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I have explained that matter and now I wish to deal with the issues as they stand. I shall take the House through the process I have gone through to reach my position. Sometimes in politics things are wrong because they are wrong in practicethey just
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cannot be done in practical terms. Sometimes in politics things are wrong in principle. Uniquely, ID cards are wrong in practice and in principle. That is why I have come to the conclusion that they are wrong. I shall address the issues of effectiveness, the implications of the database, the cost and the impact, which we have not discussed so far, that the proposals will have on minority and ethnic minority groups in this country.
The Home Secretary gave several reasons why we must have these cards. I shall start with terrorism, because I acknowledge that there is a serious threat. It is an attractive argument for ID cards because we all want to do what we can to ensure that our country is safe. The Government's argument is that 35 per cent. of terrorists use false or multiple identities. I know that they are not arguing that that means that an ID card system would cut terrorism by a third, but there are problems with the Home Secretary's proposition. The first is that terrorists are capable of carrying out atrocities without changing their identity. The terrorists who hit New York and Madrid all travelled under their own identities. The London nail bomber, David Copeland, made no attempt to disguise his identity, and nor did Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber. Sadly, knowing who someone is does not tell us what they are thinking or what they are about to do. Having the information about identity will not stop determined terrorists, because atrocities have been committed by people who have not changed their identity.
What of those individuals who do try to change their identity? I come back to the point I raised in my intervention in the shadow Home Secretary's speech, which is how to ensure that terrorists do not enter the country on a false identity. The problem is that terrorists could arrive in the country with false root or seed documentation. When they register, the false information is used to issue them with an ID card. They can then go around with an identity that they have created specifically in this country. That could be overcome if there was an international system to check whether people were using different identities in different countries, as long as they moved within G8 or EU countries that had the same level of biometric testing. However, the reality is that most such individuals will come from the very countries that will not have such technology. They will be able to dash back and forth between their original country and this country without being caught.
Martin Linton: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if it were possible for someone to fake an identity and obtain an ID card, the use of biometrics would make it impossible for them to register under any other name? The whole problem of multiple identities would still be addressed, even if what he says were true.
The hon. Gentleman entirely misses my point. I acknowledge that it would be difficult to create multiple or false identities for someone who was moving between England, Germany or France, or other countries that have the ability to test the iris. Such people could not change their identity because the iris would give them away. However, terrorists will not be
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moving between those countries: they will come from countries that do not have the biometric testing ability, and that is the loophole.
The Government's second reason for introducing the Bill is benefit and health fraud. The Home Secretary advanced some strong arguments about the card's impact on such fraud, but a vast amount of the health and benefit fraud that occurs in the UK has nothing to do with identity. Only about 5 per cent. involves individuals pretending to be somebody whom they are not; most fraud is somebody saying they have a back problem when they do not, or somebody claiming benefits when they are working on the side. That is where the problem lies, and the Government's figures do not stack up to suggest that there is a major problem.
We received no answers from the Home Secretary about how the process would work. Will there have to be reading equipment in every post office, every benefit office, every hospital and every GP practice? Will the equipment be installed throughout the country, or will we target only certain inner-city areas? Who will operate it? Will it be the GP, the practice nurse or the person behind the post office counter? What kind of training will they have to be given to use all that equipment? What will happen if the equipment breaks down? Who will make the choice about who is to be asked to show their card? Making that choice will put pressure on some individuals.
I am a hypochondriac and I visit my GP all the time, so people at the surgery know who I am and would not need to ask for my ID card. However, they will have to decide whose card to ask for, and that kind of choice will put them in the front line. I do not think they want that job. In those circumstances, what will happen to people who do not have their card with them? Will they be turned away from medical treatment?
Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central) (Lab/Co-op): Is it the policy of the hon. Gentleman's party that people who turn up for serviceswhether for health or something elseshould be treated regardless of their entitlement?
Mr. Oaten: If the hon. Gentleman thinks that I shall go down the Daily Express and Daily Mail route of trying to pretend that our health service is being burdened by scroungers coming to this country, he is wrong. I will not go down that route.
Mr. Simon Thomas
: The hon. Gentleman might be interested to know that, under the Bill, the National Assembly for Wales can make its own decision about whether to ask for ID cards for the health service. What is more, the Labour National Assembly Government have said that they will not do that.
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The Government claim that illegal working is another reason that we need ID cards. I accept that there is a problem; anybody who saw the tragedy at Morecambe bay realises that something must be done about illegal working. There are, however, existing powers to handle illegal working and the problem of immigration. The Government have set up powers whereby the police can check individuals' working papers, although, in 2002, only two individuals were prosecuted for employing an illegal immigrant. The reason that there were only two is not because those individuals did not have documents that could be checkedthey must have those documentsbut because it was not a policing priority and it was almost impossible for the police to find their whereabouts. How on earth would an ID card make any difference at all?
Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): On the point made by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas), my constituency attracts an enormous number of tourists from Wales. They might come to my constituency without their ID card, not expecting to need medical treatment. If they had an accident, would they have to return to Wales to receive treatment?
Mr. Denham: Has the hon. Gentleman considered the possibility that one reason that enforcement action against those who employ illegal labour is too lowin my viewis the recognition that the limitations of currently available documents make it difficult for employers to be certain? If there was a gold standard of identity, provided by a national identity register, implementation would be much easier for employers and it would be much easier to come down hard on people who continue wrongly to employ illegal labour.
Mr. Oaten: I respect the views of the Chairman of the Select Committee, but I suspect that those who genuinely want to find the documents will find a way forward. The difficulty is that far too many employers do not care one iota and it will not make a blind bit of difference to them whether people have an ID card or a set of documents.
Mr. Oaten: I want to move on to a second point about illegal working. I have dealt with the practical issues, where I do not think that the card will make a difference. There are also civil liberties concerns about how it will work in practice. The detail of the regulatory impact assessment states:
"As pressures grow on public services, service providers will have to bring in complex procedures for checking a range of documentation as the old assumption that if you are here you are probably here legally is no longer acceptable. There are also cultural problems about getting service providers to ask only certain groups for proof of identity for fear of being accused of discrimination."
That is extraordinary. In their RIA, the Government admit that it is the intention to ask only certain groups for proof of identity. I have to tell the Minister and the Home Secretary that the problems will not just be cultural; there will be serious legal problems if that is indeed what the Government propose to do. Linking illegal working and ID cards will leadbluntlyto people who do not look British being stopped.
I want to turn to our other concerns about the Bill. The cost of the measure is the most complex thing to debate, because the figures keep changing and we have received little information about the costs from the Home Office. I accept that the Liberal Democrats cannot have it all ways on costs. We support the principle of changes to passports to keep us in line with the requirements of our international obligations. It would be disingenuous for me to lump all the costs together, but what I have tried to do, and will try to do in the debates ahead, is to separate the elements where we believe that the Government are going too far.
The Government are going too far by having three biometric tests on passports, as well as an ID system. They must give us accurate figures on costings. We believe that the additional costs to be incurred will be about £85 million a year, plus £50 million a year to run the identity checking service, yet, according to the figures the Government have given us to date, they have not costed the full implications of their plans to tackle benefit fraud and health access.
According to Home Office figures, each reader will cost between £250 and £750. A crude multiplicationto cover the various routes for access to health and benefitsgives an extremely high figure. For post offices aloneeven in relation to the number that are left; I realise that over the last few years the Government have been trying to shut many of them downthe cost would be £11 million. We need more information about the costs. We do not know what is involved, and we cannot do our job of scrutinising the Bill until we know what the total cost will be. The public believe that there is a black hole in the measure, and we share that view.
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