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4.28 pm

Roger Casale (Wimbledon): My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) has made a good case and I congratulate him on securing the debate.

Although I oppose the Bill, I do not oppose in principle the idea of introducing identity cards. Nor do I believe that the operation of a system of identity cards would present insurmountable practical difficulties or result in the generation of excessive costs, although costs arguments have been a constant feature of debate on the subject. My hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) quoted a figure of £1.8 billion as the cost of introducing the scheme, which he claims, on the basis of Home Office figures, would be equivalent to putting several thousand police officers on the street. We must be aware of those arguments about cost, but that is not the basis on which I seek to oppose the Bill.

Identity cards do work well in many European countries. There are many practical benefits, as my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe said, as well as imaginative ways of helping to recover the costs. I oppose the Bill because I do not believe that it would be right to try to introduce a system of identity cards in Britain at the present time. I believe that we need a much more robust and inclusive concept of citizenship before we would introduce identity cards. We must work first to change the rather unbalanced relationship that still exists between the British citizen and the British state.

The positive case for identity cards rests on the idea that they will strengthen the rights of the citizen, but in the title of his Bill, my hon. Friend refers to residents rather than citizens. Many of his arguments about the practical benefits focus on the benefits that would accrue to the holder of an identity card as a consumer. However, identity cards would be issued to individuals by virtue of their status not as consumers or residents, but as citizens. We cannot raise the issue of whether to have identity cards without at the same time raising the question of who is to qualify as a British citizen and exactly what those qualifications mean.

We must recognise that the introduction of identity cards, especially on a compulsory basis, as argued for by my hon. Friend, would fundamentally change the relationship between the citizen and the state. There is no need to rehearse—I do not have time to do so—the many objections that could be adduced on civil liberty grounds, not just in terms of costs, to the introduction of identity cards. Those objections include the effect that identity cards would have on the protection of civil and human rights, such as the rights to privacy, confidentiality and freedom from discrimination.

At the heart of those objections—indeed, the foundation on which they rest—is the notion of the state that, by its very existence, is antagonistic to the interests and freedoms of individuals; thus objectors view the identity card as one more instrument of state control. As Charter 88 has said, the entire concept of a national identity card system requires a level of trust and authority that is notably lacking in this country.

I do not share that fundamental mistrust of the state. I believe that the state is fundamental to our basic rights and liberties and to their protection. However, we have a

23 Jan 2002 : Column 908

duty to ensure that we balance the control that the state exercises over us as citizens with the democratic control and accountability that we exercise, so far as possible, over the state through our elected representatives and through the House. The problem is that that broader notion of citizenship is not very deeply entrenched in Britain today. I submit that we still think of ourselves as subjects, rather than citizens, and as relatively weak as citizens, lacking in opportunities for redress in the face of the centralised and, at times, seemingly overbearing power of the British state.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has started to make the case that we should view identity cards as a kind of passport to citizenship that will make it easier for people to prove their identities and guarantee our entitlement as citizens to certain basic services. I welcome that approach, but there is little evidence from countries that have identity cards that they are effective, for example, in managing crime. Nevertheless, the argument that a citizenship or identity card would strengthen the position of the most vulnerable groups in our society—the argument that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary seeks to make—is powerful and must be taken very seriously.

Part of the problem with that argument is that many people believe that, in practice, it will cut both ways. Many of the most marginal groups may feel even more excluded, depending on the operation of the identity card system, especially if they fail to qualify for the card for any reason. Even if vulnerable groups qualified for such a card, it would be difficult perhaps for some of them to benefit if it were used to gain access to services, especially in the digital age.

I return to the point that we need a far broader, more inclusive and rights-based approach to citizenship to underpin any suggestion of introducing an identity card. We must move strongly away from notions of citizenship based on nationality and family descent. As I have said, we need to challenge the notion that lies at the heart of the unwritten British constitutional system that we are first subjects and then citizens. We need to strengthen new concepts of citizenship from the bottom up, rather than trying to introduce a new relationship between the state and the citizen from the top down. I believe that only then will we achieve the kind of sea-change in the relationship between the citizen and the state without which the idea of a compulsory identity card for this country will never enjoy public confidence and support.

There are signs that things are moving in the right direction. Through contact with other European countries, we have seen some of the practical benefits that accrue to citizens because of the operation of identity cards. The incorporation of the European convention on human rights in British law and the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 are all steps in the right direction.

There are also clear signs of a shift in our political culture. The stronger role of civil society organisations, the development even of notions of corporate citizenships and the idea of stakeholding all help to broaden the concept of citizenship and the bottom-up approach.

Not least, the Government's programme of constitutional reform is moving the agenda forward on citizenship issues. The abolition of the hereditary principle as an entitlement to sit in Parliament and the Government's commitment to devolution and subsidiarity

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all help to make notions of active citizenship—and, in particular, popular sovereignty—more deeply entrenched. One sign that such a sea-change in the relationship between the citizen and state had come about would be if the request for identity cards came from citizens or civil society groups themselves. That would enable us to approach the issue in a bottom-up, rather than top-down, manner.

If we are to have identity cards in the future, they should be just that. They should be a proof of identity and therefore of citizenship and entitlement. We should certainly not try to make the cards do the work that my hon. Friend would like them to do however convenient and attractive that might seem. In seeking to introduce the cards that he has in mind, he will find that he is in competition with Departments, which will find plenty of jobs for the cards to do. The Department of Health has already expressed an interest in using such cards for organ donors; the Home Office would like a smart card; and we will hear from the Department for Education and Skills that the cards should contain our CVs and examination results and perhaps from the Treasury that the card should be able to answer the five economic tests.

If we are to have a system of identity cards at some point in the future, it must be clear that, as well as gaining something, we would be giving something up. We will be giving up the liberty that we currently enjoy—although some might question its practical relevance in the modern world—to be able to move around Britain without documentary proof of our identity. However, if I had the time, that point might lead to a discussion of the important point about the effect that the introduction of identity cards might have on public confidence in the police and on the relationship between the public and the police.

Traditionally, internal controls have been strengthened where external border controls have been weak. There is a much greater use of identity cards, for example, in the EU countries that have signed the Schengen agreement. We should not introduce identity cards in this country without examining our border controls. Citizens should have greater freedom of movement between Britain and other European countries in return for what would inevitably become tighter control over our freedom of movement within the UK.

The time is not right for the introduction of the Bill. The public must not be coerced into accepting its provisions without there being the much more robust and broader notion of citizenship that I have described. I oppose the Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):

The House divided: Ayes 77, Noes 106.

Division No. 141
[4.38 pm


Allen, Graham
Amess, David
Anderson, Rt Hon Donald
(Swansea E)
Bailey, Adrian
Barnes, Harry
Baron, John
Barron, Kevin
Bayley, Hugh
Begg, Miss Anne
Beggs, Roy
Betts, Clive
Brennan, Kevin
Bryant, Chris
Burden, Richard
Burnside, David
Chaytor, David
Cummings, John
Dodds, Nigel
Donaldson, Jeffrey M
Donohoe, Brian H
Dowd, Jim
Drew, David
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Francis, Dr Hywel
Galloway, George
Grayling, Chris
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Heyes, David
Hinchliffe, David
Hopkins, Kelvin
Hunter, Andrew
Hurst, Alan
Iddon, Dr Brian
Jenkins, Brian
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Kidney, David
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Lamb, Norman
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Linton, Martin
MacDonald, Calum
MacDougall, John
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Mates, Michael
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Oaten, Mark
Organ, Diana
Ottaway, Richard
Perham, Linda
Picking, Anne
Pike, Peter
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prosser, Gwyn
Rapson, Syd
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham)
Robinson, Mrs Iris (Strangford)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Selous, Andrew
Sheerman, Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Siôn
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Spink, Bob
Steinberg, Gerry
Stinchcombe, Paul
Taylor, Rt Hon Ann (Dewsbury)
Trimble, Rt Hon David
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Tynan, Bill
Watson, Tom
White, Brian
Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Stephen McCabe and
Dr. Nick Palmer.


Abbott, Ms Diane
Allan, Richard
Bacon, Richard
Baker, Norman
Barrett, John
Bennett, Andrew
Best, Harold
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Brake, Tom
Brennan, Kevin
Brooke, Mrs Annette L
Buck, Ms Karen
Burnett, John
Burstow, Paul
Cable, Dr Vincent
Cairns, David
Calton, Mrs Patsy
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
(NE Fife)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Carmichael, Alistair
Casale, Roger
Chidgey, David
Clapham, Michael
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Cohen, Harry
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cotter, Brian
Crausby, David
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Dalyell, Tam
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Duncan, Peter (Galloway)
Ewing, Annabelle
Farrelly, Paul
Field, Mark (Cities of London)
Flook, Adrian
Foster, Don (Bath)
Gibb, Nick
Gidley, Sandra
Goodman, Paul
Green, Matthew (Ludlow)
Harris, Dr Evan (Oxford W)
Harvey, Nick
Heath, David
Heathcoat–Amory, Rt Hon David
Hermon, Lady
Hoban, Mark
Holmes, Paul
Illsley, Eric
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead)
Kirkwood, Archy
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Laws, David
Lazarowicz, Mark
Leigh, Edward
Llwyd, Elfyn
McDonnell, John
McKechin, Ann
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marris, Rob
Mercer, Patrick
Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)
Moore, Michael
Morgan, Julie
Munn, Ms Meg
Murrison, Dr Andrew
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Öpik, Lembit
Owen, Albert
Pollard, Kerry
Redwood, Rt Hon John
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
Rendel, David
Robertson, Angus (Moray)
Rosindell, Andrew
Sanders, Adrian
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Shepherd, Richard
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Stunell, Andrew
Swire, Hugo
Tami, Mark
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, Dr Richard (Wyre F)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Thurso, John
Tonge, Dr Jenny
Trend, Michael
Tyrie, Andrew
Webb, Steve
Weir, Michael
Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Winnick, David
Wishart, Pete
Wood, Mike
Younger–Ross, Richard

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Peter Lilley and
Mr. Simon Thomas.

Question accordingly negatived.

23 Jan 2002 : Column 911


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Order [28 June],

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