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Mr. Bercow : Oh, no!

Mr. Banks: I do; I have changed my mind on where I stand. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman may not be surprised to learn that I would go a bit further nowadays. I also believe in a mandatory national register of DNA. When I tabled an early-day motion on that matter some 18 months ago, I attracted 25 signatures, so I am certainly not alone in this respect.

I welcome the serious organised crime and police Bill. Again, I would go further by saying that we should routinely arm all our police. It has been suggested within the police force that that should be the subject of a referendum among the police. I want vigorous public debate on such matters. I can understand why some people would find my views anathema, but I want to hear their reasons why. I want to engage in the argument so that together we can try to resolve these major problems as a collective and responsible House, not make them into narrow, vulgar party political attacks.

Those are some of the issues that we should be addressing. I understand why some might think that I am pushing the limits. That is fine; it would not be the first time that I have found myself in a tiny minority, even in my own constituency, but I believe that we have a right, and indeed a duty, to raise such matters. I admit that I have changed my position on several of them, but I merely echo the words of Maynard Keynes, who said:

6.34 pm

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): It is always a great privilege and pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), not least given that his evolution through this House has ended with his making the sort of speech that went out of fashion at Conservative party conferences of the late 1950s, where speakers deplored the lack of respect for institutions among the young and cited the need for discipline. If he can learn to love his constituents and to believe in democracy, he will have made it to our Benches.

I want to draw the House's attention to the similarity between policies and houses. When houses languish unsold year after year, it is almost certainly because there is something wrong with their foundations. I have to tell Labour Members that there is no policy that has been hawked, unsold, around Whitehall for longer than identity cards. When I was in the Cabinet, it was brought to us time and again, but every time we examined it—it was always brought to us as a solution looking for problems—we found, when each of the problems that it could potentially solve was identified, that it had no utility and its advantages evaporated. The police told us that they rarely had any problem in identifying people, only in demonstrating that they had
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done that of which they were suspected. The security services told us that terrorists rarely conceal their identity, only their intention—as was apparent in the case of those involved in the 9/11 tragedy, in Madrid and in Constantinople.

The immigration services told us that all illegal immigrants can, and mostly do, claim asylum. Once they have done so, they are given an identity document and fingerprinted, as has been the case since July 1993. That document now takes the form of an identity card. Without it, they cannot claim benefits or get legal employment. A compulsory identity card would therefore be of little practical use unless people were required to carry it and the police were empowered to stop and to require information from anyone who looked and sounded foreign. If the Government are proposing to introduce a system whereby members of ethnic minorities are required constantly to justify their presence in this country, they should stand up and say so; unless they are prepared to do that, the proposal will have no impact whatever in identifying and stopping illegal immigration.

It has been suggested that the identity card might be of value in curbing benefit fraud. As Secretary of State for Social Security, I was aware that the amount of benefit fraud that relies on false identity was, at most, 1 or 2 per cent. of the total. I proposed to introduce a benefit payment card, but that was to improve the security of payment and to replace the insecure method of order books and girocheques. Unfortunately, that system was abandoned by the Labour Government after a couple of years because they believed that they could not make it work. Even though it had worked in Ireland, they could not upgrade it from a system that covered roughly 1 million people there to one that would cover 15 million people here. How will they be able to make work an identity card system covering all 60 million people in this country?

When identity cards have been tried elsewhere, they have failed to prevent crime, terrorism, fraud or illegal immigration. Because systems that exist elsewhere do not work in practice, the Government propose to introduce a system that exists nowhere and hope that it will turn out to be wonderful. I have to tell them that there are plenty of reasons for believing that it is a racing certainty that it will not work. Previously, all such large projects have failed, as we know from the experiences of the Child Support Agency and of the Home Office itself. We know, too, that private firms such as banks and credit card companies have not taken the route of biometric identifiers, because they think that the benefits will be less than the costs and that the system will not work that well, and because they know that even on the Government's own tests there is roughly a 7 per cent. incidence of false negatives. If each of us had to show our card once a year, that would mean 4 million false negatives. Are the Government prepared to accommodate that amount of accusation and suspicion of the general public, who would be falsely accused of not being who they are?

If the system is not compulsory, it is pointless. All the advantages that the public at least perceive as deriving from identity cards work on the assumption that people
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will have the cards on them when they are stopped by the police, who believe that they may be a criminal or an illegal immigrant and so on.

Today, the Home Secretary prided himself on the fact that the opinion polls show that 80 per cent. of the population are in favour of compulsory identity cards. That is the sole reason for their introduction. It is a focus group-driven policy.

Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab): Why did not you introduce it?

Mr. Lilley: Because we thought that it was a stupid idea.

Andy Burnham: You produced a Green Paper on it.

Mr. Lilley: And we decided not to introduce it—largely because I argued against it in Cabinet—on the grounds that I outlined.

The Home Secretary believes that the policy is a good idea because it is popular. When the Labour Government in Australia introduced a similar proposal, it had even greater support. However, as it wound its way through the Australian Parliament and the upper House, the mood changed, and eventually, according to the opinion polls, 90 per cent. of the Australian public were against it. The measure was defeated in the upper House and contributed to the defeat of the Australian Labour Government. I hope that the pattern is repeated here.

6.41 pm

Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): In the short time available, I want to consider two subjects. The first is nannies, if I may be so indelicate as to mention them, and the second is the politics of behaviour.

I mention nannies because it is said that the Government and especially the Home Office are the architects of the nanny state. It is always interesting to hear Conservative Members speak about nannies because they have had more experience of them than Labour Members, so it is strange that their conclusion is so negative when ours is rather positive. Perhaps those who have had them view them differently from those who have not. We see them as people who protect, look after and nurture, especially when others in life are absent. We are therefore puzzled by the way in which the nanny state is attacked.

In the past, the nanny state was invoked to attack a range of progressive measures. It was invoked to protect the intimacy of family life and enable men to treat women as chattels. Intruding into such a relationship was seen as terrible interventionism. When the state tried to intrude into employment relationships to stop sweated labour or exploitation in the workplace, we were told that that constituted terrible intervention in the contracts of employment. When the state intervened to protect consumers against being ripped off by producers, we were told that that was an infringement of basic caveat emptor principles. Even now, we are sometimes told that having a Food Standards Agency to protect people and ensure that food is properly labelled so that people know what they are eating is some sort of
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nannyish interventionism, or that setting up a Financial Services Authority so that people are not ripped off by mis-sellings of the financial services industry is inappropriate nannyish intrusion.

In all those cases, if the state does not act, what is left is not an oasis of private freedom but private power. My approach to identity cards is broadly the same. The state's job and that of public power, acting in the public interest, is to harness and tame private power. The state is called on to do that, and a democratic Parliament is asked to do that, too. I want a state that makes freedom a practical reality for most people. That means an active state, and so, on the nanny state, I say bring it on. We need it to act in the way that it does.

My second point picks up on some of the comments that my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) made about the politics of behaviour. The subject goes beyond the routine party exchanges and invites us to consider more widely some of the issues that underpin the measures proposed in the Queen's Speech. Frankly, we have a problem and we all know it. In the past generation or two, society has advanced in all sorts of ways. People are richer, they can do more, they consume more, they travel more and their access to everything has increased. Yet alongside that, two other things have happened.

First, there has been an erosion of what could be described as the civic infrastructure. That is why we complain about the loss of community. We feel that something has gone. It is not surprising that some of the older people in our society feel that most acutely, because they remember—and tell us—how it used to be.

Secondly, a behavioural revolution has happened. If we are honest, we will admit that we have witnessed a coarsening of our society in all sorts of ways. It goes beyond the way in which one party attacks another, and invites us to examine matters with a much longer perspective and consider some of the large causes. Most people would accept that something profound has happened to the traditional authority structures in our society, especially to the major institution of the family.

We can play the figures endlessly but I shall give one version. Almost 90 per cent. of children born in 1958 still lived, at the age of 16, with both natural parents. For children born in 1970, the figure was down to 82 per cent. For children born in 1984–85, it was down to 65 per cent. In a quarter of a century, a 25 per cent. drop occurred in the number of children who live with their natural parents at the age of 16. That must have an impact on the quality of relationships and of life in our society. That is reflected in the crime figures.

Almost all the other indicators in our society in the past generation or two have moved in the right direction, but crime has not. I am not considering only the past few years, when the Government have a good record. Since 1950, crime has increased tenfold. Violent crime has increased by 1,375 per cent. Why do we spend so much time discussing what is happening to our town centres? Why do we spend so much time talking to our constituents about the fact that they feel fearful in their streets and neighbourhoods? Because they do: the fear is not invented; the quality of their lives has deteriorated.

We should be ashamed that beautiful foreign cities are tortured by the booze cruisers from this country and that 75 per cent. of admissions to accident and
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emergency departments at the weekend are caused by people who are fuelled by alcohol. We see what is happening all around us, and it comes down not to what a Government or party do but to behaviour in our society, which is reflected in the media, where images of violence—trivial, casual violence—are pumped out round the clock. On "EastEnders", people shout at each other. When they do not shout at each other, they hit each other. Such images are constantly pumped out.

My comments are abbreviated, but I conclude that it is no wonder that the politics of behaviour has come to the top of the political agenda. However, if Government are being asked to fill the gaps that the decline in other institutions leaves, can they do it? The answer is that I do not know, but if they do not try, they will be letting down the people we represent

6.49 pm

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