Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con) rose—

Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman is brandishing a book by George Orwell. I shall give way to allow him to explain exactly where the issue is resolved in George Orwell.
20 Dec 2004 : Column 1947

Mr. Cash: The Secretary of State claims that the matter has nothing to do with "1984". In that case, will he repudiate the statement by the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, that the proposals will amount to a "sea change" in the relationship between the individual and the state?

Mr. Clarke: I will repudiate the Information Commissioner's remarks. I do not accept that identity cards will change the relationship between the citizen and the state as fundamentally as the Information Commissioner suggests. The relationship between the citizen and the state was not transformed in 1837 when people in England and Wales were required to register the birth of a child, which is the example that I gave earlier, or on any of the many other occasions since then when means of identification have been introduced by statute. There are issues about the relationship between the individual and the state, but, in my opinion, they are not about this Bill and ID cards.

We are clearly moving towards a compulsory ID card scheme, because we believe that the state has a duty to protect its citizens from the misuse of their identities and to give them a means to interact simply and securely with public services. However, we are not looking to create a new culture of identification in which people are asked to confirm their identity more frequently than they are now. I must also make it clear that we have never proposed and do not propose a scheme under which it would be compulsory to carry a card. That was ruled out in the 2002 consultation paper and again in the draft Bill, and clause 15(3) of this Bill still rules it out.

Jim Sheridan (West Renfrewshire) (Lab): The Secretary of State has already mentioned the effect that ID cards will have on vulnerable workers, indigenous or otherwise, in this country. His predecessor offered great support to the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004, which registers and licenses employers. If it is right to register and identify employers, why is it wrong to register and identify employees?

Mr. Clarke: I strongly agree. One of the most important humanitarian motives for supporting the Bill should be that it is one of the most effective means of attacking the people trafficking that leads to near-slave labour in many parts of this country. ID cards will help us to do that, and those who oppose the Bill need to face up to that fact.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State is attempting to reassure the House that this will not alter the fundamental relationship between citizens and the state, but how about those of our fellow citizens who suffer from mental ill health or lack of mental capacity? As the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux has pointed out, those people are especially dependent on benefits. Cards could be used as a passport for access to benefits, and they might find themselves effectively locked out of an increasingly authoritarian and administratively complex system and be deterred from claiming that on which they depend for a reasonable life.
20 Dec 2004 : Column 1948

Mr. Clarke: All I can say is that I understand the abuse to which my hon. Friend refers, and it is true that the issue needs to be addressed. In fact, ID cards enable us to attack that problem better and more effectively than the means of identification that exist at the moment. Whether people have mental health problems or whatever, a simpler, clearer system of identification for dealing with such issues will be more effective for those individuals, let alone for society as a whole.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD): Will the Secretary of State deal with an apparent failure of logic in his case? We are opposed to ID cards; he is in favour. If a police officer tracks down a criminal, terrorist, hijacker or trafficker and they do not have a card with them, how does the fact that they have to possess a card but can produce it a week or two weeks later aid the police officer in identifying the person in front of him? It is just not logical.

Mr. Clarke: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to serve on the Committee that considers the Bill in order to raise those questions. I stress to him that it is the clear opinion of the police and all the other security services that the passage of the Bill will make the identification of people easier from that point of view.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) (UUP): The right hon. Gentleman clearly hopes that the identity card system will be comprehensive in covering every citizen in the United Kingdom. However, has he given any thought to the fact that we are part of a common travel area that involves the whole of the British isles, and that consequently his identity card system will not be effective unless some arrangement is made for it to cover the whole of the common travel area?

Mr. Clarke: We have certainly taken that into account, and the fact that we are part of a common travel area is fully addressed.

Perhaps I could deal with the question of devolution at this point. We will have a common identity card on a UK-wide basis and cards will be issued UK-wide. Provisions requiring people to register for cards will apply UK-wide. Any requirement to use cards under clauses 15 to 17 for services that are the responsibility of the Westminster Parliament will be a matter for this Parliament. However, where services are devolved, it will be a matter for the relevant devolved authority. Transport security is a matter that operates in the European area.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): The answer that the Home Secretary gave to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes)—that the police say that it is a good idea—is simply unacceptable in this House. If a police officer approaches someone he suspects of illegal activity and that person refuses to produce an identity card or does not have one, how will this system help the police officer in those circumstances; or will the refusal to produce an ID card simply become an excuse and a reason for arrest?
20 Dec 2004 : Column 1949

Mr. Clarke: Let me be absolutely clear. The powers of the police in the cases that are being described will be the same after the passage of the Bill as they were before it. That is because the Bill is not about extending police powers in relation to the individual in the way that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey fears and about which he asks questions. The establishment of a national identification register will enable the police to carry out their current duties more effectively. That is a powerful case for doing it.

Mr. Salmond: The Home Secretary mistook my point. I was trying to show the emptiness of the suggestion by the First Minister of Scotland that somehow ID cards would not be compulsory because they were not being applied to Executive or devolved services. Does the Home Secretary, who is a much more sensible person, agree that, if a card is necessary, for example, to access one's pension, it means it is compulsory, even if it is not necessary for going to the doctor?

Mr. Clarke: I am sorry if I have not been clear to the hon. Gentleman. The whole point is that, ultimately, the scheme will be effectively compulsory. However, for services that are devolved to the Administration in Scotland or wherever, the decisions will for the devolved institutions. He mentioned pensions, which is not a devolved matter and therefore one for the UK Parliament. Let me be clear: services that are devolved will be, as they are now, matters for the devolved Administrations.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): One of the arguments—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The level of noise in the Chamber is rising all the time.

Chris Bryant: Many people in the emergency services, not only the police, argue for ID cards because they would make it much easier to identify people who had been in road traffic accidents. They also say that it would be useful if the ID card could include, on a voluntary basis, some medical record, of, for example, blood type. Is my right hon. Friend still open to that voluntary option?

Mr. Clarke: The Bill makes it clear that medical records are not included. There may be arguments in favour such as those that my hon. Friend makes, but we will not include such a provision in the Bill because we believe that its purpose is precisely as indicated previously.

The Bill has no power to require the production of an identity card to the police. The scheme will allow the police to check the fingerprints of those whom they are already entitled to fingerprint, such as those under arrest, against the records that are held on the national identity register. We all carry our biometric information with us and there is therefore no need for people to have a card in their possession for the police to make that check.

The Bill sets limits on the information that can be held on the register. Unless the information fulfils the requirements of clause 1(5) and schedule 1, it cannot be held on the register and no criminal convictions, medical
20 Dec 2004 : Column 1950
records or bank details would be on the database. We will not allow other organisations to have access to the database. We may choose, with Parliament's agreement, to provide specific information on request and subject to proper authorisation, but that is different from what our critics allege.

Next Section IndexHome Page