Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:57 pm on 28th June 2005.

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Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Labour, Hampstead and Highgate 7:57 pm, 28th June 2005

My hon. Friend is giving the name of the individual—probably the actor, not the character. I am not prepared to argue with him on that point. However, the character would emerge from the back of his covered wagon and proceed to entertain the town, with the basic premise that he had something to sell them, and what he had to sell would cure all their ills. It would take many guises, but it became known as snake oil. I am not in any way imputing to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary one atom of the huckster spirit that was so true of that archetypal character, but enormous claims have been made for the efficacy and the absolute necessity of the introduction of ID cards in this country. They will apparently reduce, if not obliterate, crime, acts of terrorism and benefit fraud, but no one—either from the Dispatch Box, or one of my hon. colleagues who have shown that they support the Bill—has been able to tell us how.

I do not mean to rehearse the arguments that have been put about the excessive cost that it is imagined the introduction and maintenance of such a scheme would involve. Neither side of the argument has proved its case. Most markedly, the Government have not proved their case on the costs. My concern about the Bill is what it has always been: it seems to carry the potential for the most disruptive introduction of a scheme that could have the most desperate effects on our society.

The Home Secretary when he was at the Dispatch Box was somewhat sanguine when the issue was raised about who would be most markedly targeted when, if the scheme is ever introduced, it inevitably becomes compulsory to carry an identity card. He dismissed the allegations that certain sections of our society would be over-targeted in that way. He referred to the old sus laws, but they were discredited for the simple reason that a group in our society was consistently targeted. It was made up of those in the Afro-Caribbean society in my part of the country. They tended to be young men below a certain age.

One of the most recent reports after the changing of the old sus laws to the new sus laws, which caused the Home Office no small disquiet in itself, showed that about 18 per cent. of young Muslim men were being over-targeted in that way. The Home Office's own racial assessment of the introduction of the Bill caused disquiet, particularly among the Afro-Caribbean group of people who were part of that consultation exercise, and concerns were expressed by those in the Muslim community who were also part of that consultation exercise.

If, indeed, the Bill comes into force, and it is deemed that a certain section of our society must carry ID cards—as my right hon. Friend Frank Dobson put it so succinctly—it will create in this country, which I thought believed in equality under the law, a group of our fellow citizens who will be, in effect, second-class citizens.

I am also concerned about another issue that has been raised during the debate: the issue of opting to carry an ID card, the expense of doing so and how that will impact so deleteriously on some of the poorest in our society. The Home Secretary gave no clear definition of what concessions—if concessions there will be—would enable the poorest in our society to carry an ID card if they wish to do so. My concern is not only that people will be excluded from doing so on the grounds of finance, but that they will be excluded by the purveyors of services.

We all know of service providers who do not want certain people as customers, and it will be all too easy for those providers to turn to someone and say, "No, I'm very sorry. We cannot possibly allow you to open this account"—or to borrow money, or to buy this, that or the other—"unless you can produce an ID card." So already, even before the cards become compulsory, we are beginning to see sections of our society being divided off—in that instance, probably based on what is believed to be their economic validity. My hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell mentioned rough sleepers, who have only just been allowed to vote without needing a settled address. They were excluded from the democratic process. There will be other kinds of exclusion.

It is undoubtedly the case in my opinion, Madam Deputy Speaker[Interruption.] Oh, I do apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You enter with such quietness. It is inevitable, unless the Bill is kicked out, that ID cards will become compulsory. Hon. Members have touched on the issue of ID cards being used to guarantee the provision of services. The national health service has been mentioned, and it was pooh-poohed that anyone in an A and E department would refuse to treat an emergency case because they could not produce an ID card. I entirely agree with that view. It would be anathema to anyone who worked in the health service to refuse to treat someone in an emergency because they could not produce an ID card, but are we seriously accepting that there would not be some jobsworth or someone in that A and E department who was waiting to be treated who would not comment on the fact that an individual had a different coloured skin, spoke in a language that the other person did not regard as being English, or was in some way different? I can hear them now saying to the doctor or the nurse, "Does that person have an ID card? If they don't, you should not treat them before you treat me." [Interruption.] An hon. Member from a sedentary position said "rubbish", I think. I am afraid that hon. Member ignores the realities of human nature.

If it is presented to the people of this country that the greatest dangers come from outside, from people who are different and from people we do not know, we build on that essential part of human nature that is perfectly prepared to point the finger at any kind of difference and say, "Not them first, but me." There are real dangers for the breakdown of social cohesion.

It seems to me that we in this country, up to this point, have a pretty proud record in the way that we have managed to absorb, to adapt to, to welcome and even to celebrate our differences. The Bill will absolutely begin the erosion of that. It will do nothing to improve our security, either internationally or nationally, or to reduce home-grown crime. It will most certainly give breathing space to those who have always wanted, and will always want, to create social difference. It will break down many of the things that this country should value and that we as a country in an increasingly competitive world will need to support even more in the future.