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Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I shall vote in principle against the Bill tonight. I shall do so because it fails to meet the four tests enunciated excellently by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary. It will not protect civil liberties, it will not work to curb terrorism, it will not be cost-effective and I have serious doubts as to whether the Home Office is in any event capable of implementing it within any kind of meaningful time frame.
I am proud that my predecessor as Member of Parliament for Gainsborough, Harry Crookshank, when Postmaster General, four months after the Conservatives won the 1951 election, abolished ID cards. He came to the House and said that the Conservative Government believe that
"it is no longer necessary to require the public to possess and produce an identity card, or to notify change of address for National Registration purposes".[Official Report, 21 February 1952; Vol. 496, c. 415.]
That was a popular policy. Our policy of getting a grip and asking questions about the identity card is also right.
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That abolition of ID cards in 1951 came on the back of the case of Clarence Willcock[Interruption.] He was a Liberal; quite right. He was stopped in the street, his card was demanded by the police and he refused to produce it. Lord Chief Justice Goddard said that ID cards were an "annoyance" and
We believed then, and I believe now, that ID cards are appropriate only in wartime.
I do not want to live in a "Your papers, please" society. One reason why ID cards were abolished in 1951 was that people remembered the cry in wartime Europe, "Ihre Papieren, bitte!" We do not want that sort of society here, and that is what will happen. As night follows day, the police will start to demand that people produce their ID cards. That is why I shall vote, in principle, against the Bill.
Mention has been made of my role as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. If this Bill becomes an Act and it actually happenswe know that the chance of ID cards actually happening is very remotethere will be numerous PAC reports, showing that it is way out of budget. The initial estimate was £1.3 billion, then £3.1 billion and now £5 billion. When is it going to stop? The card will not curb terrorism or stop illegal immigrants. What it will do is cost us a lot of money and fundamentally attack our civil liberties. I urge the House to reject it.
David Winnick: It is normal practice for the Opposition to complain about the lack of parliamentary time. We did so when we were in opposition, but on this occasion, I agree that inadequate time has been allotted for such an important measure. It should not have been crowded in on a Thursday and there should have been far greater examination of the detail. If I may say so, I know that the Home Secretary is not responsible for the allocation of time, but we should have had at least two days. I genuinely regret that, irrespective of one's views, inadequate time has been allotted to examine the measure on Report.
I remain unpersuaded that ID cards are needed. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretaryif he is listeningreferred to a number of countries, including fellow members of the European Union, that have identity cards, but those countries have exactly the same the problems that we have. They face the same problems of terrorism, as we have seen in Madrid, corruption, illegal working and so forth. No argument has yet been put forward to explain how identity cards, biometric or otherwise, will resolve the problems that we, in common with other European countries that have such cards, face.
Yes, identity cards may be popular at the moment, as has been said. For all I know, it may be that 80 per cent. of the population are in favour, but high expectation is the reason for that. People believe at this stage that the cards will help to resolve the problems of illegal working, illegal immigration and all the rest of it. I believe that when people realise, as they are bound to do, that the cards offer no panacea, their expectations will
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drop a great deal. Undoubtedly, one question that some people will ask is, as with child support legislation, "What examination was given to the Identity Cards Bill as it went through Parliament?" They will ask how much time was allotted to examine it in full detail.
David Winnick: I shall continue, if my hon. Friend will forgive me.
As to costs, I agreeit has to be said, it is usually on very rare occasionswith the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). Whatever the estimated cost now, it will prove to be much more at the end of it all.
I know that other Members want to speak, so I shall finish by saying that I am going to vote against the Bill on Third Reading. I remain uneasy. I believe that the Bill will lead to an infringement of civil liberties. As I said in an intervention earlier, if I believed that it could be an effective tool against international terrorismI am the last person to underestimate the terrorist threatI would simply enter the Aye Lobby and vote accordingly. I am not so persuaded. I am uneasy because I feel that we are going down a wrong path. I may be proved wrong and the Government may be proved right, but at present, I remain uneasy about the unnecessary infringement of civil liberties. I believe that we can live without identity cards as we have done for more than half a century. For all those reasons, I simply cannot support the measure. The only option is to vote against it.
Mr. Bercow: The Government say that identity cards are necessary. William Pitt, as long ago as 1783, said:
"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom: it is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
Moreover, the Labour party has not always enunciated this position:
"Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory identity cards, as the Tory right demands, let that money provide thousands more police officers on the beat in our local communities."
So said the current Prime Minister, when he was Leader of the Opposition, at the 1995 Labour party conference. If the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Byrne) seriously thinks that he advances the calibre of the argument by quoting what was said by other people in the past, he will learn in this place that two can play at that game.
I am interested in a more serious debate. The Home Secretary and the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration know that I am very ready to pay tribute to the Government when I think that they are right. However, we should be unremitting in our criticism of them when they are wrong. Today, hon. Members from all the different political traditions have explained eloquently that the Government are wrong.
The Government's arguments have shown no sureness of touch. They have shifted their position constantlyone minute, it is a question of reducing the threat from terrorists, the next it is about reducing illegal immigration, and the next it is about reducing benefit fraud. The former Home Secretary, the right hon.
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Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), took the biscuit when he asserted 18 months ago that the merit of the introduction of identity cardseventually to become compulsorywas that they would enable us to assert our "sense of belonging".
Many people in this country feel a sense of alienation, from the Government or their local community, or both. I have yet to meet a single constituent in Buckingham who has said to me, "John, I feel a terrible inability to assert my sense of belonging because I do not possess an identity card."
Mr. Gummer: Does my hon. Friend agree that even those of us who believe in identity cards and who have argued for them for years cannot support this Bill, as the Government have not even allowed Ministers enough time to explain their case and respond to any of our debates? That is why I feel that I must vote against the Bill. It has nothing to do with identity cards, but with the abuse of this House on an important constitutional matter.
Mr. Bercow: My right hon. Friend is right. In politics, as in life as a whole, self-knowledge is a valuable thing. The Home Secretary has gravely embarrassed himself by his behaviour. If he is not aware of that simple fact, he needs to go away for a bit of therapeutic reconditioning.
The arguments against the Bill are powerful. First, it involves a fundamental change in the relationship between the citizen and the state, to the disadvantage of the citizen. Secondly, as many hon. Members have explained, it is virtually certain that there will be a growth in function creep. If that were not the case, why do no fewer than 25 out of the Bill's 45 clauses provide for order-making powers? The Bill is littered with phrases such as "the Secretary of State may at any time decide", "the Secretary of State may by order", "the Secretary of State may as he thinks fit", or "regulations made by the Secretary of State may provide." That is not acceptable.
There is a real problem to do with discrimination, as the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) powerfully explained. After the recent improvement in race relations, we risk taking a retrograde step. The House should take care to resist any idea of putting a match to gunpowder.
The argument to do with cost has been made, but I shall conclude with the argument about public opinion. The Government have propagated a very downmarket line of argument. We all quote polls when it suits us, but I remind the House that we are elected representatives. I am not a robot, a sheep or a button to be pressed. I have a responsibility to look at the issues, study the legislation, identify the arguments and make a judgment. It is risible to contend that we need simply say, "Oh, the opinion polls show 80 per cent. in favour." Everyone knows that there was mass support in Australia for the introduction of identity cards, but people there recognised the drawbacks when they saw the real implications. They knew the impracticalities, they appreciated the threats to their liberty and they turned against the proposal.
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People in this country will turn against the proposal too, and against the Home Secretary and he will richly deserve the hostility of the public when that happens. He will not be laughinghe will need to take cover. I shall vote against Third Reading.
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