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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.