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Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD):
In relation to Northern Ireland, I agree that there have been attempts
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at introducing one form of identification or another down the years. Does he agree that were there any evidence whatever to suggest that formal identification methodologies had been effective in Northern Ireland, the Government would have provided it, yet there has not been a single occasion on which they have been able to do so in the entire history of the identity cards debate?
Patrick Mercer: I am grateful for that intervention, and I will answer the hon. Gentleman by saying that it was my experience that this quasi-identity cardwhich was issued first in the mid-1970s, I thinkhad a converse effect to that which the Government sought. As he will remember, anybody who had such a card or driving licence on their person had a pass, which, if shown to police or soldiers, gave them free passage. So, it had precisely the opposite effect to that which was intended. If the cards had worked in Ulster, why was their further use not developed? Why was biometric information not added to those cards when that experiment was tried? Empirically, the experiment failed to control terrorism, and I believe that it will do so again. From the mouths of Ministers, including the Home Secretary, it is acknowledged that identity cards would not have affected how "clean skins" operate inside this country.
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman's argument, and I accept that identity cards would not prevent a particular incident from taking place. However, their use and a register would make it much easier to identify people using multiple identities subsequently, and would therefore aid their capture and reduce the global pool of would-be terrorists.
Patrick Mercer: That is a fair point. If that is the case, however, first, let us confirm that the biometrics and technology will work to allow that to happen. Secondly, why did the Home Secretary say in July that identity cards would not have affected the two sets of attacks? I do not know. Conceivably, if the card can be made to work, if the biometrics are feasible, and if it comes in at a reasonable cost, there may be something in it. I see nothing at the moment that suggests that it would work, however.
Mr. Bailey: I cannot recall the Home Secretary's exact words in July, but I do recall a discussion about the use of identity cards in Spain to identify the Madrid bombers, and about mobile phones. Because it was necessary to register an identity card when buying a mobile phone, it was possible to track down the bombers.
Patrick Mercer: That is not the point that the Government are making. The bombers in Spain were identified as a result of a number of basic mistakes that they made with the use of mobile phones. The fact that evidence had been well maintained and recorded, and had been used by both the mobile phone companies and the policeas well as the curiously amateurish behaviour of the terroristsallowed the terrorists to be identified.
The hon. Gentleman did, however, make a fair point. The bombers who killed themselves on 7 July did two things very deliberately. First, they made sure that their
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faces were recorded by cameras before they went to their deaths. Secondlythis is really the pointthey made sure that they had on them forms of identity so that their bodies could be identified, and they would reap whatever rewards they thought they might as a result of claiming responsibility for their acts.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Andy Burnham): Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Spanish identity card played no role in the detection of those responsible for the Madrid bombings?
Had identity cards been on the bodies of the 7 July bombers, that would have been frightfully helpful; but that is not the point. The cards are not about trying to identify dead bodies. They are about what we call preventing terrorism.
Andy Burnham: The bombers in Spain were still alive, and the police and security services were able to locate them rapidly. That may have prevented them from carrying out further damage and destruction.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): I think that this is a bit of a red herring. The amendments are concerned with how we can make the register more robust. Loopholes in the Bill need to be tightened. There are far too many freedoms in it. We are trying to deal with serious crime. We are trying to ensure that facts about security are listed. We shall discuss that later, but massive loopholes are littered throughout the Bill, and we seek to tighten them.
Patrick Mercer: My hon. Friend is right: there are loopholes all over the place. The amendments seek to define the purpose of the register and of the identity cards, which is why at least two are linked.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I agree with the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood). Is not the point that the Spanish identity card has a very different scope from the card proposed in the Bill, which includes an enormous database? The Government could obtain the advantages that they believe the Spanish card provides with a much simpler system.
In the context of terrorism, the card stands condemned by its own statements and indeed those of Ministers. Let me amplify a point I made earlier. In
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January this year, a mess tent in Baghdad was blown to pieces. There were 43 casualties, both Iraqi and American. It seems likely that the suicide bomber who blew them up was an Iraqi policeman, and that he was carrying an identity card that allowed him to get through the security checks and to penetrate to the very centre of his target before detonating his bomb. In some ways, such a card would not impede terrorism; indeed, it might actually help it.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Do we not need to know from the Government precisely how helpful identity cards and the register would be in the detection and prevention of terrorism, so that we can judge whether the system's disadvantages would be outweighed by such help? Is it not true that at the moment, the Government are offering the blanket statementsometimes it is a blanket statementthat this provision will be frightfully helpful in dealing with terrorism, but that on other occasions, they say that it will not be quite so helpful? What we really need to know is how helpful it would be, so that we can properly judge whether it is worth the candle.
Patrick Mercer: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention and he is absolutely right: we need to ask ourselves whether this card is really going to deliver the promises that have been made. I have made the point, I trust, that the Government's view changes by the day. On First Reading, which I had the perhaps tainted pleasure of attending some months ago, terrorism played a big part in the Bill's logic. When we went through the Bill for the second time, the Government's line suddenly changed after 7 July. In a way, it is lucky for them that the House rose on 21 July, before these issues could be examined in any great detail.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman's military background and for the great knowledge that he brings to this House, but I am a little bit concerned about the example of the mess tent bombing that he mentioned. He said that the ID card allowed the bomber to access the tent and then to explode the bomb, but even if the bomber had not possessed such a card, he would surely have had some kind of pass; in fact, without one he could not have been a member of the police force. We should also consider the example of this House, which gives passes to people so that they can enter it. So trying to argue that the ID card allowed the bomb to be planted in the mess tent is stretching the House a little.
I would not wish to stretch the House in any way, shape or form, and nor would I wish to stretch my credibility with the hon. Gentleman. I was trying to expand on, perhaps even dilate on, the point that a form of identity cancanassist terrorists. Obviously, the circumstances in Iraq are very different from those that we face today. The fact remains, however, that had the identity card scheme been in place, such cards would quite legitimately and properly have been with all the bombers who died on 7 July. They
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might have been very useful in identifying their shattered remains, of course, but they certainly would not have prevented terrorism.
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