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David Davis: The hon. Lady is right. When the legislation was introduced, I argued that it would act as a recruiting sergeant for al-Qaeda. All it would take would be one popular individualperhaps a young Muslimto be made subject to a control order or, in an extreme case, put under house arrest under the legislation, to ensure that not only that individual but every member of their family, every friend and everyone who knew of their case became a potential recruit for radicalisation. One of the reasons why this country has survived for centuries without revolution is that we have been able to maintain our freedom and tolerance throughout that period. The countries that have adopted the most aggressive stances at the expense of civil liberties are often the ones that have suffered most.
Kali Mountford : Given what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, in a very considered tone, will he join my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in his attempts to bring communities together in a consensus-building exercise to decide what is the right direction for this country, to ensure that everyone feels safe here, to include in the process communities that might otherwise feel excluded, and to ensure that the legislation that emerges is right for this country?
David Davis: I am entirely happy to be involved in any discussions with the various communities of our country, but the legislation deals with matters that are fundamental to the freedoms of any British citizen, whatever his religion, background or creed. One of the most important aspects of the discussion of the measure was embodied in an offer that we made in the Lords, I believe, to allow the entry into law of the approach now taken by the Crown Prosecution Service when comments or acts expressing religious hatred are simply a masquerade for race hatred. As I understand it, if the CPS thinks that an individual who attacks a Muslim is really attacking that person because of their race rather than their religion, it will treat the attack as an act of racial hatred. I would be happy for such a provision to become law, because in those circumstances, religious hatred is merely a proxy for racial hatred. However, I am sorry to tell the hon. Lady that, beyond those circumstances, I cannot see how the proposed legislation can be made acceptable in the context of our long-standing traditions of both religious tolerance and religious freedom and freedom of speech.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab):
The right hon. Gentleman is being generous in taking interventions. May I suggest that part of Britain's history is a tale of
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great religious intolerance, both by the state and by groups of individuals? Surely we need to do something to protect those who have no opportunity to share a faith, to hold a faith, to exercise their faith and to worship without other people inciting hatred of them solely on the basis of their faith?
David Davis: Were we talking a few centuries ago, I would agree with the hon. Gentleman, but such an environment has not been prevalent for the past couple of centuries, and in those areas where there has been hatred, it has mainly been racially based. The problem is that that will not advance the case. We will see something corroded that is fundamental to the British civilisation. The shopping list of those who are upset by the proposed legislation does not consist of intolerant people or those who masquerade. It does not consist of members of the British National party. The list contains those who are concerned about the importance of
David Davis: When I responded earlier about the possibility of some compromise, I talked about putting into law the Crown Prosecution Service method. That was in mind of some extremist parties' behaviour and in dealing with them. Beyond that, I do not see a way of doing what the Government are trying to do that would preserve the rights and freedoms of British people of all creeds and cults.
In terms of things that are difficult to make judgments on, we come to ID cards. I suppose that it is a subject of importance sacrificed for little or no gain, given the proposals. We have been here before. When the Government last brought their proposals before the House, we set a number of tests. The Home Secretary seems to think that they are fig leaves. Is purpose a fig leaf? I understand that, with this Government, purpose may be a fig leaf. There is a potential cost of £10 billion or £20 billion. Is that a fig leaf? Are the fundamental rights and privacies of British citizens a fig leaf? The Home Secretary's Department has the most unmitigated record of wreckage of IT projects in modern history. Is that a fig leaf?
The Home Secretary is unlucky because, as a Public Accounts Committee Chairman, I watched the Home Office for four years, and the right hon. Gentleman is about to hear some of the lessons that I learned. Let us start with the summary points. The points of the tests were to establish the balance or imbalance between serious principlesprinciples that the right hon. Gentleman agreed matteredand the competence or incompetence of the proposal before us. It seems that the Government are asking Parliament to make a decision on a scheme that they have still not yet properly worked out themselves. The scheme is so ill thought out that it is by no means clear that the technology will be foolproof or that the costs will be controllable. Furthermore, it is not clear that the Home Office could manage the scheme. We must remember that if we depend on the scheme for our security and it fails or is subverted, we are far worse off than we were without it.
I have had a written intervention from the Home Secretary, which came this morning about an hour or two before business started. The right hon. Gentleman sent me a letter. Given his opening, it was quite surprising that he started "Dear David". He attempts to go through the tests:
which is to miss the point. That is because the Bill proposes to change the relationship between the British citizen and his or her Government. It is a massively important constitutional Bill; no one should be under any misapprehension about that. The point is that unless the technology works, frankly we do not want to touch it at all. However, the Home Secretary wants to introduce the Bill before he knows whether the technology will work. Since it will not work for eight years, one must ask, "Why the rush?"
The Home Secretary's letter goes on to talk about the biometric technology and how the chief scientist will examine it. I do not know about other hon. Members, but I have received several letters from experts in this area, especially experts on biometrics, expressing extreme doubts about the viability and reliability of the technology, and the possible levels of errors, false positives, false negatives and other problems associated with it. However, as I shall explain in a minute, even if the biometrics work perfectly, there are fundamental flaws in the proposal.
The Home Secretary's letter goes on to discuss whether the Home Office is capable of delivering such a major information technology project. He talks about how the Government use IT in all sorts of ways. The examples that he gives are informative. First, on pensions, I do not know whether many hon. Members have had problems over the past few weeks with the new card-and-chip system for pensioners, but I have. I have constituents who have not received their pension for five or six weeks as a result of the wonderful system that has been introducednot by the Home Office on this occasion, but by a more competent Department.
The letter goes on to cite passports. I do not know whether anyone remembers the pictures of the queues round the block of people who were desperate to get their passports to go on holiday. On one occasion, I even had a member of the private office of one Home Office Minister go to get one of my constituent's passports from the heaps of boxes in Lunar house so that she could go to her own marriage in Malaysia the next week. It was one of the most unmitigated IT disasters of modern times and was run byguess whothe Home Office.
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