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We are told that this is the answer to the international terrorist threat. There is something strange about that. We know from what the Government say that the scheme can really work only when it is compulsory throughout. We also know from what we have heard here today that it will not be compulsory throughout until 2012 or 2015. If the terrorist threat now, post-9/11, is the reason for the ID card system, but it will not work for another 10 years, that is a recipe for continuing to face the same terrorist threat. That shows the Government's lack of imagination and lack of willingness to find other ways of tackling the threat that we undoubtedly face, but in a way that does not fundamentally undermine the basic tenets of existence in this society.
I want to end with a story about what happened to me shortly after 11 September when I went into my local bank and tried to open a new bank account. I was greeted by the cashier, who knew me and said, "Shwd mae, Mr. Thomas? Dewch i mewn. Eisteddwch i lawr""How are you? Come in. Nice to see you again." I said, "I'd like to open a new account." They said, "That's very good. Have you got proof of identity?" I said, "Well, you know who I am, but if you need it I've got my parliamentary pass card." I was told that that was not good enough, so I had to go back to the bank next day and wave what I was asked for as proof of identity.
One might say that that shows that the system is working. The Government's answer to the problem of identity is another technological fix on top of that system because it is not good enough. My answer would be intelligence. If one knows that somebody is who they say they are, that is fine, but how does one check? The answer is not to take it as read simply because somebody can fix the system to prove that they are who they say they are, which is the basic problem with fraud, but to use intelligence to examine it. It may be that the £6 billion could be better spent on extra police, extra training and extra security services; even phone-tapping may be necessarywho knows? All those are preferable to an automatic and universal system of compulsory ID cards.
I urge the Government, and all hon. Members, to pull back and rethink this, because we are about to throw out one of the central safeguards of our democracy, and we are doing it without getting anything back from the Government in terms of protecting people's rights.
Mr. Marsha Singh (Bradford, West) (Lab):
I do not have much time, but I start by saying that Labour Members do not need Welsh nationalists to defend English libertieswe can defend them for ourselves.
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There are two issues hereprinciple and practicalities. In principle, I support identity cards, but in the context that they must eventually be compulsory. If they are not compulsory, they will not work. I have not been impressed by the arguments of those who are opposed to identity cards, because they would oppose them even if the system was cheap and was going to work perfectly. In many cases, they have confused principle and practicalities.
Some Members have mentioned ethnic minorities. It does not help community relations, when there is great support for identity cards in the country, to say, "We didn't support the identity card legislation because it might have upset the sensitivities of ethnic minorities." Many people in ethnic minority communities are as happy with identity cards as the general population. In many situations, whether it is right or wrong that the situation occurred, an identity card might help to solve a misunderstanding and to stop the problem before it goes any further.
On civil libertiesalthough I did not hear many arguments about the subjectgiven that many democratic countries, especially in Europe, have identity cards, are we claiming that their standards of civil liberties are worse than ours? [Hon. Members: "Yes, they are."] They are not. I have never heard any hon. Member complain about the standard of civil liberties in our European partner countries that have ID cards.
I could go through a long list of subjects that the Select Committee considered in the context of Government aims on ID cards, but if one issue clinches it for me, it is identity fraud. On 21 November 2004, the Evening Standard ran a story that was headlined. "Identity Fraudsters Swamp Capital". The story stated:
It transpired that the fraudster had used the birth certificate of a four-year-old child, who died in the 1960s, to obtain a national insurance number and driving licence to gain thousands of pounds in loans and credit cards.
"Londoners are being ruthlessly targeted by gangs behind Britain's identity fraud crime wave . . . Around a quarter of the 120,000 people who fall victim to ID crime each year live in and around the capital".
"900,000 fraud records from our 240 Member companies encompassing banking, credit cards, asset finance, retail credit, mail order, insurance, investment management, telecommunications, factoring, and share dealing."
Fraud occurred because identities were stolen from dead people. The figures are serious. We must either take the issue seriously by embracing ID cards or simply ignore the crime wave.
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I must ask the Minister a few questions about practicalities. If we need ID cards, surely they should be compulsory. How satisfied is my hon. Friend that they will be fraud proof? Can he satisfy the House about that? How satisfied is he that the database will be tamper proof? Given recent embarrassments with new technology, how satisfied is he that he will not be left with egg on his face? Can we afford the system? How can we be satisfied that costs will not spiral out of control? How can we be satisfied that the benefits of identity cards outweigh the cost?
Although a majority of the British public support ID cards, they do not want to pay for them. How will the Home Secretary bridge that gap? Can he give any assurances to people on low incomes or benefits that they will not have to pay? Will he exempt pensioners from any charges? Will he consider exempting them completely from the need to have ID cards?
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh), who boldly made the point that ID cards, perhaps illiberally but realistically, will have to be introduced on a compulsory basis. He was preceded by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas), who, in an articulate speech, made the case clearly against ID cards.
It is interesting that the debate has veered for and against, with so many factors being mentioned both for and against the proposal. That was expressed nowhere more clearly than in the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson), who spoke for the cards, advocated the use of CCTV and said that pensioners should be spared. Yet the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) made a similar speech and called the whole project an expensive fiasco.
The debate started in tempestuous fashion with the Home Secretary being given a rough time on his first outing but taking a huge number of interventions and, frankly, dealing with them with one or two reservations. I have to say that the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) made a very much better case for introducing ID cards. I found his case much more convincing and I wonder why the articulate nature of that speech has so far not been recognised by those on the Government Front Bench.
Most clearly, my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), the shadow Home Secretary, laid out the five tests that Conservative Front Benchers have put forward. Whichever way we look at the issue, everybodyfor or againstacknowledges the fact that the five tests must be considered for their value.
We heard a curious speech against identity cards from the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), who performed a U-turn and gave us an extraordinary monologue on not chasing the 80 per cent. in favour but standing on principle. Well, every man to his own, but I thought his most telling point came at the end of his articulate speech, when he said that the public's perception of the cards would evolve as the whole case
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developed. That point was clearly emphasised by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick), who was also speaking against.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) also made that point, speaking for identity cards. He added, however, that although he approves of the notion, the Government have lost the trust of the public, and therefore the issue will need the closest of scrutiny as the Bill goes through the House.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney) and the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) argued for the use of identity cards. My right hon. Friend made the point that the cards need to be heavily amended, particularly in respect of the need for the commissioner to be accountable directly to Parliament, while the right hon. Gentleman again made the point about the need for proper scrutiny. However, he and a number of other Members referred to the fact that driving licences were used in Northern Ireland as a form of identity card. I shall return to that in a moment.
Powerful speeches were made by my right hon. Friends the Members for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) and for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry). Both are against. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden spoke of a solution looking for problems, while my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon referred to the whole issue being an empty vessel and secondary legislation being needed to deal with the thing properly.
My right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) spoke clearly in favour of identity cards, saying that this was the subject of his maiden speech probably more years ago than we would care to mention. [Interruption.] Thirty years ago, I am told from the rear.
Identity cards have been used before, albeit not quite in such a way, in Northern Ireland. This was mentioned by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). Speaking from personal experience, I know that when the identity card in the shape of a driving licence with a photograph was introduced in Northern Ireland, we were toldI was on duty over therethat this would be a clear case of our being helped significantly in the fight against terrorism.
I have to say that I take a different view, as the measure did not seem to make any difference at all. The cards were used only by drivers. I acknowledge that that was a long time ago and that the biometric capabilities of the new cards might make a difference. The fact remains that this country is not ignorant about the use of ID cards against terrorism. Similarly, a number of right hon. and hon. Members[Interruption.]
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