Identity Cards Bill

– in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 28th March 2006.

Alert me about debates like this

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

commons reasons

[The page and line references are to Bill 28 as first printed for the Lords.]

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"

The Lords do not insist on their Amendments Nos. 16 and 22, in respect of which the Commons have insisted on their disagreement, do disagree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 22E and 22F in lieu, and 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."

The Commons disagree to these amendments for the following reason—

22GA & 22I Because the Commons do not consider it appropriate to delay until 1st January 2012 the commencement of the rule that a person applying for a designated document must at the same time apply to be entered in the Register and to have an ID Card issued to him

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 22G and 22H in lieu to which the Commons have disagreed for their reasons 22GA and 22I.

I would very much like your Lordships to emulate the behaviour that we have just witnessed in the passing of the previous Bill. I invite your Lordships to follow suit.

The Motion was agreed by the other place on Tuesday 21 March by a majority of 43 votes. I seek—I emphasise the word "seek"—to persuade your Lordships not to accept Motion A1 of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, which would amend Motion A by adding Amendments Nos. 22J and 22K.

I listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said in our debate on 20 March and I undertake to listen very carefully again today to what he will say in support of his Motion. I am clearly very grateful to him for the time he has taken to consider this issue and to draft these amendments. I should say at once that I recognise that they are intended to be helpful in resolving the stalemate on this one final issue on the Identity Cards Bill and not to undermine the Government's plans for identity cards. I acknowledge that is the intention. Whether that is the effect, however, is, of course, another matter. However, while in theory an opt-out might well be preferable to an opt-in, the practical impact on delivering the identity card scheme would be much the same.

The reason I cannot accept these new amendments is that they would have a very similar impact to the original Amendments Nos. 16 and 22 proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, but withdrawn by him on 20 March when he proposed Amendments Nos. 22G and 22H in lieu. I see the noble Lord nodding his assent in relation to that assessment. These later Amendments Nos. 22G and 22H recognise the principle of linking designated documents to identity cards, albeit with a time limit which would have delayed the automatic linkage between designated documents and identity cards.

The debate when the Bill returned to the Commons on 21 March was essentially about the timing of implementing the requirement for people applying for a designated document such as a passport to register and obtain an identity card rather than the principle of doing so. That was certainly the line taken by the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman in the Commons, Mr Nick Clegg MP, during the debate in the other place on 21 March.

The question now is whether these powers should be available straightaway or whether any delay should be imposed. Indeed, Mr Clegg said that in his view the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, would,

"blow a hole in the Bill"—[Hansard, Commons, 21/3/06; col. 192.].

And so it does—it would put a coach and four through the Bill as it is currently before this House.

As I made plain in debate on 20 March, the date of 31 December 2011 proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, is unacceptable to the Government. Such constraint on the linkage between designated documents and identity cards would introduce major uncertainties into our planning and create a high risk of additional costs. There would be delays not just in British passport holders being registered, but in foreign nationals being included on the national identity register.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Spokesperson in the Lords (Id Cards & Charities Bill), Home Affairs

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. If I may just clarify, the effect of the amendment passed by this House last time would not have been to delay designation as such. However, a designation having been made, it would have meant that the citizen had an option—effectively, for five years—on whether he or she wished to have an ID card. The five-year period would mean that that option would end. It is important that that is understood.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I understand entirely the way in which the noble Lord put it. We had an interesting debate on whether that was the effect and the costs that would flow from that position through having to develop two databases. We went through those issues quite fully. The noble Lord, as I understand it, is saying that, in principle, the connection in relation to designation was accepted and that the position was only in relation to when that would take effect and whether it would most probably follow another general election. However, the amendment with which we are dealing today puts us back to the position prior to the noble Lord's previous set of amendments and to where we were some considerable time ago when he was still arguing, as a matter of principle, that the designation should not be connected. I agree with the noble Lord in relation to that.

Turning to the issue with which we are now dealing, the connection between those two elements is clear in our current structure. The situation is that it is intended that designated immigration documents—such as residence permits issued to foreign nationals as well as passports issued to British citizens—should have the designated connection. We are proposing that but it is being countered. The Government have already also made clear the intention to create a new agency, based on the United Kingdom Passport Service, which would be responsible for issuing passports and identity cards. The plans for that agency are predicated on the introduction of a seamless process for the issue of passports and identity cards as a single package. Any opt-out or opt-in would increase the complexity, and thus the uncertainty, of planning the rollout of identity cards.

I explained the history from November 2003 to date on the last occasion. I will not weary the House with that again but I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, has not necessarily been on that journey with us month by month. He has been deprived of that pleasure, but those of us who have taken that journey can remember it well. Issuing an identity card together with a passport does not require anyone to use that card unless they wish to do so. In fact, Clause 18 specifically prohibits any requirement to produce an identity card as the only proof of identity unless there is a specific provision—

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister. If having an identity card imposes no obligation to use it, it would surely impose an obligation to notify the authorities at any time if one moved house. Is that not so?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, who has been on the journey with us, knows that there are a number of stages. When the card becomes compulsory for all, there will then be a provision obliging people to notify changes of address. We have already decided that the legislative vehicle to consider when that universal implementation of compulsory registration takes place should not be this vehicle but should be in the new Bill. At the moment, we are looking at one remaining issue—the linkage between the two documents. So that is a debate that I know the noble Lord is anxious to have. I am sure that he will be in his place when the date for it arrives and we will enjoy ourselves fully, but not now.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Spokesperson in the Lords (Id Cards & Charities Bill), Home Affairs

My Lords, I am terribly sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness again, but will she be so kind as to check her answer to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit? My understanding is that Clause 12 is not delayed until full compulsion for the whole population. Clause 12 relates to notification of changes affecting the accuracy of the register for any individual having an ID card.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, as I understand it—and I look towards the Box—it is in relation to the sanctions. One of the issues here is that we are going back to debates that we had in Committee and on Report; and trying to truncate those conversations makes things incredibly difficult. We spent hours and hours trying to clarify this. Your Lordships will also remember that notification of changes of address is already in the legislation for driving licences. All of us who drive must notify the authorities of a change of address; that is not new. That is perhaps what I can best say on the issue. It is not new. We have had many debates on whether it should be in the Bill, but that is the position.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Spokesperson in the Lords (Shadow Attorney General), Home Affairs, Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities

My Lords, surely Clause 12 reads:

"An individual to whom an ID card has been issued— that is voluntarily—

"must notify the Secretary of State about . . . every prescribed change of circumstances affecting the information recorded about him".

Subsection (6) says:

"An individual who contravenes a requirement imposed on him by or under this section should be liable to a civil penalty not exceeding £1,000".

If you register voluntarily and you do not tell them about your change of address, you are liable to a civil penalty of £1,000. Compulsory registration is neither here nor there.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, once you register you will have to tell the authorities about your new addresses. You will not have to register compulsorily; and we can go through that long debate that we had as to what is compulsion and what is not. Once you register, thereafter you will have to notify the authorities of your change of address. Only when everyone has to do that will it be compulsory within the Government's definition. I accept that we have had hours of debate, which I do not intend to go back over today, about whether, because the linkage is with the passport, that is compulsion. We say that it is not; others say that it is.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way again. I put to her the short formulation for the reply that she wants to make—"Lord Tebbit was right, wasn't he?".

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, that shortens it. We can telegraphically impose all the debates that we have had about those issues into that one answer. With the leave of your Lordships, if I can be allowed, I will move on.

The Government, in making the connection of issuing an identity card together with a passport, do not require the use of the identity card unless someone wishes to do so. That remains the same, and that is something on which we can all agree.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I do not intend to give way. I have given way so many times. It is only right that I should make the comments that I have to make. Then I will be more than happy to sit quietly and listen with the utmost care to every pearl of wisdom that drops from the noble Lord's mouth.

In fact, the Identity Cards Bill has a specific prohibition in Clause 18 on any requirement to produce an identity card as the only proof of identity unless specific provision is made in future legislation that an identity card must be produced or it is later made compulsory to hold an identity card. Furthermore, it has been confirmed by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary that anyone who feels strongly enough about the linkage not to want to be issued with an identity card in the initial phase will be free to surrender their existing passport and apply for a new passport before the designating order takes effect.

So although, as I indicated last time, we doubt whether many people would want to go to such lengths simply to avoid the opportunity of obtaining an identity card when renewing their passport, that facility is of course available to them. While the attention is on the designation power, I hope your Lordships will concede that the Government have already conceded to the Opposition's wish for regular reports to be published of the estimated costs of introducing identity cards. We have also conceded that fresh primary legislation must be required before it could be made compulsory to register. We have also accepted the removal from the Bill of provisions in Clauses 6 and 7, which would have enabled compulsory registration to be introduced by secondary legislation using a super-affirmative resolution order procedure with a civil financial penalty for failure to do so.

We have already made all those concessions to your Lordships and to the other place and we have never made a secret of the fact that ultimately this is designed to be a universal scheme. A scheme in which anyone could opt out would of course satisfy those who believe that the current provisions are a threat to ancient liberties, but it would also play into the hands of those who want to keep their identity secret for far murkier purposes; perhaps because they are engaged in identity fraud or illegal immigration. Even many of those opposed to identity cards in principle admit that a scheme that is wholly voluntary cannot be effective.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, for trying to help us resolve this impasse by tabling Motion A1. However, I am afraid that I do not think that Amendments Nos. 22J and 22K will assist us in finding a resolution between the Commons and the Lords on the final shape of the Identity Cards Bill. I know that as a former accounting officer at the Home Office the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, will understand that we have to avoid introducing uncertainty into the plans for rolling out identity cards linked to passports and any risk that that would increase costs and delay benefits to the taxpayer. Those are important issues. For those reasons the Government cannot accept the amendments.

The removal of the automatic link between identity cards and designated documents would mean that it would be much harder to predict the volume of applications for identity cards during the first few years of the scheme. That could lead to less reliable demand during the initial period and so bidders would be likely to introduce a risk premium in their price, which would then mean less value for money for the taxpayer and higher unit costs. It could also mean that the final rollout of the scheme and the move to compulsion would be delayed. That would itself delay the realisation of benefits, including all the wider public interest benefits of identity cards, such as assisting in the prevention and detection of crime and the enforcement of immigration controls.

I accept that for some the purpose of the amendments would be simply to cause that delay. We have to question whether that is a proper thing for this House to seek to do. Parliament has spent many hours debating the Bill. Leaving aside the discussions of the draft Bill and the debates on the earlier Bill introduced before the election, the other place spent 39 hours discussing the Bill before passing it on to us in October. The Committee stage there involved 11 sittings over seven days. It has been suggested by some, particularly by Members opposite, that the mandatory link between designated documents and ID cards was not sufficiently debated in the other place. But I can assure your Lordships that amendments almost identical to those tabled in our earlier proceedings by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, were debated and rejected in Divisions in Commons Committee twice—once on the Bill that fell before the election and once on this Bill—and at Commons Report.

We in this House scrutinised the Bill in all its stages for a total of 61 hours, including, as noble Lords will remember with pleasure, six days in Committee and three days on Report. Since then, a further 16 hours of parliamentary time have been taken up as each House considers the other's amendments and reasons. The principle of a mandatory link between designated documents and ID cards has been debated, voted on and amendments from this House rejected four times by the elected House. I must ask again that your Lordships' House should accept the will of the elected House.

I have to tell your Lordships that I am personally deeply troubled by what we are now doing in this House. Whether we like the contents of a government's Bill or not, the other place—not we—has the mandate of the people of this country. We are entitled to ask it to think again, as we have done four times. It has given us its answer with very great clarity. We need to think long and hard about the constitutional nature of what we now do. This House has a high and well deserved reputation. I would like to see us keep it.

Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 22G and 22H in lieu to which the Commons have disagreed for their reasons 22GA and 22I.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)

Photo of Lord Armstrong of Ilminster Lord Armstrong of Ilminster Crossbench

rose to move, as an amendment to Motion A, at end insert "but do propose Amendments Nos. 22J and 22K in lieu".

22J Clause 5, page 4, line 44, leave out from "individual" to end of line 4 on page 5 and insert—

"(a) if the individual is not already entered in the Register, his application for a designated document must include or be accompanied by an application by that individual to be entered in the Register unless he has stated in or with his application for a designated document that he does not wish to apply to be entered in the Register;

(b) if the individual is already entered in the Register, his application for a designated document must either state that he is already entered in the Register and confirm the contents of his entry or state that he is entered in the Register and confirm the contents of his entry subject to the changes notified in the application."

22K Clause 8, page 8, line 2, after "document" insert "in which he has not included or which is not accompanied by a statement in accordance with section 5(2) that he does not wish to be entered in the Register"

Photo of Lord Armstrong of Ilminster Lord Armstrong of Ilminster Crossbench

My Lords, I should declare a personal interest. My existing passport expires in 2008. If the Identity Cards Bill enters the statute book with the amendments that I have proposed, and if passports have been designated for the purposes of the Act by the time I apply for a new passport, I shall have the option to state that I do not wish to apply for my name to be entered in the register. I assure your Lordships that I am not moving these amendments in order to give myself that option. I should be minded not to exercise that option if and when the opportunity arises.

I also assure your Lordships, and particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, that in proposing these amendments I am not seeking to make some kind of mischief. I have no ulterior purpose to delay the progress of the Bill on to the statute book; indeed, my purpose is to expedite that progress. I am trying to find a way of avoiding the use of the Parliament Act to force the Bill through, because I do not think that this is an issue on which it would be appropriate to have recourse to the Parliament Act. The Bill will reach the statute book more quickly if recourse to the Parliament Act can be avoided.

The Bill as drafted says that anyone applying for a passport or other designated document whose name is not entered in the national identity register "must" apply to have his name entered in the register and to receive an identity card. Previous amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, and rejected in another place said that anyone applying for a designated document "may", if he so wishes, also apply to have his name entered in the register. In other words, he could opt into the register and receive an identity card if he wished to do so, otherwise his name would not be entered in the register and he would not receive an identity card. With my amendment, it is not a question of opting in; it is a question of opting out. My amendments would have the effect of requiring anyone applying for a designated document to apply to have his name entered in the register unless he states that he does not wish so to apply. In other words, he could opt out if he wished to do so; otherwise he would have to apply—have to apply—to have his name entered in the register.

I was glad to note that, in the debate in the other place last week, the Secretary of State welcomed my intervention in our debate of 20 March as being helpful. It seems to me that my amendments would give the Government a great deal of what they want. The presumption would be that when someone applied for a designated document, he would also apply to have his name entered in the register. That would be, if you like, the line of least resistance—one might say, the default course. It would require a positive act to opt out, not a positive act to opt in.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, I believe that most people applying for passports would be content to have their names entered in the register, as I would myself. No doubt, however, there would be some who, for whatever reasons—and not all of them discreditable—did not wish their names to be entered in the register. I believe that they would be relatively few.

The resolution of this issue by opting out rather than opting in would not be as neat and tidy as making it compulsory for someone to apply to have his name entered in the register if he is applying for a designated document. But there is an issue of personal freedom that should not be brushed aside as being of no consequence. I shall not enter into a learned discussion about what the Labour manifesto said or did not say at the previous general election, or what it meant or did not mean. If I may be forgiven for saying so, I have spent enough time in my earlier life trying to understand and interpret the subtleties of party manifestos, and I do not desire or need to revert to that occupation now.

There are a good many people out there who genuinely thought that the Government were proposing a voluntary scheme, and they were prepared to go along with it on that understanding and the prospect of later legislation to introduce compulsion. My amendments would restore an element of voluntariness—of personal freedom—which is absent from the Government's proposals. I understand that it might complicate administration and add to costs to allow people to opt out, as I propose. There is no knowing what the extra costs would be. However, with respect to the noble Baroness, to say that it puts a coach and horses through the legislation is something of an exaggeration. Compared with the total costs of the identity card scheme, the extra cost would be negligible, or at any rate relatively marginal. The preservation of a measure of personal freedom is surely worth some cost and some administrative untidiness.

As the noble Baroness reminded us again just now, anyone who feels strongly enough about the linkage and does not want to be issued with an ID card in the initial phase will be free to surrender their existing passport and apply for a new passport before the designation order takes effect. Why should someone who feels strongly enough about the linkage be obliged to follow the roundabout device of giving up his passport prematurely and applying for a new one some time before his existing passport runs out, thus incurring the cost of renewing his passport before he needs to do so? Why is that preferable to the straightforward course of giving him a right to opt out of having his name entered in the register when the time comes for him to renew his passport when the old one reaches its expiry date in the usual way?

As I said, I believe that relatively few people would take up the opportunity to opt out—the force of inertia would see to that. I saw an article in a newspaper on Sunday suggesting that the Government's position in this matter is motivated less by considerations of cost and administrative tidiness than by a desire to fit in with the proposed directive by the European Commission to require the introduction of biometric passports by the Schengen countries. I understand that this directive, as presently envisaged, would not apply to the United Kingdom. But it would no doubt be convenient if this country were in step with the Schengen countries in the timing of the introduction of biometric passports. But even if that argument were accepted as valid, it is not immediately clear why the introduction of biometric passports in the Schengen countries should make it necessary to compel applicants for United Kingdom passports to apply to be entered on the national identity register.

Moreover, the timetable for the issue and coming into force of the European directive seems to be quite uncertain. At this early stage, I suggest that it would be the triumph of hope over experience if we were to assume that the directive would come into force on the date now suggested for it. This suggests to me that the sensible course would be to accept my amendments now and let the Bill proceed accordingly. If and when the European directive comes into effect, or if it proves that the number of people opting out under these amendments is in practice negligible, it would not be difficult for the government of the day to introduce further legislation to amend the Act so as to reverse these amendments and restore an automatic link between applying for the designated document and applying to have one's name entered on the register. Indeed, the Government could perhaps use for this purpose the further legislation for which it is already agreed that there will be a need. Alternatively, if these amendments seem to provide a basis for resolving the matter, I should be ready to consider incorporating a sunset date for return to the automatic link on the lines suggested previously by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury.

In the mean time, I believe that the Government would get and deserve credit for the retention of a degree of personal freedom in this matter. If your Lordships were to approve the Motion which I propose, that should not be seen as defeat for the Government or victory for the Opposition. That is certainly not my intention. On the contrary, I would hope that both the government and the opposition parties might see what I propose as a no doubt imperfect but none the less acceptable compromise, as going some way towards meeting genuinely held misgivings, as obviating the need to have recourse to the Parliament Act and as ensuring the early passage of the Bill. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to Motion A, at end insert "but do propose Amendments 22J and 22K in lieu".—(Lord Armstrong of Ilminster.)

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Shadow Minister, Home Affairs 3:45 pm, 28th March 2006

My Lords, I support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, and oppose the Government's Motion. Motion A1 offers the Government an honourable and reasonable compromise. It comes as near as possible to giving the Government what they say they need while preserving, with the opt-out provision, the vital element of personal freedom to which the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, has referred.

The Home Secretary said last week that he welcomed the helpful intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, and that he was grateful to him for his efforts to resolve the impasse on the matter of compulsion in the initial stage of rolling out the national register and ID card scheme. We, too, are grateful to him. He has taken a most constructive course and we give him our full support.

As has been explained by the noble Lord and the Minister, last week we offered a different compromise to the Government, but they rejected it, despite the fact that we had tried to move a significant way towards the Government's position. The Government offered no hope of any discussions on a compromise that might resolve the impasse that we faced. We could have insisted today upon that amendment. However, we decided that it was far better to show even further flexibility by supporting the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong. His approach endorses the principle that we have espoused throughout our debates on the Bill: that it would be wrong to make the right to leave this country for all those who need a new passport conditional upon succumbing to the compulsion to be entered on the national identity register and by an ID card.

As the Minister said, our debates have been long and complex. However, personal freedom is a matter of the utmost importance to all of us, so it is right to have taken time. I have made it clear throughout our debates on this Bill that we are seeking to reach agreement with the Government on this matter, and we remain resolved to do so.

The Home Secretary and the Minister have claimed that this amendment would have the same defect as that offered by the House last week: it would introduce a degree of uncertainty into the plans for rolling out ID cards on a compulsory basis linked to a person's application for a passport. But the Home Secretary has himself introduced a greater element of uncertainty by advising those who want to escape compulsion in this initial stage to surrender their existing passport and apply for a new one before the designation order takes effect. The Minister referred to that advice again today.

Let us put aside the obvious financial penalty that would be imposed on a family who have a long period to run on their existing passports, and would, under the Home Secretary's advice, have to stump up the cost of new passports earlier than they expected. The fact is that the Home Secretary himself proposed to put more uncertainty into the system, because his advice maintains the need for two databases for a longer period. Last week, I pointed out that the Government's own position on the number of databases is obscure. Neither the Minister, nor the Home Secretary in another place, rebutted those arguments.

The Government's system of compulsion by stealth in the initial period has real complexity in its arrangements. It must enable those who do not need a passport to sign up for an ID card. There will have to be a record of those true volunteers, in addition to those who are forced to have an ID card if they need to travel abroad for work or to visit their relatives. There is also still some confusion over 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. During our debates last week, I pointed out that the Government's policy on how they would run the scheme is still evolving. Instead of the system the Government talked about in both Houses, whereby verification of identity would be by electronic readers, Mr Burnham now says that the Government plan to use the chip and PIN system at first.

Are the Government still making up their ID card policy on a daily basis? Well, indeed, they are. A peek at the Guardian last Thursday proved that. Health officials have now revealed that the personal data gathered on all of us could be held by several different companies, rather than in one central government database. That is one more dramatic change from the information given to us in our long debates on the Bill. It is clear that the Government have not yet determined the initial architecture of the IT system; but, as I said before, I am not necessarily criticising them for that—it may be no bad thing. If the Government are prepared to take the time to consider carefully a more effective, reliable and fair system, I would welcome that—and so, I think, would the majority of Members of this House.

The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, has shown us that we could find a sensible compromise on the matter of the promised voluntary rollout, as against the threatened compulsion in the initial stages. The Government's own Back-Benchers in another place advised the Government last Tuesday to adopt a compromise approach if this House returned the Bill to another place once more. I hope that the Government take the advice of their Back-Bench colleagues to heart, even if they continue to ignore me. I remain an optimist. I believe that there are always reasonable and honourable solutions to problems. It is right to take the time, now, and act in good faith to find those solutions.

The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, has had the most distinguished career. His expertise in reaching sensible solutions to seemingly intractable problems is second to none. His solution seems startlingly obvious. It is simple; it is just; it is fair. It is a very British compromise. I trust him, and will support him as he assists us all today to reach a solution to the problems we face.

When the Minister made her introductory remarks today, she carefully pointed out that the Government rejected this amendment, and gave the reasons for doing so. But she also said, very carefully, that she would listen to what the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said. I thought that was a constructive approach. If the Minister remains unable to join in the spirit of compromise offered with this Cross-Bench amendment, I shall strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, in the Lobby, and I will urge all my noble friends to join me.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Spokesperson in the Lords (Id Cards & Charities Bill), Home Affairs

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Thompson of Ilminster, very heartily.

Noble Lords:

Armstrong!

A noble Lord:

Identity fraud!

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Spokesperson in the Lords (Id Cards & Charities Bill), Home Affairs

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong. He has released me from my impalement on an amendment that I have moved four times. I was only too happy to see his name on the Marshalled List today. For all the reasons that he so reasonably gave in a remarkably reasonable justification, I urge the House to support him in the amendment.

I merely want to add two or three points to what has been said. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, referred, perfectly fairly, to the laborious consideration given to the Bill in this place. It comes to 76 hours, and I am so deranged as to have spent 75 hours and 55 minutes of those 76 hours sitting in my place. None the less, it has been a House of Lords exercise of which we should be proud. This is not any old Bill. It is a Bill that has the widest ramifications of cost, longevity, scope and, above all—echoing the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong—in terms of the citizen's liberty and the relationship between the citizen and the state. I note that the Minister did not refer to any of those issues. Maybe that is right, maybe it is not. It may be a reflection of an increasing sensitivity in this Government to what might be called the "liberty issues" in relation to this massive scheme.

To those on the other side of the House who have said that we on these Benches have opposed the Bill root and branch, I would add the following fact: we have put forward 150 or so amendments to the Bill and roughly 40 of them have been accepted by the Government as ameliorating amendments. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, was kind enough to compliment our efforts when we reached the end of Report stage. Any suggestion that the amendments that have been tabled hitherto, let alone the amendment that has been tabled today, were produced in a wrecking spirit cannot be substantiated.

I accept that a Bill that started in the other place, and that has been considered as much as it has in this place, must reach the statute book. One single issue remains that prevents it reaching the statute book. The argument is made that it is wrong of us to persist in our constitutional objection and that we are wrong on constitutional grounds. Indeed, it was suggested last week that we are in some sort of constitutional crisis. There is not much sign of it in the media. I am not sure how much, if any, notice this debate will receive in the media, but as long as they remember that the ping comes from here and the pong from the other place, I am happy.

This is the fifth time that we have sent the Bill back. This is a sensible and cautious House. The Cross Benches are highly sensitive to charges of an excess of partisan zeal. Therefore, why are we here again, in large numbers and led by a Cross-Bencher? It comes down to one fact, and, in saying that, I do not override the basic objection enunciated by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong. On Sunday, Geoff Hoon, the Leader of the Commons, said in an interview with Sky News Sunday programme:

"But it's always been recognised, indeed said to be a convention of the constitution, that once a government puts into its manifesto a particular proposal, then the House of Lords would not stand in the way of that proposal becoming law.

That's one of the problems we have with ID cards. We set that out clearly in the manifesto last May—it was voted for by the British people".

Like heck it was; but what was voted for?

"We will introduce ID cards . . . rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports".

Others have been saying—and the Minister, Andy Burnham, said it this week—"Actually forget the manifesto. What you must look at is the Bill that preceded the manifesto and the Bill that succeeded the manifesto. That is what you must look at". That is not what the convention is. That is not what Geoffrey Hoon said—and rightly said. The trouble with Mr Hoon is that he had not read his own manifesto, or he would not have dared advance the case that, "We set that out clearly in the manifesto". Yes, they set it out clearly. The thing that sticks in the gullets of the majority in this House is the thought that we are doing our duty to support an act of dishonour by the other place in relation to a manifesto. How can it conceivably be a convention that this House should underpin a policy and a piece of legislation within months of an election where the Government explicitly said:

"We will introduce ID cards . . . rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports".

I know that noble Lords opposite do not like those words being mentioned. But they are at the heart of the constitutional feeling on this side of the House that this is not an occasion—and I agree absolutely with the assertion of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong—on which we should be inhibited in resisting this single but vital aspect of the Bill.

Finally, I would just say that events shift and uncertainties seem to breed. For those of your Lordships who think that this uniquely large and comprehensive ID card scheme is a well considered, well-founded and well constructed plan of campaign, I beg you to read the 42 pages of witness statements given to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee last week, published yesterday, and if any of your Lordships really think, quite apart from any other issues, that this is a ship on which to sail on the high seas, I can only think that we inhabit different realms.

So, it is with great enthusiasm that I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster.

Photo of Lord Richard Lord Richard Labour 4:00 pm, 28th March 2006

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him a question. Does he support the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, that his suggestions should contain a sunset clause; and, if so, for how long does he think the sunset clause should be?

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Spokesperson in the Lords (Id Cards & Charities Bill), Home Affairs

My Lords, that is a perfectly fair question, and I will answer it directly. I think that the noble Lord was right in suggesting a sunset clause. In some senses his amendment today is less of a compromise than the one I put forward, which was accepted by the House last week. I would not start bandying times with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, across the House, but what I believe absolutely is that on any basis it would be wrong to allow the compulsory link between ID cards and passports to be brought into effect before the next election. The next election must be held, I think I am right in saying, by May 2010. But that is as far as I can go—and that is generous.

Photo of Lord Barnett Lord Barnett Labour

My Lords, I very much share the sympathy that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary expressed for the attempt by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, to find a compromise. Anyone who knows the noble Lord will not only have sympathy for his proposal but huge respect for everything that he has ever done. The noble Lord—I nearly called him my noble friend because he sits on my Bench—made it quite clear that he was not attempting to make any mischief with the Bill or the Government. Of course, one enormously respects that view and his view about personal freedom. I have on occasion expressed my views about parts of the Bill myself. In normal circumstances, I could well have been tempted to vote for the noble Lord's proposal.

But these are not normal circumstances. This is the fourth time that your Lordships' House has rejected the elected House's view. One cannot help wondering, in parentheses, if 70 per cent of your Lordships were elected, how many times they would try to block the other elected Chamber. I am not sure how many of us would be here, because 70 per cent of us would presumably go—I am not sure how.

The Home Secretary has been prayed in aid of the view of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong. In fact, although welcoming what my right honourable friend described as the "helpful intervention" of the noble Lord, he continued:

"I understand the reasoning behind Lord Armstrong's proposal and am very grateful to him for his efforts to help to resolve the impasse. However, I have to say that while I agree that an opt-out might well make more sense than an opt-in, the reality would be the same. We would still be introducing a large degree of uncertainty into the plans for rolling out identity cards".—[Hansard, Commons, 21/3/06; col. 182.]

That was really the Home Secretary's view. Anyone who knows anything about the Bill is bound to agree with that.

Most of all, despite my huge respect for the noble Lord, I am extremely disappointed that he has sought to move the amendment. It would never have occurred to me to describe the noble Lord as na-ve. All my experience of him in government is far from that. But he must have seen beforehand that he was being used by the Opposition. If he did not see that beforehand, he must have seen it today. For a distinguished nominated Member of your Lordships' House to move for the fifth time to disagree with the elected House would not be sensible. It would be quite wrong. I hope that, on reflection, he will not seek to press the Motion.

Photo of Lord Saatchi Lord Saatchi Conservative

My Lords, in her closing remarks this afternoon, the noble Baroness took a small step from persuasion to coercion. I think I may summarise her message as: "Come to your senses. Resistance is futile. You know the penalty". She acts as though any minute now she is going to reach into some dusty drawer of history and pull out a barnacled old stick called the Parliament Act, wave it in front of our faces and watch us run for cover.

What is that ultimate deterrent, before which we so tremble? I stand to be corrected by noble and learned Lords, but I believe that a judge, before determining a point of law, considers what was in the mind of the lawmaker when the law was made. My noble friend Lord Kingsland, the shadow Lord Chancellor, tells me that the exact phrase is that the judge tries to discern the intention of Parliament when the law was made. So I wonder whether I can take the Minister back to 2 March 1911, when the Parliament Act was being considered. The then Liberal Prime Minister, Mr Asquith, is commending the Parliament Bill to another place on its Second Reading. He describes his intention very clearly:

"Take the hereditary principle. What can we get out of it? Hon. Gentlemen opposite have got a great deal out of it . . . a working instrument to frustrate and nullify the functions of this House when there is a Liberal Government in power . . . That is what the right hon. Gentleman gets out of it".

The right honourable Gentleman was Mr Balfour, the leader of the Conservative opposition.

The Prime Minister then told the House the precise purpose of the Parliament Bill. Speaking of the hereditary principle, he said:

"Let it not be our master. So say we. It is because it has been our master . . . because it enslaves and fetters the free action of this House, that we have put these proposals before the House and we mean to carry them into law".—[Hansard, Commons, 2/3/11; col. 584.]

Winston Churchill was in no doubt about the intention of the Parliament Bill. Campaigning for it around the country, he asked:

"Why should their children govern our children? Why should the sons and the grandsons and the great grandsons have legislative functions?".

He said he hoped that the Bill would be,

"fatal to the hereditary House of Lords".

But, of course, the hereditary House of Lords is dead; the Government killed it in the House of Lords Act 1999. That was why the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, then the Leader of your Lordships' House, speaking during the passage of the House of Lords Act 1999, said that the reformed House—our House today—would be,

"more democratic, more legitimate, more authoritative".

That was also why the then Attorney-General, the much lamented late Lord Williams of Mostyn said that the present House of Lords—our House—

"will be better equipped, more democratic, more legitimate".

The record seems to show that this intimidating Act has been overtaken by events. It may still have legal authority—others will know better than I do—but it lost its moral authority when the Government removed the hereditary Peers from your Lordships' House.

Photo of Lord Eatwell Lord Eatwell Labour

My Lords, is the noble Lord proposing that hereditary Peers who remain in this House should not vote in any Division?

Photo of Lord Saatchi Lord Saatchi Conservative

My Lords, I think I am fairly and exactly quoting what was said at the time in justification of the removal of the hereditary Peers.

Will the Minister consider taking advice from me? Probably not, but if she did, it would be this. Put the stick away and take advice from my noble friend Lady Anelay. Take your colleagues, special advisers and officials to a nice country house hotel over Easter, make a day of it and then return to your Lordships' House with something new to say that did not dwell on the past in the way in which I said the Government do at the moment. If she will not take my advice and look a little more to the future, will she take the advice of her own Prime Minister, whose favourite phrase was, I believe, "Forward, not back"?

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, was being na-ve or was being used when he tabled the amendment. It is a perfectly respectable amendment—I speak as one who has taken part in most, if not all, of the debates during the passage of the Bill. As it happens, I believe it is a very weak amendment which, if they had any sense, the Government would accept with open arms, because there is a precedent in the trade union movement for opting out of the political levy. Members, particularly on the Labour side of the House, will have a lot of experience of this, and they will know that the system for making political contributions to the Labour Party was accompanied, until quite recently, by the opportunity for people to opt out of the political levy. Of course, the number of people who opted out was so infinitesimal as to be almost imperceptible. If the Home Secretary wants to finish this debate with honour, I would recommend that the Government accept this amendment quickly, before it is withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Turnbull Lord Turnbull Crossbench 4:15 pm, 28th March 2006

My Lords, I, too, recognise the good faith of my noble friend Lord Armstrong in moving this amendment. Since he is a predecessor but two of mine, I could not do anything else. Opt-outs have a long and honourable pedigree. The whole of our economic policy is currently based on one. Equally, I am not happy with a position in which, for an unnamed period, we have two kinds of passport in circulation: let us call them "registered" and "unregistered".

My noble friend Lord Armstrong hinted at a possible solution. The amendment was presented as though one change was being made from the previous proposal offered by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips; a change from opting in to opting out. In fact, two changes were made; the other being the removal of a time limit. The obvious question is whether there is a solution which combines the two effects—an opt-out and a time limit.

Photo of Lord Young of Norwood Green Lord Young of Norwood Green Labour

My Lords, I hesitate to intervene, but I want to on this occasion. In my time, I have constructed a fair few amendments, some of which had completely honourable intentions and some of which were, quite frankly, wrecking amendments. With due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, it does not matter whether his intentions are honourable or dishonourable—I assume that they are honourable—but it is the effect of the amendment that matters. As the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, rightly said, the effect of the amendment is that of a wrecking amendment. It drives a coach and horses through the Bill, which is why it is being so eagerly embraced by the Opposition. To say that the Government have been unhelpful, while recognising that 40 ameliorating amendments have been accepted, seems to be a contradiction in terms.

One noble Lord has said that it is a weak amendment, but noble Lords will notice that he seized it with alacrity. But is that surprising? What is the noble Lord's standpoint? He is opposed to identity cards. I have listened, along with many others, not to all the debate. I have listened to comments about the loss of personal freedom and civil liberties. In any civil society there is a balance between the collective good and individual freedoms. Otherwise, we would have none of these controls. We would not have national insurance numbers, passports or driving licences. There is always a balance to be struck.

I am absolutely bemused. In the current climate, we know that identity fraud is rife and that passports are forged with gay abandon and lead, often, to terrible circumstances. Yet we seem to think that this is a matter of small import and can laugh over it: recent events give us no worry or cause for concern whatever. No one deludes themselves by imagining that an identity card will solve all those problems; but it will, sure enough, make it a damn sight harder to commit these frauds.

I was interested when the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said that most people would be content with an opt-out but some would not. Not all those people will be discreditable, but some of them will be discreditable. We have to guard against that, unfortunately, in today's society. If I thought that this was a helpful amendment which would safeguard the civil liberties of the people of this country, I would be minded to support it. But I am afraid that I do not. The intentions matter not a jot: it is the effect of the amendment that matters. I hope that we will recognise the primacy of the other place and oppose this amendment.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I agree with what has just been said by my noble friend Lord Young and say to the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, that I absolutely understand the import of his amendment. His desire is to achieve what some would say is almost an impossibility: to find a compromise between "may" and "must". How do we do that? The House must now deal with the fact that it is impossible.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, that when I made my comments I was not talking about the Parliament Act; I was talking about something far more precious and important. Over the years, this House has rightly grown in stature. It has grown in stature because of its acuity in looking at some of the issues; its good sense; its proportionality; and its balance. This House has—certainly since I have been privileged to be in it—shown sound judgment. We know when to push. We know when to test. We know when to challenge. But we also know when to desist. This is the first time in a very long time when I genuinely believe that this House may be in danger of losing that balance. It is important not just for this Bill—this Bill will come and it will go—but for all the other Bills.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and I have had the privilege of dealing with Bill after Bill. We know the consequence of lack of judgment. We know the consequence of lack of moderation. We know that in the years to come we will pay for those issues on which we have failed to demonstrate judgment. That is why I say from this Dispatch Box, not simply as the Minister, the spokesman for this Bill, but as a Member of this House that I fear for us. I fear for us because people will look at what we do today. They will look at the fact that all of us are unelected, whether we be hereditary Peers or no—and the 92 hereditary Peers who remain in this transitional House are still hereditary for all that. There are those who say that this House should not be because we do not have the right to hold up legislation in a way that is improper. There will be those who will use this opportunity against this House.

I do not hesitate to tell your Lordships that over the years I have grown to have enormous respect for this House and for its work. When we trespass in such a way that we challenge the high regard in which we are held, I tremble for us. I say to this House, not because of the content of this Bill, but because of the enormity of what we do, we have to understand it.

Members opposite aspire one day to govern this country. This is about governance; we have to govern in the interests of the people of this country. I look to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, who commented on the manifesto and the general election. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, that I believe we made it clear. Let me help him as to why. During the general election campaign, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister stated that the Identity Cards Bill would be reintroduced. A clear reference was made to the fact that the Bill which fell at the election would be brought back, including the provisions on designation.

For these reasons, I believe that there never was any doubt about our plans. Indeed, our plans were so clearly understood by the Liberal Democrats that on page 12 of their election manifesto, the manifesto which they took to the people of this country, they made the following claim. The Liberal Democrats said that "they"—meaning the Government—

"plan to charge every citizen nearly £100 each to hold a compulsory identity card".

That was one of the manifesto debates between the two parties.

The Liberal Democrats went to the people and said that that was the Government's intention—and the people voted.

A noble Lord:

The Government lied.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

No, my Lords, the Government did not lie. The Government's case was clear. Others, including the Liberal Democrats, understood what we were saying.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Spokesperson in the Lords (Id Cards & Charities Bill), Home Affairs

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. Mr Blair's comment made no reference to "compulsory" or "voluntary". To pretend that the public, when listening to the Prime Minister, understood that a Bill had been introduced in which Clause 5 referred to a compulsory arrangement—it did not then refer to "compulsory" in words—seems far-fetched in the extreme. On the Liberal Democrat manifesto point, it is very simple: manifestos are written ahead of an election. The Liberal Democrat manifesto was written on the basis that the Tory manifesto—I am sorry, the Labour manifesto—would mirror and parallel what was in the Bill. It did not. Instead of talking, as it should have done if it had followed the previous Bill, about a compulsory card, it referred only to something "voluntary".

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Spokesperson in the Lords (Id Cards & Charities Bill), Home Affairs

Noises can be made, but that is a simple fact. The word "voluntary" appeared in the Labour manifesto.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his intervention because he has thereby demonstrated that this issue was put before the people of this country. The people of this country then voted. I know that it is a disappointment to the noble Lord, but they did not vote for a Liberal Democrat government.

I turn to the other issue. We still do not know the position of the Conservative Party. When on the previous occasion I pressed this matter with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, he responded basically by saying that, "We'll make our minds up later, when the case arises".

It has been suggested that this issue should be terminated until the next general election. I say that because the date proposed on the previous occasion was 2011. In this debate it has been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, and other noble Lords that we should postpone the date as this may provide a way forward. The date that was last suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, was 2011. He made it clear in his intervention that that was so as to enable another election to intervene. So it is very important for us to understand the principal position of the Tory Party on this matter, but we have not heard it. We do not know whether we are looking at bringing in provisions with which Her Majesty's loyal Opposition would agree or disagree.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

My Lords, the Minister is of course trying to tempt me into writing the next general election manifesto. I promise her that if by then I am in a position to do so, possibly from beyond the grave, I will let her know in advance what is in it.

Today we are discussing an amendment. I have made clear my support for the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong. He has made a very helpful and honourable move forward to achieve a compromise. Today I have directed all my remarks towards that honourable way forward and of seeking a way to resolve this matter. In doing so, I am not going to get involved in market gardener bartering across the Chamber. That would be to demean the House, and I value this House too much to do that.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management) 4:30 pm, 28th March 2006

My Lords, of course I hear what the noble Baroness is saying, but we still do not know whether noble Lords opposite will or will not accept the identity cards scheme as something that will inure to the benefit of the people of this country. We believe that it does and that it is important.

Where are we? We are where we have been for some months. The other place has been asked to think again, with variations on the same theme. On each occasion it has answered. For the sake of the record, I should tell your Lordships what those answers have been. On 18 October 2005, the Neil Gerrard amendment was defeated by a majority of 32. On 23 January 2006, Lords Amendments Nos. 16 and 22 were passed on Report by the Lords, by 186 votes to 142, an opposition majority of 44. On 13 February 2006, the two Lords amendments were then rejected, with a separate Division on each amendment, in the Commons with majorities of 31 and 51, respectively. On 6 March 2006, the Lords insisted on their amendments; the opposition majority was 61 on the Lords consideration of Commons amendments. On 13 March 2006, the Commons reversed the amendments and passed a technical amendment in lieu with a majority of 33. On 15 March 2006, the Lords again insisted, with a reduced majority of 35. On 16 March 2006, the Commons reversed the amendments with an increased majority of 51. On 20 March, the Lords disagreed with the Commons and passed two amendments in lieu, with a slightly increased majority, one vote, of 36. Then, on 21 March, the Commons disagreed with their Lordships by a majority of 43.

I understand the reason why the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, believes that this is helpful, but how many times are we going to say "No" to the will of the other place? I invite the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, to think very carefully about whether he wants to press the Motion; about the impact it will have; and about the consequences for this House as regards its relationship with the other place. To be clear, I am not talking about the Parliament Act. I am talking about something I regard to be much more precious.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Leader, House of Lords, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, on earlier occasions she has drawn on the Wakeham report to support her position. In paragraph 3.26, it said that the Lords' powers should be exercised "with restraint" and whenever the "occasion clearly demanded it". In paragraph 4.7, it stated:

"Our conclusion is that the current balance is about right and should not be radically disturbed. It would be wrong to move in the direction of a basically unicameral system with the second chamber able to play only a 'revising' role".

The judgment of when we reach that point, unless she is in favour of a unicameral Parliament, is a matter for each Member of the House, not for Ministers of the Crown.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, we have conceded on many points. It is a question of judgment. We have moved and moved and moved and moved again, but I do not think that there is any space left to move to. This is primary legislation. In many of the debates, Members of this House have been almost tempted to treat it as if it was secondary legislation. This is primary legislation, which has been debated and debated and debated again.

We are left with a central issue—should the link that designation provides be maintained or not? The other place says "Yes". It has said "Yes" consistently—not just through this Bill, but through the previous Bill, which went through all its stages in the other place before the election.

The Gerrard amendment dealt with this issue. On every occasion the other House has said that this link must be maintained as the most effective and efficacious way of delivering what is a main, government policy. If I may respectfully say so, it is for this House now, if it honours its position and that of the other place, to give way with grace.

Photo of Lord Armstrong of Ilminster Lord Armstrong of Ilminster Crossbench

My Lords, I say to my noble neighbour, or rather my noble friend Lord Barnett—I think that I may allow myself to call him my noble friend—that I have not been used by the opposition parties in this matter. The Motion which I put down today was not put down at their behest or at their request; it was put down because it seemed to me that here was a different form of compromise from any of those previously considered, which was worth considering, and worth considering very seriously.

I was encouraged by some of the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, but not by all, and I was encouraged by what the Secretary of State said last week in another place. The House has to weigh the serious points that the noble Baroness made about the ultimate supremacy of the will of the other place, which I certainly do not call in question, with the question whether there is here a new possibility of compromise that could avoid a confrontation or possible use of the Parliament Act. I know the noble Baroness said that she was not talking about the Parliament Act and I very well understand that. I am sorry that my Motion comes at such a late stage in the process which we have been through, but I think that this compromise is different from others which have been suggested. I think that it could still form the base of an acceptable compromise, perhaps with the insertion of a time limit, and I beg the Government to consider that.

It will be for your Lordships to decide whether the merits, such as they are, of these amendments should prevail against the very serious and moving remarks which the noble Baroness has made about the game of ping-pong that we have been playing and its continued extension. However, I should like to take the opinion of the House on that balance.

On Question, Whether the said Motion (No. A1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 219; Not-Contents, 191.

Division number 1

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.

On Question, Motion A, as amended, agreed to.

Bill returned to the Commons with amendments.