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The arguments advanced so far today have tendedrightlyto concentrate on the need to improve security. Massively destructive and indiscriminate terrorism is a new threat in the world and necessitates new precautions. ID cards cannot guarantee security, as we have heard many timesnothing canbut to argue that, because an ID card system did not protect Madrid, it is therefore useless is to argue against any imperfect system, such as a police force. It does not follow that, because we cannot do everything, we should do nothing.
There is another reason for an ID system, however, and I want to concentrate on that. ID cards are needed to protect our welfare state. I grew up in a world very different from the one in which my children are growing up. The mining village in which I was raised had seen and was to see very hard times, but it had a strong sense of community. There was, perhaps, too little opportunity for individuality and diversity, which may be a bad thing, but the cohesiveness of the community was a great support and comfort.
My home village still exists, but the work has gone, and with it the shared experience and much of the community spirit. I realise nowit was a hard realisationthat most of Britain was not like that village even in the 1960s. Certainly very little of Britain is like it now. The architects of the welfare state, such as Aneurin Bevan, came from and served communities like that, where we were all our brothers' keepers, perhaps because our brothers were much the same as us. The reforming Governments of 1906 and 1945 had a majority in favour of welfare because of their shared experiencesbecause welfare was something that "someone like you" needed, or might need.
Modern Britain is a much more diverse place, and globalisation will continue to make it more diverse. Such trends need not undermine the welfare state, but they alter the basis on which it was built. Welfare in the 21st century must reform to survive and we must ensure that it retains the support of those who pay for it.
In my experiencenot an experience that everyone shareslittle annoys citizens more than the payments of benefits to those whom they believe to have no entitlement. How do we define entitlement? It is very confusing. I have a long list of examples, but for the benefit of others who wish to speak I will not read it out. I shall confine myself to one or two instances.
A British state pensioner living for more than three months a year in a non-European economic area country who has lived for 10 continuous years in the
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United Kingdom previously is entitled to free NHS treatment for conditions that arose after his or her arrival in the UK. The same applies to his or her spouse and children under 16, or under 19 if in further education. That is crystal clearnot, I think.
There are huge listswhole books, indeedwhose aim is to explain whether people are entitled to services, and which services they are or are not entitled to. There are obvious examples of non-entitlement; at least, I thought that they were obvious until I discussed the matter with a Liberal Democrat earlier. I should have thought that most Members would agree that an American tourist benefiting from a £50,000 heart operation on the NHS in a London hospital constituted an obvious abuse. Other cases are not so clear. For example, a foreign student paying £900 for an English language course is entitled to free health care for himself and his family and free education for his children. That is not an abuse, because it is a legal entitlement, but it is sustainable only if such cases are rare exceptions.
Mr. Lilley: The hon. Gentleman seems to be trying to argue in favour of identity cards on the basis of how complicated the procedures for establishing entitlement are. Is he not actually saying that, if the card is to be used as an entitlement, it will contain a vast array of information over and above what the Government have described so that the user's entitlement or otherwise can be established?
Mr. Jones: That is a fair point, but what I am trying to say is that we need clearer and better understood criteria to establish entitlement. Once we have established entitlement, it will require an ID card. We will need to ensure that there is some form of ID system to make that entitlement system work. However, I do not anticipate that the right hon. Gentleman shares my desire to protect the welfare state in the first place. He may find that undermining the welfare state is desirable. I do not share that view.
John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that having an ID card will not affect entitlement if the individual is lying about their circumstances and that that is the problem that exists as regards benefit fraud and attempting to obtain benefits from the health service that one may not be entitled to? It will not be helped by an identity card.
Some recent research suggests that there is an inverse relationship between welfare and diversity, pointing out that the most homogeneous countries, such as the Scandinavian countries, have the most extensive welfare systems, while highly diverse countries, such as the USA, have much more individualistic societies. There are many other variables, and I do not believe that we can necessarily show cause and effect, but those who believe the welfare state to be the greatest achievement of reforming government in the 20th century have no room for complacency on these issues. The preservation of an extensive social system will require this Government and future Governments to define entitlement carefully and an ID system will be essential in recognising that entitlement.
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Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): I am in favour of identity cards and have always been so, and one must take seriously the pressure for them from the police and the security forces. But I have rarely heard a worse definition or defence of identity cards than the one that I heard from the new Home Secretary. Support for identity cards is rushing away simply because there is a huge lack of trust in the Government. If the Government want an identity card system, they must address properly the reason why so many sensible people find the proposals unacceptable.
The Chairman of the Select Committee said that it was hard to understand the opposition. Let me perhaps explain it. In a recent debateyet another one of those on the subject of the criminal lawmy right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) ended his speech with a peroration, in which he claimed that the former Home Secretary was the most illiberal Home Secretary for a hundred years. Immediately after, the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) chided my right hon. and learned Friend, saying that he had been very unfair to the Home Secretary, that the Home Secretary was not only the most illiberal Home Secretary for the last hundred years, but would be seen as the most illiberal Home Secretary for the next hundred years as well. So there is a pretty universal view that for a long time the Government have been enacting legislation that has been opposed strongly by any of us who have freedom and liberty as part of the reason why we were elected. This Government have behaved in a way that explains why people are very suspicious of this proposal.
I had to ask Mr. Speaker for support when we did not reach a particular amendment after we had been voting on a range of amendments in the last Criminal Justice Act because it was the only amendment during the whole of the proceedings on that legislation on which I would be voting on the right of the Government. In every other case I had been voting on the left of the Government and my constituents were beginning to be rather confused, as indeed I was, on the position in which the Government were putting me.
So trust is crucial, and when one looks at this motionone that I have come to support and will vote forthe first thing that I must ask about is the timetable. It is absolutely not possible for the Home Secretary to try to reassure me and my hon. Friends who want to support him that somehow or other there will be a proper debate when we will have a timetable motion that leads us to the end of it before the end of the next month. It is unacceptable. To suggest that we will debate a major change without time for the House to do so properly yet again shows that the Government do not care about the House of Commons, do not care about proper debate, and believe that it is acceptable to have a few perfunctory discussions and then say that the House of Commons has agreed.
That is why I have to say that I do not believe that the Home Secretary will get the legislation through in a form that is anything like the present proposals unless he makes some pretty big changes now. If he thinks that I am being overdramatic, I remind him about the casino Bill, which is now a wholly different Bill and is so pathetic that no one could object to it because it does
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none of the things that the Government promised in the first place. They discovered that what started off as, they thought, a popular move, they themselves made unpopular.
That is precisely what we have here. We have something that I believe to be right and in the right way could help in dealing with both illegal immigration and terrorism, but if presented in the way that the Government have will be a disaster, and they will find themselves deeply unpopular as a result, in exactly the same way as they have over the casino Bill. They thought that it would be a popular measure, they have managed to make it less popular, and if they go on as they are they will make it totally unpopular.
The way to change this is, first, to have a Joint Committee of both Houses so that the Bill can be properly considered and Parliament can be known to have given its opinion in a sensible and effective way. A change of this size, of this momentum, needs to have such scrutiny. The fact that the Government have cast it aside is yet again an example of the fact that the Government do not care about the House or Parliament as a whole. We have to press that in any such matter.
Secondly, the system cannot be run by the Government; it must be run by an independent commissioner who stands outside the Government and who reports to Parliament. There have been two examples of the successful introduction of information technology, both of them by one of the most independent quasi-Government organisations, the Inland Revenue. The Inland Revenue did both extremely well, effectively and to time, but it did it independently, it did it itself, and it does not report directly as is proposed here.
I want something even more independent than that. I want a body that is clearly independent, which can act only specifically within the terms of the Bill as laid down by the House. I want to remove from the Bill the Government's ability to use affirmative legislation, because people outside think that if a measure is brought before Parliament, there has been a debate. They do not understand our system. They do not know that there is no debate at all and that a measure cannot be defeated because in any circumstances the Government can use their Whip. Therefore, we need a different system.
If those Opposition Members who agree with the principle of having identity cards, who believe that we cannot say that just because there has been fraud we should not have paper money, for examplewe cannot have a system which says that we cannot have anything because there might be abuse; we cannot say that because a measure will soon be outdated we had better not do it at all, or we would never buy a computer; nor can something be opposed because one is so opposed to anything that might be used by the EU that one votes against it in any case; that is barmy and we know exactly why some people are making such points[Interruption.] There are some hon. Friends behind me whose whole purpose in life is to say those things, but I do not listen to that kind of argument.
The Government should listen to the fundamental argument, which is that the people who are friends of passing this legislation cannot agree with it unless it is changed fundamentally during its passage through the House. Although we may vote for it in the first place, we
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cannot vote for it later unless it is independently scrutinised, is subject to parliamentary decision making, and is clearly restricted to the purposes for which the Government claim that it is introduced. A timetable motion such as this is abhorrent and completely unacceptable in a democratic society. The Government must think again, or they will have the same dog's breakfast with this as they had on the casino Bill and they will have turned a popular measure into a disaster.
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