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.