With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:
No. 39, in page 5, line 17, at end insert
', provided that the specified place is no further than 20 miles by road to the nearest point on the public road network to the individual's place of residence'.
No. 36, in page 5, line 18, leave out paragraph (b).
No. 37, in page 5, line 18, leave out
', and other biometric information about himself,'.
No. 38, in page 5, line 25, at end add—
'(7) The Secretary of State shall make provision for local facilities to satisfy the attendance requirements of subsection (5)(a).
(8) The Secretary of State shall make provision for home visits to people unfit to travel to satisfy the requirements of subsection (5)(a).'.
No. 13, in page 5, line 26, leave out Clause 6.
No. 14, in page 6, line 11, leave out Clause 7.
"may, if the applicant so chooses."
It would thus remove one of the most important elements of compulsion from the Bill.
The content of the register and its use is probably the major issue for me. The register will be different from anything else that is being constructed in parts of the world where identity cards are used or biometric passports are being introduced. No other register of which I know has the audit trail that was mentioned earlier. The Government clearly have a problem when they say, as they have said from the beginning of the debates on identity cards, that the system will initially be voluntary. There is a contradiction between claiming that it will be voluntary and getting people on the national identity register. The amendment deals with that.
A related issue is defining exactly what constitutes a designated document. There is no doubt from comments in previous debates that a passport will be a designated document. That may apply to other things. From reading the Committee proceedings, a designated document might be a Criminal Records Bureau letter, a firearms certificate or a driving licence. That information is important because it affects the scope of clause 5 and those who will have to register under it to get a document that they may want or need.
Dealing with compulsion is at the heart of the amendment. Compulsion crops up in different forms in various clauses. The Government have clearly said that the Bill does not provide for compelling people to carry an identity card. There will be no compulsion, without further legislation, to produce an identity card to access services. There is no compulsion to have a card and be registered. However, the tactics are clear: the measure is an enabling Bill and, ultimately and inevitably, having a card will be compulsory. It will certainly become compulsory to register. It became clear during previous debates that that is the ultimate aim. The tactic is obviously to leave the difficult cases until the end. They include people who do not have passports or driving licences, such as those who are elderly or infirm, and those who are difficult to tackle because they have chaotic lifestyles.
However, clause 5 provides for compulsion from day one in a slightly more subtle form.
I apologise for missing the first moments of my hon. Friend's speech. Does not he agree that even the Bill's critics have said that it is desirable to test the concept of identity cards on a large number of people, otherwise we cannot get a fair impression? What is more natural than to test them on people who seek official documents, such as passports?
Some people might be prepared to be involved in trying out an ID card but let them make that choice rather than compelling them to do it. Let me be clear about what has been said previously. Some people have said to me that our manifesto contained a commitment to ID cards. Let me therefore quote the relevant passage. It states:
"rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports."
Any normal person—by that I mean people outside this place—would interpret that as, "When I renew my passport, I can choose whether to go on the register and have an ID card." That is what "initially voluntary" would mean to anyone who read it.
However, the clause does not provide for something that is truly voluntary and the amendment tries to remedy that. Indeed, I am being generous because the amendment would provide for more than the manifesto outlined. It would apply not only to passports but to other registrable documents. To all practical purposes, the clause provides for compulsion.
May I check that the hon. Gentleman and I share the same interpretation? The announcement yesterday that one could get a £30 identity card and buy a passport separately does not mean that, when one buys a passport, one would have the option of saying, "Thank you for the passport but I don't want the ID card." Unless the amendment is accepted, one would be made to have the ID card.
The hon. Gentleman is right. The Bill clearly provides that, to get a designated document, a person "must" include an application to be entered on the register. One could claim that the person did not necessarily have to be presented with an ID card, but being on the register is what matters. The implication is clear. Not registering would mean no renewal of a passport or new passport. According to what constitutes a designated document, it could mean no driving licence and no Criminal Records Bureau check. Of course, I could decide that I did not want a passport. I could decide not to travel, drive or apply to the Criminal Records Bureau. The implication is that, by not registering, I would lose abilities or what some of us regard as rights.
It has been accepted for hundreds of years that a British citizen has a right to leave and re-enter the country. The passport has traditionally been a travel document that facilitated one's ability to leave and return to the country. However, if the Bill is passed in its current form, I cannot exercise that right without registering my biometrics.
Does the hon. Gentleman also agree that many of us would be willing to accept an international agreement that, to travel internationally and have a passport, certain other information had to be given, but that that is entirely different from having to comply with the new Big Brother system, fill in a form and register in order to remain in our country and live here, without any international travel obligations? I will buy one but I shall never be persuaded of the second.
There is a question of choice involved: do we want to travel internationally? It might well be that, under international agreements, other information has to be stored. I do not have a problem with having biometric data on a passport; that is not the issue for me. The issue is the register, the database on which all that biometric and other information is to be stored.
Will my hon. Friend explain how he envisages a biometric passport working without the support of a register? If such a passport is presented in a country that requires a biometric passport without there being a register to check that the information is correct, how on earth is it to operate?
That question ought to be put to just about every other country in the world that is introducing biometric data on passports, because they are not going to have a national register such as the one proposed in the Bill. For instance, biometric passports are being introduced in Germany, yet German law specifically prohibits the construction of a database using that information. Biometric documents are also being introduced in Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland. Those countries are going down the road of introducing biometrics, but without setting up a national database.
The United States is often cited as the reason for our introducing biometric passports, because we will not be eligible for its visa waiver scheme if we do not have them. When we turn up at the airport in the US, a machine will compare the biometrics on our passport with our own personal biometrics. That is how the system will be used. A comparison will be made between the document that we are carrying and our personal biometrics. That will show that I am the person whose biometrics are on the document. The United States will not then try to check back to a national database, either in this country or anywhere else. If it wished to, there would need to be some serious amendments to the Bill to allow access by other countries to the information on our national register.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, to ensure that a terrorist did not get on to an aeroplane, if everyone were compelled to be on a register, their ID card would somehow have to be verified, to prove that they were the person whose details were on it? That means that we should need some form of verification device at every airport. That would make the ID card redundant, because everyone would be on the register, and the Minister confirmed earlier that there would be verification systems at airports. The question of whether ID cards should be compulsory is therefore academic.
We must be careful not to exaggerate what can be done through biometric checks at airports or anywhere else. It is possible to check whether I am the person whose details are on a card. But let us consider the number of people who come in and out of the UK or any other major country every year. About 80 million people, of whom 60 million are British citizens, come in and out of British airports each year. It is inevitable that many of them will be travelling without biometric documents for a long time to come. We must be careful not to exaggerate the level of security that we can achieve. I am not suggesting that we should not make those checks if they can be made, but the issue that really concerns me is not the general principle but the question of compelling someone who applies for a biometric passport to be on the register.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government's need to use this element of compulsion to get the scheme started suggests that it would not be a popular scheme if it were left to the voluntary initiative of individuals to decide to register on the database? By doing this, are not the Government recognising that the scheme will be unpopular?
The scheme will get less and less popular as people learn more about it. That is already happening, and it will continue once it starts to roll out. This has already been experienced in other countries: Australia is an obvious example. The more people knew about the system as it started to come into operation, the less popular it became. As I said earlier, the tactic is very clear: try to do the easy ones first. Someone who is applying for a passport, and who needs that passport, will feel that they have no alternative. They will feel that if they do not put their name on the register it could cause them serious problems in other ways.
On a point of clarification, my hon. Friend cited Denmark as an example of a country that was introducing biometric passports without a compulsory register. I used to live in Denmark, and I know that it has had a compulsory personal register for more than 40 years.
There is a difference between a personal register and one that contains all our biometrics. My understanding is that Denmark is not going to have a register that contains all the biometric information as well. So the checks that are carried out there will be on a one-to-one basis using the passport. That is certainly the case in a number of other countries.
The passport authority already has a database containing all the information submitted when we apply for a passport. However, that is a static database that contains only our name, address and the other details that we submit. It does not have all the potential of the Government's proposed database for audit trails and for tracking where we are going or inquiring about our whereabouts. Neither does the present database have the vast complexity that will render the new one liable to all kinds of problems.
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has noticed that, in this discussion, we are changing fundamentally the attitude towards passports. The passport is not a privilege offered by the Government to citizens. It is a right of citizens to get the support of their Government when travelling abroad. If the Government insist that we cannot have that right without compulsorily entering into something else, it is the first example of a change in the relationship between Government and subject. This is not an easy thing to bring about; it is a fundamental change to what the passport means. Inside our passports, there is a promise by the Government to do all that they can to enable me or any passport holder who is a British subject to move round the world unhindered. However, it will now become a privilege offered by the Government to such people as will sign up.
That is a very important point. I referred to it earlier when I mentioned the right to leave and re-enter the country. These proposals do represent a change in the nature of the passport. In fact, they are beginning to change the passport from being a document that facilitates travel and can be used to seek assistance if needed to one that is becoming a sort of identity document.
It is strange that an EU citizen exercising freedom of movement will be able to come in and out of the UK without having their data recorded on the national register, unless they want to remain here for more than three months. As a British citizen, however, I might find myself in the position of not being able to leave the country without having my biometrics recorded in that way.
The position is even more extraordinary than that. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a free travel area between the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom. Unless the Irish Republic buys and uses identity card scanners that match ours, the system will break down. So we should have not only the three-month allowance for tourists—or touring terrorists, or anyone else—but a hole on the western flank. The Government simply have not got their head round these issues. It is important for the House to realise that the hon. Gentleman is describing but part of the picture. It gets worse as one explores it further.
I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for making that point. The issue of travel to and from Ireland was raised on Second Reading, and it has clearly not been resolved.
My final point—given the limitation on time for this debate, and that I want to allow other Members the chance to speak—is that the Bill is a form of creeping compulsion. It is not genuinely voluntary. That is the key to this amendment: to introduce a system that is, initially, voluntary—exactly as we said that we would do in the election earlier this year.
I see that the Wolfgang element has emerged. I assure the hon. Gentleman that no Government run by my party would bundle such people out or have them arrested under the terrorist legislation. I look forward to the support of the Liberal Democrats later in this debate, and I assure them that if they need protection, a Conservative Government will protect them from the increasing activities of the police and the state. Many Members might think that the Liberal Democrats are in need of quite a lot of protection. At this stage, however, I want to concentrate on the important issues that the amendments allow us to discuss.
The hon. Member for Walthamstow began his speech by discussing the concept of the designated document. We had that discussion at some little length in Committee, and at no stage were the Government able to tell us precisely what they meant by the category of designated documents that they were going to include. What we discovered, which was instructive, is that the list is open-ended, undefined and designed to allow the Government, through clause 5, slowly but surely to allow a greater category of documents to become designated.
In Committee, Mr. Carmichael and I discussed all the kinds of licences that one can get at a post office, and the Government had absolutely no idea whether those would be designated. We also realised that 20 per cent. of the population have never had, and never will have, a passport, which represents a huge proportion of the British population. In Committee, the Minister of State said:
"We have made no secret of the fact that registration on the database will ultimately be compulsory—we want universal coverage. That means two things: it might be appropriate to designate other documents, and it might be that the designation of such documents means a faster coverage of the entire population."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D,
At no stage—I am sure that the Minister will confirm this—was he able to produce a list of those documents that he hoped would become designated. Through the Bill, the Government are therefore asking us to give them a blank cheque simply to increase the creeping designation of documents. That is a wholly unhealthy way to design a piece of legislation, and it is even more unhealthy for Parliament to give the Government unseen powers over the citizen and the way in which he or she conducts his or her life. I therefore urge Members to listen carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said.
I will leave the Liberal Democrat spokesman to deal at greater length with amendments Nos. 39, 36, 37 and 38. Clause 5, however, deals with applications relating to entries in the register, and with the powers that the Home Secretary will give himself, which we have not seen in any written form, to compel us as citizens to do what he wants. For example, he will be able to compel us to provide such information as he thinks fit—which is undefined—for the purpose of verifying information that may be entered in the register about an individual in consequence of his having made an application to go on the register. One is given the impression that applying to go on the register is something for which the Government are deeply grateful, and that it is a voluntary activity, but it is not—it is distinctly compulsory and the limits of the Secretary of State's powers are undefined. The Government really ought to have the self-confidence to condescend to let us see the statutory instruments containing the 61 powers that they intend that we should be bound by. That is in parentheses, however.
Under the Bill, individuals may be required to attend a specified place at a particular time in order to register, and to give up information about themselves to go into this huge, great national register—this great bucket of private information that will slosh around between the various Departments and agencies, and to which private companies might even have access for a fee. If we consider the creeping way in which the Bill gives powers to the Government, it might well be that aspects of this data register will be available to certain private companies. As the Government farm out their functions to private companies, and if that is to work properly, those private companies must have access, if not to the whole of the information, at least to sections of it. I urge Members of the House to be very careful before they allow the Government to move down that road.
Let us assume, however, that one lives in the Outer Hebrides, Orkney or Shetland, and there does not happen to be a suitable place to register on those islands, or let us assume that one is in rural Devon, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire or even Bournemouth—[Laughter.] Let us assume that one will be required to travel some considerable distance, at one's own expense, to this gulag, where the Government will have one fingerprinted, photographed and otherwise processed. Why should the citizen be compelled, at the Home Secretary's direction, to travel around the country looking for the place where they must provide all this information? Why should he be compelled to travel to such a place to have his fingerprints and other biometric information taken and recorded, when one bears in mind that these are by and large not exactly secure methods of determining a person's identity?
Let us consider fingerprints. In Leicester, which is the nearest large city to my constituency of Harborough, the Government subjected people to the fingerprint test in a pilot scheme to see whether it would happily provide a sensible biometric system. Of the 772 people who submitted their fingerprints in Leicester, 642, or 83.16 per cent., were identified correctly—the lowest rate of any test centre in the United Kingdom—and there was a failure rate of almost 17 per cent. in matching the individual to the fingerprint. Across the country, approximately 45 million to 48 million people over the age of 16 will be required to add to the convenience of this Government by providing an entry on the register and giving in addition the information found in the schedule. Seventeen per cent. of between 45 million to 48 million people is a very big number, and yet this is the system that the Government are compelling us and our constituents to adhere to. There is not simply a smack on the wrist but a fine—a civil penalty—of up to £2,500 if an individual or one of their family members over the age of 16 fails or refuses to do what is required by the Secretary of State under one of the as yet unseen statutory instruments.
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that one of the most obnoxious aspects of the Bill is the way in which the civil penalty system to which he has referred works? It allows the Secretary of State to impose fines at his discretion, and if one has the cheek to object to his penalty, he has the power under clause 34 to increase the penalty, to deter one, I presume, from applying to him in the first place.
The hon. Gentleman might have noticed the rubber stamp on the front of the Bill—it may not be on the current version—saying that the Secretary of State has declared that this Bill is compliant with the European convention on human rights. I thought that article 6, which says that one is entitled to a fair hearing, was a fairly central part of the European convention. The punitive aspects of clauses 6 and 7, and the clause mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, seem to me to ride straight through the convention and the rubber-stamped certificate introduced by the Home Secretary.
People will have to travel huge distances to be photographed. The stupidity of that is only underlined by paragraph 2 of schedule 1, which refers to identifying information. It states
"The following may be recorded in an individual's entry in the Register".
"May" means "must", of course. What may be recorded is, for instance,
"a photograph of his head and shoulders".
How many jokers in this country will stand with their backs to the camera? They will not have broken the requirements of paragraph 2: it will be perfectly lawful for people to allow the backs of their heads and shoulders to be photographed for the purposes of the schedule. Members may say that that is a minor and a flippant point, but it highlights the stupidity of this part of the Bill.
It should also be borne in mind that the eyes of some members of the ethnic minorities do not respond to the biometric readers in quite the same way. The same applies to those who have had cataract operations. Why should people of my parents' generation, who now have eye problems such as cataracts and who fought for their country in the 1940s to prevent it from being overrun by a state of this kind, now endure the embarrassment of not being read properly by biometric readers, and possibly be denied access to the health service, local libraries and all the other public services that the Government seem to want to provide?
My hon. and learned Friend pointed out that people would have to travel long distances. I do not know whether he has noticed the huge queues outside the American embassy, consisting of people trying to obtain visas. It is not just a question of travelling; it is a question of the general bureaucratic incompetence of any organisation that seeks to process a large number of people. Given that the United States seems to think it entirely possible to behave in what I consider an outrageous way to British citizens, and given the quality of the Bill, I see no reason to expect the British Government to behave better to their own citizens.
I regret to say that my right hon. Friend is entirely correct. Nothing that I learnt from the Government in Committee—despite the admirable human qualities of the two Ministers who had the misfortune of conducting the Bill—nothing that I learnt on Second Reading, and nothing that I learnt from the Government's utterances during the recess persuaded me to take any view other than that expressed by my right hon. Friend. We are dealing with a Government who are in a total muddle, and have absolutely no idea of the Bill's implications. If they do know, they do not seem to want to care.
The irony is reinforced by the time limit, but that does not apply just to this debate. On
Our amendments, Nos. 13 and 14, seek to delete clauses 6 and 7. I understand the parliamentary arithmetic, and I know that it is highly unlikely that the Bill, if it secures Royal Assent, will be minus those clauses. However, the amendments give us the opportunity to express a view, which I hope is antithetic to the Government's wishes, about the huge powers that the Secretary of State is taking—huge powers wrapped up in statutory instruments that we have yet to see; huge powers to impose what the Minister politely calls "civil penalties". That is a fine in my language and, I suspect, in yours, Mr. Deputy Speaker; and it is a fine in the language of the good men and women of our country who will be the victims, or the recipients, of the Bill.
I quite agree. The pass system in apartheid South Africa was offensive to all civilised people. It does the Government some credit that the despicable collection of clauses in the Bill does not—at least, yet—include a requirement for you and me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to carry identity cards. It will, however, become increasingly a matter of practice and a matter of compulsion—if not as a result of legislation, because people will be stopped and searched in the streets, and required to show their identity cards when entering the hospital, the library and, I gather, even the video store. The penalties to which my hon. Friend refers are hugely draconian.
Given the national database, will we not be walking identity cards once the system becomes compulsory, regardless of whether we carry a piece of paper? Our biometrics can be measured by any machine that we come across, or any machine used by officialdom to test us. People may think that they are not being forced to carry identity cards, but they will be forced to have their identities verified by the state if the system becomes compulsory.
The hon. Gentleman has made a couple of good points, directly and by implication.
The identity card is, in a sense, just a front. It is the human barcode that will allow the authorities—the state, or whoever possesses the readers—to delve into the bucket of information about us that will be established by the Bill. This should more properly be called the national identity register Bill, because that is where the real civil-liberties implications lie. I accept that the Bill does not at present—as far as we can tell—make carrying an identity card compulsory, but I have little doubt that in due course we shall be told—if not by this Minister, by another—that we will find that much more convenient. Of course we cannot tell for certain, because we have not seen the 61 statutory instruments, still less the penal code referred to in clause 36.
I know that many Members want to speak, and that we must stop debating these important amendments at 7.15 pm. Let me say, however, that I am deeply concerned about the fact that we may well be passing into legislation the penal regime in clause 6 that would enable the Secretary of State, or those who work for him, to impose fines of up to £2,500 without our having seen the code of practice. I am also deeply concerned about the fact that under clause 7 the Secretary of State is doing his best, but not doing well enough, to give us mechanisms to allow parliamentary oversight over massive but as yet unseen powers.
On Second Reading and, frequently, in Committee, I described the Bill as no more than a Christmas tree on which the Secretary of State would hang, as he saw fit, statutory instruments, powers and so on. It would be, as someone else observed, the victim of creeping conduct by the Government. I urge all Members with any understanding of what the Government are capable of doing to resist the Bill. I accept that it contains some measures that are not as damaging to the citizen, but for the moment the Government have failed to discharge the burden of proof. I urge Members to bear in mind what was said by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, and I trust that the mood of the House will permit his amendment and others to be passed.
I will be brief. The Government have sought to curtail this debate and I do not want to aid or abet them. Mr. Gerrard pointed out the serious concerns that exist about the effective compulsion in which the introduction of the identity card system and the attendant database will result. Given that possession of an ID card is linked so closely to entitlement to basic services such as housing, health, use of libraries and education, we are indeed, in effect, talking about compulsion.
The distance that people live from registration centres—one of the issues with which our amendments deal—is crucial to take-up of the ID card and, therefore, to entitlement to those basic services. Mr. Garnier referred to the various rural areas in which distance from a registration centre will be crucial to take-up. [Interruption.] He could indeed have mentioned rural and isolated areas such as those in Bournemouth and Cambridge, along with those in my own constituency. I would not myself wish to opt for take-up at the so-called voluntary stage, given that the Government are effectively making possession of an ID card compulsory by linking access to basic services—
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the Government have given a commitment to establishing a number of centres throughout the country—perhaps 70—to ensure that people do not have to travel too far?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her observation, but she might want to consider that 70 is a very small number, given the large rural areas that exist in this country. If we divide the population coverage by that number of centres, it is clear that accessing them will be very difficult. Such a number certainly does not meet the requirements that are met by the 20-mile distance limit that we are seeking to include in the Bill.
Of course, it is a question not only of distance but of the ability to get to a registration centre. The islanders of Colonsay have only three boats a week to the mainland, and if there are to be only 70 registration centres, it will take them at least three days to get to a centre and back again. If the date specified by the Secretary of State happens to fall on a Friday, they will have to leave home on a Wednesday and will get back the following Monday. That is ridiculous. The registration facilities must go to the people, not the other way round. Such facilities must go to the islands.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point, which highlights one of the many other ways in which the £5 billion that will be spent on the ID card system could be better spent. There are great problems with the public transport services in rural areas such as mine. They are much more expensive, and much less available and convenient, than they should be, so access to registration centres will be rendered even more difficult.
Our desire to limit the distance between the individual and the registration centre highlights a general problem throughout the country, even in urban areas: lack of take-up of the ID card and, therefore, of the services to which people are entitled.
For the many elderly and disabled people on means-tested benefits, registering for the ID card will be almost compulsory. Does the hon. Gentleman feel comfortable with the idea of living in a society in which we wheel out the elderly, infirm and disabled to Government processing centres to have their retinas scanned and their fingerprints taken?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. I feel in no way comfortable with the idea of living in such a society. He has moved us on to the important issue of people becoming excluded from basic services not because they live in rural or isolated areas, but for other reasons. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough referred earlier to the 20 per cent. of people who will never have a passport. Perhaps even more worrying and illuminating is the significant proportion of people who are not, and are never likely to be, on any electoral roll, and who effectively duck out of society. Some may say that they should not exclude themselves in that way, but we are talking about a group of people consisting predominantly of Travellers, young people, elderly people living in isolated rural areas, and people with mental health difficulties. They will exclude themselves from registration and will, therefore, effectively become non-persons. That should worry us all.
Amendments Nos. 36 and 37 seek to remove the requirement to submit to the gathering of biometric data, which we object to on the ground of efficacy. We simply do not believe that such a provision will work. The Government are surely aware of evidence showing that where registration and the checking and gathering of data is automated, people can, for example, use false contact lenses to give an erroneous retinal scan. The Government will say that they can get round that problem by carrying out individual checks of everybody who comes forward for examination. However, such an incredibly labour-intensive exercise would vastly increase the Bill's associated costs, beyond even the estimates of independent assessors who have published data on this subject.
I also object to the provision because it allows the Government to overplay the reliability of this scheme. A perverse consequence of such overplaying is that it will play into the hands of the criminal. It will increase the currency and likelihood of fraud, create incentives for committing fraud and increase the premium on counterfeiting. My fundamental objection to the provision, however, is that it is illiberal, because I am one of those who take the view that something that is illiberal is intrinsically bad.
Were you to visit the National Liberal Club, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would see memorials to the great Liberal heroes of yesteryear, such as Gladstone and Lloyd George. You would also be interested to see a plaque commemorating one Clarence Harry Willcock, who was a Liberal party member in 1950—an act of heroism in its own right. He is famous because it was he who precipitated the abolition of the previous ID card scheme. In 1952, Winston Churchill abolished that scheme largely because of a case brought against Mr. Willcock. He was asked by a member of the constabulary to show his ID card and despite possessing it, he refused to do so because, he said, "I am a Liberal and I am against this sort of thing." Absolutely right. [Interruption.] I am a Liberal and I am against this sort of thing. I suppose that the Conservatives might say, "We are Conservatives and we are in favour of this sort of thing, but we've checked the opinion polls and so we're voting with the Liberal Democrats." However, I digress.
Fundamentally, we oppose this provision because as we all know, Members of this House cannot and should not bind their successors. In passing the Bill and allowing this provision to remain unamended, we are providing the apparatus for authoritarianism. I ask Labour Members to imagine that in response to the IRA threat of the 1970s, the previous Labour Government successfully introduced this Bill—that James Callaghan stood before the House and carried it through. Would Labour Members consider the possibility of what might have happened after 1979 if this sort of legislation fell into the hands of Margaret Thatcher? What might the unintended consequences have been? Many of you were involved in anti-nuclear protests and industrial relations disputes of the 1980s, particularly the miners' strike. Would you like to suppose for one nightmarish moment what this Bill in their hands would have meant for you?
I would not disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but I want to comment on his point about heroes. Does he consider that the great Liberal heroes, Asquith and Lloyd George, were right to refuse to grant the vote to women for years on end? Women only achieved the vote in 1918.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution and I will check the history later with my hon. Friend David Howarth. What I can tell you is that this House cannot bind its successors—
Order. The hon. Gentleman persists in using the term "you", but he must use the correct parliamentary language when addressing fellow Members.
My sincere apologies, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Mr. Winnick is right to make that point, but just as the House cannot bind its successors, neither can the Liberals of yesteryear. All I am asking is for Labour Members to be true to themselves and say, "We are Labour and we are against this sort of measure".
I should like to spend a short time discussing the important amendment No. 5, which deals with the central vice and evil of the Bill—compulsion. There is no point debating the Bill without debating the issue of compulsion. It is in the Bill: it can be made law by secondary legislation and it can be introduced into law by various crafty devices that are already set out in the provisions. The British people have no idea what they will be required to do under the Bill if it becomes law. If they did, there would be no question of any opinion poll saying anything other than that they were totally, or nearly totally, against it. In the short time available, I want to put into historical context the issues raised by both Front-Bench spokesmen.
Not since the Domesday book in 1068 have we seen anything like it. That was a system of registration put into effect by the Normans—or the new Normans, as I suspect they were known at the time. Not since then have the British people been required to attend, with their families, at a certain place at a certain time in order to have their heads measured and the colours of their eyes taken. To be fair, under the present Bill, people will not have to declare the number of livestock that they possess or the items of clothing that they wear. However, we should not get too excited, because under the terms of the secondary legislation, people could be forced to give any other information that the Secretary of State prescribes.
I have to say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that there are many people in my constituency who simply will not do this. They will not do it—full stop. Some may do it and there are doubtless some that conform to the model citizen that new Labour imagines in the south-east of England. However, a very large number—I can see them in my mind's eye as I speak—find it difficult enough to go 100 yd down the street to exercise their right to vote and they simply will not comply with the Bill under any circumstances. Social stress will be the result.
I can picture one of my constituents talking to me in my surgery, saying, "I have to go to Maidstone to have my head measured". I will reply, "Yes, you have" and he will say, "And she has to have her head measured as well". I will say, "Yes, indeed". Pointing to his adolescent offspring, he will say, "They have to have their heads measured as well" and I will confirm that that is absolutely right. He will then say, "Why did you vote for this Bill?" I will then experience the glory of being able to say that I did not vote for it and that I voted against it at every conceivable opportunity. My constituent will want to know what will happen if they all refuse to have their heads measured. I will tell him that he will not be able to go to the public library, which will not upset him very much, but there will be other things that he will be unable to do.
I am following my hon. and learned Friend's argument closely. Does he agree that the most insidious aspect of what he is discussing is that someone will have to decide whether to fine or even imprison that person? That will be the acid test, but does he agree that that is a test too far for a Labour Government?
Yes, indeed. I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, as I was going to become a little more serious and make precisely that point. I would have to tell my constituent that he could be fined or sent to prison, at which point I would be looked at with complete disbelief—that in the 21st century we have passed a law that requires our citizens to comply on pain of fine or imprisonment. I would also point out that this is not even the worst part of the Bill, but an exemplification of what lies behind it. I would have to point out that when they have had their heads measured and their eyes photographed, they will then form part of a massive registration process, to which they have no access or control. I will explain that that was why I voted against the Bill.
I always enjoy hearing my hon. and learned Friend's oratory, but to develop his theme of explaining his glorious vote against the Bill to his constituents, did he make it clear to them at the election—I have seen some of his election publicity and it was very good—that, although he was standing on the Labour party manifesto, which included a pledge to introduce this Bill, he was personally opposed to it and would vote against it?
I am pleased to answer that question. The answer is yes, I did. Neither was it the only part of the Labour manifesto that I told my constituents I was not standing on—[Interruption.] I had pared it down quite thin by the end of the campaign. What I will be able to say to my constituents—it may mean that I will get re-elected, despite the fact that I will be standing on a Labour ticket—is that I voted against what I considered to be the most illiberal piece of legislation that the House has been asked to pass for half a century and quite possibly—pace the Bill on terrorism—into the foreseeable future. I strongly urge hon. Members to join me in the Lobby tonight in order to bring to an end this attempt to visit such illiberalism on our people.
The House owes a debt of gratitude to the mover of amendment No. 5. The whole issue is about liberty. It is about our liberty and the liberty of those we represent. The Bill makes it quite clear that, at the designation of the Secretary of State, an application for something that we have taken for granted all our lives—the right to apply for a passport, to access our national health service or whatever comes to the Secretary of State's mind—will be dependent on showing our subservience to the state. In providing the state with one coherent datum on our whole identity, we are giving it the power to follow us wherever we go. That is what the Bill is about and why it constitutes a deep and savage attack on what this country has stood and fought for across the centuries.
We did not acquire our liberty lightly. Our liberty is not just a thousand years old. It was through the work and struggle of people across this nation that the long march of everyman secured for us our relationship to the state. It is our state, but the Bill and its clauses say otherwise. The Bill says no. The Bill says otherwise: that the state will measure, identify and control all our citizens for purposes that are lost in the Bill, but which can be designated by the Secretary of State by orders in what is essentially a dreadful enabling Bill.
This is about liberty. A.C. Grayling wrote a pamphlet for Liberty and reminded us of four lines from Kipling, which come via a powerful essay once read by E.M. Forster against the Sedition Act. It says
"He shall mark our goings, question whence we came,
Set his guards about us, as in Freedom's name
He shall peep and mutter; and the night shall bring
Watchers 'neath our window, lest we mock the King."
That is what the Government have sought throughout their history. We have had more benighted legislation to measure, to circumscribe and to deny freedom without justification, other than "it may" or "it possibly could." The Bill is a monument to the incapacity of the Government to make our existing laws and services work and, to that extent, it is flummery, but it is flummery that strikes deep into the English, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish—all the people who make up this nation's sense of liberty.
We have heard a lot of rhetoric tonight and we can congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Gerrard. His amendment would change only one word, but it is the crucial word of the Bill. I happen to take the opposite view to his, but I recognise that this is the central part of the Bill.
Let me take my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow back to the beginning of the process. We have had several White Papers, the first of which, issued by the Home Office, distinguished between different possible schemes: a voluntary scheme; a scheme called at that stage a universal scheme, under which the card would have to be held by everybody; and a compulsory scheme, under which everyone would have to carry the card. From the start, the last option was excluded and the Government looked at either a voluntary scheme or a universal scheme, which we would now call compulsory: compulsory to have and not to carry.
One of the crucial arguments came from the opponents of ID cards, who said that any such scheme would have to become compulsory, or it would be useless. There was no point in discussing the subject on the basis of a voluntary scheme, which would not work and would not fulfil the most fundamental objectives. In the response to the White Paper, it was recognised by both sides that there was no point in proceeding with an ID scheme if it were to be purely voluntary.
That emphasises something that my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow must know, as he and his colleagues advanced the argument at that stage. If the amendment were passed, it would be a wrecking amendment and would cut out the heart of the Bill. Anyone with an open mind who is listening to what my hon. Friend says about the amendment must bear in mind the fact that the purpose of the amendment is to disable the entire Bill and to make it of no value.
At the end of the day, we must look at the fundamental point of the Bill—that we should have a list of names of all the people in this country. We already have many lists of names: a national insurance list of about 40 million names; the Inland Revenue list containing a similar number; the Passport Agency list of 38 million people; and the council tax registers, which contain a similar number. The electoral register contains 40 million people's names. The only difference between the national identity register and all these lists is that the national identity list will be correct.
For example, the national insurance register has 75 million names on it, so clearly it cannot be correct. We cannot be sure that all the other lists are correct. The advantage of the national identity register is that we would use modern technology to ensure that the list that we have of people in this country is correct. Biometric technology will enable us to do that for the first time in our history.
The point is not whether we have separate cards, but whether we have the register, which will contain simply the details of name, address and date of birth, as all other registers try to do. But the register would be foolproof, to a far greater extent, against fraud and falsehood.
As I have come to the crucial point, many people want me to give way. However, there are many others who want to get into the debate and I would rather defer to them.
The hon. Gentleman is misleading himself, perhaps because he has not got as far as page 40 of the Bill. Will he please look at schedule 1, where he will see eight paragraphs specifying the information that will be on the register? It is not just the four pieces of information that he mentioned.
I will not give way again, because others want to get into the debate.
Opponents of the Bill should have the honesty to accept that the fundamental point is that we will have an accurate register that will be of enormous assistance to us as individuals, as well as to the Government. We have heard a lot of rhetoric, but people should accept that this is the absolutely crucial part of the Bill.
We need to start with those matters on which we all apparently agree, certainly in terms of official party positions. As I understand it—although one would not have thought it, given some of the contributions—all parties agree on biometric passports. That is on the record. One cannot have biometric passports without the infrastructure we are talking about bringing in by 2008. We simply cannot organise biometric—[Interruption.] Infrastructure was the word. David Howarth should calm down and listen. He may have been excited by the fourth-form contribution of his hon. Friend Tim Farron; I certainly was not.
By infrastructure, I mean contact centres and how we capture biometrics. Everyone should agree as a starting point that that is necessary for the biometric passports on which we all agree. The argument is not about how many centres there should be; 70 may be enough with mobile facilities, but it may not be enough. That is a matter of detail that, of course, needs discussion in terms of the roll-out of biometric passports, which will happen whatever happens to the Bill tonight. That is a position with which every party in the Chamber agrees.
The argument, put quite fairly by my hon. Friend Mr. Gerrard, is about the link beyond that to ID cards. My hon. Friend makes a perfectly fair argument, one made in Committee and before. I am not going to say that this is a wrecking amendment, because such an amendment would not be selected for debate, as it would not be in order. However, unpicking the ID card from the passport would drive a coach and horses, to coin a phrase, through the entire structure of the system that we aim to produce. I freely accept that that may be what my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow is seeking to do, but we must not run away with the notion that we will not have biometrics if this Bill fails. The question of whether 70 contact centres will be sufficient to do the necessary biometric work will not go away, as all parties agree with biometric passports.
All the Government are saying is that the process should be phased in, rather than introduced according to the big bang model. Here is another little secret: I am not over-enamoured of the success achieved by huge Government IT procurement projects introduced on the big bang model. I place it on record that, in the recent past and under both parties, the litany of failure is far too replete. The responsibility is not specific to one party, and that is why it would be foolish to introduce this process according to the big bang model.
We are not saying that we can go from what we have now to a database covering 60-odd million people overnight, hoping and praying that the IT and the procurement will work and that everything will be successful. We have learned the lessons of the past, and this project has to be rolled out on a phased basis.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow and I disagree, but my contention is that the two processes involved—in securing the biometric passport from 2008, and in registering people on the database and securing the ID card—are virtually the same. Given the facility and proximity of those two processes, it would not be fair to ask people to submit information in respect of passports and then do the same thing again some way down the line.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Denham, who is Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, is not in the Chamber at present, but he has asked a similar question. I told him that we shall provide that gateway information, to the extent that we are able. Even the most cynical of hon. Members will accept that there might be degrees of confidentiality in the process—
The hon. Lady shakes her head, but she is wrong to do so. I gave the Chair of the Select Committee that undertaking, and I give it again.
Given what happened with the Child Support Agency or the tax credit systems, have not the Government learned the problems that arise when a database constantly changes? The databases that work successfully are fairly static, and other countries are not establishing the same huge database as is proposed here. They can have biometric passports and identity cards that conform to international standards, but without that huge database.
I certainly accept what my hon. Friend says about static as opposed to ever changing databases. She makes an entirely fair point. My hon. and learned Friend Mr. Marshall-Andrews offered a lot of comedy about the Domesday book, but it is not a fair interpretation of the Bill to say that the Secretary of State can change anything in the database that he likes, and insert whatever he wants to. That is not the case. We want people to be able to access secure websites, by means of their PIN number, so that they can adjust and change data on the register.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway does not mention the three other paragraphs of clause 5(5), which set out the belt and braces details of what may be required of an individual before subsection (5)(d) is activated. I also refer him to schedule 1, which lists all the items that may be recorded in an individual's entry in the register, and to the statutory purposes of the legislation as set out in clause 1. The Bill states, in terms, that the imposition of anything outside those stipulations would require my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to return to the House for approval, so the situation is not quite as my hon. and learned Friend suggests.
Finally, it is entirely wrong—