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Column 1295grounds of principle and utility. If my hon. Friends want to examine the utility of the Bill they may do so ; I propose to do the same. [ Hon. Members :-- "When?"] If my hon. Friends had been listening, they would have heard me.
The Bill, with its machine-readable, computer-coded cards and national register would place in the hands of a Government less benevolent than this Government--or even a Government who thought that they were motivated by benevolence--the power to control the basic rights of the individual. The fact that that is unlikely to happen in the United Kingdom is no reason to provide Governments with such an opportunity.
Edmund Burke declared :
"To innovate is not to reform."
Civil liberties are easy to remove but difficult to restore. The Bill is wrong in principle and would be dangerous in practice. It would create a large bureaucracy at an enormous cost to the taxpayer, increase the power of the state to no good purpose, invade the privacy of the individual and create a new criminal offence. It is a thoroughly illiberal and unnecessary Bill and I urge the House to vote against it.
Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe) : I am grateful for this opportunity to join others in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) on introducing this important Bill. In an ideal world very few of us--certainly not those of us who regards ourselves as free-born Britons --would tolerate for a moment the idea of identity cards. I therefore have the greatest sympathy with the starting point of the opponents of the Bill. Sadly, however, we do not live in an ideal world. We cannot merely argue that unfortunate foreigners are plagued with identity cards and officious bureaucrats. My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) mentioned the French police, for example. Today's world is very different from the world that we lived in in 1952, when the Conservatives were proud to have a bonfire of controls. Among the things that we got rid of was the wartime national identity card. We need to take account of the changes that have taken place in society and in attitudes. There is no doubt that the views expressed in today's opinion poll in The Times are widely felt. Any of us who regularly speak to our constituents realise that.
First, there is deep concern about crime. None of the supporters of my hon. Friend's Bill can prove that it would result in a significant improvement, but it must be resonable to presume that it would be a major step in the right direction. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) suggested, the deterrent effect must be of great importance in the fight against crime. The Police Federation supports the measure, and I understand that it has now been joined by the Association of Chief Police Officers, which has moved from opposition--or at least, serious doubt--to a position of support for the principle of a national identity card. There is an overwhelming case for taking action that would help in the struggle against crime. My hon. Friends are right that the Government have taken other measures in the fight against crime, but we must recognise that not only in this society but in all western societies crime is increasing, and we must do something about it. We must not ignore the promise that the Bill offers in that regard.
I shall not dwell on terrorism, because I know that many other hon. Members wish to speak and the point has
Column 1296already been made by my hon. Friends. In addition, there is the fight against drugs. The case for the Bill in the fight against crime, terrorism and drugs seems overwhelming.
I fully appreciate, and am sensitive to, the civil liberties arguments against the Bill. But nowadays we all carry numerous cards and means of identification and they are of benefit to us. Such means of identification would also be of benefit to young people if they had them. Whereas in 1952 we were not accustomed to documentation, we are now completely accustomed to it. No serious, law-abiding person regards it as an infringement of his liberties or a curtailment of his civil rights ; he regards it as a benefit and a help, and that is what a national identity card will certainly be.
I entirely understand the sensitivity about police action. As with most things in life it is a question of striking a balance. We do not live in an ideal world, and some compromises have to be made. We must therefore accept a commitment to carry an identity card with the necessary conditions and potential sanctions available should we refuse to do so.
In the application of my hon. Friend's Bill--or a close approximation to it --absolute safeguards would be essential. The police must certainly not be allowed the powers that have been referred to. We cannot have Mrs. Bloggins being bullied by an officer of the law to produce her identity card or else. It would be up to the courts to establish a body of case law, and only with the greatest care would an officer of the law, with "reasonable cause" in the terms of the Bill, require a citizen to show his identity card. There are many other advantages to my hon. Friend's proposals. I emphasise the importance of identity cards as we move towards a single market in 1992. This country has enough problems and difficulties in moving towards a single effective European market, such as VAT and all the other issues of which we are well aware. We do not need to construct or leave in place yet one more obstacle, particularly since, if that obstacle were removed, all the other benefits to which I have referred would accrue. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is at best agnostic on the questions of the national identity card, has said that while the rest of Europe can have open frontiers we must retain frontier control because of terrorism, crime and drugs. That is a nonsensical approach. The cause of law and order and the smooth working of the single market in 1992 with all the economic and political benefits that that will bring must be advanced by the implementation of the Bill.
It is worth emphasising, too, the importance of a national identity card scheme for immigration arrangements. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North, pointed out, we have hitherto worked with a system of high external barriers and virtually no control inside the country. That has created a panoply of entry clearance officers and the immigration appeals system that is painfully familiar to the Home Office. Hon. Members on both sides of the House with large ethnic minority communities in their constituencies are also painfully aware of those arrangements.
I accept that recent changes in immigration practice have improved matters but I am still deeply unhappy about the present state of affairs. When the nephew or aunt of a member of one of our ethnic minority communities wants to come to this country for a genuine three-week holiday, phenomenal problems are often
Column 1297caused simply because we know that, once under net, a person may be in the country for good. If we had an identity card, that problem would be removed. I can say with deep knowledge of my own ethnic minority community that those who are well established here-- and, fortunately, more and more members of the ethnic minority communities are firmly and happily established nowadays--realise the benefits of an identity card system, whereas before they did not.
My experience--indeed my knowledge--is that one of the reasons why officials of the Home Office have had for decades a deep seated resistance to an identity card scheme has stemmed from fear of the reactions of ethnic minorities. That fear is no longer justified, and identity cards would be a positive benefit for ethnic minorities. The Government fear, however, that they would be accused of being authoritarian, which critics from the Opposition would be quick to latch on to. I believe that the Government should show courage and not be frightened of being called authoritarian. This scheme is a move in the right direction and will improve our fight against crime.
If I had had any doubts about my hon. Friend's proposals when I came here this morning the pathetic arguments against his proposal would have convinced me that he is right and his critics are wrong. We have heard objections on financial grounds, the difficulties for people wishing to change their name, and allegations that the documents could be forged. Such points cannot stand up to scrutiny. Those were demonstrations of the principle that hard cases make bad laws. They confirm that my hon. Friend's proposal is right. I would be prepared to consider a properly promoted voluntary identity card scheme if a compulsory scheme was too much to swallow. It would remove the Government from their problems with regard to the national football identity scheme.
I have pleasure in supporting my hon. Friend's Bill.
Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton) : I can remember the time when it was fashionable to say that we should not introduce so much legislation. We met 35 weeks a year, five days a week, and we were churning out enormous quantities of legislation, and it had to be halted. That was the view which was strongly held by Conservative Members. I must admit, however, that in recent parliaments that appears to have been forgotten, because we are churning out more and more legislation, even under a Government whose party has complained about the amount of restrictions continually being placed on individuals and on companies. We have a duty to look carefully at any proposals for new laws and new restrictions.
Although this Bill has only three pages and six clauses, it requires positive action by every citizen over the age of 12 years. We have heard that 48 million people will be required to do something positive if this small Bill becomes an Act. That is different from most other laws. Sadly, the poll tax legislation requires action, but not, perhaps, by so many people, because the responsible person in a household would complete the form. Before we embark on such a course, we must be satisfied that some benefits will flow from it.
Column 1298I have listened carefully to discover the arguments in favour of a national identity card scheme. Most hon. Members who support the Bill rest their arguments on crime prevention. They claim that this scheme will help to prevent crime, about which we are all concerned. I cannot believe that. The right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) gave some examples of what has occurred recently in his constituency. Of couse, we were appalled by them, and most of us, even representing constituencies a bit further away from the centre of London, can cite similar examples. We are concerned that elderly ladies are mugged in underpassess, for example, and we want to do something positive about that.
Looking at it with sympathetic eyes., I could not understand what difference identity cards would make in the fight against crime. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) asked if we could expect a mugger to show his identity card. Of course, we could not. Before we can do that, we must catch the mugger. he will not stand around waiting to be asked for his identity card. Indeed, if we caught him, we would not need to ask for his card. He would be taken into custody right away.
Mr. Lamond : That is a point, but it is not one that is important in my argument. If I believed for one moment that it would make some difference of reasonable significance to the level of crime, I would accept the hon. Gentleman's proposal. I do not believe, however, that it will help at all.
The right hon. Member for Brent, North said that those who do not believe that this measure would reduce crime had to put forward some alternative "magical" solution. There is no magical
solution--certainly this is not one. I believe, however, that there is a straightforward solution. I do not want to go into it at length, but I support the view of those in my constituency and in Greater Manchester-- including the police authority, which has written to me asking for my help in persuading the Home Secretary--that an increase in police officers, so that officers will be available to go out on the beat, would be a solution. There has been an increase in the numbers, and I am grateful for that.
Mr. Lamond : I understand that the Home Secretary has tried to help, but that help was not sufficient. It never is. It is, however, a step in the right direction. That is the proper way to stop the crimes of which we have heard, and the sort of crimes that have caused so much anxiety in my constituency and surrounding areas that several newspapers used my correspondence with the Home Secretary as a basis for their articles. People strongly believe that more policemen on the beat--being seen in the community--would be a deterrent to crime. I do not accept that 48 million of us carrying identity cards would help to prevent crime.
It was said that we had identity cards during the war. It was said that they were to prevent fifth columnists. It
Column 1299would have been interesting to see how effective this scheme was. Presumably a fifth columnist was someone who came into the country secretly in a submarine in the north of Scotland. If he was ever stopped, the fact that he did not have an identity card would immediately reveal him as a fifth columnist. To suggest that any enemies-- in this case Germany--would land spies on our shores fully equipped for their activities, but would forget to give them identity cards is nonsense. It is also nonsense to say that if we had identity cards crime would be reduced. One might as well tie that to the fact that, now many years later, when rationing ended, there was an enormous crime wave. One could argue that if he had kept rationing on until today that crime wave might not have occurred. There is no sensible connection between identity cards and a reduction in crime. I do not believe that it would have any effect on the crime rate. If I thought it would I would be more inclined to listen to the argument.
It has also been suggested that the ethnic minorities and the immigrant population will be helped by the introduction of an identity card. In common with the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) I have a large immigrant community in my constituency--more than 9,000. That community encounter problems over bringing spouses to this country, but the main problem arises when relatives want to visit.
If somebody came and stayed on in the community, how would an identity card help? Let us suppose the police visited one of the areas of my constituency which is largely made up of immigrants and swept through the whole area asking to see identity cards. If the police stopped somebody in the street at random and asked for that person's identity card, and that person-- providing that he managed to get the point across--said that he had left it at home, what then? He would have seven days to produce it. He would go off and that would be the last that the police would see of him. That is what happens. I confess that someone came to my constituency after I had persuaded the Home Office to let him in. Within the week the police were in touch with me because that man had been picked up working. I do not want to give away any secrets, but presumbably he got all the papers he needed to obtain a job. If people can do that, they would certainly get an identity card without much trouble.
I do not see any practical purpose in supporting the Bill as it will put tremendous pressure on the population. One can imagine trying to get 48 million people to understand exactly what is required. There would be problems when people changed their name, although I accept that that happens only occasionally. But consider all the hassle involved when people change their address, which happens far more frequently. A study of the poll tax legislation and what is required of people when they change their address illustrates the magnitude of the problem. All of that hassle would be gone through for no purpose or benefit, and for that reason I shall vote against the Bill.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : I believe that, following the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond), it would be helpful if I outlined the Government's views on this matter.
So far this has been an excellent debate and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk,
Column 1300North (Mr. Howell) not only on his success in the ballot and on the eloquence with which he commended his Bill to the House, but on the topicality of the subject, which is much due to my hon. Friend's efforts in recent weeks. There has been a great deal of interest recently in the House and elsewhere--one only need look at this morning's press--about the idea of a national identity card. My hon. Friend has given the House a welcome opportunity to debate this issue and we are grateful.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I have had this matter under review for a number of months. Many people have firm views on this subject, as we have heard during the course of the debate. We have received and are continuing to receive many representations on this issue. When considering those representations we should start afresh and we should not have any preconceived notions. We need to examine the merits, the advantages and disadvantages of the scheme, with, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) said, the clarity of a balance sheet. My right hon. Friend gave an excellent and fascinating speech.
There are many elements, for and against, that must be weighed up carefully. In looking at any proposal for a compulsory system of identity cards, there are some general considerations--general considerations is a more pragmatic phrase to use than general principles--to which we must pay regard. On the one hand, in the balance of consideration there are the possible benefits to the state through enhanced security and immigration policy, and enhanced anti-crime activities by the police and society. There could also be benefits to the private citizen, who could acquire a convenient and certain means of easily proving his or her identity for a range of purposes--not just those restricted to police activity on the streets. We must balance those considerations against the disadvantages, such as the cost. We must judge whether it is good value for money to spend upwards of £350 million to set up such a scheme and upwards of £100 million to administer it. Given the problems that the police face we must also consider the additional burden on them caused by enforcing this scheme, as my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North is seeking to introduce a new criminal law.
There is also the possible negative reaction from some members of society to having such obligations imposed upon them. We must balance individual liberties with the needs of the state.
The proposals outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North must be judged by the considerations I have outlined. I shall attempt to weigh up those considerations when I answer his speech and the other speeches made in favour of the Bill. I note that all those speeches have been made by my right hon. and hon. Friends, but such a speech may come from the Opposition Benches later. Heaven only knows, perhaps the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) will stand up and tell us that it is Labour party policy to be in favour of compulsory identity cards. I hope that he catches your eye shortly, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Although I shall consider the details of the merits and problems of a compulsory scheme, the first aspect to which I want to refer and to which a number of right hon. and hon. Friends have already referred, is the practice in other European countries. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North gave us an account of his telephone conversation with the French embassy and apparently
Column 1301embassy officials thought that the practice in their country was to have a compulsory scheme. I am told that my hon. Friend was given inaccurate advice, and I am not sure to which officials he spoke. There is certainly a school of thought on this issue that asserts that an identity card scheme must be a good thing for this country because so many of our European neighbours have such a scheme. Identity cards are compulsory in the following countries ; Belgium, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg and Spain. There are voluntary schemes in Austria and France--to which my hon. Friend has alluded. In France, the voluntary scheme is, de facto, a compulsory scheme in many circumstances. There is also a voluntary scheme in Italy where the identity cards are hand-written, and in Portugal. Denmark, the Republic of Ireland, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands have no identity card system. There is, however, a lively parliamentary debate currently taking place in the Netherlands about whether to have such a scheme.
Outside Europe, the same is certainly true of Australia, where the issue of whether to have identity cards to help with revenue fraud led to vigorous debates and the eventual withdrawal of a Bill by the Government when it fell in the Senate. There are no identity cards in New Zealand, Canada or the United States of America. Although there are compulsory schemes in Europe, they are not the norm.
Mr. Ralph Howell : Is my hon. Friend aware that Denmark has a national register of all residents and that there are identity cards in Sweden--I have seen them--on which it is possible to have a credit card number included voluntarily? When the Minister says that identity cards are not the norm, I must advise him that far more countries in the EEC have a card of some description than do not. Only Holland, Britain and the Republic of Ireland do not.
Mr. Patten : I was referring to the fact that compulsory schemes were not the norm in western Europe. I was recording those countries that do and those that do not have voluntary or compulsory schemes--I hope for the advantage of the House--so that we can have the facts before us.
I should like to make two general points to those who urge us to follow the idea of compulsory schemes, such as exist in some European countries, like Belgium and West Germany. First, I am aware of no evidence to suggest that identity cards have been of substantial benefit in tackling crime. That surprises me but I must report it to the House because, needless to say, it was something that we wanted to go into.
Secondly, there is the matter of geography. As we can all appreciate, immigration control at the point of entry presents particular problems to countries with land frontiers. In such countries there is a clear argument for the maintenance of some form of fairly vigorous internal control, in which I freely admit that an identity card system could play an important part. It may be different for us as we have only one land boundary with a foreign state--between the Province and Republic of Ireland.
During the debate much has been made of the benefits that might flow from the introduction of compulsory identity cards. We have heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North and others that enabling the
Column 1302police to establish people's identity quickly and accurately with such a system would be a useful weapon in the battle against crime in everything from terrorism to mugging.
I shall deal with each of those arguments in detail later but shall now give a list of the major arguments that have been put forward so far--
Mr. Whitney : Well, before he does so, will my hon. Friend comment on the European angle of this issue, which a number of us have raised? It must be faced by the Government because they will run into real trouble in 1992 in a number of areas and this would be an unnecessary trouble. My hon. Friend seems to make much of the fact that not all the identity card schemes in European Community countries are compulsory, but the fact is--if he does not know this, his officials should tell him--that the voluntary schemes in, for example, France, are universal in effect. One could almost say that no Frenchman would be seen dead without his identity card. Therefore, my hon. Friend's point is without validity. The reality is that continental European Community countries have identity cards and that has enabled them to move towards open frontiers. If we cannot move towards open frontiers, there will be serious implications for us. Will my hon. Friend comment on that aspect of this issue?
Mr. Patten : I welcome the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney). The fact that the voluntary scheme in France is de facto compulsory is something that I specifically stated a few moments ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North. There will indeed be continuing problems--some still to be resolved--about what we shall do at our own frontier ports after 1992. There is an argument about proper freedom of movement within the Community, but there is also the equally proper argument about the fact that a sea barrier, a land port or an airport is a good place at which to try to operate against illegal immigrants and terrorists. My right hon. Friend has considerable problems still to resolve in connection with the European Community on that point.
Mrs. Gorman : Does my hon. Friend know whether, in countries with compulsory cards, there has been a marked reduction in crime, drug abuse or illegal immigration and all the other things that we are given to understand are the reasons that the cards would be a good idea in this country? Does my hon. Friend really think that emulating France--renowned for its bureaucratic structures from Napoleon onwards--would be good for us?
Mr. Patten : I rather like France so I shall not comment-- [Interruption.] No, that is not a statement of Home Office policy, it is a personal statement to the House of Commons. I shall not follow my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) down the road of Anglo- French relations and am unable to answer her question about whether the introduction of identity cards
Column 1303--compulsory or voluntary--in a number of European countries has had an effect on either immigration or drug issues. I did mention crime earlier in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North. Much to my surprise, I found no evidence that identity cards had reduced crime levels. I would, prima facie, have expected to find some evidence of that, but we have not found it so far. I must report that fact to the House.
Turning from Europe to the United Kingdom it is also claimed that compulsory cards would curb under-age drinking because licensees could demand to see cards in cases of doubt. It is also claimed that they would help to prevent social security fraud and it has been suggested that an identity card would help us in travelling at least within the European Community as it could be used as a travel document.
However, we must consider how useful identity cards would be in achieving the sorts of things that would be expected of them. It would doubtless be quite possible to devise a card that could be used as a travel document. If such a card were to be available to all British residents, and not only to those eligible for a British passport--that is an important point--it would need to state the bearer's nationality or at least his immigration status. It would certainly have to be issued on more or less the same checks and evidence as are required for a passport. The idea of using an identity card as a travel document is interesting. Indeed, the Select Committee on Home Affairs has recommended that a page from the new Euro-passport could be put to that end.
Such a document could also be used as proof that its holder is old enough to drink in a pub, probably more accurately than the apparently forged birth certificates to which the hon. Minister for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) referred as being a problem that is rife in public houses in his constituency. I do not think--and I have taken advice from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security--that it would be much use in trying to prevent social security fraud, because false claims are generally based not on identity but on misrepresentation by individuals working and signing and claiming at the same time.
Mr. Patten : Not always, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe, with his experience of these matters, quite correctly observes. [Laughter.] For the avoidance of doubt, as Mr. Speaker would say, I was referring to my hon. Friend's distinguished past ministerial career rather than anything else. My hon. Friend is very quick this morning.
Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East) : My hon. Friend has just mentioned that he has been advised by our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security that identity cards would not be helpful in this respect. But surely when people are asked to act for others in claiming benefit they are required to provide proof of identity. In this respect, a card would be extremely helpful.
Mr. Patten : That is a good point, if I may say so. Pensioners suffer in the same way. When they want to make use of other benefits, such as bus travel vouchers, they are asked to produce evidence that they are in receipt of the state pension. They do not always like to carry their pension books with them--understandably, I think.
Mr. Stern : It is indeed. I do not know whether my hon. Friend has had reason recently to go to a post office sorting office to collect a letter that has been impossible to deliver. If he were to do that, he would find a list of about 20 documents, any of which is acceptable as proof of identity. I accept that an identity card could be used, but there is no need for one.
I think the most important consideration for a compulsory system funded by the state is whether such a system would help the state, help the police, help society, to deal with crime. Whilst my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North and others quite rightly pointed to the crime problem facing all west European countries, the good news is that in the last 12 months the crime rate overall in this country has begun to fall. That is because 95 per cent. of all crime is related to property, and property crime, thanks to the efforts of so many active citizens in this country in supporting the police, is going down fast. However, violent crime, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North has pointed out, has continued to increase. I think it is correct to say, for the record, that crime is going down, and not up, and long may that trend continue.
Mr. Ralph Howell : The fact is that crime has been increasing year by year. The latest figures are for 1987, and they are higher than those for 1986. Although my hon. Friend is correct in saying that there has been some reduction in such crimes as burglary and theft, the fact is that violent crime is still increasing. A lot of crime is not reported, simply because the detection rate in the case of burglary and so on is so low. Those people are demoralised and are disinclined even to report incidents.
The Home Office is making a very serious mistake if it believes that crime is declining. As I have said, violent crime is increasing, though other types of crime are declining. That is not a very desirable situation, and I must ask my hon. Friend what the Home Office intends to do to solve the problem. I would put the question even if crime were not rising at such an unacceptable rate.
Mr. Patten : I must not get drawn into too wide a discussion lest I fall foul of your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would say only two things in response to my hon. Friend. Clear-up rates for violent crime are very high. Ninety-six out of every 100 people suspected of homicide are, in fact, found. In the case of crimes such as robbery and rape, the rate is between 70 per cent. and 75 per cent. My hon. Friend puts forward an important point about possible under-reporting of the true amount of crime. I think we shall have to rest our argument until we have the results of the British crime survey, which attempts to go into these issues in great detail. We shall have those results within the next three or four months. I shall now try, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to make a bit more progress in looking at the importance of compulsory schemes in dealing with crime, and whether we think it a good idea to introduce them.
Column 1305I am not aware of any evidence that the abolition of identity cards in 1952--my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) took us through the history of that--made the work of the police more difficult. Historically, there is no clear evidence that the crime rate increased, either. One might expect some empirical evidence of that, but it is not shown by the statistics of the time. That may be because, as experience suggests, the main task of the police lies in apprehending criminals, not identifying them once they are apprehended. This is an important issue and one that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North was quite right to raise.
It was for this reason that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary wrote to the Association of Chief Police Officers towards the end of last year to seek an up-to-date opinion. Its view was that, although a compulsory scheme would have some advantages for the police, there would also be disadvantages. There would only be a real advantage if people were required not merely to present identity cards but to carry them at all times and produce them on request.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : If chief constables were given a choice between a national identity scheme and all the cost that that would involve, and extra policemen, I can almost guarantee that they would settle for the money being spent on extra policemen.
It may be argued that if the introduction of identity cards is of any use at all, however marginal, we should introduce them because of the problems of crime. However, that would be to ignore some cogent contrary arguments.
We must not forget that we are talking not about the introduction of an identity card scheme but the reintroduction of a scheme that lapsed well within living memory. The national registration system adopted on the outbreak of war in 1939--as my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke said-- included a requirement that an identity card should be carried and produced to a police officer on demand. The system survived the war, but, in time, the power of the police to demand that citizens should show their identity cards came to be resented very strongly. The resentment of one citizen led to the celebrated case of Willcock v. Muckle, in which the divisional court strongly criticised the police for demanding to see cards purely as a matter of routine. My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke referred to what Lord Chief Justice Goddard said on that occasion. Not long afterwards, identity cards were abolished.
It is true that many people, including some who have written to the Home Office, take the view that as respectable citizens they would be quite content to carry identity cards. It is entirely reasonable to say that, but it is illogical to attempt to move from that to the idea that only those with something to hide will object.
If I were a criminal with half my wits about me, going out bent on crime in the evenings, I would make certain that I had my identity card with me. If I were stopped, I could then prove my identity and move on, apparently lawfully, down the street to carry out illegal pursuits.
Column 1306As at least one of my hon. Friends has shown today, it is likely that some people who value their liberty as British citizens to move unimpeded throughout the United Kingdom would resent the imposition of compulsory cards. Others, including members of ethnic minorities and young people, might feel that if they were asked to produce an identity card on demand the state would look at them with unwarranted suspicion. I am sure that the police service would not gratuitously seek--as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North thinks and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North feels--to require the production of identity cards. However, it would not be surprising if the fact that they were around fanned the flames of suspicion--often unnecessarily--that that would happen. That could have a rather corrosive effect on relations between police and some sections of the community, however wrongly based the fears were.
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South) : Would the Minister not agree that some years ago research that was highlighted in the debates leading to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 showed that the law of sus, the casual stopping of people which happened several hundred thousand if not a million times a year, caused great resentment against the police? Would that not occur again if we had national identity cards and police stopping people and asking questions?
We have gone as far as we need to go with the cost argument. I have laid the costs of the compulsory scheme in front of the House. Many people would think that those costs produce uncertain benefits and their uncertainty means that the scheme would face vigorous and sincere opposition. Some Members have spoken about a poll produced by Public Attitude Surveys Research. I hope that the people interviewed in the poll mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North and who are recorded as being in favour of a compulsory scheme, will reflect on those uncertain benefits.
A survey published today by Public Attitudes Surveys Research shows that some groups would resent having to carry identity cards. The survey showed that groups among whom the opponents of national identity cards outnumber supporters are
"ethnic minorities, people in Scotland and inner London, readers of the Guardian and, to a less marked degree, readers of the Independent."
Many of my hon. Friends would regard the last two facts as a clinching reason for voting in favour of the Bill. It is significant that the survey says :
"Among those interviewed from an Asian or Afro-Caribbean background, 65 per cent rejected the idea of a card."
That shows the difficulties and it would be foolish not to recognise them.
Mr. Atkinson : The Minister has said that cost is one of the reasons for not introducing an identity card scheme. What thought has been given to inviting those who already issue plastic cards, principally the banks, to discuss whether the kind of information in the Bill could be included on those cards together with the bank's own information? That could be done at no cost to the state.
Mr. Patten : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have given considerable thought to that matter and I shall come to it later when I look at the pros and cons of voluntary identity cards.
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : My hon. Friend spoke about the police view and said that the Association of Chief Police Officers has said that cards would be advantageous only if they were carried all the time. What is the Government's view of the possibility of carrying cards all the time as I understand that that is not proposed in the Bill? Under the terms of the Bill a citizen would be required to produce his card within seven days, as he is required to do in, for example, the case of a driving licence.