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Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

– in the House of Commons at 3:57 pm on 18th October 2005.

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Votes in this debate

As amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 4:13 pm, 18th October 2005

I beg to move, That the Bill be recommitted to a Select Committee.

Members hold many serious reservations about the Bill, and even more reservations are held by people outside the House. That is not reason in itself to recommit to a Select Committee;
indeed, there is opportunity under the normal Committee and Report process for us to consider the principled reasons, but the Bill, almost more than any other, depends on the practicalities. If it does not work, if it costs vastly more than the Government say it will cost and if conclusions can be drawn about the scope of the information stored on identity cards, the enabling Bill—on repeated occasions, the Minister has stressed that it is enabling legislation—has completely different connotations and the House ought seriously to consider them.

I accept that the Standing Committee process is, in many ways, a good means of examining the detail of a Bill—line by line—but it is difficult for a Standing Committee to perform the same role in respect of this enabling Bill. The process is thus imperfect and does not allow hon. Members to consider matters in depth.

The Committee that considered the Bill certainly did not have the opportunity to examine issues in detail, many of which the Government raised following the conclusion of the 11th sitting on 21 July. Indeed, the Home Affairs Committee undertook an in-depth examination, but that—[Interruption.]

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I am grateful, Mr. Speaker.

The Home Affairs Committee reported on 20 July 2004—more than a year before the end of the Standing Committee process. The House has thus not had the benefit of the inquisitorial method of working that Select Committees use.

Three matters of principal concern have arisen since the end of the Standing Committee, the first of which is costs. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have repeatedly raised the question of costs throughout the passage of the Bill because it is critical to our understanding of what the national identity card system will mean. Some of us believe that the large investment that the Government propose would be better spent on other forms of detecting and preventing crime, but that is an aside. We need to know the Government's intentions, which were made clear only in the past few days through what the press described as a string of concessions to critics in an effort to avert a rebellion. I do not know whether a rebellion will be averted, but I do know that the House is entitled critically to examine the Government's costings. We must be assured that the costings are robust and capable of being realised. We especially need to examine the Minister's proposed arrangements to recoup funds from other Departments, which will be critical to the working of the scheme.

Secondly, we must consider something that is rather inelegantly called function creep. The Minister has been somewhat undermined by his colleagues in the Cabinet Office, because the Government's chief information officer's draft information technology strategy has been leaked over the past few days. On identity cards, it is important to note that the document reveals:

"Identity management is a subject whose time has now arrived."

It says that the Government are leading the debate on identity cards and will be using it as part of a

"suite of identity management solutions" to enable public and private sectors to provide cost-effective electronic services. The document also says that data sharing will increase under new proposals.

Those are legitimate matters of concern for many hon. Members, so we want to find out what the Cabinet Office proposes and whether the Home Office agrees.

Thirdly, the efficacy of the proposals—their ability to do what they say they will do—is a matter of huge concern among many hon. Members. In the past few days—after the Standing Committee concluded—we found out the results of tests on the card system. The system works perfectly well—unless a person is disabled, has dark skin, has brown eyes, is bald, or is wrinkled. If someone makes the mistake of being bald and wrinkled, the system tells them that their head is upside down. If a person is a labourer, typist, or pianist, the system does not work. The system does not work if a person undertakes a voluntary change of appearance, which rules out every teenager in the country. If people make the mistake of ageing, identity card technology is not for them. In fact, it has been revealed that one in 1,000 cases result in a misidentification. As 13.5 million people a month go through British airports, there will be 13,500 misidentifications every month, which will do wonders for the queues at security checks.

The Minister's response is that multiple identifiers will cure that problem, but I draw the House's attention to the front page of today's edition of The Scotsman. It says that ID cards equal more fraud and quotes at length Mr. Jerry Fishenden, the national technology officer for Microsoft—a company one would expect to know something about the subject—who says that the identity card scheme as envisaged will result in "massive identity fraud" on a scale as yet unseen. On balance, I prefer the evidence of the Microsoft bosses to that of the Minister, but it is for a Select Committee to look in detail at the proposals. It could call Mr. Fishenden to give evidence.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I do not think I would be in order if I accepted an intervention, as I am giving a statement of the reasons for recommittal.

It is essential that, before the Bill leaves the House today, a Special Select Committee should have the opportunity to take evidence, examine witnesses and give the House the benefit of reasoned advice on this subject. I shall close with a quote from the Minister of State, who will tell me in a moment that he agrees with the recommittal motion and that this is a matter that should go before a Select Committee. He said that

"the arguments . . . have shifted away from civil liberties to practicalities and costs, and those are the issues we must address".

The Government must address those issues, but so must the House if it is to do its job properly. It cannot do so within the confines of Report and Third Reading as envisaged in the programme motion. The Bill must return to Committee if the House is not to divest itself of its responsibilities and leave it yet again to another place to do the job that we should be doing as the primary Chamber.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality), Home Office 4:22 pm, 18th October 2005

I fully intend to give the motion the short shrift that it deserves. The matters of substance about which Mr. Heath spoke will be dealt with, not just by the House in our remaining time today but by the other place. As Mr. Garnier will agree, we look at things 61 times whenever matters of substance and detail come back to the House. As I have repeatedly said, this is enabling legislation.

As for the history of the proposal, the simple fact is that the Bill and the policy underlying it have probably received more consultation and scrutiny than most legislation. That started in 2002 with an initial six-month public consultation on the entitlement cards and identity fraud consultation paper. An inquiry by the Home Affairs Committee began in 2003 following publication of the Government's policy statement on the introduction of identity cards in "Identity Cards—The Next Steps" in November 2003. The draft Identity Cards Bill was published in April 2004.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality), Home Office

I am not permitted to do so, for the reasons already given by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome.

The draft Bill was published in April 2004, and the Select Committee went on to undertake formal pre-legislative scrutiny of it, publishing its report in October 2004. We then introduced the first Identity Cards Bill in November 2004, and its Committee stage consisted of eight sittings totalling 24 hours. I know that that will not please Mr. Cash, but it is a normal time scale. That Bill was passed by the House in February 2005 but ran out of time in the House of Lords because of the May election. Prior to the election, there were two full Select Committee inquiries and full determination by a Standing Committee of the House. To suggest that the Bill has not been subjected to due scrutiny is nonsense.

The Bill has come back before us after due process in a Committee for 11 sittings over seven days, a total of 26 hours and six minutes. That six minutes may include the time that there were two Liberals present in Committee. For the substantive part of the debate, there were not two Liberals present, for whatever reason, yet they have the cheek to propose to the House that the Bill be recommitted to a Select Committee. For 90 per cent. of the time they could not be bothered to have their full complement at the Standing Committee. That is outrageous.

The Bill is very similar to the one passed in February. Because it is an enabling Bill, as I said, much more detailed work will be undertaken by the House in the usual way before the cards are introduced in 2008. It is right to put the legislation in place now so that we can start to put in hand the detailed arrangements for procurement and for building the scheme, and to establish a new agency based on UK Passport Service to be responsible for issuing ID cards. All those matters of detail will have been discussed by the House on 61 occasions, which is right and proper, given that it is enabling legislation. I am sure the House will agree that we would spend our time far better this afternoon debating the substance of the Bill, rather than a silly little motion from the Liberal Democrats.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 74 (Re-committal of Bill):—

The House divided: Ayes 243, Noes 326.

Division number 56 Identity Cards Bill — Recommittal to Select Committee

Aye: 243 MPs

No: 326 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Absent: 73 MPs

Absents: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.