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Standing Committee Debates
Identity Cards Bill

Identity Cards Bill

Standing Committee B

Tuesday 18 January 2005

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Jimmy Hood, †Derek Conway, Janet Anderson

†Allan, Mr. Richard (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD)

†Browne, Mr. Desmond (Minister for Citizenship and Immigration)

†Casale, Roger (Wimbledon) (Lab)

†Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey (Cotswold) (Con)

†Curry, Mr. David (Skipton and Ripon) (Con)

†Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall) (Lab)

Jones, Mr. Jon Owen (Cardiff, Central) (Lab/Co-op)

†McCabe, Mr. Stephen (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab)

†Malins, Mr. Humfrey, (Woking) (Con)

†Mercer, Patrick (Newark) (Con)

†Mole, Mr. Chris (Ipswich) (Lab)

†Mountford, Kali (Colne Valley) (Lab)

Oaten, Mr. Mark (Winchester) (LD)

†Prosser, Mr. Gwyn (Dover) (Lab)

†Robertson, John (Glasgow, Anniesland) (Lab)

†Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester) (Lab)

†Ryan, Joan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

†Salter, Mr. Martin (Reading, West) (Lab)

†Taylor, Mr. John (Solihull) (Con)

†Tynan, Mr. Bill (Hamilton, South) (Lab)

Colin Lee, Committee Clerk

†attended the Committee


[Derek Conway in the Chair]

Identity Cards Bill

9.25 am

The Chairman: Before I give details of the programme motion, I wish to say that, if colleagues want to remove their jackets, that is perfectly acceptable as these Rooms can get warm. Copies of the programme motion agreed by the Programming Sub-Committee this morning are available in the Room. I remind the Committee that the debate on the programme motion may continue for up to half an hour. I call the Minister to move the motion.

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Mr. Desmond Browne): I beg to move,

First, I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Conway. I look forward with some confidence to the Committee's deliberations under your fair and even-handed chairmanship and to the possibility that we may welcome both Mr. Hood and Ms Anderson to our proceedings at a later stage. We wish Mr. Hood well and hope that he will be fit enough to assume his proper place in the Chair before we conclude our deliberations.

I also look forward to an informed and constructive debate on this important Bill with all members of the Committee. I know particularly that the hon. Members for Newark (Patrick Mercer) and for Woking (Mr. Malins) and their colleagues on the Opposition Benches will contribute much to the debate as their party supports the principle of an identity card scheme. I hope, although it may turn out to be a forlorn hope, that we can persuade the hon. Members for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) and for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) of the good sense of our proposals. However, I know that I can look forward to the support of and contributions from my hon. Friends.

The motion was drafted in the usual manner, after consultation with the usual channels. It provides for eight sittings and, while arguably that might not be a generous allocation of time, it is sufficient to enable proper scrutiny of the Bill. We are willing to review the
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proposed timetable and, if necessary, to add extra time on Tuesday 25 January to the afternoon sitting. That will happen, I hasten to add, if more time is needed because, despite the terms of the motion, it is open to us to sit beyond 5.30 pm. There is no compunction for us to finish at that time. Our principal objective is for progress to be made.

As hon. Members and you, Mr. Conway, will have noted, many amendments have been tabled, principally by the official Opposition. That only one Government amendment has been tabled may be almost unique, if something can be ''almost'' unique. Did someone say, ''It's early days yet.''? In any event, as the Minister with responsibility for the Bill, I am not considering tabling a significant number of amendments; I do not have a large number up my sleeve. I think I can guarantee that the number of amendments tabled by the Government could, at the most, be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): That makes a change.

Mr. Browne: It may well make a change, but I am sure that the Committee would regard it as a welcome change. I have no doubt that arguments will be advanced about timetabling and that a significant number of amendments are justified to probe or explore consequences of different parts of the Bill. Our deliberations might turn out to be repetitious and the number of amendments tabled might not show how often certain issues may need to be debated.

The Bill was published in draft form for consultation in April last year. It was subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, including significant scrutiny by the Home Affairs Committee, which published a report on its views in July. We responded to the report in October and I am pleased to say that we have taken account of many of the Committee's views, which reflect other views expressed during the consultation. The revised version of the Bill has now been introduced to the House. To some degree, the amendment of this legislation has taken place outside the normal legislative process. However, my view is that pre-legislative scrutiny should become a significant part of the legislative process. That would be a welcome development.

For example—this is an issue that we may consider in more detail later this morning—we have clarified the statutory purpose in clause 1 to make it clear that the scheme is, first, to provide individuals with a secure and reliable means of proving their identity. Secondly, it is to enable the identity of UK residents to be ascertained or verified whenever that is necessary or in the public interest.

The Bill received its Second Reading on 20 December and there was broad support for the introduction of identity cards. This is an enabling Bill to set out the framework for the ID card scheme that we propose to introduce, which will start in 2008. Therefore, I remind the Committee that there are practical details of the delivery of the scheme to be determined. Although it is of course legitimate to
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explore them in this Committee, some will be settled only once the Bill has been enacted and we are able to move to the procurement phase of the scheme.

For example, I might suggest to members of the Committee that they should not expect me to say exactly what an identity card will look like, but then again the legislation that underpins the issue of driving licences in this country does not set out exactly what a driving licence should look like. It is quite common for such legislation to be drafted in that way. Detail of that sort is normally set out in secondary legislation in due course.

However, in Committee and during the further deliberations that we might have in this House, I undertake, to the extent that I am able, to inform hon. Members of our thinking. This being an enabling Bill, I remind hon. Members that some questions will not be able to be answered until we move to the procurement stage.

Finally, the order of consideration of the Bill is straightforward. It includes taking schedule 1 with clause 3, to which it links. We have not sought to introduce knives and in view of the pre-legislative scrutiny that the Bill has received, I believe that an out-date of 27 January is entirely reasonable.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): It is a pleasure, as always, to be serving under your chairmanship, Mr. Conway. On behalf of Conservative Members, I start by wishing Mr. Jimmy Hood well. I hope he recovers quickly and, notwithstanding your excellent chairmanship, Mr. Conway, that we have the pleasure of his company in due course, along with that of Ms Anderson.

I also thank the Minister for a gracious introduction to the Bill, which made it clear how much time went into considering the legislation before it reached the Committee. I note all that he said and I am particularly interested in the review of the timetable that has been laid out by the Government. In that regard, I am grateful for the work that the Whips have put in. I am also aware that on Second Reading we reviewed many of the arguments that will, I am sure, come up today and on subsequent days. The Minister's point about the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill is a very fair one.

I note with some interest that, yet again, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam is present. He and I seem to be in such Committees more frequently than we would perhaps care to be, and we have gone through pre-legislative scrutiny and consideration in Committee of a different Bill, so I know how helpful pre-legislative scrutiny is. I am also conscious that a number of amendments have been tabled by Conservative Members and by other parties. I am interested in the fact that the Government appear to have tabled only one.

The Minister's words of caution that this is only an enabling Bill were well put. I hope that we can concentrate on that point. With such a Bill, there will always be a temptation to stray off into the important practicalities, which are probably irrelevancies at this stage. I am grateful to him for the views he expressed.
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I hope that we will be able to stick to the point and not wander too far from it, and that we can get through the business before us reasonably expeditiously.

I am also conscious that the Minister has kindly suggested that we might extend the sitting—not only on 25 January, but on other evenings if necessary. I am conscious too that there is a huge amount of business to get through. This Bill is one of the most important that we will debate, not only for the short term, but particularly for the medium to long term. It introduces a fundamental change in how we run security in this country and it has all sorts of implications for civil liberties and how the police and the security services carry out their business.

We cannot underestimate the gravity of the Bill, as we are introducing something that has never been introduced other than in time of war or extreme national emergency. I have no doubt that we will cover the latter issue later. Many would say that we do not face an extreme national emergency at the moment; others that we do. The fact remains that I do not believe that we have the time, under the programme motion, to consider the amendments in the detail that they deserve.

I am grateful to the Minister for what he said in his introduction, but I fear that we must oppose the programme motion. We need more time to get through the amendments.

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