I beg to move, That this House
insists on its disagreement with the Lords in their amendments Nos. 16 and 22, and proposes the Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu thereof.
The amendments are technical amendments to clause 8, making it clear that an application for an identity card must include or accompany one to be entered on the national identity register. We have already had one debate on the Lords amendments this week, on
"The other thing worth saying is that last Monday, the Home Secretary . . . in levelling his defence against our proposal to make the scheme voluntary, did not in any sense call upon the constitutional justification of the Commons' position that has been the mainstay of the noble Baroness's closing speech"
—he was referring to Baroness Scotland of Asthal—
"and has been the subject of speeches from various noble Lords. Mr Clarke attempted to justify the Government's case according to the issues that he raised in the other place—none of them were constitutional issues; they related to the merits and demerits of this Bill.—[Hansard, House of Lords, 15 March 2006; Vol. 679, c. 1248–49.]
I intend to remedy that defect in my presentation today. Let me start with what was said by Lord Strathclyde, the leader of the main Opposition party in the Lords. He spoke very wisely, as befits a graduate of the University of East Anglia. He said:
"This House should always proceed with caution when it is trying to defeat the Government, even when it is asking the House of Commons to think again on a Bill it has passed. Generally speaking, we do that. I think we always do that. What is so unusual about this aspect is that the Government have already been defeated on two occasions, and therefore this is the third occasion on which we are dealing with this matter.
In this context, perhaps I may make three points. First, I think the House should proceed with caution and should deal with matters as controversial as this only when they are very few in number. This is the first time in this Session that we have come to an issue of this kind. Secondly, we should proceed only on an issue where there is a good deal of public support for what this House is doing. Thirdly, we should not proceed if there are issues to do with the Salisbury convention. My noble Friend and the Government may disagree about the use of the Salisbury convention; I am entirely satisfied that there are no Salisbury convention implications if the House were to return this small point back to another place."
I shall deal with each of those three points. The first was that the House of Lords should proceed with caution. I think that Lord Strathclyde was quite right about that, and he should take his own advice. The fact is that the amendment is not a small point. It constitutes a major and deliberate effort by the Opposition parties to sabotage the whole of a Bill that has been agreed by this House, and that was set out to the public during the general election campaign. I hope that the Lords will indeed proceed with caution, and will not adopt a strategy that is designed to undermine the entire Bill.
Secondly, Lord Strathclyde said that the other place
"should proceed only on an issue where there is a good deal of public support for what this House is doing."
I remind the House—and perhaps, via this House, the other place—of the facts about public support. There is not such support for what the House of Lords is doing. Even the result of the latest opinion poll sponsored by the NO2ID campaign shows that 52 per cent. of the public are in favour, while Home Office research shows that 70 per cent. are in favour.
Lord Strathclyde said that the other place
"should proceed only on an issue where there is a good deal of public support for what this House is doing."
According to the NO2ID campaign, 52 per cent. of people are in favour of the identity cards and against what the other place is doing; and, as I have said, Home Office research shows that 70 per cent. are in favour.
The Conservative election manifesto was entirely silent on the matter, although the then leader of the party was a known supporter of identity cards. However, the findings of an opinion poll published by ICM before the election, in December 2004, show that some 80 per cent. of the public were then in favour of the introduction of identity cards, with 88 per cent. of Conservative supporters, 81 per cent. of Labour supporters and 72 per cent. of Liberal Democrat supporters in favour. So the answer to Lord Strathclyde's second point—that the Lords should block the will of this elected Chamber only if there is clear public support—is that there is not.
Surely the point is that it was not put to the people who were polled that the system would be compulsory. I am sure that there would be huge support for voluntary identity cards. The issue that the House of Lords and this House are having to consider is the whole issue of voluntary versus compulsory. I suspect that if those people had been asked, "Should it be a criminal offence not to carry an identity card?" or, "Should it be compulsory to carry an identity card?", the answer would have been very different.
We have already agreed, in response to proposals from the other place, that before the stage was reached of making identity cards compulsory there would be further primary legislation. The Bill explicitly excludes a requirement for anyone to carry an identity card, so what the hon. Gentleman has said is completely incorrect.
The hon. Gentleman may have made my point for me. We have debated costs with the House of Lords, and we accepted an amendment on the subject tabled by my right hon. Friend Frank Dobson, in the spirit of seeking agreement.
Would the Home Secretary continue to take the line that he is taking in the context of what the Information Commissioner has said on the subject—that the Bill would cause a sea change in the relationship between the individual and the state? Has he spoken to the Information Commissioner recently, and has he any reason to suppose that the Information Commissioner has changed his view?
I have not spoken to the Information Commissioner recently but, as I have said, there has been considerable debate on the substance of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman speaks of the relationship between the individual and the state. A general election is a pretty important part of the relationship between the individual and the state. That is why I think that the hon. Gentleman's noble Friend Lord Strathclyde was right to say yesterday that in his view—not mine—the House of Lords should proceed only on an issue on which there was a good deal of public support for what that House was doing. My point is that there is not.
Is my right hon. Friend at all concerned about the apparent drift away from the high levels of support for identity cards in the past? Does he recognise that if the identity card is introduced with a designated document, for a number of years people will be charged for an identity card without receiving any of the benefits, which will further undermine the system?
I accept the first point, but not the second. Because of the debate about these issues and because the precise questions are different in different polling data, there is an issue concerning public support that needs to be addressed. That is a major part of the proposal, and my hon. Friend is right to raise it. Lord Strathclyde's second point was narrow, but important. It is: is there
"a good deal of public support" for the House of Lords to overturn the elected House consistently on these matters? I contend that there is not.
No, I will not; I want to deal first with Lord Strathclyde's third point. He said that the House of Lords should not proceed if there are issues to do with the Salisbury convention."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 15 March 2006; Vol.679. c. 1244–45.]
That is a very important point and it is worth recalling what the position is. First, it is absolutely clear that the introduction of ID cards is a manifesto commitment that has been approved twice by the elected House. I remind Members of the view of the Salisbury convention taken in January 2000 by the royal commission on the reform of the House of Lords. It was chaired by Lord Wakeham, who is not a notable Government toady, except when the Conservatives were in government. Recommendation 7 of the commission's report states:
"The principles underlying the 'Salisbury Convention' remain valid and should be maintained. A version of the 'mandate' doctrine should continue to be observed; where the electorate has chosen a party to form a Government, the elements of that party's general election manifesto should be respected by the second chamber. More generally"—
I will complete the quotation:
"More generally, the second chamber should be cautious about challenging the clearly expressed views of the House of Commons on any public policy issue. It is not possible to reduce this to a simple formula, particularly one based on manifesto commitments."
I argue, therefore, that that doctrine exists and that it addresses the point made by Lord Strathclyde.
I am most grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way; we are familiar with his semantic acrobatics on this issue. Given that this scheme will not, if he has his way, be anything other than compulsory for anybody who wants to drive a car or to go abroad on holiday—probably nine out of 10 of the population—is not this the primary legislation to which he refers, on which we should have a proper debate on whether the scheme is compulsory or voluntary? It clearly is compulsory.
The hon. Gentleman is completely wrong, but I regard it as characteristic for the Liberal Democrats to say explicitly that they do not care about the outcome of general elections. His colleagues in the other place have made it clear that they do not accept that the result of the election was right. Indeed, Simon Hughes came very close to saying that explicitly when we debated this issue the other day. The Liberal Democrats must answer to the public for their contempt for them in respect of this issue.
Does the Home Secretary recall that when the Chief Secretary to the Treasury was a Home Office Minister he told this House that it was absolutely clear that ID cards would start on a voluntary basis, leading to compulsion? Indeed, such statements were made before the general election and therefore must be taken into account as part of the manifesto. Does that not make this House's position absolutely clear?
As my right hon. Friend knows, I was vice-chair of the Labour party's national policy forum in the run-up to last year's general election, and as such I took a close interest in the manifesto's development. I am pleased to remind him, and ask him to confirm, that that manifesto said that we
"would introduce ID cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renewed their passports".
So it is in our manifesto.
I am very grateful for my hon. Friend's contribution. She played a major part in developing the policy, and it is clear that the position is exactly as she sets out. Indeed, as my hon. Friend Kali Mountford said a moment or two ago, the position has been clear for some time.
Anne Snelgrove has let the cat out of the bag—the manifesto clearly states "on a voluntary basis". Why does the Home Secretary not amend the Bill, so that people obtaining passports and driving licences who do not share his confidence in ID cards do not have to have one forced on them? Then, we would all be happy.
I shall deal with that point in a moment, but the basic fact is that the biometric data being collected for passports on this basis are broadly the same as those that will be collected for the ID card system. It is absurd, not to mention costly, to have the double process that the Lords want.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that name, date and place of birth, address and nationality are the only personal information required on the national identity register? All that information and more is already required for the passport application, so does he agree that the House of Lords is fighting on what is a very narrow point? The issue is simply whether identical information collected for the passport office register can or cannot be transferred to a national identity register.
I am very grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way because it enables me to prevent him from carrying on unwittingly misleading this House. He insists on repeating the canard that the biometric passport obligation has something to do with the national identity register system that he wishes to set up. The obligation under the biometric passport system is to provide a system whereby passport officers can read biometrics at the port of entry; it has nothing whatever to do with the entry into the national identity register system that this Government are trying to achieve by stealth. If only they would come clean, they would have a much more sympathetic audience.
I shall not give way any more at this stage.
I return to what Lord Strathclyde said in the other place yesterday, because it is important. I believe that I have addressed each of the three points that he made. As I said earlier, he made it clear that the Lords should not proceed if there are issues to do with the Salisbury convention. He said that if the Government were not prepared to back down or to find a compromise, the only option was for the unelected House to force the Government to use the Parliament Act procedure to ensure that the will of the elected House prevails.
The Parliament Act has been used four times since 1949, and Lord Strathclyde is not right to suggest that we have reached the point where that option should be invoked. For the three reasons that he himself gives in columns 1244 and 1245 of the Official Report of yesterday's Lords debate, the other place should indeed think again, just as this place should decide to insist on its own position.
In a moment. My fourth point is that the Lords amendments would impose an additional burden and cost on the plans for the introduction of ID cards that were approved by this House. It cannot be right for the constituents whom we represent to be denied by those whom they did not elect and cannot remove the most cost-effective option in implementing a scheme. In effect, the Lords voted for the establishment of two parallel biometric databases, with all the cost, inconvenience, confusion and insecurity that that approach involves. That raises the question of whether the unelected House has the right directly to place such burdens on our constituents.
The remaining issue is, essentially, a constitutional one: whether it is right for the other place to keep insisting on amendments that have been rejected here twice already, and that will be rejected again today.
Such a scheme would not only impose additional costs, which is an issue that clearly exercised Mr. Ellwood earlier; we would also end up with two databases, one unprotected and the other protected by the national identity scheme commissioner. Is that not what the Lords are advocating?
The Home Secretary referred to our exchange on Monday. If Lord Strathclyde is right to say that the Lords should act only when there is a significant amount of public support, may I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the latest poll that he cited shows that public support for the position taken by the Lords is 10 per cent. higher than was the support for his party at the general election? The numbers in respect of the share of those who voted are about the same, so he surely cannot argue that the Government are justified on this issue, and that the House of Lords is not?
My right hon. Friend is right about the Liberal Democrat arithmetic. The situation is very simple. I repeat that Lord Strathclyde made it clear that the Lords should frustrate the will of the Commons only when there is a "good deal" of public support for what the Lords was doing. The NO2ID campaign is opposed to our policy, but that organisation set the questions in the poll, in which more than half the country said that it did not support the campaign.
I studied yesterday's Divisions in the Lords carefully, to establish how opinion had moved between the votes on 6 and
The peers who are not whipped—the Cross Benchers and the bishops—voted on
My point is that it was the whipped Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers who voted to frustrate the elected House and overthrow the Government's position. That was what happened, and I urge my colleagues to sustain the Government's position. I also urge the Opposition to stop trying to frustrate the will of the people.
The Home Secretary wants to represent the process in which we are engaged today as a clash between the House of Lords and the democratic will of the people, as represented by the Government. Hon. Members should put to one side the fact that this House of Lords is, after eight years, effectively the Government's creation, and that the opposition to this aspect of the Bill is driven by a belief in the ancient liberties of the British people. The right hon. Gentleman gave us some numbers, but they demonstrate that that belief transcends party. It drives an opposition that encompasses all parties, including Cross Benchers—
Yes: the Home Secretary said that a majority of peers—Cross Benchers, Liberal, Labour and Conservative peers—were against the proposal, not that all of them were. That is another factor that we must put to one side. To justify his stance as the representative of the people, the right hon. Gentleman is forced to pretend that the Bill exactly reflects the Labour party manifesto, but that point was destroyed by Anne Snelgrove, who was such a senior person in the Labour party during the election.
The words of the Labour manifesto are clear.
I will in a moment, as I have referred to the hon. Lady. I did not know that Labour Members were so sensitive these days, but there we are.
The words of the Labour manifesto are clear. It states that ID cards will be
"rolling out on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports".
The key word is "voluntary", and we shall return to it time and again in the next five or 10 minutes. The Home Secretary has been forced to declare that the ID card is effectively voluntary.
I will in a moment, the hon. Lady need not worry. To do that, the right hon. Gentleman is forced to the ludicrous assertion that passports are somehow voluntary, too. He said that, in terms, the other day.
Later this year, the World cup tournament will be held in Germany. When I travel there to support the England team, and I tell the German immigration office, "I've not brought my passport because the Home Secretary tells me it's voluntary", I am sure that that officer will be very understanding.
We will come back to that in a minute. I am getting heckled by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Andy Burnham, and I shall give way to him in a moment, when he will learn about heckling. I am sure that I will be treated very sympathetically by the German immigration service. When I am eventually let out of prison and I return to Britain, I am sure that I shall have no trouble getting back in without a passport.
It is, of course, ridiculous to assert that passports are voluntary. Perhaps what the Home Secretary means is that foreign travel is voluntary, which is what the Under-Secretary said from a sedentary position. I think that that is what the Government are trying to say.
I suppose that we can also put to one side the disgraceful idea that British citizens, of all people, can leave their own country only if they agree to let the Government intrude on their privacy, on a scale unprecedented in British history. However, does he really believe that foreign travel is voluntary for business men whose customers are all abroad? Does he think that travel is voluntary for people whose parents or children live abroad, as is increasingly the case today? Does he think that foreign travel is voluntary for people whose children get in trouble abroad—something that we have read about too often in the past few months and years? [Interruption.] Does the Under-Secretary of State want to intervene? If so, I shall give way.
I see that he does not want to intervene. Does the Home Secretary think that foreign travel is voluntary for diplomats, soldiers and other Crown servants and their families?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, but either he has cloth ears or he has problems with semantics. I used to be an English teacher, so I shall give him an English lesson if that is what he wants. In our manifesto, we understood that ID cards would be
"rolling out on a voluntary basis as people renewed their passports".
We know what that means. If the right hon. Gentleman does not, that is his problem. The House of Lords should implement our proposals and allow the Bill to go through. Does he agree?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is making a very important point, but I want to add a small one. When he goes to the World cup, he will not manage to get as far as Germany. Civil aviation regulations mean that it is compulsory for people to have passports before they get on a plane.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. It is disgraceful for the Government to try to pretend that they are rewriting the manifesto. Did we not all hear the Home Secretary on Monday try to defend this proposal with his reference to free will? He said:
"That is the free will that people may exercise in deciding whether or not they wish to have a passport . . . That is the free will over what they can do and how they can operate. That is what the wording means."—[Hansard, 13 March 2006; Vol. 443, c. 1261.]
In other words, the Home Secretary seems to suggest that we have a voluntary choice as to whether we have a passport. That is what he said, in terms, on Monday, so the Government cannot come to the House on Thursday and try to rewrite completely what they said then.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He will have noted, as the House will have done, that Anne Snelgrove a few moments ago used the word "understood" in respect of the Labour manifesto. Does he accept that the hon. Lady has invented a new constitutional doctrine: that the purpose of a manifesto is not to communicate a clear message to the electorate, but to communicate internally to party colleagues in the doublespeak that only they understand? Will he confirm that establishing what proportion of the electorate thought that the return of a Labour Government would mean compulsory ID cards would require several noughts after the decimal point before one reached a positive figure?
My hon. Friend is right in all except one respect. This doctrine is not entirely novel; it first saw the light of day in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland".
When I was mobilised to serve in Iraq, which was not a voluntary process, I was required to produce a passport in order to travel—[Interruption.] It was scrutinised at Brize Norton. That again was not a voluntary process. Other officers and soldiers had to acquire a passport in order to comply. I suppose, ultimately, the decision to join the armed forces was voluntary. Was that what the Government meant?
My hon. Friend makes his point perfectly. He was heckled from a sedentary position by a Labour Member who said that he had military ID, but if my hon. Friend was taking members of his family, they would not have military ID. Indeed, I see no exemption in the Bill to allow people not to be put on the national identity register because they are soldiers, Crown servants, Foreign Office employees or the like.
No, I shall not. I must make some progress. I may give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment, but I am not sure.
We can see that the Government's proposal is clearly in breach of their own manifesto, unless one takes the attitude that the manifesto did not mean to say that or that that is not what they understood it to mean—but the words mean what they mean. This part of the Bill is not the exercise of a democratic mandate. The best that can be said of it is that it is an exercise in elected dictatorship, full stop. So the Lords are right to amend it and they are entirely within their rights. That point destroys the entire speech that the Home Secretary just made.
We have continually been treated by the Home Secretary and his Ministers—sometimes from a sedentary position, but mostly on the "Today" programme—to new reasons for this legislation, be they terrorism, welfare reform, immigration or fraud. One Minister puts up a reason for the idea, only for another honest Minister to admit that the Government have overstated their case. That has happened several times in the course of argument over the Bill. That is followed by another Minister coming up with another argument, which is also overstated. That has been most obviously the case on terrorism.
The Government love to portray everybody except themselves as soft on terrorism. It is their favourite tactic with all of their illiberal legislation. Time and again, impositions are placed on the British people, which they have not faced for centuries, on the basis of arguments that are designed to make other people, the Government think, look soft on terrorism. That has applied most obviously to this Bill. I want the House to listen to the words of Baroness Park of Monmouth. The House should remember that Daphne Park has worked in the defence of our country in some of the most dangerous postings in the world. She has taken more risks in the defence of our country than the Home Secretary has had hot dinners, and that is a pretty high hurdle. I would trust her judgment on the defence of the realm way beyond that of the Prime Minister or, indeed, any Minister. Yesterday she said:
"The very creation of such an enormous national identity register will be a present to terrorists; it will be a splendid thing for them to disrupt . . . . It will also provide valuable information to organised crime and to the intelligence services of unfriendly countries".—[Hansard, House of Lords, 15 March 2006; Vol. 679, c. 1234.]
So much for our national security.
My right hon. Friend is making a powerful case, as always. Could he speculate on why so few peers support the Government on this, given how many new peers have been invited into the House of Lords under this Administration with this very generous Prime Minister? Could it be because they think that the Government have a lousy case?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman because he said "No", then "Yes", then "Maybe", but now he says "Yes".
I am deeply grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He said earlier that he thought it was a gross infringement on the ancient liberties of the British people for the state to insist on somebody carrying an ID card. But, as I understand it, he believes that it is entirely appropriate for the state to insist that people should carry a passport when they fly into or out of the country. Why does he not see that there is a paradox there?
There is no paradox; however, the point is interesting because I did not say what the hon. Gentleman said I said. Throughout this process, I have always argued—this is an extremely serious point and I am taking the hon. Gentleman's comment seriously—that the problem is not the piece of plastic, such as the type of card that I am holding up, which we all carry for a specific purpose. It is what is behind it. The database is the serious issue. I am entirely in favour of biometrics on passports, but we do not need to have a national identity register, which is what is proposed.
Certainly not. The Under-Secretary, who sits and heckles, gets it all wrong and will not take part in the debate, now wants to take part on an à la carte basis. This is a table d'hôte proposal by the Government and they are going to get a table d'hôte response from me. The latest argument is the ludicrous—I use that word advisedly—assertion by the Home Secretary that having an ID card will limit the intrusions of the state upon the person. That is an extraordinary argument.
If that were not daft enough, the Home Secretary tells us that citizens will find having an ID card useful, and even valuable. The technology director of Microsoft, no less, pointed out that the identity register will be a honeypot for hackers, fraudsters, thieves and terrorists. It will worsen the risk of identity theft. Far from being an infallible security system, we hear this week that the Government intend to rely on chip and pin technology to protect the card—the same technology that we have used for years in the common, everyday Visa card. So much for improving our personal security.
Is not the answer to Chris Bryant that until today we have never required this document, a passport, to travel in our country?
Order. Visual aids are strongly discouraged, not least because the reporters of the Official Report find it very difficult to understand what the hon. Gentleman is talking about.
Will David Davis accept that we have never required a passport to travel in our own country and, even if the Government were to implement their proposal, we would not be required to carry one?
The hon. Gentleman is right. It is one of the distinctions of our country that we are not required to identify ourselves at every turn. We are not required to live in a society that requires us to produce a pass of any sort. That is one of the things that has distinguished us as a country over many years, indeed, centuries.
I want to come to a close on this.
If an ID card were really valuable to the citizen, as the Home Secretary claims, presumably ordinary citizens would want them; everybody would want them if they were as valuable as the Home Secretary claims. So why are the Government not willing to leave citizens to make decisions for themselves? If cards are going to be popular, if they are going to make people happy, if they are going to do things for them, then they will take them up of their own accord. What we are talking about today is the compulsion issue—they will not need to be compelled to have an ID card. Of course, the Government do not believe their own argument. That became clear in the Home Secretary's view of this amendment.
The Government believe that unless they force a majority of the population to have an ID card by covert compulsion, they will never win the vote to make it compulsory in the final analysis. They know that if the card is not compulsory, it will not just be ineffective against terrorism, fraud, illegal immigration and crime; it will be completely useless.
Listening to the Home Secretary go on about the extra costs arising from the scheme, I was almost dumbstruck. The Opposition are not imposing £20 billion on the public for no virtue—we are not doing that, but that is what will happen.
Covert compulsion has become necessary to the Government's ill-starred strategy, which is incompetent in design, ineffective in execution and deceitful in delivery; but that does not mean that it is not dangerous. The proposal will completely invert the relationship between the citizen and the state. As we saw from the statement that preceded the debate, the Government too often forget that they are the servant of the people, not the other way round. The right to my identity is held by me, not by the state. My right to my citizenship is my birthright, not the gift of the Government, and our right as British citizens to our liberty and privacy should not be carelessly thrown away. That is why I ask everyone in the House to support the Lords in their defence of the rights of individual British citizens against unnecessary intrusion into their lives by an over-meddlesome Government, apparently bent on creating a surveillance state.
The debate and the disagreement between the other place and our House turn on whether the scheme is compulsory or voluntary. The Home Secretary is right to remind us that we should need primary legislation if the scheme were to be completely compulsory, but the Bill establishes, by the back door, a halfway house to compulsion. Why?
I suspect that the real reason is that the Home Secretary is not confident. When we eventually reach the stage of introducing primary legislation to make the scheme compulsory, he wants to be able to tell the House and the public, "Sixty per cent. of people in the UK already have an ID card. What are you worried about?" However, the only reason that 60 per cent. of people will have a card will be as a result of this back-door way of compelling them to have a card if they want a passport or a driving licence.
It is perfectly respectable for the Home Secretary to want a universal card, but as the shadow Home Secretary, David Davis said, the proposed scheme will not be effective; the card certainly will not achieve any of the things that the Government hope for it against terrorism, international fraud and so on, unless it is universal. The idea that it could be semi-universal actually denies the whole purpose of an ID card, certainly in terms of its practical effectiveness.
It is not unreasonable for the Home Secretary to want a universal card, but he does not want to legislate for it now because he knows that he would not get the measure through—[Interruption.] No, he is not legislating for a compulsory card. If he did that now, he knows that the Government would have to pay the full costs for such a card. He could not compel people to have a card and to pay £90 for it. He knows that a compulsory card would have to be financed by the Government and the Chancellor does not want to do that, so we have this rather dishonest and disingenuous halfway scheme.
If the Government and the Home Secretary were really confident about the proposed card, they would trust the British people. If the Home Secretary feels that he can make an overwhelming case for the importance of an identity card—as he undoubtedly does; I think that he is entirely sincere—he should trust his judgment and make that case to the British people. He should say, "Believe me, we will benefit from the card so volunteer for it", but he cannot introduce the scheme by compulsion. In proceeding by compulsion, he does not trust the British people. He certainly does not trust the people when he proposes this semi, rather false voluntary scheme, which is in effect compulsory.
I agree with my hon. Friend's line of thought. Does he agree that many of our constituents, who were deeply opposed to ID cards, gave the Government the benefit of the doubt because they thought that at least the scheme would not be compulsory? Now that a compulsory scheme is being brought in by the back door, does my hon. Friend fear that the next step will be a provision brought in by the back door that people have to carry their identity card?
As always, my hon. Friend makes good sense. She goes to the essence of the matter. This is not a proper voluntary scheme; it is compulsory, which is the only way it can work.
Will the Home Secretary listen to the other place, and to the public, and trust his own judgment? If, as he believes, he can convince the public of the importance of identity cards, he should trust them and let them volunteer for the scheme. The Bill does not trust the public; in effect, it asks them to be compelled to sign up for the cards.
The simple facts are that the Government say that ID cards will be introduced voluntarily, yet the 80 to 85 per cent. of the British population who possess passports will, if the Bill is passed, have an ID card foisted on them in coming years whether they like it or not.
By refusing to acknowledge the blindingly obvious—that a measure applied by stealth compulsion on the vast majority of the British people could never be described as voluntary by any known use of the English language—the Government seem to have turned their back on the most elementary terms of rational debate. The Home Secretary seems to inhabit a curious back-to-front world, worthy of C.S. Lewis, where words simply do not mean what they used to—
I stand corrected. The House must forgive me. As an Alice in Wonderland allusion was used earlier, I deleted mine from my notes and clearly made an error in my replacement.
As it appears fruitless to continue to ask the Government to use the same dictionary definitions as the rest of the English-speaking world, I shall take a slightly different line of inquiry. If, according to the Government, the scheme will be voluntary, will British citizens be able to withdraw their data from the ID database voluntarily? I know of no database in operation to which individuals can voluntarily enter their data, and from which they are not equally free to remove that information at a time of their own choosing. The Data Protection Act 1998, which sets out the core data protection principles, is clear. It states:
"It must be recognised that even when consent has been given it will not necessarily endure forever . . . Data controllers should recognise that . . . the individual may be able to withdraw consent."
Just this once, I shall take at face value the Home Secretary's insistence that the scheme is voluntary. If it is voluntary to enter, based on individual consent, will he confirm that it will also be voluntary to leave it?
I am also struck by the breakneck urgency with which the Government seem to want to roll out ID cards by surreptitious compulsion. This week, we mark the 10th anniversary of the tragic shootings in Dunblane. The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 included a provision for a national firearms database, yet almost 10 years later nothing has happened. This week, Ministers told us that the decade-long delay was due to difficulties with the IT systems required for the firearms register. Apparently, at long last, a pilot register will start in May, with a view to rolling it out in fully fledged form a little later.
The contrast between the woeful delay in establishing a comparatively small database, agreed 10 years ago after the harrowing loss of life in Dunblane, and the headlong rush towards a vast uncosted, untested and unjustified national ID database speaks volumes.
The hon. Gentleman refers to the anniversary of Dunblane. Last Saturday was the second anniversary of the Atocha bombings in Madrid. He knows perfectly well that possession of an ID card is mandatory in Spain in order to have a mobile phone, which enabled the Spanish authorities to secure prosecutions.
The point is, why should the Government be so keen through compulsion to roll out an untested, uncosted and vast ID database and seem incapable for a decade to develop the IT systems for a much smaller one? It hardly confers confidence in the Government's ability to deliver. The Government drag their feet on something that is urgently needed and justified, yet rush ahead on something that is neither needed nor justified.
The hon. Gentleman has not answered what I may call the Rhondda paradox. If he regards the passport as compulsory, surely a passport is just as much an infringement of civil liberties as the national identity card. If he regards it as voluntary, then there is no problem. What is his answer?
I should like to make some progress since time is short.
Ramming through illiberal legislation to no obvious end, while failing to honour pledges made to the families of victims of murder over 10 years ago, reveals the extent to which the Government appear to have lost any sense of proportion or any clear sense of priorities, on this as on so many areas of public policy. I urge those in all parts of the House, and those following this debate in the other place, to reject the Government's motion to disagree with the excellent Lords' amendment.
David Davis concluded several points in his speech by saying, "put that to one side", so I intend to do that. But he did make two points that ought to be addressed. First, by virtue of the fact that some people have good reason to travel abroad, and therefore need to have a passport for that purpose, he argued that linking the identity card with the passport was in some way introducing an element of compulsion.
By even the greatest stretch of the imagination, that argument is based on pure sophistry. The fact is that whether people have good reason or not—
No. I have said that I will give way in a moment.
The fact that some people do choose to go abroad for very good reasons does not make it any the less a voluntary activity. For the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden to pretend otherwise is to mislead not only the House but those who are following his arguments at home.
No, I will not give way to my hon. Friend. There is very little time left and if I give way someone else will not be able to speak.
The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden raised a second, more general point against identity cards on the grounds that having such a biometric database would effectively open up the way for fraudsters, terrorists and anyone else to access the system.
I see that the right hon. Gentleman nods, so that is part of his argument. But he is urging us to agree with the Lords in an amendment that would effectively create two databases of that kind. In other words, if his argument were correct—I do not necessarily accept it, but in his own terms—he is arguing for two separate opportunities for those breaches of security that he fears. The right hon. Gentleman has not in the least persuaded me with his arguments.
Finally, it has been well established during the course of this debate, not least by one of my hon. Friends who was responsible for drafting the Labour party manifesto, that it was quite clear what was intended. It was absolutely clear at that time and it has been made even clearer in our subsequent debates on the subject. Frankly, for the House of Lords to reject this one more time would be in breach—
I was not going to make this point, but, since the hon. Gentleman appeared to accuse me of misleading the House, I will. It is clear that the manifesto was intended to mislead. It was intended to be capable of being interpreted in two different ways.
I did not actually accuse the right hon. Gentleman of misleading the House; I accused him of sophistry, and he has compounded that in the intervention that he just made.
It would be outrageous if the House of Lords were to reject the Government's proposals in the Bill one more time, and frankly, it would be playing into the hands of people such as me who believe that it should be abolished anyway.
Mr. Howarth knows jolly well and full well that if the Labour manifesto had said in terms that the Government were going to introduce compulsory ID cards, they would have got a raspberry. We all know from our constituency postbags and from conversations on the doorstep that the people of this country are resolutely opposed to compulsory ID cards, and that was why the Labour party manifesto was drafted as it was. No amount of sophistry by Anne Snelgrove will change the fact that the manifesto made it very clear that this is intended to be a voluntary measure.
Mark Fisher made an excellent contribution today, as he did on Monday, and he summarised this debate neatly on Monday when he said:
"If we believe in a voluntary scheme, as the Home Secretary and the manifesto say that we do, there is no way that we can reject the Lords amendments. By rejecting the amendments, the Government will be opting for compulsion."
What the Government are seeking to do is simply that—opting for compulsion.
But even today the Home Secretary keeps trying. He abandoned his attempts on Monday. On Monday he tried to persuade the House that it was not compulsion—that somehow it was voluntary as to whether or not we actually went and applied for a passport. So when we decided to go overseas, we got this ludicrous Alice in Wonderland description by the Home Secretary:
"That is the free will that people may exercise in deciding whether or not they wish to have a passport—[Interruption.] That is the free will over what they can do and how they can operate. That is what the wording means."—[Hansard, 13 March 2006, Vol. 443, c. 1260–1.]
It is completely crazy.
"we continue to believe that the constitutional significance of the Bill is that it adjusts the fundamental relationship between the individual and the State."
If one is going to adjust the fundamental relationship between the individual and the state—an issue of some importance—one would have thought that that would be clearly set out in the manifesto. If the Government want to introduce compulsory ID cards, let them come to the House with a Bill to do so, and let them not do so through the back door, as they are seeking to do.
I suspect that many of my constituents—I do not choose to speak on behalf of other hon. Members' constituents, as has been done in the House—consider the debate with absolute dismay, as those of us who engaged with our constituents and surveyed and invited comments know. The numbers in my constituency were overwhelmingly in favour of an identity card, and they continue to be so. My constituents will know, having had an opportunity to see the debate, that there is another motive behind the Opposition supporting the other House in its attempt.
The reason I absolutely depart from some of the spurious arguments on why the Bill should not proceed is that I hear the same Opposition Members who argue for clarity in databases and say that we must have a single database—I cite child protection and many other issues that are before the House—using an entirely separate argument in this case.
It being one hour after the commencement of proceedings Mr. Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [