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Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): As the hon. Gentleman is being precise about figures, or rather asking questions about figures, why was it when he published an article recently that he was precise in saying that the cost would be £3 billion? Where did he get that from? Why has he changed his mind on this important subject? I do not mind people changing their minds, but this seems to be political opportunism.
Mr. Oaten: I was basing the cost on Home Office figures that have been given to us. I shall be happy to give the hon. Gentleman the audit trail. The costs change every day when we ask the Home Office different questions. That is largely because the spec changes. I think that I am making a conservative estimate by saying £3 billion. Various press articles have referred to £10 billion. Much depends on whether we include in the costs the simple cost of making the identity card or whether added on to that cost are the implications of having a reader in, for example, every hospital, post office or benefit office. Until we know the detail of how widely the Government plan to use the system, I cannot give an accurate estimate. That is why I am saying that the cost will be somewhere between £3 billion and £10 billion.
Why have I changed my mind on this issue? The answer is that I examined it in more detail and I am not convinced of the merits of the proposal. I freely admit that I was one of those who used to say, "If you have nothing to hide, why does it matter?". As I have said, I have changed my mind. Sometimes, when people change their minds, they become firmer. I am clear that I am opposed to the measure.
When we reach the debate on ID cards, I want to examine the issue of biometrics and their effectiveness, on which I think we shall have an interesting debate. Various tests have shown that there is a failure rate or error rate of between 2 and 5 per cent. on the facial scans that are involved. Given that so much emphasis is being put on technology, I will need great reassurance that the technology being used for biometrics is accurate.
There is also the issue of individuals who can come to the country for three months, on holiday, and not need a form of identity. How will that work in terms of some
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of the controls? There is also the point that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden made very well about the Government's track record on computer programmes. We will need a great deal of convincing about the effectiveness of the programmes and on the issue of data. We will need reassurance about where that data will be available.
We will want carefully to probe the timescale. I see emerging a system that is neither compulsory nor voluntary. As we work through a rolling programme over the next 10 years of when individuals have to change their passports, even in five or six years' time less than half of the population will be covered by the scheme. However, half the country will have had to get an ID cardthey will be compulsorywhile the other half will not be in that position. We are heading for chaos and misunderstanding, particularly if the plan is to roll the scheme out to include benefit access. There will be great confusion. At the end of the day, even by the Home Secretary's own admission, it will be another 10 or 12 years before everyone will have one of the cards.
Do the Government plan to use the system to include health and benefit fraud? I understand that the largest amount of benefit fraud that takes place does not involve people pretending to be somebody else but people pretending to have something that they do not have. I do not know why we are introducing a system to tackle a problem that I do not believe exists and about which I believe that the Department for Work and Pensions is uneasy. It is odd that a study that has been commissioned by the Department is being considered but has not been made public. I would welcome a reassurance that the report that it has commissioned to ascertain whether it could use ID cards in relation to benefits will be made public. In Committee, it would be useful to know what a Department that could benefit from the system thinks about its potential use.
We will want carefully to probe how the power of arrest will be used in relation to ID cards. The Home Secretary said on the Dimbleby programme on Sunday, I think, that people will not be arrested for not having a card with them. I accept that, if that is what the right hon. Gentleman said.
Mr. Oaten: I have not had a chance to read the Bill. The Bill was only published at 4.30 pm, a time when the Government would know that Members would be sitting in the Chamber. I am not a speed reader and I have not had a chance to read it.
The Government have always been clear that there will never be any requirement in the proposed legislation for people to be required to carry identity cards. I have made that position clear on a number of occasions. It was in the draft Bill that was prepared for consultation. It is in the Bill that was published this afternoon. I wish that the hon. Gentleman and others would stop suggesting that the situation is any different.
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Mr. Oaten: I am grateful for the Minister's clarity. He is virtually admitting that a draft Bill never gets changed with this Government and that the Bill that follows it carries on in the same way. I shall not base my remarks on a draft Bill. I want to know what is happening now. I am accepting at face value what the Bill says and what the Minister says about arrest, but I want to follow through that scenario. We will want to probe carefully. If an individual is asked to show his or her ID card and is not in a position to do so, will he or she be asked to go to the station to show that card? What happens in those circumstances if people refuse to have a card or to show it? That is what many individuals, particularly some in ethnic and black communities, will want clarity on, particularly when we see a large increase in the use of stop-and-search powers in respect of those groups.
We will give measures that we think are effective and sensible a good hearing but reserve our right to argue where we can and speak up on behalf of the Liberal Democrat party for the principles of liberty and justice.
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab): I should like to start by saying how much I welcome the Government's proposal to take extra measures to protect medical researchers, including many in my constituency, against the unacceptable activities of some animal rights extremists.
I also welcome the Government's intention to reintroduce the proposal to create a specific offence of incitement to religious hatred, which fell in the House of Lords. As a person of no religious belief, I do believe that no one should be discriminated against or become the object of hatred because of their religious belief. Plenty of people have suffered in the past, and these days it tends to be Muslims who are suffering. We have already outlawed religious discrimination in employment, which is a step forward, and we are now proposing to provide the same protection with regard to incitement to hatred, which has been happening.
I hope that we can go further on just two points. In the proposition that was advanced previously, but rejected by the House of Lords, people were also to be protected against incitement to hatred as a result of their not having any religious beliefs. I hope that that will continue to apply. I should also like the Government to take this opportunity to abolish the ridiculous common-law offence of blasphemy. It is absurd to provide any such special protection for any religion, but as the existing law protects only the Church of England, it is even more ridiculous. A law that was established at York assizes in 1836the last time the measure was really determinedis not fit for the 21st century.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the blasphemy law, but there seems to be a contradiction in his argument. He thinks that religion should not be protected by blasphemy law, especially as the law applies to only one faith, but he also wants an offence of incitement to religious hatred that will do precisely that for all religions. Is there not a contradiction in his position?
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Mr. Dobson: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is so dim that he cannot distinguish between somebody expressing dislike of a religious belief or even ridiculing it and incitement to hatred against people because of their religious beliefs. He should be able to spot the difference, even if he is a Tory.
Turning to more general matters, we must all recognise that laws need updating to keep abreast of changes in society. The new factor that we have to face up to is the existence of the suicide bomber; a person who is willing to sacrifice their own life while taking the lives of others. Our criminal justice system has never had to contemplate how to deal with such people. Unlike people who might be described as conventional terrorists, suicide bombers are not deterred by the threat of detention and punishment after the event, which does not offer any protection to a potential victim either. Anticipation and prevention are what is required.
That is why I was happy to support the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, which permits the detention of non-British subjects without trial if they come from countries to which our returning them would break our obligations under international law. That was a stop-gap measure, however, and I believe that the gap has been stopped, although at some cost. It has damaged our international reputation as a country with an open society with the rule of law and the right to a trial.
I urge my hon. and right hon. Friends not to await the outcome of the court decisions on the Belmarsh detainees; win, lose or draw, I think that there are better ways of achieving what they want than detention without trial. I believe that it would be possible to adopt measures that protect the people of this country, which is paramount, but which at the same time do not bring our system into international disrepute. I think that the proposals of the Joint Committee on Human Rights would go a long way towards achieving what we want. For example, there should be changes in criminal procedures to permit for the first time the use of intercepted phone-tap evidence. Personally, I have never understood why such evidence is not used. If it is possible to open envelopes and look at people's letters, I do not see any difference in principle.
At the same time, we would need some fairly savage penalties for anyone on the side of authority who was using what we might call electronic wizardry to falsify any such information. We need to ensure that there is not a lot of over-enthusiasm. None the less, it would be possible to let people out of Belmarsh or wherever, subject to the restriction orders that the Joint Committee proposed, with extremely intensive surveillance and electronic monitoring. The security services might welcome such action, as it would give them the opportunity to maintain surveillance and perhaps catch people who try to get in touch with those who have been let out.
We must always bear in mind that we need to protect the people who are here in this country, but we must also remember that the objectives of terrorists in modern times have not been the overthrow of Governments. No established democracy has ever been overthrown by terrorists, whose object is to get us to bring our own sacred institutions into disrepute and to damage us in international affairs. They want us to cease to be an open society and to practise the rule of law, and to
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abandon our commitment against arbitrary action against individuals. They love it when we have to put up with the trappings and inconvenience of enhanced security measures. They want us to abandon tolerance of diversity and freedom of expression, and they are delighted if we inhibit the right to trial and, more particularly, the right to trial by jury.
I will find it very difficult to support the concept of terrorist trials without juries. We have the precedent of the Diplock courts in Northern Ireland, and it has to be admitted that they seem to have worked fairly well. However, in terms of abandoning jury trials because of the fear of intimidation, I cannot accept that the situation in England, Scotland and Wales is like that in Northern Ireland at the height, or depth, of the troubles, or like that in Sicily when the mafia were waxing strong. I cannot believe that the scope for intimidation on the mainland, so to speak, or the ratio of intimidators to the potentially intimidated are on the same scale as people in Northern Ireland experienced.
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