Identity Cards

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 11th January 2005.

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Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Opposition Whip (Commons) 11:30 am, 11th January 2005

If he will make a statement on the introduction of identity cards in Scotland.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

So far as reserved issues are concerned, the introduction of identity cards across the United Kingdom is, of course, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Decisions on the use of identity cards to access devolved services in Scotland are the responsibility of the Scottish Executive.

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Opposition Whip (Commons)

This most appalling Bill will give the Secretary of State dictatorial powers to order people to attend at a specified place and time to have their fingerprints and other biometric information recorded. Given the cost and time of travelling to the passport office in Glasgow from many parts of Scotland, will the Secretary of State assure the House that facilities will be available locally to allow people to attend to have fingerprints and biometric information taken—for example, at local post offices?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of the question that he intended to ask, which I saw on page 6 of The Press & Journal today.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

It just about gave me sufficient time to find out the answer. I am glad to say that, as the House may be aware, the Home Office is piloting what will be necessary to implement the ID card scheme in Glasgow. One of the things that it is considering is a mobile facility to enable people to record their details without having to travel, in this case to Glasgow. In any event, when biometric passports are introduced, which, I think, will be in about 2008, it will be necessary for people to attend to have those details recorded. As far as I am aware, the Liberals are not actually against biometric passports, but—who knows?—we could be wrong about that as well.

I remind the House that the Bill provides for a database to be established to make it possible to have identity cards in the future. For my part, I cannot see anything wrong in principle with people being asked to identify themselves for various transactions. After all, most of us are asked to identify ourselves in respect of various transactions several times a week. It would be a tragedy if, at this stage, we were not to take those steps because they might be absolutely necessary in 10 or 12 years' time. If the Liberals had their way, the country would be ill-prepared to guard against security problems, fraud and so on. So what is proposed is entirely reasonable.

Photo of Rosemary McKenna Rosemary McKenna Labour, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth

May I wholeheartedly agree with my right hon. Friend? [Hon. Members: "Yes!"] None of us can have access to this building unless we are wearing an ID card, and I do not see that there is any problem with that. Most hon. Members take them off when they enter the Chamber, but I do not have a problem with wearing it whenever. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Scotland deserves to live in security, with protection from fraud and petty crime, just as much as the citizens of the rest of the UK, and that ID cards must therefore be introduced UK-wide?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

Of course, the provision of identity cards is reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament—that is why the Bill applies across the whole country—but my hon. Friend is right: increasingly it will not be unreasonable to ask people to identify themselves if they wish to use public services. After all, as I said just a few moments ago, every one of us probably has to identify ourselves when we go to the bank and when we buy things in the shops, and that is not a great imposition.

In relation to security, increasingly, whether we like it or not, not just in this place but elsewhere as well, it will be necessary for people to be satisfied about the identity of individuals, and I do not think that there is anything wrong with that in principle. The problem that the Liberal Democrats have is that they are in favour of security in principle, but rather like their policy on the new deal, they are against the practical means of achieving it.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), Spokesperson (Constitutional Affairs; Treasury), Leader, Scottish National Party

May I wholeheartedly disagree with the Secretary of State? Does he accept that if identity cards are compulsory for Westminster-provided services, they are then compulsory in Scotland, regardless of what Mr. McConnell and the Scottish Executive say? Can he confirm that the cost of introducing identity cards over the next 10 years in Scotland is more than £500 million, enough to pay for 2,000 extra police officers in the communities of Scotland? What would make people in Scotland feel safer: a plastic identity card or extra thousands of police officers?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

Of course, thanks to the money that we have made available to Scotland, because of the economic prosperity that has been built up over the past seven years there are more policemen in Scotland. There are also more teachers, nurses and doctors. So as far as public services are concerned, we can provide that.

In relation to identity cards, the fact that the hon. Gentleman disagrees with me comes as no surprise. It is hardly news that it may be necessary to have an ID card to access benefits, for example, in Scotland in future. Does he say that there is anything wrong with asking someone on benefits to identify themselves? The Scottish Executive have made it clear, however, that they do not propose to require the use of ID cards for accessing the NHS in Scotland. That is an entirely proper decision for them to take. However, I repeat the point: what is wrong in principle with people identifying themselves so that others are satisfied they are entitled to use services? I defy him to answer that. I see nothing wrong with that in principle and cannot for the life of me understand why he takes such a ridiculous attitude.