Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:58 pm on 28th June 2005.

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Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 5:58 pm, 28th June 2005

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.