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The Government have denied debate and treated this House with contempt. I will recommend that my hon. Friends in the other place commend the Bill to a Joint Committee to answer the unanswered questions. Until that point, I cannot recommend that my hon. Friends should vote for the Bill.
Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), who just made the speech that he wanted to make on Second Reading, but was not allowed tohis speech was better late than never and it was a pleasure to hear it tonight. He was Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee in the previous Parliament and he knows a lot about systems and what can go wrong with them, so the warning that he has issued again tonight is appropriate.
The Liberal Democrat position is based on both principle and practice. At various points, it has been put to us that those two ideas are contradictory and that one must oppose the Bill on the grounds of either principle or practice. However, some policies are so flawed and so offensive that one can oppose them on the grounds of both principle and practice, and tonight's debate is such an occasion.
The Minister has challenged us a number of times to discuss the issues of principle, and I thank him for those challenges, which were appropriate. I boil the matter down to the extent to which one values privacy. Article 8 of the European convention on human rights concerns privacy. It states that states have the right to breach the right to privacy, where such a breach is necessary and
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proportional to the end that they are trying to achieve. That clearly shows that there is no absolute right to privacy and that it can be breached under certain circumstances. Nevertheless, a threshold needs to be set. The Liberal Democrat view is that the Minister's ID card proposals do not meet that threshold, and that the benefits he suggestsif they can be realisedare not sufficient to outweigh the disbenefits, in terms of the cost to the privacy of citizens of the United Kingdom.
Mr. Browne: Before the hon. Gentleman moves off this subject, can he tell the House which of the 21 out of 25 members of the European Union that are social democracies are also breaching that article of the European convention on human rightssome of them with compulsory ID card schemes that require people to carry them?
Mr. Allan: The Minister certificated the Bill as being compatible with the European convention on human rights. There are elements that may be compatible, but there is a variation in the threshold that one may apply. There is a political difference here between Liberal Democrat and Labour Members and, indeed, between Conservative Front Benchers, because we set the threshold at a different level. That is a political judgment; both a legal and a political judgment needs to be made in this respect.
"an identity card containing only a person's name, sex, date and place of birth, current address, and the name of their spouse, does not in itself raise issues of the right to private life under Article 8 . . . Neither does the obligation to hold or carry such a card engage Article 8."
Mr. Allan: The hon. Lady is right to remind us that the scheme being put forward is not necessarily comparable to ID card systems in other countries and goes a lot further. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) referred to the Home Secretary's unfortunate turn of phrase when he said that the cards will allow people to assert their right to be in the United Kingdom.
The Government are essentially proposing to put us all on a criminal intelligence database and to treat us all as potential suspects. That creates a fundamental change in the relationship between state and citizen. The scope of the database that the Government propose is far more comprehensive than any that has been suggested elsewhere. Indeed, the Minister has said at various points that the scheme that he is putting forward is bigger and more complex than anyone else's. He said that with a certain note of pride, and then with a slightly hysterical look of fear as we came to consider the implications of doing something more comprehensive than is to be found anywhere else.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD):
Another paradox, and therefore a failure to justify the scheme, is that whereas British citizenspeople who have never had to prove to the state their
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right to be herewill have to have the cards, people who come here with no right to be here will not. That seems to be one of those ridiculous examples that identifies the fundamental flaws.
I should like to nail a red herring, if one can nail a herring, in relation to whether one has to carry the cards compulsorily. We debated that in Committee. Most of us carry our irises and fingers wherever we go. The point about being on the database is that people can be checked against it wherever they gowhether they have their ID card with them is immaterial. The fundamental question is the extent to which the benefits derived in terms of catching people involved with terrorism and crimesomething with which we agreeare so great as to justify holding all that data, and presumably using it and checking it regularly. Are those benefits worth the disbenefits of a citizen having to pay, having to go through the inconvenience, and having the potential loss of privacy? We come to a different judgment from the Government, and have consistently done so throughout proceedings on the Bill.
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): My hon. Friend makes a powerful case against the Bill. He mentioned inconvenience. My constituents, many of whom live on islands, will be faced with great inconvenience if they are forced to go to Glasgow to get biometrics taken for their ID cards. The Secretary of State for Scotland has said that the Home Office is considering a mobile facility, but that will take ages and it will cost a huge amount to go round the highlands and islands. The Government have not answered those questions at all.
Mr. Allan: My hon. Friend helpfully moves me on to the significant practical considerations. The Government have tried to write off or trivialise the matter. They have talked down the costs and suggested that they will be less than they are, but whatever happens, they will be several billion pounds more than zero. They have talked down the costs and the inconvenience. It could cost several hundred pounds for a family of four adults in a remote area of Scotland who simply want to renew their passports to go on holiday by the time they have travelled to a centre, had the biometrics taken and paid for the documents. That is a significant change from the current position, and the Government have not made enough of it.
I know that some hon. Members support identity cards but I urge all hon. Members, whatever their views on the cards, to vote against the Bill. The scheme that the Bill presents is simply not ready. If we proceeded with an identity card scheme, we should start by going ahead with some sort of passport biometricwe are told that we must do that for international reasonsbut
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at a much lower level than the Government suggest. We should test the technology for several years to ascertain how it works.
We should move on to getting our NHS medical records database right because that gives immediate benefits to the citizen and would allow us to establish whether we could securely give access to systems at multiple points of contact with our public services. We should then get our national insurance records system right and ensure that there is one number per person in the country so that we can establish whether we are genuinely competent to run such identification regimes. We need to take those steps first and demonstrate that we can fulfil all those tasks before we consider an identity card scheme.
If the Government approached us in four or five years, we could have a reasoned debate about the matter. Even the Government say that the card will be pointless. In a couple of years, they will tell people to pay money and go through all the hassle to get their passports for something that is functionally pointless because a passport is good enough; an identity card as well would be unnecessary. The system and the scheme may change in the intervening period. We are being asked to buy a pig in a poke.
Even if hon. Members support identity cards, they should seriously consider whether they want to support the Bill. It is clearly being introduced for political reasons. It is outrageous of the Home Secretary to say that, if the Conservatives vote against something that will not be effected for several years, it makes them the friends of the terrorists. That accusation is normally made against us. It is an absurd assertion.
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