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Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab):
This week, a number of journalistsand indeed my Whipasked me whether I support the Government proposals on ID cards. I told them that they do not need to ask me whether I support ID cards, because I was the MP who
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suggested that the Government should introduce them in the first place, when I was a member of the Home Affairs Committee.
My idea was called "entitlement cards", and it was suggested by the Home Affairs Committee report on border controls, which was published in January 2000. I suggested that one would not need to carry the entitlement card and that one would not be asked for it on the street, but that one would need it to establish one's entitlement to a public service, such as registering with a GP or school or applying for a benefit or student loan.
Nearly five years down the line, what is essentially the same idea has gone through all the possible parliamentary stages that one can imagineWhite Paper, public consultation, draft Bill, Select Committee report and Government responseand it has finally reached the Floor of the House of Commons as a Bill, which I warmly welcome and support.
Practically the only change to the original proposal that we discussed five years ago is that the Home Office, having launched the card as an "entitlement card", has decided to revert to "identity card", because it found from focus groups that people preferred it. I am not sure whether it is right, because I called it an "entitlement card" to emphasise that it is not a must-carry-at-all-times identity card and that it does not confer any powers on the police, unlike the South African pass laws or before them the Nazi pass laws.
Calling the card an "entitlement card" emphasises two things that resonate with the British voter. First, that the card concerns what we, as individuals, are entitled to. Secondly, that it concerns fairness, everyone getting their due and not jumping queues. Those reassurances are still needed.
David Taylor: The use of public services, especially the NHS, by non-UK residents has never been costed or assessed, and it has been left to the poison pens of right-wing scribes to throw around figures of obscure origin to feed insecurity and injustice among the British electorate.
Martin Linton: Indeed; that is a good argument in favour of entitlement cards. The point has been made a number of times that people might be refused emergency treatment if they do not have their card. That is wrong; the health service never asks for identification for accident and emergency treatment. It is only when treatment becomes longer term that the issue of identity is raised.
Hospital authorities already raise the question of identity for long-term treatment. Since April this year, longer procedures have been introduced to ensure that all health authorities check the identity of people who receive long-term treatment, and particularly whether they are holidaymakers or have residence status. It will be simpler to establish that fact because people will not need to produce so many pieces of paper.
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Mr. Allan: Does the hon. Gentleman really envisage every health service outpost in the land, including those that cannot afford scanners for medical purposes, buying scanners for ID purposes and installing them at huge expense? Is that what he wants to happen?
John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Does not my hon. Friend agree that my daughter, who is extremely allergic to penicillin, should have the right to an identity card that is linked to a database so that if she were taken into accident and emergency it would be possible to check whether to treat her with penicillin?
Martin Linton: As I said, accident and emergency departments do not require proof of identity. When people who are on holiday are taken to A and E, their entitlement is not checked because it is an emergencyit is checked only when they need longer treatment. I cannot see how identity cards will do anything other than make the process simpler.
As I have pursued this issue over the past few years, I have seen a sea change in attitudes; indeed, my own attitude has changed. The number of people arguing against identity cards on principle has continued to dwindle. However, it is clear from the early-day motions that have been signed that there are still Members on both sides of the House who are very unhappy about the issue, and I want briefly to discuss some of their arguments.
The Bill makes it clear that there will be no compulsion to carry ID cards. There are no new powers for the police. There is no change in entitlement to public services, and emergency health care will still be free. There is no more information on the ID card than is already collected by Government; indeed, it will relate only to one's identityname, date of birth and possibly addressand residence entitlement.
Mr. Marshall-Andrews: That is the position now. However, does not my hon. Friend agree that under the Bill as it stands, any Secretary of State will be able through secondary legislation to increase the amount of information? For instance, he could add everything that is held on the national police computer, including a person's associates, what they are suspected of, and the number of times that they have been arrested, and that information would be available to every Government Department that he designated. Does my hon. Friend agree with that, and if so what has he to say about it?
I am conscious of the time, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That argumentthe thin end of the wedge, or function creep argumentis used all the time. I understand that it will appeal to libertarians, but
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it is a strange argument for parliamentarians to use, given that it will be under our control whether any decisions are taken by future Parliaments on Bills that extend the effect. This Bill specifically rules out any must-carry card. If people are worried by that argument, it should be used not as an excuse for sitting back and doing nothing but for strengthening parliamentary scrutiny.
Another argument, which was alluded to by the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney), is the perfectionist argumentthat because ID cards will not stop all international terrorism overnight or end all crime they are wrong and we should do nothing. The fallaciousness of that argument should be immediately apparent to every Member of this House. The mere fact that something will not do everything is no argument against doing something.
A further argument mentioned by the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire is, "I'm against ID cards because they would only work if they were made compulsory and you had to carry them at all times. I am against that, so I'm against the whole idea." That is just another form of the perfectionist argument, but it is completely fallacious because nobody is suggesting must-carry cards. The argument for the effectiveness of entitlement cards was based on their use in relation to public services. Those who say that they will not completely solve international terrorism miss the point completely, because nobody claimed that they would in the first place.
We have to deal with the fact that several new types of crime have arisen in this country almost entirely because of the lack of any kind of internal checks. There is identity fraud, a fair amount of which is to do with multiple applications for benefits and the use of multiple identities in different ways. Health tourism may not involve a huge loss of money, but the fact that it does not cost billions of pounds should not be an argument against making it more difficult for people who are on holiday to claim medical treatment without paying. As for illegal working, an ID card would make it much easier for employers to check the residence status of potential employees; equally, it would be easier for the authorities to enforce sanctions against employers who are caught using people who have no work status.
People trafficking is another, particularly pernicious, form of crime that has been called into being by the fact that once people enter this country we have no internal checks. When my colleagues on the Home Affairs Committee went over to Sangatte to ask people why they chose to come to this country rather than stay in France, they were often told that it was simply because of the lack of any internal checks.
Where I do criticise the Government is in their presentation of this important policy almost entirely in terms of its convenience for Government. It should be explained and defended in terms of its convenience for the individual. At the moment, we have wallets bulging with a host of different identity cards, and the new cards could be used to replace travel passes, library cards, driving licences, passports, benefits cards, proof of age cards, electoral registration cards, organ donor cards, Connexions cards, and application and
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registration cards. Ultimately, we have to understand that the individual would be the greatest beneficiary of a move towards identity cards. I strongly support the Bill.
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