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ID cards will help to tackle illegal working. Abuse of the immigration system is something that colleagues who encounter many asylum seekers, as I do, will know about. Glasgow is the only city in Scotland that hosts asylum seekers, so we know quite a bit about them up our way. While I try to help every single asylum seeker who comes to my surgeryI can assure the House that I see quite a lot of themI can tell which ones are trying to pull the wool over my eyes. An ID card from wherever they entered the European Union might not be a bad thing. Indeed, when the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 was introduced, some of us talked about having to introduce tests whose results could be included on cards when people enter a country.
I hope that the whole of Europe will take on what we are going to start to do here today, and in a big way. I hope that we will show the way to other countries. In that way, there will be a proper ID system. Not taking such action just because somebody else does not take it, however, is not the answer. It has to start somewhere, so why should it not start in this country? Why should we not protect our people to the best of our ability?
I do not think that that should depend on the money, although I still have my fears as a champion of my pensioners, of whom I represent more than my fair shareabout 18,000 in an electorate of 52,000. These people cannot afford to pay £84 for a card. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that he was willing to listen, and my plea to him is that he should ensure that pensioners do not pay that sort of money.
I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that I have some sympathy with what has been said by some Opposition Members about the amount of time that is being given to the Bill. Will he take a look at the Committee stage and feel free to increase the time by as much as he wants?
Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion) (PC):
My Plaid Cymru and Scottish National party colleagues and I will be voting against the Bill tonight and for the amendment tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). I look forward to joining him in the Lobby, as this is an important opportunity for us to voice our deep discontent with the Bill. It is also an opportunity for all parts of the House to express their concern, as the interesting thing about the debate is that there is a sense in all parties of a Government who are over-reaching themselves and taking too much power away from the citizen. I think that we can join together on a United Kingdom basis in opposing that.
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We have heard a lot today about identity fraud. We have certainly seen it from the two Front Benches, as the Government have taken it upon themselves fraudulently to identify themselves as the party of civil liberties, and they have used doublespeak throughout the debate to try to persuade us that taking more powers to the Government is somehow enriching us as individual members of society. I am afraid that Conservative Front Benchers have tried to defraud us that they are in opposition with regard to this matter. Surely, it is the job of an Opposition to test the Government and never to trust them. We should never trust the Government when they say that they are trying to achieve something, because we always have to watch what framework they are seeking to build.
The Bill may be a small step, but as has been pointed out, it is an empty vessel into which any future Government can pour any type of legislation that they wish and any type of additional control and restraint of the population. Let us ask ourselves what would happen if ID cards were already in place and were, say, 10 years old in this country. Do we seriously think that there would not be pressure for those cards to include everyone who is on the sex offenders register, who has a criminal record or who has been bankrupt? Perhaps the cards would include blood group, HIV status, insurance statusI have been refused insurance several times in the pastor failure to pay the television licence fee. If one appeared on television and criticised the Government, perhaps that would feature on the card. Who knows? We do not know what Governments will seek to do when they have the ability to do it. Governments always take the maximum amount of power for themselves. The job of citizens is to fight for the individual rights of citizens, and the job of Members of Parliament is to fight for the individual rights of citizens, too.
Mr. Thomas: That is a good point, because convicted paedophiles are already on a national database and are already known to the police. The question is: who has access to that information? What if somebody walks into their local post office or Blockbuster and puts their card into the reader, which states that they are a convicted paedophile? What will happen to that man when he walks out of Blockbuster? [Interruption.] Will he be a safe man on the street? [Interruption.] That would mean more crime, not less crime.
Mr. Bercow: The hon. Gentleman will probably recall that the biscuit was taken by the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), when he asserted in November 2003 that ID cards would enhance our sense of identity and feeling of belonging. In my constituency, there are many sources of alienation, but I have yet to meet a single constituent who says, "I feel alienated from the community, and I don't know who I am because I haven't got an identity card."
I oppose ID cards on principle, but I also oppose them on practical grounds. We have heard a lot of practical reasons why we should oppose ID cards, but let us be clear about the principle. In a democracy, privilege is balanced with responsibility, and that is especially true in a democracy that does not have a written constitution and that is based on the rule of law and common lawwhat we say here goes. It is a privilege to drive a car, but it is a responsibility to pass a test, get a licence, and tax and insure the car. That is the balance between responsibility and privilege, and the Bill tips that balance and turns the citizen into a cipher.
Worse than that, the Bill also turns the citizen into an address, because you cannot be a citizen unless you have an address. If you do not have the wherewithal to be on the database, you do not exist. That is a strange and curious measure if we are trying to be a free country. It is strange that Welsh and Scottish nationalists are speaking up for the rights of free-thinking and free-living Englishmen, but while we are needed, we will certainly do it.
Mr. Thomas: The hon. Gentleman is right, and I want to discuss that point. What about the idea that ID cards entitle us to something that we pay for and that we vote Governments in to run in the first place? We entitle Governments; Governments do not entitle us. ID cards fundamentally reverse that approach to democracy and government. Every MP should oppose ID cards on that basis.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam knows that the real issue is not ID cards, but the running of, and trust that we can place in, the national database. We have heard a lot about identity fraud, but we have not heard about the deliberate misuse of the database. For example, animal rights terrorists have used the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency database to access the names and addresses of people who are involved in animal research. That information has been passed to terrorists in order to target those individuals. When there are 60 million recordsthe figure will increase, because the dead will remain on the database, as the Bill does not mention their being struck offwhat happens if those records are deliberately misused by those who have accessed the information for their own pernicious ends? That might include the Government or it might include individualsI am not sure which is worse.
If we examine the Bill in terms of entitlement to things that we take for granted and which either the Government run for us or we have joined together in commonality as a society to run for ourselves, that is an entitlement for all. It is a fundamental tenet of civilisation to extend to everyone the entitlement that we seek and take for granted. If the occasional asylum
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seeker has a denture repaired as a result, that is a price that I am prepared to pay if the alternative is a system of control and regulation that I find fundamentally unacceptable.
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