Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:10 pm on 28th June 2005.

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Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North 5:10 pm, 28th June 2005

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.

Annotations

R S
Posted on 1 Jul 2005 12:24 pm (Report this annotation)

Whatever happened to voting how his constituants wanted him to? Putting personal opinions above their wishes, thats "dishonourable" - democracy in action.

Julian Todd
Posted on 1 Jul 2005 12:57 pm (Report this annotation)

I think there's a hierachy here. Party opinions over-rule personal opinions most of the time. But constituent's opinions come even lower down than both of them, as a rule.