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Mrs. Hicks : I shall not give way to my hon. Friend, who had an opportunity earlier to make her point. We are short of time. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn)--who is no longer here--and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) said that they would object to carrying identity cards. However, it is interesting that they do not object to carrying the card they need to get into Parliament. We are in danger of creating double standards. By adding one simple universal card to our wallets, we could eliminate the need for many of the rest. Some may jump up and down and argue that the card will
Column 1321be an invasion of our privacy and will restrict us. However, today, the restrictions are already in place--whether out of choice or necessity.
Across the water, where many of us take our holidays, I am sure that we would agree that we have never been conscious of any dictatorial regime. As we move towards 1992, which is less than three years away, and we pride ourselves on removing barriers and encouraging greater freedom of movement- -that could lead to drug-running and terrorism--we find ourselves in the United Kingdom in a distinct minority.
We are one of only four of the 12 member countries of the EC who have no official identity scheme. That makes a mockery of what the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said when we discussed this matter in connection with a ten-minute Bill last year. He suggested that :
"The introduction of identity cards is a wholly undesirable practice, far more associated with dictatorships than with democracies."--[ Official Report, 21 June 1988 ; Vol. 135, c. 977.] Does the hon. Gentleman know something about Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Spain, West Germany, France, Italy and Portugal that we do not? I suggest not.
In recognising that five of the European schemes are compulsory and three voluntary, I am mindful of the Home Secretary's consideration of a voluntary scheme. But I regret that, for once--I hope that the Minister will convey this message to him--I cannot agree with my right hon. Friend's sentiments. If the national identity card scheme is to work successfully, it must be comprehensive. The very people who need to be identified are the ones who would choose not to participate in the scheme. Those of us who have been teachers know that that is a little bit like the voluntary open evening at school. Parents of good children tend to come but parents of naughty children, the ones who need to be seen, do not turn up. Does any hon. Member genuinely believe that the lady in Brent who this week was given £20,000 of taxpayers' money by Brent council to open a burger bar would have applied for a voluntary identity card knowing for 13 years that she had been an illegal immigrant? I am sure that she would not.
Mrs. Hicks : People who have most to hide would not apply for a voluntary card. If we do not act now in favour of a universal approach we shall be in great danger of having piecemeal legislation to control football hooligans, under-age drinkers, under-age users of gaming machines and goodness knows who else. Costly separate schemes could in time be rendered completely useless by one comprehensive national scheme.
Already in the west midlands publicans have had to take the law into their own hands, and on 6 March 200 pubs in Brierley Hill, Stourbridge, Halesowen and, soon, Wombourn, near my constituency, will have a scheme to identify under-age drinkers. Both the police and the licensees say that the scheme will save aggravation. I can see it snowballing. In an emotive debate such as this there is a danger that those who oppose the Bill will engage in scaremongering. We have had some of that in the debate and it is done to try to sensationalise the powers of the
Column 1322police and to make them sound like our natural enemy. People use phrases like "police state" to try to put the fear of God into us all.
The case for ID cards should be kept in perspective. It is interesting to talk to people who have held identity cards and who speak from first-hand experience of their days in the war. Recently, one of my constituents spoke to 40 such people at the annual general meeting of the Stafford branch of the Dunkirk veterans' association. They all agreed that they would love to see a compulsory identity card scheme. Many of them said that they would feel safer carrying cards and thought that the only people to complain would be those who had something to hide. It is interesting to note that some of those veterans still carry their wartime identity cards. They do so, because, they say, if anything happened to them they could be easily identified. That was an interesting remark in view of the recent tragic spate of transport tragedies. Much time and heartbreak could be avoided if, as a result of carrying a universal card, every victim could rapidly be identified and the next of kin notified. I would go further and suggest that cards should contain not the metal strips that the scaremongers talk about, but details of blood group and indications of a willingness to donate organs.
The flag-waving civil liberties fraternity is not truly representative of the interests of the majority. The Opposition will probably vote against the Bill. I should like to see more interest by the Opposition, and I say to those who oppose the Bill that they should not let their suspicions misguide their appraisal of the benefits of such a scheme. Civil liberties groups tend to look with great suspicion on the subject of identity and see it as somewhat sinister, with cloak and dagger overtones, as if everyone is out to trap them. They talk of restricting the rights of the individual, but it is precisely because I want to protect the rights of the majority of my constituents who want to live in peace and harmony that I support the Bill.
The carrying of a small innocuous card will help us all to prevent crime and terrorism. At the same time it will convey practical everyday benefits and the majority of law-abiding citizens will have no objection to that. They would believe that we as Members of Parliament were acting responsibly in representing their best interests, and they would applaud our initiative.
Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North) : I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) on introducing the Bill and stimulating debate on a subject which is of intense public interest. The proposal certainly has a sizeable majority of public support.
I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Hicks) has said. Those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear from the proposal. I find nothing to quarrel with in the first two subsections of clause 1. That identity cards should be issued does not seem offensive. We already have a national medical card, a national insurance card and several other documents such as a birth certificate. One more in the form of an identity card does not seem offensive. However, there I part company with some of my hon. Friend's proposals.
In recent months we on the Home Affairs Select Committee have had the opportunity to talk to many police officers of varying ranks, not only chief constables, but senior police officers and constables on the beat. I can
Column 1323speak only for myself, but it is my impression that, while the police generaly see advantages in a national identity card scheme--there are advantages--many draw the line at the sort of proposals--almost stop-and-seach proposals--that my hon. Friend suggests. There is a grave fear that the imposition of this request may lead back to the bad old days when the police undoubtedly lost the genuine support of the public, which they need to do a difficult and dangerous job. They were simply carrying out the duty that we in this House had imposed on them. That would be sad and we need to think carefully before we return to those days. There is a considerable case to be made for a facilitating document. It has already been said several times that everybody in this House carries an identity card. When I was working for the BBC I carried my identity card. Members of the written press carry National Union of Journalists members' cards. In a written reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement made it clear that not only all members of the armed forces but all civilians working within armed forces' bases carry identity cards. Many people working in private industry carry indentity cards. Indeed, to get into a Labour party conference one must have an identity card.
We are now talking about introducing identity cards for entry into football grounds. Pubs are introducing identity cards to identify, not under-age but over-age drinkers. We frequently need an identity card for the Departments of Health and of Social Security, and some form of identity is needed to acquire a student travel card. Before long we shall need some form of identity card to travel even within the European Community.
In its fifth report the Home Affairs Select Committee addresses the subject of the British visitor's passport and I should like to place on record what we said.
"We continue to have grave doubts as to the security of the British Visitor's Passport. Despite the new precautions against forgery mentioned by Home Office officials, the BVP is widely regarded as a low-grade identity document. In the United Kingdom, it is not recognised as proof of identity by the Department of Social Security, for instance, and overseas it is regarded with disfavour by the immigration services of many countries, not least in the European Community. Although it may not be practical to withdraw or replace the BVP at present, due to its obvious convenience at a time when standard passports cannot be obtained without some delay, we recommend that the Home Office give urgent consideration to the withdrawal of the British Visitor's Passport as soon as the computerisation programme, which will allow for a five-day service for issuing standard passports, is fully operational."
The Select Committee continued :
"We further recommend that consideration be given to the issue of the back page of the new United Kingdom passport as a voluntary identification document to facilitate travel within the European Community. Such a document might also serve to replace the growing number of cards now being issued by football clubs, public houses and other private establishments for the purpose of identification." The Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler), asked :
"Would it not be better, both in the interests of the travelling public, in the wider interests of the country as a whole, to have a travel document that was universally well regarded and paid for in any event by the consumer who purchases that document and one in which we could all have confidence?"
The deputy secretary responsible for immigration and nationality, Mr. Hyde, said :
Column 1324"Yes ; those arguments are powerful."
The Home Affairs Select Committee was driving at this : the back page of the new European passport, which will be issued to every Common Market resident, carries all the information that is necessary for all the purposes that we have discussed--a photograph, signature and means of identification. It already exists and it would be possible, if it were used on a voluntary basis, to issue it immediately.
The European passport is machine-readable. It has two strips on the bottom. It may interest hon. Members to know something that I found out some five years ago when I first started to take an interest in this subject. The European passport's machine-readability and design are dictated not by the British Government, Common Market countries or the United Nations but by the International Air Transport Association. I cannot believe that it would not be possible to prevail on that organisation to add a third strip to contain additional information. I do not share the view of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) who, in his doomsday scenario, took fright at the possibilities of such a card being used on a smart card basis voluntarily to carry medical information and any other information including, if one wished, details of membership of a football club.
I see a compelling argument for the use and issue of one officially recognised card, whether purchased voluntarily, like a British visitors passport, or issued universally, like a medical card, and free. I believe, as does the Home Affairs Select Committee, that there is a strong case for one national, approved card rather than a plethora of easily forgeable, semi-official cards.
Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) on introducing the Bill and on including Northern Ireland from the outset. The absence of a national identity card provides some anonymity for individuals with criminal intent, giving them the freedom to traverse the country at will with little likelihood of ever being challenged and to engage in robbery and serious terrorism, as occurs in Northern Ireland. I believe that a compulsory scheme is the best way forward and that the requirement to carry a national identity card will, perhaps for the first time, create another risk for those evil-doers operating outside their home territory, where they are recognised and known. I believe that it can greatly help our police and security forces and I must agree that additional policing would be helpful.
The Bill poses no threat to law-abiding citizens in this country. Since I publicly voiced my support for the identity card scheme, I have not received one objection from more than 60,000 constituents, all of whom are eligible to contact me as their Member of Parliament. From that I assume that the support in the mainland press will also be forthcoming in Northern Ireland. Many of my colleagues from Northern Ireland constituencies have other commitments today and greatly regret being unable to be present to lend their support. The requirement for a national identity card could instil in our young people a greater respect for citizenship and a recognition of the responsibility that goes with it.
Hon. Members have commented on the attitude of ethnic minority groups. Those who have allegedly been harrassed by the police in the past would be protected by the production of a national identity card. National
Column 1325identity cards would also put another obstacle in the way of illegal immigrants, and I welcome that. I recently spent considerable time endeavouring to get extended permission for an overseas visitor to remain in Northern Ireland. I endeavoured to arrange appropriate educational courses and so on for that visitor. Much to my annoyance, that person jumped ship or took the boat one morning from Larne to Stranraer and disappeared somewhere in London. The absence of national identity cards makes life easier for the countless thousands of illegal immigrants.
National identity cards might assist in controlling the great incidence of social security fraud in Northern Ireland. I do not accept the massive unemployment figures that are published even in Government documents. No Government officials or anyone remotely connected with Government will investigate at first hand what is happening in many parts of Northern Ireland.
I have reported allegations of people doing the double. They travel 50 miles to work in my constituency. They are unemployed when they register. If there just happened to be the need to produce a national identity card, it would be quite possible that a check would be made. Those who are doing the double and benefiting from state benefits which should rightly go to the disabled, to young widows and to pensioners, would think twice about the risks in what they are doing. At present, the absence of national identity cards enables them to move freely and to do what they like, with little risk of being picked up and challenged.
Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock) : I have heard rumours in my constituency about council workmen removing from empty council houses polling cards belonging to people who have died or moved a long way away and impersonating them at the polls. I believe that this has been a long- standing problem in Ulster. Can the hon. Gentleman say how identity cards will help to solve the problem of the dead voting?
Mr. Beggs : The Government have attempted to overcome those problems. Abuse of polling cards is not so bad as it was in the past, but many citizens do not have either of the documents required for voting. Some pensioners have their pensions paid directly into their bank accounts and do not have a pension book to present when they vote. The Bill would be one way of ensuring democracy and preventing abuse. My hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) experienced the problem of impersonation and at considerable personal expense was involved in a court action. If national identity cards had been in operation, the problem would never have arisen. For that reason, I would welcome an identity card system in Northern Ireland.
Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) on his speech. He spoke with the sincerity to which the House is becoming accustomed. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) on his good fortune and choice of Bill. There is growing concern about violence in our towns and cities. This Bill will provide positive assistance in reducing crime.
Column 1326The idea of identity cards is not new. Significantly, my right hon. and hon. Friends have caused a measure to be introduced in the other place requiring one group--football supporters--to carry clear means of identification and to be members of a membership scheme before gaining entry into football grounds. The principle of requiring identity cards to be carried is already accepted by the Government. This Bill seems somewhat fairer than the one being proposed in the other place because it is not discriminatory. It does not seek to legislate against just one section of the community. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) reminded the House that self- employed building workers have to carry identity cards bearing the signatures of no fewer than two inspectors. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) said that the population had become more accustomed to carrying means of identification. Many benefits spring from the Bill. It would save police time in identifying suspects and people in custody. It would be a positive crime prevention measure. It would help to remove the scourge of under-age drinkers from pubs and clubs and would assist the identification of those involved in road traffic accidents. Above all, it would be a disincentive to crime because the culprits would no longer have the possibility or illusion of being anonymous. Impersonation such as that which occurred at Heathrow by two journalists could no longer take place.
Another point that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North made in his excellent speech is that identity cards would also result in the reduction of credit and cheque card crime. There is a distinct possibility that identification cards will, in any case, be required by 1992, for it is inevitable that as the Single European Act comes into force it will require the dismantling of all frontier barriers in the Community. When that happens, some form of identification will undoubtedly be required.
My hon. Friend the Minister made several international comparisons, which I should like to pursue. I was delighted to hear him make those points and they were extremely helpful to the House. If I may elaborate, all Danish citizens are provided with an identification card and much the same principle applies in Germany. As my hon. Friend rightly said, it is not necessary for German citizens to carry identification, but the police have the power to request proof of identity and address and maintain the power of arrest if proof is not readily available. As my hon. Friend said, in France it has long been customary for every citizen to carry identity papers and the police have the right to demand proof of identity from any person reasonably suspected of being about to commit or having committed a crime. If the person concerned cannot produce appropriate identification, arrest will follow and the citizen then has four hours to prove identity. That is clearly a strong inducement to carry the identification papers required, and that is why I support my hon. Friend the Minister when he talks about a voluntary scheme. It is, perhaps, not an ideal answer but a route that could be explored. I know that he is actively considering that idea and I congratulate him on the breadth of his vision in this case, as in so many others.
Column 1327Identity cards would also assist in the control of international crime because they would make it harder for people to enter illegally or to remain in a particular country. They would also reduce and control illegal cross-border activities, which is a point that the hon. Member for Antrim, East made, and they would help to curb the activities of terrorists and drug-traffickers.
I appreciate that time is rattling on, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I want to make the point that the principal objection to ID cards is, understandably, likely to come from those involved in law-breaking. To repeat the point that other hon. Members have made, honest citizens have nothing to fear and will have a great deal to gain because identification cards will assist in reducing the current level of crime and will have the effect of making it safer for law-abiding citizens to go about their lawful business. I find it significant, though not surprising, that 57 per cent. of people in a survey published today said that they were in favour of the Bill and only 37 per cent. were against it. I also find it significant that the Labour party, as ever, is split down the middle with 47 per cent. in favour and 47 per cent. against.
The Bill has much to commend it and will be of positive assistance to the policed in combating crime. Law and order is, arguably, the single most important issue facing society at this time. There is a widespread view, which my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North expressed, that our streets are no longer so safe as they used to be. That point was underlined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North, who mentioned the growth of vigilantes. Vigilantes flourish when the existing forces of law enforcement are seen to be inadequate to protect the ordinary citizen. The recent formation of vigilante groups on the London Underground underlines that point. It is difficult to avoid the view that as the incidence of violent crime increases the ordinary citizen may feel entitled to take such steps as he thinks necessary to secure his own and his family's safety. I am worried about where that route will lead because eventually it leads to anarchy. People will undoubtedly take the law into their own hands if they believe that the state is no longer able to protect them fully. I do not argue that identity cards will banish crime overnight--they will not--but as my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North, said, they represent a further weapon in the armoury of law enforcement. In my view, they will be widely welcomed as a genuine attempt to uphold the law.
My hon. Friend's Bill has much to commend it but if for any reason it falls I hope that the Home Office will introduce a similar measure, albeit using a voluntary rather than a compulsory sanction. I would regard that as second best, but it would nevertheless represent a considerable step forward and would show the people of this country that the Government are determined to get to grips with crime. A clear signal would be sent out and I believe that that would be right. Having said that, I wish my hon. Friend all good luck, and I hope that he will be successful today.
Column 1328I shall not dwell on the question of violent crime, which was handled so well by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson). Instead, I shall concentrate on the important question of unique numbering for all our citizens. We start off in life by being registered by the registrar and with that registration goes the reference number on our birth certificate. When we are cared for or overseen by the social services department of a county council, or by the National Health Service, another number is applied to us. When our performance at school is monitored through the new school profiling system, yet another number is applied.
All the reference numbers are different. The reference number applied to us by the Inland Revenue for tax purposes refers to our principal place of employment if we fall within the PAYE arrangement, or to the source of our pension or widow's pension. The Department of Social Security keeps separate reference numbers in a computer along with a vast amount of detail which could, I suppose, be construed as an infringement of civil liberties. Borough and district councils give us yet another number for housing benefit purposes.
The existence of all these reference numbers leaves the door wide open for fraud and there is nothing more corrosive to our constituents' morale than to hear of the fraud and social security fiddling that goes on as a result. The potential to make money out of the non-standardisation of records exists not only in the state sector but in respect of our credit institutions. Our great mass of credit sources--banks, finance houses, stores and card issuers--have no standardisation of reference numbers. That, too, allows fraud, and means that there is no way that the institutions can cross-reference. One problem that would be solved by the introduction of an identity card is the problem not of impersonation but the various institutions' lack of knowledge of the facts in respect of their clients' other sources of funds.
The card should carry no more than an individual's name, address, reference number and photograph. There is no need for a smart card providing large amounts of the 1984-style information about which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) was so worried, and the card would not be an infringement of human rights.
The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)--who is chatting happily--could no doubt get out of his top pocket the House of Commons identity card which he carries at all times, as do I. That contains his photograph and his name, which is no great innovation. Every hon. Member is no doubt carrying a credit card, a charge card--
A further advantage of the identity card, which would have a magnetic strip recording the facts to which I referred earlier, would be that we could get rid of the Football Spectators Bill. Every citizen would have a card with a unique reference number and the clubs, either separately or together, could keep a note of the reference numbers of those whom they wish to bar. The visiting spectator would put his card through the reader and, if it was the card of someone whom the club did not want, that person would not gain admission. We could easily dispose of all the present traumas surrounding that Bill.
Column 1329An identity card would also assist the victims of accidents. It would reveal an individual's blood group, whether or not he wished to give away his organs in the case of death, and whether he had medical conditions which required specific treatment. All that information could be rapidly identified by the emergency services after consulting by radio the already existing database of medical records.
The Home Office has apparently established that it would cost £350 million to set up this identity card scheme and a further £100 million to run it. I would argue that it would not cost anything like so much for the minimum of data that I propose. Such figures, I believe, are more typical of the response of civil servants who are always too ready to drive a Rolls-Royce at every opportunity. Those who gain from the current situation are those involved in frauds and other crimes. Those who would gain from identity cards would be the law-abiding public, who have given their verdict through the poll already mentioned which showed 57 per cent. in favour. If we had such cards, the losers would be the fiddlers, the fraudsters and other criminals.
Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley) : Hon. Members have been naturally concerned throughout this debate about the level of crime in our community. What I believe is a great mistake, however, is to go on from there and to think that there is some kind of magic solution. The debate on this proposal represents an attempt to find a magic solution to a problem. I believe that there is no magic solution. This scheme, which, of course, relates to a compulsory card, would be costly to implement and would require enormous bureaucracy to establish and, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, there is a potential for damage to police public relations. It is up to the Bill's supporters to show conclusively that identity cards would have such a beneficial effect that it would be worth incurring the cost and administrative burden needed to implement them. That has not been demonstrated in this debate.
No supporter of the Bill has put under proper scrutiny the advantages to be gained from the introduction of identity cards. A number of hon. Members have said that intending offenders would be deterred because of the fear of being identified. Of course that must be nonsense. What would deter them would be the fear of being caught and punished. There has been no evidence that the police regard identity as a major problem in combating crime.
Considerable reference has been made by hon. Members to public opinion, and the fact that it appears to show that the majority of people are in favour of such a measure. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) had said that there had been an absence of protest, I would contend that there has also been an absence of support. The fact is that, apart from the editorial columns of a number of newspapers, this has not yet become a public debate. There is little doubt that, as the debate developed, a great deal of opposition would emerge. If the Bill ever came into effect no doubt there would be enormous opposition when cases came before the courts involving children, perhaps vagrants, because
Column 1330they were carrying no card. Vagrants have no money so therefore the deterrent effect of a fine would mean nothing to them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North said that people already carry a number of identifying documents that may be referred to by number. He seems to suggest that another card would do no harm. It would only do any good, however, if it were linked to some kind of data base which would hold a great deal more information about the card holder, or if the card contained a great deal of
computer-encoded information, perhaps in the form of a smart card, which has already been mentioned today. I believe that issues of civil liberty would arise if the same number appeared on several documents. If the document relating to the community charge carried the same number as the document relating to the Department of Social Security, the Inland Revenue and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre, such problems would occur.
It has also been suggested that the good citizen has nothing to fear. That was also said when such a measure came before the United States Congress. The idea that the good citizen has nothing to fear begs all sorts of questions. It was that suggestion that killed off the possibility of such legislation in the United States. In a libertarian society, I hope that we would all believe that that notion--the idea that the good citizen is somebody who would support the Bill, law and order and all the rest, and would have nothing to fear and would therefore apply for the card--is a dangerous proposition. I hope that we will firmly reject that.
Identity cards were introduced when we were at war and no doubt the autocratic punishments that then existed were suitable for that time. They are not suitable in peacetime, nor are they suitable to a country that values freedom.
I am not suggesting that such a measure should be opposed on the grounds of civil liberties at all costs. If the advantages for its introduction were so great, I would be prepared to weigh them up-- Mr. Ralph Howell rose in his place and claimed to move , That the Question be now put.
Question put , That the Question be now put :--
The House divided : Ayes 48, Noes 37.
Division No. 90] [2.22 pm
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Browne, John (Winchester)
Buck, Sir Antony
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Emery, Sir Peter
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Fox, Sir Marcus
Goodhart, Sir Philip
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Mitchell, Sir David
Rossi, Sir Hugh
Shelton, Sir William (Streatham)
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)