Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): I am delighted to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, as we reach the conclusion of an important debate that hinges on the relationship between the citizen and the state and the borderline of the civil liberties that we feel able to concede so that we can live in a safe and secure world.
Many believe that the concept of ID cards should be supported because if we have nothing to hide, we have nothing to fear. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) talked about the contents of his wallet and said that it contained several ID cards, such as library cards. However, each of the databases to which he referred is separate, isolated and low-cost and there would be limited damage if details were lost or stolen.
The Bill has the commendable aim of tackling ID fraud, benefit fraud, illegal immigration and terrorism. However, the nation becomes more sceptical as we hear more about it. We do not know the definitive cost of the scheme, so we should ask ourselves whether we will get value for money. It has been said that the police support the Bill, but we should turn the question around: if the police were given £5 billion or £10 billionwhatever the cost of the scheme will bewhat would they spend it on? In Bournemouth, the money certainly would not be spent on ID cards, but on CCTV and to pay for more people to work in benefits and Inland Revenue offices because those people could combat fraud.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed concerns about the technology. The Government's trialsnot the Cambridge studyshow that iris scans have only a 96 per cent. success rate and that fingerprint scans have an 81 per cent. success rate. If I cut my finger or suffered a paper cut I could no longer be tracked on the system.
John Hemming: Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern about the impact of clause 6? If someone cut their finger and did not tell the Government they would be liable to a civil penalty of £1,000. Indeed, a stealth tax on shaving would be imposed on hon. Members who shaved off their beards, as they would have to pay a fine of £1,000 if they did not tell the Government.
Setting aside the costs of technology, how will the Bill help us to tackle crime and benefit fraud and, indeed, to fight terrorism? I shall focus on acts of terrorism. A number of people have mentioned 9/11 and the Madrid bombings. I take a personal interest in such matters because, sadly, I lost my brother in the Bali bombing. When my brother was killed he was carrying his passport. It was destroyed, so it would not have been of any use to anyone. The terrorists who killed him were miles awaythe people who did the damage blew
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themselves up, so ID cards would not have helped in that situation. May I respectfully urge caution when we talk about terrorism in the House and how the Bill will help us to tackle it? I am not sure how ID cards would have helped in my situation and, indeed, in 9/11.
The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) mentioned a number of European countries that have identity cards systems. The average price of those cards, however, is not £1,900 but, in the case of Sweden, €15 or £20. The price is low because the system is extremely simple. The middle east is the only place to have more advanced systems, which aim to track people coming in and out of the area. That is the problem with the Billas long as we have porous borders we cannot take full advantage of the operation of ID cards.
Time is short, so I shall conclude. The Government's proposal is a costly exercise that will hamper society, not help it. They said that they would drop the scheme if it became too expensive, but what price is the Home Secretary willing to pay before he decides to pull the plug and not proceed with the proposals? The Bill is dangerous and open-ended. It does not have a clear timetable, it is based on technology that does not work, uses questionable costings and is out of touch with the people. I therefore encourage hon. Members to vote against it.
Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I broadly support the Bill. Identity cards could assist with the prevention and detection of crime, the enforcement of controls on immigration and on illegal working and the fight against identity fraud. They could help to deliver more efficient and effective public services. Members who oppose the Bill have failed to base their argument on matters of fact and have succumbed to conjecture or hysteria. In the light of the debate, it would be useful to consider what the Bill will introduce: the establishment of the national identity register, powers to issue biometric identity cards, enabling public and private sector organisations to verify identity subject to the person's consent[Interruption.]
The Bill would give a national identity scheme commissioner oversight of the scheme and it would create the criminal offence of possessing false identity documents. We carried out a consultation on the Bill in my constituency. About 80 per cent. of respondents were in favour of it, but a sizeable proportion thought that the scheme would have public support only if certain safeguards were in place. I therefore urge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to do all that he can to ensure that civil liberties issues are addressed. People have reasonable concerns about the protection of civil liberties, so Government reassurance is necessary.
Primarily, these concerns relate to the amount of information held centrally, the security of the system, who will have access to it and for what purpose.
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Everything must be done to assure people that they will get an opportunity to check their own data and correct it, that private sector organisations will be able to access information only with consent, that use by public services conforms to the regulations prescribed in the Bill, that ID cards are cost-effective and that the scheme conforms to the European convention on human rights.
Citizens Advice has set out its concerns that function creep and unauthorised disclosure should not happen; that IT systems can support the project, particularly before it is compulsory; that attention should be paid to hard-to-reach groups, described by Citizens Advice as itinerant counter-culture, those with chaotic lifestyles and those with mental health and mental capacity problems who will be affected by the legislation; that all will be treated equally; that the Act will not be used in a discriminatory way; and that there will be safeguards to ensure that it will be compatible with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his ministerial team will be able to address those concerns.
In conclusion, ID cards could present a sensible and practical way forward and be an added tool in the fight against criminal activity. One almost has to sympathise with the Tories on the issue. They are for ID cards, then against. Their leader supports ID cards; another possible leader does not. However, the Liberals take the biscuit for uncertainty and indecisiveness. It may be worth reminding the House that the Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesman used to be in favour of ID cards, before changing his mind when it came to the crunch.
The Lib Dems' case that fraud will increase if ID cards are introduced is not proven. It is much more likely that ID cards will help to tackle identity fraud. The Lib Dems propose to spend any money saved by not introducing ID cards on providing extra police. As the public are paying for the cards, the Government cannot spend money that they do not have. It is the Lib Dems, not the Government, who have a problem with the costing. It is necessary to have a reasoned debate on the matter so that concerns can be addressed and reassurance given to the public. That is a better way forward than the scaremongering from the Opposition parties.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): We have had 33 contributors to the debate and they have broadly been divided into two campssurprise, surprise. Twenty-four have spoken against the Bill. Eight managed to speak for the Bill. One of them was the Home Secretary, whose speech, I regret to say, was characterised more by bluster than by evidence. The support of other speakers was, to say the least, qualifiedI am thinking of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) and the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd).
The hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods) has just made a career-making speech and I wish her well. The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Kali Mountford) also made a deeply loyal speech in favour of the ID cards scheme proposed by the Bill. The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer)
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produced one of his unfathomable speeches, which none the less was listened to with great care. The Home Secretary produced some sparkling remarks in the course of his speech, to which I shall return if I have a moment.
Before analysing some of the points, I turn to the three maiden speakersmy hon. Friends the Members for Gravesham (Mr. Holloway), for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Cox) and for Harwich (Mr. Carswell). Unfortunately, I was not able to listen to the speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich but reports tell me that it was a powerful speech, in which he paid proper respect to his immediate predecessor, Mr. Ivan Henderson, whom I knew well as a member of the Anglo-Netherlands parliamentary group, and to Iain Sproat and the RidsdalesSir Julian Ridsdale represented the seat before Iain Sproat. My hon. Friend said that ID cards will not reverse crime and also spoke passionately about the need for greater localisation, on which I support him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon made a booming and powerful speech, in which he carefully described the beauties of his constituency. He was very kind, and properly so, to his immediate predecessor, John Burnett, and to his wife. He, too, said that this ID card scheme is not the answer to his constituents' prayers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham also made a powerful speech. He spoke about his constituency with care and concern and said some very kind things, which both sides of the House shared and enjoyed, about his predecessor, Chris Pond. Like the other two maiden speakers, he made it clear that this ID scheme is not the answer to his constituents' concerns.
Far too many speeches have been made for me to deal with them individually, but 24 hon. Members were deeply concerned about the Bill. This is the Government's broad case: ID cards will prevent terrorism; ID cards will prevent identity theft; ID cards will prevent and detect crime; ID cards have overwhelming public support; there is an international obligation to fingerprint or iris scan the population; the technology is available to fulfil the Bill's requirements; the implications for race relations have been exaggerated by Conservative Members and those Labour Members who disagree with the Government's case; and the costs are manageable, bearable and assessable.
The Government's final argument is to rubbish the point about the common travel area, which was raised by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and which they have not yet satisfactorily addressed. I have one gentle piece of advice for Democratic Unionist Membersbe very careful about doing deals with a Government who singularly fail to deliver on their promises. I urge all hon. Members to consider the principles behind the Bill: are we sure that the Irish Republican Government will not have access to information in the north and in Great Britain?
A number of my hon. Friends, including the shadow Home Secretary, have pointed out that the Bill was born in error, that it will die in error and that the sooner it dies, the better. The scheme is voluntary now, but it will become first compulsory, and then mandatory, in which case we will all be obliged to carry the cardwe need to worry not about the card, but about the database that underlies it. The Government do not want us to realise
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that the Bill will not only expose every citizen's private life and private information to them and their machine, but require us to carry in our pockets not only a plastic poll tax machine, but a policeman. We do not need policemen in our pocketswe need policemen on our streets. The Government refuse to accept that point and to commit resources to deal with terrorism, crime and the many other problems raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
We heard from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) and the hon. Members for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones), for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) and for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson). They all made, in their own separate ways, broadly the same pointthat the Bill will not deliver the panacea that is suggested, will not deal with identity theft, and will not prevent and detect crime. More to the point, it will exacerbate bad race relations and encourage an underclass to feel yet further alienated from the haves, while the Government try to glide over all this with a collection of truisms and platitudes.
The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), the hon. Members for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson), my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), my hon. Friends the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), for Stone (Mr. Cash), and for Ashford (Damian Green), and the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) ripped the Bill apart, as it deserves to be. The Bill is indefensible. Indeed, it has not been adequately defended by the Home Secretary who, in our submission, has no belief whatsoever in either the principle or the facts that are necessary to sustain the argument.
I look forward to listening to bluster not only from the Home Secretary but from the Minister of State. We are used to them blusteringthey are both happy little fellowsbut neither has an argument on which to stand a case. I look forward to many Members joining the official Opposition, the Liberal Democrats and others in the Lobby in defeating the Bill.