Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Sadly, I shall not be supporting my hon. Friend the Minister in the Lobby tonight. I warn him that, from my long experience in the House, I know that it is always a sign that something is going wrong when those on the two Front Benches support each other. There is also something seriously wrong when as many voices on both sides of the House are questioning their views.
The first objection is that, if politics is about priorities, we are earmarking far too many resources for the Bill, when we have not got enough resources for many other things that I would like as a socialist. Whether the amount spent is £3 billion, £5 billion or more, I believe that the money would be far better spent on eliminating child poverty, providing affordable housing, ensuring that our cities have good public transport systems or care for the elderly.
We also have to question the cost to the individual. I have no difficulty if the amount is £70 to £100 for an individual; if a family want to go abroad, they will have to get passports, and if the cost is between £300 and £400, that is perfectly all right. We must, however, face up to the fact that if the Bill is to cut benefit fraud, we will have to deal with families on very low incomes. For them, acquiring identity cards for the whole family will be a considerable expense, and it is certainly not something that we should push them into.
On technology, almost everyone in the House has questioned whether we can introduce the technology for such a scheme. The Child Support Agency, family credits, pensioner credits and all the disasters have been mentioned. The problem with that new technology is not that it fails to deal with 90 or 95 per cent. of cases, but the small 2 or 3 per cent. where a disaster is created. That small percentage will be the problem with ID card technology, whether the difficulties arise in working out the biometrics or other areas. Until we can build into any technological system some way of dealing with those hard cases, we will have a problem. The sad thing is that common sense is not all that common anyway, but as far as computers are concerned, it is absolutely non-existent. I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that the crucial thing is how we find a way around those hard cases so that we do not cause a great deal of misery and hardship for people who find it very difficult to get their ID card when people around them are getting cards without any difficulty at all.
I accept that crime and terrorism can be very effectively dealt with by ID cards, but that can happen only if the cards are compulsory and it is compulsory that everybody carries them all the time. I went to the
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Soviet Union as a student in 1958, and I was very impressed with a lot of what I saw. One day when I was coming up from the tube, two or three people pushed down the escalator past me going the wrong way. Why were they coming down? At the top, people coming out of the station were being stopped by the police and having their ID checked. If they did not have their ID, they were taken away. If we are prepared to argue for a society in which we have regular police checks at which the ID is demanded and verified, fair enough, but I certainly do not want that sort of society. I am not convinced that the new system will have any impact at all on crime and terrorism unless we travel a distance that I believe is completely unacceptable in this country.
We must also work out what happens in respect of people who lose their ID card. Constituents come regularly to my advice bureau having lost some crucial piece of paper, and it is often very difficult for them to get a replacement. We cannot make it easy for people to get replacement ID cards, or it will become less and less important for them to look for cards that they have mislaid. Penalties will be needed for people who lose their cards, but those penalties should not be so great as to mean that the ID card becomes another problem for somebody with a chaotic lifestyle.
Martin Linton: Does my hon. Friend not appreciate that, with the advent of biometric cards, for the first time in history, it will not matter if people lose their card, because a new one can be issued only to somebody with the same biometrics? That will overcome the problem of people having to track down pieces of paper, shuffle them up to the post office and worry if they lose one of them. For the first time, they will have a secure identity.
Andrew Bennett: The theory is that, if somebody lost their card, they would simply go and demand another, their biometrics would be checked and they would get another. There would then be a spare card.
Andrew Bennett: It is not true that nobody else can use the card. That is one of the problems. People can be caught for illegally using a card only if someone is going to check it. That is the difficulty: false security, which is my next point. We all have House of Commons passes. There was a time at which, when an hon. Member entered the House of Commons, a policeman looked at them and their card, but that does not happen any longer; we can simply push our card into one of the machines. That creates a false security.
I have seen youngsters in pubs with so-called ID cards, and they can pass them around when someone goes to the bar. It is perfectly all right if there is a reader at that point, but we will not have readers on every street corner to check the cards. That is the problema false sense of security.
We have to be very careful with ID cards, and the sensible solution is to let people have the peripheral cards that they currently have, not to insist that they have a national card.
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I intended to be brief, and I come to my last point: the desire to make changes by secondary legislation and the great number of powers in the Bill in respect of which the Government can come back to the House for an order under the affirmative procedure. There is a huge difference between trying to get primary legislation through the House and introducing secondary legislation. Primary legislation takes several months at the quickest and more often than not takes nine months. There is not only the debate in the Chamber and the argument in Committee; it is the debate in the country that is important. That happens on primary legislation, but regulation can be announced one day, and with a big Government majority, it can be introduced within 48 hours or so of publication.
That is a change in the nature of legislation, and I argue very strongly that we should not have the ID cards legislation at all, and that we should certainly not be introducing in that legislation powers for Governments fundamentally to change it and drift towards what will in effect become a police state. I am totally opposed to the legislation.
Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) told us that he had changed his mind and that he was now against both the principle and the practice. He voted for the principle earlier in his short parliamentary career, but he did not choose to explain to us why his views on it had changed, although that change appears to have coincided with his appointment to his present responsibilities.
I, too, have changed my mind, albeit over a longer period. When I came to this House, I would not have supported the legislation, but I do this evening. I argue that I have changed my mind because the world around me has changed. It has changed in two respects. 9/11, about which much is said and whose trauma is real and far reaching, told us all that we had a new breed of criminal. The subsequent rash of suicide bombers simply reinforces the message that the world of terrorism and criminality has changed.
However, the other thing that has changed, for better or for worseI had some reservations as we progressed down this roadis that the state and society in general intrude into my life to a far greater extent than when I first entered this House. My passage down the street is monitored by cameras and my pocket is full of bank cards. The other day, my bank helpfully called me to query what it thought might have been the fraudulent use of one of my credit cards. If the weekend press is to be believed, all hon. Members will soon have to wear their passes in this place for the first time ever. I am inundated by unsolicited commercial mail from people who know about my life, my quality of life and my habits, and who try to turn that information into a commercial project.
Two and half weeks ago, I went to the United States for my mother-in-law's funeral. In the process, my iris was photographed and my fingerprints were taken. It would be bizarre to argue against this legislation, when I have submitted myself to it in the United States in the past month. The world has changed.
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I had the privilege of being one of five right hon. MembersPrivy Councillorswho served on the Select Committee that reviewed the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 and that reported to the Home Secretary some months ago. We were all impressed by the growth of identity theft in not only this country, but on a much wider scale. We made recommendations about the need to tighten the fight against identity theft. As we were a Committee of Privy Councillors and had had access to the security services and to the police, we could not publish the evidence, but I assure the House that it was real and significant. We should look for new and additional measures to address that problem over and above the more traditional approaches.
I respect the opposition to the Bill because, as I have said, I might have been part of it. One of the inadequacies of the argument against the Bill is that the excellent must be the enemy of the good. Nobody whom I knowI remind the House that I was a security Ministerever argues that because a proposal is not perfect, it should not be implemented, although it would provide an additional benefit.
I listened carefully to the Home Secretary, who made it clear that he is introducing the legislation not as a panacea or cure, but as an additional benefit in a changed and more threatening world. Having said that, I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and other hon. Members in saying that the Bill must be amended.
The Bill must be strengthened as a protection against function creep. I have had the privilege of being in government, so I am not making a partisan point when I say that function creep is an inherent temptation to all Governments. In that regard, strengthening the Bill is important. Each one of us should have guaranteed access to whatever information the system holds about us. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 may not be sufficient in that regard, and that matter must be debated.
I also agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal that the commissioner should be responsible to Parliament, not to Government. My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary made that point, and I reiterate it because I believe in it so strongly. I also agree with those who have said that given the sensitive nature of the Bill, which goes to the heart of who we are and how we see ourselves as a nation, any changes should be by primary legislation, not secondary legislation.
When we debate a matter of principle in this House, it tends to polarise views and the language tends to shift to the ends of the political spectrum. We would do the nation a service if we resisted that temptation tonight and recognised that a serious benefit may derive from the Bill. Although the Bill is not a panacea for the future, it is an opportunity to do good in a changed and more threatening world.