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I pay tribute to the pioneering nature of my hon. Friend's contribution to these discussions and confirm that security forces in countries throughout the world recognise that a system of identification of this kind will help them in the challenges that they face,
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which are very serious. The question that we have to face is whether we will help them to face those challenges. I acknowledge that there are difficult problems, but I make it clear that I am not arguing that ID cards will somehow solve the issues and prevent the tragedies that arise throughout the world, but I do argue that they will help to solve them, and that is why we should support them.
Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham) (Con): It is easy to see how all the benefits that the Home Secretary refers to could flow from a fully compulsory identity card scheme where citizens are required to carry those cards at all times, although most of us, I suspect, would find that objectionable. It is very, very hard to see how anything more than tangential, minimal benefits flow from the kind of voluntary scheme that he is proposing, which many of us see as an expensive waste of time.
Mr. Clarke: With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I simply do not think that that assertion is correct. The police themselves are very clear that having a national identification base of the kind that is set up in the scheme will lead to serious policing advantages for them and that is the basis of the argument with which they are principally concerned. We are also clear, as we have already said, that we will not require people to carry cards in that way because we do not believe that it would have significant policing advantages of the kind that the right hon. Gentleman suggested.
Mr. Maude: I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way again.
The suspicion that many of us have and the reason why we feel that the police are so enthusiastic about this is that it is an incremental process. First, there will be a voluntary scheme. Gradually, as the money will have been spent on it, it can then be argued that the only way of getting value for that money is by introducing compulsion, which will then mean carrying the card at all times. It is a salami-slicing process, which is why so many people are very suspicious about it.
Mr. Clarke: I have no sympathy with the "thin end of the wedge" argument. People may have argued when national registration of births was introduced in 1837 that they would at some time arrive in a society in which everybody operated in a "1984" type of world. That is nonsense; it simply has no substance. The question of how the scheme develops will depend on what this Parliament does as we go through the process of saying how we should take it forward. I can raise any fears that one likes, but they will have foundation only if Parliament decides to surrender all responsibility with regard to how the matter develops. The Bill sets out a series of parliamentary systems of scrutiny and approval that must be gone through if the ID card system is to develop in any particular way.
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con):
The Home Secretary is trying to have it both ways. On the radio at lunchtime, the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration said that this was a voluntary scheme, not a compulsory one. That is literally the case, although clauses 6 and 7 allow the Home Secretary to introduce a compulsory scheme. The Minister was than asked how
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the scheme would be of value to the police if it was not compulsory. Frankly, he did not have an answer. What he said was that there will be a biometric register. Will it include everyone? Otherwise, how will it help people like me, who go out on the streets as a policeman?
Mr. Clarke: Let me be very clear. If there are hon. Members who are opposed in all circumstances to a compulsory system, they should vote against the Bill. The measure sets out clearly a process that could lead to a compulsory system at the end, but it does it by a process of voluntary change in taking the matter forward. That is the right process of reform; it is perfectly reasonable, and it is the way we should go. If the hon. Gentleman says that in no circumstances that he can ever foresee should there ever be a system of compulsion, he should certainly vote against the system.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Since the Home Secretary and others have made a strong case that the introduction of identity cards will somehow or other protect us from terrorism, can he explain exactly how it will do so? Since there is a very narrow gap between official identity and the production of fraudulent identity, what evidence does he have that even biometric recognition itself will not be tampered with, making the card utterly useless after a very short period?
Mr. Clarke: On the second point, I simply do not accept that view. We have had a series of increasingly sophisticated means of identifying and recognising people's individual characteristics. As all experts will acknowledge, having the biometric measure is superior to not having it. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) with regard to personal identification number schemes for credit cards, the numeric system is superior to what existed before, but it is not as good as a biometric system. The question that we face is: do we follow the process of trying to get superior systems and carry the matter forward on that basis?
On the point about terrorism, I hope that there will be no dispute about the fact that there are people who try to mislead about their identity and history as they conduct their terrorist activity in their terrorist organisation. A system that identifies people more effectively will be more successful at tackling terrorism.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con):
As there is such widespread concern about this issue even among those like me, who, broadly speaking, support the right hon. Gentleman, does he not concede that it is important that we try to command as much support as possible both within the House and outside and that the Bill is as carefully drawn as possible and scrutinised in as detailed a manner as possible? Will he therefore accept the proposition on the Order Paper that it should go to a Joint Committee of both Houses?
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Mr. Clarke: I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman said except the last clause. There should be proper scrutiny; Parliament has developed very effective methods of scrutiny of these questions, and it will exercise them. That is the way for us to proceed.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): Will the Home Secretary give way?
Mr. Clarke: Not at the moment.
I repeat what I said earlier: we have already considered a draft Bill and had a public consultation exercise, and the Home Affairs Committee has already looked at the matter. The policy comes not out of the blue sky, but after a lengthy public consultation.
Jean Corston (Bristol, East) (Lab): Today's front-page report in The Guardian that the Government have withheld information from the Joint Committee on Human Rights is entirely false. The Committee will examine the Bill as part of its normal scrutiny process. We will write to the Government on any issues of concern that arise on human rights. If the past is anything to go by, we will have an amicable and proper exchangeall such exchanges are, of course, published.
Two years ago, I conducted a consultation with 100 organisations in my constituency on the Government's consultation on identity cards. [Interruption.] The overwhelming majority of respondents were in favour. [Interruption.] One of the organisations representing ethnic minority women was particularly
Jean Corston: One of the organisations representing ethnic minority women was particularly in favour. [Interruption.] It said that ethnic minority women do not have access to their passports, do not hold bank or building society accounts and need identity cards.
Mr. Clarke: I accept the second part of my right hon. Friend's remarks. Identity cards have popular support, but it is important to emphasise that the Government's case does not rest on the fact that the legislation has popular support, because the legislation is merited in its own terms.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's remarks about the report in The Guardian. I assure her Select Committee that the Government will fully co-operate as the Committee seeks to inquire further.
It is frustrating that so much of the identity cards debate centres around matters that the Government are not proposing and, in some cases, have never proposed, and I should like to address some of those myths. In my opinion, it is entirely false to claim that ID cards will erode our civil liberties, re-visit "1984", usher in the Big Brother society or establish some kind of totalitarian police state.
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