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Mr. Speaker: Order. Too many private conversations are taking place in the House. The hon. Gentleman is addressing the House, and he should be heard.
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Patrick Mercer: Similarly, a number of right hon. and hon. Members made the point that cards would not have helped in Madrid. It is worth bearing in mind, though, the fact that the Spanish authorities had used such cards at some length against identified terrorist organisations such as ETA. The events of 11 March this year had been rehearsed by ETA at Christmas last year, and the use of such cards had made a considerable impact on ETA, and had in part caused that incident to be called off.

Later, when Islamist fundamentalists picked up the same style of attack, it was clear that identity cards were not going to help against a new style of terrorism. The whole element of using cards against "clean skins", to use the vernacular, will be very much more difficult. In introducing these cards, will the Government make clear the sort of terrorism against which cards have been useful in the past? Such cards are less likely to be useful in future unless the biometrics prove capable of being used.

This scheme will take years to implement. I am concerned that, as the hon. and learned Member for Medway pointed out, ID cards will act as a pass rather than as identification—that once the card is shown to a   soldier, policeman or security worker, any individual will be able to get past that checkpoint and into a building. The fact remains, above and beyond everything else, that to help the Home Secretary with this business, he needs a Minister for homeland security. This will be the most enormous burden on him, and I am sure that the introduction of such a post would be hugely helpful.

While supporting the Bill, I want to iterate the words of many right hon. and hon. Members: if the Bill is to make any sense whatever, the five tests that we have identified will have to be examined. Above and beyond everything else, the Bill will have to be subject to the scrutiny of a Joint Committee of both Houses.

9.47 pm

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Mr. Desmond Browne): Like the curate's egg, this debate has been good in parts. I do not want to be too ungracious—I welcome the Conservative party's support, but on occasions tonight I would have much preferred its Front Benchers not to have spoken in support of the measure. Otherwise, this has been a good debate.

The debate has had its memorable moments. Apart from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's "maiden" speech, in which he took a significant number of interventions, with eminent skill, across the broad waterfront of policies, we heard a balanced contribution from my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), in which, in a comparatively short period and showing the benefits of brevity, he set out the case for identity cards. The right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney), in another balanced contribution, did exactly the same.

Among other memorable moments was the admission by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) that we need to spend money to put biometrics into passports. We now have the Liberal Democrats' support for that. Will he therefore now explain why he and his colleagues
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have been making an arithmetical calculation that takes all that money out—[Interruption.] He says from a sedentary position that his calculation is on top of that. I can do the arithmetic as well as he can. The Liberal Democrats took the £450 million, which he now says must be spent on passports, added to that the £85 million, and the £50 million for verification, multiplied it by 10, and went around television and radio studios saying that the proposal will cost £5 billion, plus, in some cases, the £85 for each individual. Perhaps now we shall hear some honesty about the arithmetic of that policy from the Liberal Democrats, so that we can have a proper debate.

Mr. Heath : Unaccountably, in his speech the Secretary of State forgot to return to the issue of costs,   as he said he would. Perhaps the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration will now tell us the exact cost of the readers that will be required for identity cards to have any functionality across the country.

Mr. Browne: The sort of readers that the hon. Gentleman suggests will be needed are not the test as to whether identity cards will have any functionality—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman stops baying like a child and waits for the full answer, he will get his answer. The functionality of an identity system, as we debated in great detail in the context of the identity card for the electoral system in Northern Ireland, depends on a number of layers, and can be used in different ways. Of course there will need to be readers, and if we are to use cards for access to public services that will need readers too, but each decision will need to be made on a case-by-case basis for the purposes of those public services, according to a cost-benefit analysis of what investment we need to put in to get the best benefit out—[Interruption.] That is the proper answer, and the hon. Gentleman knows fine well that it is.

Another highlight of the debate was the comparison drawn by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) between the Bill and his experience in the Soviet Union. That was stretching things a little, but otherwise he made some good points. The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) made a bilingual speech that contained some important points, although the argument, which is often trotted out in this context, about there being an accumulation of power by the Government, was misjudged. We are not doing that at all, as I shall explain in more detail later.

Mr. Cash: Does the Minister accept that the history of such powers has been confined to times of emergency? In 1952 the courts disallowed identity cards on the grounds that there was no emergency at that time. That issue has not been examined in the debate, to my knowledge. Will the Minister tell me what specific emergency there is now?

Mr. Browne: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He is right to say that—as other hon. Members and the excellent Library briefing papers for the debate have pointed out—the only history of identity cards in this country dates from wartime emergencies. However, as the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire coherently pointed out, we
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live in different times now, and we face a different threat. We have to adjust the way in which we develop our public policies to respond to that environment.

I am not arguing that this is an emergency. I am arguing that, for a number of reasons—most of which I   hope to cover in the short time available—the time has come for identity cards in the United Kingdom.

Sir Patrick Cormack : Will the Minister tell us, very simply, why the Government are not prepared to submit the Bill to the scrutiny of a Joint Committee?

Mr. Browne: Why is submitting the Bill to the scrutiny of a Joint Committee so important? With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have enormous respect as a parliamentarian, the idea strikes me as some sort of device. We can have the appropriate scrutiny of the Bill in the normal way. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made that clear, and it is very unlikely that I would give an answer different from the one that he has already given.

Mr. Gummer rose—

Mr. Browne: No, I shall not give way.

The other highlight of the debate was the contribution by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), whom I heard give an almost identical speech in the Queen's Speech debate, not long ago. I am not saying that it was not a good speech: it was; indeed, it was worth listening to twice. However, the difference between the speech that he gave then and the one that he gave today is that—I hope that I recollect this correctly—he said that this policy had been hawked around by civil servants for years, and that when he was in government it was rejected. I am really sorry that his memory is so poor. He was a member of John Major's Government, who announced plans for an identity card scheme in August 1996. [Interruption.] Of course it was a voluntary scheme. They announced their scheme in that year's Queen's Speech and a draft identity card Bill was then announced, but they were unable to introduce it because the general election overtook them. The right hon. Gentleman says that their scheme was voluntary, as though that were a defence of his change of mind, which he has never admitted to in any previous debate. Of course, part of the criticism that he offered in the recent Queen's Speech debate was that a voluntary scheme would not work.

In the time available, I shall be able to deal with only one or two of the major issues raised. First, let me deal with function creep, which is actually a convenient argument for those who oppose this Bill, because it allows them to debate the future rather than the present. They say, "This is what the process will lead to, so let us debate what the situation will be like in 10 years' time." Indeed, that is precisely what the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) did. He went forward in time by 10 years in order to have the debate that he wanted to have, rather than discuss the Bill.

The Government have gone to significant lengths to ensure that, in so far as any legislation can prevent function creep, the Bill will not result in it. The right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire invited me to reinforce that principle in Committee, and I will
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be happy to listen to any suggestions. But I will not   allow people to creep the Bill's functions by misrepresenting its provisions. With all due respect to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), that is exactly what he did when he said that criminal convictions could be added to the proposed register through secondary legislation. That cannot happen; only the information in schedule 1 can be recorded, which does not include criminal record information. He argued that such information can be added by amending the schedule through an order, but it cannot. Only registrable facts can be recorded, and as the definition in clause 1(5) shows, criminal records are not registrable.

We have heard the same debate for months from the Opposition, who have set up a false prospectus. For a long time, the argument was that people will be required to carry ID cards. When we pointed out that the Government have made it clear throughout this debate that there would be no compulsion to carry ID cards, we were told that the system will not work unless there is compulsion. As a result, the basis of the debate was entirely misunderstood and misrepresented.

This is a debate about identity cards, not about police functions or police powers. If there is to be a debate about terrorism, or about the powers of the police or any other agency to interdict terrorism, serious crime or   any other criminal activity—or, indeed, about any other aspect of public life—we ought to have it in a straightforward and honest fashion. It ought not to be included in a debate on identity cards. This debate is about our ability to give the citizens of this country the opportunity of the gold standard of identification that they are crying out for. They have in their wallets bits and pieces of identification that criminals throughout the country have the facility to copy and forge. Identity fraud alone is costing £1.3 billion; that is to say nothing of the cost to this and other countries of the use of false identities in terrorist activities.

Independent measures of public opinion show that the longer the debate goes on, the greater the support for such a system. Indeed, a more recent public opinion poll than that used by some in this House—it was published in December—shows that 81 per cent. of the public support the use of ID cards. Indeed, 68 per cent. continue to support their use, even when it was explained that, in the context of a passport, the cost to them would be £85.

This is a policy whose time has come, and I have absolutely no difficulty in commending it to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 93, Noes 306.

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