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Keith Vaz: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The other risk is that many well qualified solicitors who should be giving legal advice under the legal aid scheme are withdrawing from it simply because of the limits that are placed on it. The applicants are left consulting people who are simply not qualified to advise them.

Mr. Oaten: If we have consensus on the requirement to improve the process in that first stage, I suspect that, when we explore what is going wrong, we will find that the hon. Gentleman's point is accurate and that the quality of the advice given at the first stage is not as good as we would like. I suggest that the planned legal aid changes will not help that situation, but make it worse.

There could be broad support on the Liberal Democrat Benches for introducing some form of punishment for individuals who burn their documents and are clearly trying to abuse the system. We obviously want assurances about ensuring that people who have genuinely fled their countries and got rid of the documents that they brought with them on the plane because they were nervous about arriving in this country will not end up suffering severe punishment. None the less, subject to a bit of probing, I think that we would be broadly supportive of what the Government are suggesting.

I should like to make a couple more points about the same issue. I welcome the statement that the Home Secretary made three or four weeks ago, I think on "Newsnight", in which he spoke very well about the tolerant attitude that this country should have about asylum and talked about welcoming economic migrants to this country. I was impressed with what he said, as he spoke in a tone that many Liberal Democrats have wanted to hear much more from the Government. The announcements hidden away in the Bill, however, which include the power to increase charges for immigration visas, contradict some of the language that he was using only a few weeks ago. It would be helpful for the Home Office to confirm that it is now planning to charge more in relation to immigration visas than the actual cost of the process itself. That is wrong, as it could mean that people coming to this country for perfectly good reasons, such as attending a funeral or visiting family members, are turned into a money-making scheme for the Home Office.

Let us hope that we can have a sensible debate about asylum. It will be a much more mature debate if the Home Secretary can confirm that the 28 clauses currently in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill will remain as such, and that we will not see all sorts of right-wing, headline-grabbing initiatives being tagged on to it at various points.

I turn to identity cards with some trepidation, as the Home Secretary had great sport and fun when I last raised the issue, when he pointed out that I had

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expressed support for a private Member's Bill introduced a year ago. I admit that the view that I took is slightly unusual on the Liberal Democrat Benches.

Mr. Garnier: I encourage the hon. Gentleman not to be too worried about changing his mind. About 18 months ago, the Government were staunchly in support of the continuation of the role of the Lord Chancellor.

Mr. Oaten: Indeed, I could be slightly cruel and point out that, in 1989, the Home Secretary himself voted against a Tory private Member's Bill involving the introduction of a personal identity number in an attempt to tackle fraud. I shall not go down that line, however, as I suspect that he has better researchers than I have and could probably come back at me with things that I have done in the past. [Interruption.] I was not here in 1989.

If I could be convinced that there was a system that could do all the things that the Home Secretary would like and guarantee an ability to tackle crime, more security from terrorism and major benefits in respect of benefit fraud, I might be prepared to set aside some of my concerns about civil liberties and consider such a proposal. However, I am not convinced.

David Davis: I do not blame the hon. Gentleman for changing his mind. In an era in which massive issues such as 9/11 have come along, those of us who were nervous of ID cards have become more cautious. The sensitive issue, however, is the holding of a database and how the Government database is dealt with. That is much more sensitive an issue than carrying a card in one's wallet. It is in that area that civil liberties come into play. I tell him now that that is where Opposition Members will focus most of our concern—on protecting individuals from misuse of the information held about them. I hope that that his party will support us in that.

Mr. Oaten: There would certainly be support on the Liberal Democrat Benches in relation to the database.

I want to take on some of the myths about the ID card. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) mentioned 9/11, and the first point is the concept that ID cards can stop terrorism. We know anecdotally that some of the terrorists involved in 9/11 had fake cards. Despite biometric technology, I am concerned about whether a full sense of security can be created by introducing ID cards. The biggest myth relates to benefit fraud issues. There will be some cases in which people create false identities, but in a vast number of cases individuals do not pretend to be somebody else, but claim benefits to which they are not entitled.

The biggest problem that I have with the proposal is cost. I am convinced that the scheme will run to £1 billion or £2 billion. From my perspective, much more could be done to guarantee safety and security in this country if those billions of pounds were fed into providing more police and technologies such as closed circuit television. Initiatives of that kind would have a real day-to-day impact on crime, as opposed to introducing a Bill that will cost billions. Implementing a scheme on that scale will be virtually impossible. No party has had a particularly good record in government in that respect. The scheme would be complex enough if

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it merely required every citizen to have a card, but that is not all—if it is to work, every hospital, post office and benefits office will need a system to read the cards. Nobody seriously suggests that those two things can be put together in a way that has any serious impact on crime or benefit fraud.

Mr. Beith: I hope that my hon. Friend will bear in mind the experience of those who have suffered from errors and delays by the Criminal Records Bureau or the Child Support Agency and recognise that it is unlikely that it will be possible to manage an operation on such a scale without transgressing the rights of individuals who find that their identity is not properly recorded.

Mr. Oaten: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: the track record in this country is not good.

David Burnside: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Oaten: No, I must make some progress.

This issue will come back to haunt the Home Secretary as it lurches from disaster to disaster.

I want to conclude by highlighting a number of issues that are not in the Queen's Speech. It is disappointing that the Government chose to focus on asylum and ID cards when there is so much that still needs to be done in relation to crime and disorder. Once again, we have had a debate about whether the figures are up or down. One could welcome the fact that they are down, according to the British crime survey, or be disappointed that they are up, according to the figures on recorded crime. I do not want to get into a Dutch auction, but the figure that sticks in my mind is that last year 5.5 million offences were committed. Whether the figures are marginally up or marginally down, that is an awful lot of offences. The public want to see those issues being tackled effectively, not debates about asylum or ID cards. That means that we must somehow get more police on to the streets. It also means that—as the Home Secretary would wish—the police should be more visible as they are out doing their work. I should like to hear the Home Secretary and the police Minister announce more measures to take away the 41 per cent. of a policeman's time that is tied up—and completely wasted—on paperwork. The police could be making better use of technology—I have been handed a list of 72 technological innovations that could be put in place—but the Government have been far too cautious in that respect. There may be a case for introducing a system of national procurement to ensure that our police are "teched-up" to allow them to be out on the streets tackling crime, and to be seen to do so, instead of filling in bits of paper back at headquarters.

The best way to start making a big impact on tackling crime is to reduce reoffending rates. Politicians do not talk enough about that, but it could have a dramatic impact, because 58 per cent. of prisoners go on to commit another crime. If that could be tackled it would have an enormous impact on reducing crime. The figures are even higher for young offenders. It is a national disgrace that we have a captive audience of prisoners but cannot do something sensible with them, with the result that more than half come out and reoffend. That leads not only to rising crime, but to a rising prison population. It is a disgrace that the

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Government have not got a grip on the situation: apparently, their solution is either to have more sentences that require people to go to prison or to build more prisons. Will the Home Secretary think again and start to put into our prisons a serious, radical programme that builds on education and training? The Government have made some progress, but they need to do much more. For example, if the ability to take and pass exams were linked to early release dates, that would build an incentive into the system.

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