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Tim Farron: I will be brief. The Government have sought to curtail this debate and I do not want to aid or abet them. The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) pointed out the serious concerns that exist about the effective compulsion in which the introduction of the identity card system and the attendant database will result. Given that possession of an ID card is linked so closely to entitlement to basic services such as housing, health, use of libraries and education, we are indeed, in effect, talking about compulsion.
The distance that people live from registration centresone of the issues with which our amendments dealis crucial to take-up of the ID card and, therefore, to entitlement to those basic services. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) referred to the various rural areas in which distance from a registration centre will be crucial to take-up. [Interruption.] He could indeed have mentioned rural and isolated areas such as those in Bournemouth and Cambridge, along with those in my own constituency. I would not myself wish to opt for take-up at the so-called voluntary stage, given that the Government are effectively making possession of an ID card compulsory by linking access to basic services
Dr. Blackman-Woods: Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the Government have given a commitment to establishing a number of centres throughout the countryperhaps 70to ensure that people do not have to travel too far?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her observation, but she might want to consider that 70 is a very small number, given the large rural areas that exist in this country. If we divide the population coverage by that number of centres, it is clear that accessing them
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will be very difficult. Such a number certainly does not meet the requirements that are met by the 20-mile distance limit that we are seeking to include in the Bill.
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): Of course, it is a question not only of distance but of the ability to get to a registration centre. The islanders of Colonsay have only three boats a week to the mainland, and if there are to be only 70 registration centres, it will take them at least three days to get to a centre and back again. If the date specified by the Secretary of State happens to fall on a Friday, they will have to leave home on a Wednesday and will get back the following Monday. That is ridiculous. The registration facilities must go to the people, not the other way round. Such facilities must go to the islands.
Tim Farron: I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point, which highlights one of the many other ways in which the £5 billion that will be spent on the ID card system could be better spent. There are great problems with the public transport services in rural areas such as mine. They are much more expensive, and much less available and convenient, than they should be, so access to registration centres will be rendered even more difficult.
Our desire to limit the distance between the individual and the registration centre highlights a general problem throughout the country, even in urban areas: lack of take-up of the ID card and, therefore, of the services to which people are entitled.
Adam Afriyie: For the many elderly and disabled people on means-tested benefits, registering for the ID card will be almost compulsory. Does the hon. Gentleman feel comfortable with the idea of living in a society in which we wheel out the elderly, infirm and disabled to Government processing centres to have their retinas scanned and their fingerprints taken?
Tim Farron: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. I feel in no way comfortable with the idea of living in such a society. He has moved us on to the important issue of people becoming excluded from basic services not because they live in rural or isolated areas, but for other reasons. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough referred earlier to the 20 per cent. of people who will never have a passport. Perhaps even more worrying and illuminating is the significant proportion of people who are not, and are never likely to be, on any electoral roll, and who effectively duck out of society. Some may say that they should not exclude themselves in that way, but we are talking about a group of people consisting predominantly of Travellers, young people, elderly people living in isolated rural areas, and people with mental health difficulties. They will exclude themselves from registration and will, therefore, effectively become non-persons. That should worry us all.
Amendments Nos. 36 and 37 seek to remove the requirement to submit to the gathering of biometric data, which we object to on the ground of efficacy. We simply do not believe that such a provision will work. The Government are surely aware of evidence showing
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that where registration and the checking and gathering of data is automated, people can, for example, use false contact lenses to give an erroneous retinal scan. The Government will say that they can get round that problem by carrying out individual checks of everybody who comes forward for examination. However, such an incredibly labour-intensive exercise would vastly increase the Bill's associated costs, beyond even the estimates of independent assessors who have published data on this subject.
I also object to the provision because it allows the Government to overplay the reliability of this scheme. A perverse consequence of such overplaying is that it will play into the hands of the criminal. It will increase the currency and likelihood of fraud, create incentives for committing fraud and increase the premium on counterfeiting. My fundamental objection to the provision, however, is that it is illiberal, because I am one of those who take the view that something that is illiberal is intrinsically bad.
Were you to visit the National Liberal Club, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would see memorials to the great Liberal heroes of yesteryear, such as Gladstone and Lloyd George. You would also be interested to see a plaque commemorating one Clarence Harry Willcock, who was a Liberal party member in 1950an act of heroism in its own right. He is famous because it was he who precipitated the abolition of the previous ID card scheme. In 1952, Winston Churchill abolished that scheme largely because of a case brought against Mr. Willcock. He was asked by a member of the constabulary to show his ID card and despite possessing it, he refused to do so because, he said, "I am a Liberal and I am against this sort of thing." Absolutely right. [Interruption.] I am a Liberal and I am against this sort of thing. I suppose that the Conservatives might say, "We are Conservatives and we are in favour of this sort of thing, but we've checked the opinion polls and so we're voting with the Liberal Democrats." However, I digress.
Fundamentally, we oppose this provision because as we all know, Members of this House cannot and should not bind their successors. In passing the Bill and allowing this provision to remain unamended, we are providing the apparatus for authoritarianism. I ask Labour Members to imagine that in response to the IRA threat of the 1970s, the previous Labour Government successfully introduced this Billthat James Callaghan stood before the House and carried it through. Would Labour Members consider the possibility of what might have happened after 1979 if this sort of legislation fell into the hands of Margaret Thatcher? What might the unintended consequences have been? Many of you were involved in anti-nuclear protests and industrial relations disputes of the 1980s, particularly the miners' strike. Would you like to suppose for one nightmarish moment what this Bill in their hands would have meant for you?
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab):
I would not disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but I want to comment on his point about heroes. Does he consider that the great Liberal heroes, Asquith and Lloyd George, were right to refuse to grant the vote to women for years on end? Women only achieved the vote in 1918.
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Tim Farron: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution and I will check the history later with my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (David Howarth). What I can tell you is that this House cannot bind its successors
The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) is right to make that point, but just as the House cannot bind its successors, neither can the Liberals of yesteryear. All I am asking is for Labour Members to be true to themselves and say, "We are Labour and we are against this sort of measure".
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