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Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

– in the House of Commons at 4:47 pm on 21st March 2006.

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Votes in this debate

Consideration of Lords message [20 March]

Lords reasons: 22G and 22H

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary 4:53 pm, 21st March 2006

I beg to move, That this House
does not insist on its Amendments 22E and 22F but disagrees with the Lords in their Amendments 22G and 22H.

I should say, first, that I am very pleased that their lordships have now dropped their outright opposition to the designation power in the Bill by dropping their previous amendments Nos. 16 and 22. That is very good news and an important development. However, the amendments in lieu are not a real compromise as they would simply delay the power to link the issue of identity cards to designated documents, such as passports, until 2012. That is unacceptable and it would not be right to allow the other place to delay the implementation of legislation that it dislikes until five years have passed. That is a deliberate plan for delay and destruction of the process in the Identity Cards Bill.

This is the fourth time that this issue has come back to us from the other place and I submit that this really should be the last time. Although we might not expect to phase in the introduction of identity cards to all categories of passport applicants straight away, any constraint on designation would create uncertainties in our planning and a risk of additional costs. In line with other European Union countries, we expect to start the issuing of biometric British passports, including fingerprints, by 2009.

Without the requirement for recipients of designated documents, such as biometric passports, to register on the national identity register, to be issued with an identity card and to get the protections that the national identity register offers, we would have to provide for two alternative processes with separate records for those who choose to register and those who choose not to register. Such a purely artificial deadline would create real problems for the phasing of the scheme, which would be bound to have an impact on costs. The real intention behind the amendments is to make the scheme unworkable by fuelling uncertainty about its implementation.

We are also likely to start issuing biometric residence permits to foreign nationals who are temporarily resident here at about the same time—in 2008 or 2009. Again, without the requirement for designation and registration on the national identity register, foreign nationals could opt out of the scheme and we would be forced to maintain separate records for those who opted in and those who opted out of the register. The plans for the ID cards process are predicated on the introduction of a single, seamless process for issuing passports and identity cards as a single package.

Parliament has spent many hours debating the Bill. Leaving aside the discussion on the draft Bill and the substantial debate on the earlier Bill that was introduced before the election, we spent some 39 hours discussing this Bill on the Floor of the House and in Committee before passing it to the other place in October. The Committee stage involved 11 sittings over seven days. The other place scrutinised the Bill over all its stages for a total of 61 hours, including six days in Committee and three days on Report. Since then, a further 15 hours of parliamentary time have been taken up as each House has considered the other's amendments and reasons. I suggest that it would be inappropriate, and a waste of parliamentary time, for the Opposition in the other place to try to force the Government to use the Parliament Act. Moreover, to suggest that we should wait six years before we are able to implement the Bill is not a compromise in any respect.

I welcomed the helpful intervention that was made during yesterday's debate in the other place by Lord Armstrong of Ilminster. He suggested that it might be a compromise between the positions of the Government and the Opposition if the Bill provided for an opt-out, rather than an opt-in, for people applying for a designated document such as a passport. I understand the reasoning behind Lord Armstrong's proposal and am very grateful to him for his efforts to help to resolve the impasse. However, I have to say that while I agree that an opt-out might well make more sense than an opt-in, the reality would be the same. We would still be introducing a large degree of uncertainty into the plans for rolling out identity cards linked to passports.

Perhaps I can also emphasise the fact that, as I have already made clear in debates in the House, anyone who feels strongly enough about the linkage not to want to be issued with an ID card in the initial phase will be free to surrender their existing passport and apply for a new passport before the designation order takes effect. Although I doubt whether many people would want to avoid the opportunity of obtaining an ID card when renewing their passport, the facility will be available. I hope that Lord Armstrong will consider those points before deciding whether to table further amendments in another place.

In fact, I believe that the moment for such a suggestion has passed because it appears that the Opposition have moved beyond their outright resistance to the designation powers in the Bill—the latest Lords amendments accept the principle of designation. The argument now is simply about whether the powers should be available straight away, or whether an artificial delay should be imposed.

I understand the position of the Liberal Democrats. Indeed, the Liberal Democrat spokesman in the other place, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, has at least been consistent in opposing the Bill because of his party's avowed dislike of identity cards in principle.

The position of the Conservative Opposition, both here and in the other place, is more complicated. When Mr. Howard was leading his party, he said in an article in The Daily Telegraph on 20 December 2004, which was less than six months before the general election:

"We must protect our citizens in every way we can and in my judgement that includes ID cards".

On Second Reading of the original Bill on 20 December 2004—again, less than six months before the general election was called—David Davis said that

"it is incumbent on all of us to examine carefully any measures which might enhance the nation's security. Identity cards introduced properly and effectively may help to do that."—[Hansard, 20 December 2004; Vol. 428, c. 1953.]

The Conservative Opposition have since flip-flopped this way and that on identity cards. They have voted for identity cards, abstained and voted against them. They decided not to mention identity cards at all in their election manifesto. However, it now appears—I welcome this—that they accept the principle of linking the issue of identity cards to designated documents such as passports.

On 18 March, The Times reported Conservative party sources as saying that they wanted the delay added to the designation powers, so that if the Conservatives were to win the next election they would have time to repeal the legislation. That report may have been inaccurate, and I am sure that Mr. Garnier will have something to say about that.

I note with interest that yesterday the Leader of the Opposition in the other place, Lord Strathclyde, was not prepared to commit his party to such a stance. In response to an intervention by my noble Friend Baroness Scotland, he said:

"She knows of our opposition to this legislation and to the whole principle of ID cards. What our position will be at the next election, I cannot tell."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 20 March 2006; Vol. 680, c. 38.]

That sums up the problem. Lord Strathclyde was not prepared to commit his party to such a stance and refused to confirm whether his party will be committed to reversing the ID card provisions at the next election.

As the Conservative party seeks to use its entrenched vote in the Lords to frustrate the will of the elected House, I urge it to think again given the deep inconsistencies in its position throughout the whole debate.


Perhaps I can also emphasise that fact that, as I have already made clear in debates in the House, anyone who feels strongly enough about the linkage not to want to be issued with an ID card in the initial phase will be free to surrender their existing passport and apply for a new passport before the designation order takes effect. Although I doubt whether many people would want to avoid the opportunity of obtaining an ID card when renewing their passport, the facility will be available.

Let's just see if there is a surge in renewals, shall we?

Mine will be going in for renewal once I've worked out how late I can leave it before falling foul of this Orwellian database.

Submitted by Murk

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham 5:00 pm, 21st March 2006

Notwithstanding the advice from my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Howard, a number of my hon. Friends and I have been very consistent in opposing the introduction of identity cards. We voted against the original Second Reading on 20 December 2004 and on each and every subsequent occasion. Our position is explicit, clear and unmistakable, and it will not change.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that that has been his position and that of a number of Conservative Members. However, it has not been the position adopted by Conservative Front Benchers, which is what I was pointing out. The country judges the position of Conservative Front Benchers in elections and at other times, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has confirmed that while some Conservative Members have been consistent, Conservative Front Benchers have displayed no consistency whatsoever.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Does the Home Secretary agree that it was apparent on Second Reading that the policy advocated by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Howard was geared to the question of compulsion? When my right hon. and learned Friend was Home Secretary, he adopted a policy on a voluntary scheme, so our current policy is entirely consistent with the views that he originally adopted.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I will not go through what the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe might or might not have done when he was Home Secretary, but I will quote what he said on 20 December 2004 as Leader of the Opposition:

"We must protect our citizens in every way we can and in my judgement that includes ID cards".

He said that less than six months before the general election.

Of course the Government will listen and reflect on what is said, but I must repeat that we cannot accept Lords amendments Nos. 22G and 22H, which would undermine the basis of the planned identity cards scheme just as much as the earlier Lords amendments that this House rejected.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

May I begin by apologising on behalf of the shadow Home Secretary, who cannot be here because of a meeting of the shadow Cabinet? No doubt he will be here as soon as he can.

May I clear up three little points that the Home Secretary endeavoured to make at the end of his remarks? He said that we have had quite enough debate about the issue for now—there were 39 hours of discussion in the Commons before the Identity Cards Bill went to the Lords—but he did not condescend to tell us that the debates in Committee on designation and compulsion by stealth were time-limited. The Government imposed knives in Committee, and they have applied the rules of the House, which are in their gift, to impose time limits on these debates, too.

Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer PPS (Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

As the hon. and learned Gentleman will remember, we both served on that Committee. The Opposition did not, in fact, use a great deal of the time available. Will he comment on that?

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I will not do so, save to say that I wholly disagree with the hon. Gentleman.

The Home Secretary said that the argument was all about designation, and that we had exhausted that debate, bringing matters to a necessary conclusion. I hesitate to say that he has done so deliberately, but he has confused a debate about designated documents per se with one about compulsion by stealth. The kernel of the debate, which he does not want to address, is whether it is appropriate for the Government to stand at the general election on a manifesto that says one thing, then to seek to railroad a measure through the House—and, by threats and others means, to do so in the other place, too—thus avoiding the central issue of compulsion by stealth.

The Government accept that there should be express compulsion by primary legislation for the 20 per cent. of the public who do not hold a passport, but they find it extremely difficult to get their heads around the fact—and it is only logical that they should do so if there is to be any consistency in the application of their thinking—that there should be a plain and clear statement of their intention to introduce compulsion through designated documents either by a voluntary arrangement, which they advocated at the general election, or by another piece of primary legislation. Of course, they do not have the intellectual or the political courage, let alone the self-confidence, to advance that argument, because they know that it would not attract public support, still less support from anyone else.

The Home Secretary's final and most desperate throw was to rely on the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Howard, who had supported identity cards. Again, that allows the Government to fall into a trap of their own making. They would like us to forget that the Bill is not primarily about identity cards but about the national identity register. If they were intellectually honest and confident about their policy they would have called the Identity Cards Bill the national identity register Bill. People would therefore understand that they wish to compel them, either through primary legislation, which we have yet to see, for the 20 per cent., or by stealth via designated documents, to supply information to a vast Government computer, which will be a huge bucket into which other Government agencies and, indeed, private companies can dip. We cannot audit the register's activities and trawls, as that is prohibited by the Bill. It therefore does the Home Secretary little credit to seek to rely on my right hon. and learned Friend.

When the current Prime Minister was Leader of the Opposition shortly before the 1997 election—we remember that, but perhaps the Home Secretary does not—he clearly opposed identity cards, which he thought were a waste of money and an invasion of civil liberties. He did not think that the Labour party could possibly countenance them under his leadership. I cannot imagine what has happened to him since, but as public confidence in what the Labour party says and does is at an all-time low, it behoves the Government, having been elected on a manifesto, to adhere to their promises.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I am extremely grateful to my hon. and learned Friend, who is presenting his case in the characteristically understated fashion for which he is renowned and respected throughout the House. Would he care to remind the House that when the current Prime Minister was Leader of the Opposition he specifically said that he rejected the idea of compulsory ID cards, which he dismissed as something demanded by the Tory right?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

That was then—this is now.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. May we have one debate across the Floor of the House?

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Let me assist you, Madam Deputy Speaker, by saying that my hon. Friend John Bercow and I are wholly at one in our appreciation of the Prime Minister's skills. They ought to be trumpeted up and down the country. He is a master at saying one thing and meaning another.

On the last occasion when we debated the matter in the House, there was a rather unfortunate intervention from Anne Snelgrove, who laid claim to having written the relevant passage of the Labour party manifesto. She was rather proud of it at the time, but perhaps she did not realise what she was doing. The Home Secretary may not have been keen that she should continue to take part in these debates—I do not see her in the Chamber today.

Let me remind the House—it is well worth doing so as frequently as we can—precisely what the Labour party said in its manifesto. It stated that it

"will introduce ID cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports."

It does not take much knowledge of the English language and its syntax to realise that the expression "on a voluntary basis" governs the phrase "will introduce ID cards".

I shall explain the position in simple language to those on the Government Front Bench. They promised the British public at the last election that they would introduce ID cards on a voluntary basis as people renewed their passports. What they now propose, for which the other place is holding the Government to account, is compulsory registration on the national identity register, incidentally to get an identity card, by stealth—by some underhand secret method. [Interruption.]

I know that manifestos are a matter of great amusement to the Government, but if the Government had intended that the public should understand that the policy on which they wanted to be re-elected was, "We will introduce a compulsory system whereby, when you renew your passport or some other designated document, the list of which is yet to be defined, you will be registered on the national identity register", they would have said it.

I hope the hon. Member for South Swindon, who is not present, will forgive me, but it seems to me that that section of the Labour party manifesto was written by a fool or a knave—a knave if it was intended to mislead or confuse, or a fool if it resulted from a failure to understand the ordinary meaning of those simple English words. I do not mind which it is, but either way the British public elected the Government under a false prospectus.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour, Edmonton

Earlier the hon. and learned Gentleman said that he was at one with John Bercow. Yesterday in the House that hon. Gentleman reaffirmed his commitment to a totally elected second chamber. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman have any concerns that an unelected and unaccountable House should continue to pressurise this House as much as it has done?

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I might do, if the other place in its current constitutional get-up was not a creation of the Government and the Prime Minister, but since it is a creation of the Government and the Prime Minister, and since its current state is entirely supported by people such as the hon. Gentleman, who leapt through the Division Lobby with great alacrity to see the House of Lords turn into a creation of—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. May I remind the hon. and learned Gentleman of the amendments under discussion? Perhaps he will confine his remarks to the amendments, not manifestos.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Of course, Madam Deputy Speaker, I respect everything that you say and the admonition that you give me. I may have used a word that the Home Secretary does not wish to hear or understand, but that is not the point. He will have to come to terms with the fact that we have a bicameral constitutional arrangement. It is entirely proper for the other place to present these amendments to this House, and all the more proper given that the other place is a creation of this Government. Having set up this new House of Lords, it is simply not good enough for them to complain when it sends back legislation in a form that they do not like. They should have thought about that before they mucked around with it.

On amendments Nos. 22G and 22H, which Ministers may or may not have read, it is important to point out that when we last debated this the Home Secretary was chuntering to the effect that the majority of Cross Benchers did not support the majority of 36 in favour of those amendments. Well, I have news for him. That majority contained within it a majority of Cross Benchers, so he has shot his own fox, if I may use an allusion that may be of interest to him.

The House of Lords has presented to this House two sets of amendments that would delay the onset of compulsion until after 31 December 2011. That entirely complies with the Labour party's manifesto on which it was elected at the last election. It would preserve precisely what that manifesto required—the rolling out of ID cards on a voluntary basis—by allowing members of the public who so wish to enrol their details on to the national identity register in order to receive an identity card prior to that time. The House of Lords is doing no more than what the Labour party promised the public that it was about at that time.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker 5:15 pm, 21st March 2006

Order. I have already indicated to the hon. and learned Gentleman that there has been sufficient discussion of party manifestos. I hope that hon. Members will now address their remarks to the amendments before the House.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

If I may say so, Madam Deputy Speaker, it is extremely difficult, given that these amendments are about whether compulsion by stealth should be introduced with this Bill or at a later stage, not to place that in the context upon which the Government rely, as they did on the previous occasion and in the other House—namely, their manifesto.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

I agree. I think that I have allowed reference to that background. I would now like us to discuss the amendments before the House.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Well, there we are.

The amendments would delay—properly, because they are in line with the Government's policy as advertised—compulsion by stealth, or by express primary legislation, until after 31 December 2011. No Labour Member who has any understanding of the English language, or of the meaning of the words "promise" or "voluntary", can possibly complain about what the other place has introduced into the Bill.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I do not know whether my hon. and learned Friend is going to come to this, but does he think that the Home Secretary reached a point where he would be so dismissive of the arguments that have come from the other House that it might be appropriate for that House to insist on the Parliament Act?

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I shall leave that to the other place. I am arguing in support of the other place's amendments—22G and 22H. Whether we get to a stage when the Parliament Act has to be employed is largely a matter for the majority in this House, although it is technically a matter for the Speaker. The Parliament Act is sometimes operated when the Government decide that they cannot have their way by any other means, as happened before the previous general election.

The Government have presented the argument here and in the other place that, if we are to have a bifurcated system—a voluntary and a compulsory system—which the Labour party advocated at the election, we would have to expend much more money. The Home Secretary said that it would have implications for procurement. I am not sure that that is a good reason for overturning the relationship between the citizen and the state. I do not believe that the age-old system that allows us, the citizens, to walk the streets without being compelled to do something at the state's behest should be overturned or trumped by claiming that it would create all sorts of procurement implications. It may well create implications for the Government's IT procurement system—we know the history of IT procurement for Home Office projects and others. It is therefore unsurprising that they are worried about that. However, that is not an argument for overturning the constitutional proprieties.

The Government might have a better case if they condescended to tell us what they believed the costs of the exercise would be. Their claim about the additional costs that the amendments would impose on the taxpayer would be more understandable if they condescended to tell us what they are. However, all they do is ritualistically repeat their abuse of the House of Lords or anyone—at the London School of Economics, on the Conservative Benches, on the Liberal Democrat Benches or even on the Labour Benches—who dares to contradict the assertions that they make without evidence. That is no way to run a Government or conduct an argument in favour of overturning the amendments.

No evidence exists to show that a delay in compulsion would necessarily be more costly than the proposals for immediate compulsion. A series of less expensive, smaller scale trials and pilots would cost far less than is currently projected in the early phases of development and would inform refinements to the specification, which will help to achieve best value in the longer term.

It is also clear that, if the focus of the scheme's planning and development shifted towards developing and selling the benefits of the scheme as a tool for the citizen, voluntary take-up could substantially eclipse that by compulsion. If compulsion by stealth is so good and so popular, why do not the Government have the self-confidence to try voluntary take-up? If the public are sufficiently attracted and follow the arguments on cost, they will flock into the gulags and processing places so that their information can be put on the national identity register.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

Irrespective of the number of people who come forward—in the first instance and for some time—to renew their passports, what is my hon. and learned Friend's assessment of the costs that the Government will incur as a result of proceeding with a plan for a massive new set of high street locations under the auspices of the great empire builder, Mr. Bernard Herdan, at which the transactions will take place? The sums of money will be huge. I do not know whether the Home Secretary realises it or whether he has been hoodwinked, but it will cost big time.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

There is no question about it—it will cost a lot of money. The overall costs of the scheme range from, according to the Government's figures, something towards the top end of £8 billion, to the LSE's figures of between £19 billion to £22 billion. I have asked written parliamentary questions about the high street readers, which will be based in Department for Work and Pensions offices and those of other agencies, perhaps in hospitals and so on. I cannot guarantee to be accurate but, from memory, each individual reader machine will cost approximately £3,000. One can multiply that to get the total figure.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

May I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to withdraw the word "gulag"? To suggest that the identification process will be equivalent to a concentration camp or gulag is an abuse of language, and he has been very careful to attack us for the abuse of language in various ways. Will he now take the opportunity to withdraw the word?

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I had not appreciated that the Home Secretary was such a sensitive flower. I used the word "gulag" as shorthand for the processing process and for the construction of centres to which members of the public will have to come to have their details taken before they are submitted into this Government bucket, but if it was too aggressive an expression, of course I withdraw it. I trust that the Home Secretary will now be able to concentrate on the poverty of his own arguments rather than worrying about the language that I have used.

A delay in the implementation of compulsion will provide more scope to build a system that is technologically feasible and that has the utility to justify its costs. We are asking for intellectual integrity, and for a cohesive policy that will stand up to public examination. The other place has given the proposals that examination, as should this House. The Government do not deserve a blank cheque or a free pass. It is incumbent on us, as Members of Parliament representing constituents of all political parties and of none, not simply to roll over and grovel when the Government say that we must have this, that or the other. It is our job to examine everything that the Government do—allegedly in our name—and if we disapprove of it, to say so and, more importantly, to vote against it. I urge the House to support the Lords in their amendments Nos. 22G and 22H.

Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer PPS (Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In his earlier remarks, Mr. Garnier said that he completely disagreed with the assertion that the Opposition had not taken all the time available to the Committee. I wonder whether you would now like to give him the opportunity to avoid misleading the House on that. I have the relevant copy of Hansard here, in which your colleague, the Chairman of the Committee, says, perhaps a little sarcastically, that

"for reasons I cannot even begin to contemplate, the Committee wants to complete its proceedings in this sitting."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 21 July 2005; c. 423.]

That is, one sitting earlier than necessary.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

That is a point for debate, rather than a point of order for the Chair.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Had I thought that the hon. Gentleman's intervention was worthy of any form of sensible reply, I would have given it.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

I have already dealt with that point of order. May I remind hon. Members of the assertion in "Erskine May" that "good temper and moderation" should be the hallmark of our debates? Perhaps we should all remember that.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

I shall certainly try to remember that, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I am perhaps not the best person to persuade the Home Secretary to look at this matter again. I have opposed identity cards from the start, and I am sure that he is not going to take much notice of what I am going to say now. However, we shall reach agreement on one point. It is nonsense to say that if the scheme comes into operation there will be gulags and concentration camps. Our European partners have identity cards, and they are not police states. We are very pleased that they are fellow democracies. So let us continue to debate this subject without exaggeration.

By and large, I believe that the views of this Chamber should always prevail over those of the House of Lords. I hold that view even more strongly when the House of Lords votes down a measure that I happen to support. But on a general constitutional level, I do not believe that it would be wrong to continue to adhere to that principle, although there must be exceptions. Although this is a constitutional issue, and although I feel as strongly as their lordships in the majority, I have abstained on previous occasions after voting against the Bill on Second Reading. I shall continue to follow that line; I shall abstain when we vote on this proposition later.

On the substance of the matter, however—and without going into the issue of election manifestos—I am worried that, if the Government have their way, we shall have a scheme in which anyone who renews their passport after a certain date will automatically have their name entered on the national identity register. That is what I object to. Many law-abiding people are opposed to identity cards and having their names on the national identity register. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will not disagree that there are people—although we might disagree about the numbers—who have such strong views and who see no reason why they should renew their passport before the due time.

Those are the sort of people who, if there is primary legislation in due course in which Parliament decides that there should be a compulsory scheme, would accept the law. They have no desire to be fined, not to pay those fines, to go to prison and be a martyr. However much they object, they accept that Parliament is the decisive policy maker. What they disagree to, which is the reason that I cannot support the Government, is that it is intended that people will automatically go on the identity register once they renew their passport, without Parliament deciding that there should be a compulsory scheme. That is the reason for a lot of disquiet.

I hope—I doubt it, but I am ever optimistic—that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be willing to seek a compromise rather than stand absolutely firm as he has done today. If the Government's position is upheld tonight and they have a majority, as I have no doubt that they will, the Lords might give way following that decision. They have done so on other issues, and they might do so on this one. If they do not, however, I hope, as I have already mentioned, that the Home Secretary will be willing to see what compromise can be reached. It would be totally inappropriate for the Parliament Act to be invoked on this measure.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang Labour, Edinburgh East 5:30 pm, 21st March 2006

All right hon. and hon. Members on the Labour Benches agree with the general proposition that we expect the elected House of Commons to have primacy in general terms. The fact is, however, that the other place is giving us the opportunity to reconsider this fundamental issue carefully. There are important issues in relation to the passport matter, and I think that the French are having a little difficulty. I would have thought that that was a strong case for getting the biometrics and the passport operating properly before we move on.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

I understand that, and I hope that my right hon. Friend also understands the principle involved and the concerns expressed on several occasions.

To conclude, if the Lords refuse to give way, there should be fresh consideration by the Government, and the Parliament Act should not be used.

Photo of Nick Clegg Nick Clegg Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The Home Secretary has rejected amendments Nos. 22G and 22H from the other place, claiming, if I understand correctly, that they are not serious compromises. I wonder why that is, because any cool and objective assessment of the amendments would suggest that they are very serious compromises indeed. Let me highlight three reasons for that.

First, the amendments are a major concession of principle from those who objected to identity cards and their compulsory introduction, because opponents accept for the first time that they will become compulsory, but according to a deferred timetable. That has been a painful and difficult decision for those who have a long track record of opposing the Bill out of principle. The Home Secretary's dismissal of the seriousness of that concession does not do justice to their deliberations.

Secondly, it is simply implausible to suggest that the amendments would cause huge practical problems. All that they suggest is a deferral from 2009, which would be the first full year of operation of the ID card scheme, to the end of 2011, 18 to 24 months later. Nothing that we have heard today suggests that that shift of a few months poses enormous complexities and practical problems for the Government.

Thirdly, I should have thought that, from the Government's point of view, these compromise amendments would be a good deal better than some of the other compromise amendments that are doing the rounds. During the debate in the other place, Lord Armstrong referred explicitly to the possibility that, when the Bill returned there, he would table amendments inserting a complete opt-out for those who do not want to subscribe to the identity card scheme at all. That would blow a hole in the Bill that would surely be much more serious for the Government than these measured amendments. They represent a major compromise, undertaken in a spirit of careful deliberation over where the two sides may meet on this difficult issue. They are practical, they will not lead to insuperable obstacles, and they are certainly better than the alternatives that may now be debated in the other place.

The Home Secretary said that the amendments would introduce uncertainty, delay and extra costs. I do not see what is uncertain about a date, 31 December 2011. That seems to me very certain and very precise. The date is a little further away than what is envisaged in the much vaguer timetable that the Government appear to have in mind, but there is nothing uncertain about it. Yes, it involves a delay, but a modest delay that has been mooted with the aim of securing a reasonable compromise. As for the costs, it is impossible to test the assertion that the amendments would lead to extra costs, because the scheme has not been properly costed by the Government and we have not yet been given a detailed account of what the costs would cover. The costs that have been floated have been summarily rejected and called into question by independent analysts, not least in the London School of Economics, which recently suggested that in its first 10 years of operation the scheme would run up a whopping £1.8 billion deficit.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

The Government's record on major IT projects is currently pretty dreadful. The longer the scheme is put off, the better the Government may become at such projects. The delay may therefore result in considerable savings.

Photo of Nick Clegg Nick Clegg Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

Given the almost draconian enormity of the scheme, I should have thought that the Government would leap at the chance of having a bit more time in which to work out the practicalities and the costs, given that they are shamefully vague about both at present. The hon. Gentleman has made a good point, which merely reinforces my feeling that the amendments, as well as representing a serious political compromise, offer a practical way forward.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour, Edmonton

Does the hon. Gentleman see any contradiction between his party's position in respect of a democratically elected second Chamber and the fact that these so-called compromise amendments result from the fourth opportunity that the House of Lords has taken to ask the House of Commons to change its mind?

Photo of Nick Clegg Nick Clegg Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The other place is entirely within its rights in rejecting an attempt by the Government to impose compulsion by stealth in the name of voluntarism. The nub of the problem is that every Member of both Houses is being asked to indulge in doublespeak whereby "voluntary" mutates into "compulsory". Surely they are within their rights in saying that that will not happen in their name.

The final merit and virtue of the amendments is that they would allow the electorate to have another look at the issue, and to judge whether the Government have been straightforward in their acrobatics. As I have said, the commitment in Labour's last manifesto to a voluntary introduction of identity cards has miraculously re-emerged as an introduction of identity cards by compulsion. If the Government accepted the amendments, at least the voters would be able to decide what is voluntary and what is compulsory. I hope that common sense would prevail when they read the extraordinarily ambiguous doublespeak in that manifesto.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

I speak as one who has been implacably opposed to identity cards throughout his political life. Is not the great benefit of these proposals that if the Government insisted that they wanted to introduce the cards, they would have to go to the country with an absolutely clear proposition, given the trouble that they have got into in the past year? Meanwhile, the rest of us could go to the country with an entirely different proposition. It could become a real issue, with the public realising that there was a real choice, and—I would hope—it could provide another very good reason for the public to reject an increasingly authoritarian Government.

Photo of Nick Clegg Nick Clegg Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Giving voters the opportunity to make up their own minds at the next general election is a more democratic and accountable way of resolving this issue than resorting to the semantics to which this Government have subjected us for so long.

The Home Secretary is insisting on rejecting amendments that, as I have tried to explain, are serious in their political intent, and which are real, practical compromises that are better than any of the alternatives. In the absence of any clear justification for such rejection, I join those who urge Members in all parts of the House to support Lords amendments Nos. 22G and 22H.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Chair, Armed Forces Bill Committee

When the Conservatives cry "Freedom!", it usually means one of two things: either the French are about to invade us, or the Conservatives cannot rely on their arguments, which are usually quite weak on such issues. Having listened to Mr. Garnier, I believe that today is a case of the latter. He and Mr. Clegg have made a great deal of what was said in the Labour party manifesto. I do not intend to go too far down that road, but it seems that the Lords' justification for continuing to delay this process is that the manifesto in some way contradicts the Bill. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough quoted the words that he thinks are ambiguous, and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam accused us, in relying on those words, of indulging in semantics. The quotation that the hon. and learned Member for Harborough gave—it was an accurate one—is that the scheme will be introduced

"on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports."

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Chair, Armed Forces Bill Committee

Yes, as people renew their passports. As I said when we debated this issue just over a week ago, the voluntary principle is based on the idea that people voluntarily take out a passport. [Interruption.] There is no compulsion. [Interruption.] I accept that there may well be very good reasons why people need to have a passport, but the process itself—

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Chair, Armed Forces Bill Committee

If the hon. and learned Gentleman did wish to make an intervention, I would gladly accept it, but he obviously does not have a point to make.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

It is an old filth's trick to quote selectively. The right hon. Gentleman has accepted that my quotation was accurate. If he reads the whole of the passage that I referred to, it is quite clear that the voluntary roll-out refers to the introduction of the ID card scheme. Nobody in their right mind could possibly argue the case that he is arguing; he really ought to apply his mind to the whole of the phrase used.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Chair, Armed Forces Bill Committee

I have read the whole of that section of the manifesto; in fact, I took the trouble to read it before the general election, and I would have supported a compulsory scheme in any event. The hon. and learned Gentleman has repeatedly selectively quoted from the manifesto, purely to justify the ongoing ping-pong with another place over that passage's precise meaning. There is no justification for his continuing to do so, and still less for an unelected House's continuing to do so.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Chair, Armed Forces Bill Committee

No; if I conclude my remarks, somebody else might be able to speak; indeed, the hon. Gentleman might be able to.

The second game of semantics that the hon. and learned Member for Harborough engaged in today involved quoting my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he was shadow Home Secretary in the 1990s, saying that he was opposed to the introduction of an identity cards Bill. The implication is that my right hon. Friend changed his mind on this issue when he came into government. That is partly true, but it was not true between 1997 and 1999, when I was a junior Home Office Minister. I have good reason to know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was still opposed to the introduction of identity cards during that period. Opposition Members must ask themselves what has happened in the meantime to make him and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary believe that the time is now right for their introduction.

The world has changed enormously since that time. We have seen huge changes in mass migration around the world, and the rise of Islamist terrorism. The events of 9/11 constituted the worst example of that terrorism, and last summer's London bombings the most recent. That is why people feel that the time is right to introduce identity cards.

It stretches the imagination too far to claim that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and Home Secretary want to introduce identity cards for a reason entirely different from what has been claimed. The world has changed and, for my part, I would support the introduction of compulsory identity cards. However, the proposals in the Bill will at least give us an opportunity to challenge people to prove that they are who they say that they are.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone 5:45 pm, 21st March 2006

In respect of the process of discussion involving the Lords and the Commons, I have observed that, although we in this House sometimes get cut out on the pong, we occasionally get an opportunity to speak on the ping.

I want to put it on record that I object strongly to the compulsory aspect of the Bill. Like my hon. Friend John Bercow, I voted on Second Reading in the absolute certainty that that was the wrong way to go. This is a constitutional issue of the first order, and I believe that the Government, if they are intransigent on the matter, must use the Parliament Acts to get their proposals through.

Mr. Clegg said that the electorate should decide this matter, and that that the Lords will not insist on the amendment proposing that the introduction of identity cards should be held over until 31 December 2011. If he is right—and we on the Back Benches are not privy to those discussions—the effect will be to allow the voluntary arrangements to go through.

Photo of Nick Clegg Nick Clegg Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The hon. Gentleman is mistaken. The amendments are crystal clear, and would defer the power to identify designated documents until 31 December 2011—in other words, until after the next general election.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I still have grave reservations about the infringement of the principle involved.

The Bill will mean that some people will be affected by the compulsory arrangements, while others will be covered by the framework of the provisions that the hon. Gentleman has just described. I belong to yet another group of people, as I have just applied for a new passport and driving licence to replace documents that were stolen. It appears that I would be outside the arrangements, either way. The provisions in the Bill deal with terrorism and other very important matters, so it is invidious that certain elements of the population will be covered by the proposed arrangements, and that others will not.

I end by saying that, for me, the bottom line is that the Government's proposals amount to an unsatisfactory and hybrid compulsory arrangement that we ought to reject. In the House of Lords, the question of the Salisbury convention was disposed of by Baroness Anelay, and the Home Secretary did not mention it again today. A principle of huge constitutional importance lies at the heart of the Bill. I shall be voting against the proposals, as I believe that they should be resisted at all costs.

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central

I think that Members on both sides of the House agree that it is not satisfactory continually to be debating this matter. This is the third time in the course of the past week. The Home Secretary must accept that there is a strong feeling on both sides of the House and both sides of the argument that this is, essentially, a surrogate compulsory Bill and we need to clarify that. Those of us who believe that the scheme should be voluntary should have the chance to put their case and the Home Secretary, who I think in his heart believes in a universal, compulsory card, should clarify that.

We have to find a compromise. Over the past week, the other place has come up with different suggestions. With amendments Nos. 22G and 22H, it has provided yet another one. I do not think that this suggestion—I am talking about the delay—is one of their better ones, but it is an attempt to find a compromise. As Mr. Clegg said, it has some merits. It would allow a little more time to assess how the scheme is proceeding and it would give the public the opportunity to consider the matter again. As democrats, how can we resist either of those things? I would prefer Lord Armstrong's suggestion of an opt-out clause, but there are other compromises, as well.

In the case of all those compromises, we have not yet had any movement from the Government. If they want to resolve the matter, as they should and as they must, they must make some gesture. The idea of negotiations across the two Houses and across the Chamber requires both sides to show some flexibility. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Andy Burnham is murmuring on the Front Bench.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

The fact is that the Government have made a large number of compromises, not least, for example, in relation to having full-scale primary legislation before going compulsory. A whole string of them relate to cost. We have been compromising all the way.

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central

Not in the past week. The Home Secretary is understandably complaining that the other place and those of us who support it in its amendments are being perverse and stubborn, but, in the past week, the Government's position has not moved.

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

Is it not at least arguable in constitutional terms that the other place is preserving the principle of the Salisbury convention by holding the Government to the manifesto promise that the ID card would be voluntary?

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central

There are all sorts of variations on who is being more flexible. The truth is that there is a difference of opinion between having a low-tech, low-cost voluntary card and a high-tech, high-cost compulsory card that is rooted in the register. The House and the public ought to have the chance to resolve that. This way of trying to nudge up to and sidle round a compromise is not satisfactory. Let us get to the nub of the question. If the Home Secretary will not enable us to do that, he must come up with some movement himself. I will certainly vote against the motion again tonight and I hope that the other place votes accordingly and that we will return to the matter later this week. I hope that, by that stage, the Home Secretary will have had second thoughts and found some measure of flexibility in his position.

It being one hour after commencement of proceedings, Madam Deputy Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Order [13 February].

The House proceeded to a Division.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the Aye Lobby.

The House having divided: Ayes 284, Noes 241.

Division number 198 Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

Aye: 284 MPs

No: 241 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 22G and 22H disagreed to

Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to certain of their amendments to the Bill: Mr. Nick Clegg, Mr. Edward Garnier, Mr. John Heppell, Mr. Tony McNulty and Mr. Khalid Mahmood; Mr. Tony McNulty to be the Chairman of the Committee; Three to be the quorum of the Committee.—[Mr. Heppell.]

To withdraw immediately.

Reasons for disagreeing to certain Lords amendments reported, and agreed to; to be communicated to the Lords.