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Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, even if the biometrics were 100 per cent. foolproof, which many of us doubt, the problem with preventing terrorism would be that, under the present legislation, terrorists would still have the option to cross national boundaries using tourist visas that were not based on biometrics? This casts a great deal of doubt on the use of ID cards in relation to the prevention of terrorism.
David Davis: My hon. Friend makes a good point. We must also remember the three-month periodI almost said "exclusion zone"allowed for people visiting from the European Union. Also, it is well known in security circles that the identity card systems of some countries on the continent are easier to get into than others. They could provide an access point, too. The gateway control in this scheme will be incredibly difficult. Huge numbers of people will be involved. The Passport Office stated today that about 4.5 million people a year would have to be interviewed in the near future. That gives us an idea of the sheer size of the problem. The system will, I am afraid, be eminently penetrable.
The database will also be open to abuse. A disgruntled Minister, official or civil servant could access information about anyone in the country, pretty much at the touch of a button. People might say that that seems like paranoia, but I remember how this Government tried to smear Pam Warren of the Paddington survivors' group, to savage the reputation of 94-year-old Rose Addis, and to rubbish the reputations of Martin Sixsmith and David Kelly.
The Home Secretary was at it again this morning. He launched a savage attack on Simon Davies of the LSE[Interruption.] I do not know what the Home Secretary has against people called Davies. I have nothing against people called Clarke. His savage attack on this respected academic was implicitly an attack on the 14 senior professors involved in the LSE's project, but he picked out that particular man and called him "partisan" and "technically incompetent". Why? Because he disagrees with the Home Secretary. As usual, if the Government do not like the message, they shoot the messenger. We have seen this time and again; the way in which the Government treat people who disagree with them is a disgrace, and this does not make me any more inclined to support plans that would give them even more control over the public's personal information.
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The Bill is a step too far. If the Government really want to tackle benefit fraud, there are better ways of doing it. If they want to tackle crime, they should put more police on the streets. If they want to tackle terrorism, they should introduce greater control and surveillance at British ports. If their plan is to tackle illegal working, they should get a grip on the shambles of the asylum system. For each and every problem that will supposedly be dealt with by ID cards, there is a better, cheaper and more cost-effective solution that does not threaten to remove the long-held and fought-for freedoms of the British people.
There was a time when Labour Governments were elected to fight poverty, but the cost of ID cards will only make people poorer. There was a time when they tried to pursue fairness, but as the GMB trade union says, ID cards will discriminate against and stigmatise minority and disabled groups. There was a time when the Labour party stood up for people's freedoms. Since 1997, it has been attacking our freedom piece by piece and bit by bit.
Today's proposals are the final straw. We should not be party to seeing them passed. We will not be thanked by today's generation for whom the extra cost will be too much to bear. We will not be thanked by future generations, who will look back to today and ask why we let this change occur. We will not be thanked by an older generation who fought to protect the very liberty that we now propose to give away. We should not countenance these plans, which are illiberal and impractical, excessive and expensive, unnecessary and unworkable. That is why we will vote against the Bill this evening.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): To get matters in perspective, perhaps we should remember that the Leader of the Opposition was an ardent supporter of ID cards, and had he got his way it is likely that a Tory Government would have introduced them. I am also pretty certain that we, the then Opposition, would have opposed them. I am not sure whether there is some consistency there.
Even were there not the many practical problems in relation to technology, the final cost and so on, I would have the utmost reservations about the reintroduction of identity cards. I do not believe that they are necessary; indeed, I believe that they are irrelevant to the many problems that we undoubtedly face. I would require compelling and coherent reasons for such cards to be brought back after more than half a century. However ably my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary put forward his case today, I simply do not believe that a real case has been made for identity cards. I said earlierobviously, my assessment could be wrongthat were there to be a free vote tonight, this Bill would not get a Second Reading.
All the problems that have been mentioned as reasons why we should have identity cards are undoubtedly problemsno one denies that. Most EU countries have
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identity cards, which in some cases date back to dictatorshipsalthough I do not question that those countries are now as much democracies as the United Kingdombut do not those countries have problems with illegal immigration, benefit fraud and identity fraud? Are those not problems that are common to virtually all industrialised, advanced countries? It is therefore difficult to see the argument that such problems would be solved if we had identity cards, which are pretty useless unless compulsorywhat purpose is a voluntary identity card?so obviously compulsion will come in due course.
The previous Home Secretary accepted, like my right hon. Friend today, that the mass murders that took place in Istanbul and Madrid would not have been prevented by identity cards, however biometric they might be. I did hear my right hon. Friend say today, however, that it was easier for the Spanish to identify the culprits. I have doubts about that. After all, the Spanish have been faced with a long, murderous campaign by ETA, and have they been successful in identifying those responsible? Again, I have doubts.
We are told that the police consider that the cards would generally be a help. Were it left to the police, however, I wonder whether identity cards would ever have been abolished in the first place. As hon. Members know, a case brought by a police constable in 1952, which was thrown out by the court, led the Government of the day to abolish them.
As has been mentioned, all this started some three years ago as a Home Office consultation document described as being about entitlement, not identity cards. It gave all the reasonssuch as fraud and so onwhy it would be useful to have what was described as an entitlement card. It had nothing to do with terrorism whatsoever. Indeed, the point was made in that 2002 Home Office consultation document that in respect of identity fraud, such a card could do a disservice. It argued that too much reliance would be placed on the card and that the usual safeguards currently employed by financial institutions and others could go by the board.
Mr. Winnick: No one would deny the obvious, which is that biometric cards would be that much more difficult to forge. We can take that for granted, but it is difficult to believe that international criminal gangsthey are very different from the round-the-corner gangsthat would have so much incentive to forge these cards would not try to do so. It is also difficult to believe that they would not prove successful in some respects. So even on the issue of forgery, we should not be too complacent.
When the Home Affairs Committee took evidence, the point was made by a number of witnesses that it is not just the identity card but the database and the national identity register that should give a good deal of cause for concern. They certainly gave me, if not my colleagues on the Home Affairs Committee, cause for concern. Indeed, rather than voting for the majority report, I wrote a minority amendment to it.
If this proposal comes to fruition, even when we change addressexcept for the shortest possible periodwe will have to notify the authorities. Some may say, "Why should we not?" I say, "Why should we?" It is argued that the authorities already hold a great deal of information on individuals via the national health service and national insurance, for example, but that is not the subject of any controversy. Indeed, Labour Members are all in favour of holding information relating to welfare benefits and so on, but that is not an argument for extending the amount of information held by the authorities; it is certainly not an argument for having the proposed database.
In fact, schedule 1 could be amended not by primary but by secondary legislation, so that the list of information that might be included on the register could be added to. That is why there is concern about function creep. It is true that such information could be added to only with the authority of both Houses. Nevertheless, more such information will be added over time, and the Government of the dayit might not be a Labour Governmentwill justify doing so by claiming that it is absolutely essential.
There is a particular point to which I cannot help returning. If what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had to say today is so reassuring, why is the Information Commissioner so concerned? He is not involved in party politics. He is not trying to make party political points. He has a job to do. In the light of the points that he has made, which have been quoted todayindeed, he made others when he gave evidence before the Home Affairs Committeewe should certainly be worried. He told the Committee that if such cards were introduced, there would be a sea change in the relationship between the state and the individual. Are we simply going to dismiss such points, saying that they are of no importance? This is why some of us continue to be so concerned about what is happening.
I do not believe that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his Cabinet colleagues have a hidden agenda. I do not believe that they are trying to bring about the kind of society that the Opposition spokesman claimed. I have known a good number of Ministers for many years and I have no reason to doubt their integrity. In my view, they believe that they are acting in the national interest. It is not their integrity but their judgment that I question. On this issue, they are wrong. They have not considered sufficiently all the proposal's implications.
I realise that it is argued that, regardless of critics in the House of Commons and in the other place, public opinion is more or less in favour of identity cardsbut public opinion can shift. One reason why public opinion has so far been in favour is the result of high expectations. It is thought that the problems of illegal
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immigration, asylum seekers and all the rest of itproblems that we encountered on the doorstep time and again during the election campaignwill all be resolved if only we have identity cards. However, as the cost comes to be more widely known, attitudes will change. Even if we dismiss the figures of the London School of Economics, which may have exaggerated the costs, it is pretty certain that the costs now ventured by the Government are unlikely to be the final costs. Who really believes otherwise?
I have very carefully consideredit is a matter for me as an individual, as I do not belong to any particular grouping within the parliamentary partyhow I should vote. I always knew that I could not vote in favour of the Bill. Given the strong views that I have long held on this issue since the idea of ID cards was first introduced, that would be a form of political prostitution on my part. I asked myself whether I should therefore abstain because I am a supporter of the Government and I want them to do well. As a Labour Member, I obviously want the Government to be re-elected in due course. However much I tried to justify to myself the idea of abstaining, I simply could not do so. I have therefore reached the conclusion that it would be totally wrongindeed, in some respects even dishonourablefor me to do other than vote against the Bill on Second Reading. That is what I must do.
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