Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:53 pm on 21st March 2006.

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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.

Annotations

Murk
Posted on 30 Mar 2006 1:14 am (Report this annotation)

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.