Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:28 pm on 28th June 2005.

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Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow Spokesperson (Women), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 8:28 pm, 28th June 2005

A number of IT projects and databases need to be cleaned up. I am not sure about the figures—Lynne Jones has said that the national insurance issue is being addressed—but the evidence does not suggest that the central data register for ID cards will be more accurate than the national insurance register.

I have mentioned people entering the country with false papers, which leads me to the Government's third stated justification for ID cards—the enforcement of immigration controls. It is worth noting that immigration into the UK is a managed process. I fear that this is not about immigration at all, and that the real concern is about asylum seekers, refugees and those who may not be here legally. The Government may wish to tell people fleeing oppression and seeking sanctuary that the UK is a less charitable and a harder place in which to seek protection and help. The introduction of ID cards may force such people, some of whom understandably arrive here afraid of authority, officialdom and Government, further into the recesses of society, working in the illegal economy, living in unregistered and overcrowded housing, and away from the people whose services they most require.

Most worryingly of all, as several right hon. and hon. Members have suggested, this might be about finding people who should not be here by searching out those who do not have an identity card. I am not suggesting that this Government would do that, but a future Government might, and we should look at unintended consequences. In such circumstances, I suspect that white MPs will not be stopped and asked for their identity cards, nor will New Zealand students working in bars in Islington, but the black and Asian populations of our towns and cities may be stopped and have their identity cards requested time after time. The sus laws have already been mentioned. This legislation has the potential to set race relations back by decades.

The fourth justification for identity cards is that they will prohibit unauthorised working or employment. The gangmasters who employ casual labour on a cash-only basis do not ask for national insurance numbers, pay through the pay-as-you-earn system or issue P60s, and they will not do biometric tests based on identity cards. Indeed, the idea that every building site, cockle beach or berry field will be equipped with a portable biometric reader is laughable. This is an unenforceable law. It will place additional costs and burdens on businesses that already comply, and do precisely nothing to stop the unscrupulous who already breach, break or ignore every employment law.

The final justification for the introduction of ID cards relates to the efficient and effective provision of public services. Having listened carefully to what was said throughout the debate, it appears to me that this is not about the efficient and effective provision of public services but about the restriction of access to public services for those who are not entitled to them. That may not be an unreasonable thing for the Government to do, but how can it be more efficient or effective to ask for an identity card—with the accompanying cost of a biometric reader in every hospital ward, doctor's surgery, dentist's surgery or well woman clinic—than simply to request the national health service number with which we are all issued at present?

I know that time is short, so I will come to my summary. SNP and Plaid Cymru Members believe that the Bill is flawed and will not work. It will provide no extra security—indeed, it may lead to a false sense of security, with fake identities becoming real and legal ones. It will not stop one single terrorist; intelligence, not identity cards, will stop terrorists and terrorist acts. It will not stop a single criminal or a single crime; it would require more police, not plastic cards, to do that. It is a disproportionate response to identity theft, and will do absolutely nothing to reduce the cost of those arriving in the UK with false papers. It risks forcing refugees, asylum seekers and other vulnerable people into the darkest corners of society and away from those whose help they need most, and it risks setting back race relations in this country by decades. It is an unenforceable law as regards bad and illegal employers who exploit their workers and ignore the law, and it is not about providing efficient and effective public services but about restricting access to them.

In short, we believe that this is a bad Bill that would make bad and unenforceable law. It has the potential to be 18 Greenwich domes or a giant poll tax. When it goes belly up, it risks pulling the Government down with it. I do not want to be partisan because there are honourable men and women on other Benches who may join us in the Lobby.

The Bill risks being an expensive folly—a white elephant, which, at £5 billion, £10 billion, £15 billion or £18 billion might bleed the taxpayer dry. There is passionate opposition to the proposals in all parties. I say to the Government: withdraw them and think again. It is a bad Bill, which will be bad law.