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Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con):
I shall join the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) in the Lobby tonight to vote against a bad idea in a worse Bill, introduced for the worst possible motives. This idea has always been a solution looking for problems. When the Government were under attack for waste in the public services, they said that this would be an entitlement Bill, frankly admitting that it would have little role to play in combating terrorism. When they were under attack for their failure to control immigration, they said that the Bill's prime purpose would be to control illegal immigration. When the focus groups told them that they were lagging behind the Conservatives on crime, they said that the primary issue was to control crime. Now, because they want to frighten us with the threat of terrorism ahead of the election, they have again raised the issue of controlling terrorism.
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The Bill is a solution looking for problems, and when we examine the problems, it turns out to be a pretty illusory solution to them. The police rarely have a problem in identifying suspects, only in proving that they did what they are suspected of. Terrorists rarely conceal their identity, only their motives. Benefit fraudsters rarely adopt a false identity, they merely misrepresent their circumstances. All illegal immigrants can, and most do, claim asylum. They are then automatically given an identity card without which they cannot claim benefits, and such cards already show their fingerprints and their photo.
The Government have managed to come up with some helpful comments from Departments suggesting general support for the scheme, and saying that it might be beneficial to them. It is always possible to get civil servants to say that sort of thing; their job is to support the Government. It was not too difficult to persuade the security services to come up with evidence that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Departments are saying that the Bill would be useful to thembut the acid test of whether a Department really thinks that a proposal will be useful to it is to ask whether it is prepared to contribute a slice of its budget towards the costs. My first question to Ministers is: has any Department indicated a willingness to contribute to the costs of the scheme?
We know that the scheme originally proposed, for a voluntary card, was going to cost £1 billion. When that became an entitlement card, the cost went up to £3 billion. When the first draft Bill appeared, the scheme was going to cost £4 billion. Now it is supposed to cost about £5 billion. I know of no experience that does not suggest, and no outside expert who does not expect, that the eventual cost will be at least twice what the Government now say.
The Government say that a card will cost £85 a head, and that the cost will be borne not by Departments but by individuals. Everybody will have to pay that sum, even the 20 per cent. who never travel abroad and cannot afford a car. I ask the Minister: if the cost is double the present estimate, are we going to charge double that amounta sum greater than the poll taxto every inhabitant of this country, simply to prove their existence and justify their presence here?
The problem is that the system almost certainly will not work. We have heard about the difficulties of getting IT systems to work, but what about the biometrics on which this system is intended to rely, which have never been tried out on any scale? Indeed, the Government's own small-scale pilot trials had to be postponed because, as the Passport and Records Agency says,
If these problems occurred during a small-scale trial, what possibility is there that the Government can get the system to work for 60 million people? A Cabinet Office study concluded that biometric tests will wrongly conclude that between 10 and 15 per cent. of those tested are not who they actually are. Are the Government really happy with that level of misidentification?
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My next question for the Government is: why has no bank, supermarket or credit card company introduced this technology? Could it be that they believe the costs too great, the benefits too small and the danger of alienating their customers too high to risk undertaking a project of this nature? But the arguments against ID cards are not just practical. They would increase the power of the state and change the relationship between it and the individual. Does it not give Labour Members some pause for thought that compulsory ID cards have never been introduced in peacetime in any country other than a fascist, communist or totalitarian state? They were introduced by those countries precisely to increase their Governments' power to control their citizens. I am not accusing Ministers of sharing the malign nature of those statesat least, I do not think that I ambut they are creating an apparatus that could be misused. Does it not give Ministers pause for thought that no common law country has ever introduced such a system, and that those that started to do sosuch as Australia and New Zealandwere persuaded by the reaction of their populations to back off and withdraw the proposal?
A number of Members have made it clearI share their viewthat the system will serve practically no purpose unless carrying the card, as well as having it, is made compulsory. Ministers say that that can be done only through further primary legislation. Given that this Government introduce three or four police Bills every year, the fact that such an initiative would require further primary legislation will be precious little defence once the apparatus is in place. We may take it for granted that once the system is in place, it will be compulsory to carry the card and to present it when required. Indeed, most of the services and most of the public think that carrying such a card ought to be compulsory. So every time that we leave home without it, we will be liable to a penalty. Even under this Bill, every time that we fail to notify the authorities of a change of address, we will be liable to a penalty of up to £1,000. Every time that we fail to report a lost or stolen card, we will not only be unable, so they say, to access all the services; we will also be liable to a penalty.
Mrs. Janet Dean (Burton) (Lab):
Twenty years ago, and perhaps even 10 years ago, many of us may have held strong views against the idea of identity cards. However, we have become used to carrying a range of cards in our purses and wallets. As other hon. Members have said, we can be tracked around the country through our bank cards and, if anyone were sufficiently interested, they could discover from where we draw cash, where we choose to eat and how much we spend at the local supermarket. Indeed, loyalty cards can tell the supermarkets all that there is to know about our shopping habits, as well as whether we have a cat or dog, or even a baby. We have also grown accustomed to CCTV in our high streets and shops, to the point where most of us hardly ever think about the cameras. In recent years, the threat of terrorism and crimes associated with identity fraud has increased the need for securityboth for the nation and for the individual citizen.
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I recognise that there are those who hold very strong views against the development of ID cards. They oppose them in principle and nothing is likely to change their minds. What I can say is that, in my constituency, a survey that I have just conducted shows an overwhelming majority of the general public in favour of the introduction of identity cards.
I sent a questionnaire to about half the households in my Burton constituency and the rate of return is already about 20 per cent. with further replies being received daily. I have yet to complete a final analysis of the results, but a random sample shows that support for a card, and for it being compulsory, is 83 per cent. with 12 per cent. against both the card and compulsion. About 3 per cent. believe that we should have an ID card, but that it should not be compulsory, and 2 per cent. are neither for nor against.
Mr. Simon Thomas: Did the hon. Lady ask her constituents what price they would be prepared to pay for an ID card? In a much quoted survey that we have heard about this afternoon, 80 per cent. of the UK population as a whole support the ID card proposals, but when asked whether they would be prepared to pay £35 for the card, only 20 per cent. of people said that they would. What sum did the hon. Lady ask her constituents to pay for the card and how much were they prepared to pay for it?
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