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Lembit Öpik: Does my hon. Friend recall that I questioned the Prime Minister about this matter? Although the Labour-led Welsh Assembly voted against requiring the use of identity cards to access public services, the Prime Minister was not willing to give any indication that there might be an exemption for Wales. That makes me believe that the Government are hell bent on introducing the provision, and that they are not simply giving themselves the option to do so.
Mr. Carmichael: My hon. Friend raises an important point, and it is clear that there will be different modes of operation in different parts of the UK. He has highlighted the situation in Wales, but the Scottish Executive have already made their position clear. In the public services for which they are responsiblethat is, health, education and policing, in the mainthe Executive have stated that they have no wish to use identity cards. It seems, happily, that the influence of the control freaks in No. 10 Downing street lessens the further one gets from London.
Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman is making a very persuasive speech. Is not his argument supported by the Select Committee report, which states, in terms, that the purpose provisions in clause 1 are too widely drawn? The report says that those provisions should be narrowly confined, and offers some recommendations in that respect.
Mr. Carmichael: The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right, and his intervention allows me to explain why the concerns about the widely drawn nature of the purposes in clause 1 are important. The debate is not simply about the possession of an identity, but about how the Government have constructed their proposals. They intend to set up a register of the information provided, and then the Bill details how that information is to be usedwhen, where, and for what purpose.
In effect, the Bill establishes a personal footprint for each individual that the Government can accessapparently at any time and for any reason, just about to find where people have been and what they have been doing. As I and others have said in the House before, the Bill redefines the relationship between the citizen and the state, or the individual and the Government. It seems to proceed on the assumption
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that, in some way, the people are accountable to the Government. My contention is that that should be the other way aroundthat the Government should be accountable to the people. If the Government need access to the personal footprint that I have described, they should provide a coherent and compelling reason.
Matthew Taylor: My hon. Friend makes exactly the right point about how widely drawn are the powers of the state, as set out in clause 1. However, we know from the Cabinet Office leak that the Government also foresee that the information will be used by the private sector. Does my hon. Friend agree that a person's identity number and card may be required by a growing number of private-sector organisations, as validation of that individual's identity? As a result, those organisations will build up data around that number, and the Government may well be able to buy into that data. Is not this a system for allowing the collection of an almost infinite amount of information about individualsby the Government, and by those who might try to access various forms of data networks about people? The latter may pay for that information, but they might also procure it illegitimately, by breaking into those data networks.
Mr. Carmichael: There is very little that I need add to my hon. Friend's intervention, other than to say that he makes a good point about function creep. That becomes possible because the purposes are so widely drawn.
Government amendment No. 2 is unexceptionable. However, given the catalogue of examination that the Minister of State outlined earlier in response to the motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), it is remarkable that the Government should still feel it necessary to table their own amendments.
The Minister of State was pressed in Committee on clause 7, which is the mechanism by which identity cards may be made compulsory. I read press reports during the summer months which suggested that the Minister had accepted during a Home Office seminar that the so-called super-affirmative procedure was defective and unworkable. Is that the case? If so, why have the Government not tabled amendments to rectify the defects today?
Mr. Gummer: I am one of those in the House who believes in identity cards. My problem with the Bill is that the Government have shown an infallible ability so to form it that it drives away from their support the very people whose support one would have thought that they could have gained.
The amendments go to the heart of the matter. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) has rightly pointed out that with this Bill the Government have given themselves every possibility to do almost anything in any circumstances. Many of us who are not unhappy with the concept of an identity card are unhappy with the concept of a Government who give themselves powers like that.
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Governments have an insatiable desire for power and therefore will use it in ways that most of us will find unacceptable.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) made the point that seems to me central to this issue. If we are to agree with the Government that we should have identity cards, we need to know three clear things. First, what restrictions on the use of identity information will the Government put permanently in place and what mechanisms will they use to do so? We need to know the scope of the legislation. These clauses show that the scope is in no way restricted. It is envisaged to be as wide as the Government think it should be at any particular time.
The second issue that the amendments raise is what the Government think that the identity card might do. I happen to think that there are certain areas in which it would be helpful and useful to have a unique register of everybody's name and address. It is possible to argue that that could be portrayed on a card. I happen to think the other way round from my hon. and learned Friend; I think that the register is more important than the card. Be that as it may, there are mechanisms by which this could be done. What the Government cannot do is to claim for identity cards things that are self-evidently not true. The Government in so doing are driving away people who might otherwise have been corralled. It seems to me that the Government are making a series of claims, hoping that one way or another they will pick up the support of all sorts of people whose support they would not otherwise have gained. In fact, the opposite is happening. As each of these claims is made and found wanting, people begin to ask whether the whole idea is a sensible one.
The third issue that the amendments raise is what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough referred to as "Will it work?" Unless we know its scope and what it is supposed to do, we can make no judgment as to whether this particular schemelet alone the technology, which one cannot deal with on this group of amendmentswill work. None of these things seem to me to be evident from the Bill. It is an inconvenience of the House that in these days of truncated debates and the significantly underused potential of Parliament, the only way in which we can get at these things is by tabling amendments such as this and asking for sensible responses. So I put three simple questions to the Minister. Will he put in the Library a list of the specific purposes of the Bill? What does he think he will be able to do after he has got it that he cannot do now? Will he, perhaps with a little narrative, describe incidents that could have been better dealt with if only he had had this particular equipment? That seems to me to be what any sensible person would do if they were running a business and thinking of spending a lot of money. They would ask how they could be in a better position and whether the solution would have been cost-effective if applied to their past actions.
Perhaps the Minister could explain the role of the identity card in the prevention of terrorism. I can see that it would be useful in circumstances in which someone claims to be Mr. Jones to check whether they are indeed that person. That is a satisfactory concept, but I cannot see how widely that could be used in the direct battle against terrorism. The Minister should tell us more about that.
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I have always thought that it would be very helpful for people in this country to know that those people who claim benefits are entitled to them and not fiddling the system. I think that not for atavistic reasons, but because I happen to believe that benefits are an important part of a civilised society and people should not be besmirched because the system does not work very well. We have heard such contradictory views from the Government about how ID cards could be used against fraud, how much that might save and how many people might be involved, that it is difficult for any sane person to make a judgment. Many of us want to make a judgment, because we are not here for theological reasons only. Can the Minister give a definitive statement of how ID cards and the register will be useful in that area?
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