Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Clause 1 — The National Identity Register

Part of Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 18th October 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal 5:15 pm, 18th October 2005

I am one of those in the House who believes in identity cards. My problem with the Bill is that the Government have shown an infallible ability so to form it that it drives away from their support the very people whose support one would have thought that they could have gained.

The amendments go to the heart of the matter. Mr. Carmichael has rightly pointed out that with this Bill the Government have given themselves every possibility to do almost anything in any circumstances. Many of us who are not unhappy with the concept of an identity card are unhappy with the concept of a Government who give themselves powers like that. Governments have an insatiable desire for power and therefore will use it in ways that most of us will find unacceptable.

My hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier made the point that seems to me central to this issue. If we are to agree with the Government that we should have identity cards, we need to know three clear things. First, what restrictions on the use of identity information will the Government put permanently in place and what mechanisms will they use to do so? We need to know the scope of the legislation. These clauses show that the scope is in no way restricted. It is envisaged to be as wide as the Government think it should be at any particular time.

The second issue that the amendments raise is what the Government think that the identity card might do. I happen to think that there are certain areas in which it would be helpful and useful to have a unique register of everybody's name and address. It is possible to argue that that could be portrayed on a card. I happen to think the other way round from my hon. and learned Friend; I think that the register is more important than the card. Be that as it may, there are mechanisms by which this could be done. What the Government cannot do is to claim for identity cards things that are self-evidently not true. The Government in so doing are driving away people who might otherwise have been corralled. It seems to me that the Government are making a series of claims, hoping that one way or another they will pick up the support of all sorts of people whose support they would not otherwise have gained. In fact, the opposite is happening. As each of these claims is made and found wanting, people begin to ask whether the whole idea is a sensible one.

The third issue that the amendments raise is what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough referred to as "Will it work?" Unless we know its scope and what it is supposed to do, we can make no judgment as to whether this particular scheme—let alone the technology, which one cannot deal with on this group of amendments—will work. None of these things seem to me to be evident from the Bill. It is an inconvenience of the House that in these days of truncated debates and the significantly underused potential of Parliament, the only way in which we can get at these things is by tabling amendments such as this and asking for sensible responses. So I put three simple questions to the Minister. Will he put in the Library a list of the specific purposes of the Bill? What does he think he will be able to do after he has got it that he cannot do now? Will he, perhaps with a little narrative, describe incidents that could have been better dealt with if only he had had this particular equipment? That seems to me to be what any sensible person would do if they were running a business and thinking of spending a lot of money. They would ask how they could be in a better position and whether the solution would have been cost-effective if applied to their past actions.

Perhaps the Minister could explain the role of the identity card in the prevention of terrorism. I can see that it would be useful in circumstances in which someone claims to be Mr. Jones to check whether they are indeed that person. That is a satisfactory concept, but I cannot see how widely that could be used in the direct battle against terrorism. The Minister should tell us more about that.

I have always thought that it would be very helpful for people in this country to know that those people who claim benefits are entitled to them and not fiddling the system. I think that not for atavistic reasons, but because I happen to believe that benefits are an important part of a civilised society and people should not be besmirched because the system does not work very well. We have heard such contradictory views from the Government about how ID cards could be used against fraud, how much that might save and how many people might be involved, that it is difficult for any sane person to make a judgment. Many of us want to make a judgment, because we are not here for theological reasons only. Can the Minister give a definitive statement of how ID cards and the register will be useful in that area?