I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I remind hon. Members that this Bill is based on the Bill that was read a Second time on
The Bill is enabling legislation to provide the statutory authority for a national identity cards system to be introduced to cover the whole of the United Kingdom, together with the national identity register to record information on holders of ID cards. It also gives legislative authority for expenditure on setting up the ID cards scheme and for charging fees.
In brief, the Bill establishes the national identity register; provides powers to issue biometric ID cards either linked to existing designated documents or as stand-alone ID cards; ensures that checks can be made against databases to confirm an applicant's identity and guard against fraud; sets out what information will be held—including biometrics—and what safeguards will be put in place; enables public and private sector organisations to verify a person's identity, with their consent; includes enabling powers, so that, in future, access to specified public services could be linked to the production of a valid card; provides a power for it to become compulsory at a future date to register and to be issued with a card, which includes civil penalties against failure to register; creates a national identity scheme commissioner to have oversight of the whole scheme; and creates new criminal offences on the possession of false ID cards.
There has been general support for ID cards, but many serious, practical concerns have been expressed on both sides of the House, and I intend to address five of those concerns on Second Reading. First, I shall address the range of concerns around the Big Brother society—it has been described in other ways. Secondly, I shall address issues of cost, which are a serious concern for many hon. Members on both sides of the House. Thirdly, I shall set out the benefits of the scheme for both individuals and society. Fourthly, I shall address the concerns about the project's size, technology and scale. Fifthly, I shall deal with safeguards and legal processes. I shall give way at various points in my speech in line with that structure.
Does the Home Secretary agree with the Information Commissioner's remarks that the
"data trail of identity checks on individuals risk an unnecessary and disproportionate intrusion into individuals' privacy"?
Such identity checks are in fact and in law an intrusion into people's human rights. How can he sign off the Bill as being compatible with the European convention on human rights?
I do not agree with the Information Commissioner, and I shall begin my remarks by explaining exactly why.
We live in a society where information is held about all of us—everyone in this House and everyone in this country—on a scale unfamiliar to our predecessors even as recently as 10 years ago. A vast range of information exists in our society today, including information on the internet that one can access simply by typing in a name, financial and bank details, health and medical information, police and law enforcement-related material, travel-related documentation and information about a person's telephone communications, driving licence, national insurance and tax. That range of information cannot be uninvented, nor can the globalised world in which crime is international but impacts on every community. Those are the realities with which we have to live.
We must address only two questions in considering how we deal with this so-called Big Brother society. First, in relation to each category of information that I have just set out, what protections currently exist for authorities to access data, for the right to see data, and for the right to use a service, whether it is a cash machine or a passport? In each of those areas there is a specific legal framework that regulates the information that exists about all of us. The first point that I want to make very strongly indeed is that nothing in the Bill changes any of those protections for any of those categories of data. There are issues about each of those categories of data that people can legitimately discuss and consider, but this Bill is not about those questions.
The second question is, can we verify that the information that exists about an individual is indeed about that individual? That is where identity cards come in and where the Bill is relevant. We need to protect our society in this globalised world, for the simple reason that, in many cases, identity can be stolen, whether it is a fraudster getting money from a bank account, a people trafficker providing false documents for a trafficked person, or a smuggler pretending to be their own father to deal with data. Such identity can be stolen. In other cases, complicated processes are now needed to check identity because it is not secure—there are examples as simple as opening a bank account, getting a pass from the Criminal Records Bureau or getting a passport or driving licence.
I will give way shortly.
I argue that the identity card has real benefits to the individual and society, and that it is a means of limiting abuse in our modern information society rather than a means of adding to it and creating it in a more complex way. It gives individuals the right to secure verification of their identity.
Given that the identity card database will have details of everyone's fingerprints and other biometric information, what assurances can the Secretary of State give that that database will not be used routinely by the police in their normal investigation processes so that, for example, a fingerprint left on a pen in a bank will not lead to innocent people being questioned and having to explain their whereabouts on the day that that bank was robbed?
I can give the assurance that the law of the land requires that the police can operate only in accordance with the legal powers that they have at the moment. That is a very important requirement. It is right that police and security services should have powers as regards national security or serious and organised crime—whatever the issue might be. The House has agreed that it is right that they should have powers in those circumstances so that we can protect ourselves, but—I emphasise the point that I made earlier—those rights are already set out in existing law and are not changed by this legislation.
My understanding is that up to 51 separate categories of information will be required for the register. That seems excessive to many people. Can my right hon. Friend justify the inclusion of so many pieces of information?
As my hon. Friend knows, the list is set out in the schedule to the Bill. I am happy, in Committee or elsewhere, to go through each of those categories and consider whether particular aspects are indeed necessary. That is a perfectly reasonable issue to address, but we need to be clear that the basic data on the database are about the identity of the citizen, including basic material about that person, and that is what the list of categories is about. I concede that, if there are areas where we could have less information, I will consider that in Committee.
The Home Secretary has referred twice to national security and the protection of society, which appear in the Bill. If it is passed today, the system will not be on stream for 10 years. What on earth will become of us in those 10 years?
We fight all the time on all the issues that we have to tackle, including serious and organised crime and national security, to do our best to deal with the threats that our society faces. I observed that we live in an internationalised, globalised world. In all the matters for which I am responsible—serious and organised crime, immigration and asylum and counter-terrorism—we need to work internationally. We should improve our capacity to do that and that is part of the purpose of the Bill. However, it is not its whole purpose.
Will the Home Secretary give hon. Members two pieces of information? First, what, according to his experts, is the likely number of identity checks in any day or week? Secondly, what is the highest percentage accuracy that he can expect of the scheme?
I shall deal with the second question later. The number of checks depends entirely on the extent to which and the purposes for which individuals use the identity card. If the question is about police identity checks, the number will be about the same as it is now. The police check identity in their work now.
I shall make some progress and then give way.
In the information society in which we live, identity cards will be a means of helping to control it rather than adding to it. I want to give full particulars, dealing with personal protection, access to private companies, the role of the police and the position of ethnic minorities. All those points have been raised with me.
I shall deal first with personal protection. I want to make it explicitly clear that, under the Data Protection Act 1998, everyone has the right, without qualification, to check the record that is held on them. Moreover, the same right to check who has accessed the database that currently exists in data protection legislation will apply to the identity database in the Bill. I know that many of my hon. Friends in particular have been worried about those aspects. I therefore take the opportunity not only to set that out clearly and openly but to state that, in Committee, I am prepared to consider amendments that might make it more explicit.
I acknowledge that people have concerns because the matter involves the Data Protection Act and they are worried about what might be perceived as a potentially secretive database. I am keen to draw that out.
One cannot obtain data under the Data Protection Act if the information refers to security or criminal matters. Under the Bill, the Home Secretary has the power to include, through secondary legislation, issues that relate to security and criminal matters. By definition, they would not be accessible under the Data Protection Act, yet they are the most important matters. Will the Home Secretary give his mind to that and let us know the answer?
I shall, but I want to reassert the point that I made a second ago. Protections under the Bill for the database for which it provides are the same as those for other databases under the Data Protection Act. As my hon. and learned Friend says, the Bill has implications for the way in which the police and security services operate, as does the Data Protection Act. However, there is no division between our proposals for the Bill and existing provisions under data protection legislation.
If someone examines the data held on them and finds that they are inaccurate, what procedures exist for a fast-track tribunal system to correct that? Nothing can be more damaging for an individual than finding that there is information on the databases that can destroy one's credit rating, business and one's life. Will the Home Secretary ensure that the Government table amendments in Committee to establish a quick tribunal system to correct incorrect information?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. The obligation to make the information correct—to which his central point relates—is accepted, and we can include in the Bill a procedure to ensure that that is clear. I do not think that a tribunal case would be involved, because there is no interest whatsoever in putting inaccurate data on the database. If he feels that some aspects require an appellate structure, I will give thought to that, but it is in no one's interest for wrong data to be on the database. If a mistake of some kind is made—which can of course happen, as he implied—it is important to correct it, in the interests of everyone including, as he suggested, the individual, but also the system.
Given that, even for the Home Secretary, this is the beginning of a new Parliament, and given all his undertakings to provide for detailed consideration in Committee, why is the Committee timetable so congested? It requires the Bill to be out of Committee three weeks from today. Why can he not further consider my suggestion on the last Second Reading that the Bill—complex as it is, and affecting every man, woman and child in the country—should be referred to a Joint Select Committee of the Lords and the Commons for the most critical and detailed scrutiny?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's maiden intervention, if that is the right way to describe it.
I understand, although I am open to correction, that the Committee timetable was agreed through the usual channels. If that is not the case, we can certainly discuss it again. As I said earlier, there has been substantial debate on these matters in both Houses over a considerable period. That includes pre-legislative scrutiny going back to 2002. I believe that the procedures now being followed are correct.
Yes. May I return the Home Secretary to the Data Protection Act? The Government propose that the citizen will have to pay a large fee for the identity card. If the regime laid down by the Act is followed, he will have to pay another fee to gain access to the register to see whether the information about him is correct. Will the Home Secretary assure us that he will not charge a fee to people using the system for that purpose?
I will give assurances on charging in a moment.
Various questions have been asked about whether private companies would be able to buy information from the national database. Let me make the position clear. There will be no open access to information on the register. Private companies will not be able to gain access to or buy national identity register entries. With the consent of the identity card holder—I emphasise that—banks or other approved businesses will be able to verify identity by checking an ID card against the national identity register. That would mainly involve confirming that the card is valid and has not been reported lost or stolen, and that the information shown on it is correct.
The card holder's biometric details may also—with the card holder's consent—be confirmed against those held on the register. Clause 14, however, specifically prevents fingerprints or other biometric information from being conveyed from the register to a private sector organisation, even with the consent of the individual concerned. It also does not allow administrative information not related to confirmation of identity to be given to a private sector organisation—again, even with the card holder's consent.
I am concerned about that point. We have heard that private sector companies will have access to the database to check information. If the identity card is a gold-plated proof of identity, why should those companies need access to the database behind it?
I am sorry if I was not clear enough, but I just said as clearly as I could that private sector companies would not have access to the database. I also said that, with the consent of the card holder, banks or other approved businesses would be able to verify identity. That is all they would be able to do. It is not the same thing.
Clause 15 says that the Government can demand the production of an ID card for purposes connected with the provision of a public service. Which public services have the Government in mind, and how many abuses does the Home Secretary think are currently taking place because of false identities?
The Bill states clearly that the ID card cannot be used as the sole means of verification of identity for the provision of any public service. It sets out a procedure whereby a public service provider—a local authority, a library, or whatever—can join the system if it wishes to do so, as it has the right to do. Linked to the point that I have just made, that can be done only with the consent of the individual identity card holder. I think that that is a perfectly reasonable system to operate.
Concerns about police powers have been widely expressed, particularly in regard to stop and search. I want to make it clear that the Bill, and the introduction of identity cards, will make no difference to the general powers of the police to stop people for no reason and demand proof of identity. The Bill will make no difference to the powers that exist under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. In fact, quicker, reliable access to confirmed identification would help to reduce the time a suspected person might spend in police custody. The effect of that would be to reduce the number of people wrongly held in police custody while their identity was being checked, which would be of benefit to the individual and to the police.
I also want to confirm that there is no requirement to carry an identity card at all times, as there have been many questions about that. In regard to the power to make regulations to require an ID card to be produced to access public services, clause 15(3) specifically prohibits any
"regulations the effect of which would be to require an individual—
. . . to carry an ID with him at all times".
I also want to address the concerns expressed by ethnic minorities. A spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain has been reported as urging the Home Office to reassure Muslims that they would not be singled out, saying that the key point would be whether the community would be "unfairly targeted". It will not be, and I can give that assurance quite specifically, for the reason that I have just given. Similarly, a spokesman for the Commission for Racial Equality asked whether there were
"adequate safeguards in place to address the potential adverse impact on particular groups in our society".
Again, I can give that assurance. The race equality impact assessment, which was published with the Bill, sets out quite clearly how this situation will be addressed. The fact is that ethnic minority communities, like other communities, have no reason to fear the ID card system, and still less reason to fear that they will be targeted in any way.
If we should not be at all concerned about these proposals, following all the reassurances that my right hon. Friend is giving, why would the Information Commissioner say that the ID card would be an "unnecessary and disproportionate intrusion" into our liberty? Should not we take Mr. Thomas's comments very seriously indeed? Is it not also a fact that, if we had a free vote on the Bill tonight, it would certainly be thrown out?
First, I cannot speak for the Information Commissioner. I do not think that he is right. He is a long-standing opponent of the identity card system. I think that his analysis is incorrect, for the reasons that I have already set out. An identity card will provide a means of dealing with the information that society issues that would not exist if we did not have those powers. On the question of a free vote, I simply observe that, when we voted on the Bill's Second Reading on
The Home Secretary obviously intends to make these things compulsory, and he has already talked about the penalties for refusing to register. Will he now let the British people know exactly what penalties they might face, in fines or imprisonment, for refusing to have anything to do with the scheme?
On the impact of ID cards—which must necessarily become compulsory in due course—on black and minority ethnic communities, the whole House accepts that the Bill does not extend the powers of the police. But it does extend the pretexts on which the police might stop people. All of us who live and work in our inner cities know what that could mean. The Home Secretary should take seriously the concerns of the Commission for Racial Equality and the Muslim Council of Britain, because the last thing that we need is legislation that will further turn the screw on community relations in our big towns.
I do take seriously the concerns of various organisations representing minority ethnic communities, and those of my hon. Friend Ms Abbott, with whom we have also discussed this point in the past. I do not accept her argument that the Bill offers a pretext for police to behave differently from how they do now. The powers are there right now for the police to act in the way that they do. The ID card does not change that regime.
The Home Secretary has just said that ethnic minorities have nothing to fear from this measure. Why, then, does the Government's own regulatory impact assessment state:
"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"?
Is not that proof that there is a danger for ethnic minorities?
Not at all. The introduction process that we have discussed links ID cards to the passport, possibly to the driving licence, and possibly to the Criminal Records Bureau. Those are all ways of introducing the card that are not linked to specific ethnic minority groups in any way. What the regulatory impact assessment means is that some people might have concerns about those matters, which is why I have sought to address that specifically in the House.
Not at this stage. I will do so later.
I argue that the ID card system is in fact a bulwark against the surveillance or Big Brother society, and not a further contribution to it. [Interruption.] This is a serious point. People must understand the nature of the society in which we now live. Today, large quantities of information exist for all of us, throughout our society. The question is how we best regulate that and deal with identity fraud.
I will make some more progress at this stage.
I turn now to the second concern, which many Members across the House have raised with me: the cost of the scheme and the way in which that operates. I acknowledge that the concerns expressed by Members are genuine.
The starting point for the discussion is the biometric passport. As the House knows, the UK Government propose to introduce biometric passports to keep in line with developments in international standards through the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
I will give way to a number of Members when I come to the end of this passage, as I have been doing.
In the case of Europe, facial image and fingerprint biometrics, in line with those standards, will be required in passports issued by EU states under Council Regulation 2252/2004. Facial biometrics must be introduced by August 2006, and fingerprint biometrics three years after the technical specification has been agreed. All EU member states will have to introduce the same biometrics into the EU common format residence permits and visas for nationals of non-EU states.
The United States has issued a further deadline for visa waiver programme countries to introduce facial image biometric passports from
In a second.
The effect of moving to a biometric passport is to raise the cost of the passport to of the order of £65 on each occasion. Members in all parts of the House must acknowledge that that can be avoided only if the United Kingdom were to choose to stand aside from the international biometric development that I have described, which would, in turn, lead to costs for those of our citizens who wish to travel in any given way. So that £65 is a cost that we meet without any reference to the Identity Cards Bill now before the House. That is an important and critical point.
On top of that biometric passport cost, the biometric ID card would cost an additional £25 to £30. That is the unit cost published in the regulatory impact assessment. It is not the charge that the Government agreed—
I told you that I will give way later—[Hon. Members: "Ooh!"] My hon. Friend is very persistent and very effective in her arguments, if not always in her resolutions. I promise her that I will give way at the appropriate point. I rather liked the "Ooh!" from Members. I must try to acquire that effective tone.
As I have said, the £25 to £30 that I have described is the unit cost published in the regulatory impact assessment, but I emphasise that that is not the charge that the Government have agreed. The actual charge will be determined by the Government at the time of introduction, depending on the business plan for the card's introduction. It will include, first, the cost of producing the card following the tender process; secondly, it will include the income in respect of driving licences or the Criminal Records Bureau, for example, which we could use to deal with the costs associated with the card; thirdly, it will include the possibility of cheaper cards for poorer citizens, which many of my colleagues have argued is a necessary development; fourthly, there is the possibility of a maximum charge for the card, so that it is capped at a particular level.
I will give way in a moment, but at a time of my choosing.
I intend to provide more detail on the Government's intentions before the Bill leaves this House, but as a result of that clarity, many of the concerns that people have about the cost will lessen. I want to emphasise one other point before I give way. The Bill already makes it clear, in clause 37, that once the legislation is enacted, Parliament has to approve the fees and charges for ID cards. That is done by way of the negative resolution, but I am prepared to consider changes in Committee, such as making the initial charges subject to the affirmative, rather than the negative, procedure, if that will give the House some confidence that the charging regime is being established in accordance with people's wishes.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind remarks and for giving way. What is the status of the proposed EU-wide passport with fingerprint biometrics that he mentioned earlier? Is it just a proposal or a definite agreement? Will he also address the question, raised by the Opposition, of the cost of accessing the data held on an individual, and will he say how long it would take to get that information and to make any changes to it, should the individual in question identify an error?
On my hon. Friend's second point, I have already made it clear—I hope that she accepts that this really is the case—that individual companies and private-sector organisations simply cannot buy the database. On her first point, as far as the United States is concerned, it will do what it does irrespective of anything else. On the European Union, the regulation to which I referred is binding on the Schengen countries, although not necessarily on us. However, it is expected that all EU member states will have to introduce the same biometrics into the EU common format residence permits, and into visas for nationals of non-EU states.
I should point out to my hon. Friend and to others who are concerned about this issue that in the view of all observers, there is absolutely no doubt that the development of biometric travel documents in the ways that I have described is the future. Given that environment, we would seriously disadvantage the citizens of this country if we did not go down the biometric route.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the letter that he sent to our party on this issue, which we have found helpful. But will he confirm to this House that none of the data that we are discussing can be dispensed outside this United Kingdom? The Taoiseach has made it clear that the Irish Government are going to go for this and reference has been made to some form of cross-border arrangement. That would be very serious indeed, when the members of the security forces and others walk with the threat of the IRA on them. They would not need to gather news about threats; they would get it if Government data were available. I would like an assurance on that from the Home Secretary.
I am happy to give that assurance. As I said in a letter to the hon. Gentleman's colleague, the Identity Cards Bill does not allow information to be provided from the national identity register to any foreign Government. That is the position—full stop. That is the state of affairs that applies, so I can give the firm assurance that the hon. Gentleman seeks.
In that case, can the Home Secretary explain to the House how the common travel arrangements will work without any exchange of data between the two Governments?
I can certainly explain that I have had informal discussions with Ministers of the Irish Government on this matter. The right hon. Gentleman is right that issues need to be discussed to achieve it. [Interruption.] I hear Mr. Hogg shouting, "Why have we not done it already?" from a sedentary position. It is for this House and this country to decide how to proceed with the Bill, but how developments would take place in respect of the joint travel area is a matter not only for us, but for the Irish Government. Rev. Ian Paisley asked for assurances, which I have given him, because it is certainly the case that we would not release data from our databases to the Irish Government. That is the case—pure and simple.
May I take the Home Secretary to the day on which the scheme becomes compulsory? People from the United States, France and Mongolia will possess passports and related documents that entitle them to be in the UK, whereas my right hon. Friend and I will have identity cards. However, people who commute from Donegal to Derry or Doncaster, or from Dublin or Cork to London each week for working Monday to Friday will not possess and cannot be required to possess the identity card. Justice Minister McDowell may be pursuing biometrics for the European passport, but I am told that there is no way on God's earth that the Irish Republic Parliament will introduce compulsory identity card systems—not now and not in a decade. How, then, will it work?
My hon. Friend, with all due respect, misunderstands my point. The joint travel area system works now in a variety of different ways to ensure that the data are used in a proper way. The establishment in the UK of an identity card, which is an important element in the whole process, will help that system work even better. Full stop. That is all that needs to be said about it.
May I press the Home Secretary a little further on the issue of capping the charge? One of the reasons why public support for the principle of identity cards appears to have slipped is that so much misinformation has been put into the public domain over the likely costs. Will my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that the public will not be expected to pay more than £28 or £30 at today's prices when the ID cards are introduced?
I agree with my hon. Friend that some of the fantastic figures circulating around in the media have given rise to the concern that he expressed. I am prepared to say that it is right to give an assurance about the cap, but I am not prepared to say at this stage precisely what the cap will be. Before the Bill leaves the House, however, I will give such an assurance.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his customary generosity, but I would like to probe him further on the cost. He says that the cost of a biometric passport will be about £65 and the cost of an identity card between £25 and £30, which comes to about £95 top whack. May I make the Home Secretary an offer? My passport expires in December 2011. If I write him a cheque for £100 now, will he agree that if the cost is more than £100 at that time, he will meet the extra? If it is below, he can either keep the extra, courtesy of myself, or give it to charity. Will he make that deal?
I am always interested in side deals with my hon. Friend, who is a talented and skilled financial operator. I will look into seeing whether a side deal is possible, but I am not going to arrange one on the Floor of the House this afternoon.
Surely the issue of cost changes if we move to compulsion. Having a card would then cease to be a matter of convenience and become a matter of necessity. Although a state may decide properly that it wants its citizens to have an identity card, it should not then also require them to pay for it.
That is an entirely reasonable point and would be taken into consideration when the House came to consider proposals for compulsion. My view—for what it is worth, although I give no assurances—is that the charge would be significantly less than the amounts that have been mentioned, but I agree that at the point when a decision has to be made about compulsion, the question of charging would be a legitimate aspect for discussion.
The cost of course depends on the model that is adopted. We have heard much about international requirements for biometric passports. I do not have a particular problem with having a passport with a biometric element: the problem is the database that lies behind it. What international requirements are there that would lead to the construction of the sort of database that is proposed in this country? I am totally unaware of any such requirements.
There are none. I do not make the argument for the identity card process that we propose on the basis of an international requirement that we should do it. The argument that I was making about the international environment was about biometric passports. I argued that in the context of the cost factor, because many people have confused the cost of an identity card with the cost of a biometric passport plus an identity card. There is no international requirement or, indeed, suggestion that we should move towards an ID card system as a result of some international process elsewhere. However, it is important to be aware as we take our decisions in this country of the international trends in crime and other matters, and how best we can deal with those.
Many Opposition Members voted against the Second Reading of the previous Bill as a matter of principle and will do so again tonight. However, given that cost is a highly sensitive issue, will the Home Secretary give a categorical assurance to the House that full consideration will first be given to using the post office and Jobcentre Plus networks for the enrolment of citizens before seeking to secure substantial new premises that would inevitably greatly add to the cost of the scheme?
We have heard much this afternoon about the cost of the passport to individuals, but there will be a broader cost. I would welcome my right hon. Friend's comments on the precise impact on the wider economy of identity fraud. Some 3 to 5 per cent. of all fraud involves identity fraud and we all have constituents who have suffered the misery of that crime. How much does it cost our economy?
One can envisage a situation in which, even when identity cards are not compulsory, poor people become more and more disadvantaged—as they become more widely used—when opening bank accounts and accessing services. What steps will my right hon. Friend take to ensure that our poorer citizens are protected from that possibility and are able to access ID cards, if they wish to do so, in a way that is affordable and not too complex?
My hon. Friend is entirely correct and that is why I made specific reference to that point earlier in my speech, when I addressed the business planning for the introduction of the card. I referred to the need to be sure that the charge, when finally set, takes account of the circumstances of less well-off citizens. My hon. Friend is right to raise that point and many other colleagues have also raised it. The assurance that I give is that when we come to look at the precise business plan for a charging regime, the particular point that she has made will be taken fully into account.
As usual, the Home Secretary is generous in giving way and we appreciate that.
May I take the right hon. Gentleman back to the issue of the common travel area with the Republic of Ireland? He was not as explicit about that as he might have been If the House votes for the Bill, is not it the case that we are heading towards a scenario in which, in 10 years' time or so, there will be three categories of people in the UK? First, citizens of the UK will have to have the identity card. Secondly, people from outside the UK and the Republic of Ireland will have to have a passport to be in the country legally and in practice at that time it may in cases be a biometric passport. Thirdly, citizens of the Republic of Ireland will be able to enter Northern Ireland or the rest of the United Kingdom, live there and do whatever they like with no document at all. Is not that a major hole in the intended comprehensiveness of the Home Secretary's system, and is not it an anomaly and an unfairness that will be difficult for the British people to accept?
I do not think that it is a major hole. There is no doubt that the Irish Government, the Dail, will look at the issues and decide what they want to do, but it is not necessary for us to say in the House that we shall require Irish citizens coming to the UK to have the same ID card as us. That would not be an appropriate course for us to follow. Equally, as was pointed out earlier, we have no obligation whatever to give any data held under our system to any foreign Government. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to say that we should work towards a situation where the joint travel area evolves well in a good working relationship. I agree, and that is what we shall do.
I will give way again later, but I want to make some progress.
The next stage of my argument relates to the benefits that the ID card will bring, because I do not think that they have yet been clearly set out. First, I shall set out the benefits to every individual who has a card. That builds on the point made about access to services by my hon. Friend Helen Jones. It will be a benefit to the individual to be able to make clear their identity in financial transactions—for example, opening bank accounts and in a wide range of other transactions—without having to produce a series of proxy documentation. In terms of obtaining public documents, I have already mentioned driving licences, passports and Criminal Records Bureau certificates. There is no doubt in my mind that the card will help individuals who need and want those documents.
For the reasons that I set out earlier, to have a card will be of major benefit in terms of international travel, whether for travel to the United States without a visa or more widely elsewhere in the world. Proof of identity in relation to law enforcement is also a benefit to the individual. Access to public services, as decided by those service providers, whether a library or any other form of public service, is another example of such a benefit.
My hon. Friend Alison Seabeck raised the issue of identity fraud. She is entirely correct. In 2004, an average of 50,000 people in the UK were victims of impersonation fraud. On average, it takes each victim 60 hours to resolve their case and clear their name. ID cards will make it more difficult to perpetrate identity theft and the high-quality verification service will reduce the time that it takes to deal with the damage. The British Bankers Association has stated that general banking losses due to identity fraud amount to £50 million. Those are substantial issues and show that the card will be of benefit to the individual.
The benefits to society include more effective crime fighting in a wide variety of ways; reducing serious and organised crime, people trafficking, money laundering and drug dealing; and reducing illegal migration and benefit fraud. Some hon. Members have been sceptical about the benefits of the card in dealing with terrorism, but I shall consider as an illustration the widely aired suggestion that ID cards did not stop the terrorist bombings in Madrid.
In fact, ID cards helped the Spanish police to identify who was responsible for the Madrid bombings, because in order to buy a mobile phone in Spain a person has to verify their identity with an ID card. According to the Spanish police, ID cards were a key element in tracking down the bombers. The cards also helped to identify the victims of the bombing so that their families could be informed.
Of course, Spanish ID cards do not contain the biometrics that we are discussing, so they can be forged more easily than the kind of card that we are describing. Our ID cards will be more successful. It is no coincidence—
I will give way in a second, but I want to make my argument in my own way.
Jean-Louis Bruguière, France's top counter-terrorism investigator—it was reported in The Times on
My right hon. Friend has referred to banks and to libraries, and he has referred to the ability of an ID card to prevent acts of international terror, but he has failed to tell the House how. Must every library have a machine that can ensure that the ID card that is presented is accurate? How are these cards to be verified in every single aspect of national life, from banks to libraries, to police stations, to accident and emergency, to hospitals, to doctors' surgeries, and who is going to pay for the machines that can read them?
In each case, it will be a matter for the authority providing a public service to consider whether it is in its interests to have an ID card system. For example, if Camden council decides that it is beneficial to Camden council to have a different form of ID check in its libraries from the system that currently exists to ensure that people do not steal books, it will decide to put in the readers that are necessary. We are not requiring the authorities to do it; no one says that they have to do it. They will make a decision. [Interruption.] I hear a sedentary intervention saying that we are requiring people to carry cards. That is simply untrue, as I have said before, and that is precisely the point about this whole approach. My point, and it is a very serious point when we look at the benefits, is that each organisation will make its own assessment as to whether there is a benefit in having an ID card system.
I am very grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way. When the Leader of the Opposition told The Daily Telegraph last December that he had taken advice from senior police officers and security chiefs regarding the security of British citizens and that he could not disregard that, was he right then, or is he right now to ask my right hon. Friend to disregard it?
To be quite candid, I decided not to go into this type of partisan political point, first because it is obviously alien to my character and is not the kind of thing that I would want to do, and secondly because it would be unfair. John Bercow made the point earlier that he voted against his party in December 2004 and intends to continue doing so. David Davis has reversed his position.
From a sedentary position, the hon. Gentleman makes the position quite clear—and the embarrassed smiles of Opposition Members also make it quite clear—when he says, accurately, that the party is on side now. Mr. Howard has to explain his stewardship of the party over that period, and that really is a matter for him. I will not give in to the temptation that my hon. Friend Steve McCabe has offered me by suggesting that I deal with the matter in a particular way.
May I bring the Home Secretary back to the benefits to the citizens of this country, particularly some of the most vulnerable? The Disability Rights Commission has said that the Government's own research
"shows that 62,000 disabled people will not be able to register their biometrics in any way", and
"many hundreds of thousands of disabled people" are
"likely to experience significant barriers to enrolment".
If libraries and other public services are going to depend on access to the identity card system, some of the most vulnerable disabled people in society will be among those who will be denied the alleged benefits.
There are two points to make in response to that. First, the organisations concerned will decide whether they want to follow that course. Forms of identity can be used other than the ID card if that is more appropriate, but they will decide. Secondly, all of this has to be compliant with the current disability legislation; that is self-evident and that is how it stands.
On people trafficking, international terrorism and illegal immigration, if identity cards are so helpful and so essential, why is this scheme voluntary?
We hope to make it compulsory over time; we have set that out very clearly in the Bill. We have not waved a magic wand and made it compulsory now because the process of issuing ID cards for the whole population takes a good deal of time. But if you look, Mr. Speaker, at the great tragedies of which my hon. Friend has extensive experience—that is obvious from the way that she is talking about some of the people-trafficking issues—or other events that are equally shocking, such as the tragedy of the people who died in the container going across the channel—
I will give way in a second.
If we look at the issues of people trafficking, there is absolutely no doubt: if we talk to those in any police organisation in the world, they will say that identity fraud, first, by the gangs who run such trafficking and, secondly, by the people who are being trafficked is a central weapon of their crime, and we should do everything that we can to stop that happening. My hon. Friend—I will give way to her again in a moment—effectively says "Do it faster!", and she has a powerful message. We can talk about doing it faster, but let us not draw the conclusion that we should not do it at all. Let us do better and make such things happen more quickly, rather than more slowly.
I would also say, "Do not charge people from general taxation". On the Morecambe bay tragedy to which my right hon. Friend refers, is he aware that those Chinese illegal immigrants held permits to work and had false national insurance numbers? What would stop such people having false ID cards?
That was a terribly tragic situation, but I am afraid that my hon. Friend makes the case that I am seeking to make. The falseness that she describes—to be honest, it arises with a number of the documents of people working in this country illegally—is possible because we do not have a substantial biometric element in the identification cards that exist. The biometric element will make a material difference to people's ability to forge those documents.
The Home Secretary knows that the Home Office has a long record of difficulties with major IT projects. He well knows that evidence was given to the Home Affairs Committee by the United Kingdom Computer Research Committee, which said:
"we have deep scepticism about the Home Office's ability to specify, procure, implement a national, software intensive system on the scale that would be necessary."
Can the Home Secretary reassure the House that, in years to come, the permanent secretary of his Department will not appear before the Public Accounts Committee to defend himself against charges of massive cost overruns and massive increases in bureaucracy and difficulties with IT?
I can tell the House that the permanent secretaries of the Departments that I have been involved with always enjoyed coming to the hon. Gentleman's Committee to explain the situation, but I will come to the specific point in a moment.
On the necessity of carrying a card, will the Home Secretary clarify two points? First, he cited the Spanish experience and said that the Spanish only managed to get those people because having an ID card is a requirement to get a mobile phone in Spain. Is he saying that that would be the situation in this country and that people who want a mobile phone must have an ID card? Secondly, he told the House that a card will not be necessary to gain access to public services, but clause 15(1) says precisely the opposite: someone who provides public services may make it a requirement to see an ID card. Is it his intention to delete clause 15(1) in Committee?
First, the point that I was making about Madrid is very simple. Contrary to what some people allege, ID cards have had an impact in helping to address the issues of Madrid. I am not making any proposition about mobile phones or any other service, but I am saying that the suggestion that ID cards cannot address questions such as the appalling bombing in Madrid is not correct.
On the second point, the fact is that we are saying in the legislation—again, we can discuss this in Committee if my hon. Friend has concerns about it—that organisations are entitled to use ID cards to identify people in those circumstances after they have become compulsory, but that it will also be possible for individuals to use other material if they wish to do so. Of course, the detail of that matter can be discussed in Committee if we make progress, but that is where we are.
I will not give way again. I am going to make progress on the point about the capacity to run major projects made by Mr. Leigh. There are a lot of easy jibes of the type that he made, and I want to begin by giving the example of the Passport and Records Agency—an organisation that has issued 6.1 million passports in the past year, that has 47 million records across the country and that, as is very well known, had major problems in 1997, which caused concern throughout the House.
Only this year, the Comparisat benchmark survey, run by FDS International, surveyed a wide range of organisations based on their customer satisfaction and what was going on. Number one on that list was the UK Passport Service, which was followed by Asda, eBay, Amazon, Virgin Mobile, Morrisons, Tesco, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Post Office, Boots and ScottishPower. I cite that example because it demonstrates that major public service projects, and even Home Office public service projects can, through investment in technology for massive schemes, beat the world—both the public and private sector—in the service that they offer to people. That is a tribute to what can be done.
I can cite other examples. The UK information technology industry is currently rolling out the introduction of chip and PIN in stores and shops throughout the country. The project involves 42 million consumers who hold more than 140 million credit and debit cards, 3 million retail staff in stores throughout the country and more than 250,000 bank branch and call centre staff. That massive project is being carried out well.
The Department for Work and Pensions payment modernisation system means that 22.5 million accounts are now paid by direct payment. The scheme was completed on time with less expenditure than was initially anticipated, and it will save more than £1 billion over the next five years. The same is true of NHS Direct. All those examples demonstrate that the public sector in general, and the Home Office in particular, has the capacity to undertake such major projects. Of course the projects must be well managed, and I could produce a list of private and public sector failures, but it is important to get a balance on the whole situation.
Order. I heard the Home Secretary say that he was not going to give way. I must remind the House that many hon. Members wish to speak and that interventions will eat into their time.
Our approach on the technology is straightforward. When the Bill has passed through Parliament, we intend to conduct trials of the technology, including small-scale tests, database tests and large-scale testing during roll-out. There has been a lot of concern about biometric identity cards, especially those using iris recognition, so I draw the House's attention to a report published earlier this week by the university of Cambridge computer laboratory. Its conclusion and recommendations indicate clearly and categorically:
"Iris recognition can be reliably used on a national basis in an Identity Cards scheme, including the capability for exhaustive iris code comparisons to detect multiple identities, if the decision policy employs a threshold criteria"— it then sets out some technical details. These issues can thus be resolved.
The report that I cited indicates that with irises on the database,
"with reasonable acceptance thresholds, the false match rate is less than 1 in 200 billion."
If there is iris recognition, facial recognition and fingerprint recognition, it significantly reduces the possibility of errors arising.
About 37 million people in this country aged over 16 would be liable to have an identity card over a period of time. There has been wide variation in the estimates of the cost of introducing the cards. The estimates range up to £5.5 billion, which would give a huge headline figure of about £140 per person. Whether that figure is accurate or not, will the Home Secretary undertake to produce a proper regulatory impact assessment of the costs that can be relied on before the House definitively makes up its mind on Third Reading?
We have already set out a regulatory impact assessment that can be relied on, but I repeat the assurance that I gave earlier: before the Bill leaves the House, we will produce data in the form that the hon. Gentleman wants.
On all the grounds that I have set out, the ID card will protect individuals against the Big Brother state, rather than the opposite. I have talked about the costs, benefits and technical issues. I tell my hon. Friends who are considering voting for the reasoned amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak that accepting the amendment would be a vote against Second Reading, which would thus defeat the Bill, so I hope that they will agree not to do that. I commend the Bill to the House.
May I congratulate the Home Secretary on a bravura performance in which he defended the indefensible? His performance was marked more by good humour than by hard facts—a point that I shall come to in a moment.
I shall start with an observation. If, 10 years ago, I had gone on the radio and said that within a decade a Labour Government would try to do away with jury trials, remove habeas corpus, eliminate the presumption of innocence, introduce punishment without trial and put house arrest on the statute book, I suspect that I would have been locked up. The Government, however, have tried to do every one of those things in the past few years; each time, they have chipped away at the basic liberties that we hold dear and which previous generations fought to protect. Today, the party which promised the generation of 1945 welfare from cradle to grave is about to give this generation surveillance from cradle to grave. We will not be party to such a measure.
The Home Secretary's proposals represent a fundamental shift in the balance of power between the citizen and the state. They are not just excessive but expensive; they are not just illiberal but impractical; they are not just unnecessary but unworkable, which is why this debate is important. The House has a serious choice to make today. We can choose to let the Government take one more step down the road to what their own Information Commissioner called the "surveillance society", or we can draw a line in the sand and say that enough is enough. We choose to draw that line, and invite anyone in the House who believes in liberty and freedom to do the same.
More than 50 years ago, the British courts ruled that the wartime identity card had outlived its usefulness, saying that it turned "law-abiding subjects into lawbreakers". As a result, Winston Churchill's Government introduced measures to abolish the card, but not before the three original purposes of the card had grown into 39 different uses. That is a warning to us all about the way in which Governments of all persuasions will take a mile of one's freedom if one gives them an inch. The Home Secretary will say that 50 years later times have changed, and indeed they have.
My right hon. Friend has drawn attention to the way in which Governments develop their proposals. Would he care to remind the House that the National Registration Act 1915 did not originally require citizens to produce a card on demand? The Act was amended in 1918 to introduce such a requirement. Does he not think that, if the Government enacted the Bill, in due course it would be amended to make the carrying and production of cards mandatory?
My right hon. and learned Friend has anticipated my next point. I would simply add that many of the security benefits—one can argue that there are some benefits—arise only if it is compulsory to carry a card. One must presume from the Government's approach that they have that in mind for the next decade. My right hon. and learned Friend, however, has made my point for me.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that it is misleading to suggest that to verify a claim of identity the police require the card itself, as they can merely check the claim against a database? His suggestion is one of the many misleading statements that are being made about the Bill.
No, it is not misleading. Presumably, the police will have card readers that will make the process quicker, unless the hon. Gentleman is assuming that they will work off the biometrics. We have already heard that millions of our fellow citizens cannot provide those biometrics, so there is genuine concern that the Government will end up having to make such a requirement. I do not like to say so, but there is an intrinsic dishonesty in the way in which the Bill has been presented. The possession of a card has been presented as voluntary initially, then compulsory. This has not yet been said, but eventually it will become mandatory to carry one. We cannot otherwise achieve the benefits, including the Madrid benefits rightly raised by the Home Secretary. That is a dishonest way in which to present the Bill to the House.
I return to the more general point. The system that the Home Secretary is proposing will be far more sophisticated than that of the 1940s, the 1950s or the first war years. That makes it all the more important that what he is proposing is not open to misuse. The identity card itself is just the plastic embodiment of a much greater and potentially more pernicious thing—the new national identity register. That is what the Bill is essentially about.
The register is a massive database containing detailed personal information about every person in the country—a database that can be accessed by officials and public bodies without permission and without the person whom they are looking up ever knowing that it has happened. The Home Secretary talks about people exercising their rights under the Data Protection Act 1998. Very few people will do that, and it may be an expensive process. He did not outline any actions on the costs of that process, but if he wants to intervene, I will take a comment from him.
The individuals concerned may not know about that access, but the Government will, and they will keep a record of every time the card is used. They will know where we are and what we are doing. The Government's own Information Commissioner—remember, created and appointed by the Government, not some partisan person from outside; the person whose job it is to worry about the information handled by the Government—says that is "unnecessary". He says it is
"particularly worrying and cannot be viewed in isolation from other initiatives which serve to build a detailed picture of people's lives, such as CCTV surveillance, the use of automatic number plate recognition, recording vehicle movements for law enforcement, and the proposals to introduce satellite tracking of vehicles for road use charging".
Such a vision was originally set out by a man called Blair who changed his name to Orwell and wrote a book called "1984". It was supposed to be a warning, not a textbook.
Not long ago the Prime Minister was caught saying:
"Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory ID cards . . . let that money provide thousands more police officers on the beat in our local communities."
In that quote he was attacking what he called "the Tory Right". Today it is his new Labour Government who want to spend thousands of millions of pounds forcing us to sign up to be members of our own country.
As yesterday's report from the London School of Economics found—I do not want to give the Home Secretary dyspepsia—
"With the exception of Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Cyprus, no common law country in the world has ever accepted the idea of a peacetime ID card".
The Prime Minister has always been concerned about making his mark on history. That is quite a legacy to leave.
On the point about countries that have chosen or not chosen to introduce the identity card, does the right hon. Gentleman think it significant that after the worst terrorist atrocity in human history, the United States of America considered the matter carefully in the 9/11 commission and rejected the case for an ID card?
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. The reason the common law countries are unique in this respect is that they are the countries that presume that the citizen is free to do anything unless there is a law against it. That is rather different from the Napoleonic law countries. If America can get by without an identity card, it is hard to see why we cannot.
I have always made it clear that before the events of 9/11 I would never have even countenanced the concept of an identity card, but since 9/11, in my present post, I accepted that we should listen to the Government's case, just as we should consider any possible device that could make our country and our people safer. Having done so, including considering what the Home Secretary said today, I conclude that the Government's identity card will be little more than an expensive waste of time and money. It is a plastic poll tax, and it is a symbol of this Government's determination to centralise and control everything at the expense of the liberties of the British people. Longstanding freedoms cannot and should not be given away cheaply; they should only be given up on the basis of compelling and exceptional need. All Opposition Members understand that principle, but the Government's record shows that they do not.
Some months ago, I set the Home Secretary five tests, some of which he referred to today. Had he met them, we might have been persuaded to give the previous Bill a fair wind before the election, but he failed to respond adequately to any of the questions. Fortunately for us, other people have come up with the answers to those questions, but unfortunately for the Home Secretary, the answers are universally unhelpful to his case.
I asked the Home Secretary precisely what the purpose of the cards would be. ID cards were originally presented as a response to the terrorist threat after 9/11, which is why I was prepared to listen in the first place. Despite the Home Secretary's comments today, the Government no longer make that case—they know that ID cards would not take effect for many, many years and that terrorists would not be deterred by them. Furthermore, the cards will not be compulsory, so they will not have any effect. Whatever the Home Secretary has said, ID cards did not deter the bombers in Madrid, and they would not have helped in New York, either. If the technology ever becomes effective, terrorists will bypass it, and I shall return to that point.
At times, ID cards have been presented as entitlement cards to tackle benefit fraud—as an aside, the cost of benefit fraud is tiny by comparison with the cost of ID cards, even if one accepts the Government's numbers, which I do not. ID cards were also supposed to tackle illegal working, but in October last year, the previous Home Secretary was back to justifying them on the ground of welfare fraud.
The Home Secretary has said:
"Identity cards will provide a simple and secure way of verifying identity, helping us to tackle illegal working, organised crime, terrorist activity, identity theft and fraudulent access to public services."—[Hansard, 7 February 2005; Vol. 430, c. 1183.]
However, his predecessor admitted that ID cards will not tackle terrorism; the Law Society says that ID cards will not tackle illegal working; and Liberty and the Law Society say that ID cards will not tackle crime. The purpose of ID cards remains unclear, and the Government's case has been, at best, slippery.
A recent article in The Observer stated:
"The Government's motives have been obscured by the ad hoc way in which claimed advantages pile up. Our trust in the state to handle our data safely is undermined by this shifting account of the purpose of ID cards".
It is now clear that ID cards will not fight terrorism, tackle crime, control immigration or stop fraud. They have no effective purpose.
Do the right hon. Gentleman's remarks mean that it is now the Conservative party's settled opinion that ID cards are unacceptable in this country? Will he make it clear that he is taking a position that we have held for 50 years or more and that many Labour Members have held for all their political lives? The Bill will not get through this Parliament, because it will not obtain a majority in the other place. If the Government were to force it through by some device, those in favour of liberty would repeal it before it ever came into force.
I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman's last point—I will let his earlier political points go—and my party and I would not be party to such a thing.
The Home Secretary has said that the Bill will enable us to assert our right to be here. It is an extraordinary departure from who we are as a people that all hon. Members must assert their right to be here through the Home Secretary's benighted ID cards scheme.
We have seen window taxes and poll taxes, but this is a breathing tax. The right to citizenship of this kingdom is acquired at birth and is not at the behest of the Government.
A variation on the theme highlighted by my hon. Friend Mr. Shepherd is the argument enunciated by Mr. Blunkett as long ago as November 2003, when he said that identity cards were about tackling alienation and asserting our sense of belonging. I have met several people in my constituency who have complained that they felt alienated from the community, others who felt alienated from the Government, and a proportion who felt alienated from both, but I have yet to meet a single one who has said, "John, I'm alienated—I have an identity crisis, and I can't assert my sense of belonging until the Home Secretary gives me my identity card."
Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, I remind hon. Members that interventions are getting longer and there is a very long list of speakers.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for rescuing me from having to reply.
The second test is this: does the technology exist to make the system work? Again, the Home Secretary has not answered the question, but other people have. One group, which knows far more about these things than our famously technophobic Prime Minister, said:
"This will undoubtedly be a large and centralised system as currently outlined in the bill, and this type of system attracts a high risk of failure."
That was the British Computer Society, which I suspect knows rather better than others what it is talking about.
One of the most potent criticisms of the Government's plan, however, is that it will make fraud easier. This card will become a master key for fraudsters. Its intention is to give, if I can use the Home Secretary's words, "legitimacy" to someone's identity, but if that identity is fraudulent in the first place, it only makes the problem worse. One expert in this area says:
"ID cards will exacerbate the situation. The stakes are raised that much higher if the master key is cracked; it opens the door to all sorts of frauds."
It is extremely likely that this ID card system will actually make fraud easier by doing exactly that.
The right hon. Gentleman is making the case that the identity secured could be a false identity in the first place, thereby allowing for further frauds. However, what does he say about those people who continually change identity and continually try to evade justice and hide themselves by defrauding the system? Would not this system at least put a stop to that at a particular point and prevent them from continually changing their identities?
No. In about two minutes, I will explain to the hon. Lady why that will, unfortunately, remain too easy.
Before I get to that, I want to deal with the next test, which is the question of whether the Home Office could do this. The Home Secretary showed admirable loyalty in defending his Department on that issue, but again, did not answer the question despite its being asked by the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. Other people, however, have answered that question.
Let us recount some of the computer projects that the Government have made a hash of. Last week, we saw that the tax credits system is in chaos because of IT problems. The Home Office itself is one of the worst-offending Departments when it comes to IT management. Remember the police national computer? One would think that that would be very accurate because it has biometric data associated with it, but an audit recently found that 65 per cent. of its files contained errors. Remember the asylum seeker processing system? With a budget of £80 million, the project was scrapped after it was found to be flawed. Remember the infamous Passport Agency project? Its delivery was delayed and it eventually came in £12.5 million over budget. Before the supposed good performance that the Home Secretary told us about, the failures led to more than 500,000 people waiting for passports in the early summer of 1999.
The important point to understand here is that one good year in six is not good enough for a computer that is fundamental to our security systems.
And there is another point—if these cards are a prerequisite to obtaining benefit from public services, a person who cannot get a valid card cannot get their benefit.
My right hon. and learned Friend makes an excellent point, with which I shall deal shortly.
Of all the Departments, the Home Office is the last that one would want to put in charge of such a scheme. Identity cards are not only ineffective and open to fraud but we have no faith in the Government's ability to make them work.
Is not the position even worse, in that the Home Office's study on whether the scheme can be realised showed extraordinarily high failure rates for the biometrics?
The hon. Gentleman is right. It is interesting that the Home Office is relying on the cumulative effect of all the biometrics working, yet many thousands of people will, in one way or another, be cut out of public services or unable to be identified because 1 million or more people are excluded.
The most contentious issue is cost. In one respect, I agree with the Home Secretary. He told the BBC that there was an obligation on him
"to set out the figures in the clearest and most substantive way".
The trouble is that he has not done that. He recently admitted that the original figure of £93 per card was only an indicative unit cost. Once charges are added, the price will go up even more.
What is the cost? The Government appear to have no clue. We realised that when the Home Secretary was asked about local government expenditure on libraries and so on. However, fortunately for the Government—the Home Secretary will not agree—the London School of Economics has been able to provide an estimate. Unfortunately for the Government, it is much more than they let on. [Interruption.] "Think of a number, then treble it" is probably a good way of estimating Home Office cost outcomes.
The LSE states that the true cost of implementing the proposed scheme will be between £10.6 billion and £19.2 billion. That could raise the average cost of each card, without means testing, to £230 a person. That tax will fall on hard-working taxpayers and poorer pensioners on fixed incomes. It may not be much money for the Home Secretary or members of the Government, but for the poorest in our society, it is more than a month's food bill. Worse, councils will have to find a further £10 billion to cover local costs for new technology and staff training.. That is the figure that the Home Secretary could not find earlier. The cost will inevitably be passed on in higher council tax bills or higher general taxes.
I shall revert to that shortly. However, there are two external reports—the Kable report and the LSE report. Both estimate the cost of the scheme as approximately between £15 billion and £19 billion. That is roughly three times the figure with which the Home Office has come up. As I shall explain, the figures in the reports are more plausible than those of the Home Office. We are considering a 10-year programme and anyone who estimates the cost as being less than a few billion pounds at this stage is unwise.The Home Secretary disputes the LSE's figures, but another company has also estimated the cost to be approximately £15 billion. An expert from Belgium who advised the Government on their plans said:
"I'm afraid a lot of money will be wasted and that the real cost will be much higher than any of the figures currently being suggested".
Whom should we believe—independent organisations or the Government? The Government claimed that the criminal court computer system would cost less than £150 million but the actual cost was £400 million. The Government said that moving GCHQ's computers to another building would cost £20 million, yet it cost £450 million. Recently the Government overspent on computer projects by £2 billion. Why should we believe them?
Given the importance of cost, would not it be more satisfactory for the House to proceed by inviting a Select Committee to hold an inquiry into the costs to establish whether the disparity between the LSE figures and those of the Government is credible, and to reach a figure on which the House can agree before we make a final decision on the Bill?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. He may remember that on Second Reading, and I think even on Third Reading, I offered the Government a Joint Committee. The idea had stemmed from the newest Member of the House, my hon. Friend Sir Patrick Cormack—who, of course, is not really the newest Member at all. It struck me as a sensible idea, and I put it to the Government twice. Twice the Government turned it down. I do not think we can stand by and let the Bill proceed through its stages after being turned down twice and not being given a proper response by the Government twice.
Does not the essential difference between the LSE's position and that of the Government lie in whether there is a 10-year or a five-year cycle for identity cards? Does not all the evidence about biometrics suggest that the cycle should be closer to five years than to 10?
That was part of the difference, as I understand it. I do not think that the Home Secretary was right when he said that it doubled the cost; I think it adds several hundred million pounds, but I do not think it doubles the cost. As for the other point, what is the practical cycle for biometrics? One of them involves a picture of the individual's face. The Government say that 10 years is good enough, while the LSE favours five years. I have known the Home Secretary for more than 10 years, and I think he has changed a bit in that time. I would go for the five-year cycle if I were him.
I think that I should finish what I have to say. We must allow some other Members to speak at some point today.
Why should people have to pay for the Prime Minister's pet project? Will they have to pay to change their names when they get married? Will they have to pay again when they change their addresses?
Or their gender, indeed. I do not know whether that is an expression of ambition. Now I am shocking the Home Secretary.
Who will pay for the means testing? Who will carry it out—means testing, that is, not gender change? What will it cost? All those questions remain unanswered.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give us his take on what the Home Secretary said about what I would describe as the Irish question? Did the right hon. Gentleman understand the Home Secretary to say that those who live in this country and perceive themselves to be Irish—many of my constituents have lived in this country for many years, and still consider themselves to be Irish—would need identity cards?
A new Liberal Democrat policy is being founded, it seems.
The simple fact is that there is a common travel area between us and Ireland, and I understand that there is no proposal to change that. It gives citizens of each country an absolute right to travel freely in the other country. The Irish Parliament may well choose not to introduce a system like this, but if it does, such a system—contrary to what the Home Secretary said earlier—will require information exchange. It is impossible for an identity card system to work in two countries without the exchange of information between them.
I suspect that there is no way a number of members of the Democratic Unionist party would accept it either, but that is another matter. There is a serious problem here, which cuts a huge hole in proposals for any serious security-based identification mechanism.
It is no surprise that the Government's plans have come to be seen as a plastic poll tax. They are excessive, expensive, unnecessary, unworkable and, now, unpopular. They have no clear purpose, and they are no guarantee against fraud. It is hard to escape the conclusion that they are an answer in search of a question or a solution in search of a problem.
All along, I have made it clear that I would not normally countenance ID cards, but I was prepared to give the Government a chance to make their case. In my view, however, they have failed to do so. ID cards represent a clear and present threat to the everyday freedoms and liberties of the British people. Some people question why there is such concern about a little plastic card. The answer is that there is not. There is concern about what lies behind that little plastic card.
The Government are planning to establish a massive identity database in Whitehall that will contain all sorts of personal information about people in this country. The database will have a number of access points, and there will be nothing to prevent someone from inserting a virus at any one of those access points which could render the entire database open to fraud. When I asked some of Britain's most senior police officers what could be done to stop that happening, they could not give me an answer. Even today, no one has been able to do so. The concerns remain.
Last month, the New Statesman reported a meeting with a young professional mathematician, who said that it "wouldn't be hard" to steal someone's identity under the Government's scheme. He asked:
"What's a biometric? It tells you that this card matches that iris. It doesn't tell you who I am, though. I'd just take someone else's life details . . . register those with my own biometric and name. There, I've faked an ID".
Do the Government have a solution to that problem? No. Even worse, the mathematician went on to state that
"half the members of every university maths department in Britain" could probably break the system. I know that fewer people are studying maths under this Government, but even so, that would be too many.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, even if the biometrics were 100 per cent. foolproof, which many of us doubt, the problem with preventing terrorism would be that, under the present legislation, terrorists would still have the option to cross national boundaries using tourist visas that were not based on biometrics? This casts a great deal of doubt on the use of ID cards in relation to the prevention of terrorism.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. We must also remember the three-month period—I almost said "exclusion zone"—allowed for people visiting from the European Union. Also, it is well known in security circles that the identity card systems of some countries on the continent are easier to get into than others. They could provide an access point, too. The gateway control in this scheme will be incredibly difficult. Huge numbers of people will be involved. The Passport Office stated today that about 4.5 million people a year would have to be interviewed in the near future. That gives us an idea of the sheer size of the problem. The system will, I am afraid, be eminently penetrable.
The database will also be open to abuse. A disgruntled Minister, official or civil servant could access information about anyone in the country, pretty much at the touch of a button. People might say that that seems like paranoia, but I remember how this Government tried to smear Pam Warren of the Paddington survivors' group, to savage the reputation of 94-year-old Rose Addis, and to rubbish the reputations of Martin Sixsmith and David Kelly.
The Home Secretary was at it again this morning. He launched a savage attack on Simon Davies of the LSE—[Interruption.] I do not know what the Home Secretary has against people called Davies. I have nothing against people called Clarke. His savage attack on this respected academic was implicitly an attack on the 14 senior professors involved in the LSE's project, but he picked out that particular man and called him "partisan" and "technically incompetent". Why? Because he disagrees with the Home Secretary. As usual, if the Government do not like the message, they shoot the messenger. We have seen this time and again; the way in which the Government treat people who disagree with them is a disgrace, and this does not make me any more inclined to support plans that would give them even more control over the public's personal information.
The Bill is a step too far. If the Government really want to tackle benefit fraud, there are better ways of doing it. If they want to tackle crime, they should put more police on the streets. If they want to tackle terrorism, they should introduce greater control and surveillance at British ports. If their plan is to tackle illegal working, they should get a grip on the shambles of the asylum system. For each and every problem that will supposedly be dealt with by ID cards, there is a better, cheaper and more cost-effective solution that does not threaten to remove the long-held and fought-for freedoms of the British people.
There was a time when Labour Governments were elected to fight poverty, but the cost of ID cards will only make people poorer. There was a time when they tried to pursue fairness, but as the GMB trade union says, ID cards will discriminate against and stigmatise minority and disabled groups. There was a time when the Labour party stood up for people's freedoms. Since 1997, it has been attacking our freedom piece by piece and bit by bit.
Today's proposals are the final straw. We should not be party to seeing them passed. We will not be thanked by today's generation for whom the extra cost will be too much to bear. We will not be thanked by future generations, who will look back to today and ask why we let this change occur. We will not be thanked by an older generation who fought to protect the very liberty that we now propose to give away. We should not countenance these plans, which are illiberal and impractical, excessive and expensive, unnecessary and unworkable. That is why we will vote against the Bill this evening.
To get matters in perspective, perhaps we should remember that the Leader of the Opposition was an ardent supporter of ID cards, and had he got his way it is likely that a Tory Government would have introduced them. I am also pretty certain that we, the then Opposition, would have opposed them. I am not sure whether there is some consistency there.
Even were there not the many practical problems in relation to technology, the final cost and so on, I would have the utmost reservations about the reintroduction of identity cards. I do not believe that they are necessary; indeed, I believe that they are irrelevant to the many problems that we undoubtedly face. I would require compelling and coherent reasons for such cards to be brought back after more than half a century. However ably my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary put forward his case today, I simply do not believe that a real case has been made for identity cards. I said earlier—obviously, my assessment could be wrong—that were there to be a free vote tonight, this Bill would not get a Second Reading.
All the problems that have been mentioned as reasons why we should have identity cards are undoubtedly problems—no one denies that. Most EU countries have identity cards, which in some cases date back to dictatorships—although I do not question that those countries are now as much democracies as the United Kingdom—but do not those countries have problems with illegal immigration, benefit fraud and identity fraud? Are those not problems that are common to virtually all industrialised, advanced countries? It is therefore difficult to see the argument that such problems would be solved if we had identity cards, which are pretty useless unless compulsory—what purpose is a voluntary identity card?—so obviously compulsion will come in due course.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will continue.
The previous Home Secretary accepted, like my right hon. Friend today, that the mass murders that took place in Istanbul and Madrid would not have been prevented by identity cards, however biometric they might be. I did hear my right hon. Friend say today, however, that it was easier for the Spanish to identify the culprits. I have doubts about that. After all, the Spanish have been faced with a long, murderous campaign by ETA, and have they been successful in identifying those responsible? Again, I have doubts.
We are told that the police consider that the cards would generally be a help. Were it left to the police, however, I wonder whether identity cards would ever have been abolished in the first place. As hon. Members know, a case brought by a police constable in 1952, which was thrown out by the court, led the Government of the day to abolish them.
As has been mentioned, all this started some three years ago as a Home Office consultation document described as being about entitlement, not identity cards. It gave all the reasons—such as fraud and so on—why it would be useful to have what was described as an entitlement card. It had nothing to do with terrorism whatsoever. Indeed, the point was made in that 2002 Home Office consultation document that in respect of identity fraud, such a card could do a disservice. It argued that too much reliance would be placed on the card and that the usual safeguards currently employed by financial institutions and others could go by the board.
I have the utmost fear that—
No one would deny the obvious, which is that biometric cards would be that much more difficult to forge. We can take that for granted, but it is difficult to believe that international criminal gangs—they are very different from the round-the-corner gangs—that would have so much incentive to forge these cards would not try to do so. It is also difficult to believe that they would not prove successful in some respects. So even on the issue of forgery, we should not be too complacent.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will not.
When the Home Affairs Committee took evidence, the point was made by a number of witnesses that it is not just the identity card but the database and the national identity register that should give a good deal of cause for concern. They certainly gave me, if not my colleagues on the Home Affairs Committee, cause for concern. Indeed, rather than voting for the majority report, I wrote a minority amendment to it.
If this proposal comes to fruition, even when we change address—except for the shortest possible period—we will have to notify the authorities. Some may say, "Why should we not?" I say, "Why should we?" It is argued that the authorities already hold a great deal of information on individuals via the national health service and national insurance, for example, but that is not the subject of any controversy. Indeed, Labour Members are all in favour of holding information relating to welfare benefits and so on, but that is not an argument for extending the amount of information held by the authorities; it is certainly not an argument for having the proposed database.
In fact, schedule 1 could be amended not by primary but by secondary legislation, so that the list of information that might be included on the register could be added to. That is why there is concern about function creep. It is true that such information could be added to only with the authority of both Houses. Nevertheless, more such information will be added over time, and the Government of the day—it might not be a Labour Government—will justify doing so by claiming that it is absolutely essential.
There is a particular point to which I cannot help returning. If what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had to say today is so reassuring, why is the Information Commissioner so concerned? He is not involved in party politics. He is not trying to make party political points. He has a job to do. In the light of the points that he has made, which have been quoted today—indeed, he made others when he gave evidence before the Home Affairs Committee—we should certainly be worried. He told the Committee that if such cards were introduced, there would be a sea change in the relationship between the state and the individual. Are we simply going to dismiss such points, saying that they are of no importance? This is why some of us continue to be so concerned about what is happening.
I do not believe that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his Cabinet colleagues have a hidden agenda. I do not believe that they are trying to bring about the kind of society that the Opposition spokesman claimed. I have known a good number of Ministers for many years and I have no reason to doubt their integrity. In my view, they believe that they are acting in the national interest. It is not their integrity but their judgment that I question. On this issue, they are wrong. They have not considered sufficiently all the proposal's implications.
I realise that it is argued that, regardless of critics in the House of Commons and in the other place, public opinion is more or less in favour of identity cards—but public opinion can shift. One reason why public opinion has so far been in favour is the result of high expectations. It is thought that the problems of illegal immigration, asylum seekers and all the rest of it—problems that we encountered on the doorstep time and again during the election campaign—will all be resolved if only we have identity cards. However, as the cost comes to be more widely known, attitudes will change. Even if we dismiss the figures of the London School of Economics, which may have exaggerated the costs, it is pretty certain that the costs now ventured by the Government are unlikely to be the final costs. Who really believes otherwise?
I have very carefully considered—it is a matter for me as an individual, as I do not belong to any particular grouping within the parliamentary party—how I should vote. I always knew that I could not vote in favour of the Bill. Given the strong views that I have long held on this issue since the idea of ID cards was first introduced, that would be a form of political prostitution on my part. I asked myself whether I should therefore abstain because I am a supporter of the Government and I want them to do well. As a Labour Member, I obviously want the Government to be re-elected in due course. However much I tried to justify to myself the idea of abstaining, I simply could not do so. I have therefore reached the conclusion that it would be totally wrong—indeed, in some respects even dishonourable—for me to do other than vote against the Bill on Second Reading. That is what I must do.
As politicians, we always have to make judgments before supporting any measure. We need to be convinced in the first place that we understand and agree with the purpose of legislation; then we have to believe that the costs are not excessive either to society or the individual. Thirdly, we need to be convinced that any measure can work and be effective. Finally, and most importantly for Liberals, we need to be convinced that the impact on society and civil liberties will not be extensive. On all four counts, we believe that the Identity Cards Bill fails. I want to explore some of those issues in greater detail.
Let us first consider the Bill's purpose. The Government keep changing their minds—every time that they advance an argument and it is knocked down, they have to find a different argument in favour. They started off with terrorism, before moving to health tourism; then it was benefit fraud; then illegal working; and now, finally, they are going for ID theft. On each occasion, the argument is put forward and then defeated.
Dealing with terrorism is the first justification. Liberal Democrats never underestimated the need to put forward measures to make this country safer in respect of a terrorist attack. However, as we have already heard in the debate, the issue of whether a terrorist identity is critical is, in fact, a false argument. We know what happened in Madrid and New York, and we know from the cases of David Copeland and Richard Reed that those individuals made no attempt to disguise their identities. The Home Secretary mentioned Madrid, but I specifically went there to speak to the authorities in order to ascertain whether ID cards would have made a difference. The authorities were very clear indeed that they did not believe that having an ID card would have made any difference; it would not have helped to stop the terrorist attack. To put it bluntly, a determined suicide bomber or terrorist will not be deterred by such a card. The problem of identity is, in most cases, simply not an issue.
Does the hon. Gentleman nevertheless accept what my right hon. Friend said in his statement—that even if ID cards could not have prevented the Madrid atrocities, they certainly helped the authorities to track down the culprits?
In that particular case, that is so, but it would not necessarily require an ID card to make the link with a mobile phone. In other words, there are other ways of achieving that.
About a third of terrorists use multiple forms of identity, so the Government have claimed that ID cards would help in tracking down terrorists. Once again, that is a false and a dangerous argument. Nothing in what the Government have suggested would prevent international terrorists from coming into this country with false documents—what are known as seed documents—and registering under a different name for an ID card with their biometrics on it. Indeed, that highlights the danger of ID cards providing a false sense of security. Unless an international system is put in place, and countries such as Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia all signed up to the same form of biometrics, there is no reason to assume that individuals could be stopped from moving around with different identities in different countries.
That is what people are doing already. They will be able to move from country to country because the biometric systems will not be available in those countries. It is a fundamental flaw in the terrorist argument.
The final argument on terrorism is simple. If it is so urgent, and if the threat from terrorists in this country is so compelling, why will we have to wait 10 years for the system to become compulsory? If we need it for that reason, surely we need it now.
The next argument the Government made was on benefit fraud. The Home Office and other Departments' figures on benefit fraud show that only 5 per cent. of cases of benefit fraud relate to people pretending to be somebody else. That equates to some £50 million of fraud a year. The vast amount of benefit fraud involves individuals pretending to have something wrong with them when they do not—it does not involve issues of identity. Therefore, ID cards will do nothing to help tackle that problem.
Then the Government raised the issue of health tourism and health fraud. However, the Home Secretary did not clarify how ID cards would be used to combat that problem. What would happen? Would I have to have my iris scanned or fingerprints taken before I could see my GP? Would every post office have a reader in place to prevent benefit fraud? If someone wants to access emergency health care at an accident and emergency department, would they have to have their iris scanned? Who will manage that process? Would we ask front-line professionals in the health service to take decisions about who they scan? If the programme is not to be rolled out nationally, would the Government suggest that certain health authorities in areas with certain types of ethnic communities should be encouraged to implement that programme?
During the course of taking evidence on laser surgery, it became clear to me that most consultant optometrists agreed that accurate information would not be available, even with modern techniques. They made it clear that they thought that the system would not work.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the national health service makes no checks on identity before providing emergency treatment? Does he suggest that the NHS should make no checks on entitlement to free treatment when it has such checks at its disposal?
When the hon. Gentleman went into an accident and emergency department to have his arm treated, would he have liked it if a front-line professional had had to ask for his identity before that could be done? How would such a proposal operate in reality and how would we fund having iris scanners or other biometric equipment in every department in the health service? It is not workable.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is NHS policy not to make any identity checks when people come into accident and emergency departments, but only after the emergency has been dealt with?
It makes no difference at what point identity is checked. The point is whether we should ask the health service to fund the checks or ask health professionals to take decisions about whether to ask for the information. I do not want to live in a society in which I have to have my fingerprints or other biometric information taken before I can be treated.
I wish to move on to the Government's next argument, which was about tackling illegal working. This is one of the Government's most disingenuous arguments. We all want to tackle illegal working, but we already have a system in place where individuals who come into this country as asylum seekers or workers have to possess a form of identification. It is possible for the police or the gangmasters who employ such people to check those working documents. What difference will it make if those individuals have to have an ID card? Will the police carry out more checks than they do at present? Will the gangmasters suddenly demand to see ID cards before they employ those people? Sadly, the kind of people who employ illegal workers will not take part in that process. The idea that ID cards will tackle illegal working can be dismissed.
What about the Government's latest suggestion that the card will deal with identity theft? Again, they have got it wrong. The Government argue that about £1.3 billion of identity theft takes place in the UK, but a vast amount occurs through the internet or with credit cards, so I fail to understand how an ID card will tackle that problem. The Association for Payment Clearing Services says that only 36 million of the 500 million cases of plastic fraud are classified as identity fraud. The association is not convinced that an ID card will help in tackling those issues, especially internet fraud. The Government have put up an argument about ID theft, but in reality the ID card will not help to tackle that issue.
On that interesting issue, the document notes that £400 million of that £1.3 billion related to money laundering. In 2001, such cases involved people going into bureaux de change with suitcases full of old, mainly Scottish, notes. That is where the money comes from, so how will the situation be improved by an identity card?
The hon. and learned Gentleman makes my point. The Government state a figure, make out that there is a major problem and suggest that ID cards can solve it. In reality when we break down the figures we realise that the cards will not help to deal with the problem.
Even if we were to accept that all those problems could be solved by the use of ID cards, and even if we bought into the Government's arguments, from terrorism to ID theft, we would still have to consider whether we can set up such a system at a reasonable cost. That is the most complex part of the debate.
The Liberal Democrats accept the need to upgrade passports, so we are arguing not against the total cost, but against the costs that are additional to what we accept needs to be done under our international responsibilities. However, the problem is that the Government are, yet again, being disingenuous; they are suggesting a level of upgrade for passports that is not actually needed, and in doing so they are trying to hide and bring in the full cost of ID cards under a passport scheme. That is wrong both in my judgment and in that of the authors of the LSE report, who state:
"We find that the Government is unnecessarily binding the identity card scheme to internationally recognised requirements on passport documents. By doing so, the Government has failed to correctly interpret international standards, generating unnecessary costs, using untested technologies and going well beyond the measures adopted in any other country that seeks to meet international obligations."
We are gold-plating-plus what is required for the upgrading of passports, and the Government are using that to hide some of the costs of ID cards.
We do not need to look at the recent LSE report for the costings or to listen to Kable's assessment of the costs; we simply have to look at the Government's own costs to realise that they are spiralling out of control. When the House last debated the costs involved, we were told that the cost for an individual would be about £77 and that the overall cost would be £3.1 billion—yet according to the Government's figures today the cost will be £93 for an individual and the overall total has risen to £5.8 billion. In such a short time, there has been a huge increase. That is not a dodgy LSE report but the Home Office's estimate of the costs.
Another cost to the individual has not been highlighted. We are told that what the Government euphemistically call enrolment centres, where people are supposed to be measured, will be no more than 45 minutes travel time. That is a fantasy in rural areas where 45 minutes would take a person no further than the bus stop outside their house, because there are no buses. For a large number of people in rural areas, there would be a huge additional cost to get to an enrolment centre to be measured. Should not those people receive a rebate if there is to be equity?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point in several regards. There will be the cost and inconvenience of travel to those large processing centres, especially in rural areas. I have visited one such centre outside Madrid; it was huge. The Government have not fully factored in the additional hidden costs of building such enormous centres all over the country.
The point goes even further than Mr. Heath suggests. People in rural areas will have to take a whole day off work, and that is an enormous cost to an individual.
Imagine an average family with two teenage children and maybe a granny, and you can bet your bottom dollar the person will have to go to the centre four or five times a year, taking different family members each time. The public have not realised the costs and inconvenience involved. When they realise that that is what they will actually have to do—
Does the hon. Gentleman consider it dignified for the elderly and those with disabilities to queue to have their retinas scanned and their fingerprints taken to be processed by the Government?
It is certainly much more intrusive than the current system, which involves going to Boots to have a photograph taken and then sending the passport off. We must recognise that the process and the way it is handled will have quite an impact on people who feel uncomfortable about having their fingerprints, face and irises scanned.
I want to move on.
There is another issue, in relation to costs. If the Government are serious about rolling out the scheme to tackle benefit fraud, have they considered the cost of putting scanning machines in all the outlets? We are told, again from Home Office figures, that the reading equipment will cost between £250 and £750. Just putting readers in every single post office would cost £11 million. Interestingly, the Home Secretary seemed to imply that the decision whether to purchase readers would be down to individual authorities. It is interesting, is it not, that health authorities and local government may end up picking up the bill?
There is one hope in relation to costs: they may ultimately be the way in which we can defeat ID card bills. I want to ask the Minister—he may intervene on me—to clarify what the Prime Minister meant when he said:
"So you have got a process which you are only at the very beginning of now, but it stands to reason, no government is going to be introducing ID cards if the cost to the public is seen by them as unreasonable."
Is that a promise that if the figures rise, the Government will abandon the scheme, and will the Minister describe what he regards as unreasonable? I regard a scheme that costs £10 billion plus to be an unreasonable scheme.
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the cost to the public will include the cost of readers, and that tens of thousands of readers for all the public services will ultimately be involved, if and when the scheme becomes compulsory? Those costs will be very considerable, and while the public may not pay directly, they will pay, because all those authorities will have to increase their charges. The cost to the public will be very high, even if it is not a direct cost.
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. My fear is simply this. Now that the Home Secretary has indicated that in Committee he is prepared to consider putting a cap on the charge, he has bound himself to say that he is going to charge only a certain amount. But we know that the Government will have to find the money somewhere, so it will go on to tax generally. People will either pay for it individually or they will pay for it through general taxation. We believe that that is wrong and that the figure is getting too large.
Even if one accepted, first, that the proposals had a purpose, and secondly, that this was the right price to pay, one would still have to make the case that the scheme could work, and that is the point at which we reach the issue of the database. There are two questions about the database. The first is whether it is workable. I am not going to rehearse all the arguments, but we know the figures in relation to Government databases; the success rate is pretty appalling. Despite the Home Office success on passports, the general assumption on Government IT schemes is that they go wrong or over budget, or most likely both.
The second question concerning the database is the crucial issue, which has been touched on by the shadow Home Secretary in particular. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the nervousness that Opposition Members feel about what could happen to that database and about who can access it. We might also fast-forward to what we could be doing with that database in 10 or 15 years' time. Technology already exists to use CCTV cameras to recognise faces in public. It is not beyond the reasonable bounds of possibility that one could link those CCTV cameras with the facial scan and then start to link that into the database. I am concerned about that, and I am not alone. The Information Commissioner has said that he is concerned that each development puts in place another component in the infrastructure of a "surveillance society". He is concerned about the way in which demands will grow for individuals to prove their identity; the broad purposes permit function-creep into unforeseen and perhaps unacceptable areas of private life. We must look carefully at what could be done next with the database, as technology progresses.
On the question of the database, as if the scenario that the hon. Gentleman outlines were not frightening enough, as one of the few Members who has had occasion to see their security file, I have to tell the House that it was full of duff information, and that I find the idea that duff information could be rolled forward in that way even more alarming. The proposal is bad enough if the database is accurate, but if the database contains inaccuracies, it is made much worse.
I do not want to get into what may be inaccurate, but I certainly agree that the concerns about such misinformation suddenly becoming accessible to so many individuals are troublesome. If such a system were used in the health services in some way and, for example, a woman presented herself to a doctor about a termination, would that information be held on the database? What other organisations could gain access to it?
The situation is made worse by the fact that this is an enabling Bill—it is devoid of detail—so those questions cannot be answered. I do not think they can even be answered by the Government, who hope that we will shut our eyes to the difficulties that lie ahead and take the Bill on trust. That trust does not exist, either in the House or among the public, and the hon. Gentleman should highlight those concerns further.
The hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right. We are being asked not only to sign a blank cheque for the costs involved, but to sign up to all sorts of function creep that can be added to the proposal.
I want to turn to whether or not the proposal can operate in reality. We have concerns about the database, but our latest concern, which the Government have not addressed during the debate, is whether or not the biometrics will work in the first place. The Government helpfully did their own study, and what did they find? They found that, on face verification, 33 per cent. of faces could not be recognised; on fingerprint verification, 19 per cent. could not be recognised; and, on iris verification, 2 per cent. could not be recognised. [Interruption.] I am not surprised that the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality wants to leave because there are difficult answers to be given.
The failure rates—up to a third on facial scans—imply that a lot more work is needed before the biometrics could be trusted. I am no mathematician, but even if the Government got the failure rate down to 3 or 4 per cent., with a population of 60 million, far too many people could end up being denied services or being hassled because the scheme had not operated properly.
With regard to the efficacy of the iris biometrics, why is the hon. Gentleman ready to dismiss the Cambridge university report alluded to earlier this afternoon? Does he not think it premature to dismiss an examination of the iris recognition immigration system that will be introduced at Heathrow airport? Can we not learn from those initiatives? Is the hon. Gentleman not prepared to keep an open mind about that in the light of what will take place?
The Home Secretary has been telling us all afternoon that we should listen not to the academics but to the Home Office, so I am taking his advice and listening to the Home Office's study, which shows those appalling failure rates. The system failed not in an academic study but in a live situation, with real people using the equipment.
No, I want to push on because other hon. Members wish to speak.
I want to touch on the Bill's civil liberty implications, which have not been thought through in great detail, by picking up on an intervention that I made during the Home Secretary's speech. I have a very real concern about the fact that certain ethnic groups will regularly be asked to show their cards. That concern relates not to the police—I accept the Government's promises in the Bill that the police will not be able to ask such questions—but to access to public services.
The small print of the regulatory impact assessment makes the point:
"As pressures grow on public services, service providers will have to bring in complex procedures for checking a range of documentation as the old assumptions 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."
There it is in print; it is extraordinary that the Government admit in the regulatory impact assessment that only certain groups will be asked for proof of identity. That is the proof that the Bill could have an impact on ethnic minorities.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that hospital trusts currently have the legal requirement to establish whether patients are legally entitled to NHS treatment so that if they are not, they can be properly charged? That applies to visitors to this country with long-standing conditions who present for treatment. If he is opposed to asking such people whether they are entitled to NHS treatment and to charging them for that treatment, will he say so, because he would thus be arguing against the whole principle of identifying people's entitlement to services, not an ID card?
I am opposed to the compulsory system towards which we are heading which will, in the Government's words, put pressure on front-line public services to require certain ethnic groups to show proof of identify, despite the fact that I would not be asked to show the same proof of identity.
Is my hon. Friend aware how out of kilter Labour Members are? Wales, which has a Labour-led Administration, has voted to oppose the mandatory use of identity cards for access to public services. Labour Members need to realise that other members of the party of government in other parts of the United Kingdom have already rejected the proposal.
I want to address the question whether the scheme will be voluntary or compulsory. The Government say at this stage that the scheme will be voluntary, but surely that is slightly disingenuous. Are we not heading towards a situation in which perhaps half hon. Members in the Chamber will have to have an ID card in three or four years because their passports will be due for renewal, while I will not need an ID card because my passport is not due for renewal until 2012? There will be a compulsory element to the scheme for perhaps half the population as their passports gradually approach the time for renewal.
We are in a real mess. The system will mean that over the next few years it will be compulsory for some people to have an ID card, yet some people will not need a card because their passports will not be up for renewal and others will never have to hold a card because they do not have passports. However, at some point—we have not been told when—the whole system will become compulsory, so we will all be required to have ID cards.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. We will have a two-tier society—a some-in, some-out society—in which ID cards will be compulsory for some but not others. I do not understand how the system will work in such circumstances. I accept that the police will not be able to ask individuals to show their cards straight away, but if they asked people to take their ID cards to a police station within three or four days, as they will be able to do, the individuals could simply say, "No, because I don't have a passport and I don't need an ID card," and the police would have no idea whether they were being told the truth. What would happen in those circumstances? What is the point of a scheme that one half of the population has to opt in to but the other half does not?
We need to wake up to the reality of what the country will be like when the scheme becomes compulsory. What kind of state will we live in? People will have to take their families to a processing centre miles away, including granny, who has never had a passport, so that she can be put through the humiliating process. There will be long queues at the processing centres while people's fingerprints and irises are scanned, and then a considerable cheque to pay for the whole family will have to be signed. There will also be costs every time people move house. People will have to have their faces and irises scanned when they visit their GPs. No wonder public opinion is shifting on the issue. It is no longer the case that 80 per cent. of people are in favour of the scheme. Opinion is shifting as people are finding out the details of what the Bill will do, and it will shift even more.
The public know that this £1 billion project will go over budget, that these pieces of plastic will not tackle terrorism and that the system will be neither compulsory nor voluntary. The database will make the Child Support Agency mess-up look like a tea party. People who look like an illegal worker or a terrorist will be stopped and asked to prove their identity under the scheme. People will have to turn up at centres miles away from their homes at which their irises and fingerprints will be scanned in an intrusive way.
If someone had said in 1997 that eight years later we would have a Labour Government who had tried to abolish trial by jury, who wanted to lock people up under house arrest at the say-so of a politician, who tried to remove benefits from asylum seekers and who tried to ban freedom of speech, it would have been unbelievable. Now, in about four hours' time, the Government will add to that list by trying to introduce compulsory ID cards. The scheme is illiberal, wrong and will not work, so we will vote against it.
I am slightly puzzled by the contribution of Mr. Oaten. Either he has not read the Bill and does not know what is in it, or he has done so but has not understood it. In either event, he seemed to be talking about something entirely different from the Bill.
When members of the Conservative party cry freedom, as David Davis did earlier, we know that one of two things is under way. Either France is about to invade or there is a leadership contest. In this case, we know which test was met. [Interruption.] Perhaps both were met—I have to admit that I had not allowed for the possibility that both events were going on at the same time.
There are two things that we must determine on Second Reading. First, is an identity card scheme right in principle and, secondly, is this particular scheme, given the consequences that will follow, the right one? I believe strongly, and have done so for many years, that a national identity cards system is right, for all the reasons that have been stated. The arguments against such a system, particularly the argument about the erosion of freedom, are bogus. What is the freedom about which we are so concerned? Is it the freedom not to have to prove that one is who one says one is? One would have the freedom to pretend to be someone else, but I do not think we should defend that in the House. Alternatively, would one have the freedom to evade demonstrating who one is?
The hon. Gentleman talked about freedoms and the freedom to show that one is innocent. How can it be considered free when individuals can be charged up to £100 for that liberty?
The hon. Gentleman is conflating two arguments, but if he is patient, I will refer to cost in a moment. I am genuinely concerned about which freedom is being taken away from whom.
No, I said that would give way only once.
The issue of which freedom is being taken away from whom has not been properly addressed so far, and I have yet to understand it fully myself. The issue would be more clear-cut if from the outset it was made explicit that the scheme should be compulsory. In those circumstances, the arguments about whether someone who had to apply for a passport would face a requirement not faced by people who chose not to have passports—essentially, those arguments are about the fair treatment of different individuals—would not arise. Nevertheless, for understandable reasons, the Government have decided to do it this way, and I am prepared to accept the principle behind what they are trying to achieve.
Three issues need to be addressed as the legislation progresses. Rather than deal with them exhaustively, I shall be brief. First, the issue of cost has been repeatedly raised. It is crucial to maintain the high level of public support for the principle of ID cards. If costs at the end of the process are too high, the value of having an identity card system would have to be demonstrated or it would rapidly become unpopular and lose the public support required for its introduction. Secondly, people must be satisfied about security and the safeguards in place to protect information held on the central register. They have legitimate concerns about who will have access to sensitive information about them and for what purpose. We have not satisfied that concern entirely. Perhaps the Information Commissioner went further than he should have done, but his intervention must be addressed. The Government have to do more to convince people that all the necessary safeguards will be put in place so that such a scheme could be used only in appropriate circumstances and for appropriate reasons.
Finally, I have not had the opportunity to examine in detail all the evidence about the accuracy of any given system. If we are going to use biometric measures as the Government propose we must all be convinced beyond reasonable doubt that the most accurate recognition possible of biometric data is achievable. I am encouraged by the Cambridge university study that was mentioned but, to be honest, I have not had the opportunity to read it. [Interruption.] Opposition Members seem to think that that is amusing, but they cite studies by various academic bodies with abandon, never having seen them, let alone read them. At least I am honest enough to admit that I have not read that study, and several Opposition Members would have been more honest if they had made such an admission. It is important, however, that that issue is debated thoroughly and that it is demonstrated conclusively that the recognition techniques available are adequate and accurate enough to make the project feasible.
Those are very much issues for the future. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary started to address them today, but we are not there yet. I am happy, however, to give the Bill a Second Reading in its present form. It is necessary that concerns are addressed adequately over the coming weeks and months but, subject to that caveat, I am happy to vote with the Government tonight.
If the Labour Government are in office when the Bill's provisions bite on the public their reputation will suffer serious and, I hope, terminal damage. Those of us who oppose the Bill are therefore acting in a singularly disinterested manner. My right hon. Friend David Davis acknowledged that a number of benefits could flow from an identity cards scheme. I share that view, but those benefits are very much less than the scheme's proponents have argued. It is no coincidence that the advantages that they proclaim have developed while proposals, starting with an entitlement card scheme that made precious little reference to terrorism, have been under discussion. I have a very strong feeling that what we are seeing now is a project seeking a justification, rather than a policy for which there is a self-evident and clear requirement.
Let me say a word or two about the alleged benefits. I have practised criminal law off and on for many years, and of course I have read many law reports. It is extremely rare that one finds a case in which the existence of an identity card scheme would prevent or lead to the ready detection of crime. The same is true of terrorism. It is no coincidence that the Madrid bombing happened in a country where the mandatory carrying of cards is a part of policy. Let us not forget that Spain has been suffering from ETA terrorism for years and years, or that most of those who carried out the bombing of the world trade centre carried valid identification cards. When one deals with terrorism, the problem is not so much the concealment of identity as the concealment of intent, which is a wholly different matter.
The same is true also of fraud. Most fraud does not involve a false statement as to identity. It involves a false statement as to intent, or a concealment or misrepresentation of relevant facts as to entitlement. Identity cards do nothing as to that. Even if identity was a factor, I should be extraordinarily surprised if that problem could not be got around by forgery or by a change in the modus operandi.
It is ironic that the one area of policy in which identity cards might be significant is in the control of illegal immigration, but only on the basis that the mandatory carrying and production of cards is made part of the policy. That is precisely what would be excluded by the Government proposals.
Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman's experience at the criminal Bar not suggested to him that the only people who will efficiently and quickly produce identity cards are the criminal classes?
Indeed. The point has been made that once an identity card scheme is set up as a gateway, all the fraudsters of Europe will be devising ways to use the key into the gateway, and they will succeed. The hon. Lady is entirely right.
To the extent that there are benefits, they have to be weighed in the balance of cost and disadvantage. As to cost, none of us can be sure what the cost will be, least of all Government Ministers, but I suspect that there are very few Members of the House not sitting on the Government Benches who would place much reliance on the Government's current projections. Almost every Government procurement project that I have ever heard of has grossly overrun its initial budget, most notably the Ministry of Defence with the technology programmes of the kind that we are now contemplating.
Built into the scheme are factors that will almost certainly escalate the cost considerably. We can be sure that there will be gold-plating on a massive scale. There will be huge staff requirements. The proposal, after all, is that everybody in the country should present themselves at an appointed place at an appointed time to give appointed particulars and answer questions. That has huge staffing implications.
The Treasury refuses to subsidise the scheme. It will be free-standing. As my right hon. Friend Mr. Lilley will remember, that was the Treasury's initial position when the community charge was introduced, and we all remember what happened to the costs in that scheme. There will be hard cases. Millions of people will assert that they cannot afford ID cards and the cost of subsidising them will fall on other card holders. Also, as Mr. Oaten pointed out, there will be renewals and changes. Every time there is a renewal or a change, there will be a charge. Built into the system there is huge pressure for increased cost.
Will the technology work to an acceptable level? Again, I doubt it. History and common sense argue otherwise. All of us can keep in mind the Child Support Agency and the problems that it has had with computer systems. Those of us who deal with the Criminal Records Bureau know how very slow and incompetent that is. The early stages of the Passport Agency were a calamity. The family tax credit scheme, which depends upon computers entirely, has proved a continuing calamity. We are entitled to say that history and common sense suggest that the technology will frequently fail.
When the technology fails, ordinary citizens will suffer considerable inconvenience because they suddenly will not be able to assert their personality and will not be able to get the kind of benefits of which the Home Secretary spoke. That is a serious prejudice. A related question is what happens if a card is lost or will not work. Again, people will have to go to an appointed centre at an appointed time with an appointed cheque and give appointed particulars. At some time in the uncertain future somebody might sent them a card. What do they do in the interim if they want access to the public services that the Home Secretary mentioned? Citizens will suffer serious prejudice, on which I hope the House will ponder.
I have two final points. First, the policy is too intrusive and therefore is wrong in principle. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden on that point. The policy imposes obligations on the citizen and gives rights to the state, which should happen only when there is a dire and dark emergency, such as in war. I do not believe that there is a justification at this time.
Finally, I return to a point that I made to my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden about the duty to carry and to produce. I know full well that the Bill as it stands does not incorporate within it any obligation to carry at all times or to produce at all times, and Ministers have given us reassurances on that. But the reassurances of the Government are not a commodity that currently stands in very high esteem. We should not forget that the National Registration Act 1915 also did not provide for any duty to carry and produce; it was amended in 1918. This Bill will also be amended.
Down the track, when people realise that the Bill, if enacted, is not producing any significant benefits, they will say, "The only way we can make it produce significant benefits, especially in the field of immigration control, is to require people to carry identity cards and to produce them on demand." To make that policy practicable, it must be backed with a power of arrest. I want nothing to do with such a policy. It is wrong in principle. It will produce discord between the societies that we live in and the police. Above all, it will bear heavily upon the ethnic minorities.
When I first came into the House in 1979, there was a huge debate about the impact of the old sus law. It caused immense dismay among the ethnic minorities. The Bill, if it becomes an Act, will have precisely that consequence, because it will bear heavily upon the ethnic minorities. I do not often give Labour Members disinterested advice, but my strong advice on this occasion is to destroy the Bill before it destroys them.
I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
That this House
declines to give a Second Reading to the Identity Cards Bill because the scheme proposed in the Bill will make no significant contribution to the reduction or eradication of terrorism, illegal immigration, or illegal employment;
contains no proper safeguards to limit or prescribe the information to be stored upon identity cards or the national register, or the agencies and organisations, national or international, to whom this information will be made available or will be given;
fails to identify the biometric details to be stored or to acknowledge the effectiveness of the same or the margins of, the consequences of, and the remedies for, error;
fails properly to limit or define the fees which may be levied by the Secretary of State;
and the Bill provides for the costs of the scheme to be paid on the authority of the Secretary of State without providing to Parliament any proper estimates of the vast costs likely to be incurred.
The more people understand the Bill's implications, the more they realise that what is a superficially attractive idea is not only dumb, but very dangerous. Anxiety about the Bill is growing among the labour movement, the trade union movement and, as we have seen, Labour Members.
The point of principle is not the introduction of an identity document that includes biometrics, which is inevitable, but the creation of a national registration scheme and national database. Notwithstanding the remarks of Mr. Hogg, I am not het up about the question of whether ID cards should be compulsory, because, as the Government have said, the card will be of limited use on its own.
In the Government's view, the ability to check the card against the record on the register will make the system secure. Far from providing benefits, however, the establishment of a huge database with everyone's personal details conveniently concentrated in one place could be very dangerous. It would create an ID-theft bonanza for any terrorists or criminals who penetrate the security—let us make no bones about it, they will find ways to penetrate the security. Computer experts have told us that no such database can be 100 per cent. secure, and that point has been proved in America, where the Department of Motor Vehicles database has been attacked.
That is not particularly relevant. The Government are taking steps to remove the superfluous numbers. Multiple applications are, however, important, and I shall discuss that matter later in my speech.
A major objection to the Government's proposals is that they will not achieve their objectives, and if the scheme has any benefits, the disproportionate cost will far outweigh them. Hon. Members have already pointed out why the measures will not help in the fight against terrorism and organised crime and will be counter-productive. The Bill will also not help to stop benefit fraud, a miniscule proportion of which involves the use of false identities. The Government have not explained how their proposals will help in the fight against terrorism and organised crime.
What information will be stored on ID cards? We have been told that we will be able to access our personal information on the database, but we have not been told about additional costs beyond registration or how long it will take to access or correct information. And we have not been told explicitly whether an audit trail detailing every occasion on which the police or security services examine our information will be available. We will not know about the huge amount of information that the Government will hold on us.
My hon. Friend is right, and one registration ombudsman, as it were, has already expressed his concerns about that matter.
On the accuracy of biometric testing, Mr. Oaten discussed the results of the Government's enrolment trial in which the best result, 96 per cent. accuracy, was obtained by iris recognition. If iris recognition were used as the sole identifier, however, it would raise the possibility of up to 2 million false records in a database with 50 million entries. The Government have got wise to that point, which is why they have decided to use three biometric indicators—the iris, facial biometrics and fingerprinting—to make the database more accurate. Even if we were really lucky and achieved a 99.9 per cent. success rate, which might sound fine, it would still mean a potential failure rate of 1 in 48,000, which means that someone could access several different records using their own biometrics by creating different identities. Again, such a system would be a honey pot for organised crime and terrorists.
In response, the Government say that that trial was designed not to test the biometric technology, but to see whether people find the process acceptable, and that they are working to develop acceptable performance. They should not have introduced the Bill before calculating acceptable performance levels and whether the scheme is possible. A 99.9 per cent success rate, which I have mentioned, is way beyond the realm of possibility. In addition, 31 per cent. of disabled participants in the trial found iris recording very or fairly difficult, while the failure rate for disabled people, black people and people over 59 was low. The Government cannot deal with those issues, because even if they improve the technology, there will still be a failure rate and therefore a way for people to obtain multiple identities.
The biometric information will be stored on a massive centralised database. The Government have discussed EU proposals on biometric passports and identity documents, but the European Commission has expressed doubts about the storage of such information on a database:
"The Biometric information and its link to other personal details must be stored in a secure manner. The issue of how and where Biometrics should be stored was of particular concern to the European Commission's Data Protection Working Party. Their publication Working Document on Biometrics addresses this by looking at whether biometric information should be kept on smart cards or similar devices retained by the individual or whether it was acceptable to store the information on a centralized database. The Working Party's clear preference is for the former as it believes centralized storage presents an increased risk of data misuse. It is also important to understand that any information linked to a biometric record is only as reputable as the security procedures associated with it. A 100 per cent. reliable biometric system is of little use if any associated information is inaccurate."
That is why biometric passports, which will include facial biometrics and fingerprints, but not a central database are being introduced in Germany, which is a crucial difference.
The Government's assurances on cost beggar belief. They say that 70 per cent. of the cost of introducing the identity scheme will be incurred anyway because of biometric passports, but those assurances are about as credible as those they gave us about the threat presented by Saddam Hussein.
In fact, all that is required is a card and the information to be stored on it. It is true that the current passport database is massive, with 44 million records, but all it contains is the information that one has to give when one applies for one's passport. The photographs are stored separately. There is no storage of biometric data. The current system is minuscule in comparison with what is proposed.
On cost, the Government have rubbished the estimates put forward by the London School of Economics. So far, the only reason that they have given for doing so is that the LSE assumes that the biometrics will need to be replaced every five years. Yet the Government have said that themselves. I have a parliamentary answer from the former Home Office Minister, my right hon. Friend Beverley Hughes, which says that
"in order to ensure that the cards, which incorporate technology features such as a microchip function, are reliable, it may be necessary to replace the cards after five years."—[Hansard, 10 December 2003; Vol. 415, c. 497W.]
In any case, the cost of collecting the data is minuscule in comparison with the cost of setting up and maintaining the database and trying to keep it as secure as possible.
Many of my colleagues have been beguiled into thinking that this is a good idea and were encouraged to send out dubious questionnaires urging people to support the party because of this proposal. Do they think that it will be popular? Wait until people have to enrol on to the system—they will have to travel to one of the centres, queue up, have their data taken, and be interviewed. And what happens if the scanning goes wrong?
This Bill should be killed at birth. If colleagues think that that is being disloyal to the Government, it is not—it would be doing them a service, not the reverse. It is the most serious piece of legislation that I have ever had to vote on in this House—more serious than the decision to go to war. I urge Members to think clearly about the implications when they decide how to vote.
I am happy to follow Lynne Jones. Although as yet I have not reached any conclusions—I will explain why over the next few minutes—I share some of the concerns that she expressed.
My hon. Friend Rev. Ian Paisley and I, as well as my hon. Friend Dr. McCrea, are having a little difficulty in orientating ourselves this afternoon. Over the past quarter of a century and more in this House, we have spoken on this issue perhaps five or six times. On those previous occasions, we got support from the Conservatives and a large dollop of scepticism from the party now in Government. However, we have maintained a consistent position.
If the Bill was a straightforward Bill on identity cards, my support and that of my colleagues would have been automatic. Having lived through decades of terrorism in Northern Ireland, we often found ourselves being asked by police chiefs and Army leaders to have a security provision such as this brought before the House in order to give them an additional element that they could use in the battle against terrorism. My hon. Friends and I raised the issue many times, though we never succeeded in getting an ID card in Northern Ireland. All the advice that we got in those days from the security forces—the police force and the Army—was that such an initiative, while it would not in itself solve the problems that they faced, would be a valuable aid in identifying those who might require closer scrutiny and would quickly eliminate those who "checked out".
If all that we were doing, in the face of very real terrorist threats, was requiring people to have a card that proved their identity, I would not have any valid reservation about that limitation being placed on my privacy or that of my fellow citizens. I would not set such a limited curtailment of my civil liberties above the potential for safeguarding or saving lives. I appreciate that many hon. Members have genuine concerns on the basis of civil liberties issues, and I respect their views on that matter. I have to say, however, that having lived through the past 35 bloody years in Northern Ireland, I would not regard the use of a national identity card as a significant infringement of anyone's civil liberties when I consider the carnage that has been caused by terrorism. I place the value of human life far above the minor inconvenience that will come with an identity card.
At the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland, we were accustomed to being searched going into shops and having our cars stopped. That was properly seen as a necessary measure to deal with a greater danger. The same is true of identity cards. Just as going through an airport nowadays involves a minor infringement of one's liberties, we are happy to trade that off against the greater feeling of security in the air. Identity cards will of course bring other benefits that will be useful and help to reduce fraud, but the fight against crime and terrorism must take precedence.
In Northern Ireland, we have some experience of using photo ID. It may not be compulsory for everyone, but it is required if one wants to drive a car or to vote. Our driving licences in the Province contain a photograph, and the new electoral identity card is used as one of a series of photographic identifiers in order to obtain a ballot paper before one can vote in any election. In many ways a national identity card is simply an extension of that, albeit, in this case, with potentially a much greater range of information. None of the personal identifiers already used has been a matter of controversy in the Province—they are merely regarded as a sensible measure to enforce the law and to protect us from unlawful activity. A compulsory identity card would also have the advantage of providing a more secure electoral system here in Great Britain; by all accounts, that may become increasingly necessary. Incidentally, Members on both sides of the House were happy to legislate for the electoral ID card in Northern Ireland to ensure that those who claimed a ballot paper were those who received it.
If all we were doing today was passing legislation to enable the state to provide its citizens with a card that would prove their identity, how could any of us quarrel with that? It would differ little from using a passport or driving licence as evidence of who we are. In this House, as in thousands of business around the United Kingdom, we have our own ID card to identify ourselves to security personnel. If that were the beginning and end of the matter, I would not be soul searching tonight. However, this Bill is more than an ID cards Bill—it is, in its present form, an enabling Bill, and it is not yet clear quite what the end product will be. This much is already evident: it is more about building up and maintaining a national database of personal information on the citizens of this kingdom than about simply providing people with a means of identifying themselves. The scope of that information-gathering, the extent to which it can be accessed, and by whom, are but a few of my concerns.
The nature of the scheme is the first consideration, but soon after we have made that determination comes the equally relevant question, "Will it work?", followed quickly by, "How much will it cost?" There are relatively few debates in Parliament where the course of the debate, particularly the Minister's responses, can determine how Members will vote, but for me and my hon. Friends this is one such occasion. Some concerns may well be better tackled in Committee, but some fundamental matters go to the heart of whether the Bill should proceed even that far.
We have dealt with several issues in correspondence with the Home Secretary and I appreciate the detailed responses that we received. In the time available, I suspect that I can deal with only one of them: access to the database by Republic of Ireland authorities. My hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim raised the matter in an intervention on the Home Secretary, who said in his communication:
"The identity card Bill does not allow information to be provided from the National Register to any foreign Government."
"the Republic of Ireland is not a foreign country for the purposes of any law in force in any part of the United Kingdom . . . by virtue of . . . any enactment . . . whether passed or made before or after the passing of this Act".
In those circumstances, it is not sufficient for the Home Secretary to say that the information would not be available to a foreign Government because, under current UK legislation, the Republic of Ireland is not considered foreign. However, the Home Secretary went a little further in his oral response to my hon. Friend when he specifically said that the data would not be made available to the Government of the Republic of Ireland. I would be happy with that undertaking if it were included in the measure. However, I have been to the House of Lords on a previous occasion and, in a three-to-two verdict against us, we were clearly informed that what a Secretary of State or Minister says at the Dispatch Box is not binding.
The hon. Gentleman correctly says that, under our law, Ireland is not a foreign country for several purposes. However, the Republic treats us as foreign. We are not allowed to vote in that country if we live there, although we let Irish citizens vote in our country if they live here. Is the hon. Gentleman content with the Home Secretary's assurance that there will be no swapping of information? It appears to me that the system can work with a common travel area only if the Irish Republic is given access to the hon. Gentleman's personal details and those of all other UK citizens.
It is because I am not content that I ask the Minister to deal with the issue when he responds. Indeed, the Home Office was unable to direct our attention to a passage in the Bill that provided that information from the national identity register would not be given to any foreign Government. It simply indicated that the scope of the Bill rules out sharing information with the Irish Government. We need further clarification on that issue, which is critical for us all.
The Government made it clear that the Bill would be excluded from a draft regulation of the European Union because it was classified as a measure that built on the border provision of the Schengen acquis, in which the UK does not take part. Ultimately, the Government and the EU decided that we would not take part, and the hon. Gentleman is therefore right to ensure clarification in the measure.
I appreciate my hon. Friend's contribution. His comments are relevant and we shall take them into account.
I want to comment briefly not only on the potential access of another Government but on that of individuals to the information. There is a natural anxiety that the enabling powers allow the Secretary of State to add to the information that may be stored in the database, and that others may get possession of it. It is essential that we know the levels of security that will be placed on the information that might be stored. I am worried that the enabling power would allow the Home Secretary to add further identifiers through secondary legislation.
Secondary legislation would be most unsatisfactory for dealing with changes in such an important measure. It does not give the House the ability to amend; we would simply be asked to accept, on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, any package that the Home Secretary might introduce.
The Government could just about get away with charging for a voluntary identity card but none of us would accept having to pay for a compulsory card. If the Government expect the card to do everything that they hope it will do, that will not happen with a voluntary card. The Government must have a compulsory identity card if they expect it to have the range of impacts that they outlined. If it is compulsory, it must be free to the end user.
I believe that the country needs an identity card system and a national identity register and I will vote for the Bill. I want to spend most of my limited time on the way in which the Government may find a way forward after tonight's vote, so I do not want to rehearse all the arguments for the principle of an identity card scheme.
However, the critics of the scheme overstate the amount of intrusion that it implies. The register will carry less information than private companies. For example, the amount of information held on those who have a Nectar card is far greater.
Not at the moment.
The cost or risk of failure has been overstated even if something went wrong with the system. Too much of the argument has concentrated on the view that, because the scheme will not solve problems absolutely, it is not worth doing. Many opponents, especially Mr. Oaten, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, simply fail to understand the extent to which many public and private systems in our society depend on proof of identity and are weakened because we do not have an adequate system of proving identity.
All the pressures that have led the Government to introduce the Bill will be more intense in 10 years. There will be more movement in and out of the country and greater pressure to secure the integrity of expensive public services. There will be increased opportunities for identity fraud and more entrenched international terrorism. If the Bill fails in the months ahead, I honestly believe that our successors will rue our lack of nerve and principle.
The Government are clearly in a spot of bother over the Bill, however. It saddens me to say that the problems were not only predictable but predicted—in the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs last year. The Government's case is not helped by continually switching their argument for the scheme every time a new spin doctor enters the fray.
We should admit that the scheme is a state project and there should be no shame in saying so. The state proposes to introduce the scheme because citizens expect it to be able to tackle illegal immigration, crime, terrorism and identity fraud, and to secure the public services. The state needs the co-operation of citizens in that enterprise. The citizen will benefit in many ways but presenting the scheme simply as a benign act of Government to help us to sort out our problems if someone goes through our wheelie bin and steals our identity is disingenuous. The Bill is not about that. Perhaps it could have been, but it is not.
The Select Committee was in favour, by a majority, of an identity card scheme, the register and the then draft Bill. However, we made several sharp criticisms of the management of the project, procurement and the Bill. Although the Government have responded to some criticisms, they have not responded to many. I believe that they should have done.
We cannot expect every dot and comma to be spelled out at this stage, but we should be able to have confidence that all the major decisions about the scheme will be subject to proper public scrutiny and debate before they are made irrevocably. I am not yet sure that we can have that confidence.
Much attention has been paid to the LSE report. I am not inclined to give it huge weight. One of those most closely associated with it gave evidence against ID cards to our inquiry. Hon. Members can read the transcript of his evidence and judge the extent to which his views could be described as independent.
On the other hand, the Select Committee said of the Government's confidential assumptions on costings:
"We are not convinced that the level of confidentiality applied is justified".
We went on to say:
"We are concerned about the closed nature of the procurement process which allows little public or technical discussion of the design of the system or the costings involved."
The Government, unfortunately, have opted for a closed procurement. The LSE report may well be wrong, but it is the Government—my Government—who created circumstances in which anyone's guess is as good as anyone else's when it comes to the cost.
Public confidence in the scheme and its costings is critical. I can tell the Minister that we will find it hard to generate that confidence without switching quickly to a much more open procurement process on the basis of section-by-section discussion of every part of the system. That is true of many aspects of the system. The decision on what type of card should be used is a decision of the same order as the decision on the architecture of the database. It will have consequences for issues such as how the card will be used, the number of readers and the infrastructure needed. We warned that
"the Home Office appears to be taking these key decisions without any external reference, technical assessment or public debate".
I am afraid that that is still true, that the process is still wrong, and that the Home Office needs to change its approach.
The same is true of card readers and verification. It is no good saying, as the regulatory impact assessment says, that the Bill imposes few if any costs on the private sector. That is true, but unless use of the system by the private and public sectors achieves critical mass it will not operate effectively as a system to verify identities. The Government must say when they will produce their assessment of use by both sectors. I say that as a fervent supporter of the ID card scheme, and one who does not want it to fail because of the way in which the Government have gone about procuring it.
On the radio this morning, the Home Secretary said that he would consider committing the Bill to a Special Standing Committee. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about the programme motion, which allows for only three weeks of Committee deliberation? How will he vote on the motion?
I hope that the Minister will imply some flexibility. The present timetable is unfortunate, because of the time being taken to establish Select Committees. The Commons Committee stage will have been completed before any Select Committees, including the Home Affairs Committee, have been formed and can carry out further scrutiny. I think that further scrutiny of the Bill would be useful.
The Government need to do something about what still appears to be the lack of a cross-Government approach. Rightly or wrongly, we are left with the impression that the Bill is a Home Office project that the rest of Government has agreed not to block, rather than a project taken on enthusiastically by Government as a whole. One of the symptoms is a failure to grasp the opportunity, identified by the Home Affairs Committee, to use the ID card as a way of joining up and simplifying access to public services. That leaves us with the risk of inefficient use of the investment in the system and later, perhaps, the rather expensive job of adjusting what is now being done to provide what many citizens would like—a card providing easy access to a number of public services.
I am listening to my right hon. Friend particularly closely, because he chaired the former Home Affairs Committee that produced an excellent fourth report containing a huge amount of expert data. It worries me all the more that he has referred to the use that the private sector would make of the system. I understood the Home Secretary to say clearly that the private sector would have no access to the register, but my right hon. Friend seems to suggest that it would.
It is quite straightforward. The private sector will not be able to get its hands on the national identity register. However, at present when people ask a solicitor to do their conveyancing, they must go through a sheaf of documents to prove their identity under the money-laundering legislation. In future, they will be able to use their identity cards, and it will be possible for their identity to be verified against the register. I think that wholly acceptable, and a great convenience to citizens. It is entirely different from making the register available to private sector companies.
I have expressed concern about the procurement process and cross-Government commitment. My third concern relates to the Bill itself. I have not yet managed to obtain a copy of the criticisms made by the Information Commissioner, so I am relying considerably on media coverage and the commissioner's evidence to the Select Committee last year. I think that if his full critique were taken on board, it would be impossible to have an ID card scheme at all. It cannot just be a way of making individuals prove their identity. There are occasions when the state needs to identify the individual. There are security arguments in favour of an audit trail of access to the register, as well as arguments against it. Nevertheless, as well as radically changing their approach to the procurement of the scheme, the Government could make changes to the Bill that would address many of the points made by the commissioner and others.
The purpose of the scheme could be much more tightly defined. There need be no requirement for an ID card for use of a public service; public services merely need to be permitted to use the card for that purpose, which would leave much more power in the hands of the individual. Access for the police and other services to the information for crime-fighting purposes could be more tightly circumscribed. Under clauses 19 and 23 in their current form, the Home Secretary could personally authorise all access to the audit trail, as is now the case with telephone-tapping. They could also be used to give that power to any individual police constable. It should be possible to amend them to raise the threshold and establish proper safeguards. Oversight could be strengthened, and brought under a single, publicly accountable commissioner rather than being unhappily spread between two.
I presume, at the moment, that the Government will win the debate and the vote this evening. I certainly hope that they will. Our present circumstances, however, bear some similarity to a situation that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will recognise from a year or so ago, when the Government's discussion of tuition fees began. At that stage, the Government's proposals were not at all bad in principle, but they needed a fair bit of work in the House to be pushed into an acceptable form, which I think we finally achieved. I believe that the ID card scheme is in a similar state. The Government need to make changes both in the way in which they plan to deal with the legislation—there have been welcome indications today that it is open to amendment—and, fundamentally, in the way in which they are attempting to procure the project. There must be proper, independent, technical public debate.
Finally, let me say something about the scope of the Bill. We hear a good deal of talk about "function creep". That will result largely not from the desires of an overbearing state, but from the desire of members of the public to use the information to fight crime. I think it would be more prudent for the Government to recognise that, and not to leave powers in the Bill that might be handy at some point in the future but to limit the powers tightly, confident that the Bill can return to the House of Commons in the future if public arguments favour broader legislation.
I know that it is conventional to say nice things about one's predecessor, but even if it were not, I would want to say them about Chris Pond. He was the Member for Gravesham from 1997 until 2005, and from 2003 onwards he was a Minister at the Department for Work and Pensions. I first came across him when I was making a series of programmes about homelessness in London. I know that he spent nearly three decades of his life lobbying for the low paid and that he was the driving force behind the Low Pay Unit. Many of us think that that was an extremely positive way for him to spend those decades, and I pay tribute to him for it.
In Gravesham, Chris Pond was a good constituency Member. At the general election, a number of people told me that he had quietly gone to spend time in the local hospice with their relatives during the last few days of their lives. I should also like to thank him and his wife, Lorraine, for their kindness to me over the past couple of years.
I also want to pay tribute to Jacques Arnold, who was the Member for Gravesham from 1987 until 1997 and is still remembered on the doorsteps for going the extra mile for his constituents. I should also like to register my appreciation to him for all his advice to me. I am grateful to those former Members.
Gravesham is about 20 miles down the Thames if one turns left at the Terrace. The two main towns in the constituency are Northfleet and Gravesend. Pocahontas is buried in a churchyard in Gravesend, and Conrad is rumoured to have written some of "Heart of Darkness" while stranded on the tide near the town. Underneath those towns we have the A2 and the channel tunnel rail link. Beneath that, we have the villages of Higham, Meopham, Cobham, Shorne, Istead Rise, Luddesdown, Vigo and Culverstone. Over the past few decades, traditional industry in Gravesham has declined, most recently with the closure of the AEI factory. There are new jobs, however, and a great deal of new development. There is also a great deal of optimism.
Gravesham is a model of successful racial integration and tolerance. Ten per cent. of the population are Sikhs, and that community is building the biggest Sikh temple in Europe. This involves ordinary families paying about £30 a month by direct debit towards the building and mass volunteering to do manual labour at the weekends. We already have two gurdwaras, a Muslim cultural centre and a Buddhist temple, complete with monks, in a semi in a cul-de-sac. We also have about 30 Christian churches.
Regrettably, however, there is more involved than just building things. Crime and antisocial behaviour are putting a huge strain on communities in my constituency. While 99.9 per cent. of my constituents are trying to get on with their lives, bring up their families and enjoy their old age, about 0.1 per cent. are persecuting the rest and making their lives an absolute misery. For example, last year Rev. Jim Field and his wife Marleen came home to find that the rectory had been burned down. So, after 30 years of marriage, they departed with their possessions in two black bin liners. The 12-year-old who was alleged—and, indeed, seen—to have done it is still wandering around the same street where the incident occurred. Since I have been in Gravesham, I have never seen a walking police officer in a residential area.
Last Sunday, Gwen Ostheimer was shot at with an air pistol, 40 windows were smashed at Shears Green school, and Stuart Hubbard had his windows smashed at 3.30 in the morning because he told a group of youngsters where to go. Mohinder is too terrified to leave his house because of the abuse that he gets on the streets. My friend the Lib Dem candidate was left for dead while walking his niece home at Christmas, and it is still possible to see the marks left by people stamping on his head.
Part of the problem is that the perpetrators of those crimes have no idea of the consequences, either to themselves—in terms of punishment or of their future—or to their victims. Over the past few months, I have been wandering around talking to some of these kids, who are aged between about nine and 14. I have asked them what they thought the consequence would be if they turned over some bins, threw golf balls at an old man's head—I have seen that happen—smashed someone's front windows or set upon people in gangs. The answer from those kids is nil. That is not just bravado; it is true in most circumstances. There are rarely prosecutions or any other kind of follow-up, so the kids cannot envisage any consequences, either to themselves or to their victims, as a result of what they do. I cannot see the point of using ID cards to identify people when no one is even looking for the perpetrators of those offences.
I should like to illustrate my opposition to ID cards with a couple of anecdotes. The first relates to organised crime and illegal immigration. In 2001, I made a documentary for ITV in which I pretended to be an asylum seeker/economic migrant. We went first to Istanbul, where we made contact with a number of criminal gangs. Istanbul is a kind of staging post, and according to the Turkish authorities gangs such as these bring about 700,000 people into the European Union each year. Those people are charged between $7,000 and $10,000. We ended up in the Sangatte camp outside Calais, which was still open at the time—the problem still exists today, however. The camp was full of people smugglers who, for a price, would take great hordes of people down the road—I have done this—to break into the Eurostar terminal and try to get on to a train to England.
During that time, I made friends with a guy whom I will call Malik. Needless to say he, like everybody else, got into England. Two weeks ago I ran into him in Soho. He is now called Mike and he is a builder running a small construction company. He told me that since he came to the UK four years ago, he had had no contact with any form of British authority—not the police, not the tax authorities, not even Westminster council. What would ID cards do about the huge, unknown quantity of people like Mike, some of whom are perhaps not as productive as he is? I am not convinced that they would help.
My second anecdote involves terrorism. In 2003, I found myself in northern Iraq. At that time, there was an area right up on the Iranian border that was controlled by Ansar al-Islam, an organisation affiliated to al-Qaeda. I believe that there was considerable swapping of personnel between the two organisations; some would argue that they are one and the same. One night, its mountain complex was bombed. We heard the bombs going off and we wandered up the valley early the next morning. A few local Kurds had already arrived and started going through the bodies of the people who had been dispersing from the buildings when the bombing started. There were a number of passports there—these guys were from the Maghreb as well as from the more obvious parts of the middle east. The passports contained visas and entry and exit stamps from European Union countries and from the United States dating from after September 2001. So we could all be carrying our ID cards, yet guys like these could be walking around London with tourist visas.
In summary, I would vote for ID cards if I did not think that they were some kind of red herring. They are a red herring in regard to the urgent priorities of my constituents—for whom they will, in effect, represent another tax—and I do not believe that they will do the slightest good in tackling organised crime or terrorism.
I congratulate Mr. Holloway on his maiden speech, which was delivered with the confidence that we associate with people who make television programmes. I am glad that he paid tribute to my former hon. Friend, Chris Pond. I only hope that it was not my visit to Gravesham during the election campaign that resulted in the hon. Gentleman being elected.
My first inclination about ID cards is that I am sort of in favour of them. In principle, I do not see them as a major intrusion on our civil liberties, although some of the claims that have been made for them seem somewhat exaggerated, including those relating to the constraints that the cards might place on terrorists or on organised crime. At the very most, they might represent an inconvenience, and probably only a minor one. I cannot see what impact they would have at all unless they were compulsory.
One of my other concerns is about compulsion. We have been told that the cards cannot be made compulsory unless there is a vote in favour in both Houses. However, as I read the Bill we could be asked by the Government to vote to make it compulsory for certain categories of people to carry an ID card, but not for others. As a believer in equality before the law, I could not support a law that would oblige some people, but not others, to carry the card. That would be quite unacceptable.
Similarly, as I read the Bill—I might be wrong—it would be possible for a public body to make a rule that one had to produce a card to receive its service. Therefore, whatever the national theory might be, people at the local hospital or library would be able to say, "Well, it's compulsory round here." Again, that seems unacceptable.
No, I need to make progress and other Members want to speak.
It is not the issues of principle that are a problem but the practicalities and costs. Sadly, as I have listened to Ministers talk about the Bill I have become less convinced about the practicalities and the costs, whether the system would work, and the security and safety of the database on which the system would run. Perhaps it is my Yorkshire background, but my principle concern is about costs. We must aim to get value for money and we must remember that whatever is spent on the ID card system cannot be spent on anything else. The cards will be paid for either by the taxpayer from general taxation or by what amounts to a special tax levied on those who want to be card holders. That is just the cost of the card.
The costs of the rest of the system—the verification process, the scanners and readers, and the hordes of people who go round installing them, following up, mending them and running the system—will undoubtedly have to be met by the taxpayer, either local or national. What would be the costs of all that? Estimates are, to say the least, many and varied. I do not challenge the integrity of Ministers and their advisers who have come up with the lowest estimates, as it was obviously a position of integrity to say that the estimate used to be £3 billion and now it is approaching £6 billion. Equally, I do not doubt the integrity of the opponents of ID cards, who have come up with the highest estimates. With respect to all those who have come up with estimates, however, they are not estimates but guesses, and even the lowest guess is an awful lot of money.
It is a major function of a freely elected Parliament and its Members to control the raising and spending of taxpayers' money and to see that it is well spent. Information technology is an area of grotesque failures, delays and overspends. That is not confined to the Home Office, this Government or the public sector—there has been scandal after scandal across the board, probably because all concerned in making the original estimates are reduced to being dependent on such serial fantasists and failure-mongers as EDS, Siemens and others who have messed it up.
It might be that £6 billion—the latest official estimate—would be well spent, but is the ID card system the best way of spending the marginal £6 billion of Home Office money? If it is spent on that, it will be £6 billion less spent on more police or improving the immigration service. At £6 billion it might be a bargain, but if it is in excess of that there will be less and less value for taxpayers' money. Any excess has a double cost—it is not just the extra money spent on the ID cards and system, but that there is then less to spend on other things. If the excess is to be met from the Home Office budget, the currently intended investment in the police, immigration services and so on will be reduced. If it comes from the overall Government budget, we will have to face all sorts of cuts as a result of reductions in intended spending. That will mean taking away money from hospitals, clinics, schools, transport, environmental improvements, overseas development or making sure that our troops are properly equipped.
I could not support the Bill tonight unless it contained a provision for the Government to come back to the House—which is responsible for the raising and spending of tax—every six months to give us an up-to-date estimate of the costs. There should not be any problem if things are going well, and if things are going badly we would have the opportunity to say, "Cut the losses, we are not going to spend any more on this project." Were that to happen, we would have the opportunity to stop throwing good money after bad. Therefore, I cannot support the Bill tonight.
It is a pleasure to follow Frank Dobson who has made a cogent case against many of the practical aspects of the Bill.
One thing that is clear is that the Identity Cards Bill is not, as the Home Secretary would have us believe, a gleaming, new Labour modernising measure. I make no apology for reminding the House that it is a shop-soiled, tired old measure that had been hawked round Whitehall for many years before the Government even came to power—proposals for a compulsory, all-singing, all-dancing identity card with biometrics. It was then, and is now, a solution looking for a problem. When we tried to examine how effective it would be at solving the potential problems, we found that the police said that they rarely had any problem in identifying suspects, only in proving that they were guilty. We also found that terrorists normally conceal their intentions rather than their identities, that benefit fraudsters normally misrepresent their circumstances, and that less than 2 per cent. of benefit fraud is due to identity fraud. Furthermore, all illegal immigrants can—most do once they come into contact with the authorities—apply for asylum, at which point they must have an identity card at present, complete with fingerprints on it. At that point, of course, they become exempt from deportation until their asylum claim has been resolved—if ever.
Therefore, the identity card would not help with any of the problems that it is put forward to help unless, possibly, it were made compulsory for everyone to have one and the police were empowered in particular to stop people who they thought looked or sounded foreign to identify whether they had identity cards or were possibly in the country illegally.
The Government say that things have changed since those days, and that they now have support from officials in Departments, the police and unnamed figures in the security services. That should be no surprise—Government employees are paid to support Government policy, and it is particularly of no surprise that the Government found people in the security forces who will say that the proposal is a good thing, as they were the people who told us that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Indeed, when I tabled questions trying to identify which of the agencies and who in the agencies endorsed Government policies, I found that the Government were very reluctant to give the identities of the people who are so keen to have us reveal our identities to them—I suspect, of course, that the person is John Scarlett, but that is in the privacy of this Chamber.
The real test of whether Departments find the identity card useful is whether they are prepared to contribute from their budget to funding the proposal for a compulsory identity card system. Clearly, none is prepared to contribute, which is why the entire cost is to be borne by the ordinary citizen and user, who will eventually be compelled to have it, and certainly required to have it if they want a passport. We also know that the costs will rise. They have already risen, and the one thing that I learnt in Government is that the projects that are most vulnerable to running into difficulties and overrunning on cost are those with more than one user and client Department. This one has at least half a dozen user and client Departments. We know that the Government abandoned a project that I initiated—the pathway project for a benefit payment card. After saying for two years that it was going splendidly, they finally said that they had to abandon it because they could not reconcile the conflicting demands of Post Office Counters and the Department for Work and Pensions, which were jointly responsible for it. If they could not reconcile the demands of those two bodies, how will they reconcile the demands that will arise when half a dozen different Departments seek to make the system work for their needs?
Let me give another concrete example. In America four years ago, Congress mandated the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to reconcile their different systems for collecting and computerising fingerprints. Four years and $40 million-worth of expenditure later, they can transfer the fingerprints of only 2 per cent. of people entering the United States so that they can be compared with and checked against the FBI register. It still takes a month for a new terrorist suspect identified by the FBI to be fed across so that they can have their fingerprints taken and be checked against anyone entering the country. So we know that these systems are very difficult and costly to get right. If America cannot get them right, even with its huge expenditure, there is no reason to suppose that we will find it easy to do so. This card has been said by some to be a plastic poll card, but it could be Labour's modern-day ground nut scheme. Either way, it will cost a lot of money and will probably achieve very little.
In addition to the involvement of a multiplicity of Departments, the Government have moved from prime reason to prime reason as to why they are introducing this measure. Before the election, the prime reason was combating terrorism. Incidentally, when the Government introduced their proposed entitlement card—as it was then called—and listed the 10 uses to which it would be put, they did not include combating terrorism. That was not thought a practical and useful thing to do. But if this card were really going help in combating terrorism, would we wait until 2013 to make it compulsory? We would surely want to do so now, just as ID cards were introduced immediately in the second world war. If this card were really going to help in identifying and checking out potential terrorists, would we not include within its provisions the 24 million people who come here every year on a visa for business purposes or as tourists for a short-term stay—at least, that is what they say when they enter the country—rather than excluding them from any requirement to have one?
It is true that some years ago, when considering the terrorist problem in Ulster, I suggested that identity cards might be helpful, but I was persuaded by the powerful argument of the security forces to the effect that—contrary to what Mr. Robinson said—any benefits that they would derive in terms of combating IRA terrorism would be greatly offset by the problems they would face in enforcing compliance were a minority of the community to resist the use of ID cards. That is a problem that we may well face if we try to introduce this measure, particularly given that—as we now know, and as the Government acknowledge—its principal purpose is to deal with unlawful terrorism. That is certainly the principal demand of the public.
The general public mistakenly believe that most members of ethnic minorities are immigrants, which is not true—of course, most of them were born here and have British nationality—and that most immigrants came here illegally, which is not true either: most came here legally. The general public therefore believe that the police need to have the power to compel people to have these cards about their person at all times, and to have the right to stop and question anyone who looks or sounds foreign, in order to get them to justify their presence in this country. I find that abhorrent, and I am astonished that that there is any Member in this House who does not find it abhorrent that our fellow citizens, just because they are a different colour or have a different accent, could be constantly required by the police—and will be, ineluctably, if this measure is on the statute book—to justify their presence in this country, simply to satisfy the mistaken belief on the part of many people that such a requirement will help to control illegal immigration, which it will not.
This is a fundamental change in the relationship between the citizen and the state. Such a change has only ever been introduced in countries that had authoritarian, fascist or communist Governments. It has never been introduced in a country with a common-law system, and I hope that we will not set the appalling example of adopting that system here today.
Many Members who have spoken today have expressed concern about the civil liberties aspect of the Bill. I propose to ignore that and to deal with what concerns me, as a practical Yorkshireman—namely, the practical and political issues. This Bill is unnecessary. It sets up a system that will not work, will not achieve its stated objectives and will cost us a fortune. Apart from that, there is nothing much wrong with it.
What I am concerned about is the Bill's impact, which is beautifully timed. Its provisions, along with their damaging consequences, will be introduced just as the Labour Government—the force for progress in this country—go into the next and the subsequent elections. The compulsory element will be introduced at the subsequent election, but in reality, it will be introduced before that. Anyone who wants to renew a passport or a driving licence, or anyone who the Secretary of State deems shall be compelled to have an identity card, will have to have such a card. So although the scheme is said to be voluntary, it is in fact already compulsory. The Bill is like "super dome". It involves massive expenditure that is timed to ruin the election prospects of a Labour Government whom we want to carry on so that they can continue with their programme of social reform.
Like the dome, identity cards seemed like a good idea at the time, but the dome has proved to be disastrous. I suppose that that is how things work in a presidential system. The source of such ideas is Downing street, where the Prime Minister is surrounded by a heavenly nimbus of cherub geniuses, fluttering in the blue skies that always hover over Downing street. Up comes an idea, lights flash, thunder rolls and the idea is unveiled to an excited world. "I know", they say, "Let's have identity cards. It's a big measure that shows that the Government are active. It will appeal to the police and the Home Office." Of course, the police and the Home Office are obsessed with people control. Indeed, they would implant all children with chips at birth if they could.
Such ideas appeal to Home Secretaries, who have a career to think of, after all, and who want to be promoted out of being Home Secretary so that they do not have to face such issues any more. Now that we have the idea, all that we need is a problem for it to solve. That is where the doubts begin.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the combination of escalating costs and compulsion is likely to cause public support for identity cards, and perhaps for the Government, to evaporate?
I agree entirely. The Government are now attempting to keep down the estimated costs so as not to frighten people. Each time the estimate increases, public support for the Bill falls. When the true costs are revealed, support will vanish entirely and turn into a negative.
As I said, it is when we have to search for a problem for this ingenious little measure to solve that the doubts begin to appear. The Government are not now saying that it is intended to deal with terrorism. It certainly did not do so in Spain or in the US. If people can come here for three months without being required to have an ID card, that will be the time to commit any acts of terrorism. ID cards will not deal with questions of entitlement, because only a small part of benefit fraud involves stealing someone's identity. I note that, interestingly, there is no difference between the crime rates and benefit fraud rates of the four European countries that do not have ID cards, and of the rest, which do. That suggests that ID cards are a minor matter in that respect.
ID cards will not even deal with identity fraud, which is trumpeted as their main purpose. We are told—shock horror!—that £1.3 billion-worth of identity fraud is committed each year, and that there are enormous difficulties in terms of clean-up. In fact, that is a myth. The Government have lumped together the figures for stolen credit cards, stolen cheques, money laundering and various other crimes that have nothing to do with identity fraud in order to produce that figure. The Gilligan article in last week's Evening Standard put the true cost of identity fraud at £150 million, not £1.3 billion.
We are told that introducing ID cards is an international obligation, but it is not. We shall have to change our passports to comply with European and American decisions, but there is no international obligation to impose an identity card. In any case, it seems to me that if we are following an international trend, which we are not, the sensible course would be to let other countries go ahead, watch their mistakes and implement our own system to avoid them. That is not necessary, however, because no one else is doing it.
The purposes are unreal, but the damage that will be inflicted is very real indeed. The costs will be enormous. The Government estimates keep going up and will go up again. The current estimates are going up even before anything has happened, and they are bound to increase further. The LSE estimate of the costs, which varies between £10.6 billion and £19.2 billion, with a median of £14.5 billion, seems to me to be far more accurate.
Is there not an additional element in the cost, which has not been taken into account? Other parties have made it plain that they will not implement the scheme. That being the case, either the contractors will impose a very high penalty cost in the contract or there will be a very high premium—neither of which have been allowed for by Government Front Benchers.
That is absolutely true, and I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for putting that point, which he omitted from his own speech. I entirely agree with him, and each escalation of costs will mean increasing loss of support for the whole scheme.
Several speakers have pointed to the dilemma between "must have" and "must carry". There is no point in having "must have" without having "must carry". One will surely follow the other as night follows day, but the Government are now telling us that they will not have a "must carry" rule because it will affront middle-class opinion. There are some who want identity cards for other people but not for themselves, just as we all want discipline imposed on other people's children but not necessarily on our own, and there is a danger that that section of opinion will be affronted.
Of course the cards will be made compulsory to carry. What is the point of having an ID system that allows people to respond to police requests to produce the card by saying, "I am sorry, but I do not have the card with me"? It sometimes happens to me when I forget my pass and I am sometimes asked to report to the police station tomorrow morning, and I disappear into the night—or, in the case of Grimsby, into the sea. The one will follow the other.
About 20 per cent. of the population do not have passports. They prefer to take their holidays in Yorkshire—very sensibly, as it is the most beautiful part of the whole world—and they do not have passports. What are we going to do for them? Are they to be forced to have a passport that they do not want and an identity card with it, and are they to be charged for them?
What about the huge underclass of people who sleep rough, people who move house and flit around, people who are just not traceable, people who stay out of the way of authority? What will happen to them? Are we going to employ bounty hunters to go out and hunt those people down in order to force them to have a passport? If we make the ID card free for such people, it will increase the charge levied on other people enormously. It will be a very expensive operation gathering all those people together in a shuttered van, so they do not know where they are going, and taking them to a treatment centre to force them to be fingerprinted, to have a retina scan and to accept all the joys that the rest of us will already have faced. It is just not conceivable that everyone can be forced into this scheme.
The scheme in any case has huge holes in it. It certainly runs against EU free movement directives and it will not apply to Irish citizens. I could also mention the risk of technical failure. People will lose their cards, just as I keep losing credit cards. I have even had passports stolen from my car. What will happen when people lose their ID cards? How will they be replaced and at what cost? About 40 per cent. of the London population changes address every single year, which is incredible. No one particularly wants to leave Grimsby, but I can understand why people want to move out of London. Massive numbers of cards would have to be changed on that basis.
What of the failure of verification? We read from Home Office reports that verification proved successful in dealing with 96 per cent. of Irish scams, 69 per cent. of facial verification cases and 81 per cent. of fingerprint frauds. It is a cumulative process, but there are bound to be people for whom the system will not work. The LSE report estimates that new cards will be necessary every five years—the Home Office estimates every 10 years, as people's irises change with age and as the fingerprints of people who do heavy manual work change. People like me will be subject to regular requirements to have a new scan.
It is all very well saying that technology will improve and eliminate all those problems. If the technology changes, the whole database will have to be changed because wholly new records will be required for the new technological system.
Many hon. Members have already alluded to another obvious difficulty—the possibility of cock-ups. This will be the biggest such technical project in the world, involving listing, registering and recording three basic elements of our personality, plus a photograph. Just think of the potential for the sort of cock-ups that we have already seen in the child benefit system, the national health computer system and so forth. What a feast the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee will have after the contract is implemented.
Another problem that annoys and upsets many people is the problem of jumped-up authority. There are always people who think that, because they wear a uniform, they have a right to harass and make life difficult for people by hovering over them, demanding information and putting questions to them. I recall the problem with the sus laws, which produced very angry feelings among ethnic communities, but this will be far worse. Who will be harassed? It will be the rough sleepers, the deprived, anyone who looks odd, anyone who looks doddery, like me coming down Victoria street, anyone who is black, anyone who is coloured, anyone who looks foreign. The potential for all those people being harassed is enormously increased.
When Roy Jenkins was Home Secretary in a previous Labour Government, he was faced with an incursion of people, which was causing public reactions, so he looked into the idea of having a national identity card scheme. He decided that it offered few benefits and that it offered them at a disproportionate cost. We should take exactly the same view.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in the House for the first time. I have the considerable honour and great good fortune to have been elected to represent Torridge and West Devon. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear".]
It is an easy task to praise my predecessor, John Burnett. He was well liked in the House; he did not parrot party dogma; he did not blindly follow the party line. In fact, he proved that the expression "a Eurosceptic Liberal Democrat" was not just an oxymoron. He and his wife Billie worked indefatigably for the interests of my constituents. She supported him loyally and ably throughout the eight years in which he represented my constituency. I have noticed, in listening to maiden speeches in the House, how it is a curious trick of new Members to refer to their predecessors as passed away or gone to another world, but John and Billie Burnett are very much with us and they are regarded, and will continue to be regarded, on both sides of the party divide in my constituency with real affection, gratitude and respect.
My constituency is said to be the second largest in England. It encompasses a large stretch of the north Devonshire coast line, from the little white town of Bideford, via towns and villages such as Appledore, Westward Ho!—the only town in England with an exclamation mark in its title—Clovelly and Hartland all the way to Hartland point. It runs on its western boundary all the way down the Tamar river from the north to the south coast of the peninsula. Eastward is the scene of scattered villages and fine market towns: Holsworthy, Hatherleigh, Tavistock, Chagford, Great Torrington and Okehampton, each with their own historic and unique character.
If I paint a sylvan and utopian scene, as my constituency may present itself to the tourist's eye, I must say that it is not wholly true. Listening to the debate this evening, I have been struck between a real incongruity between the priorities of my constituents and this Bill. My constituency faces grave problems and the communities of which I have spoken are under serious pressure.
My constituency was the epicentre of foot and mouth, and the effect of the pyres still hangs over it. Livestock agriculture, which is the backbone of the rural economy in the area I represent, has suffered blow after blow. Dairy farmers have to manage on an average wage of £2.50 an hour. Job opportunities are dwindling, house prices are spiralling, and council taxes are soaring because—I shall risk being controversial—the Government fail to understand through their local government funding formula that the delivery of services to isolated communities costs more. But incomes are low. A disproportionate number of my constituents are on fixed incomes and they can ill afford to bear the soaring costs of the council tax and water charges, which are the highest in the country, because 3 per cent. of the population have to pay for 30 per cent. of that wonderful coastline. Bovine tuberculosis is another issue that weighs heavily on the farmers whom I represent.
As I contemplated the real and genuine concerns of my constituents, I was struck by the fact that not a single letter of the between 100 and 200 letters I have received since having the honour of being elected has said that the answer to their problems lies in the introduction of identity cards. I have spent 22 years on the front line in the battle between the state and the individual. Like Mr. Marshall-Andrews, I have appeared in cases before the courts where the state's hand has been raised and the finger of accusation pointed at an individual in the dock. I can say, after those 22 years, that the state does not always behave well and we who represent our constituents' interests should jealously guard their freedom and autonomy. It is only if a compelling case has been made for an invasion of that freedom that we should contemplate for a moment any surrender of any portion of it.
This Bill represents a vast expansion of the potential for control by the state over the individual. There has not been a time in peacetime when the state has been able to require an individual to notify the state authority of a change of address or to come to a specific place at a specific time, unless he was subject to criminal process and on bail. We should pause and reflect on that fact. Why should free citizens of this great country be subjected to the direction of the state merely in order to exist in our society?
I agree with hon. Members on both sides of the House who have told us that there are practical arguments against the Bill. But even if those arguments were not so strong, I say that the arguments of principle are decisive and unanswerable. That is why, on behalf of those constituents whose real problems I hope to articulate in the coming months, I shall vote against the Bill tonight.
I congratulate Mr. Cox on his maiden speech. We could be forgiven for not realising that it was a maiden speech, so confident was his delivery. I am sure that he will have no problem in articulating the concerns of his constituents in years to come, and I wish him every success in doing so.
I have some concerns about the debate so far. Some of the arguments against ID cards, especially those from Opposition Members, have not been as measured as we could have hoped. For example, Mr. Hogg, who is unfortunately not in his place, did a fantastic and articulate job of opposing all manner of measures that are not to be found in the Bill. On several occasions, we have heard from Conservative and Liberal Members about the threat to rights that we have held for hundreds of years, but that is not what the debate is about, as seen from outside the House. I am concerned that those watching the debate will recognise the synthetic indignation of Opposition Members for the cynical manipulation that it is intended to be, or might find that their own fears and suspicions are simply being encouraged.
ID cards are not a panacea and never will be. They will not provide foolproof defence against terrorism, identity theft and other crime, or health tourism. However, they represent a sensible and moderate proposal and will be one of a range of tools at the disposal of the Government to deal with all those matters.
David Davis mentioned that "1984" was a warning, not a textbook. As I have said, some of the contributions from Opposition Members were cynical and inaccurate. They are cynical because there is a danger of playing on the existing cynicism that the public feel toward those who govern and those who seek to govern. I make no apologies for holding the unpopular view that government is a good thing and politicians are good people. We should encourage members of the public to trust the Government. [Interruption.] Well, that is a proposal that will not gain currency even in this House, let alone in the country.
It is dangerous to the art of politics for us continually to encourage people to feel so cynical and sceptical of the motives of political parties, especially the two main parties that aspire to government. I do not include the Liberal Democrats in that particular criticism.
The right hon. Gentleman said, on the one hand, that ID cards would not be effective and on the other, that the Government were promising surveillance from the cradle to the grave. What is the Conservatives' main reason for opposing the Bill? Is it because ID cards will work or because they will not work? It is always a cheap political trick to raise the spectre of Orwell in comparison with Britain today. People who say that Britain is turning into Orwell's "1984" are usually those who have not read the book.
We live in a different and dangerous era, compared with any other time in our history. However, the right hon. Gentleman seems to live in an Ealing-comedy world, where we all have a cheery word for each other and the biggest threat to society comes from a plot to rob banks and turn gold bullion into ornamental Eiffel towers. I will break it gently to the Opposition: we do not live in that world. We live in a world where terrorists attempt to kill innocent people by strapping dynamite to themselves. We live in a world where criminals prey on members of the public and seek to steal their very identity.
The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden said that if he had predicted 10 years ago that a Labour Government would abolish habeas corpus and trial by jury and introduce house arrest and ID cards, he would have been locked up. Perhaps that is true, but if he had suggested 10 years ago that four planes would be hijacked in America and piloted into the twin towers and the Pentagon he would presumably have suffered similar treatment.
I do not want to appear cynical, but can the hon. Gentleman explain how providing surveillance of 99.9 per cent. of the population from the cradle to the grave will do anything to avoid the terrorism or fraud by a small minority to which he is referring?
The hon. Gentleman is falling into the same trap as Opposition Front-Bench Members. The Government have absolutely no intention of providing surveillance from the cradle to the grave. That is exactly the type of allegation that finds its way into the public domain. Members of the public end up believing that kind of nonsense instead of concentrating on the content of the Bill.
The views of Opposition Front-Bench Members are a matter for them, but what does my hon. Friend have to say about the comments of the Information Commissioner, who is not a member of the Conservative and Unionist party? Recently, he warned that ID cards would bring about a growing surveillance society.
I reserve the right to disagree with the Information Commissioner. The House has the right and the duty to make its own judgments, and not simply to take advice and act on information from outside. Going slightly off the point, there was a similar argument last year about information handed down to us from on high by the Electoral Commission. Do we do exactly what the commission tells us or do we make our own judgments as democratically elected politicians? We should do the latter.
We live in a world where the old certainties and securities of years gone by no longer exist. Three years ago in Glasgow, asylum seekers who had identity cards that included biometric details were hunted by the police, because they were suspected of involvement in a serious assault on a bouncer in a Glasgow club. The police could not track them down initially but they were finally apprehended at Stranraer as they tried to board a ferry for Northern Ireland using fake passports. They had disposed of their ID cards, but because they had had to give their fingerprint details when they applied for asylum, their identities were confirmed within four minutes and they were arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. As I said earlier, I do not believe that ID cards are a panacea in the fight against crime, organised crime or terrorism but we should be able to see past our party affiliations to understand that given a fair wind, the Bill will, take us some way towards beating criminal organisations.
In June 2001, 15 minutes before I took my seat in the House, I received word that a credit card and cheque book that my wife had sent me from Glasgow had gone missing in the post, and I discovered that more than £400 had been taken from my accounts in various forms. That was extremely distressing and may be why I did not enjoy the re-election of the Speaker as much as I would have in other circumstances. It was an extremely distressing and emotional experience to know that someone was pretending to be me—using my name and spending my money, although I managed to claim it back. What can be wrong with giving people a foolproof way of proving their identity? Some people have asked why we should have to prove our identity.
One of the problems with the Bill is not the use to which it would be put by a reasonable Government—I assume that the hon. Gentleman thinks that his Government are reasonable—but the uses to which it might be put by an unreasonable Government—[Hon. Members: "We have one".] I was thinking more of the party to my right. Is not half the problem that there is no guarantee or safeguard that once data have been collected it would not be abused by a future Government?
I shall not submit to that nonsense—that a dictatorship is waiting to be elected to the government of the UK. The Executive is held to account by the House and I am confident that the country can rely on that safeguard. The British public can see through the hysterical paranoia that concludes that ID cards represent some major surrender of civil liberties. They can see through the claim that issuing ID cards will mean the end of civilisation as we know it, any more than driving licences with photos or the installation of closed circuit television in our streets did.
The Government have a responsibility to deliver an affordable scheme and I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench are aware of the public's concerns about costs. It is telling that 80 per cent. of the public were in favour of the Government's proposed ID scheme and that figure went down not when the civil liberties arguments were aired but only because of concern about costs. I can understand why some parts of the press, the Conservative party and the Liberals want to pretend that the costs are going through the roof. That is fair game politically, but they should understand that members of the public support the scheme—their only opposition is on cost. The public understand that there is no threat to British civil liberties in the issuing of ID cards and the establishment of a central database.