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Mr. Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): Surely the group of people for whom identity cards will not be useful, and who will thus not volunteer to carry them, will be terrorists and criminals. The effectiveness of the scheme will be markedly, if not completely, reduced if it remains voluntary.
Mr. Mates: That will not be the case if it becomes such a habit for people to carry cards to show who they are that those without them are the odd ones out. As in the United States, if we have nothing to fear, I believe that we will all carry the cards in time, which seems to be a good way of going about things.
It is, however, outrageous that the Government will make us pay for the cards if they demand that we possess them. Citizens should not be charged for something that
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it is compulsory to possess. I know that there are huge costs involvedit is another matter when the cards are tied up to passportsbut an ordinary person who does not need a passport yet must possess an identity card should not be made to pay for it.
As many hon. Members have said, a job must be done to persuade people of the benefits that the cards can bring them. To that end, I repeat a plea that I made all those years ago. If any citizen who is to have an identity card wants additional information to be included on it, that should be allowed. We have the technology to achieve that. Some people might think it important to have their blood group detailed on the cards, and some might want the fact that they wish to donate their organs if they are killed in an accident to be included. Other people might want their allergies or other conditions to appear on their cards so that if they are involved in an accident or caught short in extremis, someone can read such useful information.
Mr. Gibb: Has not my right hon. Friend given an example of function creep? In due course there will be pressure to include such medical information on the cards, although the Government currently assure us that that will not be included.
Mr. Mates: My hon. Friend misunderstands me. I am not advocating that the Government should say that such information should appear on a card, but that individuals should be allowed to choose whether information should be included to show that they are asthmatic, epileptic or of a rare blood group. That is quite different from function creep. It would give added benefits to people who may think that that would be helpful. Such people usually carry such information on another card, a chain or something around their neck. If we introduce an identity card system that gives all information required and citizens want more information to be included, that should be allowed. Some people may want their religion to be detailed because they would want the last rites to be given, but that should be a person's individual choice, not the diktat of the Government.
Mr. Bercow: Surely we should proceed on the basis of the existing evidence. Given that my right hon. Friend genuinely believes that benefits would accrue from the introduction of identity cards, does he not find it extraordinary that there is no evidence that can be citedor has been this eveningthat countries with identity card systems have lower crime rates than those without them?
I do not believe that it is a question of crime rates. It is, I think, a question of how useful the scheme is to authorities trying to battle the problems that we are discussing. I will give my hon. Friend some evidencewell, it is not exactly evidence. It is what the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland told me during a conversation that I had with him. As the right hon. Member for Upper Bann said, photographic driving licences were introduced in Northern Ireland in the 1980s. The Chief Constable said "It is the most helpful thing that has happened to me in terms of my ability to find out who people are when they are stopped for doing whatever they have been doing."
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As the incidence of car crime is far higher in Northern Ireland than it is anywhere else, that is evidence that being able to identify people is enormously helpful. I am not suggesting that it is conclusive, and my hon. Friend clearly takes a different view; but where such schemes have been introduced they have helped, although they may not be a universal panacea.
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the additional information that someone might choose to put on a card. Surely the functionality of that would be very limited unless the institutions involved were aware that the cards would carry the information, and also had machines that could decode it.
Mr. Mates: Such information would have to be visible. Information about a person's blood group O, B or whatevercould be visible to the naked eye. Such information would not have to be hidden away in some high-tech piece of plastic. [Interruption.] It would be perfectly possible to make the information visible, but the hon. Gentleman obviously has his own point of view.
On balance, this is a good thing to do. It is, alas, a necessary thing to do, because of the different world in which we now live. I hope, however, that the Government are listening to the real objections enunciated throughout the House about the way in which they are introducing the scheme, so that it can be introduced with as much consensus as possible.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) made great play of what would happen in the event of corrupt information or input errors. In effect, he said "Don't do it: there should not be any kind of ID card." If we followed his argument to its logical conclusion, however, we would not do anything about anything.
John Barrett: Surely it is not a question of not doing anything; it is a question of using the expected £3 billion cost of the scheme more effectively by improving security services and policing, for instance.
John Robertson: The hon. Gentleman seems to assume that someone can be picked up from the street and put on the beat tomorrow. That is not going to happen. The Government have brought the country to a point at which unemployment is at its lowest for 30 years, and we have almost full employment. Now the hon. Gentleman wants to put 10,000 or 20,000 policemen on the beat tomorrow. He must get real, and start to come down to planet earth from wherever he is at the moment.
The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton) made a great case about how my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had said that the ID card would be the
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panacea for all ills, but not only did she misquote him, she deliberately misinterpreted what my right hon. Friend said. He was trying to say that ID cards will help, and that anything that can help to solve security problems or the problem of people with a lack of identity will go a long way to making people feel a lot safer.
We had a similar debate years ago on CCTV. It was said that that would be an infringement of people's rights and that people would be spied upon while walking down the street. Now we are hearing the same arguments about ID cards. A year ago I took part in a radio discussion on CCTV, during which people demanded CCTV for their communities, and people will be demanding ID cards as well.
John Robertson: My hon. Friend obviously has more information than I do on such matters. I can talk only of Glasgow whose city centre is the safest place to go on a Friday or Saturday night. Could that be because people feel that it is safe to walk about there? That is a city that was once known as "No mean city". One can now walk about safely and enjoy a night's revelling, or whatever else one might want to do.
Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about CCTV being very effective in reducing crime in city centres, but one of the problems that I have in my constituency is that there is not enough money to put CCTV in some of the other towns, such as Teignmouth and Dawlish. Would this £3 billion not be better spent on expanding the CCTV scheme?
John Robertson: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, with which I am inclined to have sympathy. But if we are considering the general good of the nation, not just England as the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman did earlier, and what will make people feel secure, ID cards will go a long way to doing that.
Great play has been made of the fact that having an ID card will not stop a terrorist, and that is a fair point. But there are people who committed terrorist acts in Spain who will not be able to do so again, because, thanks to ID cards, they are now in prison there. If that is the case, and we are under increasing threat here, what is the problem with ID cards?
I took part in a radio discussion on ID cards with the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir), and a lady from the west of Scotland asked what was the problem with them. The compère started to tell her about their infringement of her rights, and that they would carry a lot of information about her, some of which she might not want others to know. She replied that she had a bus pass in her hand with her picture and name on, so those issuing the pass knew all about her, and they also knew when she took the bus because the pass told them so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) were worried about the state
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knowing too much about them, but if my hon. Friend completes a form to obtain a loyalty card or a credit card, he will find that he will start to receive unsolicited e-mails because the information that he has provided will have been shared with others. There is more known about us than we think, and I would much rather the state had that information and was working for me instead of against me.
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