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Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): I can assure the Home Secretary that a number of Conservative Members have no intention of abstaining. We voted against the Bill on Second Reading and have every intention of doing so this evening, because his proposal is a serious invasion of the civil liberties of the people of this country.
Mr. Clarke: To be candid, the hon. Gentleman has more to say for his position than his Front-Bench colleagues. The fact is that some peoplehe is one of them, and some of my Labour colleagues agree with himhave issues of principle with ID cards and find it difficult to support them for the reason that he identified.
Will my right hon. Friend distinguish between the opportunist position of the Conservative
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party and those of us who oppose ID cards in principle but would change our mindscertainly I would, without the slightest hesitationif we thought that they would help in the fight against international terrorism? I hope he recognises that although my opposition is based on principle, it would change were I so persuaded.
Mr. Clarke: I accept that distinction, which I have sought to make, including in evidence to the Home Affairs Committee earlier this week. Some people, for reasons that I respect but with which I do not agree, think that ID cards pose such a threat to our civil liberties that it is necessary to oppose them. Those people exist on both sides of the House. They are entitled to take that position to a vote and to carry it through.
My point is different, however. The Government and, in my opinion, the Opposition have to assess, when considering national security, precisely the balance of issues, as described by my hon. Friend, that arise from ID cards. The Government have made that assessment and believe that the ID card is in the interest of the country. The Leader of the Opposition made that same assessment and came to the conclusions that I quoted, but he has now decided to abstainnot to vote against, not to vote in favouron this key national issue, and abstention is not an honourable position. I believe there is a reason
Mr. Clarke: I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that of the House. I was not intending to impugn the honour, in the parliamentary sense, of the Opposition or of anyone else. I withdraw that word at your request.
It is not defensible, however, for an Opposition party or a Government party to abstain on an issue of this sort. There is a clear reason for the abstention. It is that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), who I am delighted to see in his placehe has forgone his chance to be at the shadow Cabinet meeting in Manchester with the Leader of the Opposition, perhaps to undermine the right hon. and learned Gentleman's position even furtherhas been clear about his scepticism of ID cards in a variety of different ways. The truth is that he has rolled over his leader and reached an abstention position. That is the reality. I say that that is not defensible.
Dr. Palmer: I may be able to help my right hon. Friend. My Conservative opponent in my constituency was until recently the press spokesperson for the Leader of the Opposition. He says that his position is that he is opposed to ID cards in principle but that if they are required for international travel he might be persuaded otherwise. Does my right hon. Friend hope that we can yet persuade the Opposition to do a second U-turn?
I shall be even more candid than I was earlier. I have that hope. I ask the Opposition to reconsider their position. The position of abstention is
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not defensible, in my view, for a serious political party. It has an implication that is of meaning. When the other place considers the proposed legislation, if there is not agreement from the official Opposition there are real issues about whether the Bill can be brought into effect in this Session, were a dissolution to be sought. The normal wash-up issues would arise, but a decision of the Conservative party to oppose the Bill in the other place would lead to a delay in carrying forward this important measure for the security of the country.
Mr. Gummer: Does the right hon. Gentleman remember that I voted for and spoke in favour of the Bill on Second Reading? I attended all the debates on the Bill to seek to continue that support. I have to tell him that the way in which he treated the Housethe failure to enable me to ask a number of questions on key issues and the time given, which did not allow his junior Minister to respond to many of the debateshas led me to believe that indeed we should act differently, and I shall vote against the Bill.
Mr. Clarke: Those right hon. and hon. Members who come to the view that they must cast their vote against, either for the reasons just given by the right hon. Gentleman or by others, are taking a position that I can understand, although I do not agree with it. I cannot understand those who say, "We shall abstain on this key issue that is facing the country." I believe that it is a matter of internal politics within the main Opposition party and a betrayal of the interests of the country. If, in the final event, we are not able to carry through the proposed legislation in this Session, we will know clearly that that is because of the decision taken by the Oppositiontheir decision to put peace within their party ahead of the national interest.
David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): So much for the constructive and open debate on liberty and freedom and on security of the state that the Home Secretary was so keen to tell us we would have when we talked about identity cards and house arrest, an issue on which he is in even more trouble.I join him, at least in one respect, in thanking those right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in consideration of the Bill in Committee and on Report. At the same time, I sympathise with them in what must have been the most frustrating process of their political lives.
The Bill attempts to strike a balance involving a number of extremely serious issues: individual privacy, the relationship of the citizen and the state versus security, prevention of fraud, control of immigration and a number of other serious issues. That is why I set some tests for the Bill on Second Reading. I did not just want to test individual practicalities but to establish the balance between those principles and the Bill's competence to achieve some of the things that the Home Secretary talked about. A competent Bill would do what he said and that would, as the hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) said, have a significant effect in improving security. It would make a minimum intrusion into the liberty and privacy of the individual, and there would be strong safeguards where such intrusions proved necessary. An incompetent Bill would have a
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weak or non-existent impact on security, the prevention of fraud and the control of immigration. It would prove highly expensive and too intrusive into liberties, and would provide few effective safeguards for those liberties.
The point of those five tests is to establish, as I said, the balance or imbalance between those serious principles which matter, as the Home Secretary rightly said, and the competence or incompetence of the proposal. Having read all the Hansard reports of the Committee and listened to today's debate, which I attended when I could, I do not think that we have had a real or persuasive answer to any of the tests. It is not only our questions that remain unanswered. The Joint Committee on Human Rights said on page five of its report on the Bill:
"We consider the absence of such an explanation to be deeply unsatisfactory in a Bill which is concerned throughout with issues of personal privacy, and with the delicate balances to be struck between individual rights to private life and the protection of the community."
That is not the stated view of the Conservative party but of the important and distinguished all-party Joint Committee on Human Rights. We are not the only ones to have reached the conclusion that we have had a dreadfully inadequate set of answers to an important set of questions as well as dreadfully inadequate time in which to debate those questions.
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