Identity Documents Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:26 pm on 9 June 2010.

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Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Labour, Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough 2:26, 9 June 2010

I congratulate Caroline Dinenage on a feisty maiden speech, demanding that her constituency get a greater share of resources and investment from the Government, and I wish her well in that endeavour. I also congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker, on your election. I intend to be brief, because my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary's speech was excellent and put forward in considerable detail a great deal of what I would otherwise have needed to say. I speak as the former Home Secretary who published the Bill to which he referred extensively and which was supported by senior Conservative Members. However, I do not want to cover old ground; instead I want to admit to one or two mistakes, and touch on what may have happened since.

I need to be contrite enough to congratulate Phil Booth from NO2ID, Dr Whitley from the London School of Economics identity project, and others, for the tremendous campaign that they have run, over the past five years in particular, to stop this scheme. I congratulate them because they changed the culture and atmosphere around, and attitudes towards the scheme and its intentions in a way that those of us initially involved could not have conceived. In doing so, they have persuaded large swathes of the normally well-informed population, including vast swathes of the media, that the identity cards scheme and the second generation biometric register were intended to impact on the public and intrude on their civil liberties in a way that was never intended and was never going to happen. That they were wrong should not mislead us into misunderstanding what can happen in a vigorous democracy, and how careful we have to be in explaining our intentions and taking on arguments openly.

It is because we have such a vigorous democracy that we have reached this situation and are accepting that-for the time being, at least-the proposition is dead. However, the issues will not go away. The issue of second generation biometric passports will not go away because the rest of the world is moving around us, and because they are a more authentic and therefore verifiable way of securing our identities. My hon. Friend Mr Watson is right to say that we need to find and develop simpler ways of securing, presenting and owning our own identities, in a manner that was not possible 10 years ago but is becoming possible now.

That is so particularly for specific purposes. In the end, I believe that our person will be our identity, and that we will be able to walk through electronic border controls and present ourselves, not a card or passport. It will automatically register our biometric fingerprints, our irises-in the future; at the moment the technology is not up to it, but it will be-and use facial recognition based on digital technology, which will avoid fraud.

I have a card here; I am very proud of it. I have been offered a lot of money for it on eBay. I have agreed with Simon Davies of Privacy International that we could frame it and put it in a gallery. I do not intend to auction it off because my grandchildren will want to hold it in their hands. They will say, "Granddad, what was so terrible about this card that you paid £30 for it? Did it involve you actually having to give deeply private information that was going to be shared with the rest of the world, or be intruded upon by criminals who were going to steal the information that was registered when you took up the card?" I will have to say to them, "I'm terribly sorry, but that didn't happen. It was never going to happen, but people believed it was going to happen." My grandchildren will say, "Did they really believe that? Do I understand from reading the history books that people believed it was going to cost £2.5 billion, and that they were going to employ 3,000 extra police officers?" I shall say, "Yes, they did." My grandchildren will ask, "Did they go to school, granddad? Did they do mathematics? Did they have any grasp of economics?" I shall say, "No, they were substantially driven by the Liberal Democrats," and that the Deputy Prime Minister from 2010 onwards, who was the leader of the Liberal Democrats, actually believed his own rhetoric.

I have a lot of time for the new Home Secretary. I like her personally, and I do not believe that she believed a word of the adjectival hyperbole with which she started her speech. She does not believe that the scheme was going to cost billions or that money that had never been raised would have been spent on projects that could not be funded because the money being spent on the register and the ID card was not coming from the taxpayer or from those purchasing the passport and the ID card. She does not believe that, but she has been forced to, because of the coalition agreement, which the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats sat down one afternoon to work out. Presumably, the new Chief Secretary managed to persuade the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), now the Foreign Secretary, that he had got it completely wrong, making it necessary to do away not only with the ID card-which, as the Home Secretary said, is symbolic-but with second generation biometric passports. The Foreign Secretary was persuaded that afternoon, and the Government and the country are now lumbered. What an odd way to carry on.

I do not know whether the new Chief Secretary has any grasp of economics, but he must now know, as the Conservatives now know, that there were no billions of pounds available to spend on anything else, whether on hospitals in Gosport or anywhere else. There was no pot of gold to draw on. We are apparently going to save £5 million a year over 10 years. Well, that is really going to knock a hole in the deficit and provide the cash for the deficit reduction strategy!

I have in my other hand my existing passport, which is totally forgeable, and is not really worth the paper it is written on. When I went to Europe twice this last month, they were really happy to have my ID card, because it has biometrics on it and it is more authentic, ensuring my identity is proved.

What have I learned from the last eight years? First, we need to explain more clearly what is beneficial to the individual rather than to the state. Secondly, we need to be absolutely clear about the costings so that they are not rolled up over 10 years and people's individual purchase is not confused with taxation. Thirdly, we need to ensure that people do not believe that additional data is going to be taken that would previously not have been available for the passport or for the DVLA driving licence.

Incidentally, the BBC managed to get a driving licence for Freddie Forsyth, who wrote "The Day of the Jackal", and for me. I promise the world that at no point in the future will I ever use the driving licence that the BBC obtained on my behalf in order to drive around this country. I would have been a much greater risk to the people of Britain than identity cards would ever have been in terms of intruding on their lifestyle, their liberty and their well-being. When I took out the ID card, the only thing I had to provide over and above the information for my passport was to pick from 25 options something relevant to my past that only I would know, which I could offer if my identity were to be challenged and a further check had to be made. That is all-no information that could be transferred for other purposes, no intrusion that criminals could get hold of and use beyond what they already had access to in other ways, nothing nefarious that would in any way intrude on my or anyone else's civil liberties. The truth is, however, that people believed otherwise. They believed that there would be those problems, that the card would cost a lot of money, which could be spent on something else, and that the register and biometrics were not a priority at the time.