Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): It is 12 million.

Mr. Garnier: But it is a tiny number compared with the 48 million or so who will be required through compulsion, in designated documents, to enter on to the national identity register material that is private to them.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Is not the problem with the proposed system that the Government cannot control the current passport system? There are lots of forged passports and a good trade in them. They recently told me that they have no idea how many people are eligible to have a national insurance number, let alone what the correlation is between those who have them and those who should have them. Why should we believe that they will be any better at controlling the system if they do not have proper control of the borders and a proper policy on who is eligible to be here?

Mr. Garnier: My right hon. Friend properly raises all sorts of issues, and I trust that the Government will condescend to answer them in due course. I agree with the thrust behind his question. The Government's conduct on such matters is incredible and unconvincing. One only has to look at how they handle the Home Office accounts. Not even the Comptroller and Auditor General was prepared to sign those off. Why should we give them the trust that they desire and is required if the system is to command public confidence? I agree that the Government have a long way to go.

Mr. Cash : I do not know whether my hon. and learned Friend heard the remarks by Commissioner Frattini on "The World at One" today—[Interruption.] I am sad to hear that he did not. Commissioner Frattini
13 Feb 2006 : Column 1154
implied that he was concerned that there should be one border—namely, the European Union border. In the light of the remarks by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), perhaps my hon. and learned Friend will accept that at the heart of the problem is a view that we should have a border of Europe as a whole, as compared with those matters in respect of which passports are given—namely, access to the United Kingdom?

Mr. Garnier: I am always grateful for my hon. Friend's interpretations of what Commissioner Frattini has to say. He has a slightly better link to him than I do. My hon. Friend's general point is good. Here we are, getting freedom from compulsion until the next Bill—the next piece of primary legislation—

Frank Cook (Stockton, North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the fact that I am partially deaf—I have impaired hearing—would you kindly advise the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) to speak into the microphone, rather than to the wall?

Mr. Speaker: I have heard the hon. Gentleman's request. Perhaps the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) can assist.

4.30 pm

Mr. Garnier: I sympathise with the complaint of the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook), and I shall endeavour to make sure not only that he hears what I have to say but in due course that he can hear the grinding of his Government's reverse gears.

To return briefly to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who was listening with great care to Mr. Frattini at lunchtime, that issue will be wrapped up in the next debate when we discuss designated documents. The passport is a designated document, and immigration documents will be designated documents under the secondary legislation that will be introduced under clauses 4 and 5. The European travel document, which is what the identity card will eventually become, is another designated document. Mr. Frattini's point would therefore be more properly addressed in later debates. None the less, I do not wish to inhibit my hon. Friend from pursuing that argument.

I would like to know the width and weight of the Government concession. When will we know the detail of the next piece of primary legislation? Will it be written in English, and will it be yet another piece of legislation on to which the Secretary of State, whoever he then is, can hang further secondary legislation? It is one thing to say that there will be another Bill, but it is quite another thing to introduce a Bill that says precisely what it means. The Identity Cards Bill is nearly 45 pages long, and gives the Secretary of State 61 separate powers, but we cannot divine how the Secretary of State will use the powers that he gives himself and how he will define the documents and the other instruments on which he wishes to introduce secondary legislation.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Obviously, I do not resent the hon. and learned Gentleman making points on behalf of the
13 Feb 2006 : Column 1155
Opposition—that is what he is here for—but a moment ago he referred rather sarcastically to a reverse gear. As someone who opposed identity cards—I remain opposed to them—and who voted accordingly, I welcome the fact that the Government have accepted the Lords amendments so that primary legislation will be required before the cards become compulsory. I accept that the Opposition have the right to make their argument, but those of us who are critics of the proposal should bear in mind the fact that the Government have made a substantial concession which I, for one, very much welcome.

Mr. Garnier: I agree, and I have welcomed the concession—I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber when I intervened on the Minister in the early part of his speech. However, it is a 20 per cent. or partial concession. As I have said, there are still plenty of provisions in the Bill that give the Secretary of State power to compel the citizen to do something. It is right to welcome the limited concession, but we need to be very careful indeed about a Bill that essentially sets up a national identity register, which is a large Government computer into which all sorts of private information will go, and to which various Government agencies will have access. We the citizens will have no knowledge of when that information goes in, what is taken out, and to whom it is passed. Under the Bill's final provisions, we will not be allowed to see an audit trail of the information that has been accessed.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): My hon. and learned Friend's reservations about breadth and depth and what the measure amounts to are formidable ones. At this late stage in proceedings, when we are considering Lords amendments, is he suggesting that he is prepared to accept the Government motion and amendment, or are we going to oppose them as vigorously as they deserve?

Mr. Garnier: I shall invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to accept the Government's word. There will come a time later this afternoon when many of the problems that my hon. Friend and I still have with the Bill can be discussed—when we come to discuss compulsion and "must" or "may" in relation to designated documents. The narrowness of the present debate permits me to accept the Government's concession, to welcome their decision to agree to what their lordships say, and, as I said to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), to welcome the sound of the grinding of the Government gears.

I do not want to be unpleasant to the Government, but they should have made the concession last summer.   As I am sure the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), will appreciate, the concession would never have needed to be made had the Government written the Bill in English in the first place    and, when they meant compulsory, written "compulsory" in the Bill. But they did not think it was in their political or other interest to do that, so they have arrived at that decision after some delay. It is a pity that they wasted our time, but they got partly to the right answer in the end.
13 Feb 2006 : Column 1156

The Bill is essentially about the national identity register, and I mentioned some of my concerns about that. Anything to do with identity cards is but a fig leaf. We need to concern ourselves with the practicalities of the national identity register and its implications for civil liberties, rather than allowing ourselves to be bamboozled into thinking that the Bill is simply about whether we should voluntarily or compulsorily carry an identity card. It is not just about that.

When we are talking, as we are, about fundamentally altering the relationship between the citizen and the state, it behoves every Member of the House, Front-Bench or Back-Bench, Government or Opposition, to look carefully at the detail of the Bill and not to buy everything that the Government put wrapped up on the shop front. We need to unwrap it and see what is inside the gift the Government claim to be giving us. When we unwrap it, we will find that there is not much to attract us.

Next Section IndexHome Page