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The content of the register and its use is probably the major issue for me. The register will be different from anything else that is being constructed in parts of the world where identity cards are used or biometric passports are being introduced. No other register of which I know has the audit trail that was mentioned earlier. The Government clearly have a problem when they say, as they have said from the beginning of the debates on identity cards, that the system will initially be voluntary. There is a contradiction between claiming that it will be voluntary and getting people on the national identity register. The amendment deals with that.
A related issue is defining exactly what constitutes a designated document. There is no doubt from comments in previous debates that a passport will be a designated document. That may apply to other things. From reading the Committee proceedings, a designated document might be a Criminal Records Bureau letter, a firearms certificate or a driving licence.
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That information is important because it affects the scope of clause 5 and those who will have to register under it to get a document that they may want or need.
Dealing with compulsion is at the heart of the amendment. Compulsion crops up in different forms in various clauses. The Government have clearly said that the Bill does not provide for compelling people to carry an identity card. There will be no compulsion, without further legislation, to produce an identity card to access services. There is no compulsion to have a card and be registered. However, the tactics are clear: the measure is an enabling Bill and, ultimately and inevitably, having a card will be compulsory. It will certainly become compulsory to register. It became clear during previous debates that that is the ultimate aim. The tactic is obviously to leave the difficult cases until the end. They include people who do not have passports or driving licences, such as those who are elderly or infirm, and those who are difficult to tackle because they have chaotic lifestyles.
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): I apologise for missing the first moments of my hon. Friend's speech. Does not he agree that even the Bill's critics have said that it is desirable to test the concept of identity cards on a large number of people, otherwise we cannot get a fair impression? What is more natural than to test them on people who seek official documents, such as passports?
Mr. Gerrard: Some people might be prepared to be involved in trying out an ID card but let them make that choice rather than compelling them to do it. Let me be clear about what has been said previously. Some people have said to me that our manifesto contained a commitment to ID cards. Let me therefore quote the relevant passage. It states:
Any normal personby that I mean people outside this placewould interpret that as, "When I renew my passport, I can choose whether to go on the register and have an ID card." That is what "initially voluntary" would mean to anyone who read it.
However, the clause does not provide for something that is truly voluntary and the amendment tries to remedy that. Indeed, I am being generous because the amendment would provide for more than the manifesto outlined. It would apply not only to passports but to other registrable documents. To all practical purposes, the clause provides for compulsion.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD):
May I check that the hon. Gentleman and I share the same interpretation? The announcement yesterday that one could get a £30 identity card and buy a passport separately does not mean that, when one buys a passport, one would have the option of saying, "Thank you for the passport but I don't want the ID card." Unless the amendment is accepted, one would be made to have the ID card.
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Mr. Gerrard: The hon. Gentleman is right. The Bill clearly provides that, to get a designated document, a person "must" include an application to be entered on the register. One could claim that the person did not necessarily have to be presented with an ID card, but being on the register is what matters. The implication is clear. Not registering would mean no renewal of a passport or new passport. According to what constitutes a designated document, it could mean no driving licence and no Criminal Records Bureau check. Of course, I could decide that I did not want a passport. I could decide not to travel, drive or apply to the Criminal Records Bureau. The implication is that, by not registering, I would lose abilities or what some of us regard as rights.
It has been accepted for hundreds of years that a British citizen has a right to leave and re-enter the country. The passport has traditionally been a travel document that facilitated one's ability to leave and return to the country. However, if the Bill is passed in its current form, I cannot exercise that right without registering my biometrics.
Simon Hughes: Does the hon. Gentleman also agree that many of us would be willing to accept an international agreement that, to travel internationally and have a passport, certain other information had to be given, but that that is entirely different from having to comply with the new Big Brother system, fill in a form and register in order to remain in our country and live here, without any international travel obligations? I will buy one but I shall never be persuaded of the second.
Mr. Gerrard: There is a question of choice involved: do we want to travel internationally? It might well be that, under international agreements, other information has to be stored. I do not have a problem with having biometric data on a passport; that is not the issue for me. The issue is the register, the database on which all that biometric and other information is to be stored.
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