Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendments be now considered.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
16 Clause 5, page 4, line 44, leave out "must" and insert "may, if the individual so chooses,"
22 Clause 8, page 7, line 42, leave out "must" and insert "may, if the individual so chooses,"
The Commons insist on their disagreement to Lords Amendments Nos. 16 and 22 but propose Amendments Nos. 22E and 22F in lieu.
22E Page 7, line 38, after "accompanies" insert "or includes"
22F Page 7, line 43, leave out from "manner" to the end and insert "ensure that an application to be issued with such a card accompanies or is included"
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 16 and 22, in respect of which the Commons have insisted on their disagreement, and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 22E and 22F in lieu.
Amendments Nos. 22E and 22F were agreed by the other place on
I will explain first why we believe that the amending Motion is not the helpful compromise which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, intended it to be or which he may suggest it is to this House, but would do little more than reinstate Amendments Nos. 16 and 22, which would unpick the linkage between designated documents and identity cards, albeit for a limited time rather than indefinitely. I remind the House that we have debated these issues several times, but this issue has now been in three Bills and, if the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, found favour, we would have had the joy of discussing it in three Parliaments.
The noble Lord's Motion would mean that we would have to delay the requirement for applicants for designated documents to be registered and to obtain an identity card until the end of 2011—that is, after any new election. 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 would risk incurring additional costs. First, in line with other EU countries, we expect to start issuing biometric British passports that include fingerprints by 2009. Without the requirement for recipients of designated documents, such as biometric passports, to register on the national identity register and be issued with an identity card, we would have to provide for two alternative processes with separate records for those who chose to register and those who chose not to register. I am not saying that such processes would not be technically feasible, but such a purely artificial deadline would create real problems for the phasing of the scheme, all of which would be bound to impact on costs—something about which this House purported to have a great deal of concern.
Linking the issue of fingerprint biometric passports with identity cards makes sense and is the basis of the Government's planning for rolling out the identity card scheme as people renew their existing identity documents. As my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has already made clear, anyone who feels strongly enough about this linkage not to want to be issued with an identity card in this initial phase will be free to surrender their existing passport and apply for a new one before the designation order takes effect. However, I doubt whether very many people would want to avoid the opportunity of obtaining an identity card when their passport is renewed.
The House has focused very much on the impact on people applying for passports, but we are also likely to start issuing biometric resident permits to those foreign nationals temporarily resident here around 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 opt in and those who opt out of the register. If in the initial stage registration was optional, there would be extra costs, even if this lasted only two or three years.
There would also be delays, not only in British passport holders being registered but also in foreign nationals being included on the national identity register. A change in the way in which the scheme is to be phased in would require considerable reworking of the current identity cards business plan and procurement strategy. This would create further delay in the programme and so could add to costs.
I could go on about the details but we now have the same argument for the fourth time. The Government say that the link should be made—and made now—with certainty and clarity so that procurement can go on. Members opposite say no; they want delay, they want procrastination and they want to put it off until after the next election. Members of the other place have had the advantage of thinking about this on three occasions. On a previous occasion when they discussed this, the vote against your Lordships' position was 33; it is now 51. On the previous occasion I indicated that I believed the voices in the other place would get louder. We now have a cacophony coming from them of "No", "No" and "No" again. They were asked to consider again and they have considered again.
We are asking now for this House, having done its duty with such diligence and care, to determine that its proper function is to review, amend and suggest. The proper function of the other House, holding the mandate of the people of this country, is in the end to decide. Its Members will pay the price of that decision when the next election comes about; we, on our comfortable Benches, will not.
There are those who think that this Parliament should be unicameral. I would not like this House to give them any more basis for suggesting that that would be a good move.
We come to a position where I have to entreat the House to use its normal wisdom—something that I hope your Lordships brought into the Chamber today—and to decide that now, if not the previous occasion, is the appropriate time to let the other House have its way and bow, as we must, to their mandate.
Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 16 and 22, in respect of which the Commons have insisted on their disagreement, and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 22E and 22F in lieu.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)
rose to move, as an amendment to Motion A, leave out from "disagreement" to end and insert "and do disagree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 22E and 22F in lieu, but do propose Amendments Nos. 22G and 22H in lieu—
22G Page 4, line 44, after "individual" insert "and is made on or before 31st December 2011, that application may, if the individual so chooses, include an application by that individual to be entered in the Register.
(2A) Where an application to be issued with a designated document is made by an individual and is made after 31st December 2011,"
22H Page 7, line 42, leave out from "card" to end of line 2 on page 8 and insert "may, if the individual so chooses, in the prescribed manner, include an application to be issued with such a card in any application made by him to be issued with a designated document, where that application is made on or before 31st December 2011.
(7A) An individual who is not already the holder of an ID card must, in the prescribed manner, include an application to be issued with such a card in any application made by him to be issued with a designated document, where that application is made after 31st December 2011.""
My Lords, we know full well that last Wednesday we debated all this and that the Commons threw us over on Thursday. The Minister may agree with me when she talks about the long consideration given by the other place to this Bill, but they were allowed one hour precisely last Thursday and one hour on the previous occasion when they threw us over. Given the importance of this Bill I do not think that that is a satisfactory amount of time for the other place to consider the very deliberate views of this place.
On Thursday the Home Secretary said:
That is our point. It is not necessary to be a slave to manifestos to accord them considerable weight, especially where they concern such a basic civic issue as root-and-branch change in the law of privacy as it will be implemented in this Bill.
Recommendation 7 of the Wakeham commission report, also quoted by Mr Clarke, states that the Government's,
"general election manifesto should be respected by the second chamber".
That too is why we persist; not to wreck or undermine but to get the Government to respect their plain commitment to voluntary ID cards at the stage when passports are renewed.
On Thursday Mr Clarke raised the issue of the extra cost attending our compromise amendment, which the Minister referred to today. The Home Secretary, apparently without irony, berated us for denying the public,
"the most cost-effective option in implementing a scheme".—[Hansard, Commons, 16/3/06; col. 1646.]
Yet here is a Government who, against a barrage of criticism from all quarters—in the House and outside it—refused point blank to give us any reasonable estimates. Estimates for setting up costs and integration came there none. The excuse of commercial sensitivity was unsupported inside or, as far as I am aware, outside the House. I believe that that sensitivity was political.
Constitutional proprieties cut both ways. It is fruitless to pretend that the post-1998 conventions are entirely clear. I reiterate that we, on this side of the House, do not accept the premise that if we stick to our guns on this issue we are behaving improperly or in a manner destined to damage the unwritten constitution, let alone in a wrecking spirit. Rather, we say, these are exceptional circumstances and not just because we are holding the Government to their plain commitment.
I am unaware of any non-governmental, non-industry body of opinion in this country that is in favour of compulsion. Liberty, NO2ID cards, and Justice are among the numerous respected bodies implacably opposed to compulsory ID cards. It is also the case that effective compulsion vis-à-vis designated passports represents a volte-face less than a year after the election—a volte-face the Government deny is happening.
Furthermore, I repeat: I believe that we are striking a blow for public trust in politics. If this Government can railroad this Bill through Parliament in the manner in which they are now trying to do, replete with double-speak and denial, it will be a bad day for this House and this Parliament. But we are not just sticking to our guns; having felt a zephyr of change—if I can call it that—on the Cross Benches last time, and in a genuine spirit of compromise, we have tabled this amending Motion today to allow the political parties, particularly Labour, to go to the country at the next general election, making it absolutely clear where they stand.
The delay to the end of 2011 is scarcely catastrophic, given that in any event ID cards will not be issued until 2009. Furthermore, it should enable clarification of some of the many uncertainties—the universal uncertainty, one could say—attending this grandiose project, which would be of great benefit. Not least, it would enable the public to get up to speed with this Bill and its ramifications. If the Home Secretary himself does not understand his own Bill—and he demonstrated that again last week by continuing to pretend that the database for passports is the same as the database for ID cards—delay can do nothing but good.
This is a citizens' amendment. There will be extra costs from it—but not unacceptable ones, I suggest, as was confirmed to me over the weekend by a very senior industry expert and by the LSE Identity Project, whose members did a short ancillary report on the potential cost implications, which I will place in the Library. To give noble Lords a flavour, I shall quote from that document:
"In conclusion, the government has argued that provisions such as that in the Phillips amendment would be too costly because it would involve two databases operating at a minimal level, one for passports and one for voluntary ID cards. This issue can be resolved in a cost-effective and simple way by enrolling voluntary ID applicants onto the passport database and then issuing an ID card without the passport".
And there is a lot more where that came from.
Finally, the key issues here are the sort of society and state that we want. I suggest that we heed the warnings, not only from our own Constitution Committee, but also from the Information Commissioner, our national watchdog on issues precisely such as these. This is a tipping point, and I urge noble Lords once again to stand firm behind the principle of voluntarism, albeit for a limited period of five years. I beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to Motion A, leave out from "disagreement" to end and insert "and do disagree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 22E and 22F in lieu, but do propose Amendments Nos. 22G and 22H in lieu.—(Lord Phillips of Sudbury.)
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for giving way. It is very rare that I seek to speak at the beginning of such debates on Bills, but I thought that it might be helpful during this interchange between the Houses if I made clear our position. That is the only reason why I have pressed ahead in this regard.
I support Motion A1, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, and oppose government Motion A. Motion A1 offers the Government an honourable and reasonable compromise. In essence, it provides the opportunity for the Government to proceed immediately with a voluntary ID card and a national register regime related to passports. Significantly, it would also enable the Government to operate that on a compulsory basis, as they wish, from the end of the first Session of the next Parliament. That would enable preparations to proceed immediately, but it would require an explicit mandate before compulsion began. It would also enable any government who did not wish to impose a compulsory register and ID card scheme to repeal the Act in the first Session of the next Parliament.
The amendments would mean that the Government got their Bill immediately, including potentially the power of compulsion, while upholding the constitutional position, which so many noble Lords have expressed, that something so far-reaching as making the freedom to travel conditional on being compulsorily enrolled on the national identity register, with all the implications that that has for the audit trail of our lives, and compulsorily having an identity card, should be put to the British people clearly and openly at a general election.
The Opposition do not think, and have never thought, that the suggestion that a government should be held to their manifesto commitment on the Identity Cards Bill is in breach of the Salisbury convention. I set out our views on this matter, clearly and at some length, on
As to the wider issue raised by the recommendation of the Wakeham commission—that this House should be cautious about challenging the clearly expressed views of another place on issues of policy—I set out our agreement with that point on Wednesday of last week. I explained why such agreement does not preclude us from pressing the Government to reach a better solution to the problem of their own creation. Again, I shall not test the patience of the House by repeating what I said at col. 1232.
Any normal person reading the manifesto commitment on this matter would interpret that commitment as, "When I renew my passport, I can choose whether I go on the register and have an ID card. And if I don't want to, I can choose not to". That is what "voluntary" would initially mean to anyone who read it.
The Minister rejected our compromise proposal in her opening speech. She says that it would require the setting up of two databases, and queries the costs involved. But the Government have consistently refused to reveal the full costs of their scheme. Their amendment in lieu, which was accepted by this House on a previous occasion, still leaves the most significant parts of their assessment of costs hidden from public scrutiny. The Government's own system of compulsion by stealth surely also has complexity in its arrangements. It must enable those who do not need a passport to sign up for an ID card if they want one. There will have to be a record of those true volunteers, in addition to those who are compelled to have an ID card if they need to travel—for work, to visit their relatives, or to take a holiday.
There is also still some confusion about whether the Government intend to adapt the passport system into the proposed national identity register—whether a separate NIR would ultimately replace the passport system or whether the two would co-exist. Whatever the decision, it is clear that the ID scheme would involve multiple systems, developed over time, to achieve multiple functions. The Minister said today that in accepting an amendment such as this, the Government would have to rewrite their business plan. But government policy on how they will run the scheme is still evolving. If I wanted to be difficult, I could say that they are making it up day by day. But I don't want to be difficult.
Last week, Mr Burnham, the Minister in charge of the ID card scheme, revealed to the Social Market Foundation conference that the plans for the initial stage of the verification process have been significantly changed. Instead of a system whereby the verification of identity would be by electronic readers—which is what we have debated in this House, at all stages of the Bill—the Government have now announced that they plan to use the chip and PIN system first. Mr Burnham said that a PIN would be an intermediate way of checking the card. The Government now accept what many have been saying for some time: the cost of buying in biometric readers could be a significant burden on businesses, public service providers and government departments.
It is clear that the Government have not yet determined the initial architecture of the IT system, and that may be no bad thing. If they are prepared to take time to consider more carefully an effective and reliable system of verification, I, for one, will not complain. It therefore means that there is still time to discuss just how the initial period of the scheme should operate.
I was brought up to believe that one should stand up for what one believes is right and speak out against what one believes is wrong. That is simply what I have been trying to do in the debates on the Government's plans for compulsion by stealth. For all my faults, I am always an optimist. I believe that there are reasonable and honourable solutions to problems. It is right to take the time and the patience, and to act in good faith, to find those solutions. If the Minister continues to believe that she is unable to accept the amending Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, I shall strongly support him in the Division Lobbies, because I think it is important for another place to have the opportunity to consider this new proposal. It is a sensible and honourable compromise, with something for both sides of the argument, and I hope that people on all sides will support it. I support Motion A1.
My Lords, there is very little new to be said about the issue of compulsion or voluntarism and passports and identity cards. The issue has been flogged to death in this House and in the other place and has had another six lashes this afternoon from the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, so I do not propose to say anything about that bleeding corpse. People can decide what they want to do. However, I do want to say a word or two about the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the last time we looked at this and about what he has been saying in the short interim since then and this afternoon. He is trying to transform the discussion from one on identity cards to one of much greater constitutional significance. As I understand it, his argument—and it is right that this should be confronted by the House—is that disputes between the two Houses should be resolved by the use of the Parliament Act. That is a novel proposition on any view. I do not think that anybody has gone quite so far as the noble Lord in claiming that the Parliament Act is arbitrational in character. It is not. It is not there to produce a consensus between the two Houses; it is there to recognise and establish the supremacy of the House of Commons over the House of Lords.
Indeed, if one follows the argument of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, his proposition would lead to the almost total sidelining of this House in relation to the passage of legislation. If there were no real discussion between the two Houses to resolve a contentious issue between them, all the Commons would have to do is sit there and insist, secure in the knowledge that, at the end of the day, it is bound to get its own way. I do not believe for a moment that that would be an improvement on the present situation. At least now there are some attempts to produce agreement. The Parliament Act is there as an ultimate deterrent, rarely, if ever, to be actually used.
When I contemplated what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, had been saying, I was reminded of a tone poem by Richard Strauss—I am sure that some of your Lordships will be aware of it—called Till Eulenspiegel. The English translation of the title is, "His merry pranks and his jolly japes". I think that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has been somewhat mischievous in the way that he has the approached this issue. But the fact is that an accident of parliamentary arithmetic in this House has elevated the Liberal Democrats to a position of unprecedented power.
My Lords, it is true. With the two main parties approximately equal, the Liberal Democrats hold the balance. All they need to do is to wait until a disputed issue arises in the House, ally themselves with the main opposition party and thereby create constitutional chaos. That cannot be right.
We have to begin to produce a sensible de facto working relationship between the two Houses. That ought to contain a proper disputes-resolution procedure, rather more formal than the present ones. Until now, it has been unnecessary because this House has had a somewhat restrained view of its powers and responsibilities. How often have we heard it said—we heard it said again this afternoon—that the function of the House of Lords is to make the House of Commons think again? We have sent this issue back three times. Three times the House of Commons has thought, and three times it has returned it to us. Surely to goodness that is enough.
The Conservative Opposition have had experience of government. They know that the McNally thesis would make the legislative process virtually unworkable. The fact is that the British constitution works by a combination of accepted formal conventions and many informal understandings. After all, what else are the usual channels? To tear up those conventions and deny those understandings is a very dangerous course indeed. Of course Parliament can do it if it wishes, but I am bound to say that an arm's-length relationship between the two Houses and an over-reliance on the Parliament Act would not be an improvement on what we have at present.
So, for constitutional reasons, it is important that this House now accepts the will of the other place. I do not expect the Liberal Democrats to appreciate that—when all is said and done, their chances of actually forming a government are fairly remote—but I do expect the Conservative Opposition to appreciate it. They should realise—indeed, they probably now do—that the time has now come. I really think they should vote accordingly.
My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate until I heard the speech that we have just heard. It was remarkable for the noble Lord, Lord Richard, to turn the attack on the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for diverting the debate away from the merits of the case to the constitutional issues. I sat through the previous debate and I well recall the noble Lords, Lord Peston and Lord Richard, rising to their feet to say that they had no intention of discussing the merits of the case because, after all, that had been flogged to death—as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, put it today. They wanted to address the major constitutional issue that was before the House. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, intervened later in the debate to respond to that approach from those two noble Lords.
My Lords, the fact is that this whole diversion was started by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I think that he will confirm that it was he who said that we should not be debating the merits of the Identity Cards Bill and that he had no intention of debating it for exactly the reason given a few minutes ago by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. He felt that it had been adequately dealt with. We then got into a debate on the constitution.
Those of us who have been in this House for some time remember that whenever we get to this point where the two Houses disagree and the Benches opposite look as if they are losing the argument, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and probably the noble Lord, Lord Peston, rise to their feet in exactly this way and say, "Well, of course, we don't want to discuss the merits of the issue. What we want to discuss is the major constitutional issue". However, there can be no doubt that when there is a conflict with the other House, it is perfectly within the constitutional arrangements for noble Lords to seek to find a compromise and an alternative solution that might be acceptable without going as far as the use of the Parliament Act. That appears to me to be what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has attempted to do today.
The Minister was commendably brief today. She made three points. She said that if we went down this road, it would introduce uncertainties into the Government's planning; that it would mean there being two separate processes, although she acknowledged that they were probably technically feasible; and that it would mean reworking the business plan with some cost consequences. If that is the Government's case, we are confronted with a choice between the Government keeping an election manifesto promise or breaking it, and a choice between personal freedom and some uncertainty for the Government. I have no doubt at all that, given those choices, we should go for personal freedom and the individual.
My Lords, when this matter was last before the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, said to us that there was a straight conflict between this House and the other place; that there was no possibility of a compromise; and, therefore, that this House must bow. I was impressed by that argument and I agreed with her that there was no possibility of a compromise. On that basis, I and, I believe, a number of others on these Benches abstained. We could not bring ourselves to vote for compulsory ID cards under the guise of pseudo-voluntarism, but we took the Minister's point about conflict. We now have before us an apparent reasonable compromise. If people think it is not really a compromise at all but merely a smokescreen put up by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, with his customary skill, to make the same point as before, then the Minister was right. But if it is in fact a reasonable compromise, then the point that the Minister made last time goes, and it is wholly right that this compromise should go back to the other place for them to think again.
The only real reason the Minister gave why this was not a practical compromise, albeit a compromise that the Government do not like—the Government would always rather have their own way than compromise; everyone would—was that it was likely to cost somewhat more. I am perfectly happy to see, when one goes out with one's passport application, a sign that says, "You can now have your identity card, and if you do it all in this one moment, the fee will be so-and-so. If, on the other hand, you don't do them both together and you have to apply for an identity card in the future, either because you need one or because it is compulsory, the fee for that will be x. The fee for the present passport application is y, and x and y will add up to more than the joint fee you are now going to pay". So there is economic pressure on someone to decide to go the cheaper way. Although I do not terribly like identity cards, I do not feel strongly enough about them to worry about £25, or however much it may be.
Surely it is not an adequate reason for saying that this is not a compromise to which serious consideration should be given merely to say that it will cost somewhat more—no one knows how much—and that people should not be given the choice of paying that much more rather than being driven to identity cards by compulsion under the thin guise of voluntarism.
My Lords, the last time the Minister spoke at the Dispatch Box on this subject, she put down a challenge to your Lordships' House, which perhaps she will allow me to take up. She put the question, "What's new?". In other words, she was saying: why do we continue with our obstinate and futile opposition to the Government's will? I would like to try and explain.
What is new is that we have now had a chance, which we did not have before, to inspect the Government's responses to our original objections. The Minister said that there had been—I think this is the phrase she used—an "infelicitous use of language", and that that was the explanation for any misleading impression that had been created by the Government's manifesto. But then, in another place, the Home Secretary said that no misleading impression had been created because passports were in fact voluntary, in a bizarre throwback to some sort of socialist past. I think his explanation was that foreign travel was some sort of luxury for rich people. So first there was a misleading impression in your Lordships' House; then, in another place, there was not. Finally, when the Bill came back to your Lordships' House again, the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, said, uncharacteristically, that it did not make any difference whether a misleading impression had been created, because no one reads manifestos and what the Government write down.
It is completely unacceptable, in this House of all Houses of Parliament, to be told that an infelicitous use of language is not a major matter. We in this House are prepared, with pride, to debate for hours or days an amendment that might read "delete 'a', insert 'the'", and we know why we do it. It is the very essence of what we are here for.
On the question of whether passports are voluntary, I would like to present to the Minister a list which has nothing to do with foreign travel as some sort of optional luxury. There are occasions when one third of the entire population of Britain—the 15 million people over the age of 17 who do not have a driving licence—are required to show a passport. It is not a voluntary act at all when they apply for a mortgage, purchase a property, rent a property, visit a prison, get divorced, teach children, become an executor of a will or collect a bus pass. In a recent case, the daughter of a pensioner wanted to collect her mother's pension because she was seriously ill. The daughter went to the post office to collect it and was told she would not be able to without producing her own passport.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, has just put forward the most magnificent arguments in favour of identity cards. All these purposes, which he so brilliantly described—because he is such a great communicator—are currently available only to people with passports. When we get this legislation through they will be available to a far wider range of people. It is wonderful.
My Lords, the Home Secretary said in terms in another place that the holding of a passport was a voluntary activity—now—for British citizens. I have read out a list in which British citizens who do not wish to travel abroad for a luxury holiday find it impossible to carry out absolutely basic tasks without a passport. Therefore it is completely incorrect of him to have said that a passport is a voluntary possession.
My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, would not want to mislead the House. Of course passports are the preferred means of identity but, in fact, one is not obliged to have one. That is why 20 per cent of our people, many of whom are among the poor and the old, do not have one and constantly find difficulty in that fact.
My Lords, I think we can settle on the fact that it is not possible for a British citizen to carry out basic tasks in this country without a passport, which the Home Secretary said was a luxury for foreign travel. I will leave it there.
In closing perhaps I could also answer a question put by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. He said, in similar terms to the Minister, "If not now, when?". In other words, when would we give in? How long would this go on? I would like to say, speaking for myself and not just out of my respect and affection for my noble friends on the Front Bench, as far as I am concerned, I believe that the terms of etiquette of our House are that we receive a message from the House of Commons. What we are doing here today is sending a message back, and I personally will stop what is regarded as the obstinate and futile opposition when I hear the message back, "Message received and understood". Here is the message: no government should be allowed to insult the intelligence of the public in this way. No government should be allowed to show such disrespect for the English language and no government should be allowed to add to the cynicism of the public instead of reducing it. That is why I am going to join my noble friends, distinguished Cross-Bench Peers and Liberal Democrat Peers to defeat the Government again. I will do so with my head held high.
My Lords, I think that everyone in this House will agree that the question of whether to send this message back to the Commons for a fourth time is a very serious matter indeed. We need to reflect on whether we are doing this as a matter of major fundamental principle or of party politics. I think the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, referred to this vote being about the sort of society we want to live in. He is clearly nailing his flag to the mast of a fundamental major principle.
I know that many noble Lords on all Benches are voting on the basis of major principle. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, also nailed her flag to the mast of major principle by saying that she was standing up for what she believed was right. I regret to say that I do not believe her. I believe that she is pursuing her goal on the basis of party politics, using a party-political position—
My Lords, the noble Lord, who has not taken part in previous proceedings on this Bill—apart from one intervention last week in the interchange between the Houses—has called my honesty into question. I object.
My Lords, I hear it remarked that there is nothing wrong with party politics. I entirely agree. I made that assertion because the Leader of the Official Opposition, Lord Strathclyde, gave the game away last Wednesday. He said:
Thus it is on a small point that the Opposition are developing their notion of standing up for what is right. It is on this "small point" that the Opposition wish us to return the Bill to the Commons for a fourth time. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with pursuing party-political advantage or objectives. Yet when a party-political objective is pursued in such a manner over a "small point", it becomes disreputable.
My Lords, as far as I am concerned this has nothing whatever to do with party politics at this stage. I hope that your Lordships listened with some care to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, on this Motion, which proposes that in the present circumstances the right thing for your Lordships' House is to say to the other place that this Bill has become increasingly controversial. The public are increasingly worried; it would be an excellent idea if compulsion did not take place until after the next general election. This is the best amendment that we have had during these recent proceedings. It is absolutely practical and democratic.
We know from the polls—and I suspect that most of your Lordships will know from personal experience—that the public, as they hear more about the meaning for them of being on the register, are getting worried. They are beginning to understand what the Bill means for them. I said at Second Reading that I thought the public would eventually be very worried about being on the register, and I am sure that they are getting more worried now. The Guardian was right this morning to say that your Lordships' House should stand firm. Looking at the amendment and given the present circumstances, I hope that we will vote for it. That is the right thing to do and the House of Commons would be wise indeed to accept that.
My Lords, I want to speak to this amending Motion and, first, to confirm something that I said in the debate last week. I had not intended to speak but spoke from memory about the Parliament Act. I was asked afterwards whether what I had said was correct. I have rechecked and confirmed that this Bill, if it were to be passed under the Parliament Act, would be the first major manifesto or programme Bill to be thus dealt with since 1949—and, in some readings, since 1914. I will not go through the history of the Parliament Act, but that is the seriousness of the decision which your Lordships' House—including the Official Opposition—will have to take if we can find no compromise. Motion A1 goes much further than the Parliament Act and, in a way, compounds the importance of the issue.
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves the matter of the Parliament Act, I would like to deal with the matter that he raised the other day. I am of the view that there would be nothing wrong if this dispute had to be resolved by use of the Parliament Act, but the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said that it would be quite wrong for that Act to be used in the case of a government Bill and that it should be used only when there was a free vote.
Oh yes he did, my Lords. He quoted example after example where the Parliament Act had been used only when there was a free vote on the issue before the House. I remind the noble Lord of the War Crimes Bill, which I remember clearly because I had to speak for the government from the Front Bench. On that occasion, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead made a most spirited speech from the Liberal Benches, in which he said that it was nonsense to say that the Parliament Act should be used when there was a free vote; that the only legitimate case for the use of the Parliament Act was when there was an issue of great party-political moment between the government and the opposition; that the Parliament Act was originally passed to resolve a government policy matter of great moment; and that it was wrong for it to be used in any other circumstances. So you pays your money and you takes your choice. My personal view is that the Parliament Act can be used in either circumstance, as is appropriate.
My Lords, if the noble Lord had waited, I was going to say that this House certainly has the power to force the use of the Parliament Act. It is there to deliver the primacy of the Commons. I also said—and it is a matter of fact and is nothing to do with free votes—that if we used the Parliament Act on this Bill, it would be the first major manifesto programme Bill passed under the Parliament Act since 1949. In fact the noble Lord was actually agreeing with me.
I should point out that there have been three votes on this issue—once on Report, and twice during ping-pong. The most interesting aspect of those votes, apart from the fact that the government Benches consistently outvoted the Conservative Benches on each occasion, was the Cross-Bench vote—three to one against the Government on Report; three to one against them in the first ping-pong vote; and last week 24 Contents and 25 Not-Contents. It seems that at least some Cross-Benchers are beginning to think that enough is enough. Is the same thought occurring to some former Members of the Commons who are sitting opposite—former Leaders, Chief Whips, Cabinet Ministers and others?
Today's amending Motion goes much further than the Parliament Act in the delay that it will provide for. There would be three Parliaments and two general elections before this part of the Bill could become law. In fact the delay is much longer. It would be better for the Government to force the use of the Parliament Act, because they would get the Bill that they wanted much quicker.
No government are supposed to incur any public expense on a measure in a Bill until that Bill receives a Second Reading in the Commons, which would be the case if this Bill were accepted. Would the Government be right to spend all the money they needed to on planning, IT work and the rest if there was a possibility that the Bill could be repealed if the Conservatives won the next election? Is that a correct use of public funds?
A convention of this House, which is at least as important as the Salisbury convention, states that the elected government are entitled to have their business considered without unreasonable delay. That is linked with the other convention that the primacy of the Commons, as expressed through the Parliament Act, should finally prevail. This Motion drives a coach and horses through both conventions.
The whole debate we have had on this—the three rounds of ping-pong—underlines the importance of the appointment of a Joint Committee to consider the relationship between the two Houses.
My Lords, the situation now has changed. We are now offered a reasonable compromise that has not as yet, as far as I am aware, been debated in the other place or in our House. That, for me, changes the whole scene. I admit that I have so far abstained because I held a view about comity between the Houses, which—the noble Lord talks about political allegiance—was not exactly the view held by my Front Bench. I do not hold the view that this is a small point. I hold the view that now we are faced with an avenue to freedom. Freedom for the individual ought to be supported, and I hope that it would be expected and respected by another place as a reasonable suggestion for them to consider. For the very first time I shall support the Motion.
My Lords, I do not know where the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, has been canvassing opinion when she says that identity cards are becoming less popular. I took the opportunity this weekend of canvassing opinion at Tynecastle Park, where there was a large number of people. We were there for other purposes but, in quiet moments, I took the opportunity of discussing identity cards. I know it may seem a little eccentric, but I got some very positive responses to this issue.
The astonishing intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, was the most compelling argument in favour of identity cards that I have heard in this whole debate. With no disrespect to the Minister, or anyone on these Benches, it was a powerful intervention. It also reminded me that, when the Tories were elected, it was probably not the specific wording in their manifesto that convinced the electorate, but those wonderful posters that turned the tide. What was the name of the company that produced them?
My real point is in relation to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, who I got to know extremely well on the Joint Committee on the Charities Bill when I was in the Commons. I developed great respect and admiration for his ingenuity and cleverness. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, have said, "This is a compromise; this is something new". Let us be straightforward and honest about exactly what is happening. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being party-political—I have been even accused of being party-political since I came in here—it is perfectly respectable but we ought to be open about it.
Over the past few weeks, the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, using his ingenuity, has come up with Motion D1, then Motion A1, then another Motion A1. Over the weekend, by some process of osmosis, suddenly the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, thinks, "Hey, that's a good idea. I'll get all my forces, including the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, to support that wonderful amending Motion". So we had Motion A1, then another Motion A1. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said he would support it on this occasion. I say to the noble Viscount that this will go back to the House of Commons, which will say no even more resoundingly. Next time we meet, I can guarantee that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, will come up with an even more ingenious amendment. Then we will be faced with yet another opportunity. That is not the reality of what is happening. The reality is that the Liberal Democrats in particular—supported, to some extent, for other reasons, by the Tories—have always wanted to completely scupper this Bill. They have looked for opportunity after opportunity and they will continue to do so. The sooner non-political people here realise what is going on in the political parties, the better.
My Lords, I certainly will not. I represented Alloway for a long time and was hoping to include it in my title, but the noble Lord got in before me and I have great respect for him in that. The Liberal Democrats, in particular, are opposing this measure for one or two reasons and other people are opposing it for different reasons. The Conservatives are doing so for reasons relating to their opposition: not because they particularly want to oppose some parts of the Bill but because they want to undermine the position of the present Government.
My Lords, this is my second time round this circuit and I had not expected to intervene in this debate. As it is only my second time round, I am bound to say that I have heard nothing new this afternoon, with the exception of the words in the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and what he said immediately after moving it.
Behind all this we are dealing with a very simple fact: for electoral convenience, the Government put certain words in their manifesto and now, for administrative convenience, they have set those words aside. I suggest to the House that it would be in everyone's best interests if the debate were now wound up and the Government were allowed to parade their lack of shame through the Lobbies yet again.
My Lords, perhaps I may be permitted to say a few words. I was tempted to my feet last time by the noble Lord, Lord Carter. I decided to speak again after hearing the words of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, who berated me, rather echoing what the Home Secretary said in another place last week, about what I had said when I last spoke. I used the phrase "a small point" with a hint of irony that does not translate itself well on to the page. It is a small point in the sense of the amendments but it has substantial implications. I also went on to say that there was very little room for compromise. So imagine my surprise when my noble friend Lady Anelay said that she and the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, had found a way forward with a compromise, which I find it incredible the Government have not reached out and accepted. If the noble Baroness were to say in a few moments that she accepted the Motion, the Bill could have Royal Assent by tomorrow evening, the Government would get their Bill, they could get their machinery going for the ID card scheme and there would be no problem at all.
There is another advantage in accepting the Motion. The Government have said that, according to their own figures, this scheme will not begin to roll out until 2009. The Motion says that it should not be made compulsory until 2011. Do any of us really believe that the Government will meet their target of 2009? There is also an advantage for this House in proposing the amendments. We will have shown the Government that they should stick to their manifesto—an important point of principle in this House. I urge the Government to think very carefully, and perhaps the noble Baroness can say the words that we want to hear.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he confirm for me that the import of what both he and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said is that, if they were so fortunate as to be returned as the government of this country, they would intend to repeal this Bill?
My Lords, this is a very important question. I took the import of what the noble Lord said to be that he and his party would propose to scrap the Bill because of their implacable hostility to the lack of freedom and the need for compulsion. It is important for us to understand the position of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition in relation to this matter because we are contemplating spending taxpayers' money to put in place a system, which, if the noble Lord's party were so fortunate as to be returned would not be of any utility to the people of this country. This Government have to know the true position.
My Lords, I cannot understand why the noble Baroness feels the need to know at all. 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. Apart from anything else, the noble Baroness cannot tell us when the next general election will take place.
My Lords, I am very much torn. I do not think that the issue should involve the Parliament Act—it does not seem to be that kind of thing. At the same time, there is an issue of personal freedom to which we and the other place should have some regard. I do not know how much it will cost. We are told that not making registration compulsory for those who apply for a designated document would add to the cost, but we do not know by how much.
The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, seems to be a case of—to adapt St Augustine—give me compulsion, but not yet. I suggest that we should look at another form of compromise, if we have an opportunity, which would change the balance in the provisions in question. Instead of requiring the applicants for designated documents to opt in to the national identity register, we would enable those who really did not want to go on to the register on grounds of conscience or personal freedom to opt out. If the Government want to make a penalty on the lines suggested by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, that is for them to consider. That seems to be a compromise that would reduce the costs. If the estimates are true, most people will want to have identity cards, and such an amendment would preserve the principle of personal freedom.
If the amendment is voted for this afternoon and is then rejected by the other place, the next time round I should like to offer draft amendments that would provide for opting out instead of being compelled to opt in.
My Lords, I think that we have clarity on one issue, which is that nothing much has changed. It has been suggested that the proposal in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, is a compromise. I say as clearly as I can that it is not. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, reminded us that, on
"I must say that the ability to find a compromise between 'may' and 'must' is relatively limited".—[Hansard, 15/3/06; col. 1245.]
That is where we still are. The import of the noble Lord's amendment is "may", but the response from the other place is "must". That is the compromise that your Lordships are asked to consider. Do you want "may", or will you accede to the insistence of the other place on the word "must"? There is no compromise between the two. It is simply a matter of choice. Your Lordships have an opportunity to choose.
My Lords, it is because this Bill, in this Parliament, asks both Houses to allow the "must" to happen now—not after the next election and not in 2012, but now. That is the answer to which the Commons wish to have a response. We have debated whether it could be postponed, because it is inherent in the "may" that this matter could be looked at again. Your Lordships will remember that we are bringing back legislation in the future to consider when this scheme should be made compulsory for everyone. At that stage there will be a consideration of those issues. Until then, the question is whether these documents need to be designated. Yes or no? The Government say yes. Members of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition and the Liberal Democrats say no.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, in a very principled way, is very clear. He is implacably opposed to introducing this provision. Make no mistake, the noble Lord does not pretend to be anything else. Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition are in a somewhat interesting position. The response from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—and, by implication, from the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns—is that they do not know what their position will be. It is a matter of wait and see, very much like most of the policies coming from Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition—"We cannot tell you what we may decide by the next election". However, this Government are responsible for bringing in this procedure. We must consider how to spend the taxpayer's money now. We are responsible for whether things will be scrapped. That is a proper consideration for us.
The Commons did discuss this issue. This is not compulsion by stealth, as has been suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. The Commons discussed the mandatory link between designated documents and ID cards at great length. The issue was discussed extensively in Committee in the Commons, and relevant amendments were debated because the Bill was lost at the time of the general election and had to be reintroduced. Again, the mandatory link between designated documents and ID cards was extensively debated in Committee in the Commons and again at Report stage in the Commons. At every stage, it was made clear that it was intended to designate British passports and immigration documents. The issue has been discussed a further three times in the Commons in response to Lords Amendments. The Bill has been totally unequivocal on this issue at all stages.
Now is the time for us to decide what we want to do about this. On the last occasion we were reminded that the other place occasionally has the temerity to disagree with us. That temerity is based on the fact that they have the mandate. There sometimes comes a time when we do not agree with them, and then we continue not to agree with them. But we give way because that is our role. We give way because our role is to question and to test, but not to overrule.
My Lords, it is not the role of this House to give way. The role of this House is to consider legislation, to amend it as necessary, and, if it believes in its amendments, to stick to them. After that, if this House continues to believe that its amendments are sound and reasonable, it has every right to stick to them. It is the role of the House of the Commons, if it continues to disagree with a Lords Amendment, to go to the Parliament Act. If that is not the case, then this House is no more than a debating Chamber. Does the noble Baroness not understand that?
My Lords, in the years that I have had the privilege to stand at this Dispatch Box, I have learnt many things about this House and its ability to change legislation, to improve legislation and to ask the other place to think again. I have also learnt that this House has a pool of wisdom into which it dips and usually it knows when enough is enough. It is for this House to decide whether today we have reached a position where the House says, "Enough is enough". We have an opportunity to go on and on and on. The advantage is that my period at the Dispatch Box will, I hope, get shorter and shorter and shorter, and maybe we will do this the quicker. For now, we have had a full debate. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, I have not tried to weary your Lordships with all the substantive reasons why we should not go down this road, with which I have wearied your Lordships on the past three occasions. I have taken those as read. I invite the House to say that, as the House of Commons has spoken so clearly, we—not being deaf—have heard it, and we are now content for its amendments to stand and ours to rest.
My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this fascinating debate. It has covered some weighty matters. But I must immediately make plain why, despite the, as ever, articulate and persuasive words of the noble Baroness, I disagree with her flatly. She said that Bill after Bill has made clear that this is voluntary. We are not talking about Bills before the last general election; we are talking about the Government's manifesto last year. It really is playing Humpty Dumpty to pretend that the expression "rolled out on a voluntary basis in connection with passports" can conceivably be construed as compulsory. As I tried to indicate two stages ago, the word "voluntary" qualifies ID cards, not passports. I did not want to weary the House with the matter, but the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, has put it very succinctly. The first point of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, was that this is a manifesto Bill. This is manifestly not a manifesto Bill. That is the point.
My Lords, it was indeed mentioned in the manifesto, and how was it mentioned? It was mentioned as voluntary, not compulsory.
I have a complete sense of the superiority of the other place. I think we are lucky to be here at all, and we try to do a good job. We are subservient to the elected House. However, when I see the elected House coming to this place and saying to the country that that manifesto commitment does not mean voluntary, it means compulsory or quasi-compulsory, then I believe—and I hope that noble Lords will not think I am being pompous—that we have a duty to say, "No, it doesn't". Surely noble Lords will accept that we live in times when the public's sense of the probity and honour of the Houses of Parliament is not at its highest. Issues are swirling around—I am certainly not going to make political capital of them—that are causing great angst within this Palace and beyond. I have stuck to my guns principally because I think it thoroughly disreputable and, I am afraid to say, dishonest of us to pretend that "voluntary" meant "compulsory".
This amendment is not the sort of cosmetic amendment that the Commons put back to us; this is a genuine amendment. I return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, that this would take the matter beyond the Parliament Act. Of course that is so. We are trying to reach a compromise that will mean that the Government will not exercise the Parliament Act. However, as many have said, the first ID card is not to be issued until, on best estimates, 2009. We know jolly well what happens in this country when huge computer schemes are put before us. We also know why we have never been told the costs. It would be the greatest stone about any government's neck to dare to estimate the setting-up and integration costs of this uniquely massive scheme.
I shall not weary your Lordships any more, except to say that I am extremely grateful for the contributions of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster. I am only too happy to put heads together with him if we get this vote through today; there will be no chance to do so if we do not. I do not pretend that this is the best amendment available, but I sincerely and genuinely tabled this as a compromise amendment. The issues that underlie it are of great purport and importance. We are at a tipping point. The surveillance and compulsion being thrust little by little and drip by drip on the public of this country need to stop. This is it. I wish to test the opinion of the House.