Clause 10 — Verification of information

18. Relief from Tax (Incidental and Consequential Charges) – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 15 September 2010.

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Amendments made: 2, page 5, line 24, leave out subsections (1) to (3) and insert-

'(1) This section applies where it appears to the Secretary of State that a person within subsection (4) may have information that could be used-

(a) for verifying information provided to the Secretary of State for the purposes of, or in connection with, an application for the issue of a passport, or

(b) for determining whether to withdraw an individual's passport.

(2) For the purpose of making the verification or determination mentioned in subsection (1)(a) or (b), the Secretary of State may require the person within subsection (4) to provide the Secretary of State with the information by a date specified in the requirement.'.

Amendment 3, page 6, line 2, leave out

'of relevant information to the Secretary of State'

and insert

'to the Secretary of State of information that could be used as mentioned in subsection (1)(a) or (b)'.

Amendment 4, page 6, line 16, at end insert-

'(8A) In a case within subsection (1)(a) where a passport is issued, information provided in accordance with this section must be destroyed no later than 28 days after the passport is issued.

(8B) In a case within subsection (1)(b) where a passport is not withdrawn, information provided in accordance with this section must be destroyed no later than 28 days after the determination is made not to withdraw the passport.

(8C) Subsections (8A) and (8B) do not apply in a case where it appears to the Secretary of State to be desirable to retain the information for the purpose of-

(a) preventing or detecting crime, or

(b) apprehending or prosecuting offenders.'.- (Damian Green.)

Third Reading

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration 4:56, 15 September 2010

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

It is a huge pleasure to move Third Reading. The Bill has now proceeded through the scrutiny stages of this House. I appreciate that this is a short and simple Bill, but it is a genuinely historic one-not only because, as mentioned, it was the first Bill introduced by the coalition Government, but because its content is historic and marks a significant shift in direction in the relationship between the state and the citizen in this country. That in itself represents a significant step forward.

The House has agreed to destroy data held by the state without condition or distinction. Consigning the ID cards scheme and the national identity register to the scrapheap reflects the absolute commitment of the coalition Government to reduce the interference of the state and return power back to the people. I am very proud of what the Bill will achieve and I am encouraged by the support for it in all parts of the House. I emphasise "all parts" because we have had some fairly partisan debates this afternoon, but even Labour Members have admitted that the Conservative party had a clear commitment in its manifesto, as did the Liberal Democrats and the nationalist parties in their manifestos.

Many of us welcome the fact that two fifths of wisdom is beginning to creep into the Labour party in that two of the five leadership candidates have decided that the ID card scheme was a mistake. I fear for those who have expressed such strong support for that scheme; if the wrong Miliband wins, they could be in trouble. I also fear for the peace of the dinner party in that the civil libertarian/authoritarian divide is beginning to open up in the Labour party and has even opened up in the Miliband family. This will be an issue that they will have to resolve in a few weeks' time.

This Bill has sought to repeal parts of the 2006 Act that dealt with the ID card scheme, but we have been careful-I want to emphasise this-to re-enact the important powers on fraud prevention and detection available to protect the public. There is no reduction in public security as a result of the Bill; rather, it is about seeing an enormous increase in public freedom.

I am grateful to all hon. Members who have taken part in the Bill's scrutiny. We have taken on board the concerns raised on Second Reading and in Committee on information verification, and we have successfully tabled amendments to strengthen safeguards for the public and raise accountability. We noted the comments made in Committee about transgendered people, and will engage in further work with international colleagues in relation to the points raised about passports.

The Bill should also be seen as part of a wider programme to increase individual freedom. Along with Bills such as the freedom Bill, it will, as I have said, alter the balance irrevocably, giving us more powerful citizens and a less than all-powerful state. That is one of the significant changes for the better that the Government will be able to achieve for the country.

There was a discussion about who was responsible for the ID card scheme: about whether it was a new Labour creation, or, ingeniously, the creation of my noble and learned Friend Lord Howard of Lympne. The truth is that it was neither. We had ID cards in this country during the second world war. They were abolished in the 1950s, to great public acclaim, by a Conservative Government who concentrated, as we have done throughout the decades, on the importance of maintaining the power of the citizen.

In times of crisis, Governments often return to ID card schemes, and it was clearly the view of the last Government that Britain was at war after 9/11, that we were at war with terrorists permanently, and that we therefore needed to be put on a permanent war footing. It is at the heart of the contention of those of us who voted against the original Bill, and campaigned successfully against it-as has now been proved with the passage of this legislation-that we cannot and should not lead our lives as though we were in a state of permanent warfare: that if people's freedoms are restricted so much in an attempt to defend those freedoms, those who threaten our freedoms have already won.

This is a significant victory for the British people. I pay tribute not only to Members on both sides of the House who have supported the Bill, but to the various pressure groups which have been involved. Liberty and Justice have been mentioned, but I also pay tribute to the No2ID campaign, which can chalk itself up as one of the most successful pressure groups in history. It was formed less than 10 years ago, and within a decade of its formation it has achieved its principal aim.

No doubt all the pressure groups that I have just praised will spend the next few years complaining that we have not gone far enough in various directions. However, I look forward to constructive discussions with them. The broad conclusion that the country can draw from the passage of the Bill is that the march of freedom is happening again, and the British people are beginning to recover their historic freedoms and gain new freedoms. That is one of the many ways in which this Government will improve the lives of people throughout the country.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Labour, Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough 5:03, 15 September 2010

In a speech on Second Reading, when there was a time limit, I paid tribute to campaigning groups that had been extremely effective in swaying opinion in the media, at least-if not the opinion of the country-against the idea of new forms of biometric recording and an up-to-date and verifiable national register showing who was in the country and their identity. I now pay tribute to the Minister for his dedicated work in opposition, and in the four months of the coalition Government, in implementing the commitment of the coalition partners.

I do not, however, pay tribute to people who believe their own rhetoric. I have done it myself, and it is not a good idea. Eventually one comes to believe things that are not true, such as the idea that the last Government took away our civil liberties and were intent on strengthening the authoritarianism of the state. I am very sad that people who are standing for senior office in my party have also bought the myth that a second-generation biometric register somehow took away the civil liberties of the British people. However, we lost the election, and those of us who believed that we were doing the right thing lost a level of the debate that was crucial to the continuation of the scheme.

I am very happy to pay tribute to Lord Howard as the father of the modern scheme. We did not have the facility of second-generation biometrics when he advocated the scheme in 1996. However, he at least understood that if we were going to control unwarranted immigration, deal with the rising level of fraud, which was minuscule compared with the level today, and tackle the verification and authentication of genuine identity not least in respect of access to what are, uniquely, free public services such as the NHS, we needed something better than the passport as we had it then, and, it has to be said, as we have it today even with the improvements in the photographic evidence.

I wish the Government well in implementing e-Borders in their border police force. I do not know how that will enhance the sophistication of addressing illegal entry into the country or the identification of those who are already illegally here given that when in 2004 we introduced the registration system for the extended European Union A8 nationals we found that 40% of the people who registered were already in the country before the freedom of movement regulations had come into being for those new EU entrant countries. I do not know how the Government are going to do this, therefore, but I wish them well in trying.

This evening, I merely want to say that I speak as someone who has spent years persuading their senior colleagues in Cabinet to go in a particular direction and who has taken the slings and arrows of being accused of being authoritarian because they genuinely believe that updating the evidence that is already taken for the passport and the driving licence makes sense as it will be genuinely authentic-as opposed to the myth we peddle that somehow the identity documents we use are genuinely verifiable when they are not. In short, I speak as someone who has been told that they have betrayed the civil liberties and historical rights of people in this country when they have not, yet my only regret is that, having spent so much time having to put up with the black looks of Lord Prescott and the grumbles of our former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend Mr Brown, and having eventually won the decision in government and started to implement the policy, I find that I am defeated at the last hurdle.

All I can say is congratulations to those who have won and commiserations to those who were misled into believing that ID cards would cost £2.5 billion and there were therefore going to be major savings from scrapping them, rather than the sum of £84 million over four years. I say commiserations to those who feel they were taking a great step yet find that that step has not led them anywhere new at all.

The Minister said on 9 June that the civil libertarians were in the ascendant in the Conservative party today and that is true, but let us not confuse libertarianism with liberty. Let us not confuse being concerned about out and out libertarianism with authoritarianism. These are not opposites; they are nuanced issues and they are difficult to deal with in government at a time of-whatever Ministers may feel-continuing risk. I should also point out that we must ensure that we move as the international community moves, because I guarantee that within 30 years second-generation biometrics will be used for international passport purposes.

Finally, I say just three words: rest in peace.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee 5:09, 15 September 2010

It is a great pleasure to follow the former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Mr Blunkett, who took us all the way back to the birth of ID cards and has now read out their last rites in the Chamber of the House of Commons. I do not think he should take the criticism of the last Labour Government personally. People say many things in leadership election campaigns. Let us see what happens next week when, in opposition, we have an opportunity to fashion our new policies. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for all he did as Home Secretary on so many issues to do with his portfolio.

I also pay tribute to the Minister. Anyone who has followed Home Office debates over the past few years since he has been on the Front Bench will have noted the enthusiasm, delight and intellectual vigour that he put into the campaign against identity cards. I am sure it gives him great satisfaction to be here to read the last rites of the identity cards and to do so very modestly. I suppose that when faced with the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative party, the Scottish National party, Justice and Liberty-a very odd combination-it is probably right that the official Opposition have, in a sense, thrown in the towel. The shadow Minister accepted that there was no appetite among Labour Members to oppose the Bill on Second Reading and she tabled some carefully thought-out amendments, but the Government, with their majority and with this Bill as a central part of their Home Office agenda, have got their Bill through, after only 12 weeks.

I hope that the Minister will take seriously-I know that he will-the concerns expressed about the destruction of data. The Select Committee on Home Affairs will be writing to him in two months' time. I know that he did not give that as the absolute timetable, but he mentioned two months and then a further two months, and he then said that this would depend on what happens in the other place. I do not think that it will be a problem there, so by Christmas or, at least, by the new year we should be in a position to know that these data have been destroyed. I am sure that we will be writing to him to ensure that now that the funeral is over, the ashes will be scattered in about four months' time.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington 5:11, 15 September 2010

This is indeed an historic occasion and it is gratifying that the coalition has been able to deliver so early in its life such a significant change and such an improvement in our civil liberties. This is clearly the first stage in a much wider programme. Members on the Government Benches have been accused of being obsessed with civil liberties, but it is a sign of how regressive or repressive the Labour Government had become that they characterised supporters and defenders of civil liberties as people, or Members, who were obsessed with that subject over and above any other.

Mr Blunkett spoke of the so-called myth that the previous Government had an agenda that was contrary to civil liberties. However, they gave us identity cards, which we no longer have. We also had pre-charge detention, control orders, fingerprinting in schools and DNA retention. In my view, that constituted a full-frontal assault on our civil liberties, and we are right to try to redress the balance. He also said that there might be only £84 million-worth of savings-I do not know whether he actually used the word "only". Even if that figure is indeed right, in the current context those are savings that we need to achieve.

In my view, and that of the coalition Government, this Bill is just the first step in a programme of rebuilding and restoring our reputation as a nation that values civil liberties and is willing to defend them whenever they are under assault.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Culture and Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution) 5:13, 15 September 2010

Good riddance to the most thoroughly bad rubbish. Thank goodness we are standing on the brink of getting rid of the pernicious and hated ID cards. They were new Labour ID cards-NLID cards, as I called them in the previous debate-created solely by the previous Government. They are now thankfully being abolished, and I give great credit to the coalition Government for being able to introduce this Bill so quickly. Thank goodness we are getting shot of these cards today.

I also wish to pay tribute to the many campaigners who fought so hard and long to ensure that we never saw ID cards introduced in this country. I am referring to NO2ID, Liberty and all the other groups that were out there campaigning. This became a real election issue, and I am sure that other hon. Members also found that it was regularly raised in the hustings. People talked about Labour's creeping authoritarian state and its anti-civil libertarian agenda, and how Labour must be stopped. Thankfully, today is the day that we can put to bed not just ID cards but, I hope, the whole anti-civil libertarian agenda that the Labour party tried to foist on us.

This Bill has been relatively easy for the Liberals and Conservatives as well as for those of us in the Scottish National party and other national parties. We opposed these things-we hated them and we wanted rid of them. This has been a real challenge for Labour party Members and I have watched their agony throughout this Bill. I did not know whether they were going to oppose it or support it. I had to wait for Alan Johnson to get to his feet to know whether it would be the first line of the next Labour manifesto or whether they were going to support the scrapping.

I still do not know what Labour Members' response to ID cards is. They have not opposed them in any way. They supported Second Reading-or abstained-and they proposed tame, minimal amendments in Committee. We have heard a lot of huff and puff today about compensation, but I still do not know what the Labour party's approach to ID cards is. I would like to hear-perhaps in the summing up-whether it has now dropped the whole idea. I hope that it has, because Labour should come home. We need the Labour party in opposition to come home to its civil libertarian past.

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West

When poor people in the hon. Gentleman's constituency want to open a bank account or do any of the many things for which people need to prove their identity, if they do not drive and do not have utility bills how will they prove their identity in his new free world?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Culture and Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution)

This is the thing that the Labour party consistently refuses to appreciate and understand. ID cards were an attempt to change the whole nature of the relationship between the individual and the state. That was what they were about. People in groups such as Liberty and NO2ID did not oppose ID cards because they were a nice cuddly little thing that would help people to access services-they opposed them because they were a new element to the relationship between state and individual. That was why ID cards became so hated throughout the nation.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Labour, Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough

The hon. Gentleman is emotionally attached to the idea of the perniciousness of the scheme, but I want gently to test how far his libertarianism would go. There are two states in the United States where a blind person can obtain a licence to own a gun. One of those states does not require a blind person to have a driving licence-

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. That point is wide of Third Reading, but is a good try none the less.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Culture and Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution)

It was a good point, and you have rescued me, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I would have found it pretty hard to respond to it. I am grateful to Mr Blunkett for intervening, because I want to pay tribute to him, too, in the course of all this. Of course, ID cards were his child. He argued them through Cabinet and, as he said in his speech, he had all sorts of opposition and he fought his corner. However, he has left the Labour party a dreadful legacy. I hope that it can join the rest of us-where it should be-in ensuring that we can continue to hold this Conservative Government to account.

It was great when the Conservatives were in opposition-of course they were against the anti-civil libertarian agenda-but we will have to watch them like hawks in government, and we need the Labour party on board for that task. We need the Labour party to help to hold the Conservatives to account, because I have a sneaking suspicion that once they have had a good start and once they have their feet under the table, they will start to consider several issues and the old Conservatives will start to come back. We will start to see that move towards the authoritarianism that was a trademark of so many previous Governments. I appeal to the Labour party to help us to hold the Government to account and to get rid of the opposition to this. They should say, "Good riddance" and be thankful that we have got rid of ID cards.

This runs through the whole history of Labour and ID cards. We never even knew what they were for-that was the great thing. We did not know what they were supposed to achieve. When the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough introduced them-he can correct me if I get this wrong-his intention was that there would be a fully compulsory scheme, so that everybody in the UK would have to hold an ID card. That, I believe, was his intention and that was what he wanted to try to deliver. As he tried to get the scheme through, the opposition started to kick in. Opposition to the idea seemed to be growing and growing, so we saw the reasons behind ID cards changing. The scheme changed into a voluntary scheme that not only would keep us safe but could be used to make sure that we could buy services. I believe that being able to play the lottery was one of the great reasons we were given to have an ID card. They became not so much ID cards as super cards that would solve all society's ills.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Labour, Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough

I promise not to divert us from the issue, Mr Deputy Speaker. I do not remember anyone on our side-certainly not me-talking about being able to use the lottery.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Culture and Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution)

It might not have been the right hon. Gentleman who said that and I am sorry if I have characterised him in that way. I believe that his true intention was to have everyone signed up to a mandatory ID card; that was the first attempt and agenda of the Labour party when it introduced the idea. All the way through the difficult conception and birth of the ID card, there was no real consistency in the way in which Labour tried to get it through. That has been the difficulty throughout the whole experience.

Labour's opposition to the Bill has been woeful-not knowing whether to support it or not and making some caustic comments about compensation; that has been its attitude-but there is light at the end of the tunnel. According to all the opinion polls, it looks as though Edward Miliband might win the Labour leadership election and he has said that ID cards were a step too far. He talks about the fact that they were not a good idea and says that there should be no further backing for them. Perhaps we will start to get the Labour party back on board; I certainly hope so.

Today has been a thoroughly good day. I congratulate the Minister on taking the Bill through in his usual manner-with good grace and listening to some of the arguments and representations-and on a job well done. This day is the end of ID cards, and thank goodness for that. Good riddance to them and let us hope that we never see their likes again.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Minister (Home Office) 5:21, 15 September 2010

Pete Wishart has done exactly as my right hon. Friend Mr Blunkett said and has begun to believe his own rhetoric, entertaining though it was to listen to. It might be helpful if I explain to him and to the rest of the House the position of the official Opposition. I remind the House that although many things are said in election campaigns, what happens in reality when people have power is often very different. We have a good example of that in front of us in the form of the coalition Government, but I shall say no more on that.

Her Majesty's Opposition recognise the Government's clear position and the reality of the maths. We know that both parties were elected on manifestos to get rid of ID cards and that the Bill is the fruition of what is a fairly rare point of agreement. Indeed, only on Monday the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Lynne Featherstone, was speaking with enthusiasm about her position when she was in opposition and had to be quickly reminded of something by her Parliamentary Private Secretary, who passed her a note. She then swiftly began to read an alternative position from the coalition agreement, so we know that sometimes things are said but then change. However, the reality is that both parties agreed on this point and we recognise that that gives the Government a mandate. We are not here to oppose for the sake of opposition, but we feel that the Bill sweeps aside many important things.

On Second Reading, the Minister said that the Bill is symbolic-and it is for him and his Government. It is also ideologically based and very rushed. Had he been in his Department a bit longer and had other Ministers in that Department and in government thought things through, they might rue the day they swept away the baby with the bathwater. The Bill has the serious consequence of removing the option to have fingerprints in passports, which the identity register allowed. That would have updated the passport database to allow for the very secure retention of that important biometric.

The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire is very exercised about data being held by the state. I am sure that he must have a passport for travel and I wonder whether he has ever given a moment's thought to where passport information is held. As I reminded members of the public and others up and down the country during many of my roadshows, visits and talks about this issue over three years, 80% of us have a passport and that information is held securely. We have a good Passport Service, but what we proposed was a more secure approach. I shall not dwell on what we could have done or what we would do differently again, but it is an important principle of the Opposition that the passport should be secure not only now but in future. The new design for a more secure physical passport that I signed off earlier in the year has been unveiled and produced in the Blaydon constituency. We wanted greater security with fingerprinting, but the Government have effectively abandoned that.

Interestingly, the Bill sets the tone for the way in which the Government wish to work. It was brought forward in quite a rush. We finally managed today to extract from the Government the fact that there was no consultation on the Bill, so mentions in manifestos and on individuals' blogs seem to be the way in which the Government choose to consult. We also know that the Bill's impact assessment was inadequate, which is sad, given that one of the Ministers responsible for the Bill is also the Minister for Equalities. Labour Members will watch closely to ensure that such sloppiness does not take place in the future, and I hope that Ministers acknowledge that they have a responsibility to do their jobs thoroughly and properly.

We look forward to hearing more about the transgender issue raised by my hon. Friend Julie Hilling. We tried to put in place something that would make the best of a bad job in this regard, but the Government removed that option overnight without any recognition of that fact. No full solution is forthcoming, so we ask the Government to report to Parliament as progress is made on the issue. I ask the Minister with responsibility for passports to write to me around Christmas or in January to let me know what progress has been made, and to place a copy of the letter in the Library. I have been contacted by many people who would be grateful for such information. A lot of them do not have voices of their own, but they will be looking closely at how the House scrutinises the issue and have made it clear that they want to know what is going on.

The Bill prevents the Government from collecting and storing fingerprints, which means that the British passport will fall behind international standards relatively quickly, although international passports improve over years. Over time, British citizens will be forced to pay for visas when they make certain international visits. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have indicated that they favour biometrics on passports and increasing passport security, so I wonder whether the Bill has been fully squared in government. We hear that the Government are halting the use of fingerprints, but we do not know for how long. I hope that they will consider putting that back on the table because we all have a genuine interest in ensuring that the British public are safe when they travel and that our identity documents are as secure as possible. The use of fingerprints also helps to tackle identity fraud because many criminals have multiple identities, yet fingerprints are one of the surest ways of prevention.

I know that Ministers take seriously the Home Office's responsibility to do everything in its power to protect people-that is the Department's raison d'être-but the Bill throws out the baby with the bathwater. The Opposition would revisit the issue of biometrics on passports, even though I give no commitment about what we would do on identity cards, given that we will shortly be under new leadership. However, if we were to get into power in five years' time, we would be in a different place than if we were not to get into power-heaven forefend-for 10 years. We recognise that we will have to deal with the landscape that we face at the time. I would hope that that landscape would involve fingerprints for passports, but the Bill does not make that look likely.

The Bill's refusal of any recompense to those who bought cards in good faith is mean-spirited, as is the fact that we have had no opportunity to press for refunds, which was the reason why some of the new clauses that we tabled were complex. As I said, no proper account was taken of the equalities impact. If I was to be particularly mean, I would suggest that the mean-spirited nature of the Bill is a metaphor for the Government as we approach tough spending decisions.

I thank hon. Members who have played an important part in developing our policy and supporting my Front-Bench role. The Opposition's redoubtable team has mostly consisted of newly elected Back Benchers, who have been committed to addressing the Bill. I put on record my thanks to the former right hon. Members for Redditch, for Norwich South and for Airdrie and Shotts, the last of whom will no doubt give the Bill a run for its money in the other place, as well as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough. It is rare that a junior Front-Bench spokesman has such support from a series of former Home Secretaries, but they have been incredibly supportive and helpful.

We are not yet dancing on the grave of identity cards. I live in hope that the Government will see the error of their ways and that, despite this Bill, they will revisit the issue of passport biometrics. I look forward to seeing how the Bill progresses in the Lords.

Question put and agreed to .

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.