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Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Hon. Members: Give way!

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The Home Secretary will determine when he is ready to give way.

Mr. Clarke: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

For the Government's part, I have ensured that the fee-setting powers provided by clause 37 allow us to set a fee regime that is flexible and affordable and that can take into account any innovative approach suggested by possible suppliers. I can therefore tell the House that—as the Under-Secretary has already indicated—within our current financial estimates of the whole scheme, it will be affordable to set a charge of £30 at current prices for a stand-alone ID card that is valid for 10 years. No one who wants to protect their identity need pay more.
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The essence of the scheme is clear; but, of course, there has been a political debate on that, too. The Opposition have changed their position consistently—or inconsistently—throughout their approach. If I may speak as a candid friend when looking at the Conservatives in the leadership election that they now face, I want to remind them that, on 14 December 2004, the shadow Cabinet decided to back ID cards, under the leadership of the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), and he wrote in The Daily Telegraph setting out that approach.

On 20 December, the Tories voted in favour of ID cards on Second Reading. On Report and Third Reading, the majority of Tories MPs abstained, while some voted against the Bill in principle. That was a victory—perhaps not one repeated this evening—for the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), who succeeded in changing the position of the parliamentary Conservative party on these questions. In the wash-up in April 2005, the Conservatives moved to outright opposition and killed the Bill. On 28 June 2005, when the Bill was reintroduced on Second Reading, they voted against it. I believe that that is a clear case of identity crisis for the Conservative party.—[Interruption.] Yes, it is, and I could go further, but I will not—

Mr. Garnier : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We all enjoy a little bit of banter, but we are debating the Bill on Third Reading and no one should be hiding behind the bluster that we have heard. We have a very short time in which to discuss the Bill. I should be most grateful to the Home Secretary if he returned to the Bill.

Madam Deputy Speaker: The Home Secretary was certainly doing some recollecting, but I hope that he will now address his remarks to the Bill. There has been banter on both sides.

Mr. Clarke: I accept your injunction, Madam Deputy Speaker. I understand the sensitivity on the official Opposition Benches in the absence of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden—I wonder where he is.

I conclude by noting that the public debate on identity cards began more than three years ago. The Government have proceeded in a measured way through consultation on the principles and, most recently, on draft legislation. The Bill sets out a clear legal framework for the scheme. It provides a means for everyone legally resident in the UK to assert their right to be in the country and to help them gain access to the services to which they are entitled. It will help to preserve national security. It will assist the work of the law enforcement agencies and enable them to have the ID system they want.

I commend the Bill to the House.

9.30 pm

Mr. Garnier : I begin by agreeing with one thing that the Home Secretary said. I, too, offer my thanks to the Clerks of the House and others who made the apolitical aspects of the Bill altogether more manageable.
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Where I depart from the Home Secretary is in the analysis of the Bill that he made during the 15 minutes that he occupied of this 45-minute debate. Indeed, is not there something rather obscene about a Home Secretary complaining about lack of time to debate his Bill because his Government have curtailed the time for debate? On Report, I pointed out that his Under-Secretary, with whom he is now conversing, was cut off in his prime in Committee. I believe that the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality was also cut off during Report this evening. All those things would be welcome in some circumstances, but if the Government say that their own motions prevent them from debating their legislation, who are we to complain?

We need to be clear about the fact that during this debate the Government's majority was cut to 32 and 33, and I encourage all Members who are interested in democracy and civil liberties and who have read the Bill to vote with us this evening against the Third Reading. The Bill is economically illiterate and politically inept, and will prove socially divisive.

The Government began the whole sorry process by saying that the Bill would be valuable in the fight against terrorism; yet, to be fair to the Home Secretary—I am occasionally fair to him—on 8 July he said that identity cards would not have prevented the tube attacks on 7 July. We know that 9/11 would not have been prevented by identity cards. The people who committed those crimes had pilots' licences and passports. Those who committed the crimes on 7 July were perfectly happy to be filmed by the railway station closed circuit television. The problem was not hiding their identity, but hiding their intention—[Interruption.] I am glad to see that Members on the Treasury Bench find the subject so tremendously funny.

When the Government lost their first argument they said, "Oh, perhaps we'll try benefit fraud". However, we know that benefit fraud will not be dealt with by the possession of identity cards or by the information in the national identity register. Then they said, "Well, let's try immigration, that's bound to help". The Home Secretary is trying that again this evening, but the problem is that one does not have to register on the national identity register or hold an identity card if one is in the country for less than three months. When a person enters the country as a tourist, how are the Government to know that they have not remained beyond the permitted time?

There is the problem of the free travel area between the UK and the Irish Republic and the free travel area in the European Union. What will that do? Far from preventing immigration illegalities, it will exacerbate ethnic problems and cultural division in the UK. Do the Government want to give a free hand to the British National party? Anybody who thinks that is a good idea should vote for this sordid Government this evening.

The Government then said, and the Home Secretary repeated this evening, that the measure would deal with identity fraud. When the Bill began its passage in the summer, identity fraud cost the economy £50 million, but during the summer months the cost rose to £1.5 billion. I do not know why, and the Government have produced no evidence to support that fact. Indeed, we are having a Third Reading by assertion with an absence of proof. We cannot have legislation that is
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created in this form or pushed through in such a way, and we cannot tolerate a Government who have absolutely no understanding of the constitution of this country.

The Government moved on to say that the scheme would prevent other forms of serious crime. As the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) pointed out on Second Reading, no serious criminal will be too bothered about whether he is required to register for, or have, an identity card. The money would be far better spent on police officers, gaining intelligence about the activities of criminals and producing a proper border control police.

The Government have blustered and demanded that we agree with all their assertions, despite the lack of evidence to prove them. Eventually, they have ended up saying that it would be more convenient for us all if we had identity cards and information was stored away on the national identity register. If the Government want to see the population of this country wandering around with a form of barcode across our foreheads, or with a mark to allow us to come out of our houses, they are not the sort of Government whom this country needs. We should certainly not be promoting such a society.

The Bill is obscene and absurd and it will do nothing but damage the country's interests as a whole. It will do nothing to advance the causes that we all share: defeating terrorism; doing away with benefit fraud; and tightening up our immigration rules, which the Government have randomly let fall apart. Of course we want to deal with identity fraud and serious crime, but the Bill will not do that in its present form and would not have done that in its first form. It is a ridiculous and stupid Bill.

What will the scheme cost the citizen? All of us over the age of 16 will have to pay not only the £30 cost of buying the wretched card, but the travel costs of getting from the outer isles to the Glasgow centre at which one will be processed, as though one were in some gulag, or from rural parts of the country to other cities.

What will the scheme cost the country as a whole? We all know that the cost will be somewhere between £8 billion and £19 billion, but the Government say that the cost of a card will be only £30. The whole thing is utterly absurd, and the more one examines what the Secretary of State has to say, the more absurd it becomes and the more absurd the Government are.

Let us step aside from the practical arguments against the Bill and consider a matter of principle: the relationship between the citizen and state, about which the Government care little and know nothing. They have forgotten about constitutional history—if they knew anything about it—and the proper relationship between the Government, Parliament and the judiciary. All that is swept aside with great windy bluster from the Home Secretary and his junior Ministers. It is time for Parliament to stand up for what it is supposed to and to defend the liberties of the citizen, not to kowtow to this appalling Government and go down on bended knee and grovel as they pass more and more appalling legislation to destroy the rights of the citizen. It is no good for the Government to say that this is all exaggeration—just look at what they have done already and what they intend to do through this Bill and other legislation to eat into the liberties of the citizen.
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This is a bad Bill from a sad Government. It is legislation by statutory instrument. The Government are providing 61 separate powers to enable the Home Secretary or his successor to produce secondary legislation. The Bill contains very little detail. It increases the penalty for misbehaviour. One could easily be fined up to £2,500 for what the Government politely call a "civil penalty", and if one does not pay that, off one goes to prison.

The Bill amounts to little more than a denial of democracy. The House should be ashamed of it, and I trust that all people of honour in the House will increase the Government's embarrassment by reducing their majority to way below 32—indeed, we should kill this Bill.

9.39 pm

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