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Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:29 pm on 20th December 2004.

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Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett Labour, Denton and Reddish 7:29 pm, 20th December 2004

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.


Aidan Boustred
Posted on 4 Jan 2005 1:07 pm (Report this annotation)

"I know that it is always a sign that something is going wrong when those on the two Front Benches support each other"

I like that observation