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Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend raises an important issue. The Asssociation of Chief Police Officers said that it would only be helpful in the battle against crime if people had to carry compulsory identity cards all the time and were obliged to produce them. The association did not think that a system that allows someone to say, "I will produce it later at the station, guv", would help the police in the battle against crime.
I shall now deal with representations that we received about a voluntary scheme. That may assist my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson). The basis of a voluntary scheme would be an official identity card that would be issued on request. Since there would be no obligation to carry one, there could be no plausible objections to it on civil liberty grounds. The civil liberty argument, which I respect, is against being compelled to carry a card. On the other hand, there can be no such argument against the freedom to carry such a card if one wants to. I have pointed out that a compulsory system would cost the taxpayer a lot of money. The viability of a voluntary scheme would depend on whether it is attractive enough to be self-financing and for financial institutions to put their money there. We would not want to run such a scheme with a substantial Government subsidy.
While a voluntary scheme is unlikely to have much to offer in the way of improved efforts against crime, for immigration control or even as a travel document it may bring some benefits to the private citizen. I have already mentioned that a compulsory identity card could be used in a suitable format as a travel document. A card introduced under a voluntary system could serve the same purpose and in principle replace the British visitor's passport, as the Home Affairs Select Committee suggested.
Then there is the matter of under-age drinking. The Licensing Act 1988 tightened control by making it a strict liability offence to serve people under 18. I am pleased to report that, as a result, many more publicans are demanding proof of identity. Both the Home Secretary and I welcome local voluntary card schemes which have been developed under the aegis of the National Licensed Victuallers Association, the Morning Advertiser and the National Association of Licensed House Managers. These schemes seem to be working well. It has also been suggested that an identity card scheme, whether compulsory or voluntary, could help in banking and retail transactions. That may have been behind the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East. That must be a matter for the commercial judgment of the banks and retailers involved. It is for them to decide what value any national voluntary
Column 1308scheme would have for the reduction of fraud. As yet they have made no representations to this effect, although I know that stamping out fraud is much in the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North and my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North.
Mr. Waller : Does my hon. Friend agree that it is interesting that credit card companies have rejected the idea of including a photograph on credit cards because of the difficulties involved? Does that not also show that the concept of having a photograph in a national identity card scheme will also involve difficulties, such as those mentioned earlier in the debate?
Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend is on to a good point. There may come a time when with the present rate of growth of credit card fraud it is no longer a business expense which businesses can bear. They may want to think about photographs. Hitherto they have rejected the idea of photographs on credit cards.
Mr. Bermingham : Does the Minister agree that to have an identity card which contains the photograph, residence, signature and everything would facilitate fraud? Bearing in mind that people age, the card could be used even more effectively in a fraudulent transaction.
Mr. Patten : That is an open question. I see the hon. Gentleman's point, but a tightly run scheme, which would be extremely expensive, could help. It is a matter of judgment. That is a reason why I welcome today's debate.
A voluntary scheme would not be successful and self-financing unless a substantial number of members of the public would find the cards sufficiently useful to be worth paying for. The key question--this is central to the whole issue of voluntary cards--is whether there are many situations in which people have problems proving their identity and would be saved difficulties or delays if they bought officially issued identity cards. The answer to that question resides in what is on the card.
Another question is what information could in practical terms be recorded on the card, as the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish pointed out. In that respect, modern technology issues a wide and ever increasing range of technological options. There are not just strips on the backs of cards ; there are now smart cards--rather a good name, generally, for the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). The hon. Gentleman is not in his place, but I hope that someone will draw that remark to his attention. Smart cards contain silicon chips, which can record an enormous amount of information. We need to take account of the opportunities without allowing what can be done to take precedence over what should be done. Whatever else happens, we should not allow any of the debate about identity cards to be driven by the availability of technology, because important matters of principle must be considered.
Mr. Shersby : My hon. Friend has referred to the existence of smart cards. Does he agree that they are the ideal cards for those people who voluntarily wish to carry cards containing details of their medical history and so on which can be made available in an emergency? This kind of card will appeal to many people who are interested in the idea of an identity card for that purpose.
Column 1309commercial companies will decide to offer to the public a smart card which can record all sorts of information on a voluntary, opt-in basis. My hon. Friend is right again.
I have said that the Government consider that the costs and penalties attached to a compulsory scheme outweigh its benefits. It would, however professionally and impartially administered, carry risks for police relationships with the public that they serve, and we must consider that point. It would be very expensive and the state would have to pay for it. The Government are not persuaded that a compulsory scheme should be introduced.
A voluntary scheme is another matter. Certainly, the less complete its coverage, the less useful it would be to the state. On the other hand, it might have some benefits to the public and, therefore, might well become self-financing. But, as Mr. Speaker says in this place, for the avoidance of doubt I had better make it clear that only a self-financing scheme would be of any interest to the Government at the moment. As The Times said in today's leader,
"a voluntary scheme is at least worth more intensive Home Office study and public debate."
Today's Second Reading provides a good opportunity for that debate to begin.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I would like to consider further the pros and cons of a voluntary identity card scheme--all the points which have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North and others during the extremely interesting debate held so far. We should like to report back to the House in due course.
Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central) : This has been a useful opportunity to debate the issue of national identity cards. We should be grateful to the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) for having given us that opportunity, if for nothing else.
The debate has not really started, although there has been growing interest in identity cards over the past couple of years, for two obvious reasons. First, with 1992 and the advent of the single European market, the concept of a Europe without frontiers has obviously been of interest. We have been told emphatically by the Home Secretary, however, that--whatever else happens--the United Kingdom will maintain its frontier controls, so the attraction of national identity cards in this country is obviously diminished. The second argument seems to have taxed hon. Members' minds this morning. Crime has undoubtedly grown. In some ways, it is an indictment of the Government that so much criticism has come from their own Back Benchers about the fact that crime has been increasing. We have heard much today from the something-must-be-done brigade. Having listened to the contributions of many hon. Members, it seems to me that the idea that something must be done has led them to endorse this scheme.
I accept that the hon. Member for Norfolk, North is against crime. So is everybody else--I have yet to hear anyone say that they are in favour of it --but it is surely wrong to suggest that the national identity card scheme proposed in this Bill in particular is an aspirin that will solve the problem of rising crime. It is interesting that the Minister should say that in most countries in which national identity cards have been compulsorily introduced
Column 1310the crime rate has not diminished. That seems to kill the arguments of those who advocate the scheme today. I cannot understand that there could be any doubt about that. We should ask not what identity cards will do because the great problem is detection. Police officers will tell hon. Members that their big difficulty is not knowing whom they have caught, but catching somebody in the first place.
Mrs. Gorman : Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the police audit report that has recently been produced? It states that only 10 per cent. of our police are actually engaged in chasing and catching criminals, and that 30 to 40 per cent. are in motor cars driving around the streets. It is an extraordinary document and well worth reading.
Mr. Darling : I am not sure that the pattern is the same in every police force. Some chief constables, such as the one in my area, have taken substantial steps to put more officers on the beat and have fewer officers engaged in tasks that are not particularly productive.
Identity cards, whether compulsory or voluntary, will not assist the free movement of people in Europe or the detection of those suspected of having committed offences. We must look at the merits of the proposed scheme.
These days, there is a curious fascination with plastic cards. Much information can be put on a little card. As we have heard, to introduce a compulsory or voluntary identity scheme would be to open a door that would not be capable of being closed. The right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson), as his contribution wore on, added more and more to the list of what might be added to a little plastic card. Those who support the introduction of such a card would reduce every man, woman and child in this country to a number to be programmed at will. The idea that every individual would have his or her life story on a little metal strip on a little plastic card is objectionable. The universal personal indicator-- that is what some people call such numbers--on a card could include an individual's medical history, work progress, financial status, what he did, where he did it, and where he was stopped. All that information could be revealed by passing a card through a computer terminal. That is a great step, and I should be reluctant to take it.
Mr. Darling : I shall refer to that point in due course. As I said, the debate has only just started. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, when the Government introduced their proposals for the poll tax in England and Wales, the majority of people thought that they were a good thing. When they found out what they are about, the majority thought that they were a bad thing. As the debate on identity cards proceeds, more and more people will come to the view that their disadvantages will outweigh any advantages.
Mr. Ralph Howell : Why does the hon. Gentleman suggest that it must be a plastic card? Nothing in the Bill states that it is to be a plastic card. I have been at pains to explain that everything on the card should be readable by the person who holds it. If there is a space on the card for voluntary information, it would be filled in at the request of the holder.
Mr. Darling : The hon. Gentleman suggested that the card should be capable of being read. I am sorry that I misrepresented him. If the right hon. Member for Brent, North has his way, it will be a formidable card as more and more information is added. If the card is capable of being read and, therefore, the information is typed on to it or put on in some other way, the risks of fraud will be greater. The hon. Gentleman might like to visit the immigration and nationality department at Harmondsworth, which deals with cards that are suspected of having been in the hands of somebody who had committed fraud. I visited it earlier this week and saw six French identity cards, only one of which was genuine. The rest were clever forgeries, but it had taken a number of scientists a long time to establish that. The more one relies on traditional methods, the greater the risk of fraud.
Once one opens the door, it is easy to understand how abuses set in. At the press of a button, someone in Government can programme the card to be acceptable or unacceptable in any given circumstances. Doors can be opened and closed. We all know that if one presents an Access card to a garage it can be checked before credit is given. It does not take a great mind to realise that the same could happen with an identity card if it were decided that access should be denied to a certain category of people.
In Malaysia some years ago cards were colour-coded blue for nationals, brown for convicts and other colours for those who had offended against the political beliefs of the Government. It is not difficult to appreciate that the technology exists to programme cards in that way. I am not suggesting for one moment that that is what the hon. Member for Norfolk, North wants, but the imagination of one or two of his Back Bench colleagues might run riot at the possibilities open to them.
What is the problem with crime? Is it identification or detection? The police tell us that it is detection, so national identity cards will not assist.
The Bill proposes a compulsory scheme. I understand that the Government are not prepared to rule out a voluntary one, but both have their difficulties. There is a world of difference between choosing to carry bankers' cards or identity cards to get into libraries and the introduction of a compulsory identity card scheme. The difference is that we choose to carry those other cards. When one considers a voluntary scheme, one must bear in mind the example of bankers' cards. There is no legal requirement that one must present a bankers' card when cashing a cheque, but it might as well be compulsory because as far as I know, with the exception of the post office in the House, no-one will accept a cheque without a bankers' card.
If a voluntary scheme were acceptable, it would have to have all the panoply, complications and expense of a compulsory scheme or it would not work. No one would accept a national identity card unless there were confidence in the scheme.
Those in favour of the scheme say that people could be easily identified. That assumes that the police will stop people and ask them to produce identity cards. The police say that the scheme would work only if they were allowed to do just that.
Mr. Bermingham : Does my hon. Friend agree that clause 1(3) is rather silly? Suppose my hon. Friend visited the seaside to go swimming on a warm summer's day. Would he be expected to carry his identity card as he goes
Column 1312fom the car to the seashore? Perhaps his wife would be expected to carry her card. That is the sort of silliness that appears in the Bill.
Mr. Darling : That is a problem. If I were minded to swim in the river Forth, I might want to carry a card as I might not be confident of emerging from it because of the chill of the water and the pollution. Someone might nip out to buy a Sunday newspaper and be confronted by a constable asking for an identity card. That person will have to visit the police station within seven days to produce it, which is objectionable and will not lead to good relations. It is instructive to consider the case of Wilcock v . Muckle. A motorist was stopped because he was suspected of speeding and asked to produce his driving licence. He was asked also to produce his identity card. He refused because he considered that the police did not need it and knew who he was. The constable wanted to see it because he had been used to asking for it. That is precisely the situation that I foresee arising if the identity card system is to work. The police say that if it is to work they will have to do just that.
The cases most commonly cited by the hon. Member for Norfolk, North and by the right hon. Member for Brent, North are those in which a group of young people gathers in the street and causes bother. The difficulty there is getting hold of the individuals concerned, not of finding out who they are. Most of us who have experience of such matters know that although a person detained on the street may initially refuse to say who he is, during discussions in the police car on the way to the police station he will generally come to the conclusion that it is better to say who he is. The police still detain him to check up because although they have the person's name, they want to be sure who he is.
The right hon. Member for Brent, North gave several harrowing examples of people who were the victims of terrible attacks, but he should ask in how many cases attackers have been detected and brought to justice. Speaking as a Member of Parliament in whose constituency 25 per cent. of the population are pensioners, the problem is not a question of identity. The most common problem is that somebody comes to the door and shows a card of some sort to the pensioner. The pensioner admits the person and is then robbed. The police never find the people concerned unless they stumble across them in some other circumstances because they do not know where to start looking. As the Minister has said, the assailants will carry identity cards because they know that if they are stopped they will get into trouble if they do not have them, but they will never leave their identity cards at the scene of the crime to assist in detection.
The Association of Chief Police Officers, whose members should know about this issue, readily recognises that there are pros and cons and that the case is not proven. The association said to the Home Secretary that if he wanted such a scheme he would have to make the case for having it. The example has been given of the sus laws and the difficulties and ill-feeling that can be caused. Public support is important.
Several hon. Members referred to a poll today. The debate has only just started, so it is not surprising that many people, when asked whether they would like identity cards, can see the advantages because they think about their own bank cards. It is interesting to note that there
Column 1313were two groups of people in which the majority were against identity cards. One group was the ethnic minority population. That is not surprising as a great deal of evidence shows that they are the victims of being stopped, searched and questioned by police far more than other people. Their experience has led them to believe that with identity cards the problem would continue and might become worse. The second group is one that I know something about--people living in Scotland. The reason why they are against identity cards is simple. Because of the controversy about the poll tax, most people in Scotland are very much aware that the Government have attached to us all an individual identifying number. They are aware of the arguments, whether practical or relative to civil liberties. Because Scotland has been used as a laboratory for the Government's poll tax plans, public awareness there is far greater than it is in other parts of the country. But just as awareness of poll tax problems is growing in England and Wales, so, when the debate gets under way--if it ever does--on identity cards, public perceptions will change. If Scottish opinion is anything to go by, I hope that opinions will change in other parts of the country and will result in a change of Government in this country.
The case is not proved in respect of 1992. When speaking to immigration and nationality officers earlier this week, they told me that they preferred frontier controls because the alternative would be to go into areas demanding to see identity cards and that would cause difficulties, which we would wish to discourage. Another question to be considered is the status of the information on the cards. The Home Secretary is even now having discussions with his opposite numbers throughout Europe with a view to including common information on immigration and nationality statistics. I can imagine a situation in the future when an immigration officer in Greece might consider that somebody is not to be admitted to Greece and that refusal might be good for the rest of Europe, even though if the person presented himself for whatever reason in the United Kingdom a different decision might have been taken.
There are all sorts of different standards of information, and different prejudices and criteria are applied. While I was at Harmondsworth, I was shown a computer containing more than 3,000 names of people who had had some sort of adverse comment made on them by immigration officials. They are not people who have wrongly applied to come into this country or who have wrongly been refused ; they are people who have merely come to an immigration official's attention. Hon. Members can imagine the sort of difficulties that we would have if we were dealing with 45 million people-- and potentially 200 million people throughout the EEC.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : Is my hon. Friend aware that the use of that information is a serious matter and that immigration officials have recourse to that computer? They can use it against individuals seeking to enter this country merely because an adverse comment has been made on an earlier visit although nothing illegal has been contemplated or done.
Column 1314enter the country appeared on the computer screen. An officer kindly showed me how to key in the right information. The officials thought that there might be an inconsistency. I did not stay very long in that department. As I was leaving Heathrow so, too, was the gentleman, so it could not have been a permanent problem. He was admitted as a visitor, I understand. That illustrates the difficulties that are likely to arise when one is dealing with prejudice, or with the interpretation of a given set of facts by an individual who has the power to put information on to a computer. If that information can then be transmitted in connection with a compulsory identity card scheme further difficulties are likely. Hon. Members have referred to terrorists and drug traffickers. Does the House seriously imagine that someone seeking to bring heroin or cocaine into the country or intending to blow up property or individuals would make the mistake of coming here without identification? Such people will have identity cards, and good ones at that. The cards might not belong to them but they will pass muster at most ports of entry and will be acceptable to a police officer seeking to ascertain whether an individual is who he says he is. In any case, under the Bill--even if the terrorist or drug trafficker does not have an identity card he can say, "If you bear with me, I will come back in seven days with one." Seven days later he will either have obtained an identity card or, more likely, have disappeared.
There is a risk of forgery and a flourishing black market. What price a little card that can tell the whole story of a person's life? I am sure that the Economic League and similar agencies would love to get hold of such information.
The scheme would create a vast bureaucracy--an industry of identity. The passport office is struggling to do its job, but there were delays last year and more delays are predicted this year. We know of the formidable problems at Lunar house, which deals with a comparatively small number of people. Apparently it will be 1990 before Lunar house clears the backlog of mail that it had accumulated 18 months ago.
Mr. Bermingham : Bearing in mind the fact that computer hacking has become a prevalent crime, my hon. Friend can imagine the type of information that fraudsters could extract from such records. That is a serious point.
Mr. Darling : My hon. Friend is right. It came as a shock to many of us to hear that even the Ministry of Defence computers had been penetrated on two occasions. Although the Minister of State told me that it was low- grade information and that security was not threatened, it was nevertheless information on a Ministry of Defence file. A computer containing information on 40 million people--goodness knows how much information on each--would be a paradise for hackers and for anyone who could get the information legally or illegally. What would happen if the system were privatised? Knowing the present Government, if it could be privatised it would be privatised. The temptation to sell or make available the information would be formidable. We must bear in mind that the police computer is also vulnerable and open to unauthorised use.
It is common knowledge that private investigators, many of whom are former policemen, can speak to their ex-colleagues on the old-boy network and discover
Column 1315information that ought not to be revealed. That is happening day in and day out, throughout the country. The police national computer will be a mere abacus compared with the computer required to administer the national identity card scheme.
The Minister has mentioned the experience of other countries, but I believe that it is sufficient to say that the evidence is that most other countries do not have a compulsory identity card scheme. A minority have some sort of identification scheme, but in most cases it is voluntary.
Perhaps enough has been said about this. The Bill has sufficient flaws to condemn it as it stands without going into the wider issues that it raises. For instance, on the one hand it makes it an offence for somebody not to be in possession of a valid identity card, but on the other there is a saving provision that one has seven days to produce it. I understand why there is that provision, but it appears to defeat what the sponsors of the Bill say that it is intended to tackle. For that reason alone, I believe that the Bill should not receive a Second Reading.
This is not a time of war or rationing. The scheme appears to be another example of interference in our right to choose to be private and not to be interfered with by the state. The supporters of the Bill have failed to prove their case. The disadvantages far outweigh any advantages. Indeed, it is difficult to see what the advantages might be. The supporters of the Bill have not tackled the question of crime detection. On that matter, I can do no better than to endorse the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), who said that if £350 million were available to set up this scheme the money would be better spent employing police officers to go out on the streets and tackle some of the problems which have understandably been raised by hon. Members. The Bill is further evidence that some Conservative Members have a latent fear of the people of this country and that they would like further to extend controls on what those people do and where they go.
The Bill fails on its merits. I fear that it is a grand and useless gesture. For that reason, I urge hon. Members to vote against it, if it comes to a Division.
Mr. David Evans (Welwyn, Hatfield) : I congratulate the Minister on his balanced summing-up of the matter so far. Important and necessary changes can often be made in short Bills. The most significant arguments can often be most effective when put as concisely as possible. Contrary to some of my hon. Friends, I shall keep my speech short and to the point.
I believe that the arguments in favour of this Bill are compelling and can be simply put. Today, in virtually every sphere of our activity, we are required to produce some evidence of identity. As car drivers, for example, we can be required to produce our driver's licences. To obtain a passport-- itself an international identity card--we must produce our birth certificates. To gain benefits, to collect parcels from the post office, or to cash cheques via a third party, we are expected to provide some form of identity. There are excellent reasons why proof of age should be presented, for example, by young people drinking in public houses or by youngsters attempting to buy cigarettes. It should not be left to landlords or shopkeepers to guess customers' ages. That is imposing on them an unnecessary
Column 1316burden. Many young people who are old enough to drink in a public house probably already carry some proof of age, so they would welcome this opportunity.
The need to carry some form of indentification has already been demonstrated. Most people already carry some form identity. I wonder how many hon. Members are carrying some form of
identification--perhaps a driver's licence, a printed name card, a cheque guarantee card, a credit card or a kidney donor card. We require servants of the House to carry a House of Commons identity pass.
A requirement that each citizen should carry a national identity card would not be a dramatic shift from the present position. The right to privacy, which critics of the Bill regard as a basic right, is given up the moment that citizens become active members of society. I believe that the introduction of a national identity card scheme would be welcomed by most citizens. A telephone poll by TV-am last week showed that 69 per cent. would be in favour of the scheme. Nearly every newspaper has had a poll on national identity cards in the last day or two and it was found that the average number in favour has been 57 per cent.
Such a card would be extremely convenient. I have noted the arguments against having a smart card, but several cards are unnecessary. The information required could be on one bar code on a single card. The cost of issuing and maintaining that card would be offset by the savings derived from not having to issue so many other official forms and documents. I understand that £350 million has been quoted as the likely cost of issuing such a card. I believe that £7 per person is a cheap price to pay for the sense of security given to those who wish to go out at night who will then feel that they are properly protected against those seeking to make their lives thoroughly miserable.
Mrs. Gorman : Does my hon. Friend truly believe that people walking the streets with identity cards will no longer engage in mugging? Does he truly believe that such cards will stop such criminal behaviour?
Mr. Evans : My hon. Friend makes a good point, but I believe that it will be easier to catch such people. The police will be given a much more effective way in which to identify those they are seeking to apprehend.
I believe that we could have a commercially sponsored identity card and I do not see why it should cost the Government anything. The Football Spectators Bill has nothing to do with a national identity card and there are fundamental reasons why the two are incompatible. On timing, there are no firm Government proposals for a national identity card and, first, important questions of principle need to be resolved. Football hooliganism, however, already exists and we must deal with it now. A national identity card is different from a football club membership card. A national identity card would be issued by a Government Department or an agency. Its purpose is to prove the carrier's identity, not to grant him admission to a football ground. A football membership card, unlike an identity card, can be withdrawn. A national identity card would not remove the need for most of the provisions contained in the Football
Column 1317Spectators Bill. We would still need equipment to check membership cards, procedures for withholding or withdrawing such cards and for licensing the grounds. The commercial opportunities of the national membership scheme, for example the marketing of football membership lists, would not be available with the national identity card. A national identity card would not separate the bully, the coward or the criminal from the football fan but without a membership card, one would not be a football supporter. The criminal understands that. The carrying of a national identity card would contribute to a more law-abiding society. We would find out how many illegal immigrants there are in the country. Almost immediately one would stop the thousands--contrary to what the Minister said--of people who draw social security benefits illegally. Publicans would be able to verify the age of drinkers and shopkeepers verify the age of cigarette buyers. The police would be able to check the identity of those they reasonably believe may have committed or are about to commit an offence. The carrying of such cards would also save lives as people could be asked whether they wanted their donor number placed on it.
Identity cards are extremely valuable. I believe that there are obvious dangers in making the carrying of that card voluntary, because those who refuse to carry it are most likely to be those with something to hide.
Mrs. Gorman rose --
As the Association of Chief Police Officers has recognised, a voluntary scheme would have too few advantages to make it worthwhile. This is an important, clear and necessary Bill and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) on introducing it. I commend it to the House.
Mr. Bermingham : Yes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has just said, the other way is to approach it from the attitude of the previous speaker, the hon. Member for Welwyn, Hatfield (Mr. Evans), who looked at the practicalities of this issue. I propose to look at both aspects.
Column 1318I shall turn first to the philosophical side. We are supposed to live in a democracy and in freedom. We are supposed to have the right to choose. However, where people feel that the state knows best and that nanny knows all the answers--whether we approach this from the Left or the Right--the history of this century provides two ghastly examples of the results. There is the Stalinist approach, that the state must know everything about every human being, or the Fascist approach of Hitler, that the state must know every single thing about every human being. Extremist Left and Right always seem to meet at that point philosophically. The circle is squared at the point at which it is decided that there must be a national identification system so that every citizen is registered. Everything would be recorded : where one lives ; where one went to school ; who one's mother and father were ; where one went to university ; where one has worked and one's record of work. All would be recorded on the state's computers. Of course, in the past, there were no computers so the information was kept on files, but it would be on computer now. That Orwellian sense--that 1984 concept--where the human being is not an individual but part of the machinery of state, to be ordered, checked and spied upon--is, in a philosophical sense, what identification cards are all about. I am sure that no hon. Member would agree with that sort of philosophical approach to members of society. Whether we are on the Left or the Right of the political spectrum, I am sure that none of us want that Orwellian concept of the ultimate state control. It is anathema to all of us. Therefore, if one approaches the Bill on that philosophical level, one says no to it because it would be one more step down that road. In this day and age we must be careful that we do not go down that road, because in a world of computers and electronic recording, it is all too easy for information to build up slowly and for the Orwellian concept of lack of freedom to develop. We must guard against that at every touch and turn.
I do not want to delay the House for long, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I know that many hon. Members wish to speak. I shall turn now to the purely practical side of this issue. The more I listened to the hon. Member for Welwyn, Hatfield, the sadder I became because every reason that he gave for a card was totally impractical. Am I to understand that a card would stop the mugger in his tracks? Would he approach his intended victim, card in hand, saying, "Gosh, it's me. Here's my identification card number."? Of course not. Would a card stop a thief breaking into a house and would it somehow make him leave his number behind to aid his identification? Of course not. The only thing that a thief would use his plastic card for would be to open one's Yale lock. The card would be efficient in that respect--that is, if he had the card with him. As has already been said, the position would be similar to that for driving licences--one would have seven days to produce it.
If someone is going out to be a naughty boy in the dark of the night the last thing on earth that he would do would be to put his card in his pocket. He would not put anything in his pocket that could identify him, because if he were to leave a jacket or any piece of clothing behind, that is the sort of thing that the police would be likely to find.
Let us be realistic. Will the card stop fraud? I intervened earlier--it may have appeared amusingly--to suggest that the photograph on the card would be the easiest way to increase fraud. No matter how much we do not like it,
Column 1319nature has a cruel trick it plays on all of us : we get older, and as we get older we may begin to look uglier, or more beautiful, depending on how age takes us. Certainly we change, and, as the French have found, for the purposes of forgery, changing photographs is really quite easy. Of course, a forged card could be created in no time at all. All the details suggested for the card, such as address, sex and date of birth, would make it very easy to go to a bank and pretend to be somebody else. An ordinary photograph could quite easily be made to look like an identity card photograph of somebody else. This would facilitate fraud, not hinder it.
On the question of photographs, consider the purely practical side. As we age, we will naturally want to have our photographs changed. For example, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have you ever looked at a passport--not your personal passport, but somebody else's? The number of people who deny that the photographs in their passports are good photographs of themselves--the passports having been issued perhaps 10 years ago--is enormous. We all change with the passage of time. As someone who many years ago served on the Committee that dealt with the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, I know, from the very detailed investigations that were carried out, the response of citizens to stop-and-search proposals. It was found that across the Metropolitan area there were, I think, one million stop-and-search cases in one year. Intense resentment built up amongst the younger community against the police force--something that was totally counter- productive. One can just imagine how many people are going to be asked for identity cards and be told to turn up in seven days. Think of the enormous waste of police time. Are we going to get little slips like the ones that are issued when driving documents have to be produced? Just think of the cost in terms of manpower. What would happen if one were to lose one's means of
identification? Again, think of the cost. What would happen if one changed one's address, or if one changed one's looks? There are people in this world who change the colour of their hair artificially. All of that would mean that cards would come and cards would go.
The more one reads this Bill--the more one looks at the practical side--the more one realises how costly the scheme would be, and the less useful it appears. I cannot see a single valid reason for the introduction of these cards. If a publican wants to know somebody's age, let him ask that person. The same thing applies to a shopkeeper. If a police officer wants to know somebody's address, let him ask that person. That does not take very much time. We do not need £350 million of expenditure. Above all else, we do not need to start going further down that philosophical road to the point where the citizen ceases to matter and only the state counts.
Mrs. Maureen Hicks (Wolverhampton, North-East) : I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) on his chosen subject. Though I do not think he is here at the moment, may I say that this is an important private Member's Bill. He has provided us with an opportunity to debate an important and topical issue and, in so doing, has shown the country that he recognises the widespread feeling in support of his measure. He has also obviously given the Government
Column 1320great encouragement to look rather more closely at the subject than they may have done so far. I have to express slight disappointment that we have had to resort to a private Member's Bill because of the reluctance of the Government to introduce legislation of their own. I am quite sure that, in time, they will amend that situation. This is a controversial subject, and one of increasing national interest, but regrettably today we have heard evidence of an awful lot of negative thinking on the subject. In advocating the need for a national identity card, I am not acting out of some deep-rooted desire to play at being big brother--or even big sister--as those opposed to this Bill may try to imply. It is quite simply a practical response to the constant need in modern society to identify ourselves for whatever purposes.
I listened with interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), who presented a fictitious scenario involving a Mrs. Bloggins. I could not help thinking that I could see nothing in his argument. I cannot, for the life of me, see how a request that I carry a card stating my name, address, and what I look like, is in any way whatsoever a restriction of my individual liberty. Judging from the numerous representations that I have received from my constituents who live with the daily stresses and strains of inner-city life they see no restriction either. They say, shrugging their shoulders, "An identity card for us--so what's the big deal?" Such is the attitude of normal, peace-loving and law-abiding citizens, the 57 per cent. of whom The Times leader writer speaks today. They recognise that identifying ourselves in 1989 has become a way of life which most of us accept without question.
We live in a sea of identity cards and can do increasingly little in society without using some form of identification. I used to think that it was only Americans who suffered from that problem, but we have followed suit. Our wallets and purses are positively bulging with little cards, but no one queries that. However, simply suggesting one more little universal card has all the freedom fighters up in arms--that is madness.
The point has been made several times this morning that from morning until night we can do virtually nothing without a card. I cannot drive my car to work unless I have a compulsory driving licence. I cannot fill it with petrol unless I have a cheque card to cover the cheque. I cannot--along with 10,000 other employees--enter the Palace of Westminster unless I have a photo-identity pass. I cannot go to the doctor without a medical card. I cannot even pay for a dress--hon. Gentlemen cannot pay for a suit--that costs more than £50 unless I have two forms of identification.
Mrs. Gorman rose --