Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:25 pm on 28th June 2005.

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Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Conservative, Weston-Super-Mare 9:25 pm, 28th June 2005

Much has been said this evening about the likelihood of cost overruns with a large and complicated Government IT project. My constituents are of the same opinion and are deeply concerned about the possible cost and time overruns. But I also want to speak about a more fundamental principle: civil liberties. There are two pillars that underpin our civil liberties in this country. One of them is made up of the legal brakes on the Government's use of information and on their behaviour—things such as the Data Protection Act 1998 and habeas corpus—but the other pillar that upholds our civil liberties is largely forgotten. It is the simple, practical difficulty of marshalling information about the citizens of this country.

The information that the Government hold on any one of us is scattered and incomplete at present. The simple, practical difficulty of collecting all the information together and using it for any nefarious purpose is a fundamental guarantor of the civil liberties of each and every one of us. It is no accident that, if we compare what happens in this country with what happened in East Germany, for example, before the Berlin wall came down, we would see that there were thousands and thousands of detailed files on each of their citizens. It is a facet of totalitarian regimes to hold large quantities of data on their citizens that is not shared by freedom-loving democracies, such as Britain.

So while we are right to be concerned about the possible cost overruns and the difficulties of managing a complicated Government IT project such as the ID card database, we should also be concerned about the dangers of what happens if the IT database is successful. It would, for the first time, allow Governments and other people in this country to see a unified picture of the information that is collected on each citizen. That is a dangerous precedent to set. If we had had both those two pillars underpinning and upholding our civil liberties in this country yesterday, and we choose to support the Bill today, tomorrow one of them will be knocked away. That is dangerous. It is why the Bill is unsafe, why it deserves to be opposed and why I shall vote against it this evening.


bryan mcgrath
Posted on 29 Jun 2005 9:19 am (Report this annotation)

Couldn't agree with Mr. Penrose more, a first time for everything

Carole Bressington
Posted on 29 Jun 2005 11:41 am (Report this annotation)

I find to my surprise and delight that I agree entirely with Mr Penrose. Good going!