Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): Many Members who have spoken today have expressed concern about the civil liberties aspect of the Bill. I propose to ignore that and to deal with what concerns me, as a practical Yorkshiremannamely, the practical and political issues. This Bill is unnecessary. It sets up a system that will not work, will not achieve its stated objectives and will cost us a fortune. Apart from that, there is nothing much wrong with it.
What I am concerned about is the Bill's impact, which is beautifully timed. Its provisions, along with their damaging consequences, will be introduced just as the Labour Governmentthe force for progress in this countrygo into the next and the subsequent elections. The compulsory element will be introduced at the subsequent election, but in reality, it will be introduced before that. Anyone who wants to renew a passport or a driving licence, or anyone who the Secretary of State deems shall be compelled to have an identity card, will have to have such a card. So although the scheme is said to be voluntary, it is in fact already compulsory. The Bill is like "super dome". It involves massive expenditure that is timed to ruin the election prospects of a Labour Government whom we want to carry on so that they can continue with their programme of social reform.
Like the dome, identity cards seemed like a good idea at the time, but the dome has proved to be disastrous. I suppose that that is how things work in a presidential system. The source of such ideas is Downing street, where the Prime Minister is surrounded by a heavenly nimbus of cherub geniuses, fluttering in the blue skies that always hover over Downing street. Up comes an idea, lights flash, thunder rolls and the idea is unveiled to an excited world. "I know", they say, "Let's have identity cards. It's a big measure that shows that the Government are active. It will appeal to the police and the Home Office." Of course, the police and the Home Office are obsessed with people control. Indeed, they would implant all children with chips at birth if they could.
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Such ideas appeal to Home Secretaries, who have a career to think of, after all, and who want to be promoted out of being Home Secretary so that they do not have to face such issues any more. Now that we have the idea, all that we need is a problem for it to solve. That is where the doubts begin.
Mr. Mitchell: I agree entirely. The Government are now attempting to keep down the estimated costs so as not to frighten people. Each time the estimate increases, public support for the Bill falls. When the true costs are revealed, support will vanish entirely and turn into a negative.
As I said, it is when we have to search for a problem for this ingenious little measure to solve that the doubts begin to appear. The Government are not now saying that it is intended to deal with terrorism. It certainly did not do so in Spain or in the US. If people can come here for three months without being required to have an ID card, that will be the time to commit any acts of terrorism. ID cards will not deal with questions of entitlement, because only a small part of benefit fraud involves stealing someone's identity. I note that, interestingly, there is no difference between the crime rates and benefit fraud rates of the four European countries that do not have ID cards, and of the rest, which do. That suggests that ID cards are a minor matter in that respect.
ID cards will not even deal with identity fraud, which is trumpeted as their main purpose. We are toldshock horror!that £1.3 billion-worth of identity fraud is committed each year, and that there are enormous difficulties in terms of clean-up. In fact, that is a myth. The Government have lumped together the figures for stolen credit cards, stolen cheques, money laundering and various other crimes that have nothing to do with identity fraud in order to produce that figure. The Gilligan article in last week's Evening Standard put the true cost of identity fraud at £150 million, not £1.3 billion.
We are told that introducing ID cards is an international obligation, but it is not. We shall have to change our passports to comply with European and American decisions, but there is no international obligation to impose an identity card. In any case, it seems to me that if we are following an international trend, which we are not, the sensible course would be to let other countries go ahead, watch their mistakes and implement our own system to avoid them. That is not necessary, however, because no one else is doing it.
The purposes are unreal, but the damage that will be inflicted is very real indeed. The costs will be enormous. The Government estimates keep going up and will go up again. The current estimates are going up even before anything has happened, and they are bound to increase further. The LSE estimate of the costs, which varies between £10.6 billion and £19.2 billion, with a median of £14.5 billion, seems to me to be far more accurate.
Is there not an additional element in the cost, which has not been taken into account? Other
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parties have made it plain that they will not implement the scheme. That being the case, either the contractors will impose a very high penalty cost in the contract or there will be a very high premiumneither of which have been allowed for by Government Front Benchers.
Mr. Mitchell: That is absolutely true, and I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for putting that point, which he omitted from his own speech. I entirely agree with him, and each escalation of costs will mean increasing loss of support for the whole scheme.
Several speakers have pointed to the dilemma between "must have" and "must carry". There is no point in having "must have" without having "must carry". One will surely follow the other as night follows day, but the Government are now telling us that they will not have a "must carry" rule because it will affront middle-class opinion. There are some who want identity cards for other people but not for themselves, just as we all want discipline imposed on other people's children but not necessarily on our own, and there is a danger that that section of opinion will be affronted.
Of course the cards will be made compulsory to carry. What is the point of having an ID system that allows people to respond to police requests to produce the card by saying, "I am sorry, but I do not have the card with me"? It sometimes happens to me when I forget my pass and I am sometimes asked to report to the police station tomorrow morning, and I disappear into the nightor, in the case of Grimsby, into the sea. The one will follow the other.
Mr. Mitchell: About 20 per cent. of the population do not have passports. They prefer to take their holidays in Yorkshirevery sensibly, as it is the most beautiful part of the whole worldand they do not have passports. What are we going to do for them? Are they to be forced to have a passport that they do not want and an identity card with it, and are they to be charged for them?
What about the huge underclass of people who sleep rough, people who move house and flit around, people who are just not traceable, people who stay out of the way of authority? What will happen to them? Are we going to employ bounty hunters to go out and hunt those people down in order to force them to have a passport? If we make the ID card free for such people, it will increase the charge levied on other people enormously. It will be a very expensive operation gathering all those people together in a shuttered van, so they do not know where they are going, and taking them to a treatment centre to force them to be fingerprinted, to have a retina scan and to accept all the joys that the rest of us will already have faced. It is just not conceivable that everyone can be forced into this scheme.
The scheme in any case has huge holes in it. It certainly runs against EU free movement directives and it will not apply to Irish citizens. I could also mention the risk of technical failure. People will lose their cards, just as I keep losing credit cards. I have even had passports stolen from my car. What will happen when people lose
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their ID cards? How will they be replaced and at what cost? About 40 per cent. of the London population changes address every single year, which is incredible. No one particularly wants to leave Grimsby, but I can understand why people want to move out of London. Massive numbers of cards would have to be changed on that basis.
What of the failure of verification? We read from Home Office reports that verification proved successful in dealing with 96 per cent. of Irish scams, 69 per cent. of facial verification cases and 81 per cent. of fingerprint frauds. It is a cumulative process, but there are bound to be people for whom the system will not work. The LSE report estimates that new cards will be necessary every five yearsthe Home Office estimates every 10 years, as people's irises change with age and as the fingerprints of people who do heavy manual work change. People like me will be subject to regular requirements to have a new scan.
It is all very well saying that technology will improve and eliminate all those problems. If the technology changes, the whole database will have to be changed because wholly new records will be required for the new technological system.
Many hon. Members have already alluded to another obvious difficultythe possibility of cock-ups. This will be the biggest such technical project in the world, involving listing, registering and recording three basic elements of our personality, plus a photograph. Just think of the potential for the sort of cock-ups that we have already seen in the child benefit system, the national health computer system and so forth. What a feast the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee will have after the contract is implemented.
Another problem that annoys and upsets many people is the problem of jumped-up authority. There are always people who think that, because they wear a uniform, they have a right to harass and make life difficult for people by hovering over them, demanding information and putting questions to them. I recall the problem with the sus laws, which produced very angry feelings among ethnic communities, but this will be far worse. Who will be harassed? It will be the rough sleepers, the deprived, anyone who looks odd, anyone who looks doddery, like me coming down Victoria street, anyone who is black, anyone who is coloured, anyone who looks foreign. The potential for all those people being harassed is enormously increased.
When Roy Jenkins was Home Secretary in a previous Labour Government, he was faced with an incursion of people, which was causing public reactions, so he looked into the idea of having a national identity card scheme. He decided that it offered few benefits and that it offered them at a disproportionate cost. We should take exactly the same view.