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Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) (UUP): Time is limited, and there are only a limited number of points that can be made. Given the time limit on speeches, many hon. Members will be unable to speak, and those who do will not be able to say very much, yet this is a huge subject and this debate has been truncated by the earlier statements and other matters. That in itself is not satisfactory.
Another unsatisfactory matter is the programme motion, which aims to get the Bill out of Committee by 27 January. That is simply ludicrous when one considers all the issues involved. When the Home Secretary spoke, there was such a rush of interventions on a broad range of issues that my impression was that he often had to abandon his text or truncate it hugely. Even so, he took up a very large slice of the time that is available.
As other hon. Members have pointed out, many of the provisions in the Bill will be spelled out in delegated legislation, which means that they will not be subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny. This is a very important issue, but it is clear that it will not be given proper scrutiny in this House. I should say in passing that that is partly due to this terrible thing called modernisation, which has done more damage to this House and to parliamentary democracy than anything else that has happened in my time. The Government need to reflect on that. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) made good points on that and the Government should reflect on them.
The Home Secretary clearly did not understand what I meant when I referred to a common travel area in an intervention. The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration subsequently responded to the point but I do not believe that he covered it. I meant the common travel area that exists in the British Isles between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. If identity cards were introduced for UK citizens yet the position continued whereby all citizens of the Republic of Ireland or people who might legally be able to reside there can travel to and through the United Kingdom with no travel documentsthey do not need a passport or any other travel documentthere would be a huge problem and loophole.
It is not sufficient for the Minister to claim that the European Union will introduce common travel documents when travel documents are not required. If the proposal reaches its final stage of being a compulsory identity card system, it will be necessary to have persuaded the Irish Republic to introduce an almost identical system. A common or shared database will probably be needed for it to operate. I do not know whether any of those matters have been considered, and that was the reason for my intervention. I hope that they will be considered.
There was some discussion about the form that the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) has; I have even more form on the subject. I must tell the hon. Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) that my form dates back to 1992. From then onwards, I tabled amendments and proposals in Committee and on the
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Floor of the House for the introduction of identity cards. I did that for the simple reason that the then Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Ronnie Flanagan, put it at the top of the list of measures that he wanted for strengthening his operations to deal with terrorism. He wanted that despite the fact, which the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) pointed out, that we had had photo ID driving licences in Northern Ireland since the early 1980s that were used as the basis of a database, by reference to which the security forcesthe police and the Armystopped people. Although that had been the position since the early 1980s, the Chief Constable considered it inadequate. He needed more and I therefore supported the concept, to which I am consequently tied.
I believe that the concept is right and that the point about civil liberties is overdone. The right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney) made the point that so many things currently happen that enable records to be kept. I wish we had time to show that, but if we only consider the way in which possession of a mobile phone exposes one to huge surveillance and provides a tremendous amount of information, that makes the point. Supermarket loyalty cards have also been mentioned. Again, they enable a tremendous amount of information to be gathered.
The problem is not the information but the way in which it might be handled. The points about the need for the commissioner to be independent were well made. I hope that the Government will consider those matters because the provisions in the Bill are not sufficient. There is a host of practical issues to considerfor example, what information to include, how it is accessed and so on. However, I remain attached in principle to identity cards and especially to a national identity register. That is important for many reasons.
In Northern Ireland, we found that there was good reason to believe that many people on the electoral register did not exist and that there were bogus registrations. I suspect that that applies in England. The measures, based on national insurance numbers, that were introduced in Northern Ireland have had a significant effect. If we had a national identity register, there would be no need for them and there would be greater confidence in, for example, the electoral register. I fear that hon. Members are sometimes unwilling to face up to the extent of the problem. I believe that a similar problem of electoral abuse, which existed in Northern Ireland, applies in cities here. That is an additional reason for ID cards.
I want to pick up the point about devolution. We were teased earlier about what the Labour Administration in Cardiff would do and given some hints about the actions of the Labour Administration in Edinburgh. They are both old Labour Administrations and the Government may need to act to get them into line. However, if recent negotiations proved successful and a Democratic Unionist party-Sinn Fein coalition took over the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland, what might happen? Although old Labour may be slightly foreign or detached from the Government Front Bench, a DUP-Sinn Fein coalition would be from a totally different planet. The idea that it would have some of the powers for which the Bill provides beggars belief. I suspect that the Government will have to find methods
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of extending measures to the devolved Administrations, just as I believe that the scheme will eventually be introduced.
I understand why the scheme will be voluntary at the beginning. Much work is required to build up a system and ensure that it works effectively. It will take years, and it will also be years before we are in a position to move to an automatic identity system that is effective throughout the United Kingdom and marries up with actions elsewhere in Europe. However, we need proper scrutiny now, and we need the Government to be more flexible in the succeeding weeks than they currently appear to be.
Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): The earliest form of identity documents in this country were probably the letters of introduction that travellers used in the time of William the Conqueror. However, those early papers contained no description of the holder and certainly no image. They were written in French, the language of diplomacy. Some speeches in the debate lead me to believe that some hon. Members would like to revert to that standard of identity, but without the French, of course. However, I believe that we should move towards a more succinct and more reliable system and that the majority of us want to improve standards of security.
I am another convert. Until 1999, like most of my colleagues in the parliamentary Labour party, the wider Labour party and probably the general population, I had no strong views on identity cards. On balance, I was probably unpersuaded of the need for their introduction. However, events in my Dover constituency in that year forced me to examine the question afresh.
By 1999, many asylum seekers and illegal immigrants had arrived in Dover by hiding in the channel tunnel freight trains and in the backs of lorries on the cross-channel ferries. Consequently, we were accommodating an ever-increasing number of asylum seekers and overseas visitors, who caused us problems and posed important questions.
There was much speculation, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) alluded, about why those people had travelled, sometimes through three continents, taken huge risks and then risked life and limb to travel the extra 20 miles from the safe havens of France and Belgium to Britain. Many theories and reasons have been offered. The Home Affairs Committee considered the matter and discussed the "pull" and "push" factors. It examined the lack of identity cards in this country as a pull factor. I accept that that was only one of many theories that were presented. However, when I asked individual police officers and immigration officers in Calais and Doverpeople on the ground who meet asylum seekers when they depart and when they arrivethey put lack of identity cards and the consequent easy access to illegal working at the top of their list of pull factors.
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