society in which everybody operated in a "1984" type of world. That is nonsense; it simply has no substance. The question of how the scheme develops will depend on what this Parliament does as we go through the process of saying how we should take it forward. I can raise any fears that one likes, but they will have foundation only if Parliament decides to surrender all responsibility with regard to how the matter develops. The Bill sets out a series of parliamentary systems of scrutiny and approval that must be gone through if the ID card system is to develop in any particular way.
The Home Secretary is trying to have it both ways. On the radio at lunchtime, the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration said that this was a voluntary scheme, not a compulsory one. That is literally the case, although clauses 6 and 7 allow the Home Secretary to introduce a compulsory scheme. The Minister was than asked how the scheme would be of value to the police if it was not compulsory. Frankly, he did not have an answer. What he said was that there will be a biometric register. Will it include everyone? Otherwise, how will it help people like me, who go out on the streets as a policeman?
Let me be very clear. If there are hon. Members who are opposed in all circumstances to a compulsory system, they should vote against the Bill. The measure sets out clearly a process that could lead to a compulsory system at the end, but it does it by a process of voluntary change in taking the matter forward. That is the right process of reform; it is perfectly reasonable, and it is the way we should go. If the hon. Gentleman says that in no circumstances that he can ever foresee should there ever be a system of compulsion, he should certainly vote against the system.
Since the Home Secretary and others have made a strong case that the introduction of identity cards will somehow or other protect us from terrorism, can he explain exactly how it will do so? Since there is a very narrow gap between official identity and the production of fraudulent identity, what evidence does he have that even biometric recognition itself will not be tampered with, making the card utterly useless after a very short period?
On the second point, I simply do not accept that view. We have had a series of increasingly sophisticated means of identifying and recognising people's individual characteristics. As all experts will acknowledge, having the biometric measure is superior to not having it. As I said to my hon. Friend Mrs. Dunwoody with regard to personal identification number schemes for credit cards, the numeric system is superior to what existed before, but it is not as good as a biometric system. The question that we face is: do we follow the process of trying to get superior systems and carry the matter forward on that basis?
On the point about terrorism, I hope that there will be no dispute about the fact that there are people who try to mislead about their identity and history as they conduct their terrorist activity in their terrorist organisation. A system that identifies people more effectively will be more successful at tackling terrorism.
As there is such widespread concern about this issue even among those like me, who, broadly speaking, support the right hon. Gentleman, does he not concede that it is important that we try to command as much support as possible both within the House and outside and that the Bill is as carefully drawn as possible and scrutinised in as detailed a manner as possible? Will he therefore accept the proposition on the Order Paper that it should go to a Joint Committee of both Houses?
Not at the moment.
I repeat what I said earlier: we have already considered a draft Bill and had a public consultation exercise, and the Home Affairs Committee has already looked at the matter. The policy comes not out of the blue sky, but after a lengthy public consultation.
Today's front-page report in The Guardian that the Government have withheld information from the Joint Committee on Human Rights is entirely false. The Committee will examine the Bill as part of its normal scrutiny process. We will write to the Government on any issues of concern that arise on human rights. If the past is anything to go by, we will have an amicable and proper exchange—all such exchanges are, of course, published.
Two years ago, I conducted a consultation with 100 organisations in my constituency on the Government's consultation on identity cards. [Interruption.] The overwhelming majority of respondents were in favour. [Interruption.] One of the organisations representing ethnic minority women was particularly—
One of the organisations representing ethnic minority women was particularly in favour. [Interruption.] It said that ethnic minority women do not have access to their passports, do not hold bank or building society accounts and need identity cards.
I accept the second part of my right hon. Friend's remarks. Identity cards have popular support, but it is important to emphasise that the Government's case does not rest on the fact that the legislation has popular support, because the legislation is merited in its own terms.
It is frustrating that so much of the identity cards debate centres around matters that the Government are not proposing and, in some cases, have never proposed, and I should like to address some of those myths. In my opinion, it is entirely false to claim that ID cards will erode our civil liberties, re-visit "1984", usher in the Big Brother society or establish some kind of totalitarian police state.
I will repudiate the Information Commissioner's remarks. I do not accept that identity cards will change the relationship between the citizen and the state as fundamentally as the Information Commissioner suggests. The relationship between the citizen and the state was not transformed in 1837 when people in England and Wales were required to register the birth of a child, which is the example that I gave earlier, or on any of the many other occasions since then when means of identification have been introduced by statute. There are issues about the relationship between the individual and the state, but, in my opinion, they are not about this Bill and ID cards.
We are clearly moving towards a compulsory ID card scheme, because we believe that the state has a duty to protect its citizens from the misuse of their identities and to give them a means to interact simply and securely with public services. However, we are not looking to create a new culture of identification in which people are asked to confirm their identity more frequently than they are now. I must also make it clear that we have never proposed and do not propose a scheme under which it would be compulsory to carry a card. That was ruled out in the 2002 consultation paper and again in the draft Bill, and clause 15(3) of this Bill still rules it out.
The Secretary of State has already mentioned the effect that ID cards will have on vulnerable workers, indigenous or otherwise, in this country. His predecessor offered great support to the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004, which registers and licenses employers. If it is right to register and identify employers, why is it wrong to register and identify employees?
I strongly agree. One of the most important humanitarian motives for supporting the Bill should be that it is one of the most effective means of attacking the people trafficking that leads to near-slave labour in many parts of this country. ID cards will help us to do that, and those who oppose the Bill need to face up to that fact.
The Secretary of State is attempting to reassure the House that this will not alter the fundamental relationship between citizens and the state, but how about those of our fellow citizens who suffer from mental ill health or lack of mental capacity? As the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux has pointed out, those people are especially dependent on benefits. Cards could be used as a passport for access to benefits, and they might find themselves effectively locked out of an increasingly authoritarian and administratively complex system and be deterred from claiming that on which they depend for a reasonable life.
All I can say is that I understand the abuse to which my hon. Friend refers, and it is true that the issue needs to be addressed. In fact, ID cards enable us to attack that problem better and more effectively than the means of identification that exist at the moment. Whether people have mental health problems or whatever, a simpler, clearer system of identification for dealing with such issues will be more effective for those individuals, let alone for society as a whole.
Will the Secretary of State deal with an apparent failure of logic in his case? We are opposed to ID cards; he is in favour. If a police officer tracks down a criminal, terrorist, hijacker or trafficker and they do not have a card with them, how does the fact that they have to possess a card but can produce it a week or two weeks later aid the police officer in identifying the person in front of him? It is just not logical.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to serve on the Committee that considers the Bill in order to raise those questions. I stress to him that it is the clear opinion of the police and all the other security services that the passage of the Bill will make the identification of people easier from that point of view.
The right hon. Gentleman clearly hopes that the identity card system will be comprehensive in covering every citizen in the United Kingdom. However, has he given any thought to the fact that we are part of a common travel area that involves the whole of the British isles, and that consequently his identity card system will not be effective unless some arrangement is made for it to cover the whole of the common travel area?
We have certainly taken that into account, and the fact that we are part of a common travel area is fully addressed.
Perhaps I could deal with the question of devolution at this point. We will have a common identity card on a UK-wide basis and cards will be issued UK-wide. Provisions requiring people to register for cards will apply UK-wide. Any requirement to use cards under clauses 15 to 17 for services that are the responsibility of the Westminster Parliament will be a matter for this Parliament. However, where services are devolved, it will be a matter for the relevant devolved authority. Transport security is a matter that operates in the European area.
The answer that the Home Secretary gave to Simon Hughes—that the police say that it is a good idea—is simply unacceptable in this House. If a police officer approaches someone he suspects of illegal activity and that person refuses to produce an identity card or does not have one, how will this system help the police officer in those circumstances; or will the refusal to produce an ID card simply become an excuse and a reason for arrest?
Let me be absolutely clear. The powers of the police in the cases that are being described will be the same after the passage of the Bill as they were before it. That is because the Bill is not about extending police powers in relation to the individual in the way that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey fears and about which he asks questions. The establishment of a national identification register will enable the police to carry out their current duties more effectively. That is a powerful case for doing it.
The Home Secretary mistook my point. I was trying to show the emptiness of the suggestion by the First Minister of Scotland that somehow ID cards would not be compulsory because they were not being applied to Executive or devolved services. Does the Home Secretary, who is a much more sensible person, agree that, if a card is necessary, for example, to access one's pension, it means it is compulsory, even if it is not necessary for going to the doctor?
I am sorry if I have not been clear to the hon. Gentleman. The whole point is that, ultimately, the scheme will be effectively compulsory. However, for services that are devolved to the Administration in Scotland or wherever, the decisions will for the devolved institutions. He mentioned pensions, which is not a devolved matter and therefore one for the UK Parliament. Let me be clear: services that are devolved will be, as they are now, matters for the devolved Administrations.
Many people in the emergency services, not only the police, argue for ID cards because they would make it much easier to identify people who had been in road traffic accidents. They also say that it would be useful if the ID card could include, on a voluntary basis, some medical record, of, for example, blood type. Is my right hon. Friend still open to that voluntary option?
The Bill makes it clear that medical records are not included. There may be arguments in favour such as those that my hon. Friend makes, but we will not include such a provision in the Bill because we believe that its purpose is precisely as indicated previously.
The Bill has no power to require the production of an identity card to the police. The scheme will allow the police to check the fingerprints of those whom they are already entitled to fingerprint, such as those under arrest, against the records that are held on the national identity register. We all carry our biometric information with us and there is therefore no need for people to have a card in their possession for the police to make that check.
The Bill sets limits on the information that can be held on the register. Unless the information fulfils the requirements of clause 1(5) and schedule 1, it cannot be held on the register and no criminal convictions, medical records or bank details would be on the database. We will not allow other organisations to have access to the database. We may choose, with Parliament's agreement, to provide specific information on request and subject to proper authorisation, but that is different from what our critics allege.
It is clear from what the Home Secretary says that, for everything to work, the technology will have to be superb. Is he confident that we can deliver that? Will he give an assurance that Capita, which destroyed lives in my constituency when it tried to operate the housing benefit system, will not be allowed anywhere near the system that we are discussing, should the Bill, which I oppose, be passed?
There is a Luddite tendency in the House that opposes technology and information and communications technology on the basis that a variety of mistakes has been made in the past. That is a legitimate position but I do not support it. The use of technology can be a major asset in terms of many aspects of my current responsibilities. If I am asked whether we should be more effective in our management, the way in which we carry through the provisions, the conduct of our tender processes and so on, I reply that we can and should be. However, if I am asked to exclude any possibility of using modern technology to advance our ability to deal with such matters, I shall not. I shall not exclude any bidder from any process. The requirement is to have a proper process that is properly tendered and carried through.
Given that schedule 1 provides for the possibility of holding 27 or more pieces of information about an individual on the register, what guarantees can my right hon. Friend give that the system will be hacker-proof?
Again, the position is as I have just stated. I think we are in a position to say that we can create a secure system. If we could not do so in the way that has been suggested, I would agree that the Government were behaving wrongly in coming forward with that proposal. I do not deny the point made by my hon. Friend and by my hon. Friend Kate Hoey—issues arise in relation to these questions and they need to be properly dealt with—but I am not prepared to take the view that we should simply stop any progress in those areas because of those issues.
Is not the point about the answer to the question asked by Simon Hughes that an identity card will not help the police to decide whether to arrest somebody, but once somebody is arrested it will be possible quickly to establish beyond doubt that person's identity because of the biometric information the police will have from the fingerprint? That will also act as a deterrent, as people will know that the police have access to an instant means of verifying their identity.
My hon. Friend is entirely correct, and that is why I gave the example of using fingerprints in this context—a power that already rightly exists for the purposes of law enforcement.
Will the Home Secretary give the House a guarantee that individuals will have access to and be able to see what is held about them on the database?
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way. As I understand it, the main point of his argument today is that this measure does not represent a significant erosion of civil liberties in this country. He knows that many Members, on both sides of the House, disagree fundamentally with him. Will he at least address the fact that all 11 western European countries with compulsory ID card systems, which he has admitted that this proposal is, have a written constitution and a Bill of Rights? In the context of the development of the constitution in this country—checks and balances that are not written down, but enshrined in case law—what comfort can he offer to people who believe that this measure represents a significant shift away from the rights of the individual in favour of those of the state?
The comfort I can offer is to study carefully the content of the Bill. Going through it as I have sought to do in my general introduction thus far, the fact is that we are not extending the rights of the state vis-à-vis the individual through these measures. We are producing a significant change, which will allow a state of affairs whereby people's identity can be more clearly known. The effect of that approach will be to improve services, improve security and improve the public conduct of life in a variety of different ways. I argue that this Bill is an enhancement, not an inhibition, of civil liberties.
If Mr. Thomas wants to invite me to go down the path of a written constitution, I will not follow him. I do not think that that is the right way to proceed. On the other aspects, I believe that we are in the right place.
I want to conclude by going through the central clauses very rapidly. First, on the national identity register and its statutory purposes, the key is set out in clauses 1 to 3 and schedule 1. It is the secure record of identity that is important, not the card itself. That is a vital aspect to understand in the overall proposals. The statutory purposes cited in clause 1(3) show that ID cards are, first, to provide people with a convenient method of proving their own identify and, secondly, to help to verify people's identity when that is in the wider public interest. National security will be improved, illegal working attacked more effectively, immigration controls enforced more directly, and crime prevented and detected more effectively. It is also important that the register is accurate and remains so. Those points have been raised in the debate and clause 11 requires that to be the case.
I support the Bill—my right hon. Friend will want to know that—but under clause 5 it will fall to an individual to give details of his or her address, previous addresses, time spent at previous addresses, tenancies and so on. What sanction will be applied to an individual who does not inform the national register of all those changes? The Law Society reminds us that about 40 per cent. of the population in London change address every year.
On that same point, will my right hon. Friend give serious consideration to the recommendation of the Home Affairs Committee that if addresses are to be included, there should be a responsibility on landlords, as well as individuals, to contribute to the registration of addresses? That is standard practice in Germany, it is one of the things that makes the German system work efficiently, and it does not cause difficulties.
I reassure my right hon. Friend that we will consider that. The system that we have at the moment, and that we are suggesting in terms of addresses, is similar to the system that currently operates for driving licences, and enables—[Interruption.]
Then let me speak directly to Conservative Members, Madam Deputy Speaker, to conclude what I have to say.
The Bill is important for the future economy and security of our society. It is important to get it right. I am delighted that the shadow Home Secretary and the leader of the Conservative party have decided to support it, which is the right thing to do. I say to every Conservative Member, as I do to Liberal Democrat Members, that they, like all of us, must face up to our responsibilities in the modern world to take forward the system in the right way.
I will not give way, even to my very good hon. and learned Friend Mr. Marshall-Andrews. I have discussed with him outside the House how we will conduct our relationship in the future as we have done in the past.
This legislation is a critically important development for the security of this country. I hope that every Member of the House will examine carefully their motivations and approaches to this issue. I repeat what I said earlier: as the Bill goes through its parliamentary stages, we will consider every constructive suggestion, such as those from the Select Committee, in the most positive way, to see how we can improve the quality of this legislation. What I will not do is accept that the principle is wrong. The principle is right. I urge the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
May I start by reiterating my welcome to the new Home Secretary? He will perhaps be pleased to hear that not all our debates are quite this exciting.
The Home Secretary inherits a difficult job: one that always requires a keen sense of the balance between the interests of the citizen and the role of the state. It is the first duty of the state to protect the lives of citizens, but the duty to protect life must be balanced by the duty to protect our way of life. Nowhere is that more evident than in the debate about identity cards that we have just heard.
As I said in the debate on the Queen's Speech, I would not have countenanced ID cards before
None the less, it is worth remembering that the Bill will not see ID cards introduced to Britain tomorrow. Indeed, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has acknowledged that the process is going to take "many, many years". This legislation merely establishes the framework necessary for their introduction. It is vital for us to consider that framework carefully and to get that consideration right.
A wise choice. What the right hon. Gentleman has said so far about considering ID cards sounds more like an argument for an abstention than an argument for backing them. Can he tell us about the shadow Cabinet battle, and the suggestion in scurrilous elements of the press such as The Daily Telegraph that it was decided by not wanting to be outflanked by the Prime Minister on the security agenda, as opposed to being decided on a matter of principle or concerns about the prohibitive cost? Can he deny that report?
Very easily. If I were the hon. Gentleman, I would not listen to the scurrilous press. As usual, he is getting ahead of himself, which is not unusual for a Scot Nat—even if he is still here, whereas the rest of his party has gone elsewhere.
I shall give way again in a moment. I was just about to reach the point that Mr. Salmond asked about. This is why the official Opposition will vote for Second Reading—to allow full scrutiny to take place; it is also why we have tabled an amendment to refer the Bill to a Joint Committee of both Houses. That would enable proper non-partisan examination to take place, and give the Bill the breadth and quality of scrutiny that it deserves.
The Bill is therefore a necessary first stage in the process of a fuller and more open debate.
We shall make a judgment, and if the Bill has not changed at all, that judgment will be pretty sceptical. We shall make a judgment on the five tests that I shall explain in a minute—[Interruption.] All of them, not just one of them. That is critical to the judgment of the whole position.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the problem for those of us who do not oppose identity cards is that the Government are no longer trusted with anything so serious, so we need some system to ensure that so large a change is not in the hands of a Government who have not shown themselves to be worthy? Is not the Joint Committee a crucial step in making this a wholly parliamentary decision, not a Government one?
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point, to which I shall return when I talk about privacy and civil liberties. I do not agree with the Home Secretary that this is not a matter of civil liberties. There is an important balance here that we have to strike.
There are several other reasons why the Bill deserves detailed consideration.
My right hon. Friend will know that I am grateful that there is a motion on the Order Paper to send the Bill to a Joint Committee, but what shall we do if the Government refuse to heed that good advice, and then move the ridiculous programme motion that obliges us deal with the Bill under a guillotine before the end of January, although we do not come back from the recess until
I take my hon. Friend's point, and I shall also make my own observation to the Home Secretary, who said—properly, in my view—that he was willing to take on board all the advice available from all parts of the House. I therefore hope that he will allow enough time for that to happen. One way of doing so—indeed, a very good mechanism for doing so—would be the Joint Committee.
Given the real danger of function creep—a danger underlined by the fact that no fewer than 25 of the 45 clauses in the Bill provide the Government with order-making powers to extend its provisions—does my right hon. Friend not share my deep disappointment that clause 25, relating to the appointment of the national identity scheme commissioner, makes it clear that the report that the commissioner submits can, and probably will, be doctored by the Secretary of State before being presented to Parliament? Does that not underline our anxiety that the commissioner will prove to be but a craven lickspittle of the Government?
My hon. Friend offers me an attractive option, because I have a prejudice in favour of the commissioner reporting to the House rather than to the Government, just as the Comptroller and Auditor General and the ombudsman do. That would be a better arrangement, because it would give us more control over something that will affect civil liberties. Something else that my hon. Friend reminds me of is the fact that he is now raising a matter that is addressed about four fifths of the way through my speech, so I must make some progress before I take any more interventions.
There are several other reasons why the Bill deserves detailed consideration. The use of biometric technology is set to become widespread over the next few years. It is worth considering putting it to use within a statutory framework—something that the Bill allows us to do. Similarly, in recent years it has become both legally and technically possible to pass large quantities of data about British citizens around government—indeed, for any arm of government to know more about any individual than at any time in history. That is already the case. Those data, plus the national identity register, are of more importance for privacy than the card itself, which is almost irrelevant in that respect. An important part of the Bill must be to put statutory control on the use and deployment of existing data.
Would the right hon. Gentleman bring in some kind of legislation to stop the use of supermarket loyalty cards, which can tell people what food we buy, when we buy it and when we eat it?
Such cards are entirely voluntary, and people can decide how much information to provide, which is not the case with the state. As I shall say later in my speech, the use or misuse that the state can make of such data is much more serious than what any commercial concern can do with it.
Identity cards already exist in practice, as passports and driving licences, and already, for asylum seekers, as application registration cards. It is worth considering the introduction of the framework that encompasses them all. We must ask ourselves whether ID cards are a necessary fact of life in the post-9/11 world. We must accept that the modern world, with its increasing use of new and emerging technologies, requires new safeguards and frameworks to govern how information is used, particularly by the state.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that many asylum seekers—certainly those I speak to—find application registration cards a great boon, and a quick and painless way of establishing their identity and their entitlement to benefits? The people who receive such cards largely welcome them, because in the past they had to use a tatty old Home Office form, which could not be used for two purposes at the same time. It was a great advantage to them when the new cards were introduced.
The hon. Gentleman may be right, but that highlights a point that I shall come to in a moment—the importance of being very clear about what the cards are for. An entitlement card is different from other sorts of card.
My right hon. Friend, like many others, has used the phrase "post-9/11". 9/11 was a profound and direct assault on the United States, yet although it has the same common law traditions as we do, that country has no intention of introducing identity cards. Does that not affect my right hon. Friend's judgment in such matters?
Yes, it does, but the use of driving licences as straightforward identification in the United States is common. The vast majority of Americans carry driving licences—photo ID—so there is a distinction. We start from different positions. [Hon. Members: "We've got driving licences."] We do not have photo ID yet. We have to consider this matter from where Britain is, and we shall consider it very critically throughout the passage of the Bill, as hon. Members will gather in a minute.
The hon. Lady is of course exactly right—I shall return later to the question of the purpose for which such identification was required—but the simple truth is that such licences are not universal. What we are arguing about today is whether we should adopt such a system for the entire United Kingdom.
Incidentally, the Home Secretary did not deal properly with the issue of the common travel area, which is a critical weakness of the proposal. Unless Eire adopts a system of its own that is compatible with ours, we will have a weakness in that regard.
I thank the Minister for giving us that information.
The Home Secretary rightly made much of the views of people such as the police, who tell us that ID cards will help them to wage a war on crime; indeed, the security services also tell us that they are a useful weapon against terrorism. So when the Minister winds up, will he tell us whether the security services or the police have made a formal request that ID cards be implemented? This is an important issue and if they did make such a request, we need to take it very seriously.
I am very grateful. Both the security services and the police have said that the single most important thing that we could do to interdict terrorism is to introduce a secure form of identity into the United Kingdom. I know that the Leader of the Opposition was very impressed by that advice, as was I. I do not understand what the right hon. Gentleman means by a "formal request", and if I am to answer him in the wind-up, perhaps he ought to explain. Once the police and the security services tell us their views on this issue, they do not need further to inform us formally.
A "formal" request is just that. Did the police and the security services write to the Minister or the Home Secretary asking them to introduce ID cards? If not, different issues arise, which I might discuss later.
I turn to our five tests, the first of which is clarity of purpose. One of the main objections to the 1940s wartime identity card was mission creep: at the outset, the card had three distinct purposes; it ended with 39. In the debate leading up to the Bill and in the response to the consultation process, the Government claimed that a national identity card is needed to allow access to benefits and services; to provide proof of age; for voter registration, crime reduction and immigration purposes; to tackle terrorism, money laundering, people trafficking and identity fraud; and to provide access to private services. It is important to know which of these is the priority, since different services and purposes demand different types of card. Entitlement cards, for example, do not have to be universal—as was pointed out earlier—nor do they have to be carried.
On the other hand, it is difficult to see how a card that does not have to be carried will be effective against terrorism or illegal immigration. Are we to ask Mr. bin Laden to turn up at his local police station within three days to show his card? Obviously not. So the Government must make clear the specific purposes for which an ID card is required, and in particular, which of those purposes are the priorities. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to assess them. Where no individual purpose is specified, it must be made clear that an ID card is not a requirement.
Secondly, as some Labour Members have pointed out, we must be clear about the technology's capabilities. Biometrics technology is not infallible. Fingerprints and iris scans cannot always easily be taken, and the technology can be fooled. The system must be robust from start to finish—from the card and biometric reader, through the communication system, and into the central computer, database and software. It must be impossible for a virus to enter the system. It is easy to conceive a virus that causes the database to give the wrong responses when a particular biometric—such as a fingerprint—is entered, or that conceals the existence of duplicate identities, thus corrupting the system's two key purposes. It is vital to this project's progress that the public and the authorities be clear about the technology's weaknesses, as well as its strengths.
Perhaps I might make to the right hon. Gentleman the point that I would have made to the Home Secretary, had I been given the opportunity. Will the excellence of biometric testing not create precisely the trap—I know that many police officers feel this way—that we are seeking to avoid? All existing identification methods are imperfect; indeed, most ID card systems in most countries are acknowledged to be imperfect and are created to be so. If a card is forged, biometric technology will provide what appears to be incontrovertible proof of identity, thus giving criminals and terrorists the access that they would otherwise not have.
That is a powerful point, and it is one reason why the technology has to be very effective. One problem is that the presumption so far has been that the technology is perfect. It is not, so we need to build in fail-safes, as is done with other such technologies. As I said, the system must work throughout—from the reader through to the software. No one writing about this issue outside the technical journals has so far addressed the question of what will happen if somebody who is serious about defeating the system, which will have tens of thousands of access points, makes a virus attack on it. We have to make the system foolproof.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that biometrics is the best and securest technology available, or is he aware of another technology that would deal with the problems that he describes?
Frankly, I expect the Government, rather than this House, to check their technical information. Biometrics encompasses a whole range of technologies, such as fingerprint technology and iris reading, both of which can be fooled. It could also encompass DNA technology—that is too slow, however—and facial recognition. I suspect that the Government will have to run at least two completely different systems in order to reduce the odds of being defeated. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, his question is one for the Minister to answer, not me.
The issue is not just the effectiveness of biometrics, but the root or "seed" documents by which people obtain such information. If a terrorist were to bring in a false birth certificate, it could easily be accepted; as a result, they would have an identity linked to that document. How do we overcome that problem?
The hon. Gentleman is right, in that that is one of the weaknesses with which the Government must deal; however, it is not an insuperable problem. The primary difficulty is with some European ID cards, rather than British ones. Indeed, in a letter to the previous Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary pointed out that some ID systems are more easily fooled than others. We will simply have to ensure that our standards are high, but that is not the greatest problem. The difficulty is that certain foreign cards could stand in for British ones.
Part of the problem is that a significant number of the Members who have contributed to this Second Reading debate clearly have not read the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman will doubtless be able to point out to Mr. Oaten that clause 11 deals with the very point that he raises. The hon. Gentleman is running yet another red herring by saying that people can come into this country with false identities. The Bill allows for the verification of information on such people against other databases—secure ones—before they can get on to the register.
I will allow the Minister to intervene on me again—if he wants to tell me that the three-month period allowed for European citizens who come here has now been rescinded.
The right hon. Gentleman is extremely generous in allowing interventions. Given the number of Members who want to speak in this debate, I suspect that I will not get a significant amount of time in which to wind it up. As he well knows, the Government signed up to the principle that we cannot require from EU citizens such registration until they have been in the country for more than three months. So the overall legal framework within which we operate requires us to observe that three-month window. If it did not, we would not have been prepared to go down this route, for obvious reasons. That is why we argue in Europe for biometric ID cards, which is what these people used to travel into the country. Biometrics in respect of people outwith the European free travel area are going to become almost compulsory for travel around the world.
The hon. Gentleman has made my point for me. As the Liberal spokesman said, one of the main problems is access to the system. If such access is easier in other European countries than it is here, and people can come here for three months, that will have to be dealt with. Simple agreement on Europe-wide biometricsis not enough; there will have to be agreement on standards of access, which must be sorted out.
In a moment. I promise that I will give way to my hon. Friend next time.
The debate that we have just had rather highlights my next point, because the question is whether the Government have in place the organisation necessary to introduce the scheme. We know that what they are proposing is one of the most ambitious technology projects that the country has ever seen. We also know that the Government have an abysmal record—I am not making a political point, because most Governments have an abysmal record—in overseeing large-scale projects, as with the millennium dome and new software for the Child Support Agency and for passports.
Only a couple of weeks ago, the national fingerprint identification system collapsed for five days—and that had the complexity of a pocket calculator by comparison with the national identity register. We have to address the issue of how to deal with the matter. I suspect that the Government will put it out to tender and we are going to have to think very hard about that process. I do not see the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee in his place, but I hope that he contributes to the debate because I would be interested to hear what he has to say. I promised to give way to my hon. Friend.
Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the fact that Australia had an opportunity to adopt identity cards—initially with considerable enthusiasm? Yet when the facts were known to the people of Australia, there was massive opposition to it and the whole proposal was dropped. Does he not think that, given the interaction of the proposals with the criminal law and the social security system within the EU, there is a real likelihood that the whole process will, through the legal framework of the justice and home affairs system, lead to a Europe-wide identity system enforceable through those laws by the European Court of Justice? Does he not regard that as an extremely dangerous prospect for 450 million people, quite apart from people in this country?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. On Australia, it took place some time ago in the 1980s and the backdrop was a little different. As to the EU, I do not know the answer to his question, but it is precisely the complex interaction between the legal and technical problems that makes me think that this is a perfect project for examination by a Joint Committee, not just by the House of Commons on a limited programme.
The shadow Home Secretary and the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration dismiss too readily the problems mentioned by Mr. Trimble. The common travel area with the Irish Republic is quite different from our relationship with France, Germany and other countries. A person in County Louth can travel each day to Belfast and someone from Donegal can travel to Derry, but they are required under the Bill to have a pass or passport. They may not have an Irish Republic passport, but they can still travel. What is going to be done to deal with that problem, given that it is an open border that must, for a variety of sensible logistical reasons, remain so?
All I can say is that the hon. Gentleman should have addressed that question to the Home Secretary rather than to me. [Interruption.] I do not recall accepting excuses. I have said throughout that we must have proper tests and that problems must be dealt with. It may be possible to deal with that problem: we may need a new arrangement for the common travel area, though it would be a large change to carry through.
My fourth test is the cost-effectiveness of the scheme. The introduction of the Bill saw the cost of the ID card scheme almost double overnight, from £3 billion to £5.5 billion. Given the time scale and the cost, the Government should not lose sight of the cheaper and quicker methods that could be put in place now to deal with some of the problems that ID cards seek to combat—having proper embarkation controls at British ports, for example, which is something that the next Conservative Government will put into effect as soon as possible. An end to fraudulent visa claims and taking action to control immigration are other examples. All those would address some of the problems that the Government propose to tackle with identity cards, and all of them are part of the next Conservative Government's manifesto commitments. They are the sort of cost-effective actions that the British people want to see happen here and now.
My right hon. Friend is generous in giving way and he is making a powerful and cogent speech—[Interruption.] Does he agree that the welcome measures in our manifesto—on keeping embarkation records and proper entry and exit records—would be well underpinned by the proposed system if it could be made to work?
I would go further than that and say that such an arrangement would be a necessary aspect of the system. If the Government are to argue that immigration controls are a high-ranking priority, as I think that they will, embarkation controls and better border controls will be a necessary component.
If I recall correctly, it was embarkation controls for the EU, which were no longer legal. It was the present Government who scrapped them for the rest of the world. I want to make some progress now.
Finally, we must examine the very real concerns about civil liberties, which were dismissed far too easily by the Home Secretary. That goes to the heart of the concerns expressed by so many Members on both sides of the House, including some members of the Cabinet, so it is right and proper to discuss them. I think that the Home Secretary was wrong in his article this morning to call those who are concerned about civil liberties "woolly". That is erroneous and does not help the progress of the Bill.
The scheme proposed today will involve the establishment of a national identity register, the use of the latest technology and the gathering of information on millions of people. That register will be the hub that allows access and collation of vast amounts of data on individuals from many Government databases.
One issue that has arisen today concerns legal advice from the Attorney-General about data and privacy. In the interest of informed debate on this matter, will the Home Secretary publish the advice from Lord Goldsmith, which would be advantageous for debating the arguments about privacy? In practical terms, any database at the heart of the national identity register must be secure. People who misuse the data, particularly Government officials, must face stiff penalties. At the moment, the Bill has smaller penalties for civil servants than for anyone else, which is the wrong way round.
We know that unscrupulous people somehow managed to get at information on the police national computer about the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, and we know that the Pentagon and Microsoft have both been hacked into. The proposed system has to have tens of thousands of access points, so it must be rendered more secure even than Microsoft has so far managed with its own headquarters.
Parliament must oversee the nature of the data used on the cards and must control who has access to them—the point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Bercow at the outset of my speech. Those are the sort of safeguards that we want to see in place, especially when, to be frank, we know that the Government sometimes have no concern for people's privacy or civil liberties whatever. This is a Government who regularly smear their opponents—a Goliath who have tried to steamroller Pam Warren from the Paddington Survivors Group, who savaged the 94-year-old pensioner Rose Addis, who spat out the press officer Martin Sixsmith and who rubbished the reputation of David Kelly.
In an ideal world, we would not need identity cards. Sadly, our world is not ideal, but increasingly dangerous. Today we accept that it is necessary to legislate for the possible introduction of ID cards. It is necessary to put the structure in place. Many people believe that they will be a useful weapon in the fight against crime, fraud and international terrorism. It is right that we listen to those people and support the principle that the architecture for their introduction should be put in place, but it is also right that we ensure that the proposals are scrutinised very carefully, so that we achieve the aims of the Bill at minimum cost and minimum incursion on people's liberty and privacy. That is why we will support the Bill—[Interruption]—but it is also why I commend the motion to refer the Bill to a Joint Committee of both Houses.
I welcome the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and I welcome him to his job. He referred to the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I hope that hon. Members who scrutinise the Bill in Committee will find our report, and the minority reports, a helpful guide to pretty much all the major issues that need to be looked at in detail. I am already grateful to the Government for taking on board at least some of the changes highlighted in the Select Committee's earlier report, particularly in terms of making the aims of the Bill more precise. There have been some changes—not yet enough—to the powers of the commissioner and in the bringing in of the Government's chief scientific officer to advise on the state of development of biometrics. All those are important safeguards.
From the discussion so far, it is fairly clear that not all right hon. and hon. Members have yet read the Bill in any great detail. I hope that will change in the weeks to come, and I should like to highlight a few important issues.
In my view, there is no doubt that introducing a national identity register—that is what we should focus on, rather than the cards themselves—brings a change in the relationship between citizen and state, not least because there is a formal requirement to provide one's biometrics to a state register. Nothing like that exists on citizens at the moment, and there are other, perhaps less intrusive, requirements to provide changes of address and other information.
That, I think, is the only fundamental change in the relationship between the citizen and the state. In the debate so far, it has been hard to understand exactly what it is that the Bill's opponents are seriously worried about. Everyone talks about the Bill as though it were some terrible step into the unknown, but one never hears a precise example of what people are actually worried about, other than the point of principle, which is an arguable one.
In truth, even if all the data on the new national identity register became freely available, which will not happen and which is not what is proposed, there would be less intrusive information, less private information and less damaging information available through that than is routinely available today to the police, the security services and a whole variety of private companies from telephone companies, credit card companies, store card companies and the like. The fears behind the civil liberties argument, other than those on the principle itself, are, in my view, greatly overstated.
The question, as the Select Committee said, is whether the potential gains of the system outweigh those fears. To some extent, that depends on individual assessments.
As my right hon. Friend asked for a concrete example, may I give him one? If the Bill goes through in its present form, it will undoubtedly be possible for the Secretary of State to initiate not primary but secondary legislation—that being the important thing—to add, for instance, criminal convictions to the data stored. That is one concrete example that is undoubtedly right and that causes me and a lot of other people great concern.
That issue can be addressed in Committee. I see no reason to do what my hon. and learned Friend suggests. In fact, all criminal convictions are already immediately accessible on the police national computer. It is hard to see why the Government would wish to do that. If somebody is, for example, taken to a police station and arrested, and if the police identify that individual using the national identity register—that is, after all, what it is there for—it will take a mere matter of seconds to establish whether that person is also on the police national computer. I do not see that as a fundamental objection.
It seems to me that the reason for the card is this: if we believe, as I do, that terrorism is a significant threat; if we believe, as I do, that the facts of illegal immigration, illegal working and abuse of access to public services are not only major issues in their own right but significant social issues for our society, because people perceive all that as being unfair, unchallenged and something that should be dealt with; and if we see criminal identity fraud as a problem, we need to listen to the agencies who tell us, as they told the Select Committee, that having a robust system of personal identity will, in the words of the famous Sir Robert Mark, when talking about motor car tyres, make a "significant contribution" to solving the problem.
That is what the Select Committee was told. It was not told that terrorism would be abolished, nor that identity fraud would disappear, nor that there would be no benefit abuse, nor that there would be no illegal working. It was told that because it would be easier to tackle points of identity, a robust identity system would be desirable. That is why, in principle, the Bill should go ahead.
I am most grateful. The hon. Gentleman asks why some of us are concerned about the Bill. The Home Secretary has proposed legislation that, potentially, brings together a failed Child Support Agency system, a failed Inland Revenue tax system, a failed health records system, and a failed police records system. He is talking about spending billions of pounds—
It is all right; you have injury time.
The Home Secretary is talking about introducing technology that will be outdated by the time it is of any use. As if that is not bad enough, he is asking the House to consider the Bill in six sittings of a Committee. A lot of people on both sides of the House would go with the Bill if the Home Secretary were prepared to submit it to a Joint Committee of both Houses.
Having dealt with the point of principle, let me come to procurement, which is important. We do not conclude, as a House, that we should not have a Child Support Agency because we have had problems with the computer, or that we should not have a pensions system because we have had problems with the system. The critical thing is to get it right.
I will say to the Home Secretary that we need to adopt a more open procurement system, with more scrutiny and challenge to each component of that system than is so far apparent. That is what has been done in Italy, and that is why procurement in Italy has been more successful than our track record shows we have been. I hope that my right hon. Friend and his ministerial colleagues will look at the procurement system, which was raised by the Select Committee as a matter of considerable concern.
I want to touch briefly on a few more issues that the Government need to deal with to get things right. On cost, it is important that the Home Secretary, in seeking, understandably, to minimise, or at least not to overstate, the cost of the system to central Government must not assume that others will readily pick up the cost of the card reader system, the infrastructure system and so on. We should listen to the Local Government Association. When it gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, it saw the value of having the system but was worried about the costs that it would have to pick up to make use of it.
The infrastructure costs to support the register are critical to the success of the system. Forgery need not be a problem, provided there is an adequate infrastructure of card readers and that they are used regularly enough. There is a cost to that, although it is nothing like the mathematically erroneous £1 billion mentioned earlier. The Government will need to give detailed costings as quickly as possible.
No, I have given way twice.
One of the areas that we need to consider further is oversight. There has been a welcome broadening of the powers of the commissioner, but he still lacks adequate recourse for an individual who fears that his or her records have been wrongly accessed or used. That recourse needs to be made clear and explicit in the Bill. I also share the concerns of Mr. Bercow about the mechanism for reporting via the Secretary of State rather than through more open reporting.
None the less, issues of procurement, biometrics and oversight are things that we should be able to get right as the Bill passes through Parliament. My basic point is that we have a series of problems in our society with which a robust system of identity would help us enormously. An ID card and national identity register would enable us to do that. The fears expressed are, as we have just seen, vague and ill stated. The Bill should go ahead tonight so that we can work on the detail.
I shall start, because I did not have a chance to do so at Home Office questions, by welcoming the new Home Secretary. I will not take offence at the woolly liberal comments, although they suggest that it is business at usual at the Home Office in terms of the attitudes towards us. I also acknowledge that the Home Secretary, with the support of the shadow Home Secretary, is about to introduce what will clearly be one of the most popular measures that we have seen in this country.
With 80 per cent. in favour of ID cards, I recognise that it will be a very popular measure. The difficulty is that I do not sense that level of support for ID cards when I talk to people; nor has that level of support come across in this debate. One of the problems is that initially people are attracted to the idea. Nearly everybody whom I speak to about it says at first, "Well, I have nothing to hide. What's wrong with carrying a card?" I happily and freely admit that I also took that view for many years, to such an extent that I supported a private Member's Bill on the issue a couple of years ago. I supported it because at the time I did not have a problem with the issue. I entirely acknowledge that. However, the difficulty arises when one starts to look in more depth at some of the issues. That is why I changed my mind and why I am convinced that by the time the Bill has passed through both Houses, and after proper debate, the Government—with Conservative support—will have introduced one of the most unpopular measures that we have seen in this Parliament.
I do not want to rake over old coals, but the hon. Gentleman has got off lightly on this issue for far too long. It cannot be the case that the hon. Gentleman supported ID cards to the point where—[Interruption.] As a matter of fact, that assertion is not correct. [Hon. Members: "Which one?"] That I was a member of CND. I never was. The hon. Gentleman cannot have been persuaded not only to support ID cards in principle, but to vote for them in the House on the basis that we had nothing to fear from them. He must have had other reasons for supporting the principle of identity cards. Before we accept that he has properly changed his mind on the issue and has not just fallen in—
I will happily rehearse why I have changed my mind. I am concerned about the cost implications and the civil liberty implications. I am not convinced that ID cards will work in relation to terrorism and I do not believe that they will help to tackle benefit or health fraud. It is a completely flawed system and now that I have seen the detail I fundamentally oppose the Bill.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's change of mind. My goodness me, it is not as though the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration has never taken orders from a higher authority. Be that as it may, did the hon. Gentleman detect from the Conservative spokesman, as I did, a lack of enthusiasm for the Bill? When Sir Patrick Cormack asked what would happen if the proposal for a Joint Committee was not accepted by the Government, we did not appear to get an answer. Did the hon. Gentleman hear it?
I was fascinated by the shadow Home Secretary's speech. It was an extremely good speech against ID cards, right up to the final line, in which he urged support for the Bill in one sentence only. I say to the Conservatives that I understand why their leader is nervous so close to an election. He wants to show that he is tough on crime and he does not want to be attacked for being soft on those issues. However, every now and then in politics, instead of chasing the 80 per cent., one has a duty to speak up for the 20 per cent. There is also a duty to try to argue one's case and convince the 80 per cent. that they are wrong. The Conservatives might get more respect if they tried to change views rather than following opinion polls all the time—
No, I have not finished with the Conservatives yet. The five tests are a fig leaf. They are as meaningless as the Chancellor's five tests on the euro. The shadow Home Secretary answered virtually all his tests, yet he concluded that they were still wanting. If the Conservatives end up supporting the Bill, they will have to demonstrate that all the tests have been met. They will struggle to do so as much as the Home Secretary will struggle with the tests.
Will the hon. Gentleman be more explicit about when he underwent his Damascene conversion? I remind him that he supported a ten-minute Bill on ID cards that went much further than the Government's Bill and would have required that an ID card be carried at all times. Did he change his mind around the time that he accepted a Front Bench job?
I have explained that matter and now I wish to deal with the issues as they stand. I shall take the House through the process I have gone through to reach my position. Sometimes in politics things are wrong because they are wrong in practice—they just cannot be done in practical terms. Sometimes in politics things are wrong in principle. Uniquely, ID cards are wrong in practice and in principle. That is why I have come to the conclusion that they are wrong. I shall address the issues of effectiveness, the implications of the database, the cost and the impact, which we have not discussed so far, that the proposals will have on minority and ethnic minority groups in this country.
The Home Secretary gave several reasons why we must have these cards. I shall start with terrorism, because I acknowledge that there is a serious threat. It is an attractive argument for ID cards because we all want to do what we can to ensure that our country is safe. The Government's argument is that 35 per cent. of terrorists use false or multiple identities. I know that they are not arguing that that means that an ID card system would cut terrorism by a third, but there are problems with the Home Secretary's proposition. The first is that terrorists are capable of carrying out atrocities without changing their identity. The terrorists who hit New York and Madrid all travelled under their own identities. The London nail bomber, David Copeland, made no attempt to disguise his identity, and nor did Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber. Sadly, knowing who someone is does not tell us what they are thinking or what they are about to do. Having the information about identity will not stop determined terrorists, because atrocities have been committed by people who have not changed their identity.
What of those individuals who do try to change their identity? I come back to the point I raised in my intervention in the shadow Home Secretary's speech, which is how to ensure that terrorists do not enter the country on a false identity. The problem is that terrorists could arrive in the country with false root or seed documentation. When they register, the false information is used to issue them with an ID card. They can then go around with an identity that they have created specifically in this country. That could be overcome if there was an international system to check whether people were using different identities in different countries, as long as they moved within G8 or EU countries that had the same level of biometric testing. However, the reality is that most such individuals will come from the very countries that will not have such technology. They will be able to dash back and forth between their original country and this country without being caught.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if it were possible for someone to fake an identity and obtain an ID card, the use of biometrics would make it impossible for them to register under any other name? The whole problem of multiple identities would still be addressed, even if what he says were true.
The hon. Gentleman entirely misses my point. I acknowledge that it would be difficult to create multiple or false identities for someone who was moving between England, Germany or France, or other countries that have the ability to test the iris. Such people could not change their identity because the iris would give them away. However, terrorists will not be moving between those countries: they will come from countries that do not have the biometric testing ability, and that is the loophole.
The Government's second reason for introducing the Bill is benefit and health fraud. The Home Secretary advanced some strong arguments about the card's impact on such fraud, but a vast amount of the health and benefit fraud that occurs in the UK has nothing to do with identity. Only about 5 per cent. involves individuals pretending to be somebody whom they are not; most fraud is somebody saying they have a back problem when they do not, or somebody claiming benefits when they are working on the side. That is where the problem lies, and the Government's figures do not stack up to suggest that there is a major problem.
We received no answers from the Home Secretary about how the process would work. Will there have to be reading equipment in every post office, every benefit office, every hospital and every GP practice? Will the equipment be installed throughout the country, or will we target only certain inner-city areas? Who will operate it? Will it be the GP, the practice nurse or the person behind the post office counter? What kind of training will they have to be given to use all that equipment? What will happen if the equipment breaks down? Who will make the choice about who is to be asked to show their card? Making that choice will put pressure on some individuals.
I am a hypochondriac and I visit my GP all the time, so people at the surgery know who I am and would not need to ask for my ID card. However, they will have to decide whose card to ask for, and that kind of choice will put them in the front line. I do not think they want that job. In those circumstances, what will happen to people who do not have their card with them? Will they be turned away from medical treatment?
Is it the policy of the hon. Gentleman's party that people who turn up for services—whether for health or something else—should be treated regardless of their entitlement?
So that is the policy. I am grateful to learn that. Anyone who comes into the country on a visitor's visa can be treated, regardless of entitlement.
I am delighted to hear that. I am not sure whether it is an invitation to go to Wales for health care.
The Government claim that illegal working is another reason that we need ID cards. I accept that there is a problem; anybody who saw the tragedy at Morecambe bay realises that something must be done about illegal working. There are, however, existing powers to handle illegal working and the problem of immigration. The Government have set up powers whereby the police can check individuals' working papers, although, in 2002, only two individuals were prosecuted for employing an illegal immigrant. The reason that there were only two is not because those individuals did not have documents that could be checked—they must have those documents—but because it was not a policing priority and it was almost impossible for the police to find their whereabouts. How on earth would an ID card make any difference at all?
Has the hon. Gentleman considered the possibility that one reason that enforcement action against those who employ illegal labour is too low—in my view—is the recognition that the limitations of currently available documents make it difficult for employers to be certain? If there was a gold standard of identity, provided by a national identity register, implementation would be much easier for employers and it would be much easier to come down hard on people who continue wrongly to employ illegal labour.
I respect the views of the Chairman of the Select Committee, but I suspect that those who genuinely want to find the documents will find a way forward. The difficulty is that far too many employers do not care one iota and it will not make a blind bit of difference to them whether people have an ID card or a set of documents.
I want to move on to a second point about illegal working. I have dealt with the practical issues, where I do not think that the card will make a difference. There are also civil liberties concerns about how it will work in practice. The detail of the regulatory impact assessment states:
"As pressures grow on public services, service providers will have to bring in complex procedures for checking a range of documentation as the old assumption that if you are here you are probably here legally is no longer acceptable. There are also cultural problems about getting service providers to ask only certain groups for proof of identity for fear of being accused of discrimination."
That is important: only certain groups will be asked for proof of identity.
That is extraordinary. In their RIA, the Government admit that it is the intention to ask only certain groups for proof of identity. I have to tell the Minister and the Home Secretary that the problems will not just be cultural; there will be serious legal problems if that is indeed what the Government propose to do. Linking illegal working and ID cards will lead—bluntly—to people who do not look British being stopped.
I want to turn to our other concerns about the Bill. The cost of the measure is the most complex thing to debate, because the figures keep changing and we have received little information about the costs from the Home Office. I accept that the Liberal Democrats cannot have it all ways on costs. We support the principle of changes to passports to keep us in line with the requirements of our international obligations. It would be disingenuous for me to lump all the costs together, but what I have tried to do, and will try to do in the debates ahead, is to separate the elements where we believe that the Government are going too far.
The Government are going too far by having three biometric tests on passports, as well as an ID system. They must give us accurate figures on costings. We believe that the additional costs to be incurred will be about £85 million a year, plus £50 million a year to run the identity checking service, yet, according to the figures the Government have given us to date, they have not costed the full implications of their plans to tackle benefit fraud and health access.
According to Home Office figures, each reader will cost between £250 and £750. A crude multiplication—to cover the various routes for access to health and benefits—gives an extremely high figure. For post offices alone—even in relation to the number that are left; I realise that over the last few years the Government have been trying to shut many of them down—the cost would be £11 million. We need more information about the costs. We do not know what is involved, and we cannot do our job of scrutinising the Bill until we know what the total cost will be. The public believe that there is a black hole in the measure, and we share that view.
Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that the Government have failed to publish the Office of Government Commerce gateway review documents? They were produced at public expense and I cannot believe that at this stage they contain anything of a sensitive commercial nature. They should be before the House as we debate this important Bill.
I agree entirely. It is unacceptable that for reasons of commercial confidentiality in the procurement process, we as the politicians deciding these matters cannot be given that information, whereas companies making bids can. That is not an acceptable way to proceed.
It is extraordinary and unhelpful; we are being asked to support a Bill and to sign a blank cheque. It is also important to note that there are genuine political issues about where we might spend that money. We might all have different priorities for its most effective use. I would have thought that more police and more intelligence officers to support the system might be more effective in dealing with some of the things that the Government are trying to tackle—not least terrorism.
I am conscious of the fact that many other hon. Members want to speak, so I shall conclude by considering the database itself. The Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee was right to identify the fact that although the database is, in many ways, the key issue, there are two issues to consider: the civil liberty implications and, frankly, the Government's inability to run such systems in the first place.
The Government's track record on IT procurement is awful. The projected cost of the Child Support Agency system was £150 million, but the figure ended up at £450 million. The final cost of the Horizon project—an automated Post Office Counters system—ended up at £1 billion and ran three years late. My particular favourite is the NHS IT programme, with expected costs of £6.2 billion. The actual cost was £18 billion, and the figure is still rising. Of course, recently and more seriously, the national automated fingerprint identification system crashed owing to server software difficulties, causing serious problems for the police.
How will the database be kept up to date? An earlier intervention pointed out the churn on the electoral roll, with individuals moving many times, people changing their addresses and new individuals coming on when they are 18 years old and others being taken off when they die. The scope for error is absolutely enormous, and the track record suggests that costs will get out of control.
The more important point, however, relates to the principles of what is held on the data system. What can happen in 15 or 20 years? How can the information be linked, for example, to CCTV systems that can individually scan faces and recognise them? Do we want to move into the kind of society where people know exactly who is walking up and down the high street? Is there even a possibility that a future Home Secretary may decide to tag on DNA information? What would be the implications of adding on the vast amount of DNA information that is already collected?
I am listening with interest to the hon. Gentleman. Does he think that such a system is impossible? I do not believe that it is. Surely the introduction of the things that he describes—a rather scary prospect—would all be subject to primary legislation.
On the first point, although I am sure that the Government could get the system up and running, their track record suggests that the failure rate will be very high indeed. For example, last year 400 people were turned down for a job because it was said that they had criminal records when they did not. If the error rates that we have seen with existing systems are multiplied to cover a population of 60 million, even if the failure rate is 0.01 per cent., an awful lot of people will have difficulties. So there are serious concerns about the implications of the system.
I am conscious of the fact that other hon. Members want to speak.
Finally, I want to deal with the most farcical element of the Bill: whether the system is voluntary or compulsory. I cannot understand where the Government are heading. Although I would still oppose the system, intellectually it would be a lot better if it were compulsory. That would stack up, and the Home Secretary would have been able to answer the question asked by my hon. Friend Simon Hughes because the scheme would have included the powers for which the police might be looking.
In my village, my neighbours will have to carry an identity card in a few years' time. I will not have to do so because my passport is not up for renewal until 2012—lucky me—but that is a two-tier system. [Interruption.] The Minister says that people will not have to carry the card, but this is not about whether people have to carry it; it is about whether they must have an ID card in the first place. The problem is that I will not need an ID card, but my neighbours or my wife may have to have one. It will be compulsory for some, but not for others.
We are walking into a system that is, frankly, chaos. Some people must have the card; some must have one at some point in the future; others will never have to have one because they do not have a passport; but, at an unknown point, which the Home Secretary will decide, we will all need a card. That is a complete mess. A two-tier system will be created in relation to the proof of identity that people will have to carry, and the implications of that are wrong.
When the card becomes compulsory—I am sure that that is where we are heading—what will it be like for 80 or 90-year-old pensioners to be told that they have to turn up at registration centres to have their fingerprints taken and their irises and photos scanned because the system has suddenly become compulsory? If the Home Secretary thinks that 80 per cent. of people will still be in favour when the public realise that that will happen, he has got another think coming.
Here we have a £1 billion project that looks set to go over budget, a piece of plastic and a database that will do nothing to tackle terrorism and crime, a system that is neither compulsory nor voluntary and a database that will make the CSA mess up look like a tea party. This is also a debate about changes to our country and to society. If people look like illegal workers or terrorists, they can be stopped. People will have to turn up to centres to have their fingerprints and irises scanned. If they visit a GP or an accident and emergency department, they will have to submit a scan and prove who they are. I urge hon. Members on all sides of the House to reject the Bill. I am afraid that, tonight, a Labour Government, with Conservative support, are turning us from nanny state into a Big Brother state.
I disagree strongly with my right hon. Friend Mr. Denham. He said that he could not understand why there should be such concern and controversy. I serve on the Home Affairs Committee, which he chairs, and he will know that we have had many disagreements on this. I could not agree with the majority report of the Home Affairs Committee. I made my opposition clear and proposed an amendment or minority report.
If it is true that there were serious disagreements in the Cabinet some months previously and in the shadow Cabinet only last week, I would not exploit that; I would be very pleased. I would think it depressing if either the Cabinet or the shadow Cabinet had agreed on such a serious subject without much controversy. If the press reports are true—members of the Cabinet have not told me about this—there was proper consideration, discussion and apparently disagreement, and I see no reason why not.
I want to make it perfectly clear tonight, as I have done previously, that if I was persuaded that identity cards would help to stop terrorism or undermine it substantially, I would support them, whatever reluctance I may have on grounds of civil liberties, because the safety and security of this country must come first and foremost. But I am not so persuaded.
As I and many other hon. Members have often said, the atrocities in Madrid and Istanbul took place despite the existence of identity cards. When the previous Home Secretary came before the Select Committee and I asked him whether ID cards with biometric details—all that he emphasises—would have prevented such atrocities, he said no.
I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me for not giving way. I am putting what is perhaps a minority point of view among Labour Members.
Surely, if identity cards along the lines proposed would help deter terrorism, the argument would be that they should be introduced much sooner. What will happen between now and their introduction in six or seven years? That makes no sense to me, which is why I am not persuaded that ID cards would prevent the sort of terrorism that has taken place elsewhere from happening in this country. I would be the last person to underestimate the threat of terrorism. We have heard a statement today and my view remains that terrorists will cause much death and destruction, in so far as they can get away with it, and this country will certainly be no exception.
As for the other arguments about ID cards—those on illegal immigration and working—it has rightly been pointed out that there is little evidence, if any, that an ID card scheme would have stopped what happened in Morecambe bay or, if the 58 Chinese who tragically suffocated had survived, as we would have wished, that it would have prevented them from working in this country. After all, in the continental countries that have identity cards under the democratic system—and previously under dictatorships—the problems of illegal immigration and working have not disappeared or lessened because of any ID scheme that happens to exist there.
The Home Office should be much tougher in making it far more difficult for certain employers to employ people who have no right to take employment. Those laws already exist. That is already a criminal offence, and I hope that the Government will be tougher in enforcing those laws and regulations.
The point has been made that, since January 2002, asylum seekers have been given application registration cards, which provide a secure means of recording their details and identity. I do not disagree with that, but why should the rest of us require a form of identification along the lines that the Government are keen to introduce because asylum seekers rightly have such cards?
I am also worried about function creep. It is interesting to note that, when the Information Commissioner gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, he made the point that, in 1939, there were three stated purposes for bringing in an identity card:
"for conscription, for national security and for rationing."
He went on to say that, by 1950, there were 39 stated purposes to explain why identity cards were considered necessary. He said that in the early 1950s, towards the end of the system of identity cards,
"the main rationale for identity cards was the prevention of bigamous marriages."
If we have identity cards, the first question that people will be asked by the police, a hospital or their general practitioner will inevitably be, "Where is your identity card?" Some of my hon. Friends may ask what is wrong with that, but I believe that there is a lot wrong with it. It is not necessary because we have done without such cards for more than 50 years. Ministers make the point that the police and security authorities want them to be reintroduced, but if it had been left up to the police, I suspect that identity cards would never have been abolished.
I also have considerable worries about the national identity register and its unique identity register number for all of us. Under the Bill, people who move house will have to register their change of address with the authorities. Some might ask what is wrong with that, but there is no reason why we should have to do so without strong and compelling reasons, especially regarding terrorism. I am yet to be persuaded of such reasons.
Although I wish that I could argue otherwise, there is a lot of public support for identity cards. Opinion polls tell us that there is such great support at the moment because people have high expectations of identity cards and believe that they will resolve such problems as illegal working and immigration. However, that will not happen in practice, and people will be disappointed. Additionally, when people consider the cost of getting the cards, I am not sure that such support will exist.
I shall oppose the Bill tonight because I have no alternative. There is no doubt that the Government will have a large majority, especially with the support of the Tories. However, that is all the more reason why the section of opinion in the country that is opposed to identity cards should be reflected in the House of Commons tonight, which is why I will vote as I shall.
I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
"this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Identity Cards Bill because it would lead to an unreasonable intrusion into the liberties and privacy of the citizen;
it would not achieve benefits proportionate to the cost, as the underlying technology is likely to prove unreliable;
and the introduction of such cards is likely to lead to a requirement that they be carried at all times and such a requirement would be objectionable in principle and would lead to serious tension between the police and the citizen."
David Winnick has made it plain that he will vote against the Bill and so will I. I acknowledge, of course, that there will be benefits attached to identity cards, but the real question is whether the benefits will be proportionate to the various disadvantages that hon. Members have identified; I do not believe that they will be.
It is worth pointing out, as it has been pointed out before, that most terrorists operate under their true identities, but fail to disclose their intentions. Many countries that have suffered from terrorism—Spain is a good example—have laws that require the carrying and production of ID cards. As my hon. Friend Mr. Shepherd said, President Bush, who is surely not a bleeding-heart liberal, has made it plain that ID cards will form no part of his anti-terrorism policy.
The hon. Gentleman is not really addressing the point. Spain has suffered for years from Basque terrorism and, of course, the cards did not stop the bombing in the first place.
There is no doubt that identity cards would have an impact on policies to control illegal immigration, but let us remember that the real problem with illegal immigration is due to overstaying, which is caused by the Government's failure to deport, rather than a failure to identify those who should be deported. I am sure that benefits on fraud could be derived from ID cards, but I have never encountered a security document that could not be forged, which was the point made by Mrs. Dunwoody. In any event, most fraud arises not from false identities, but from a misrepresentation of underlying facts and entitlements, so the benefits would not be as great as the proponents of ID cards argue.
May I put forward the counterbalancing arguments to explain why we should not follow the policy?
I have no knowledge of whether that is right or wrong, but the overall cost must be balanced against the disadvantages that I shall outline.
The first disadvantage is the nature of the Bill itself. It is an enabling Bill and most of the subsequent requirements will be made by secondary legislation. Of course, I acknowledge that those order-making powers will be subject to affirmative resolution, but that is not a proper way to supervise intrusions into the liberty of the subject of the kind contemplated in the Bill.
No, I am afraid that I must make some progress.
A cost of £3 billion has been suggested, but I do not know whether that is right or wrong. However, I do know that almost every public sector budget ever contemplated has been seriously overrun, so I suspect that that will be the case with ID cards as well. Irrespective of whether the figure will be £3 billion, £1 billion or £5 billion, are there not better ways of spending that money to achieve the intended purposes of the Bill?
I do not pretend to be an expert on technology, but I have noticed that all major computer schemes introduced by Governments of all shades have experienced appalling problems. The situation in the Child Support Agency is a specific case in point, but we all remember what happened with the Passport Agency. If there is a failure with the identity card system, it could cause not only inconvenience, but grave injustice, people's disentitlement to benefit and perhaps exposure to criminal penalties.
I shall move on from practicalities to the question of principle; I propose to be brief. There is no doubt that ID cards will tilt the balance away from the citizen towards the state, but we should not do that unless an absolutely compelling case for it can be made. We should be clear about this too: once the possession of cards is mandatory, and perhaps before, the police will use their powers to stop and search in a very vigorous manner. Bearing it in mind that the stated purposes of the scheme are to combat terrorism and illegal immigration, we can also be sure that those powers will be used most vigorously against ethnic minorities. I have been in the House long enough to remember the rows over the stop-and-search powers arising from the Vagrancy Act—the old sus law. The coming rows will be infinitely greater, because these powers will be used to a much greater extent.
I am absolutely certain that, if we give the green light to the Bill and possession of an identity card becomes a requirement, there will also be a duty to carry the card and produce it on demand. The only way to make the cards truly effective is to require people to carry them and to produce them. We should remember that the National Registration Act 1915 was amended in 1918 to make production on demand mandatory.
There is no point in saying, "We will give a potential terrorist or illegal immigrant 48 hours in which to produce the card at the nearest police station." That is nonsense: a potential wrongdoer in that category will simply disappear into the hinterland from which he or she may have come. I do not wish to give officers of the state a right to stop me—or anyone else—and demand that I produce a card. Inevitably, those officers of the state would be given a power to arrest if the card could not be produced. That seems to me to impose a burden on the citizen and give the officers of the state a power that I do not think the House should give them.
I concede that benefits may attach to ID cards. I accept that the five tests proposed by my right hon. Friend David Davis are useful, but we must set the Bill in the overall context of what we are about. I do not think that the arguments advanced in favour of it outweigh the disadvantages that I have ventured to present to the House.
I support the Government's proposals and have for some time.
The arguments advanced so far today have tended—rightly—to concentrate on the need to improve security. Massively destructive and indiscriminate terrorism is a new threat in the world and necessitates new precautions. ID cards cannot guarantee security, as we have heard many times—nothing can—but to argue that, because an ID card system did not protect Madrid, it is therefore useless is to argue against any imperfect system, such as a police force. It does not follow that, because we cannot do everything, we should do nothing.
There is another reason for an ID system, however, and I want to concentrate on that. ID cards are needed to protect our welfare state. I grew up in a world very different from the one in which my children are growing up. The mining village in which I was raised had seen and was to see very hard times, but it had a strong sense of community. There was, perhaps, too little opportunity for individuality and diversity, which may be a bad thing, but the cohesiveness of the community was a great support and comfort.
My home village still exists, but the work has gone, and with it the shared experience and much of the community spirit. I realise now—it was a hard realisation—that most of Britain was not like that village even in the 1960s. Certainly very little of Britain is like it now. The architects of the welfare state, such as Aneurin Bevan, came from and served communities like that, where we were all our brothers' keepers, perhaps because our brothers were much the same as us. The reforming Governments of 1906 and 1945 had a majority in favour of welfare because of their shared experiences—because welfare was something that "someone like you" needed, or might need.
Modern Britain is a much more diverse place, and globalisation will continue to make it more diverse. Such trends need not undermine the welfare state, but they alter the basis on which it was built. Welfare in the 21st century must reform to survive and we must ensure that it retains the support of those who pay for it.
In my experience—not an experience that everyone shares—little annoys citizens more than the payments of benefits to those whom they believe to have no entitlement. How do we define entitlement? It is very confusing. I have a long list of examples, but for the benefit of others who wish to speak I will not read it out. I shall confine myself to one or two instances.
A British state pensioner living for more than three months a year in a non-European economic area country who has lived for 10 continuous years in the United Kingdom previously is entitled to free NHS treatment for conditions that arose after his or her arrival in the UK. The same applies to his or her spouse and children under 16, or under 19 if in further education. That is crystal clear—not, I think.
There are huge lists—whole books, indeed—whose aim is to explain whether people are entitled to services, and which services they are or are not entitled to. There are obvious examples of non-entitlement; at least, I thought that they were obvious until I discussed the matter with a Liberal Democrat earlier. I should have thought that most Members would agree that an American tourist benefiting from a £50,000 heart operation on the NHS in a London hospital constituted an obvious abuse. Other cases are not so clear. For example, a foreign student paying £900 for an English language course is entitled to free health care for himself and his family and free education for his children. That is not an abuse, because it is a legal entitlement, but it is sustainable only if such cases are rare exceptions.
The hon. Gentleman seems to be trying to argue in favour of identity cards on the basis of how complicated the procedures for establishing entitlement are. Is he not actually saying that, if the card is to be used as an entitlement, it will contain a vast array of information over and above what the Government have described so that the user's entitlement or otherwise can be established?
That is a fair point, but what I am trying to say is that we need clearer and better understood criteria to establish entitlement. Once we have established entitlement, it will require an ID card. We will need to ensure that there is some form of ID system to make that entitlement system work. However, I do not anticipate that the right hon. Gentleman shares my desire to protect the welfare state in the first place. He may find that undermining the welfare state is desirable. I do not share that view.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that having an ID card will not affect entitlement if the individual is lying about their circumstances and that that is the problem that exists as regards benefit fraud and attempting to obtain benefits from the health service that one may not be entitled to? It will not be helped by an identity card.
Yet again, the system is criticised for not being perfect. No, it will not perfectly remove all abuses, but it will remove some.
Some recent research suggests that there is an inverse relationship between welfare and diversity, pointing out that the most homogeneous countries, such as the Scandinavian countries, have the most extensive welfare systems, while highly diverse countries, such as the USA, have much more individualistic societies. There are many other variables, and I do not believe that we can necessarily show cause and effect, but those who believe the welfare state to be the greatest achievement of reforming government in the 20th century have no room for complacency on these issues. The preservation of an extensive social system will require this Government and future Governments to define entitlement carefully and an ID system will be essential in recognising that entitlement.
I am in favour of identity cards and have always been so, and one must take seriously the pressure for them from the police and the security forces. But I have rarely heard a worse definition or defence of identity cards than the one that I heard from the new Home Secretary. Support for identity cards is rushing away simply because there is a huge lack of trust in the Government. If the Government want an identity card system, they must address properly the reason why so many sensible people find the proposals unacceptable.
The Chairman of the Select Committee said that it was hard to understand the opposition. Let me perhaps explain it. In a recent debate—yet another one of those on the subject of the criminal law—my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg ended his speech with a peroration, in which he claimed that the former Home Secretary was the most illiberal Home Secretary for a hundred years. Immediately after, Ms Abbott chided my right hon. and learned Friend, saying that he had been very unfair to the Home Secretary, that the Home Secretary was not only the most illiberal Home Secretary for the last hundred years, but would be seen as the most illiberal Home Secretary for the next hundred years as well. So there is a pretty universal view that for a long time the Government have been enacting legislation that has been opposed strongly by any of us who have freedom and liberty as part of the reason why we were elected. This Government have behaved in a way that explains why people are very suspicious of this proposal.
I had to ask Mr. Speaker for support when we did not reach a particular amendment after we had been voting on a range of amendments in the last Criminal Justice Act because it was the only amendment during the whole of the proceedings on that legislation on which I would be voting on the right of the Government. In every other case I had been voting on the left of the Government and my constituents were beginning to be rather confused, as indeed I was, on the position in which the Government were putting me.
So trust is crucial, and when one looks at this motion—one that I have come to support and will vote for—the first thing that I must ask about is the timetable. It is absolutely not possible for the Home Secretary to try to reassure me and my hon. Friends who want to support him that somehow or other there will be a proper debate when we will have a timetable motion that leads us to the end of it before the end of the next month. It is unacceptable. To suggest that we will debate a major change without time for the House to do so properly yet again shows that the Government do not care about the House of Commons, do not care about proper debate, and believe that it is acceptable to have a few perfunctory discussions and then say that the House of Commons has agreed.
That is why I have to say that I do not believe that the Home Secretary will get the legislation through in a form that is anything like the present proposals unless he makes some pretty big changes now. If he thinks that I am being overdramatic, I remind him about the casino Bill, which is now a wholly different Bill and is so pathetic that no one could object to it because it does none of the things that the Government promised in the first place. They discovered that what started off as, they thought, a popular move, they themselves made unpopular.
That is precisely what we have here. We have something that I believe to be right and in the right way could help in dealing with both illegal immigration and terrorism, but if presented in the way that the Government have will be a disaster, and they will find themselves deeply unpopular as a result, in exactly the same way as they have over the casino Bill. They thought that it would be a popular measure, they have managed to make it less popular, and if they go on as they are they will make it totally unpopular.
The way to change this is, first, to have a Joint Committee of both Houses so that the Bill can be properly considered and Parliament can be known to have given its opinion in a sensible and effective way. A change of this size, of this momentum, needs to have such scrutiny. The fact that the Government have cast it aside is yet again an example of the fact that the Government do not care about the House or Parliament as a whole. We have to press that in any such matter.
Secondly, the system cannot be run by the Government; it must be run by an independent commissioner who stands outside the Government and who reports to Parliament. There have been two examples of the successful introduction of information technology, both of them by one of the most independent quasi-Government organisations, the Inland Revenue. The Inland Revenue did both extremely well, effectively and to time, but it did it independently, it did it itself, and it does not report directly as is proposed here.
I want something even more independent than that. I want a body that is clearly independent, which can act only specifically within the terms of the Bill as laid down by the House. I want to remove from the Bill the Government's ability to use affirmative legislation, because people outside think that if a measure is brought before Parliament, there has been a debate. They do not understand our system. They do not know that there is no debate at all and that a measure cannot be defeated because in any circumstances the Government can use their Whip. Therefore, we need a different system.
If those Opposition Members who agree with the principle of having identity cards, who believe that we cannot say that just because there has been fraud we should not have paper money, for example—we cannot have a system which says that we cannot have anything because there might be abuse; we cannot say that because a measure will soon be outdated we had better not do it at all, or we would never buy a computer; nor can something be opposed because one is so opposed to anything that might be used by the EU that one votes against it in any case; that is barmy and we know exactly why some people are making such points—[Interruption.] There are some hon. Friends behind me whose whole purpose in life is to say those things, but I do not listen to that kind of argument.
The Government should listen to the fundamental argument, which is that the people who are friends of passing this legislation cannot agree with it unless it is changed fundamentally during its passage through the House. Although we may vote for it in the first place, we cannot vote for it later unless it is independently scrutinised, is subject to parliamentary decision making, and is clearly restricted to the purposes for which the Government claim that it is introduced. A timetable motion such as this is abhorrent and completely unacceptable in a democratic society. The Government must think again, or they will have the same dog's breakfast with this as they had on the casino Bill and they will have turned a popular measure into a disaster.
Sadly, I shall not be supporting my hon. Friend the Minister in the Lobby tonight. I warn him that, from my long experience in the House, I know that it is always a sign that something is going wrong when those on the two Front Benches support each other. There is also something seriously wrong when as many voices on both sides of the House are questioning their views.
The first objection is that, if politics is about priorities, we are earmarking far too many resources for the Bill, when we have not got enough resources for many other things that I would like as a socialist. Whether the amount spent is £3 billion, £5 billion or more, I believe that the money would be far better spent on eliminating child poverty, providing affordable housing, ensuring that our cities have good public transport systems or care for the elderly.
We also have to question the cost to the individual. I have no difficulty if the amount is £70 to £100 for an individual; if a family want to go abroad, they will have to get passports, and if the cost is between £300 and £400, that is perfectly all right. We must, however, face up to the fact that if the Bill is to cut benefit fraud, we will have to deal with families on very low incomes. For them, acquiring identity cards for the whole family will be a considerable expense, and it is certainly not something that we should push them into.
On technology, almost everyone in the House has questioned whether we can introduce the technology for such a scheme. The Child Support Agency, family credits, pensioner credits and all the disasters have been mentioned. The problem with that new technology is not that it fails to deal with 90 or 95 per cent. of cases, but the small 2 or 3 per cent. where a disaster is created. That small percentage will be the problem with ID card technology, whether the difficulties arise in working out the biometrics or other areas. Until we can build into any technological system some way of dealing with those hard cases, we will have a problem. The sad thing is that common sense is not all that common anyway, but as far as computers are concerned, it is absolutely non-existent. I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that the crucial thing is how we find a way around those hard cases so that we do not cause a great deal of misery and hardship for people who find it very difficult to get their ID card when people around them are getting cards without any difficulty at all.
I accept that crime and terrorism can be very effectively dealt with by ID cards, but that can happen only if the cards are compulsory and it is compulsory that everybody carries them all the time. I went to the Soviet Union as a student in 1958, and I was very impressed with a lot of what I saw. One day when I was coming up from the tube, two or three people pushed down the escalator past me going the wrong way. Why were they coming down? At the top, people coming out of the station were being stopped by the police and having their ID checked. If they did not have their ID, they were taken away. If we are prepared to argue for a society in which we have regular police checks at which the ID is demanded and verified, fair enough, but I certainly do not want that sort of society. I am not convinced that the new system will have any impact at all on crime and terrorism unless we travel a distance that I believe is completely unacceptable in this country.
We must also work out what happens in respect of people who lose their ID card. Constituents come regularly to my advice bureau having lost some crucial piece of paper, and it is often very difficult for them to get a replacement. We cannot make it easy for people to get replacement ID cards, or it will become less and less important for them to look for cards that they have mislaid. Penalties will be needed for people who lose their cards, but those penalties should not be so great as to mean that the ID card becomes another problem for somebody with a chaotic lifestyle.
Does my hon. Friend not appreciate that, with the advent of biometric cards, for the first time in history, it will not matter if people lose their card, because a new one can be issued only to somebody with the same biometrics? That will overcome the problem of people having to track down pieces of paper, shuffle them up to the post office and worry if they lose one of them. For the first time, they will have a secure identity.
The theory is that, if somebody lost their card, they would simply go and demand another, their biometrics would be checked and they would get another. There would then be a spare card.
It is not true that nobody else can use the card. That is one of the problems. People can be caught for illegally using a card only if someone is going to check it. That is the difficulty: false security, which is my next point. We all have House of Commons passes. There was a time at which, when an hon. Member entered the House of Commons, a policeman looked at them and their card, but that does not happen any longer; we can simply push our card into one of the machines. That creates a false security.
I have seen youngsters in pubs with so-called ID cards, and they can pass them around when someone goes to the bar. It is perfectly all right if there is a reader at that point, but we will not have readers on every street corner to check the cards. That is the problem—a false sense of security.
My hon. Friend is advancing an argument against identification full stop.
We have to be very careful with ID cards, and the sensible solution is to let people have the peripheral cards that they currently have, not to insist that they have a national card.
I intended to be brief, and I come to my last point: the desire to make changes by secondary legislation and the great number of powers in the Bill in respect of which the Government can come back to the House for an order under the affirmative procedure. There is a huge difference between trying to get primary legislation through the House and introducing secondary legislation. Primary legislation takes several months at the quickest and more often than not takes nine months. There is not only the debate in the Chamber and the argument in Committee; it is the debate in the country that is important. That happens on primary legislation, but regulation can be announced one day, and with a big Government majority, it can be introduced within 48 hours or so of publication.
That is a change in the nature of legislation, and I argue very strongly that we should not have the ID cards legislation at all, and that we should certainly not be introducing in that legislation powers for Governments fundamentally to change it and drift towards what will in effect become a police state. I am totally opposed to the legislation.
Mr. Oaten told us that he had changed his mind and that he was now against both the principle and the practice. He voted for the principle earlier in his short parliamentary career, but he did not choose to explain to us why his views on it had changed, although that change appears to have coincided with his appointment to his present responsibilities.
I, too, have changed my mind, albeit over a longer period. When I came to this House, I would not have supported the legislation, but I do this evening. I argue that I have changed my mind because the world around me has changed. It has changed in two respects. 9/11, about which much is said and whose trauma is real and far reaching, told us all that we had a new breed of criminal. The subsequent rash of suicide bombers simply reinforces the message that the world of terrorism and criminality has changed.
However, the other thing that has changed, for better or for worse—I had some reservations as we progressed down this road—is that the state and society in general intrude into my life to a far greater extent than when I first entered this House. My passage down the street is monitored by cameras and my pocket is full of bank cards. The other day, my bank helpfully called me to query what it thought might have been the fraudulent use of one of my credit cards. If the weekend press is to be believed, all hon. Members will soon have to wear their passes in this place for the first time ever. I am inundated by unsolicited commercial mail from people who know about my life, my quality of life and my habits, and who try to turn that information into a commercial project.
Two and half weeks ago, I went to the United States for my mother-in-law's funeral. In the process, my iris was photographed and my fingerprints were taken. It would be bizarre to argue against this legislation, when I have submitted myself to it in the United States in the past month. The world has changed.
I had the privilege of being one of five right hon. Members—Privy Councillors—who served on the Select Committee that reviewed the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 and that reported to the Home Secretary some months ago. We were all impressed by the growth of identity theft in not only this country, but on a much wider scale. We made recommendations about the need to tighten the fight against identity theft. As we were a Committee of Privy Councillors and had had access to the security services and to the police, we could not publish the evidence, but I assure the House that it was real and significant. We should look for new and additional measures to address that problem over and above the more traditional approaches.
I respect the opposition to the Bill because, as I have said, I might have been part of it. One of the inadequacies of the argument against the Bill is that the excellent must be the enemy of the good. Nobody whom I know—I remind the House that I was a security Minister—ever argues that because a proposal is not perfect, it should not be implemented, although it would provide an additional benefit.
I listened carefully to the Home Secretary, who made it clear that he is introducing the legislation not as a panacea or cure, but as an additional benefit in a changed and more threatening world. Having said that, I join my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer and other hon. Members in saying that the Bill must be amended.
The Bill must be strengthened as a protection against function creep. I have had the privilege of being in government, so I am not making a partisan point when I say that function creep is an inherent temptation to all Governments. In that regard, strengthening the Bill is important. Each one of us should have guaranteed access to whatever information the system holds about us. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 may not be sufficient in that regard, and that matter must be debated.
I also agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal that the commissioner should be responsible to Parliament, not to Government. My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary made that point, and I reiterate it because I believe in it so strongly. I also agree with those who have said that given the sensitive nature of the Bill, which goes to the heart of who we are and how we see ourselves as a nation, any changes should be by primary legislation, not secondary legislation.
When we debate a matter of principle in this House, it tends to polarise views and the language tends to shift to the ends of the political spectrum. We would do the nation a service if we resisted that temptation tonight and recognised that a serious benefit may derive from the Bill. Although the Bill is not a panacea for the future, it is an opportunity to do good in a changed and more threatening world.
This week, a number of journalists—and indeed my Whip—asked me whether I support the Government proposals on ID cards. I told them that they do not need to ask me whether I support ID cards, because I was the MP who suggested that the Government should introduce them in the first place, when I was a member of the Home Affairs Committee.
My idea was called "entitlement cards", and it was suggested by the Home Affairs Committee report on border controls, which was published in January 2000. I suggested that one would not need to carry the entitlement card and that one would not be asked for it on the street, but that one would need it to establish one's entitlement to a public service, such as registering with a GP or school or applying for a benefit or student loan.
Nearly five years down the line, what is essentially the same idea has gone through all the possible parliamentary stages that one can imagine—White Paper, public consultation, draft Bill, Select Committee report and Government response—and it has finally reached the Floor of the House of Commons as a Bill, which I warmly welcome and support.
Practically the only change to the original proposal that we discussed five years ago is that the Home Office, having launched the card as an "entitlement card", has decided to revert to "identity card", because it found from focus groups that people preferred it. I am not sure whether it is right, because I called it an "entitlement card" to emphasise that it is not a must-carry-at-all-times identity card and that it does not confer any powers on the police, unlike the South African pass laws or before them the Nazi pass laws.
Calling the card an "entitlement card" emphasises two things that resonate with the British voter. First, that the card concerns what we, as individuals, are entitled to. Secondly, that it concerns fairness, everyone getting their due and not jumping queues. Those reassurances are still needed.
The use of public services, especially the NHS, by non-UK residents has never been costed or assessed, and it has been left to the poison pens of right-wing scribes to throw around figures of obscure origin to feed insecurity and injustice among the British electorate.
Indeed; that is a good argument in favour of entitlement cards. The point has been made a number of times that people might be refused emergency treatment if they do not have their card. That is wrong; the health service never asks for identification for accident and emergency treatment. It is only when treatment becomes longer term that the issue of identity is raised.
Hospital authorities already raise the question of identity for long-term treatment. Since April this year, longer procedures have been introduced to ensure that all health authorities check the identity of people who receive long-term treatment, and particularly whether they are holidaymakers or have residence status. It will be simpler to establish that fact because people will not need to produce so many pieces of paper.
Does the hon. Gentleman really envisage every health service outpost in the land, including those that cannot afford scanners for medical purposes, buying scanners for ID purposes and installing them at huge expense? Is that what he wants to happen?
That is no more and no less than what happens at present. It is already the duty of health authorities to check the residence status of people who have long-term treatment.
They will use scanners if they want to or if it is simpler for them. It is up to public services what use they make of ID cards and scanners.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that my daughter, who is extremely allergic to penicillin, should have the right to an identity card that is linked to a database so that if she were taken into accident and emergency it would be possible to check whether to treat her with penicillin?
As I said, accident and emergency departments do not require proof of identity. When people who are on holiday are taken to A and E, their entitlement is not checked because it is an emergency—it is checked only when they need longer treatment. I cannot see how identity cards will do anything other than make the process simpler.
As I have pursued this issue over the past few years, I have seen a sea change in attitudes; indeed, my own attitude has changed. The number of people arguing against identity cards on principle has continued to dwindle. However, it is clear from the early-day motions that have been signed that there are still Members on both sides of the House who are very unhappy about the issue, and I want briefly to discuss some of their arguments.
The Bill makes it clear that there will be no compulsion to carry ID cards. There are no new powers for the police. There is no change in entitlement to public services, and emergency health care will still be free. There is no more information on the ID card than is already collected by Government; indeed, it will relate only to one's identity—name, date of birth and possibly address—and residence entitlement.
That is the position now. However, does not my hon. Friend agree that under the Bill as it stands, any Secretary of State will be able through secondary legislation to increase the amount of information? For instance, he could add everything that is held on the national police computer, including a person's associates, what they are suspected of, and the number of times that they have been arrested, and that information would be available to every Government Department that he designated. Does my hon. Friend agree with that, and if so what has he to say about it?
I am conscious of the time, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That argument—the thin end of the wedge, or function creep argument—is used all the time. I understand that it will appeal to libertarians, but it is a strange argument for parliamentarians to use, given that it will be under our control whether any decisions are taken by future Parliaments on Bills that extend the effect. This Bill specifically rules out any must-carry card. If people are worried by that argument, it should be used not as an excuse for sitting back and doing nothing but for strengthening parliamentary scrutiny.
Another argument, which was alluded to by Sir Brian Mawhinney, is the perfectionist argument—that because ID cards will not stop all international terrorism overnight or end all crime they are wrong and we should do nothing. The fallaciousness of that argument should be immediately apparent to every Member of this House. The mere fact that something will not do everything is no argument against doing something.
A further argument mentioned by the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire is, "I'm against ID cards because they would only work if they were made compulsory and you had to carry them at all times. I am against that, so I'm against the whole idea." That is just another form of the perfectionist argument, but it is completely fallacious because nobody is suggesting must-carry cards. The argument for the effectiveness of entitlement cards was based on their use in relation to public services. Those who say that they will not completely solve international terrorism miss the point completely, because nobody claimed that they would in the first place.
We have to deal with the fact that several new types of crime have arisen in this country almost entirely because of the lack of any kind of internal checks. There is identity fraud, a fair amount of which is to do with multiple applications for benefits and the use of multiple identities in different ways. Health tourism may not involve a huge loss of money, but the fact that it does not cost billions of pounds should not be an argument against making it more difficult for people who are on holiday to claim medical treatment without paying. As for illegal working, an ID card would make it much easier for employers to check the residence status of potential employees; equally, it would be easier for the authorities to enforce sanctions against employers who are caught using people who have no work status.
People trafficking is another, particularly pernicious, form of crime that has been called into being by the fact that once people enter this country we have no internal checks. When my colleagues on the Home Affairs Committee went over to Sangatte to ask people why they chose to come to this country rather than stay in France, they were often told that it was simply because of the lack of any internal checks.
Where I do criticise the Government is in their presentation of this important policy almost entirely in terms of its convenience for Government. It should be explained and defended in terms of its convenience for the individual. At the moment, we have wallets bulging with a host of different identity cards, and the new cards could be used to replace travel passes, library cards, driving licences, passports, benefits cards, proof of age cards, electoral registration cards, organ donor cards, Connexions cards, and application and registration cards. Ultimately, we have to understand that the individual would be the greatest beneficiary of a move towards identity cards. I strongly support the Bill.
Time is limited, and there are only a limited number of points that can be made. Given the time limit on speeches, many hon. Members will be unable to speak, and those who do will not be able to say very much, yet this is a huge subject and this debate has been truncated by the earlier statements and other matters. That in itself is not satisfactory.
Another unsatisfactory matter is the programme motion, which aims to get the Bill out of Committee by
As other hon. Members have pointed out, many of the provisions in the Bill will be spelled out in delegated legislation, which means that they will not be subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny. This is a very important issue, but it is clear that it will not be given proper scrutiny in this House. I should say in passing that that is partly due to this terrible thing called modernisation, which has done more damage to this House and to parliamentary democracy than anything else that has happened in my time. The Government need to reflect on that. Mr. Gummer made good points on that and the Government should reflect on them.
The Home Secretary clearly did not understand what I meant when I referred to a common travel area in an intervention. The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration subsequently responded to the point but I do not believe that he covered it. I meant the common travel area that exists in the British Isles between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. If identity cards were introduced for UK citizens yet the position continued whereby all citizens of the Republic of Ireland or people who might legally be able to reside there can travel to and through the United Kingdom with no travel documents—they do not need a passport or any other travel document—there would be a huge problem and loophole.
It is not sufficient for the Minister to claim that the European Union will introduce common travel documents when travel documents are not required. If the proposal reaches its final stage of being a compulsory identity card system, it will be necessary to have persuaded the Irish Republic to introduce an almost identical system. A common or shared database will probably be needed for it to operate. I do not know whether any of those matters have been considered, and that was the reason for my intervention. I hope that they will be considered.
There was some discussion about the form that Mr. Oaten has; I have even more form on the subject. I must tell Martin Linton that my form dates back to 1992. From then onwards, I tabled amendments and proposals in Committee and on the Floor of the House for the introduction of identity cards. I did that for the simple reason that the then Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Ronnie Flanagan, put it at the top of the list of measures that he wanted for strengthening his operations to deal with terrorism. He wanted that despite the fact, which Kate Hoey pointed out, that we had had photo ID driving licences in Northern Ireland since the early 1980s that were used as the basis of a database, by reference to which the security forces—the police and the Army—stopped people. Although that had been the position since the early 1980s, the Chief Constable considered it inadequate. He needed more and I therefore supported the concept, to which I am consequently tied.
I believe that the concept is right and that the point about civil liberties is overdone. Sir Brian Mawhinney made the point that so many things currently happen that enable records to be kept. I wish we had time to show that, but if we only consider the way in which possession of a mobile phone exposes one to huge surveillance and provides a tremendous amount of information, that makes the point. Supermarket loyalty cards have also been mentioned. Again, they enable a tremendous amount of information to be gathered.
The problem is not the information but the way in which it might be handled. The points about the need for the commissioner to be independent were well made. I hope that the Government will consider those matters because the provisions in the Bill are not sufficient. There is a host of practical issues to consider—for example, what information to include, how it is accessed and so on. However, I remain attached in principle to identity cards and especially to a national identity register. That is important for many reasons.
In Northern Ireland, we found that there was good reason to believe that many people on the electoral register did not exist and that there were bogus registrations. I suspect that that applies in England. The measures, based on national insurance numbers, that were introduced in Northern Ireland have had a significant effect. If we had a national identity register, there would be no need for them and there would be greater confidence in, for example, the electoral register. I fear that hon. Members are sometimes unwilling to face up to the extent of the problem. I believe that a similar problem of electoral abuse, which existed in Northern Ireland, applies in cities here. That is an additional reason for ID cards.
I want to pick up the point about devolution. We were teased earlier about what the Labour Administration in Cardiff would do and given some hints about the actions of the Labour Administration in Edinburgh. They are both old Labour Administrations and the Government may need to act to get them into line. However, if recent negotiations proved successful and a Democratic Unionist party-Sinn Fein coalition took over the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland, what might happen? Although old Labour may be slightly foreign or detached from the Government Front Bench, a DUP-Sinn Fein coalition would be from a totally different planet. The idea that it would have some of the powers for which the Bill provides beggars belief. I suspect that the Government will have to find methods of extending measures to the devolved Administrations, just as I believe that the scheme will eventually be introduced.
I understand why the scheme will be voluntary at the beginning. Much work is required to build up a system and ensure that it works effectively. It will take years, and it will also be years before we are in a position to move to an automatic identity system that is effective throughout the United Kingdom and marries up with actions elsewhere in Europe. However, we need proper scrutiny now, and we need the Government to be more flexible in the succeeding weeks than they currently appear to be.
The earliest form of identity documents in this country were probably the letters of introduction that travellers used in the time of William the Conqueror. However, those early papers contained no description of the holder and certainly no image. They were written in French, the language of diplomacy. Some speeches in the debate lead me to believe that some hon. Members would like to revert to that standard of identity, but without the French, of course. However, I believe that we should move towards a more succinct and more reliable system and that the majority of us want to improve standards of security.
I am another convert. Until 1999, like most of my colleagues in the parliamentary Labour party, the wider Labour party and probably the general population, I had no strong views on identity cards. On balance, I was probably unpersuaded of the need for their introduction. However, events in my Dover constituency in that year forced me to examine the question afresh.
By 1999, many asylum seekers and illegal immigrants had arrived in Dover by hiding in the channel tunnel freight trains and in the backs of lorries on the cross-channel ferries. Consequently, we were accommodating an ever-increasing number of asylum seekers and overseas visitors, who caused us problems and posed important questions.
There was much speculation, to which my hon. Friend Martin Linton alluded, about why those people had travelled, sometimes through three continents, taken huge risks and then risked life and limb to travel the extra 20 miles from the safe havens of France and Belgium to Britain. Many theories and reasons have been offered. The Home Affairs Committee considered the matter and discussed the "pull" and "push" factors. It examined the lack of identity cards in this country as a pull factor. I accept that that was only one of many theories that were presented. However, when I asked individual police officers and immigration officers in Calais and Dover—people on the ground who meet asylum seekers when they depart and when they arrive—they put lack of identity cards and the consequent easy access to illegal working at the top of their list of pull factors.
Let me make some progress.
Although most immigrants are law abiding and peaceful, a small number of asylum seekers in that part of east Kent sought fraudulent ways to make multiple claims for benefit. Some succeeded in picking up large amounts of money by making more than one application for asylum and using the false identity to double their money. That was not difficult to do at the time, because the authority to claim such benefits was simply a letter from the Home Office, which could easily be forged with a little Tippex and a photocopier. But that is just the lower end of the forgery scale. At the higher end is criminals' ability to make very passable copies of British and foreign passports and ID cards.
Hon. Members may remember a BBC documentary film maker posing as an asylum seeker in Dover. He was put in contact with a gang in London who, at a cost, manufactured a complete set of false identity documents within a few days. To tackle that abuse, the Government introduced identity cards for all asylum seekers—that has already been mentioned—as part of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. Those asylum registration cards—ARCs as they are called—are also biometric. They hold the electronic imprint of the holder's fingerprints in digital form.
The new system was implemented speedily and without problems. As well as being highly effective in combating fraud, the new cards are welcomed by asylum seekers because they help clearly to define their status and ensure that they get speedy access to their legitimate benefits. I have heard of no instance of an ARC being successfully forged, and my experience of seeing the real benefits of this card, as well as my view that the lack of identity cards in this country was a big pull factor for economic migrants and asylum seekers, persuaded me to support and promote the introduction of secure biometric ID cards for the rest of the population.
The creation of multiple identities is by no means limited to asylum seekers and illegal immigrants. A large proportion of criminals use false and multiple identities to defraud and to escape detection. Stolen identities are the stock-in-trade of some villains. When police tracked down the evil people smugglers who allowed 58 young Chinese to perish in the back of a container in my constituency of Dover, one of the criminals had no fewer than 51 separate identities, all supported by false documentation.
Owing to the flow of immigrants to Dover, the volume of illegal working in Kent increased and the activities of the illicit gangmasters flourished. That is another area of criminality where the ability to define identity by the production of a secure biometric card would help to crack down on illegal working and on the people who smuggle others into Britain and profit from their human misery.
I believe that those reasons alone are probably sufficient for the introduction of identity cards, but the massive escalation in the threat to our citizens and to our communities represented by the attack on the twin towers in 2001 has added a new dimension to the debate, as well as another important reason for ensuring that our police, our border control officers and our security services know with a degree of certainty who is in the country and who is who.
I do not think that anyone believes that the threat that organisations such as al-Qaeda pose to our communities will diminish in the foreseeable future, and there is every probability that, with the passage of time, international terrorists will become more threatening and more sophisticated in their planning. This means that it is even more important than ever that the state knows who is in the country and has reliable population statistics, which is why I would welcome the reintroduction of embarkation controls in Britain to run alongside secure compulsory ID cards.
My hon. Friend has a deservedly high reputation for improving race relations in his constituency, so is he not uneasy at the proposals to phase in identity cards such that non-EU nationals living in the UK for more than three months will be the first ones to have to carry them? Might that lead to a stop-and-search culture, which would damage race relations in a way that he has been trying to combat locally for five or six years?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his generous remarks, but the issue of the three-month delay was dealt with adequately from the Front Bench during the opening speeches.
The critics of ID cards keep wheeling out the old chestnut that ID cards did not or would not stop any of the notorious terrorist attacks—we have heard that any number of times tonight—but that argument ignores the enormous amount of preparation involved in and the enormous number of people who prepare the ground for such attacks. It is well known that a significant proportion of those people lie dormant by hiding behind false identities. We have already heard that about 30 per cent. of terrorists use false identities to get by.
Our security and police chiefs—the people with the awesome responsibility of protecting us from the destructive outrages of terrorists—all say that ID cards would help them in their task. The same people tell us that, although they have already successfully disrupted and prevented more than one major terrorist attack in Britain in recent months, a further attack on the capital is inevitable rather than just likely.
So to those who argue that identity cards did not prevent 9/11 and Madrid, the security chiefs of those countries are entitled to say that although, sadly and tragically, their anti-terrorist units did not prevent the attacks, that is not to say that those units have no use or that they should never have been established in the first place.
I know from taking soundings in my area that the vast majority of my constituents want ID cards to be introduced. We know from our consultations that about 80 per cent. of the British people want ID cards to be introduced. We know that all the security people want ID cards. We know that nearly all our European partners already have some form of ID card in place. There is a rising tide of support for these timely new measures; I am happy to add my support for this important Bill tonight.
The Government argue that identity cards and the national register will protect us from terrorists, stop benefit fraud and prevent illegal immigration—their effect will be to provide an answer to all our problems. The Conservatives appear to agree. "Appear" is the operative word: why else would so many of them, we understand, have been told to take the day off rather than reveal the extent to which they oppose identity cards?
I am very dubious about the first claim of ID cards protecting us from terrorism. We all want our constituents to be protected from terrorist attacks, which are made more likely by this country's involvement in the war in Iraq. The Government dragged the country into that war—again, with the full backing of the official Opposition. Then, as now, it was left to the Liberal Democrats to lead the opposition in the House. However, I see no evidence that identity cards have prevented terrorist attacks in Europe. Over recent years, hardly a European state has not had its citizens murdered by terrorists, as in Madrid in the train bombings, despite Spain's citizens having been compelled for many years to have identity cards.
The amount of taxpayers' money needed to start up this system is huge—an estimated £3 billion or more for the computer system. We should watch for the announcement that that has doubled or trebled, as the costs of so many such schemes do. Then there will be the as yet unknown ongoing costs for the army of people to maintain the system and constantly to update individuals' records as their addresses and situations change. How many more people will have to be put on the payroll to do that, and at what cost? We simply do not know.
I have seen various initial estimates of the cost to each of us of an identity card. No one seems to know the true figure, but whatever it is, how long will it be before it rockets? How will that affect those who were not forced to register for an ID card when renewing their passport, but who are given notice that the Secretary of State requires them to register under threat of a £2,500 fine for non-registration?
I understand that no guarantees are given for that. Indeed, the cost could be a lot more.
The dangers to civil liberties and traditional freedoms are well known and have been well rehearsed today, and they are greater when we have no confidence that what is being proposed will produce a reliable system.
The balance between the civil liberties of the individual and the benefits to the state has been discussed several times. My constituents tell me that they are worried that the Government appear more and more authoritarian, and that this proposal is just another facet of that authoritarianism, with the Government wishing to be present at every move that people make and in every service in which they wish to take part.
When I talk to people about large-scale Government computer projects, they laugh. They remind me of the recent chaos at the Child Support Agency because of major failures of its computer systems. I am reminded of the even more recent computer crash at the Department for Work and Pensions, with all the inconvenience and genuine hardship that that caused. The track record of those huge IT projects is disturbingly unreliable. This IT project will be bigger than anything so far, much more complex, and much more liable to error. I do not share the Government's confidence that identity cards cannot be forged, or the systems hacked into, by clever criminals with sufficient resources. What assurances can the Minister give that these systems cannot be tampered with? Unless he can give such assurances, an awful lot of money will be wasted.
When our access is impeded or denied because the computers are down, or because our information has been wrongly entered, how will we feel? When our elderly neighbour or relative cannot get their pension because their details are wrong, how will that affect any enthusiasm that we might have for the idea? How long will it be before our DNA profile is added to the register?
I want the billions proposed for this project to be put into the police, immigration and other security services: for example, more intelligence officers for MI5 and the new Serious Organised Crime Agency. Vast sums are being diverted from forces that desperately need more resources. Only recently, chief police officers complained that they face a £350 million shortfall for fighting crime next year. A sum of £3 billion could pay for 10,000 extra police officers for the next six years.
By this proposal, the Government show clearly that they have the money to spend. Let them spend it on effective means to keep us safe and to prevent fraud. The Conservatives often say that they want to do away with big government. Big government does not get much bigger than this.
I am pleased that we are at last debating this issue, because it seems that we are being asked to accept some kind of illusion of security. We are told that there are problems in society of high levels of crime, illegal immigration, illegal working, benefit fraud and terrorism, all of which may or may not be true. Nobody from the Home Office or anywhere else, however, has managed to explain how any of those problems will be solved by the introduction of compulsory identity cards, voluntary identity cards, or voluntary identity cards that later become compulsory. Let us start to examine the arguments and how the scheme would operate, and let us think it through.
If one wants to come into this country to create terrorist mayhem or commit major fraud, one does not come in through an airport or sea port with "Terrorist" written across one's forehead, or "Criminal" written across one's breast, and say, "I'm here to cause mayhem". What is the first thing that one does? One gets some form of credible identity—a stack of bank cards and all those bits of information that will get access to society—one dresses the part, and one gets away it. With all the technology available, and the enormous expense of computer programmes for this system, who is to say that the fraudsters will not already be ahead of the game? As my hon. Friend Mrs. Dunwoody has pointed out, the fraudulent use of bank cards is already rife. Those who wish to commit fraud on bank cards are well ahead of the game and are well capable of doing it. Who is to say that there is not a possibility in the future either of fiddling forms of iris recognition or hacking into the computer and issuing multiple cards that people can use fraudulently?
Will not my hon. Friend accept that bank card fraud is so easy precisely because of the lack of biometric identification? With biometrics, and identity anchored firmly to a biometric card, many of the avenues for bank fraud and fraud against public services would be closed.
That is a fascinating argument, based on the comfort and love of technology, which solves all problems. If we were to take my hon. Friend's argument at face value, that would mean having a biometric reader in every branch of every bank in this country and, I presume, alongside every cash machine. I presume that somebody will staff the cash machine to check that the person is using the biometric reader. What kind of society are we heading towards if we cannot go anywhere without checking in with a biometric reader to confirm that we are who we say we are? What kind of society will such a scenario create?
I am proud to represent a very multicultural inner-city community. It contains people who have come from all over the world, who have either migrated to this country, migrated from other parts of the United Kingdom, or sought and received asylum here. After a great deal of work over many years, relations between the local communities and the police are pretty good. There is a good working relationship. Who is to say whether, with the development of these ID cards, we will not return to all the past horrors of stop and search, the use of earlier vagrancy legislation, and the profiling of individuals to decide whether they should be stopped and searched?
I suspect that "voluntary" cards will be introduced, and that various agencies will decide to check whether people with certain ethnic attributes have a card. We will end up with racial profiling. In relation to health care and examination, one hopes that emergency services will always deal with emergencies, but are we to assume that hospital staff will ask everyone who wants to make an appointment for a non-emergency service for their identity card, or will it just be those with a west African-sounding name, a Turkish-sounding name, a Somali-sounding name or a south Asian-sounding name? I suspect the latter. I suspect that we will end up with an unpleasant society, biometric readers in certain places, a large degree of stop and search going on as a result, and people living at the margins excluded.
For example, we are supposed to register every time we change address—but I know of many people who lead entirely chaotic lives, who would never in a million years get round to registering a change of address, particularly when they change address every three or four weeks, or at least every three or four months. Will they be fined £1,000 every time they do not register? What will we do when they cannot or will not pay the fine, or other penalty? What kind of criminalisation will result from that?
What about Travellers, who lead an itinerant existence? I would have thought that in a modern, democratic, tolerant society we could and should be able to accept different lifestyles. What will we do with people who refuse to, or simply cannot, register? Will we create a group living on the margins, for ever exploited as illegal workers, because their employers can get away with it and it suits society?
The House should think very carefully before passing the Bill, if for no other reason, then for the following two reasons. First, this is not about identity cards; it is about a national identity register. That is what clause 1 says. Secondly, this is enabling legislation, which is being rushed through tonight, and will have to be out of Committee by the end of January. Presumably there will also be pressure to get it out of the House of Lords so that it will appear on the statute book quickly. It will then be law, and although the public as a whole may not understand the concepts of primary and secondary legislation, the fact is that tonight is the major opportunity that MPs will have to vote on this material, except for Report and Third Reading. After that there will be only secondary legislation, which is impossible to amend and difficult to vote against—difficult, indeed, to influence in any way.
I ask Members to think carefully about the kind of society that we are creating with the Bill, and about what kind of society we want to live in. The Bill will not solve crime, fraud or terrorism; it represents the comfort zone of the high-technology security industry, which will be easily hacked into. A much better form of security is protection of the individual and respect for that individual's liberties, independence and right to justice. That, rather than going down the road of examination, interference and control, will lead to a fairer, more just and more co-operative society.
I shall join Jeremy Corbyn in the Lobby tonight to vote against a bad idea in a worse Bill, introduced for the worst possible motives. This idea has always been a solution looking for problems. When the Government were under attack for waste in the public services, they said that this would be an entitlement Bill, frankly admitting that it would have little role to play in combating terrorism. When they were under attack for their failure to control immigration, they said that the Bill's prime purpose would be to control illegal immigration. When the focus groups told them that they were lagging behind the Conservatives on crime, they said that the primary issue was to control crime. Now, because they want to frighten us with the threat of terrorism ahead of the election, they have again raised the issue of controlling terrorism.
The Bill is a solution looking for problems, and when we examine the problems, it turns out to be a pretty illusory solution to them. The police rarely have a problem in identifying suspects, only in proving that they did what they are suspected of. Terrorists rarely conceal their identity, only their motives. Benefit fraudsters rarely adopt a false identity, they merely misrepresent their circumstances. All illegal immigrants can, and most do, claim asylum. They are then automatically given an identity card without which they cannot claim benefits, and such cards already show their fingerprints and their photo.
The Government have managed to come up with some helpful comments from Departments suggesting general support for the scheme, and saying that it might be beneficial to them. It is always possible to get civil servants to say that sort of thing; their job is to support the Government. It was not too difficult to persuade the security services to come up with evidence that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Departments are saying that the Bill would be useful to them—but the acid test of whether a Department really thinks that a proposal will be useful to it is to ask whether it is prepared to contribute a slice of its budget towards the costs. My first question to Ministers is: has any Department indicated a willingness to contribute to the costs of the scheme?
We know that the scheme originally proposed, for a voluntary card, was going to cost £1 billion. When that became an entitlement card, the cost went up to £3 billion. When the first draft Bill appeared, the scheme was going to cost £4 billion. Now it is supposed to cost about £5 billion. I know of no experience that does not suggest, and no outside expert who does not expect, that the eventual cost will be at least twice what the Government now say.
The Government say that a card will cost £85 a head, and that the cost will be borne not by Departments but by individuals. Everybody will have to pay that sum, even the 20 per cent. who never travel abroad and cannot afford a car. I ask the Minister: if the cost is double the present estimate, are we going to charge double that amount—a sum greater than the poll tax—to every inhabitant of this country, simply to prove their existence and justify their presence here?
The problem is that the system almost certainly will not work. We have heard about the difficulties of getting IT systems to work, but what about the biometrics on which this system is intended to rely, which have never been tried out on any scale? Indeed, the Government's own small-scale pilot trials had to be postponed because, as the Passport and Records Agency says,
"a series of hardware, software and ergonomic problems" caused delays. It continues:
"Remedial actions to cure these problems continued for several weeks when, after further tests, the system was given back to the suppliers for further development and reconfiguration".
If these problems occurred during a small-scale trial, what possibility is there that the Government can get the system to work for 60 million people? A Cabinet Office study concluded that biometric tests will wrongly conclude that between 10 and 15 per cent. of those tested are not who they actually are. Are the Government really happy with that level of misidentification?
My next question for the Government is: why has no bank, supermarket or credit card company introduced this technology? Could it be that they believe the costs too great, the benefits too small and the danger of alienating their customers too high to risk undertaking a project of this nature? But the arguments against ID cards are not just practical. They would increase the power of the state and change the relationship between it and the individual. Does it not give Labour Members some pause for thought that compulsory ID cards have never been introduced in peacetime in any country other than a fascist, communist or totalitarian state? They were introduced by those countries precisely to increase their Governments' power to control their citizens. I am not accusing Ministers of sharing the malign nature of those states—at least, I do not think that I am—but they are creating an apparatus that could be misused. Does it not give Ministers pause for thought that no common law country has ever introduced such a system, and that those that started to do so—such as Australia and New Zealand—were persuaded by the reaction of their populations to back off and withdraw the proposal?
A number of Members have made it clear—I share their view—that the system will serve practically no purpose unless carrying the card, as well as having it, is made compulsory. Ministers say that that can be done only through further primary legislation. Given that this Government introduce three or four police Bills every year, the fact that such an initiative would require further primary legislation will be precious little defence once the apparatus is in place. We may take it for granted that once the system is in place, it will be compulsory to carry the card and to present it when required. Indeed, most of the services and most of the public think that carrying such a card ought to be compulsory. So every time that we leave home without it, we will be liable to a penalty. Even under this Bill, every time that we fail to notify the authorities of a change of address, we will be liable to a penalty of up to £1,000. Every time that we fail to report a lost or stolen card, we will not only be unable, so they say, to access all the services; we will also be liable to a penalty.
This project will cost huge sums and it may not work. It will damage our liberties, and I hope that this House rejects it.
Twenty years ago, and perhaps even 10 years ago, many of us may have held strong views against the idea of identity cards. However, we have become used to carrying a range of cards in our purses and wallets. As other hon. Members have said, we can be tracked around the country through our bank cards and, if anyone were sufficiently interested, they could discover from where we draw cash, where we choose to eat and how much we spend at the local supermarket. Indeed, loyalty cards can tell the supermarkets all that there is to know about our shopping habits, as well as whether we have a cat or dog, or even a baby. We have also grown accustomed to CCTV in our high streets and shops, to the point where most of us hardly ever think about the cameras. In recent years, the threat of terrorism and crimes associated with identity fraud has increased the need for security—both for the nation and for the individual citizen.
I recognise that there are those who hold very strong views against the development of ID cards. They oppose them in principle and nothing is likely to change their minds. What I can say is that, in my constituency, a survey that I have just conducted shows an overwhelming majority of the general public in favour of the introduction of identity cards.
I sent a questionnaire to about half the households in my Burton constituency and the rate of return is already about 20 per cent. with further replies being received daily. I have yet to complete a final analysis of the results, but a random sample shows that support for a card, and for it being compulsory, is 83 per cent. with 12 per cent. against both the card and compulsion. About 3 per cent. believe that we should have an ID card, but that it should not be compulsory, and 2 per cent. are neither for nor against.
Did the hon. Lady ask her constituents what price they would be prepared to pay for an ID card? In a much quoted survey that we have heard about this afternoon, 80 per cent. of the UK population as a whole support the ID card proposals, but when asked whether they would be prepared to pay £35 for the card, only 20 per cent. of people said that they would. What sum did the hon. Lady ask her constituents to pay for the card and how much were they prepared to pay for it?
I was just about to come to that point. Some of my constituents are indeed concerned about the cost of the card to individuals, especially regarding the price that will be charged to the least well off in society, such as pensioners, who might not have any wish or need to purchase a passport. In that respect, I am pleased that the Government have already made a commitment to issuing cards at a reduced fee for vulnerable groups such as those on low incomes and to looking further into arrangements for the elderly, including consideration of some non-biometric cards for those who are frail and cannot be expected to have biometric measurements taken.
Although there is widespread acceptance of the principle of ID cards, the introduction of a system will bring benefits only if we can be sure that the national identity register is secure, with up-to-date information and accurate biometric identity markers. The report of the Home Affairs Committee states:
"We believe there is a danger that in many day-to-day situations the presentation alone of an identity card will be assumed to prove the identity of the holder without the card itself or the biometrics being checked, thus making possession of a stolen or forged identity card an easier way to carry out identity fraud than is currently the case. The availability of readers of cards and biometrics, including to the private sector, is therefore a crucial factor."
I know from the Government response to that Select Committee report that some Departments have begun to assess their need for identity card readers. It would seem that there is still much work to be done to establish the true requirements of both the public and the private sector.
We should recognise that the Government's proposals for identity cards go much further than those in other countries, but also that we do not have a history of requiring as strict a registration system as many other countries do. Sweden has had a personal number system from birth for many years, but we found when we met people there that the country is yet to decide whether to have biometric measurements. The Swedish cards will be mainly for travel within Europe. In Germany, people are used to having to notify the authorities immediately of any change of address, yet the country has not gone as far with identity cards as we are proposing.
I believe that a system that does not involve biometrics would not be worth introducing. The use of biometrics should enable us to have a secure system, but to ensure that, it is vital to use accurate technology, to protect the system when data are inputted and to check the information rigorously. Providing the system is secure, it should not be possible for people to register more than once.
One of the concerns of the Home Affairs Committee was that we should avoid so-called function creep. For example, the development of the national identity register could establish a national fingerprint register, posing the question whether it should be used for solving crime as well as proving identity. We thought it highly likely that there would be public pressure for the information to be used to detect offenders, especially in the case of serious crime. The Home Affairs Committee report also stated that the benefits must not be entirely, or even predominantly, to the state. I am glad that the Government recognised that in their response.
Combating identity fraud will protect the individual as well as tackling crime. It will be useful for young people to be able to identify themselves when making age-related purchases. It will also be helpful if individuals no longer have to notify many different Departments of a change of address.
As long as the Government proceed with care, there is everything to be gained from having ID cards for the security of the country and the safety and protection of individual members of our society.
I am not a member of the libertarian right. Rather, I am what I suppose the Home Secretary would describe as a liberal, although to set one's face against authoritarian measures undertaken in the name of the public interest perhaps requires a tough liberalism, and I would describe myself as a tough rather than a soggy liberal.
Tonight, however, I make common cause with those who might more comfortably think of themselves as members of the libertarian right, because I believe that the Bill is a step too far, and I shall be in the Lobby against it. In any democracy, there is an implicit contract between the citizen and the state about the way in which freedom is to be exercised. Some freedom is exercised individually. I choose to exercise it individually because I believe that that is what is best both for myself and for the wider society. Some freedom I choose to be vested in a collective will because I believe that that is better for the broader community and, ultimately, in my interest as well.
There is not a frozen formula: political treatises have been written in every century about where the balance lies between the authority of the state and the authority of the individual. It is undoubtedly true that 9/11 seems to have changed the balance, both in psychological and in political terms, but that does not mean that the question does not have to be asked. We ought constantly to question whether those measures that have been taken by the state, no doubt in good will and out of a spirit of paternalism rather than one of authoritarianism, are necessary.
I have come to the conclusion that we are seeing an encroachment of paternalism, invading the space occupied by liberalism and the role of the individual. Under this Government, in particular, the power of the intrusion of the state has increased and is increasing, and it ought to be halted. Under Labour, ironically, we have seen a sort of creeping Bonapartism in government. I am a well-known Francophile—it is one of the problems I have. I would not start from the assumption that French practices are wrong, but I find it ironic that, over the past decade or so, Bonapartism has, at last, been on the retreat in France, just when it has been on the increase in the United Kingdom. I do not wish to be counted one of les administrés, identifying myself as a subject of the state and being given my identity in terms of what the state endows me with.
I do not believe in the analogies that people have drawn with bank cards, supermarket cards and even national insurance numbers. Those are specific, limited and often voluntary things. The accumulation of information and power in one instrument is materially and substantively different from the dispersal of powers through separate instruments.
The Home Secretary says that we will not have to carry the card and the police will not be able to ask to see it. That makes me wonder why it will exist at all. As my right hon. Friend Mr. Lilley explained, we have seen a curious accumulation of the purposes of the Bill, and if one of the card's purposes is to combat terrorism, it is difficult to explain why it should be treated rather like my driving licence. With that, if I commit an offence, I can produce the licence at a police station of my choice within, I think, seven days. By that time, if I had terrorist intent, I doubt whether I would choose to present my card to my local police station in Skipton or Ripon at the appointed hour.
The trouble is that the Government are proceeding, in this as in so many things, by assertion, not by explanation or persuasion. I am always concerned about how things work in practice and I believe that this Bill will end up in a compulsory scheme. People will have to have an obligation to carry the cards or I cannot see the point of it.
I remember that, when I was the correspondent for the Financial Times in Paris, I used to see the police waiting outside the metro stations. They did not stop the whites, but those with a Maghreb complexion—those from north Africa. If one were white, one could have paraded through Paris wearing a bathing costume in the middle of winter and nobody would have taken any interest. The Bill, therefore, poses more than one problem with regard to the ethnic minority communities in Britain. It is a problem if the police decide to focus on members of the ethnic minority community, but it is equally a problem if the police take a softly, softly approach. In that case, other members of the community complain, as those of us who canvassed in recent by-elections have noted. People object when they think that the police are less rigorous in their approach to certain matters of ordinary law enforcement in ethnic minority areas than in other areas, because they do not wish to disturb community relationships or community equilibrium. In either case, it is a problem.
My fundamental problem is that the Bill is an empty vessel into which the Home Secretary can pour powers. The procedures for secondary legislation in this Parliament, which have been used by all Governments, amount—for all intents and purposes—to government by decree. If we are to have a commissioner, he should be analogous to the National Audit Office and answerable to this House to give us some measure of reassurance.
Another problem is the technical aspect and whether the proposals will work. Cost is another issue, and I was astonished that the Home Secretary in a long speech—admittedly, he took many interventions—did not mention the word. If there are reasons to vote against the Bill, that is one of them. He uttered not a single phrase related to the cost of the project. The Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee is seeking to catch your eye later, Madam Deputy Speaker, and he will know that the Government's record on the escalation of costs of public contracts, especially in IT, is catastrophic. That money could be spent elsewhere to buy a great deal of security and common or garden policing. It could even be spent to keep some of the police stations in my constituency open for 24 hours, rather than office hours as they are at present, which causes considerable resentment among ordinary people.
The timetable is monstrous. Is this a serious attempt to produce legislation or is it to provide an item for an election manifesto? To propose determining something as complex as this Bill in a matter of three weeks is an insult to the House. The implications are enormous and we know from experience that scrutiny is poor in such circumstances. That is why the House of Lords is so necessary, although no doubt that will change, if this Government are returned.
Finally, I say to my Front-Bench colleagues that we do not need to compete with Labour. We stand for individual liberty and a free and open society, in which there is a price for responsibility. We should have small government and big people. This Bill makes the Government too big and me too small.
I have three reasons for opposing the Bill. First, I do not believe that it will do what is claimed. It certainly will not deliver benefits proportional to the cost. Whatever benefits it may deliver, they should be proportional to the cost of implementing it. Secondly, I have concerns about the technology and, thirdly, about the impact on personal privacy. It is incumbent on those who support the Bill to justify its cost, especially in comparison with the benefits of spending the money on other ways of dealing with some of the problems.
I do not want to labour points that have already been made about some of the claims that have been made, such as those on terrorism or crime. However, I have never found that the police say that one of their major problems in dealing with crime is identifying people. The problem is producing evidence to connect the person whom they have identified with the crime. Furthermore, illegal working takes two: the employer and the employee. Employers who knowingly employ people who are in the country illegally and do not bother to make the checks that they are supposed to make about whether the person is entitled to work in the UK will be no more likely to carry out a check if the form it takes is an ID card.
As Mr. Curry said, although the main arguments about ID cards change from time to time, in the end they all depend on compulsion to have a card. Without compulsion, none of the benefits could be obtained.
A massive database is proposed and a massive infrastructure will be necessary, because there is no point in having cards that include biometrics without the infrastructure, including readers in a huge variety of places, to read and check them. A large number of people will have access to the database.
To some degree, we are being mesmerised by technology; we think that technology is perfect. It will not be perfect. There will be false positives and false negatives from the readers and their rate will depend very much on how the readers are set up and the algorithms used to compare images from them. People will attempt to break into the database and they will probably be successful. The prize will be huge: the information in the database will make breaking into it extremely tempting.
We have not paid much attention to a further point about the database, although Mr. Oaten raised it earlier. The database will not appear from thin air, but will need to be created. How will it be set up? If the data that are input are not wholly accurate and not verified perfectly, the database will be fundamentally flawed from day one. I have heard nothing from the Government about how that verification will actually happen. It seems inevitable that it must be based on people's existing documents and evidence about themselves, so if a person already has a false identity, or ensures that they acquire one before they register, it will be transferred to the database. A person may also have other identities in countries that are not linked to the database.
It is inevitable that there will be human error when inputting data. Records will get mixed up and one person's biometrics will be attached to someone else's record. That has already happened in databases that contain biometrics, with devastating consequences for some of the people whose data have been mixed up. Like other Members, I have dealt with constituents affected by false information from criminal record checks, including, recently, someone who lost his job for that reason.
That is absolutely true. Millions of entries will go on to the database each year as it is created, so the potential for error will be enormous.
Let me turn to privacy and the relationship between the individual and the state that the database will give rise to. Once a database of this nature has been created—the Bill contains powers for the Secretary of State to add more information to the database by order—it is absolutely inevitable that there will be function creep. There is no question about that. The Home Secretary more or less admitted earlier in the debate today that compulsion will be necessary. Without compulsion, the people who will not be on the database will be exactly the sort of the people whom the Home Office and Ministers say that they want to keep track of using the database. Being on the database and having an ID card must be compulsory; otherwise the whole structure will fail apart. Of course, the people who will be last to register will be those who want to keep their names off it, plus people who are elderly or infirm and so on.
Who will have access to the database? We know from the debate and the regulatory impact assessment that banks and retailers, not just Departments, may have access to it. The Home Secretary even suggested that someone might check the database when people rent a video. Every time that someone's details are checked on the database—perhaps for a financial transaction, travel or whatever—all that information will be recorded. There will be an audit trail of every piece of information, every time that the database is accessed to check someone's particulars. I do not believe that the state should be collecting that sort of information about individuals.
If I choose to have a Sainsbury's loyalty card and the company collects information about me and sends a Christmas card to my cat, or something like that, I am not really worried about it. It is my choice to have that card, and I know what the consequences are. I do not believe that the state should collect such information.
If people start to realise what is implied and to think about the possible uses of those audit trails and the information that is held on the database, I believe that public opinion will change very rapidly. At the moment, a lot of people say, "Oh well, if I've done nothing wrong, I've got nothing to worry about." That is the wrong answer to the wrong question. People need to ask themselves what benefits will accrue from this vast expenditure. The one saving grace is that this will turn into a hugely expensive fiasco.
Those on the Conservative Front Bench might be relieved to know that I am in favour of the principle of an identity card system. I shall vote with the Government tonight, but I understand and respect the principles of those of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members on both sides of the House who take the opposite view. I must add that, although I am in favour of the principle, the way in which the Government are acting and some of the measures that they propose to take are absolutely unacceptable.
Comments on those measures have been repeated around the House. I will not bore the House by saying it all again, except to say that they were most forcefully and persuasively articulated by my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer. The way in which the issues of the commissioner, the Joint Committee and, above all, the timetable have been handled is an absolute insult to the House of Commons on a Bill that is, whatever one's view, as important as this, given the consequences that it will have for our people.
I have been consistent in my support for identity cards almost as long as Mr. Trimble. In fact, the House may be surprised to know that, on
I discussed the subject yesterday evening with a friend who is over here from the United States. He showed me his New Jersey driving licence, which is an amazingly high-tech piece of plastic. It tells the police who he is and includes his photograph and a hologram. To respond to what several hon. Members have said, an identity card system is not necessary in the United States because such cards exist.
The Government are right not to make the scheme compulsory. People say that we are on a slippery slope, but I do not think that the scheme will ever be made compulsory because that would make martyrs. People would refuse cards on principle and there would be chaos. We need to prove that identity cards are so useful that everyone will want to carry them, which is the state of affairs in the United States. No one in the United States leaves their house without a form of identification. That is normally their driving licence, but it can be their health card. They always have adequate means to persuade people of who they are.
Surely the group of people for whom identity cards will not be useful, and who will thus not volunteer to carry them, will be terrorists and criminals. The effectiveness of the scheme will be markedly, if not completely, reduced if it remains voluntary.
That will not be the case if it becomes such a habit for people to carry cards to show who they are that those without them are the odd ones out. As in the United States, if we have nothing to fear, I believe that we will all carry the cards in time, which seems to be a good way of going about things.
It is, however, outrageous that the Government will make us pay for the cards if they demand that we possess them. Citizens should not be charged for something that it is compulsory to possess. I know that there are huge costs involved—it is another matter when the cards are tied up to passports—but an ordinary person who does not need a passport yet must possess an identity card should not be made to pay for it.
As many hon. Members have said, a job must be done to persuade people of the benefits that the cards can bring them. To that end, I repeat a plea that I made all those years ago. If any citizen who is to have an identity card wants additional information to be included on it, that should be allowed. We have the technology to achieve that. Some people might think it important to have their blood group detailed on the cards, and some might want the fact that they wish to donate their organs if they are killed in an accident to be included. Other people might want their allergies or other conditions to appear on their cards so that if they are involved in an accident or caught short in extremis, someone can read such useful information.
Has not my right hon. Friend given an example of function creep? In due course there will be pressure to include such medical information on the cards, although the Government currently assure us that that will not be included.
My hon. Friend misunderstands me. I am not advocating that the Government should say that such information should appear on a card, but that individuals should be allowed to choose whether information should be included to show that they are asthmatic, epileptic or of a rare blood group. That is quite different from function creep. It would give added benefits to people who may think that that would be helpful. Such people usually carry such information on another card, a chain or something around their neck. If we introduce an identity card system that gives all information required and citizens want more information to be included, that should be allowed. Some people may want their religion to be detailed because they would want the last rites to be given, but that should be a person's individual choice, not the diktat of the Government.
Surely we should proceed on the basis of the existing evidence. Given that my right hon. Friend genuinely believes that benefits would accrue from the introduction of identity cards, does he not find it extraordinary that there is no evidence that can be cited—or has been this evening—that countries with identity card systems have lower crime rates than those without them?
I do not believe that it is a question of crime rates. It is, I think, a question of how useful the scheme is to authorities trying to battle the problems that we are discussing. I will give my hon. Friend some evidence—well, it is not exactly evidence. It is what the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland told me during a conversation that I had with him. As the right hon. Member for Upper Bann said, photographic driving licences were introduced in Northern Ireland in the 1980s. The Chief Constable said "It is the most helpful thing that has happened to me in terms of my ability to find out who people are when they are stopped for doing whatever they have been doing." As the incidence of car crime is far higher in Northern Ireland than it is anywhere else, that is evidence that being able to identify people is enormously helpful. I am not suggesting that it is conclusive, and my hon. Friend clearly takes a different view; but where such schemes have been introduced they have helped, although they may not be a universal panacea.
The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the additional information that someone might choose to put on a card. Surely the functionality of that would be very limited unless the institutions involved were aware that the cards would carry the information, and also had machines that could decode it.
Such information would have to be visible. Information about a person's blood group— O, B or whatever—could be visible to the naked eye. Such information would not have to be hidden away in some high-tech piece of plastic. [Interruption.] It would be perfectly possible to make the information visible, but the hon. Gentleman obviously has his own point of view.
On balance, this is a good thing to do. It is, alas, a necessary thing to do, because of the different world in which we now live. I hope, however, that the Government are listening to the real objections enunciated throughout the House about the way in which they are introducing the scheme, so that it can be introduced with as much consensus as possible.
Much of what I wanted to say has already been said, but I have been taking notes, and I may be able to shed some light on the comments of others.
My hon. Friend Mr. Gerrard made great play of what would happen in the event of corrupt information or input errors. In effect, he said "Don't do it: there should not be any kind of ID card." If we followed his argument to its logical conclusion, however, we would not do anything about anything.