Identity Cards Bill

– in the House of Lords at 4:21 pm on 29th March 2006.

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A message was brought from the Commons, That they do not insist on certain amendments to the Identity Cards Bill to which your Lordships have disagreed and they disagree to the remaining amendments, for which disagreement they have assigned their reason.

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

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 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. 22J and 22K in lieu, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reasons 22JA and 22L.

I note that the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, is not yet in his place. However, I wish to speak to Motion A1 standing in his name. I see that the noble Lord has now reached his place. In the best traditions of the House, he is seeking to reach an acceptable compromise in tabling Amendments Nos. 22M, 22N and 22O in lieu. I, on behalf of the Government, will urge my colleagues to support his Motion.

The Commons earlier today reaffirmed their view, for the fifth time, that those applying for a designated document should have their details entered on the national identity register and be issued with an ID card. As your Lordships are aware, this has been fundamental to the Government's approach in implementing the identity cards scheme, going back to our very first consultation exercise in 2002. That approach continued in the policy announcement in 2003, the draft Bill scrutinised by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee in 2004, the Bill debated before the election, the Government's manifesto commitment, which we established yesterday was clearly understood—at least at the time—by the Liberal Democrats, and all our subsequent debates.

As I said yesterday, during our debates we have conceded on many points. We have moved and moved and moved again, to the point where it is hard to see what more the Government can give. I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, has persevered in his honourable attempts to find a way somewhere between "must" and "may".

The noble Lord's Motion preserves the integrity of the national identity register by ensuring that the details of all applicants for designated documents will be entered in the national identity register, an issue which, as I have explained on a number of occasions to the House, is key and central to the Government's delivery of the process. This will mean that they will all be afforded the protection that this will provide from identity theft. It will also provide the wider benefits to society by ensuring that attempts by people to establish multiple identities will be more easily detected.

Once the passport becomes the designated document, the noble Lord's amendment provides for a time-limited opt-out for people applying for passports to be issued with an identity card as well. I share the noble Lord's view that few people will opt out. For those who do, while they will not be able to prove their identity securely in a range of transactions with public and private sector organisations, they will also not be required to inform the authorities of changes in prescribed details such as their address; that obligation applies only to those to whom the ID card has been issued. As this has been one point that has appeared to cause some noble Lords concern, I hope that they will take this into account when deciding whether or not to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, today.

If we are to secure value for money in the procurement process and obtain the full benefits of the scheme over time, there has to be certainty about the number of people registered and the proportion of people who hold ID cards. The noble Lord's amendment therefore sensibly sets a time limit on when the opt-out from being issued with an identity card would end. While the date of 1 January 2010 will add a degree of uncertainty to the Government's plans for implementing the scheme, this will, we hope, be manageable. I note that a number of noble Lords suggested the inclusion of a date yesterday. The debate has ranged around that issue. The date proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, strikes a sensible compromise and is acceptable to the Government.

I have to confess that I have mixed feelings about our long and many debates on this Bill. In many respects, this House has performed its duty admirably in improving the Bill. But its actions in holding out against the clearly expressed wishes of the elected Chamber have put at risk this House's reputation—

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)

That is something, my Lords, which we believe is of great importance.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, however, will allow us to draw a line under the more disturbing elements of this episode. Should the House agree to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, the Government will accept it when the Bill returns to the House later today. We hope that we have found an honourable way of resolving the issue between the Houses and that we can restore comity between them.

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

Photo of Lord Armstrong of Ilminster Lord Armstrong of Ilminster Crossbench

rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion, at end insert "but do propose Amendments Nos. 22M, 22N and 22O in lieu—

22M Clause 8, Page 7, line 31, at end insert

"but this subsection does not require an ID card to be issued as part of or together with a designated document issued on an application made in a case falling within subsection (7)(a) to (c)."

22N Page 7, line 42, leave out from beginning to end of line 2 on page 8 and insert—

"(7) Where an individual who is not already the holder of an ID card makes an application to be issued with a designated document, his application must, in the prescribed manner, include an application by him to be issued with such a card unless—

(a) it is being made before 1st January 2010;

(b) the designated document applied for is a United Kingdom passport (within the meaning of the Immigration Act 1971 (c. 77)); and

(c) the application for that document contains a declaration by that individual that he does not wish to be issued with such a card."

22O Clause 10, Page 9, line 13, leave out "who does not hold a valid ID card" and insert "in a case in which—

(a) the individual does not already hold a valid ID card, and

(b) the designated document is being issued otherwise than on an application made in a case falling within Section 8(7)(a) to (c),"

Photo of Lord Armstrong of Ilminster Lord Armstrong of Ilminster Crossbench

My Lords, I was brought up on the principle, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again". The noble Baroness made clear yesterday her objections to the amendments which I proposed then and which the House approved. She said that my amendments drove a coach and horses through the Government's proposals. I hope that, with my new amendment, I have taken the coach and horses off her lawn.

The Minister has explained the differences between the two sets of amendments. Somebody who applies for a passport will continue to have to apply to be entered on to the national identity register, but will be able to opt out of applying for or receiving an identity card, with the consequences that the Minister described. A time limit—a sunset provision, if you like—means that that right to opt out will expire on 1 January 2010, unless some later legislation extends it—but that is not part of my contemplation today.

I regret that the Government were unable to accept my amendments yesterday, which would have broken the link between the application for a passport and the application to be entered on to the national identity register, but I understand the advantages of protecting the integrity of the national identity register. I would have preferred a later cut-off date—perhaps 1 January 2011 or 30 June 2010—but I judged that the Government would not be prepared to accept the later date and, at this stage, I feel that the considerations to which the Minister has drawn attention apply with a special strength.

If my amendments seem likely to command the acceptance of the Government, that will bring the exchanges of messages between the Commons and the Lords—the ping-pong, if you like—to a close and the Bill can proceed. That is a consummation devoutly to be wished. We have had several goes at it. The Government have moved—not quite as far as I would have wished—to compromise on these points. I therefore accept that compromise in the spirit in which it has been offered and move these amendments. I hope that they will command the assent of the House so that this Bill may proceed on to the statute book in due course. I beg to move.

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

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

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, for all his valuable work in finding a compromise; he has found one which the Government have today accepted. If anyone outside this House wanted an example of the value in our deliberations of those who sit on our Cross-Benches, they have only to look to his work on this matter.

ID cards will be voluntary in the initial period of the scheme. That is the crucial issue: voluntary will mean voluntary. The Government get their national identity register. Noble Lords will know that I do not like that—I do not now and I never will—but I accept that the amendment breaks the bridge between the individual and the NIR. If you do not have an ID card, you are not using it and no audit trail is being left by you in the initial period. As the Minister has already said, a significant additional point is that one then does not have to follow all the rules about notifying changes of address under the ID cards scheme, an issue that occupied many happy or unhappy hours in Committee.

The cut-off date is not our first choice. It could have come after the general election, which is what we would have much preferred, but if it is before it, I can assure noble Lords that it will be a campaigning point on these Benches and will certainly be referred to by noble Lords and by my honourable friends in another place.

Can the Minister confirm, in her winding-up remarks, her previous assurances and those of her right honourable friend in another place that those who do not wish to be forced to have an ID card after the Government's now accepted date of 1 January 2010 will be able, prior to the designation of documents and prior to that date, to surrender their passports and obtain a new passport that has a full 10 years to run? I realise that the Home Office website has been updated, but the prose is still impenetrable.

The amendment ensures that the option of avoiding having an ID card will not be available to foreign nationals. We understand the argument that the Government would not wish to be prevented from designating immigration documents in these matters. We do not see that as a fatal flaw to the amendment.

I made it clear throughout all our proceedings in this House that we sought compromise on this core issue. We have always acted with restraint and care. This House was surely right to press the Government firmly on a matter which the Constitution Committee of this House said represents a fundamental change in the relationship between state and people—a fundamental change that was not set out clearly in the manifesto. I suspect that we shall have many a happy hour from now on discussing the various merits of that one page, clearly set out in the Government's manifesto, which obscured their real intent.

The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, has shown us that we can find a sensible compromise on the promised rollout of the ID cards, as against the original compulsion that the Government had in mind. This is a pragmatic compromise—it is the nature of the real world that one has to be pragmatic. It is not our first choice, as compromises never are, but there should be a reasonable choice that will protect the interests of the people of this country. This is that reasonable choice, in my judgment. It is a convention of this House that one's vote follows one's voice, so if a Division is called on this matter I shall strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster.

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 5:15 pm, 29th March 2006

My Lords, first, I apologise for the absence of my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury, who has been defeated not by the Government but by a very small virus. He very much regrets his inability to be with your Lordships at this time.

We on these Benches oppose the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, said yesterday that over the years this House has rightly grown in stature. Well, it has not always had the reputation that she describes. Yesterday, reference was made to Asquith and Churchill, and noble Lords would expect me to refer to Lloyd George, who said:

"Every man has a House of Lords in his own head. Fears, prejudices, misconceptions—those are the peers, and they are hereditary".

This House has come a long way since those days.

But the present-day reputation of this House has been gained not by being cravenly subservient to a government party supported by 36 per cent of the voters in the last general election—22 per cent of the electorate—but by standing for the traditions of liberty and freedom which are at the heart of the British constitution. If there is a constitutional issue, as the Minister said yesterday, that is what it is.

We were amused when, in these debates on 6 March, the noble Lord, Lord Gould said:

"Sadly, it is now impossible to tell where the Conservative Benches end and the Liberal Democrat Benches begin".

He used the word "courting", as I recall. He spoke, too, of,

"a union designed to oppose measures that help our security, whatever the people say and whatever the other place decides".—[Hansard, 6/3/06; col. 557.]

There are links in these two deep-rooted political traditions; we and the Conservatives both believe that the democratic state exists to protect the liberty of the citizen and that civil rights and political liberties are inalienable. It is to the enormous credit of this Government that in their early years they recognised those same principles in passing the Human Rights Act, which was a milestone in the history of this country.

What, however, has happened since? The watchword is now "security". The philosopher Hobbes, in his 17th-century view of the state, started from the premise that the world is dangerous and filled with unknown enemies perpetually striving to do us harm, and that the only way to achieve security is to give up our freedom and liberty to a common power. This is what he said in his great work, Leviathan:

"The only way to erect such a common power, as may be able to defend them from the invasion of foreigners, and the injuries of one another, and thereby to secure them in such sort as that by their own industry and by the fruits of the earth they may nourish themselves and live contentedly, is to confer all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men, that may reduce all their wills, by plurality of voices, unto one will".

In this authoritarian model of the state, it is the state, on the basis of secret information that it does not disclose, that defines the gravity of the threats to this country and to our security, and it is the state that determines what civil liberties it will grant us and to what degree it will do so.

It is a grim philosophy, which in the last few years has underlain much of the Government's approach to legislation in this House: the terrorism bills, the criminal justice bills and now this Identity Cards Bill, where compulsion is the keynote. We have heard in the past day or two that the Government always meant to have compulsion. Why did they not say so? Why did they use the word "voluntary"? What is the initial period of voluntariness to which their manifesto undoubtedly refers?

There are severe dangers. There have been cruel terrorist acts on our streets that have destroyed lives. If the Government had produced any evidence that identity cards would protect us from such dangers, we would freely consent to join a national database and to carry identity cards. That would be an exercise of freedom, not of compulsion. It is in resisting the threat to personal freedoms that this House has made its reputation. It was ridiculous for the Minister to say that we had put the reputation of this House at risk.

The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said yesterday that there is an issue of personal freedom that should not be brushed aside as being of no consequence. I pay tribute to him for his shrewd attempt yesterday to arrive at a compromise that the House could have supported as a whole. However, his compromise was not accepted, and what is objectionable in what is put before us now with the full support of the Government is that the applicant for a passport will still have to register on the national database. He may not take his identity card, but the organs of the state will have access to his records under this Bill. Information may be put on that national database referring to him. If you look at Clause 19, you will see how many organs of the state will have access to that information without his knowledge.

We will not have it on these Benches. This is an issue of freedom and of personal liberty. Although I have paid tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, we cannot support him in the Lobbies tonight.

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 Baroness, Lady Anelay, for her comments about acceptance. I also warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, for moving his coach-and-four securely off my lawn. It enables us to come to a compromise. I have listened with great care to everything that has been said so eloquently from the Liberal Democrat Benches, and note with regret that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, is not in his place. We all wish him well.

I can assure the noble Baroness that the comments on the surrender of passports, made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place and repeated by me in this House, remain true. It will be possible for those who wish to do that to do so before these provisions come in and before designation. That continues to be the case.

Throughout, the Government have made clear the importance that we attach to the ability to designate documents. This amendment preserves that ability. It allows those who do not choose to have the benefit of the card not to do so. It is an honourable compromise. I wholeheartedly invite all Members of this House, including those who rest so delicately on the Liberal Democrat Benches, to join us in giving our assent to what is clearly a sensible and pragmatic way forward.

Photo of Lord Armstrong of Ilminster Lord Armstrong of Ilminster Crossbench

My Lords, I invite your Lordships to agree to this Motion. If the reputation of the House were at risk because of the repeated occasions when this measure had gone backwards and forwards along the Corridor, I think that we have redeemed our reputation by arriving at a sensible compromise between the Government, who wanted compulsion, and the degree of voluntariness which has been restored now.

I greatly respect the principled sentiments which were expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, but those arguments are good arguments for not having an Identity Cards Bill at all, or not having a national identity register at all. We are past that point and are on the relatively narrow point of whether people who apply for passports should, first, be required to apply to go on the register and, secondly, be required to apply for identity cards.

The Government, for their own reasons, wish to protect the integrity of the national register—as a former public servant I understand the considerations behind that—but they have been prepared to compromise on the issue of receiving or applying for identity cards. This brings back an element of personal freedom. That applies only to those who apply for passports. Although many of us agree with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, as I say, we are past that point in relation to this Bill. I therefore very much hope that the amendments I have tabled will provide a basis on which we can go further forward. It is in that spirit that I invite the House to agree to my Motion. I should like to take the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said Motion (A1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 287; Not-Contents, 60.

Division number 1 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Identity Cards Bill

Aye: 285 Members of the House of Lords

No: 58 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.

On Question, Whether Motion A, as amended, shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 234; Not-Contents, 56.

Division number 2 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Identity Cards Bill

Aye: 232 Members of the House of Lords

No: 54 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion A, as amended, agreed to accordingly.

Bill returned to the Commons with amendments.