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John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab): On the point about countries that have chosen or not chosen to introduce the identity card, does the right hon. Gentleman think it significant that after the worst terrorist atrocity in human history, the United States of America considered the matter carefully in the 9/11 commission and rejected the case for an ID card?
David Davis: The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. The reason the common law countries are unique in this respect is that they are the countries that presume that the citizen is free to do anything unless there is a law against it. That is rather different from the Napoleonic law countries. If America can get by without an identity card, it is hard to see why we cannot.
I have always made it clear that before the events of 9/11 I would never have even countenanced the concept of an identity card, but since 9/11, in my present post, I accepted that we should listen to the Government's case, just as we should consider any possible device that could
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make our country and our people safer. Having done so, including considering what the Home Secretary said today, I conclude that the Government's identity card will be little more than an expensive waste of time and money. It is a plastic poll tax, and it is a symbol of this Government's determination to centralise and control everything at the expense of the liberties of the British people. Longstanding freedoms cannot and should not be given away cheaply; they should only be given up on the basis of compelling and exceptional need. All Opposition Members understand that principle, but the Government's record shows that they do not.
Some months ago, I set the Home Secretary five tests, some of which he referred to today. Had he met them, we might have been persuaded to give the previous Bill a fair wind before the election, but he failed to respond adequately to any of the questions. Fortunately for us, other people have come up with the answers to those questions, but unfortunately for the Home Secretary, the answers are universally unhelpful to his case.
I asked the Home Secretary precisely what the purpose of the cards would be. ID cards were originally presented as a response to the terrorist threat after 9/11, which is why I was prepared to listen in the first place. Despite the Home Secretary's comments today, the Government no longer make that casethey know that ID cards would not take effect for many, many years and that terrorists would not be deterred by them. Furthermore, the cards will not be compulsory, so they will not have any effect. Whatever the Home Secretary has said, ID cards did not deter the bombers in Madrid, and they would not have helped in New York, either. If the technology ever becomes effective, terrorists will bypass it, and I shall return to that point.
At times, ID cards have been presented as entitlement cards to tackle benefit fraudas an aside, the cost of benefit fraud is tiny by comparison with the cost of ID cards, even if one accepts the Government's numbers, which I do not. ID cards were also supposed to tackle illegal working, but in October last year, the previous Home Secretary was back to justifying them on the ground of welfare fraud.
"Identity cards will provide a simple and secure way of verifying identity, helping us to tackle illegal working, organised crime, terrorist activity, identity theft and fraudulent access to public services."[Official Report, 7 February 2005; Vol. 430, c. 1183.]
However, his predecessor admitted that ID cards will not tackle terrorism; the Law Society says that ID cards will not tackle illegal working; and Liberty and the Law Society say that ID cards will not tackle crime. The purpose of ID cards remains unclear, and the Government's case has been, at best, slippery.
"The Government's motives have been obscured by the ad hoc way in which claimed advantages pile up. Our trust in the state to handle our data safely is undermined by this shifting account of the purpose of ID cards".
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD):
Do the right hon. Gentleman's remarks mean that it is now the Conservative party's settled opinion that
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ID cards are unacceptable in this country? Will he make it clear that he is taking a position that we have held for 50 years or more and that many Labour Members have held for all their political lives? The Bill will not get through this Parliament, because it will not obtain a majority in the other place. If the Government were to force it through by some device, those in favour of liberty would repeal it before it ever came into force.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): The Home Secretary has said that the Bill will enable us to assert our right to be here. It is an extraordinary departure from who we are as a people that all hon. Members must assert their right to be here through the Home Secretary's benighted ID cards scheme.
John Bercow: A variation on the theme highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) is the argument enunciated by the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) as long ago as November 2003, when he said that identity cards were about tackling alienation and asserting our sense of belonging. I have met several people in my constituency who have complained that they felt alienated from the community, others who felt alienated from the Government, and a proportion who felt alienated from both, but I have yet to meet a single one who has said, "John, I'm alienatedI have an identity crisis, and I can't assert my sense of belonging until the Home Secretary gives me my identity card."
The second test is this: does the technology exist to make the system work? Again, the Home Secretary has not answered the question, but other people have. One group, which knows far more about these things than our famously technophobic Prime Minister, said:
One of the most potent criticisms of the Government's plan, however, is that it will make fraud easier. This card will become a master key for fraudsters. Its intention is to give, if I can use the Home Secretary's words, "legitimacy" to someone's identity, but if that identity is fraudulent in the first place, it only makes the problem worse. One expert in this area says:
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Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman is making the case that the identity secured could be a false identity in the first place, thereby allowing for further frauds. However, what does he say about those people who continually change identity and continually try to evade justice and hide themselves by defrauding the system? Would not this system at least put a stop to that at a particular point and prevent them from continually changing their identities?
Before I get to that, I want to deal with the next test, which is the question of whether the Home Office could do this. The Home Secretary showed admirable loyalty in defending his Department on that issue, but again, did not answer the question despite its being asked by the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. Other people, however, have answered that question.
Let us recount some of the computer projects that the Government have made a hash of. Last week, we saw that the tax credits system is in chaos because of IT problems. The Home Office itself is one of the worst-offending Departments when it comes to IT management. Remember the police national computer? One would think that that would be very accurate because it has biometric data associated with it, but an audit recently found that 65 per cent. of its files contained errors. Remember the asylum seeker processing system? With a budget of £80 million, the project was scrapped after it was found to be flawed. Remember the infamous Passport Agency project? Its delivery was delayed and it eventually came in £12.5 million over budget. Before the supposed good performance that the Home Secretary told us about, the failures led to more than 500,000 people waiting for passports in the early summer of 1999.
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