I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I begin by giving thanks to a number of colleagues. First, I thank my ministerial colleagues, my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Andy Burnham as well as my colleagues in the Whips' office who have worked so hard to ensure that the Bill is passed. I thank the Bill team—my official colleagues who have worked so hard and have been ready on all occasions to discuss with all interests how we can improve the Bill and take it forward in a variety of ways. I thank the House authorities and the Clerks for the way in which the business has been conducted through a time-consuming process.
The Bill before the House is based closely on that approved by the House on
I believe that the time has come when we need the benefits and safeguards that an identity cards scheme will provide both to individuals, who will be able to prove their identity securely and reliably, and in the wider public interest. The identity card is an essential step in the process of providing a clear legislative framework for introducing identity cards. I know that the system has been controversial; the issue itself is controversial. But I believe that we all need to understand that we already live in a society in which enormous banks of information are held about all of us, whether by financial institutions, employers, passport and driving licence authorities, health and education authorities or criminal justice agencies. Moreover, we all now face many occasions on which we need to prove our identity, whether to open a bank account, to take out a mortgage, to claim a benefit, to pass through a border control, to get a Criminal Records Bureau clearance or many other basic transactions of our day-to-day lives. I believe that an up-to-date identity cards system will make all those transactions easier for the individual and will also be beneficial for the state. It will provide an effective mechanism to tackle crime, to reduce identity fraud, and to improve legitimate access to services. I believe that it will not remove civil liberties but will give an individual greater control over his identity.
Some have alleged that the Bill will create a Big Brother state. I do not believe that. I believe that it will help to control that state. It is an ambitious programme, I acknowledge, but one that we are setting on the path to achieve.
No, not at this stage. To meet many concerns that have been raised, changes have been made in the Report stage, which has just concluded, to provide additional safeguards. I will of course continue to listen and to act on constructive comments on the plans for delivering the identity card scheme once this enabling legislation has completed its passage through Parliament. We intend that the first ID cards should be issued by the end of 2008, and there will be further opportunities between now and then for the House to look at the detailed provisions to be set out in secondary legislation.
The simple fact is that the possession of a clear, unequivocal, unique form of identity in the shape of a card linked to a database holding biometrics will provide benefits to us all. It is why 21 out of 25 European Union member states already have ID card systems. It is why, in recent surveys, more than 70 per cent. of the public say that they support the introduction of ID cards. Moreover, biometrics are being developed around the world to improve the security and reliability of identity documents, including fingerprint biometrics on visas and our own facial image biometric passports, to be introduced in around a year's time.
No, I shall not.
That is why the introduction of identity cards needs to proceed incrementally, building on our plans for biometric passports.
Let me reassert the benefits of the scheme. First, ID cards will help to tackle identity fraud, which now costs the UK economy and society more than £1.3 billion a year. Secondly, a secure identity system will help to prevent terrorist activity, more than a third of which makes use of false identities. Thirdly, identity cards will make it far easier to control immigration and illegal working, and British citizens will be able to use their identity cards instead of a passport to travel in Europe. Fourthly, ID cards will secure the more efficient and effective provision of public services.
The scheme will not create threats to privacy or change the way we live our lives, as many have alleged. We have never proposed a scheme under which it would be compulsory to carry a card or which would require the production of an identity card to the police. The Bill also sets limits on the information that can be held on the register. It will not contain information about criminal convictions, financial records or political or religious opinions. Indeed, on Report, we have just amended the Bill so that it will not be possible to add a police national computer number to the register. No one will have access to the national identity register other than those operating it. What the Bill allows is for information to be provided from the register either with the consent of the individual or without that consent in strictly limited circumstances in accordance with the law of the land.
The introduction of ID cards will take place incrementally. The first stage will be to introduce the scheme and to enable everyone to register and obtain a biometric ID card when, for example, they apply for or renew a passport. However, a stand-alone ID card will also be available for British citizens who do not hold a passport. It will make it quicker and easier to obtain Criminal Records Bureau clearance for people who have already had their identity verified by obtaining an ID card. Registration will be enforced through civil, not criminal, penalties, which will offer flexibility to deal sympathetically with the circumstances of any individual case.
On costs, we estimate, as the Under-Secretary has already set out, that the total average annual running costs for issuing passports and ID cards to UK nationals will be £584 million. The Bill provides for a range of services to be covered by fees, such as approving an organisation before it can make checks against the register and usage fees for identity checks. It is right in my opinion that organisations benefiting from the checks should fund those costs.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. As I hope hon. Members will acknowledge, I often give way a great deal in such debates, but we have a short Third Reading debate and I intend to set out the argument clearly.
As we have said all along, we expect that most people will get their ID card along with their passport. That will give people the full benefits associated with having the most secure travel documentation, which can be used worldwide. Some 80 per cent. of the population hold a passport and the increased costs associated with recording biometric information and producing a more secure document would have to be incurred anyway, if the British passport is to keep its reputation among the most secure and trusted in the world.
Our current best estimate of the average unit cost of getting a combined passport and ID card package—as we have said since the outset—is £93. Some 70 per cent. of those costs would be incurred anyway, because of the worldwide move to biometric passports.
For a variety of reasons, some people may choose to obtain a stand-alone ID card, but, in considering what the cost of this entry-level option should be, I have to take account of the overall finances of the scheme. Since the debate on Second Reading, the project has been through a further Office of Government Commerce review on business justification. The review confirmed that the project is ready to proceed to the next phase. An independent assurance panel is now in place to ensure that the work is subject to rigorous, ongoing challenge by experts, as well as major period reviews by the OGC process.
I have commissioned KPMG to undertake an independent review of the costing methodology and the key costs assumptions. KPMG has concluded that the methodology used to cost the ID card proposals is robust and appropriate for this stage of development. KPMG has recommended improvements, such as extending the sensitivity analysis and revisiting the process for estimating contingency and some cost assumptions. KPMG has confirmed that the majority of the cost assumptions are based on appropriate benchmarks and analysis from the public sector and suppliers, and I will be acting on its recommendations as we move towards procurement after Royal Assent. An executive summary of the report will be published in due course.
Of course, our estimates must be finely tested in the marketplace. The final determination of what the scheme will cost individuals and organisations depends not just on how well we have specified the requirements, but on how the marketplace responds to the challenge of delivering an efficient, effective and affordable scheme.
I welcome the recent statement of support from Intellect, which represents the leading companies in the IT industry. John Higgins, the director general, has said that Intellect members and the wider UK technology industry have the ability to meet the technological challenges created by the Government's ID card proposals. The technology being considered, which will form the basis of the scheme, has already been used in similar programmes across the world and is well established.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
For the Government's part, I have ensured that the fee-setting powers provided by clause 37 allow us to set a fee regime that is flexible and affordable and that can take into account any innovative approach suggested by possible suppliers. I can therefore tell the House that—as the Under-Secretary has already indicated—within our current financial estimates of the whole scheme, it will be affordable to set a charge of £30 at current prices for a stand-alone ID card that is valid for 10 years. No one who wants to protect their identity need pay more.
The essence of the scheme is clear; but, of course, there has been a political debate on that, too. The Opposition have changed their position consistently—or inconsistently—throughout their approach. If I may speak as a candid friend when looking at the Conservatives in the leadership election that they now face, I want to remind them that, on
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We all enjoy a little bit of banter, but we are debating the Bill on Third Reading and no one should be hiding behind the bluster that we have heard. We have a very short time in which to discuss the Bill. I should be most grateful to the Home Secretary if he returned to the Bill.
I accept your injunction, Madam Deputy Speaker. I understand the sensitivity on the official Opposition Benches in the absence of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden—I wonder where he is.
I conclude by noting that the public debate on identity cards began more than three years ago. The Government have proceeded in a measured way through consultation on the principles and, most recently, on draft legislation. The Bill sets out a clear legal framework for the scheme. It provides a means for everyone legally resident in the UK to assert their right to be in the country and to help them gain access to the services to which they are entitled. It will help to preserve national security. It will assist the work of the law enforcement agencies and enable them to have the ID system they want.
I commend the Bill to the House.
I begin by agreeing with one thing that the Home Secretary said. I, too, offer my thanks to the Clerks of the House and others who made the apolitical aspects of the Bill altogether more manageable.
Where I depart from the Home Secretary is in the analysis of the Bill that he made during the 15 minutes that he occupied of this 45-minute debate. Indeed, is not there something rather obscene about a Home Secretary complaining about lack of time to debate his Bill because his Government have curtailed the time for debate? On Report, I pointed out that his Under-Secretary, with whom he is now conversing, was cut off in his prime in Committee. I believe that the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality was also cut off during Report this evening. All those things would be welcome in some circumstances, but if the Government say that their own motions prevent them from debating their legislation, who are we to complain?
We need to be clear about the fact that during this debate the Government's majority was cut to 32 and 33, and I encourage all Members who are interested in democracy and civil liberties and who have read the Bill to vote with us this evening against the Third Reading. The Bill is economically illiterate and politically inept, and will prove socially divisive.
The Government began the whole sorry process by saying that the Bill would be valuable in the fight against terrorism; yet, to be fair to the Home Secretary—I am occasionally fair to him—on
When the Government lost their first argument they said, "Oh, perhaps we'll try benefit fraud". However, we know that benefit fraud will not be dealt with by the possession of identity cards or by the information in the national identity register. Then they said, "Well, let's try immigration, that's bound to help". The Home Secretary is trying that again this evening, but the problem is that one does not have to register on the national identity register or hold an identity card if one is in the country for less than three months. When a person enters the country as a tourist, how are the Government to know that they have not remained beyond the permitted time?
There is the problem of the free travel area between the UK and the Irish Republic and the free travel area in the European Union. What will that do? Far from preventing immigration illegalities, it will exacerbate ethnic problems and cultural division in the UK. Do the Government want to give a free hand to the British National party? Anybody who thinks that is a good idea should vote for this sordid Government this evening.
The Government then said, and the Home Secretary repeated this evening, that the measure would deal with identity fraud. When the Bill began its passage in the summer, identity fraud cost the economy £50 million, but during the summer months the cost rose to £1.5 billion. I do not know why, and the Government have produced no evidence to support that fact. Indeed, we are having a Third Reading by assertion with an absence of proof. We cannot have legislation that is created in this form or pushed through in such a way, and we cannot tolerate a Government who have absolutely no understanding of the constitution of this country.
The Government moved on to say that the scheme would prevent other forms of serious crime. As Mr. Marshall-Andrews pointed out on Second Reading, no serious criminal will be too bothered about whether he is required to register for, or have, an identity card. The money would be far better spent on police officers, gaining intelligence about the activities of criminals and producing a proper border control police.
The Government have blustered and demanded that we agree with all their assertions, despite the lack of evidence to prove them. Eventually, they have ended up saying that it would be more convenient for us all if we had identity cards and information was stored away on the national identity register. If the Government want to see the population of this country wandering around with a form of barcode across our foreheads, or with a mark to allow us to come out of our houses, they are not the sort of Government whom this country needs. We should certainly not be promoting such a society.
The Bill is obscene and absurd and it will do nothing but damage the country's interests as a whole. It will do nothing to advance the causes that we all share: defeating terrorism; doing away with benefit fraud; and tightening up our immigration rules, which the Government have randomly let fall apart. Of course we want to deal with identity fraud and serious crime, but the Bill will not do that in its present form and would not have done that in its first form. It is a ridiculous and stupid Bill.
What will the scheme cost the citizen? All of us over the age of 16 will have to pay not only the £30 cost of buying the wretched card, but the travel costs of getting from the outer isles to the Glasgow centre at which one will be processed, as though one were in some gulag, or from rural parts of the country to other cities.
What will the scheme cost the country as a whole? We all know that the cost will be somewhere between £8 billion and £19 billion, but the Government say that the cost of a card will be only £30. The whole thing is utterly absurd, and the more one examines what the Secretary of State has to say, the more absurd it becomes and the more absurd the Government are.
Let us step aside from the practical arguments against the Bill and consider a matter of principle: the relationship between the citizen and state, about which the Government care little and know nothing. They have forgotten about constitutional history—if they knew anything about it—and the proper relationship between the Government, Parliament and the judiciary. All that is swept aside with great windy bluster from the Home Secretary and his junior Ministers. It is time for Parliament to stand up for what it is supposed to and to defend the liberties of the citizen, not to kowtow to this appalling Government and go down on bended knee and grovel as they pass more and more appalling legislation to destroy the rights of the citizen. It is no good for the Government to say that this is all exaggeration—just look at what they have done already and what they intend to do through this Bill and other legislation to eat into the liberties of the citizen.
This is a bad Bill from a sad Government. It is legislation by statutory instrument. The Government are providing 61 separate powers to enable the Home Secretary or his successor to produce secondary legislation. The Bill contains very little detail. It increases the penalty for misbehaviour. One could easily be fined up to £2,500 for what the Government politely call a "civil penalty", and if one does not pay that, off one goes to prison.
The Bill amounts to little more than a denial of democracy. The House should be ashamed of it, and I trust that all people of honour in the House will increase the Government's embarrassment by reducing their majority to way below 32—indeed, we should kill this Bill.
The Bill will undoubtedly receive its Third Reading, probably with a slightly greater majority than Mr. Garnier suggested, but it will pass without any enthusiasm whatsoever. It will pass because it is subject to a three-line Whip, understandably, but I do not think that it would get through, or that it would have received its Second Reading, on a free vote.
I have been opposed to ID cards from the very beginning. Although the hon. and learned Gentleman spoke with much passion, I must tell him that the only member of the Home Affairs Committee that studied the matter who voted against the original measure was me. Conservative Committee members voted for the Bill and only one Labour Committee member—myself—voted against it, as the record will show.
Moreover, if I was convinced that the measure would help to prevent terrorism, despite all the difficulties—the practical costs and so on—I would vote for it. If identity cards could prevent casualties such as those on
The Government have given various reasons for introducing the measure, including the need to tackle identity fraud and illegal working. They gave the impression that identity cards would do the trick and those problems would be resolved. Countries that have identity cards, however, have the same problems. Hardly any of the problems that the Government say will be dealt with by identity cards fail to afflict countries that have long had identity cards. It is therefore difficult to understand the determination on the part of the Government and of senior Ministers to push the measure forward. I am convinced that in time the card will become compulsory. Moreover, it will be necessary to carry one at all times. I accept that that will not happen initially, but inevitably suspicions will be aroused among officials when they discover someone is not carrying their identity card.
In conclusion, I do not accept the scenario painted by Mr. Cash and others, who say that the Government are determined to bring about a "1984" state and have sinister motives. I believe that the Government are misguided but are acting with the best of motives, which I do not question, nor their integrity. I certainly question their judgment. I would like the Government to remain in office and to be re-elected in due course. They are a Government whom I support and for whose election I fought, like other Members, for 18 years in opposition. There is a danger, however, that they will give the impression that they take our traditional liberties lightly. Our opponents will use every opportunity to convey that impression to the country.
Labour Members must be very careful indeed when dealing with the threat of terrorism—I am the last person to underestimate that threat, even if
When we subject today's proceedings to mature reflection we will realise that the House missed an opportunity earlier today when it failed to vote for the Bill's recommittal to a Special Standing Committee, as proposed by my hon. Friend Mr. Heath. Despite the fact that this is the second time around for the measure and despite the Home Secretary's boasts that the Bill has received more scrutiny than has ever been the case with other legislation, an enormous number of questions remain. The House has still not addressed the practical issues surrounding the proposal. That is no accident. It is the result of the way in which the Government chose to present the Bill. The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality has told us times without number that this is an enabling Bill. The Government have thereby allowed the House to postpone the hard questions until a later stage. The Minister may say, as he did today, that there will be 61 other occasions on which we will revisit the matter, but that ignores the manner in which secondary legislation is dealt with in the House.
I know what our constituents will say when they are faced with the prospect of paying for cards that they do not particularly want but which they must have. They will not be impressed if we say, "We could not ask those questions because it was an enabling Bill." That will result in the public's further public disengagement from the political and parliamentary processes.
I shall watch with interest the progress of the Bill in another place. During the summer the Minister of State was reported as saying that the so-called super-affirmative procedure was flawed and unworkable. He is right. He will know that I pointed that out to him in Standing Committee, yet no amendments were made today to clause 7. Will the Minister tell us when we can expect to see the appropriate amendments to make the super-affirmative procedure workable, or are we to be left guessing? Will that change be made in the Lords?
Like the Home Secretary, while preparing for today's debate I considered the speeches that were made on Second Reading, and I see little change. That is remarkably depressing. As Mr. Denham observed in his contribution as Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the key points were made a year ago and still the Government have failed to act on them. The Home Secretary told us that we need the benefits derived from identity cards, but it will not be lost on the House that he did not go on to enumerate them.
Others have said in the course of today's debate that the Government are asking us to buy a pig in a poke. As one who has a farming background, I feel that that is an inappropriate metaphor. I have bought many pigs in my life, and if one is buying a pig in a poke, one might not know what it looks like, but at least one knows the cost. A more appropriate retail metaphor for the Government's action would be to say that they have reduced the role of Ministers in the Home Office to nothing more than that of snake oil salesmen.
"No-one who wants to protect their identity need pay more"— does that not tell it all? The claims that Ministers make are overblown. They move glibly from one issue to another as each justification is demolished, and ultimately we know that the Bill will not work.
The Home Secretary rightly pointed out the number of positions taken by the official Opposition in relation to the Bill. I am delighted that they have finally arrived at the right one. It is a brave politician who is prepared to say that he or she has considered the matter and changed their mind. We should not denigrate the Conservatives for doing so. I merely remind the House of a speech that was made to the Labour party conference in 1995, when a delegate said:
The tragedy of the Bill is that the Prime Minister's rhetoric in opposition has unfortunately been compromised by his actions in government.
This is not the first time that I have debated this issue in this place. During earlier exchanges, we heard a lot of fuss about the compulsory nature of this enabling Bill, which will become evident further down the road. I sat on the Standing Committee that examined almost exactly the same Bill in the last Parliament. At no point have the Government ever denied their intention to move towards compulsion in respect of ID cards. It is no secret, and hon. Members should not be surprised.
Indeed, it is difficult to see the point of a voluntary ID card system. What would it achieve? Do we have voluntary driving licences? Do we have voluntary passports? Do we have voluntary national insurance numbers? If one wants to travel, one needs a passport. If one wants to drive, one needs a driving licence. If one wants to work, one needs a national insurance number. The right to travel and the right to work are pretty fundamental rights. I have absolutely no problem—and all the surveys show that the British people have absolutely no problem—with the right to be a UK resident being dependent on one's name and identity being on a national identity register. I do not get the argument that my civil liberties in a democracy would be in any way diminished by my, or my constituents, being required to say, "I am who I say I am."
There was a lot of hyperbole in some of the more ludicrous exchanges earlier. In an entertaining speech, Tim Farron took us on a tour of the great Liberal hall of fame, which I should have thought was more of a hut. I agree that Lloyd George belongs in it, but let us have Norman Scott, Jeremy Thorpe and that dog in there as well.—[Interruption.] Yes, and Brian Sedgemore. [Interruption.]
We voluntarily hand over a huge amount of information in our ordinary lives—in supermarkets, in chemists, through our mobile phone calls, and through the CCTV cameras that many Members who oppose ID cards are happy to campaign for in their constituencies. An awful lot of people, most of them unelected, know who we are, what we buy, why we buy it and when we buy it. We are targeted with direct mailshots as a result of using our credit and debit cards. It is a fact of life that it is difficult to remain anonymous any more.
In addition to the civil liberties objections—[Interruption.] Given the amount of heckling one would question the Opposition's commitment to civil liberties. In addition to civil liberties objections, hon. Members raised several others, some of which the Government have dealt with. The first of those—it was a serious mistake on the part of the Government to let it run—was that of cost. Some fantasy figures were bandied about, especially from last June's London School of Economics report. No evidence was provided for the claim that an ID card will eventually cost UK citizens—my constituents—£300. I am pleased that the Home Secretary has put that particular genie back into the lamp. A capped cost of £30 is a commitment made in this House that is worth keeping.
We heard that ID cards will not work. The other day I read some material from those opposed to ID cards saying that the biometric technology is not in place and that it will not register people with brown eyes. At the invitation of my hon. Friends at the Home Office, I took the trouble to visit it to see biometric technology in operation. I was surprised at how easy it was to have one's biometrics registered; the whole process took less than five minutes. It is interesting that the UK, in common with other legislatures in modern, liberal democracies, is now introducing biometric passports—[Interruption.]
The UK is introducing biometric passports to help fight passport fraud and forgery, to help the public and the UK to fight identity fraud, to ensure that the British passport remains one of the most secure and respected in the world, to facilitate more robust border control, to fulfil international standards that the International Civil Aviation Organisation has set and to ensure that British citizens can continue to benefit from visa-free travel to the United States. No one could have a principled objection to that. We are embracing technology that already exists.
I support identity cards. I campaigned for them before they became trendy and fashionable. I firmly believe that ID cards have a role to play in 21st century Britain. That is why most liberal democracies in the European Union have embraced the concept. Identity cards will disrupt the use of false and multiple identities by organised criminals and those involved in terrorist activity. They have a role to play in tackling illegal working and immigration abuse. They will enable easier and more convenient access to public services and ensure that they are used only by those who are entitled to them. They will help to protect the British people from identity fraud and theft.
We live in a less secure and more dangerous world. The modern, biometric identity card is an idea whose time has come. I urge my colleagues to support Third Reading.
On Second Reading, the Government failed miserably to argue for the five stated justifications for the measure. They failed to convince the electorate through the press during the summer and, notwithstanding the truncated nature of today's debate, they barely touched on the five stated justifications, which are: to tackle terrorism; to fight crime; to cover access to public services; to prohibit unauthorised working, and to enhance immigration control.
The key unanswered question is about terrorists who currently come here with fake, forged or stolen identities that are sufficiently robust for them to be allowed access. If they come here in future, such robust false identities will be turned into genuine ones by the allocation of an identity card or other parts of the documentation in the ID suite.The terrorist networks will be disrupted and smashed by additional funding for intelligence, not identity cards in the pockets, purses and wallets of innocent citizens in the UK.
Let us consider general crime prevention. Not one hon. Member believes that an identity card will stop a single criminal or deter a single crime unless the Government intend the cards to be mandatory and the police can stop, question and ask to see the card of someone who behaves suspiciously. As I said on Second Reading, the police already have the power to stop someone if they have a reasonable ground for believing that that person is about to commit a crime. If the Government were serious about tackling crime, there would not be plastic cards but thousands of extra police on the streets, protecting normal people from normal crimes in normal communities. That has never been rebutted.
On identity theft, the Home Secretary repeated tonight that the cost of identity theft was £1.3 billion. That is the big myth. As The Economist said, the figure includes
"the cost of dealing with immigrants who arrive in Britain with false documents."
The introduction of identity cards will not stop one person coming in with false papers or save one penny. According to The Economist, the real cost of fraudulent applications and hijacked accounts is only £36.9 million. The Bill is a massive and disproportionate response to that problem.
Time is short and I shall therefore skip many points—[Hon. Members: "Hooray."]—but not all of them. The Government have failed to argue the case for how they will stop unauthorised working. The gangmasters will flout the rule. Are Ministers expecting every berry field, cockle field and potato farm to have a biometric scanner in the buckie when the casual labour arrives? That is nonsense; it will not happen.
I said on Second Reading that the Bill was a bad measure, which would make bad law. A Labour Member said that many Labour Members would rue the day they voted for the measure. They will.
In the one minute remaining, I would like to celebrate the fact that the Bill is finally introducing the provisions of the private Member's Bill that I introduced five years ago. The Government would have saved a lot of time if they had accepted that Bill.
The British people see the common sense of this Bill. They welcome it because they can see that it will make ordinary people safer, and they cannot see why the Opposition are against it.