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Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): The hon. Gentleman is being very generous in giving way. Is it not true that the more the security forces rely on identity cards, the less alert they will be to other factors? In the Iraq case that was mentioned, the person in question probably waved the identity card and managed to get straight in. But if similar circumstances arise in the United Kingdom, it is very likely that terrorists who do not want to be detected will have false identity cards, and that they will therefore be waved through the various systems of checks.

Patrick Mercer: Possibly, but such terrorists need not necessarily have false identities. Having a proper, pukka, legal, straightforward identity will not prevent terrorism. I was a serving soldier in Northern Ireland when the illustrated driving licence was introduced—it was introduced first with a photograph and then with a thumbprint—and we were told that it would be the solution to terrorism. Much of the terrorism in Ulster was conducted by people using cars, trucks and the like, and we were told that the licence would solve the problem. It did not. On the contrary, the tired, wet, exhausted and distracted soldiers saw that piece of identity as a pass—something to assist rather than impede.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): There may be a number of circumstances in which possession of an identification card helps to prevent terrorism, but in the majority of cases, that will be so only if the possession and carrying of the card is made a mandatory requirement of law. That, of course, is expressly excluded by the Bill. Does my hon. Friend agree?

5 pm

Patrick Mercer: As usual, I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his intervention. He is quite right that the carriage of the card—though the register may have some useful purposes—is not required by the Bill. Having sat through several Committee sittings, I know that we were told that enabling legislation could be introduced quickly to compel people to carry the card, but I absolutely take my right hon. and learned Friend's point.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): My hon. Friend is being notably generous in giving way. This provision pertains to who is to maintain the register and what is to appear on the card when it is issued. I am very concerned both about what is going to be on the card and about who will have access to it. For example, could clause 1(4)(d) oblige every employer to check every potential employee and, if so, how will employers do that and how will they gain access to the register?

Patrick Mercer: Those questions certainly need to be answered, but I would suggest a prior question: will the card work? Is the technology capable of recording the various details to which my hon. Friend has just referred? I shall not test your patience further,
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Mr. Deputy Speaker, by digressing to answer that question more fully. It will, in any case, recur later on and it remains a hugely good and important point.

I believe that the Government have tried to make the card all things to all men—a one-size-fits-all approach. We know that the card will not have to be carried and that no one can demand to see it, and we shall come on in due course to the cost of the card, which I believe will be prohibitive. The fact remains that the benefits of both the register and the identity card are highly dubious and I do not accept the claim that they will prevent terrorism.

Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) (Lab): As others have said, the hon. Gentleman is being extraordinarily generous in giving way. He is establishing some important points, but before he finishes, will he comment on the fact that the card will not only articulate identity, but allow the actions of the bearer to be traced? It is both a contact card and a contact-less card. As one enters a public place, the card establishes that one has been there. When an individual possesses the card, the actions and activities of its bearer are traceable. That is an important matter, which has not been at the forefront of debates on the Floor of the House, though it may have been mentioned in Committee.

Patrick Mercer: I can certainly confirm that the human rights elements of what might be called the Big Brother aspects of the card have been explored thoroughly in Committee. To my mind, those aspects are hugely disagreeable, but if the Government wish to control a population, put a population under surveillance or poke their nose into every detail of someone's life, I can see that those aspects could be viewed as highly desirable. I would reply to the hon. Gentleman by posing the question whether the card could ever work.

Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell) (LD): Pursuing that point, is not the opposite likely to be the case? Is not the process of registration of tens of millions of people built around the same paper process that we already use to identify people and is it not capable of being abused? Could we not be creating an opportunity for thousands or even tens of thousands of false identities to be created at the very process of registration in the first place—carrying over all the weaknesses of the present ID systems? Once the card is issued, the biometric data can tell us that this is the person who holds that card, but it certainly does not tell us that it is a genuine identity.

Patrick Mercer: The old aphorism relating to any form of computer or intelligence work is, "Rubbish in, rubbish out." Unless we get it right from the first principles, the card and the register stand little chance of success. [Interruption.] I seem to have had the desired effect on my own Benches. [Laughter.] We are getting the chance to check the dentures of one of my colleagues, thereby establishing his identity beyond doubt. [Laughter.]
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Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab): If I may leave terrorism for a moment and go on to the second claim made by the Government, concerning serious and organised crime. I have asked the Government on a number of occasions to provide one—just one—example of a crime detected in this country in the recent past that would have been stopped by an identification card. No single example has been provided to me. Has any example been provided in Committee or to the hon. Gentleman?

Patrick Mercer: The hon. and learned Gentleman as usual puts his finger on it. I hope that my earlier quote from Interpol illustrates exactly that point. Nothing that is claimed for the card has been proved to my satisfaction.

The card claims much but in practice will deliver little. It changes with the wind. The Government sometimes see the card as being the cure-all to everything, a panacea across the piece. It will sort out crime and prevent terrorism. It will be an entitlement card without parallel. But this group of amendments exposes the card and the register for what they are; unworkable.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Clauses 1 and 2 contain the meat of the Bill, as was reflected in Committee by the exceptionally substantial debate that we had on them. I observe in passing that now they are on the Floor of the House, we are to be allowed one hour and seven minutes to do them justice.

As the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) said, time and again the Government have damaged their own case by constantly seeking to oversell identity cards, presumably because of the extraordinary costs that will be involved in their introduction and operation. Just as one argument is knocked down, so it seems another has to be produced. We are told that it is about identity fraud and then that it is not; that it is about terrorism, and then that it is not; that it is about benefit fraud and then that it is not.

My concern is the same as that of the hon. Gentleman in relation to the underpinning of his amendments, although I have one or two detailed points where I disagree with him. I will come to them later, but my fundamental concern is that the Bill is exceptionally widely drawn. Nowhere is that more apparent than clause 1(4), which seeks to define those things that are considered to be necessary in the public interest.

The House will see that paragraphs (a) to (d) are fairly sensibly and reasonably drawn. Paragraph (a) says:

Paragraph (b) talks about

—or as our amendment No. 24 would have it, "serious crime". Paragraph (c) says for

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and (d)

So far, so good. But when one comes to (e), one finds the catch-all,

It is not so much a question of what that contains, but what it does not contain. The provision gives the Government carte blanche to hold and use information in just about any way they choose. As later clauses reveal, in almost every instance the Government will be able to appoint themselves the sole arbiter of what constitutes the public interest in these matters.

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