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Surely, if identity cards along the lines proposed would help deter terrorism, the argument would be that they should be introduced much sooner. What will happen between now and their introduction in six or seven years? That makes no sense to me, which is why I am not persuaded that ID cards would prevent the sort of terrorism that has taken place elsewhere from happening in this country. I would be the last person to underestimate the threat of terrorism. We have heard a statement today and my view remains that terrorists will cause much death and destruction, in so far as they can get away with it, and this country will certainly be no exception.
As for the other arguments about ID cardsthose on illegal immigration and workingit has rightly been pointed out that there is little evidence, if any, that an ID card scheme would have stopped what happened in Morecambe bay or, if the 58 Chinese who tragically suffocated had survived, as we would have wished, that it would have prevented them from working in this country. After all, in the continental countries that have identity cards under the democratic systemand previously under dictatorshipsthe problems of illegal
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immigration and working have not disappeared or lessened because of any ID scheme that happens to exist there.
The Home Office should be much tougher in making it far more difficult for certain employers to employ people who have no right to take employment. Those laws already exist. That is already a criminal offence, and I hope that the Government will be tougher in enforcing those laws and regulations.
The point has been made that, since January 2002, asylum seekers have been given application registration cards, which provide a secure means of recording their details and identity. I do not disagree with that, but why should the rest of us require a form of identification along the lines that the Government are keen to introduce because asylum seekers rightly have such cards?
I am also worried about function creep. It is interesting to note that, when the Information Commissioner gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, he made the point that, in 1939, there were three stated purposes for bringing in an identity card:
He went on to say that, by 1950, there were 39 stated purposes to explain why identity cards were considered necessary. He said that in the early 1950s, towards the end of the system of identity cards,
If we have identity cards, the first question that people will be asked by the police, a hospital or their general practitioner will inevitably be, "Where is your identity card?" Some of my hon. Friends may ask what is wrong with that, but I believe that there is a lot wrong with it. It is not necessary because we have done without such cards for more than 50 years. Ministers make the point that the police and security authorities want them to be reintroduced, but if it had been left up to the police, I suspect that identity cards would never have been abolished.
I also have considerable worries about the national identity register and its unique identity register number for all of us. Under the Bill, people who move house will have to register their change of address with the authorities. Some might ask what is wrong with that, but there is no reason why we should have to do so without strong and compelling reasons, especially regarding terrorism. I am yet to be persuaded of such reasons.
Although I wish that I could argue otherwise, there is a lot of public support for identity cards. Opinion polls tell us that there is such great support at the moment because people have high expectations of identity cards and believe that they will resolve such problems as illegal working and immigration. However, that will not happen in practice, and people will be disappointed. Additionally, when people consider the cost of getting the cards, I am not sure that such support will exist.
I shall oppose the Bill tonight because I have no alternative. There is no doubt that the Government will have a large majority, especially with the support of the Tories. However, that is all the more reason why the section of opinion in the country that is opposed to identity cards should be reflected in the House of Commons tonight, which is why I will vote as I shall.
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"this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Identity Cards Bill because it would lead to an unreasonable intrusion into the liberties and privacy of the citizen; it would not achieve benefits proportionate to the cost, as the underlying technology is likely to prove unreliable; and the introduction of such cards is likely to lead to a requirement that they be carried at all times and such a requirement would be objectionable in principle and would lead to serious tension between the police and the citizen."
The hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) has made it plain that he will vote against the Bill and so will I. I acknowledge, of course, that there will be benefits attached to identity cards, but the real question is whether the benefits will be proportionate to the various disadvantages that hon. Members have identified; I do not believe that they will be.
It is worth pointing out, as it has been pointed out before, that most terrorists operate under their true identities, but fail to disclose their intentions. Many countries that have suffered from terrorismSpain is a good examplehave laws that require the carrying and production of ID cards. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said, President Bush, who is surely not a bleeding-heart liberal, has made it plain that ID cards will form no part of his anti-terrorism policy.
John Robertson: The right hon. and learned Gentleman cites the Madrid bombings. Would he be interested to hear that the Spanish police have said that nearly all the terrorists involved in that horrible event have now been arrested thanks to the ID cards in that country?
There is no doubt that identity cards would have an impact on policies to control illegal immigration, but let us remember that the real problem with illegal immigration is due to overstaying, which is caused by the Government's failure to deport, rather than a failure to identify those who should be deported. I am sure that benefits on fraud could be derived from ID cards, but I have never encountered a security document that could not be forged, which was the point made by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). In any event, most fraud arises not from false identities, but from a misrepresentation of underlying facts and entitlements, so the benefits would not be as great as the proponents of ID cards argue.
Mr. Browne: Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept the Cabinet Office's estimateit was published separately from any consideration of ID cardsthat identity fraud costs the citizens of this country £1.3 billion a year?
The first disadvantage is the nature of the Bill itself. It is an enabling Bill and most of the subsequent requirements will be made by secondary legislation. Of course, I acknowledge that those order-making powers will be subject to affirmative resolution, but that is not a proper way to supervise intrusions into the liberty of the subject of the kind contemplated in the Bill.
A cost of £3 billion has been suggested, but I do not know whether that is right or wrong. However, I do know that almost every public sector budget ever contemplated has been seriously overrun, so I suspect that that will be the case with ID cards as well. Irrespective of whether the figure will be £3 billion, £1 billion or £5 billion, are there not better ways of spending that money to achieve the intended purposes of the Bill?
I do not pretend to be an expert on technology, but I have noticed that all major computer schemes introduced by Governments of all shades have experienced appalling problems. The situation in the Child Support Agency is a specific case in point, but we all remember what happened with the Passport Agency. If there is a failure with the identity card system, it could cause not only inconvenience, but grave injustice, people's disentitlement to benefit and perhaps exposure to criminal penalties.
I shall move on from practicalities to the question of principle; I propose to be brief. There is no doubt that ID cards will tilt the balance away from the citizen towards the state, but we should not do that unless an absolutely compelling case for it can be made. We should be clear about this too: once the possession of cards is mandatory, and perhaps before, the police will use their powers to stop and search in a very vigorous manner. Bearing it in mind that the stated purposes of the scheme are to combat terrorism and illegal immigration, we can also be sure that those powers will be used most vigorously against ethnic minorities. I have been in the House long enough to remember the rows over the stop-and-search powers arising from the Vagrancy Actthe old sus law. The coming rows will be infinitely greater, because these powers will be used to a much greater extent.
I am absolutely certain that, if we give the green light to the Bill and possession of an identity card becomes a requirement, there will also be a duty to carry the card and produce it on demand. The only way to make the cards truly effective is to require people to carry them and to produce them. We should remember that the National Registration Act 1915 was amended in 1918 to make production on demand mandatory.
There is no point in saying, "We will give a potential terrorist or illegal immigrant 48 hours in which to produce the card at the nearest police station." That is nonsense: a potential wrongdoer in that category will simply disappear into the hinterland from which he or she may have come. I do not wish to give officers of the state a right to stop meor anyone elseand demand that I produce a card. Inevitably, those officers of the
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state would be given a power to arrest if the card could not be produced. That seems to me to impose a burden on the citizen and give the officers of the state a power that I do not think the House should give them.
I concede that benefits may attach to ID cards. I accept that the five tests proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) are useful, but we must set the Bill in the overall context of what we are about. I do not think that the arguments advanced in favour of it outweigh the disadvantages that I have ventured to present to the House.
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