Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:21 pm on 28th June 2005.

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Photo of Mark Oaten Mark Oaten Shadow Secretary of State for Home Affairs, Home Affairs 5:21 pm, 28th June 2005

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.