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Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): I oppose the Bill. I am sorry that the amendment that I tabled was not selected, but as it was not, I shall support the amendment moved by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), which is similar in intent.

I have three reasons for opposing the Bill. First, I do not believe that it will do what is claimed. It certainly will not deliver benefits proportional to the cost. Whatever benefits it may deliver, they should be proportional to the cost of implementing it. Secondly, I have concerns about the technology and, thirdly, about the impact on personal privacy. It is incumbent on those who support the Bill to justify its cost, especially in comparison with the benefits of spending the money on other ways of dealing with some of the problems.

I do not want to labour points that have already been made about some of the claims that have been made, such as those on terrorism or crime. However, I have
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never found that the police say that one of their major problems in dealing with crime is identifying people. The problem is producing evidence to connect the person whom they have identified with the crime. Furthermore, illegal working takes two: the employer and the employee. Employers who knowingly employ people who are in the country illegally and do not bother to make the checks that they are supposed to make about whether the person is entitled to work in the UK will be no more likely to carry out a check if the form it takes is an ID card.

As the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) said, although the main arguments about ID cards change from time to time, in the end they all depend on compulsion to have a card. Without compulsion, none of the benefits could be obtained.

A massive database is proposed and a massive infrastructure will be necessary, because there is no point in having cards that include biometrics without the infrastructure, including readers in a huge variety of places, to read and check them. A large number of people will have access to the database.

To some degree, we are being mesmerised by technology; we think that technology is perfect. It will not be perfect. There will be false positives and false negatives from the readers and their rate will depend very much on how the readers are set up and the algorithms used to compare images from them. People will attempt to break into the database and they will probably be successful. The prize will be huge: the information in the database will make breaking into it extremely tempting.

We have not paid much attention to a further point about the database, although the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) raised it earlier. The database will not appear from thin air, but will need to be created. How will it be set up? If the data that are input are not wholly accurate and not verified perfectly, the database will be fundamentally flawed from day one. I have heard nothing from the Government about how that verification will actually happen. It seems inevitable that it must be based on people's existing documents and evidence about themselves, so if a person already has a false identity, or ensures that they acquire one before they register, it will be transferred to the database. A person may also have other identities in countries that are not linked to the database.

It is inevitable that there will be human error when inputting data. Records will get mixed up and one person's biometrics will be attached to someone else's record. That has already happened in databases that contain biometrics, with devastating consequences for some of the people whose data have been mixed up. Like other Members, I have dealt with constituents affected by false information from criminal record checks, including, recently, someone who lost his job for that reason.

Mr. Michael Weir (Angus) (SNP): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the more complex the information, the more likely there is to be confusion? For example, at the Child Support Agency names and
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addresses have been mixed up, causing chaos. Those are simple things. Will it not be much worse with biometric information?

Mr. Gerrard: That is absolutely true. Millions of entries will go on to the database each year as it is created, so the potential for error will be enormous.

Let me turn to privacy and the relationship between the individual and the state that the database will give rise to. Once a database of this nature has been created—the Bill contains powers for the Secretary of State to add more information to the database by order—it is absolutely inevitable that there will be function creep. There is no question about that. The Home Secretary more or less admitted earlier in the debate today that compulsion will be necessary. Without compulsion, the people who will not be on the database will be exactly the sort of the people whom the Home Office and Ministers say that they want to keep track of using the database. Being on the database and having an ID card must be compulsory; otherwise the whole structure will fail apart. Of course, the people who will be last to register will be those who want to keep their names off it, plus people who are elderly or infirm and so on.

Who will have access to the database? We know from the debate and the regulatory impact assessment that banks and retailers, not just Departments, may have access to it. The Home Secretary even suggested that someone might check the database when people rent a video. Every time that someone's details are checked on the database—perhaps for a financial transaction, travel or whatever—all that information will be recorded. There will be an audit trail of every piece of information, every time that the database is accessed to check someone's particulars. I do not believe that the state should be collecting that sort of information about individuals.

If I choose to have a Sainsbury's loyalty card and the company collects information about me and sends a Christmas card to my cat, or something like that, I am not really worried about it. It is my choice to have that card, and I know what the consequences are. I do not believe that the state should collect such information.

If people start to realise what is implied and to think about the possible uses of those audit trails and the information that is held on the database, I believe that public opinion will change very rapidly. At the moment, a lot of people say, "Oh well, if I've done nothing wrong, I've got nothing to worry about." That is the wrong answer to the wrong question. People need to ask themselves what benefits will accrue from this vast expenditure. The one saving grace is that this will turn into a hugely expensive fiasco.

9.3 pm

Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire) (Con): Those on the Conservative Front Bench might be relieved to know that I am in favour of the principle of an identity card system. I shall vote with the Government tonight, but I understand and respect the principles of those of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members on both sides of the House who take the opposite view. I must add that, although I am in favour of the principle, the way in which the Government are acting and some of the measures that they propose to take are absolutely unacceptable.
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Comments on those measures have been repeated around the House. I will not bore the House by saying it all again, except to say that they were most forcefully and persuasively articulated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). The way in which the issues of the commissioner, the Joint Committee and, above all, the timetable have been handled is an absolute insult to the House of Commons on a Bill that is, whatever one's view, as important as this, given the consequences that it will have for our people.

I have been consistent in my support for identity cards almost as long as the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). In fact, the House may be surprised to know that, on 28 November 1974, I made my maiden speech on this subject, just after the Guildford and Birmingham bombings. We were taking the Prevention of Terrorism Act through the House for the first time. I said then that I thought that such a system would help in the fight against terrorism and crime, and I still believe that. The Home Secretary of the day, Roy Jenkins, said that the suggestion was interesting, but that although identity cards might be helpful, they would be eminently forgeable. That was probably the case then, but technology has moved on over the past 30 years and we now have the chance to introduce a secure system with cards that would be more difficult to forge or replicate.

I discussed the subject yesterday evening with a friend who is over here from the United States. He showed me his New Jersey driving licence, which is an amazingly high-tech piece of plastic. It tells the police who he is and includes his photograph and a hologram. To respond to what several hon. Members have said, an identity card system is not necessary in the United States because such cards exist.

The Government are right not to make the scheme compulsory. People say that we are on a slippery slope, but I do not think that the scheme will ever be made compulsory because that would make martyrs. People would refuse cards on principle and there would be chaos. We need to prove that identity cards are so useful that everyone will want to carry them, which is the state of affairs in the United States. No one in the United States leaves their house without a form of identification. That is normally their driving licence, but it can be their health card. They always have adequate means to persuade people of who they are.

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