Amendments made: No. 75, in page 26, line 34, leave out 'and the requisite knowledge'.
No. 76, in page 26, line 38, leave out from 'modification' to end of line 41.
No. 77, in page 27, line 10, leave out 'is' and insert 'may be'.
No. 78, in page 27, line 12, at end insert—
'( ) In proceedings against a person for an offence under this section in respect of conduct causing a modification of information recorded in the Register it is to be a defence for that person to show that, at the time of the conduct, he believed, on reasonable grounds—
(a) that he was a person entitled to determine if that modification might be made; or
(b) that consent to the modification had been given by a person so entitled.'.—[Mr Browne.]
Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I begin, on behalf of the Government, by thanking all those who have worked hard to bring the Bill to this stage. I associate myself entirely with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration in commending the work of the Joint Committee and hon. Members from all parties who contributed to that. I thank officials in the Home Office for the consistent and coherent work that they have done over a long time. I also thank the staff of the House for their work to bring the Bill to this stage.
The time has now come for the House to agree that we need the benefits and safeguards that an identity card system will provide both to individuals, who will be able to prove their identities securely and reliably, and in the wider public interest. Rather than seeing identity cards as a threat to civil liberties, most people now regard them as essential to safeguard our civil liberties.
My right hon. Friend says that an advantage of the scheme is that it will allow people to secure their identity. However, we do not know about the form or accuracy of the biometrics that the Government will demand, or how secure the database will be, so how can he have such confidence before the assessment work has been done?
An assessment is under way on the different forms of biometrics that could be used, such as fingerprints, iris examinations and photographs. I am confident that, as in many countries throughout the world, the biometric regime that we establish will provide the security that people rightly look for.
The Bill has been given proper scrutiny. Indeed, in preparation for the legislation, we started a six-month public consultation exercise in 2002.
I will not give way at the moment.
The Home Affairs Committee started an inquiry in 2003, and there was further consultation on a draft Bill in 2004. Changes have been made to the Bill, and I assure the House that I shall continue to listen to, and act on, constructive comments on plans for delivering the identity card scheme after this enabling Bill has completed its passage through Parliament. It is our intention that the first ID cards will be issued in 2008, and there will be further opportunities between now and then for the House to examine the detailed provisions to be set out in secondary legislation.
How can the Home Secretary claim that the Bill has been given proper scrutiny when seven amendments, including all those specifically relating to Scotland and Wales, were not debated in Committee or on Report as a result of the Government's programme motion?
I can claim that the Bill has been given proper scrutiny for exactly the reasons that I set out a moment ago. There has been a long-standing debate about the issues, and a range of discussions on the specific matters that have been taken forward has been held in the Chamber and in Committee.
The simple fact is that the possession of a clear, unequivocal and unique form of identity in the shape of a card that is linked to a database holding biometrics will offer clear benefits to us all. Such benefits include the prevention of terrorist activity, the proper control of immigration and illegal working, help for the more efficient and effective provision of public services, and specific measures to deal with crime. That is why recent surveys show that 80 per cent. of the public support the introduction of identity cards.
Biometrics are being developed around the world to improve the security and reliability of identity documents, including fingerprint biometrics on visas and our own biometric passports with a facial image biometric that will be introduced in about a year's time. The scheme will not create threats to privacy or change the way in which we live our lives. We have never proposed a scheme under which it would be compulsory to carry a card.
I want to pin down the Secretary of State on the question of terrorism. Will he explain exactly how a voluntary identity card will protect us against terrorism? If identity cards are to become compulsory in 10 years, does he think that the war on terror will still be being fought in 2015?
We dealt with that on Second Reading, but let me go back to the core points. There is no guarantee that any scheme—identity cards or anything else—will be able to deal with and eliminate the terrorist threat. There is no silver bullet to solve the problem. However, identity theft and fraud represent a significant modus operandi for those involved in terrorism, serious and organised crime, people trafficking and drug dealing. The fact that we will have an identity card scheme will give us the capacity to attack the problem that would not otherwise exist. It is true that a compulsory card would give us more power to attack the problem than a voluntary card, but it is also true that a voluntary card gives us more capacity to attack the problem than we have at present. I think most people acknowledge that that is true.
It is, moreover, the case that ID cards will help in tackling fraud and will save tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money. The Government have proceeded in a measured way by consulting on the principles and, most recently, on the draft legislation. The Bill sets out a clear legal framework for the scheme. It provides a means for everyone legally resident in the country to assert their right to be here and to help them gain access to the services to which they are entitled. It will help preserve national security and assist the work of law enforcement. It will enable the public to have the ID card system that they say they want.
"I have listened to the police and security service chiefs. They have told me that ID cards can and will help their efforts to protect the lives of British citizens against terrorist acts. How can I disregard that? We must protect our citizen in every way, and in my judgment that includes ID cards."
In that same article of a couple of months ago or less, he went on to write:
I applauded those remarks at the time and wish that they had been carried through. They reflected previous remarks also by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. On
"Britain is the easiest country in western Europe in which criminals and terrorists can lose themselves. If we are serious about tackling this problem, there is one obvious remedy: identity cards."
Even earlier, in 1994, at the Conservative party conference, he said:
"In time, carrying your ID card would seem as natural as carrying a credit card is at the moment."
Perhaps that is why the 1997 Conservative party manifesto had a commitment to introduce ID cards.
I find it utterly extraordinary that the Opposition have decided to abstain on this vital issue, affecting the future of the nation.
To be candid, the hon. Gentleman has more to say for his position than his Front-Bench colleagues. The fact is that some people—he is one of them, and some of my Labour colleagues agree with him—have issues of principle with ID cards and find it difficult to support them for the reason that he identified.
Will my right hon. Friend distinguish between the opportunist position of the Conservative party and those of us who oppose ID cards in principle but would change our minds—certainly I would, without the slightest hesitation—if we thought that they would help in the fight against international terrorism? I hope he recognises that although my opposition is based on principle, it would change were I so persuaded.
I accept that distinction, which I have sought to make, including in evidence to the Home Affairs Committee earlier this week. Some people, for reasons that I respect but with which I do not agree, think that ID cards pose such a threat to our civil liberties that it is necessary to oppose them. Those people exist on both sides of the House. They are entitled to take that position to a vote and to carry it through.
My point is different, however. The Government and, in my opinion, the Opposition have to assess, when considering national security, precisely the balance of issues, as described by my hon. Friend, that arise from ID cards. The Government have made that assessment and believe that the ID card is in the interest of the country. The Leader of the Opposition made that same assessment and came to the conclusions that I quoted, but he has now decided to abstain—not to vote against, not to vote in favour—on this key national issue, and abstention is not an honourable position. I believe there is a reason—
I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that of the House. I was not intending to impugn the honour, in the parliamentary sense, of the Opposition or of anyone else. I withdraw that word at your request.
It is not defensible, however, for an Opposition party or a Government party to abstain on an issue of this sort. There is a clear reason for the abstention. It is that David Davis, who I am delighted to see in his place—he has forgone his chance to be at the shadow Cabinet meeting in Manchester with the Leader of the Opposition, perhaps to undermine the right hon. and learned Gentleman's position even further—has been clear about his scepticism of ID cards in a variety of different ways. The truth is that he has rolled over his leader and reached an abstention position. That is the reality. I say that that is not defensible.
I may be able to help my right hon. Friend. My Conservative opponent in my constituency was until recently the press spokesperson for the Leader of the Opposition. He says that his position is that he is opposed to ID cards in principle but that if they are required for international travel he might be persuaded otherwise. Does my right hon. Friend hope that we can yet persuade the Opposition to do a second U-turn?
I shall be even more candid than I was earlier. I have that hope. I ask the Opposition to reconsider their position. The position of abstention is not defensible, in my view, for a serious political party. It has an implication that is of meaning. When the other place considers the proposed legislation, if there is not agreement from the official Opposition there are real issues about whether the Bill can be brought into effect in this Session, were a dissolution to be sought. The normal wash-up issues would arise, but a decision of the Conservative party to oppose the Bill in the other place would lead to a delay in carrying forward this important measure for the security of the country.
Does the right hon. Gentleman remember that I voted for and spoke in favour of the Bill on Second Reading? I attended all the debates on the Bill to seek to continue that support. I have to tell him that the way in which he treated the House—the failure to enable me to ask a number of questions on key issues and the time given, which did not allow his junior Minister to respond to many of the debates—has led me to believe that indeed we should act differently, and I shall vote against the Bill.
Those right hon. and hon. Members who come to the view that they must cast their vote against, either for the reasons just given by the right hon. Gentleman or by others, are taking a position that I can understand, although I do not agree with it. I cannot understand those who say, "We shall abstain on this key issue that is facing the country." I believe that it is a matter of internal politics within the main Opposition party and a betrayal of the interests of the country. If, in the final event, we are not able to carry through the proposed legislation in this Session, we will know clearly that that is because of the decision taken by the Opposition—their decision to put peace within their party ahead of the national interest.
I commend the Bill to the House.
So much for the constructive and open debate on liberty and freedom and on security of the state that the Home Secretary was so keen to tell us we would have when we talked about identity cards and house arrest, an issue on which he is in even more trouble.I join him, at least in one respect, in thanking those right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in consideration of the Bill in Committee and on Report. At the same time, I sympathise with them in what must have been the most frustrating process of their political lives.
The Bill attempts to strike a balance involving a number of extremely serious issues: individual privacy, the relationship of the citizen and the state versus security, prevention of fraud, control of immigration and a number of other serious issues. That is why I set some tests for the Bill on Second Reading. I did not just want to test individual practicalities but to establish the balance between those principles and the Bill's competence to achieve some of the things that the Home Secretary talked about. A competent Bill would do what he said and that would, as David Winnick said, have a significant effect in improving security. It would make a minimum intrusion into the liberty and privacy of the individual, and there would be strong safeguards where such intrusions proved necessary. An incompetent Bill would have a weak or non-existent impact on security, the prevention of fraud and the control of immigration. It would prove highly expensive and too intrusive into liberties, and would provide few effective safeguards for those liberties.
The point of those five tests is to establish, as I said, the balance or imbalance between those serious principles which matter, as the Home Secretary rightly said, and the competence or incompetence of the proposal. Having read all the Hansard reports of the Committee and listened to today's debate, which I attended when I could, I do not think that we have had a real or persuasive answer to any of the tests. It is not only our questions that remain unanswered. The Joint Committee on Human Rights said on page five of its report on the Bill:
"Explanatory notes to the Bill have been published. They do not, however, contain any explanation of the Government's reasons for believing the Bill to be compatible with the Convention rights."
The next part is important:
"We consider the absence of such an explanation to be deeply unsatisfactory in a Bill which is concerned throughout with issues of personal privacy, and with the delicate balances to be struck between individual rights to private life and the protection of the community."
That is not the stated view of the Conservative party but of the important and distinguished all-party Joint Committee on Human Rights. We are not the only ones to have reached the conclusion that we have had a dreadfully inadequate set of answers to an important set of questions as well as dreadfully inadequate time in which to debate those questions.
The hon. Gentleman has not been here all day, so he is not qualified to comment on the Bill, as he lacks the information or attendance record to do so.
The first test in that important series of tests deals with clarity of purpose. That matters, because it has implications for every other aspect of the Bill. As I said at the outset I, like the hon. Member for Walsall, would be persuaded as a sceptic to support the measure if it had the aim of dealing with terrorism. We tried to include that aim in the Bill, but we failed because the Government refused to do so. We tried to make the priorities explicit, but Ministers refused. Foreign travellers, particularly from the European Union, can come here under EU rules without identification for three months, which means that the Bill is quite inadequate for use as an anti-terrorism measure, unless we have a way of dealing with that problem. The common travel area is another problem, as is the issue of Ireland, which I shall address in a moment. Those issues may be soluble, but there has not been a single attempt to answer our questions. If identity cards are an anti-terrorism measure, it should be made compulsory to carry them, otherwise they will not work. I do not want to have such a compulsory card in this country. As has been said, we do not want to hear our policemen saying, "Papers please, citizen". However, there has been not been any attempt to answer the problem.
The Bill could have been used to tackle illegal working but before we introduce a draconian measure we should try everything else first. For several years under this Government, under legislation that the Conservatives passed to make the employment of illegal immigrant workers a crime, there was one successful conviction a year. Only after the tragedy at Morecambe bay and the brave campaign of Geraldine Smith—she is a Labour Member, but I am happy to give her credit—and, I am afraid, a campaign by my party on the failure of Government policy that led to the departure of a Minister, have we gone from one conviction a year to well over 600 operations a year against employers of illegal immigrant workers. That is what must be done first; instead of throwing away liberties, the Government should do their job.
On benefit fraud, we have again not been told all. The Home Secretary told us that the provisions will save us tens of millions of pounds; the cost of the scheme may be tens of billions of pounds. I hope that he is never Chancellor, because with that sort of return on capital, the Government will go bankrupt very quickly.
Those claims have been discounted recently, I notice, but I am happy to recognise the single success of the Government's freedom of information programme so far.
The primary problem is not concealment of identity, but concealment of circumstance, of which my right hon. Friend Mr. Lilley, the former Secretary of State for Social Security, was only too well aware during his review of the issue during the 1990s.
We have had no answers. On illegal immigration, which was raised on Report today, my hon. Friend Mr. Malins made the very good point that nine tenths of the issue is dealt with by the asylum identity card—a registered card. So we have 90 per cent. of the solution for 1 per cent. of the grief.
My point to the Government is that those questions could have been answered in Committee, but no attempt was made to give an answer. Why? It is hard to understand why, unless the Government do not believe their own case or their supposed reasons for the ID card. That is very worrying, and it is more worrying in many ways than other points that I shall raise in a moment.
The right hon. Gentleman says that his position is consistent: the Conservative party supports ID cards, but on condition that these questions are answered. He says that it would be possible to answer them, but he feels that the Government have not done so. Does that mean that a Conservative Government would answer their own questions and introduce ID cards?
The hon. Gentleman should not put words in my mouth. If I wanted someone to rearticulate my views, I would not pick him.
What have we heard today? We have heard from the Home Secretary—I think that I am quoting him correctly—that this issue shows that the Tory party is "soft on crime, soft on immigration, soft on terror." We will let the public decide the plausibility of that proposal. In many ways, I would worry more about being called stupid on crime, stupid on immigration and stupid on terror, which is the risk if we do not get the matter right. That is the point: we must get it right. It is a question not of being pro or anti a particular matter, but of getting the issue right.
I have to say that this is a very poor start to the Home Secretary's serious debate on liberty and security, because this issue is one of the key components of that debate; indeed, perhaps it is the most important one. Let us go on to the second test, which concerns technology.
I beg my hon. Friend's pardon; I shall be as quick as I can.
The second test is important, and I shall quote the Home Affairs Committee, which said that it is
"essential that, before the system is given final approval, there should be exhaustive testing of the reliability and security of the biometrics chosen, and that the results of those tests should be made available to expert independent scrutiny, perhaps led by the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser."
Again, we put that point into an amendment, which the Government turned down. Not only the Home Affairs Committee, but Privacy International and the Association for Payment Clearing Services have raised concerns.
No, I will not give way because I am pressed for time.
The next issue is the high value of the database, which will be an extremely large target that will attract attack. Putting aside the weaknesses on biometrics, the Government have not even tried to answer how they will prevent those attacks, which will destroy the system.
Test three concerns cost, which has gone from £1.2 billion to £3.5 billion to £5.5 billion. Conventional wisdom puts the overall cost somewhere between £10 billion and £20 billion. Bart Vansevenant, the director of the organisation that runs Belgium's ID card system, has said that
"the amount of people you catch will not be worth the price of the infrastructure . . . If you look at this from a distance and look at the goal, I'm afraid a lot of money will be wasted and the real cost will be much higher than any of the figures currently suggested."
How will the Government control the cost? They do not have a good track record. Would that money be better spent on trying to stop illegal immigration, terrorism and benefit fraud?
The final issue concerns civil liberties and privacy. In the words of Mr. Fisher, this is the "largest change in relationship between the individual and the state". Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, has said:
"There are huge questions about access to the national identity register: who has access to it, for what sorts of purposes, and how is that information to be used".
As the debate has progressed, it has become increasingly apparent that many organisations—more than we thought—will have access to the database, which means that the scope for unauthorised access will be unmanageable. There is even the possibility that the data must be shared with other countries such as Ireland, because of the common travel area.
The Home Secretary introduced a new concept in his winding-up speech, during which he would not take an intervention. He said that his card will enable us to "assert the right to be here". I do not know what that means. Is he telling my constituents and the people of Britain that they have no right to be here unless they assert it through his means of an ID card?
My hon. Friend makes the same point as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central. ID cards involve a completely new view of citizenship. Being a subject of the Crown is a right, which it is not for the Government to give or take away.
The Bill deals with massively important issues, and we have adopted a constructive approach. The Government have denied us time for debate and answers to proper questions, and they have even delayed the response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. This House has had no chance to consider the Bill, but the Home Secretary promised a serious and constructive debate on security and human rights.
The Government have denied debate and treated this House with contempt. I will recommend that my hon. Friends in the other place commend the Bill to a Joint Committee to answer the unanswered questions. Until that point, I cannot recommend that my hon. Friends should vote for the Bill.
It is a pleasure to follow David Davis, who just made the speech that he wanted to make on Second Reading, but was not allowed to—his speech was better late than never and it was a pleasure to hear it tonight. He was Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee in the previous Parliament and he knows a lot about systems and what can go wrong with them, so the warning that he has issued again tonight is appropriate.
The Liberal Democrat position is based on both principle and practice. At various points, it has been put to us that those two ideas are contradictory and that one must oppose the Bill on the grounds of either principle or practice. However, some policies are so flawed and so offensive that one can oppose them on the grounds of both principle and practice, and tonight's debate is such an occasion.
The Minister has challenged us a number of times to discuss the issues of principle, and I thank him for those challenges, which were appropriate. I boil the matter down to the extent to which one values privacy. Article 8 of the European convention on human rights concerns privacy. It states that states have the right to breach the right to privacy, where such a breach is necessary and proportional to the end that they are trying to achieve. That clearly shows that there is no absolute right to privacy and that it can be breached under certain circumstances. Nevertheless, a threshold needs to be set. The Liberal Democrat view is that the Minister's ID card proposals do not meet that threshold, and that the benefits he suggests—if they can be realised—are not sufficient to outweigh the disbenefits, in terms of the cost to the privacy of citizens of the United Kingdom.
Before the hon. Gentleman moves off this subject, can he tell the House which of the 21 out of 25 members of the European Union that are social democracies are also breaching that article of the European convention on human rights—some of them with compulsory ID card schemes that require people to carry them?
The Minister certificated the Bill as being compatible with the European convention on human rights. There are elements that may be compatible, but there is a variation in the threshold that one may apply. There is a political difference here between Liberal Democrat and Labour Members and, indeed, between Conservative Front Benchers, because we set the threshold at a different level. That is a political judgment; both a legal and a political judgment needs to be made in this respect.
"an identity card containing only a person's name, sex, date and place of birth, current address, and the name of their spouse, does not in itself raise issues of the right to private life under Article 8 . . . Neither does the obligation to hold or carry such a card engage Article 8."
Nevertheless, the Committee went on to make serious criticisms of the Government's proposals.
The hon. Lady is right to remind us that the scheme being put forward is not necessarily comparable to ID card systems in other countries and goes a lot further. Mr. Shepherd referred to the Home Secretary's unfortunate turn of phrase when he said that the cards will allow people to assert their right to be in the United Kingdom.
The Government are essentially proposing to put us all on a criminal intelligence database and to treat us all as potential suspects. That creates a fundamental change in the relationship between state and citizen. The scope of the database that the Government propose is far more comprehensive than any that has been suggested elsewhere. Indeed, the Minister has said at various points that the scheme that he is putting forward is bigger and more complex than anyone else's. He said that with a certain note of pride, and then with a slightly hysterical look of fear as we came to consider the implications of doing something more comprehensive than is to be found anywhere else.
Another paradox, and therefore a failure to justify the scheme, is that whereas British citizens—people who have never had to prove to the state their right to be here—will have to have the cards, people who come here with no right to be here will not. That seems to be one of those ridiculous examples that identifies the fundamental flaws.
My hon. Friend's intervention is helpful.
I should like to nail a red herring, if one can nail a herring, in relation to whether one has to carry the cards compulsorily. We debated that in Committee. Most of us carry our irises and fingers wherever we go. The point about being on the database is that people can be checked against it wherever they go—whether they have their ID card with them is immaterial. The fundamental question is the extent to which the benefits derived in terms of catching people involved with terrorism and crime—something with which we agree—are so great as to justify holding all that data, and presumably using it and checking it regularly. Are those benefits worth the disbenefits of a citizen having to pay, having to go through the inconvenience, and having the potential loss of privacy? We come to a different judgment from the Government, and have consistently done so throughout proceedings on the Bill.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful case against the Bill. He mentioned inconvenience. My constituents, many of whom live on islands, will be faced with great inconvenience if they are forced to go to Glasgow to get biometrics taken for their ID cards. The Secretary of State for Scotland has said that the Home Office is considering a mobile facility, but that will take ages and it will cost a huge amount to go round the highlands and islands. The Government have not answered those questions at all.
My hon. Friend helpfully moves me on to the significant practical considerations. The Government have tried to write off or trivialise the matter. They have talked down the costs and suggested that they will be less than they are, but whatever happens, they will be several billion pounds more than zero. They have talked down the costs and the inconvenience. It could cost several hundred pounds for a family of four adults in a remote area of Scotland who simply want to renew their passports to go on holiday by the time they have travelled to a centre, had the biometrics taken and paid for the documents. That is a significant change from the current position, and the Government have not made enough of it.
The hon. Gentleman's party now supports the policy of biometrics in passports.
The Minister knows that only facial biometrics, which can be taken from a photograph, are required for a passport. That is different from the proposals for irises and fingerprints.
I know that some hon. Members support identity cards but I urge all hon. Members, whatever their views on the cards, to vote against the Bill. The scheme that the Bill presents is simply not ready. If we proceeded with an identity card scheme, we should start by going ahead with some sort of passport biometric—we are told that we must do that for international reasons—but at a much lower level than the Government suggest. We should test the technology for several years to ascertain how it works.
We should move on to getting our NHS medical records database right because that gives immediate benefits to the citizen and would allow us to establish whether we could securely give access to systems at multiple points of contact with our public services. We should then get our national insurance records system right and ensure that there is one number per person in the country so that we can establish whether we are genuinely competent to run such identification regimes. We need to take those steps first and demonstrate that we can fulfil all those tasks before we consider an identity card scheme.
If the Government approached us in four or five years, we could have a reasoned debate about the matter. Even the Government say that the card will be pointless. In a couple of years, they will tell people to pay money and go through all the hassle to get their passports for something that is functionally pointless because a passport is good enough; an identity card as well would be unnecessary. The system and the scheme may change in the intervening period. We are being asked to buy a pig in a poke.
Even if hon. Members support identity cards, they should seriously consider whether they want to support the Bill. It is clearly being introduced for political reasons. It is outrageous of the Home Secretary to say that, if the Conservatives vote against something that will not be effected for several years, it makes them the friends of the terrorists. That accusation is normally made against us. It is an absurd assertion.
No. If hon. Members believe that the Bill does not pass the tests of proportionality and necessity and that too much uncertainty remains about exactly what we are being asked to buy and how much it will cost; and if hon. Members believe that any additional money for which Parliament asks from citizens could be better spent on other measures to achieve the same objectives, I urge them to vote against the Bill.
The record will show that. This particular occupant of the Chair does not have such recall, but I am sure that the record will show whether that is correct.
I shall be brief because I know that other hon. Members want to speak. My position has always been clear. I voted against the Bill on Second Reading and the more I hear about it, the less I like it. I shall vote against it again this evening.
I agree with one point that the Home Secretary made. I do not agree with much that he said about the measure but he was right about the Tory Front-Bench position. It is pathetic not to be able to reach a decision about whether to vote for or against such an important measure on Third Reading. We have had a limited time for debate this afternoon, but what are the reasons for that? The usual Front-Bench channels made agreements to discuss the measure on a Thursday, when there is one less hour for debate, so those on the Tory Front Bench are shedding crocodile tears.
Listening to the debates on some of the amendments this afternoon, I felt as though I was listening to discussions about angels on pinheads, because, however we amend the Bill, we cannot make it acceptable. What it sets out to do is fundamentally objectionable. The Joint Committee on Human Rights raised a host of objections to it, and I have just had a brief chance to read through the Government's response to them. It does not really answer them.
On Second Reading, we debated issues such as whether the cards would become compulsory. I am absolutely sure that it will become compulsory to have this card, because the Home Secretary said on Second Reading that this was the first step towards compulsion. We also discussed disclosure to service providers, the police and people in the private sector, and the audit trail that will exist. The real problem with this measure will be the register, rather than having to carry a card.
The public's view on this will change. At the moment, we might find 80 per cent. of people saying that they support the measure, but once they realise that they are going to have to have these things, their view will change. Once the next, short step is taken, as I believe it undoubtedly will be, and carrying the card becomes compulsory, public opinion will certainly shift. We are going down a very dangerous road.
Everyone here knows which people will be the most likely to be asked to produce their card when it becomes compulsory to carry one. All the evidence from every European country that has cards—including those where they are voluntary—shows that the people who are most often asked to produce their card are from minority ethnic communities. To pretend, as the Government did in their race relations assessment, that this measure will actually improve race relations, strikes me as absurd.
I do not like enabling legislation of this kind. A mass of detail remains to be introduced in secondary legislation, which means that it will never be properly debated in this place. Of course, we cannot amend secondary legislation, so whatever form it takes, we shall just have to take it or leave it. I am also unconvinced that the Home Office can produce information technology infrastructure that will work, which could perhaps be the saving grace in all this. This concept is fundamentally flawed in principle, and we should not be going down this road.
I entirely agree with the speech that we have just heard from Mr. Gerrard. Indeed, he made his points with a great clarity that I could not surpass. I shall confine myself to speaking for just a few minutes.
It is not right to say that the Bill has been properly debated. The Home Secretary is wrong about that. Had he been present during the Report stage, he would have appreciated that fact. He has only to look at early-day motion 684, which has been signed by many of his hon. Friends, to see what was omitted in Committee.
I am perfectly willing to accept that there are some benefits to be gained from identification cards. The question is: how do they weigh in the balance with the disadvantages? I agree entirely that the money involved in this provision could be spent very much better in dealing with its stated objectives differently. I am extremely sceptical about the ability of the technology to deliver, and, if it fails, very serious injustice could result. I question whether the measures will address the questions of terrorism or serious fraud, because a high proportion of such cases rest on questions not of concealed identity but of concealed circumstances or concealed intentions.
On matters of principle, I shall confine myself to two points. First, I believe that this represents a huge extension of statism. We are changing the relationship between the individual and the state, and we should not do that without a really compelling reason.
Secondly, I entirely agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Walthamstow. Inevitably, what will happen down the track if this policy is to be made effective is that the citizen will have to carry and produce an identity card on demand. He is entirely right that that will bear down most oppressively on the ethnic minority communities.
I have been in the House long enough to remember the old sus laws and what rows they caused. I do not wish to create a situation in which the ordinary citizen can be arrested for not carrying a card. That is the inevitable consequence of that which we do today. It is wrong in principle. I hope that my party will change its mind and vote against this Bill.
I want to speak in favour of the Bill. It is supported overwhelmingly by more than 90 per cent. of my constituents in Hodge Hill. They will be surprised and disappointed to hear about the Liberal Democrat and Conservative position tonight. Not too long ago, Liberal Democrat Front-Bench Members voted in favour of a ten-minute Bill supporting the principle of ID cards. They will also remember that more than a decade ago, the Leader of the Opposition, as he is now, said to his party conference:
"In time, carrying an ID card would seem as natural as carrying a credit card."
My constituents will be particularly perplexed to hear the Liberal Democrat position that this money would be best spent on police, because this is not public money. This is money raised from individual contributions. No one in the House would seriously propose that one should finance the police by passing a hat around in the community and hiring as many police officers as one could afford from what is left in the pot. That is the implication, however, of the Liberal Democrat policy in this area.
Can I remind the hon. Gentleman what his colleague Mr. Heath said in the police revenue debate last week? He said that his answer was
"to relate the policing of an area directly to the amount that people pay to support that policing."—[Hansard, 2 February 2005; Vol.430, c. 885.]
He was unable to refute the charge that that would end up with rich communities hiring more police while the rest of us were left in the lurch.
People in Hodge Hill see three clear reasons why this Bill deserves their support: it is a fast track to a fairer deal in public services; it is the best means that we have for tackling illegal immigration; and it is another spoke in the wheel for tackling global terrorism.
Many Members will have read the report of the 9/11 commission and will have seen, like me, the conclusion:
"For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons. Terrorists must travel clandestinely to meet, train, plan, case targets, and gain access to attack."
The report continued:
"We found that as many as 15 of the 19 hijackers were potentially vulnerable to interception by . . . authorities."
That is exactly the kind of development that ID cards will allow, and that is why the proposal deserves commendation from both sides of the House.
I shall vote in principle against the Bill tonight. I shall do so because it fails to meet the four tests enunciated excellently by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary. It will not protect civil liberties, it will not work to curb terrorism, it will not be cost-effective and I have serious doubts as to whether the Home Office is in any event capable of implementing it within any kind of meaningful time frame.
I am proud that my predecessor as Member of Parliament for Gainsborough, Harry Crookshank, when Postmaster General, four months after the Conservatives won the 1951 election, abolished ID cards. He came to the House and said that the Conservative Government believe that
"it is no longer necessary to require the public to possess and produce an identity card, or to notify change of address for National Registration purposes".—[Hansard, 21 February 1952; Vol. 496, c. 415.]
That was a popular policy. Our policy of getting a grip and asking questions about the identity card is also right.
That abolition of ID cards in 1951 came on the back of the case of Clarence Willcock—[Interruption.] He was a Liberal; quite right. He was stopped in the street, his card was demanded by the police and he refused to produce it. Lord Chief Justice Goddard said that ID cards were an "annoyance" and
"tended to turn law-abiding subjects into law breakers".
We believed then, and I believe now, that ID cards are appropriate only in wartime.
I do not want to live in a "Your papers, please" society. One reason why ID cards were abolished in 1951 was that people remembered the cry in wartime Europe, "Ihre Papieren, bitte!" We do not want that sort of society here, and that is what will happen. As night follows day, the police will start to demand that people produce their ID cards. That is why I shall vote, in principle, against the Bill.
Mention has been made of my role as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. If this Bill becomes an Act and it actually happens—we know that the chance of ID cards actually happening is very remote—there will be numerous PAC reports, showing that it is way out of budget. The initial estimate was £1.3 billion, then £3.1 billion and now £5 billion. When is it going to stop? The card will not curb terrorism or stop illegal immigrants. What it will do is cost us a lot of money and fundamentally attack our civil liberties. I urge the House to reject it.
It is normal practice for the Opposition to complain about the lack of parliamentary time. We did so when we were in opposition, but on this occasion, I agree that inadequate time has been allotted for such an important measure. It should not have been crowded in on a Thursday and there should have been far greater examination of the detail. If I may say so, I know that the Home Secretary is not responsible for the allocation of time, but we should have had at least two days. I genuinely regret that, irrespective of one's views, inadequate time has been allotted to examine the measure on Report.
I remain unpersuaded that ID cards are needed. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—if he is listening—referred to a number of countries, including fellow members of the European Union, that have identity cards, but those countries have exactly the same the problems that we have. They face the same problems of terrorism, as we have seen in Madrid, corruption, illegal working and so forth. No argument has yet been put forward to explain how identity cards, biometric or otherwise, will resolve the problems that we, in common with other European countries that have such cards, face.
Yes, identity cards may be popular at the moment, as has been said. For all I know, it may be that 80 per cent. of the population are in favour, but high expectation is the reason for that. People believe at this stage that the cards will help to resolve the problems of illegal working, illegal immigration and all the rest of it. I believe that when people realise, as they are bound to do, that the cards offer no panacea, their expectations will drop a great deal. Undoubtedly, one question that some people will ask is, as with child support legislation, "What examination was given to the Identity Cards Bill as it went through Parliament?" They will ask how much time was allotted to examine it in full detail.
I shall continue, if my hon. Friend will forgive me.
As to costs, I agree—it has to be said, it is usually on very rare occasions—with Mr. Leigh. Whatever the estimated cost now, it will prove to be much more at the end of it all.
I know that other Members want to speak, so I shall finish by saying that I am going to vote against the Bill on Third Reading. I remain uneasy. I believe that the Bill will lead to an infringement of civil liberties. As I said in an intervention earlier, if I believed that it could be an effective tool against international terrorism—I am the last person to underestimate the terrorist threat—I would simply enter the Aye Lobby and vote accordingly. I am not so persuaded. I am uneasy because I feel that we are going down a wrong path. I may be proved wrong and the Government may be proved right, but at present, I remain uneasy about the unnecessary infringement of civil liberties. I believe that we can live without identity cards as we have done for more than half a century. For all those reasons, I simply cannot support the measure. The only option is to vote against it.
The Government say that identity cards are necessary. William Pitt, as long ago as 1783, said:
"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom: it is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
Moreover, the Labour party has not always enunciated this position:
"Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory identity cards, as the Tory right demands, let that money provide thousands more police officers on the beat in our local communities."
So said the current Prime Minister, when he was Leader of the Opposition, at the 1995 Labour party conference. If Mr. Byrne seriously thinks that he advances the calibre of the argument by quoting what was said by other people in the past, he will learn in this place that two can play at that game.
I am interested in a more serious debate. The Home Secretary and the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration know that I am very ready to pay tribute to the Government when I think that they are right. However, we should be unremitting in our criticism of them when they are wrong. Today, hon. Members from all the different political traditions have explained eloquently that the Government are wrong.
The Government's arguments have shown no sureness of touch. They have shifted their position constantly—one minute, it is a question of reducing the threat from terrorists, the next it is about reducing illegal immigration, and the next it is about reducing benefit fraud. The former Home Secretary, Mr. Blunkett, took the biscuit when he asserted 18 months ago that the merit of the introduction of identity cards—eventually to become compulsory—was that they would enable us to assert our "sense of belonging".
Many people in this country feel a sense of alienation, from the Government or their local community, or both. I have yet to meet a single constituent in Buckingham who has said to me, "John, I feel a terrible inability to assert my sense of belonging because I do not possess an identity card."
Does my hon. Friend agree that even those of us who believe in identity cards and who have argued for them for years cannot support this Bill, as the Government have not even allowed Ministers enough time to explain their case and respond to any of our debates? That is why I feel that I must vote against the Bill. It has nothing to do with identity cards, but with the abuse of this House on an important constitutional matter.
My right hon. Friend is right. In politics, as in life as a whole, self-knowledge is a valuable thing. The Home Secretary has gravely embarrassed himself by his behaviour. If he is not aware of that simple fact, he needs to go away for a bit of therapeutic reconditioning.
The arguments against the Bill are powerful. First, it involves a fundamental change in the relationship between the citizen and the state, to the disadvantage of the citizen. Secondly, as many hon. Members have explained, it is virtually certain that there will be a growth in function creep. If that were not the case, why do no fewer than 25 out of the Bill's 45 clauses provide for order-making powers? The Bill is littered with phrases such as "the Secretary of State may at any time decide", "the Secretary of State may by order", "the Secretary of State may as he thinks fit", or "regulations made by the Secretary of State may provide." That is not acceptable.
There is a real problem to do with discrimination, as Mr. Gerrard powerfully explained. After the recent improvement in race relations, we risk taking a retrograde step. The House should take care to resist any idea of putting a match to gunpowder.
The argument to do with cost has been made, but I shall conclude with the argument about public opinion. The Government have propagated a very downmarket line of argument. We all quote polls when it suits us, but I remind the House that we are elected representatives. I am not a robot, a sheep or a button to be pressed. I have a responsibility to look at the issues, study the legislation, identify the arguments and make a judgment. It is risible to contend that we need simply say, "Oh, the opinion polls show 80 per cent. in favour." Everyone knows that there was mass support in Australia for the introduction of identity cards, but people there recognised the drawbacks when they saw the real implications. They knew the impracticalities, they appreciated the threats to their liberty and they turned against the proposal.
People in this country will turn against the proposal too, and against the Home Secretary and he will richly deserve the hostility of the public when that happens. He will not be laughing—he will need to take cover. I shall vote against Third Reading.
I was one of those who voted for the Bill with considerable reservations on Second Reading in the hope that the Committee stage and today's Third Reading would resolve them. However, the more I have heard today and the more I study the Bill, the more my reservations, far from being resolved, have been aggravated. I was looking for a tightly drawn Bill with plenty of checks and balances, the right for individuals to access information, the right to prompt redress from the commissioner, and a good, strong commissioner.
The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration attempted, nobly, to try to address some of those problems—
It being Six o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [this day].