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Mr. Malins: I am grateful to the Minister for the way that he is speaking. He may remember that he offered a bet to each of us who served on the Committee that the Government would introduce fewer amendments than could be counted on the fingers of one hand. We thought that each of us would win a bottle of champagne if the number exceeded three or four. I wonder whether he can help us.

Mr. Browne: The hon. Gentleman has a selective memory. Part of what he remembers is correct, but we will need to check the Official Report to find out whether his memory is comprehensive. I think that I made a rash prediction that a smaller number than this very small number of Government amendments would be introduced. I should not have underestimated the persuasive powers of the hon. Gentleman and other members of the Committee.

Mr. Bercow: I hope that the Minister will accept in a positive spirit that the scale of what is required from his pocket should be roughly in proportion to the scale by which the Government have exceeded the number of amendments that he originally envisaged introducing. On my mathematics, the Government have introduced no fewer than 12 amendments. In other words, they have introduced four times as many as he had in mind. That seems to suggest that, ethically, he should buy at least four bottles of champagne for the members of the Opposition Front-Bench team.

Mr. Browne: Given the history of Government amendments under Governments of all colours and the fact that there are only 12 Government amendments to a Bill with 45 clauses and two schedules, perhaps I should suggest to the hon. Gentleman that the drinks should be on him.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 58, in page 25, line 13, leave out from '(S.I. 1981/154 (N.I. 1))' to end of line 15.—[Mr. Browne.]

Clause 29

Unauthorised Disclosure of Information

Amendments made: No. 59, in page 25, line 31, leave out second 'or'.

No. 60, in page 25, line 32, at end insert

'; or

(   )   the carrying out of the Commissioner's functions.'.—[Mr. Browne.]

10 Feb 2005 : Column 1732

Clause 31

Tampering with the Register etc.

Amendments made: No. 75, in page 26, line 34, leave out 'and the requisite knowledge'.

No. 76, in page 26, line 38, leave out from 'modification' to end of line 41.

No. 77, in page 27, line 10, leave out 'is' and insert 'may be'.

No. 78, in page 27, line 12, at end insert—

'(   )   In proceedings against a person for an offence under this section in respect of conduct causing a modification of information recorded in the Register it is to be a defence for that person to show that, at the time of the conduct, he believed, on reasonable grounds—

(a)   that he was a person entitled to determine if that modification might be made; or

(b)   that consent to the modification had been given by a person so entitled.'.—[Mr Browne.]

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

4.58 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I begin, on behalf of the Government, by thanking all those who have worked hard to bring the Bill to this stage. I associate myself entirely with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration in commending the work of the Joint Committee and hon. Members from all parties who contributed to that. I thank officials in the Home Office for the consistent and coherent work that they have done over a long time. I also thank the staff of the House for their work to bring the Bill to this stage.

The time has now come for the House to agree that we need the benefits and safeguards that an identity card system will provide both to individuals, who will be able to prove their identities securely and reliably, and in the wider public interest. Rather than seeing identity cards as a threat to civil liberties, most people now regard them as essential to safeguard our civil liberties.

Lynne Jones: My right hon. Friend says that an advantage of the scheme is that it will allow people to secure their identity. However, we do not know about the form or accuracy of the biometrics that the Government will demand, or how secure the database will be, so how can he have such confidence before the assessment work has been done?

Mr. Clarke: An assessment is under way on the different forms of biometrics that could be used, such as fingerprints, iris examinations and photographs. I am confident that, as in many countries throughout the world, the biometric regime that we establish will provide the security that people rightly look for.

The Bill has been given proper scrutiny. Indeed, in preparation for the legislation, we started a six-month public consultation exercise in 2002.

Mr. Hogg: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Clarke: I will not give way at the moment.
10 Feb 2005 : Column 1733

The Home Affairs Committee started an inquiry in 2003, and there was further consultation on a draft Bill in 2004. Changes have been made to the Bill, and I assure the House that I shall continue to listen to, and act on, constructive comments on plans for delivering the identity card scheme after this enabling Bill has completed its passage through Parliament. It is our intention that the first ID cards will be issued in 2008, and there will be further opportunities between now and then for the House to examine the detailed provisions to be set out in secondary legislation.

Mr. Salmond: How can the Home Secretary claim that the Bill has been given proper scrutiny when seven amendments, including all those specifically relating to Scotland and Wales, were not debated in Committee or on Report as a result of the Government's programme motion?

Mr. Clarke: I can claim that the Bill has been given proper scrutiny for exactly the reasons that I set out a moment ago. There has been a long-standing debate about the issues, and a range of discussions on the specific matters that have been taken forward has been held in the Chamber and in Committee.

The simple fact is that the possession of a clear, unequivocal and unique form of identity in the shape of a card that is linked to a database holding biometrics will offer clear benefits to us all. Such benefits include the prevention of terrorist activity, the proper control of immigration and illegal working, help for the more efficient and effective provision of public services, and specific measures to deal with crime. That is why recent surveys show that 80 per cent. of the public support the introduction of identity cards.

Biometrics are being developed around the world to improve the security and reliability of identity documents, including fingerprint biometrics on visas and our own biometric passports with a facial image biometric that will be introduced in about a year's time. The scheme will not create threats to privacy or change the way in which we live our lives. We have never proposed a scheme under which it would be compulsory to carry a card.

Lembit Öpik: I want to pin down the Secretary of State on the question of terrorism. Will he explain exactly how a voluntary identity card will protect us against terrorism? If identity cards are to become compulsory in 10 years, does he think that the war on terror will still be being fought in 2015?

Mr. Clarke: We dealt with that on Second Reading, but let me go back to the core points. There is no guarantee that any scheme—identity cards or anything else—will be able to deal with and eliminate the terrorist threat. There is no silver bullet to solve the problem. However, identity theft and fraud represent a significant modus operandi for those involved in terrorism, serious and organised crime, people trafficking and drug dealing. The fact that we will have an identity card scheme will give us the capacity to attack the problem that would not otherwise exist. It is true that a compulsory card would give us more power to attack the problem than a voluntary card, but it is also true that
10 Feb 2005 : Column 1734
a voluntary card gives us more capacity to attack the problem than we have at present. I think most people acknowledge that that is true.

It is, moreover, the case that ID cards will help in tackling fraud and will save tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money. The Government have proceeded in a measured way by consulting on the principles and, most recently, on the draft legislation. The Bill sets out a clear legal framework for the scheme. It provides a means for everyone legally resident in the country to assert their right to be here and to help them gain access to the services to which they are entitled. It will help preserve national security and assist the work of law enforcement. It will enable the public to have the ID card system that they say they want.

Those are the reasons why people in all parties have supported the legislation. In an article in The Daily Telegraph on 20 December 2004, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the Leader of the Opposition, said:

In that same article of a couple of months ago or less, he went on to write:

I applauded those remarks at the time and wish that they had been carried through. They reflected previous remarks also by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. On 23 September 2001, he wrote in the News of the World:

Even earlier, in 1994, at the Conservative party conference, he said:

Perhaps that is why the 1997 Conservative party manifesto had a commitment to introduce ID cards.

I find it utterly extraordinary that the Opposition have decided to abstain on this vital issue, affecting the future of the nation.

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