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David Howarth : Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that one of the most obnoxious aspects of the Bill is the way in which the civil penalty system to which he has referred works? It allows the Secretary of State to impose fines at his discretion, and if one has the cheek to object to his penalty, he has the power under clause 34 to increase the penalty, to deter one, I presume, from applying to him in the first place.
Mr. Garnier: The hon. Gentleman might have noticed the rubber stamp on the front of the Billit may not be on the current versionsaying that the Secretary of State has declared that this Bill is compliant with the European convention on human rights. I thought that article 6, which says that one is entitled to a fair hearing, was a fairly central part of the European convention. The punitive aspects of clauses 6 and 7, and the clause mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, seem to me to ride straight through the convention and the rubber-stamped certificate introduced by the Home Secretary.
How many jokers in this country will stand with their backs to the camera? They will not have broken the requirements of paragraph 2: it will be perfectly lawful for people to allow the backs of their heads and shoulders to be photographed for the purposes of the schedule. Members may say that that is a minor and a flippant point, but it highlights the stupidity of this part of the Bill.
It should also be borne in mind that the eyes of some members of the ethnic minorities do not respond to the biometric readers in quite the same way. The same applies to those who have had cataract operations. Why should people of my parents' generation, who now have eye problems such as cataracts and who fought for their country in the 1940s to prevent it from being overrun by a state of this kind, now endure the embarrassment of not being read properly by biometric readers, and possibly be denied access to the health service, local libraries and all the other public services that the Government seem to want to provide?
Mr. Gummer: My hon. and learned Friend pointed out that people would have to travel long distances. I do not know whether he has noticed the huge queues outside the American embassy, consisting of people trying to obtain visas. It is not just a question of travelling; it is a question of the general bureaucratic incompetence of any organisation that seeks to process a large number of people. Given that the United States seems to think it entirely possible to behave in what I consider an outrageous way to British citizens, and given the quality of the Bill, I see no reason to expect the British Government to behave better to their own citizens.
Mr. Garnier: I regret to say that my right hon. Friend is entirely correct. Nothing that I learnt from the Government in Committeedespite the admirable human qualities of the two Ministers who had the misfortune of conducting the Billnothing that I learnt on Second Reading, and nothing that I learnt from the Government's utterances during the recess persuaded me to take any view other than that expressed by my right hon. Friend. We are dealing with a Government who are in a total muddle, and have absolutely no idea of the Bill's implications. If they do know, they do not seem to want to care.
The irony is reinforced by the time limit, but that does not apply just to this debate. On 12 July, in Committeeas can be seen in column 405 of the record the Under-Secretary of State attempted to explain his weary way out of clauses 5, 6 and 7, but was cut off in mid-sentence because the knife imposed by his own Government came down and chopped off his tongue. How can we take seriously legislation that not even the Government gave themselves time to explain? Even they did not give themselves time to respond to the arguments advanced by the Opposition parties. The whole thing would be utterly absurd if it were not so Kafkaesque.
Our amendments, Nos. 13 and 14, seek to delete clauses 6 and 7. I understand the parliamentary arithmetic, and I know that it is highly unlikely that the Bill, if it secures Royal Assent, will be minus those clauses. However, the amendments give us the opportunity to express a view, which I hope is antithetic
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to the Government's wishes, about the huge powers that the Secretary of State is takinghuge powers wrapped up in statutory instruments that we have yet to see; huge powers to impose what the Minister politely calls "civil penalties". That is a fine in my language and, I suspect, in yours, Mr. Deputy Speaker; and it is a fine in the language of the good men and women of our country who will be the victims, or the recipients, of the Bill.
Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): I visited South Africa recently. I believe that the riots and rebellions there were sparked off partly by the draconian penalties for not carrying or possessing identity cards. I fear that that may be a consequence of measures of this kind in the long term.
Mr. Garnier: I quite agree. The pass system in apartheid South Africa was offensive to all civilised people. It does the Government some credit that the despicable collection of clauses in the Bill does notat least, yetinclude a requirement for you and me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to carry identity cards. It will, however, become increasingly a matter of practice and a matter of compulsionif not as a result of legislation, because people will be stopped and searched in the streets, and required to show their identity cards when entering the hospital, the library and, I gather, even the video store. The penalties to which my hon. Friend refers are hugely draconian.
Sir Robert Smith : Given the national database, will we not be walking identity cards once the system becomes compulsory, regardless of whether we carry a piece of paper? Our biometrics can be measured by any machine that we come across, or any machine used by officialdom to test us. People may think that they are not being forced to carry identity cards, but they will be forced to have their identities verified by the state if the system becomes compulsory.
The identity card is, in a sense, just a front. It is the human barcode that will allow the authoritiesthe state, or whoever possesses the readersto delve into the bucket of information about us that will be established by the Bill. This should more properly be called the national identity register Bill, because that is where the real civil-liberties implications lie. I accept that the Bill does not at presentas far as we can tellmake carrying an identity card compulsory, but I have little doubt that in due course we shall be toldif not by this Minister, by anotherthat we will find that much more convenient. Of course we cannot tell for certain, because we have not seen the 61 statutory instruments, still less the penal code referred to in clause 36.
I know that many Members want to speak, and that we must stop debating these important amendments at 7.15 pm. Let me say, however, that I am deeply concerned about the fact that we may well be passing into legislation the penal regime in clause 6 that would enable the Secretary of State, or those who work for him, to impose fines of up to £2,500 without our having seen the code of practice. I am also deeply concerned about the fact that under clause 7 the Secretary of State
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is doing his best, but not doing well enough, to give us mechanisms to allow parliamentary oversight over massive but as yet unseen powers.
On Second Reading and, frequently, in Committee, I described the Bill as no more than a Christmas tree on which the Secretary of State would hang, as he saw fit, statutory instruments, powers and so on. It would be, as someone else observed, the victim of creeping conduct by the Government. I urge all Members with any understanding of what the Government are capable of doing to resist the Bill. I accept that it contains some measures that are not as damaging to the citizen, but for the moment the Government have failed to discharge the burden of proof. I urge Members to bear in mind what was said by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, and I trust that the mood of the House will permit his amendment and others to be passed.
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