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Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), who made a thoughtful speech, especially on the subject of the family. However, if he and the House do not mind, I shall return to identity cards, which have played quite a part in the debate.
I confess at the outset that, up to this Parliament, I was not one of those who were passionately exercised about identity cards; I certainly was not a passionate advocate of them when they were being discussed under the last Conservative Government. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) eloquently put the arguments against I accept that there are arguments for and against in principleand as he said, the idea has been around for a considerable time.
The benefits of introducing identity cards will be very smallwith one exceptionon, for example, issues such as illegal immigration and benefit fraud, whereas the costs will be great. Taking all that into account, I have not been greatly exercised about the issue. However, serious though the arguments in principle put by my right hon. Friend and others are, there is another consideration, which we in the House must also take seriously. I took it seriously as a member of the Home Affairs Committee when we considered the evidence. We received evidence from the Government, who wobbled a little from time to time, and from the police and other expert sources that identity cards would make a contribution in dealing with the threat of terrorism.
Serious though the issues of principle are, and serious though the issues of illegal immigration, benefit fraud and organised crime are in their own way, terrorism is something that we in this Parliament must learn to treat as of overriding importance. If we are told that there is evidence that identity cards will assist in dealing with terrorism, we have to take that seriously, even though they may not be the complete answer and only one of a number of ways of dealing with it.
This is where I part company with the Government, who have been wobbling on this very question. I rely not on the evidence from them but on the evidence that the Committee received from the Association of Chief Police Officers and others. The Government have made this part of their case, but I find very surprising the time scale that they have set out for introducing identity cards. If identity cards will assist in dealing with
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terrorism and if, as the Government have accepted, identity cards have to be compulsory to achieve the full benefits, why on earth are the Government proposing to proceed in such a leisurely way?
This afternoon, the Home Secretary talked about looking back in a decade's time, perhaps after some terrorist incident, to see whether we did everything we possibly could, but it will be nearly a decade before identity cards are in force. As I understand it, according to the Government's original timetableI want to hear from the Minister if there is any alteration, because different versions have emergedit will be another three years before identity cards become available, and then only as and when people apply for one, or for a driving licence or a new passport.
Then, there will be a number of yearsup to fourduring which people gradually acquire identity cards. Then, and only then, will there be a further debate and a vote in the House on an affirmative resolution as to whether identity cards will be introduced. That will not be until 2012 or 2013. Presumably, there will then have to be a further delay while all those people who do not have an identity card are issued with one.
All that will take a considerable time, which brings to mind this country's last experience of identity cards, when it faced a serious threat in 1939. Over a time scale not dissimilar to that which the Government now propose for getting around to introducing compulsory identity cards, identity cards were proposed, introduced, implemented and used, serving their purpose until people got a bit fed up with them and it was nearly time for their abolition. It does not add up.
If it is the Government's case that identity cards are part of the fight against terrorismI am prepared to accept that we should take that seriouslywhy on earth are they taking such a long time to introduce them and why are we dealing with them in this way? The whole thing smacks of interdepartmental wrangles and a lack of grip in taking decisions. We have already heard this afternoon that the Government have been discussing this matter for three years; if it is urgent, let us get on with it quickly.
Mr. Miller : I am sure the hon. Gentleman agrees that the 1939 typewritten and carbon copy version would not be adequate to meet the needs in respect of modern fraudsters, so would he be kind enough to tell the House what off-the-shelf technology he would introduce for use today?
Mr. Clappison: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman because he has made an important point about the Government's proposals. I look to them for an answer on this question: is it their case that something inherent in the technology that they are using is preventing them from introducing identity cards on a faster time scale? If so, I look forward to hearing about that from them. If they have decided on this leisurely introduction for other reasons, we must take that very seriously indeed.
I want briefly to discuss some other issues that have been raised, two in particular. The one issue that my constituents put to me more than any other is the fact that they would like to see more police out on the streets
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and more police tackling crime. I am sure other hon. Members have heard the same thing. On the question of numbers, the Home Secretary has again this afternoon, as has the Prime Minister on a number of occasions, spoken of the increased police numbers under his stewardship. The more I hear the Home Secretary talking about the increase in police numbers, the more I think he is launching a savage attack on his predecessor, because for every year between 1997 and 2002 police numbers in England and Wales were lower than those inherited by this Government.
"I hope that the hon. Gentleman would agree that 12,500 extra police officersrecord numbers of police officers and community support officersis something that the Government can be very proud of."[Official Report, 23 November 2004; Vol. 428, c. 23.]
Mr. Clappison: The hon. Gentleman should contain himself for a moment. Does that mean that the Prime Minister should have felt shame just before the last general election when there were 3,000 fewer police officers than in 1997? I do not remember him going around the country parading his shame.
Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman is arguing that during the first four years of the Labour Government the number of police officers fell. Does he not accept that that might be because we followed Tory spending plans for the first two years?
Mr. Clappison: Oh dear. I think it was a mistake to give way to the hon. Gentleman. He is being selective, as the Prime Minister is being selective, about police numbers. I shall come to another issue on which the Government are being very selective, but my constituents in Hertfordshire have had the worst of all worlds: there has been the substantial increase in police precepts, which the hon. Gentleman might be aware of and which has certainly taken effect in other parts of the country, as well as other forms of taxation, yet we are not getting fair treatment from the Government over police funding, because we have lost out under the police funding formula, which was implemented two years ago as part of the local government funding formula.
Now we have the spectacle of the chief constable of Hertfordshire and the chairman of the Hertfordshire police authorityboth well-known Tories, I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speakercoming to the House to ask Members of Parliament of all parties to help them in their fight to try to keep police numbers in Hertfordshire at the same level. I can tell Ministers that my constituents are absolutely fed up with the Government over this. They are very worried about a reduction in police numbers and they are right to be so.
The other area of great Government selectivity is crime statistics, and I am afraid that we had another example of that this afternoon from the Chairman of the
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Home Affairs Committee, on which I serve. Although I agreed in large measure with many of the other things he said, I am afraid that the Government have nothing to give themselves a pat on the back about in respect of crime figures and claiming that they are winning the fight against crime, other than the fact that they are prepared to be very selective indeed in their use of crime figures.
I remind the House that this Government, in choosing between the British crime survey figures and the recorded crime figures, which give different outcomes, now disregard the recorded crime statistics and choose to rely on the British crime survey figures
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