Mr. Gale : I am most grateful. The hon. Gentleman asks why some of us are concerned about the Bill. The Home Secretary has proposed legislation that, potentially, brings together a failed Child Support Agency system, a failed Inland Revenue tax system, a failed health records system, and a failed police records system. He is talking about spending billions of pounds
The Home Secretary is talking about introducing technology that will be outdated by the time it is of any use. As if that is not bad enough, he is asking the House to consider the Bill in six sittings of a Committee. A lot of people on both sides of the House would go with the Bill if the Home Secretary were prepared to submit it to a Joint Committee of both Houses.
Mr. Denham: Having dealt with the point of principle, let me come to procurement, which is important. We do not conclude, as a House, that we should not have a Child Support Agency because we have had problems with the computer, or that we should not have a pensions system because we have had problems with the system. The critical thing is to get it right.
I will say to the Home Secretary that we need to adopt a more open procurement system, with more scrutiny and challenge to each component of that system than is so far apparent. That is what has been done in Italy, and that is why procurement in Italy has been more successful than our track record shows we have been. I hope that my right hon. Friend and his ministerial colleagues will look at the procurement system, which was raised by the Select Committee as a matter of considerable concern.
I want to touch briefly on a few more issues that the Government need to deal with to get things right. On cost, it is important that the Home Secretary, in seeking, understandably, to minimise, or at least not to overstate, the cost of the system to central Government must not assume that others will readily pick up the cost of the card reader system, the infrastructure system and so on. We should listen to the Local Government Association. When it gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, it saw the value of having the system but was worried about the costs that it would have to pick up to make use of it.
The infrastructure costs to support the register are critical to the success of the system. Forgery need not be a problem, provided there is an adequate infrastructure of card readers and that they are used regularly enough. There is a cost to that, although it is nothing like the mathematically erroneous £1 billion mentioned earlier. The Government will need to give detailed costings as quickly as possible.
One of the areas that we need to consider further is oversight. There has been a welcome broadening of the powers of the commissioner, but he still lacks adequate recourse for an individual who fears that his or her
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records have been wrongly accessed or used. That recourse needs to be made clear and explicit in the Bill. I also share the concerns of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) about the mechanism for reporting via the Secretary of State rather than through more open reporting.
None the less, issues of procurement, biometrics and oversight are things that we should be able to get right as the Bill passes through Parliament. My basic point is that we have a series of problems in our society with which a robust system of identity would help us enormously. An ID card and national identity register would enable us to do that. The fears expressed are, as we have just seen, vague and ill stated. The Bill should go ahead tonight so that we can work on the detail.
Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): I shall start, because I did not have a chance to do so at Home Office questions, by welcoming the new Home Secretary. I will not take offence at the woolly liberal comments, although they suggest that it is business at usual at the Home Office in terms of the attitudes towards us. I also acknowledge that the Home Secretary, with the support of the shadow Home Secretary, is about to introduce what will clearly be one of the most popular measures that we have seen in this country.
With 80 per cent. in favour of ID cards, I recognise that it will be a very popular measure. The difficulty is that I do not sense that level of support for ID cards when I talk to people; nor has that level of support come across in this debate. One of the problems is that initially people are attracted to the idea. Nearly everybody whom I speak to about it says at first, "Well, I have nothing to hide. What's wrong with carrying a card?" I happily and freely admit that I also took that view for many years, to such an extent that I supported a private Member's Bill on the issue a couple of years ago. I supported it because at the time I did not have a problem with the issue. I entirely acknowledge that. However, the difficulty arises when one starts to look in more depth at some of the issues. That is why I changed my mind and why I am convinced that by the time the Bill has passed through both Houses, and after proper debate, the Governmentwith Conservative supportwill have introduced one of the most unpopular measures that we have seen in this Parliament.
Mr. Browne: I do not want to rake over old coals, but the hon. Gentleman has got off lightly on this issue for far too long. It cannot be the case that the hon. Gentleman supported ID cards to the point where[Interruption.] As a matter of fact, that assertion is not correct. [Hon. Members: "Which one?"] That I was a member of CND. I never was. The hon. Gentleman cannot have been persuaded not only to support ID cards in principle, but to vote for them in the House on the basis that we had nothing to fear from them. He must have had other reasons for supporting the principle of identity cards. Before we accept that he has properly changed his mind on the issue and has not just fallen in
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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The Minister will have the opportunity to wind up at the end of the debate, provided there is time. Many Back Benchers want to contribute to the debate and he should leave his intervention there.
Mr. Oaten: I will happily rehearse why I have changed my mind. I am concerned about the cost implications and the civil liberty implications. I am not convinced that ID cards will work in relation to terrorism and I do not believe that they will help to tackle benefit or health fraud. It is a completely flawed system and now that I have seen the detail I fundamentally oppose the Bill.
Mr. Salmond : I welcome the hon. Gentleman's change of mind. My goodness me, it is not as though the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration has never taken orders from a higher authority. Be that as it may, did the hon. Gentleman detect from the Conservative spokesman, as I did, a lack of enthusiasm for the Bill? When the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) asked what would happen if the proposal for a Joint Committee was not accepted by the Government, we did not appear to get an answer. Did the hon. Gentleman hear it?
Mr. Oaten: I was fascinated by the shadow Home Secretary's speech. It was an extremely good speech against ID cards, right up to the final line, in which he urged support for the Bill in one sentence only. I say to the Conservatives that I understand why their leader is nervous so close to an election. He wants to show that he is tough on crime and he does not want to be attacked for being soft on those issues. However, every now and then in politics, instead of chasing the 80 per cent., one has a duty to speak up for the 20 per cent. There is also a duty to try to argue one's case and convince the 80 per cent. that they are wrong. The Conservatives might get more respect if they tried to change views rather than following opinion polls all the time
Mr. Oaten: No, I have not finished with the Conservatives yet. The five tests are a fig leaf. They are as meaningless as the Chancellor's five tests on the euro. The shadow Home Secretary answered virtually all his tests, yet he concluded that they were still wanting. If the Conservatives end up supporting the Bill, they will have to demonstrate that all the tests have been met. They will struggle to do so as much as the Home Secretary will struggle with the tests.
Martin Linton: Will the hon. Gentleman be more explicit about when he underwent his Damascene conversion? I remind him that he supported a ten-minute Bill on ID cards that went much further than the Government's Bill and would have required that an ID card be carried at all times. Did he change his mind around the time that he accepted a Front Bench job?