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Mr. Harris: The hon. Gentleman is falling into the same trap as Opposition Front-Bench Members. The Government have absolutely no intention of providing surveillance from the cradle to the grave. That is exactly the type of allegation that finds its way into the public domain. Members of the public end up believing that kind of nonsense instead of concentrating on the content of the Bill.
The views of Opposition Front-Bench Members are a matter for them, but what does my hon. Friend have to say about the comments of the Information Commissioner, who is not a member of the
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Conservative and Unionist party? Recently, he warned that ID cards would bring about a growing surveillance society.
Mr. Harris: I reserve the right to disagree with the Information Commissioner. The House has the right and the duty to make its own judgments, and not simply to take advice and act on information from outside. Going slightly off the point, there was a similar argument last year about information handed down to us from on high by the Electoral Commission. Do we do exactly what the commission tells us or do we make our own judgments as democratically elected politicians? We should do the latter.
We live in a world where the old certainties and securities of years gone by no longer exist. Three years ago in Glasgow, asylum seekers who had identity cards that included biometric details were hunted by the police, because they were suspected of involvement in a serious assault on a bouncer in a Glasgow club. The police could not track them down initially but they were finally apprehended at Stranraer as they tried to board a ferry for Northern Ireland using fake passports. They had disposed of their ID cards, but because they had had to give their fingerprint details when they applied for asylum, their identities were confirmed within four minutes and they were arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. As I said earlier, I do not believe that ID cards are a panacea in the fight against crime, organised crime or terrorism but we should be able to see past our party affiliations to understand that given a fair wind, the Bill will, take us some way towards beating criminal organisations.
In June 2001, 15 minutes before I took my seat in the House, I received word that a credit card and cheque book that my wife had sent me from Glasgow had gone missing in the post, and I discovered that more than £400 had been taken from my accounts in various forms. That was extremely distressing and may be why I did not enjoy the re-election of the Speaker as much as I would have in other circumstances. It was an extremely distressing and emotional experience to know that someone was pretending to be meusing my name and spending my money, although I managed to claim it back. What can be wrong with giving people a foolproof way of proving their identity? Some people have asked why we should have to prove our identity.
One of the problems with the Bill is not the use to which it would be put by a reasonable GovernmentI assume that the hon. Gentleman thinks that his Government are reasonablebut the uses to which it might be put by an unreasonable Government[Hon. Members: "We have one".] I was thinking more of the party to my right. Is not half the
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problem that there is no guarantee or safeguard that once data have been collected it would not be abused by a future Government?
Mr. Harris: I shall not submit to that nonsensethat a dictatorship is waiting to be elected to the government of the UK. The Executive is held to account by the House and I am confident that the country can rely on that safeguard. The British public can see through the hysterical paranoia that concludes that ID cards represent some major surrender of civil liberties. They can see through the claim that issuing ID cards will mean the end of civilisation as we know it, any more than driving licences with photos or the installation of closed circuit television in our streets did.
The Government have a responsibility to deliver an affordable scheme and I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench are aware of the public's concerns about costs. It is telling that 80 per cent. of the public were in favour of the Government's proposed ID scheme and that figure went down not when the civil liberties arguments were aired but only because of concern about costs. I can understand why some parts of the press, the Conservative party and the Liberals want to pretend that the costs are going through the roof. That is fair game politically, but they should understand that members of the public support the schemetheir only opposition is on cost. The public understand that there is no threat to British civil liberties in the issuing of ID cards and the establishment of a central database.
That innocently sums up why the Bill must not go further in its passage through the House. ID card schemes, if they are to exist at all, are features of times of war and national crisis. This is not a time of war, no matter how much the Government may tell us otherwise.
In February 2002, the then Home Secretary said in this place that the terrorist attacks on the United States of 11 September 2001 gave impetus to the ID scheme. However, the current Home Secretary concedes that that does not stack up, as the 9/11 hijackers used their own names and the Madrid bombers all held legitimate ID cards. Of course, it is plausible that the terrorist attacks in the US and in Spain could have been avoided if there had been greater investment in the security services of those countries: for instance, on additional policing. The lesson that a more security-conscious Government might have learned is that additional resources are required for those matters rather than spending a fortune on a dangerous piece of gesture politics.
Last week, in Kendal in my constituency, I met senior police officers who told me that at times they have insufficient resources to tackle antisocial behaviour and
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serious disorder problems. I merely juxtapose that state of affairs with the Government's commitment to waste billions of pounds on a flawed ID card scheme so as to indulge their authoritarian instincts. The Government are prepared therefore, to coin a phase, to be soft on yobs and put at risk the safety of hard-working families in order wilfully to take their eye off the ball and indulge their authoritarian instincts, as I have said.
The ID system would fundamentally and irrevocably change the traditional British model of policing from a community-based approach to a data-driven approach. The ability of the police to win trust from communities, especially minority communities, would be undermined severely. The effectiveness of on-the-ground policing would be damaged in return for no benefit whatsoever.
This unjustified and dangerous shift in culture is acknowledged at the highest level. We have already heard the comments that the Information Commissioner has made about the national identity register, but he also commented a little earlier that
In the same article in which he made that warning, he made additional warnings about function creep, which is a sore point for the Government, and they keep reassuring us that function creep will not occur. At this point I remind Members of the House that the last ID card scheme, scrapped in 1952, was set up with the stated intention of providing identity checks with regard to no more than two functions of the state, and despite those assurances, and during peacetime, by the time the ID card was abolished the number of functions had expanded to 39under a Labour Government.
We are told, I am sure sincerely, that the ID card scheme would not allow for records to be kept on details of religious belief, political affiliation, sexuality, trade union membership, racial origin or other such inappropriate information, but do I really have to remind the House that Parliament cannot bind its successors, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Horwood) just pointed out? What we are being asked to agree to in the Bill is the not-so-thin end of an authoritarian wedge.
Let us for a moment envisage a Government more authoritarian, intrusive and control-freakish than this one, and let us imagine what they might do with a ready-made ID card scheme. I am not talking about some unlikely, nightmarish totalitarian regime. Labour MPs might just care to contemplate the ways in which the democratically elected Conservative Government of the 1980s might have used an ID card system to police the enforcement of the poll tax, or in reaction to the coldest period of the cold war, or indeedmost chilling of all, perhapshow they might have dealt with the "enemy within" throughout the year-long miners' strike. That exercise should fill genuine Labour Members with dread and send a shiver down their spine, and yet here we are, with Labour MPs currently prepared to sleepwalk into an attack on traditional British values and liberties.
It is entirely appropriate to question the Government's authority and democratic legitimacy in introducing the Bill in the face of mounting evidence of the scheme's ineffectiveness, expense and threats to traditional freedoms. The Government must acknowledge, however
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uncomfortable it makes them feel, that, manifesto pledge or not, 64 per cent. of the British people voted against the present Government, and whether they like it or not, to impose this vast change to our civil culture is at best dubious in the light of that; so to take this illiberal and transparently populist step at all is bad enough, but to do so despite mounting costs and mounting evidence of the impotence of ID card schemes is at best downright sinister.
The Government have spent the past two days investing their energies in rubbishing university academics. No doubt the Home Secretary wishes that the national identity register was already in place, so that he could simply rub out the professorial ranks of the London School of Economicspeople who are clearly enemies of the state, and who had the audacity to conduct this most impressive and comprehensive body of research on the ID card scheme and its likely costs, efficacy and impact.
The recent LSE study shows, as we have heard, that the reality of the calculation of the costs of the scheme is in excess of £10 billion and anything up to £19 billion. We have heard no credible rebuttal of that calculation from anyone on the Labour side. The Government are nevertheless, to give them credit, adamant that the LSE is wrong and that otherssuch as the IT consultants Kable, who put the likely costs at about £15 billionare equally wrong, but the Government cannot come up with a fixed figure themselves. The official cost to individuals of £93 per head is, we are told, "merely indicative".
The irony is that at the same time as the Government are attempting to attack the credibility of the independent LSE research, they are confidently telling us, on the basis of the flimsiest of evidence, that the economy loses £1.3 billion a year on ID fraud. That is just one of the many reasons that they are giving to explain the need for an ID card system.
The official rationale for the ID card scheme may change week by week, but as we have just heard from the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), the underlying theme of that rationale remains the same in each case. That rationale is one of fearthe propagation and incitement of fear. The politicians with authoritarian instincts need to sow and cultivate fear amongst the public in order to contrive public acquiescence in or consent to their authoritarian schemes. And yet we have already heard that even George Bush, Junior, who followed the 9/11 bombings with some of the most outrageous attacks on the fundamental personal freedoms of United States citizens, was persuaded that an ID card scheme was a reactionary step too far.
We have already heard about the flaws in biometric testing, and we heard earlier about Cambridge university academics who apparently backed the Government. Well, I can quote one: Professor Ross Anderson of Cambridge university, who clearly does not. He stated:
A system where it is possible to identify innocent people incorrectly or it is possible for persons of malign intent to get around the scheme is worse from a security point of view than having no scheme at all.
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Perhaps the Secretary of State will be so good as to inform the House of the current percentage of citizens in this country who do not register on the electoral roll. He will no doubt agree with me that the enormous majority of those people omit themselves from the register for no nefarious reason whatevernot through any attempt to defraud or attack anyone, but for a range of legitimate explanations. Included in that group are people fleeing domestic violence, people with transient lifestyles, people with frequently changing personal information, and people suffering mental illness or addictions, all of whom may fear, or simply never get round to, disclosing their information. The same groups will approach the ID card scheme with even greater anxiety. Many will rightly or wrongly simply not register and will disappear, incapable then of accessing basic public services, removing themselves from civil society.
In closing, I wish to appeal to right hon. and hon. Members' concerns about traditional British freedoms, their concerns about excessive costs, their concerns about the integrity and the reliability of the technology, and their concerns about the effectiveness of ID card systems based on all the available evidence. But if that does not work, I seek to appeal to naked self-interest. Based even on the Government's own understated account of the costs of the scheme, we could have 12,000 additional police officers for the price that we are being asked to pay for ID cards. A quick breakdown of the figures shows that 50 of those new police officers would be in my constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale. Those new officers would be able to provide enhanced protection to Ministers when they make occasional visits to their Lake district second homes.
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