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Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Surely we know what any Government would say at that point. They would not say, "This is a question of principle: should we or should we not hold all this information about our people, who have committed no crime and who are not in themselves criminals?" They would say, as Governments always say, "We don't know why you are arguing about this now. You gave up that principle when you accepted the primary legislation."
Mr. Denham: The point of principle is that this House and this country should take steps towards a compulsory national identity register, which is necessary in the broadest sense for the security and well-being of the people of this country. The question how the register will be extended in six or seven years' time to those people who are not on it through passports or other designated documents must be addressed properly by Parliament at that particular point.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): One of the most significant indicators of the Government's continuing commitment to compulsion is that the UK Passport Service, at the behest or with the connivance of the Government, is planning no fewer than 70 new prime high street sites, from which Crown post offices will be excluded from competing on an equal basis for first-time passport applicants. How does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile his claim that computer projects are improving with the fact that the proposal will add greatly to the Government's costs?
Mr. Denham: Clearly, the project to be implemented will involve the Passport and Records Agency and other bodies making appropriate arrangements for people to register. I am not in a position to debate the detail of the proposals that the hon. Gentleman raises, but I see no problem in the Government ensuring, within the rules, that the necessary infrastructure is in place so that when we are invited to join the national identity register, which we will have to do for the purpose of renewing our passports, that process is as convenient for the individual as possible. I would expect no less of the Passport and Records Agency or of any other part of Government.
Mr. Garnier: I am grateful to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. On passports, does he agree that we must consider carefully the arguments about convenience that he touched on a moment ago? The Government claim that international obligations require us to have on our passports biometric information that will be sucked into, or will be available to be stored on, the national identity register. However, our international obligation is merely for our passports to have digitised biometrics that are readable by the passport officer using a machine at the port of entrythose biometrics would not be accessible by a national identity register. The Government keep trying to smooth over that distinction.
Mr. Denham: The hon. and learned Gentleman and I start this debate from different points of view: he is against having a national ID register and ID cards, and I am in favour of them. My hon. Friend the Minister conceded earlier that the proposals go somewhat beyond the strict minimum required by the International Civil Aviation Organisation and other regulations; however, that is not entirely the point. The ICAO requires this sort of development in the passport and that an infrastructure should be set up to collect biometrics.
If we are to go through the process of collecting biometrics because our citizens need that to be done to travel abroad, let us do the job properly and do the other thing that we need to do, namely, establish a decent ID card system and a national identity register. We need that development to enable us to tackle the whole range of identity fraud and to deal with illegal migration problems over the next 10 years, particularly as the EU expands and borders become more difficult to secure nationally. That is a gain worth having. The fact that we need to collect biometric data for passport use does not mean that all we should do is the absolute minimum required by those international requirements, given that the gains of having a decent identity register system are significant. That is where the hon. and learned Gentleman and I have different approaches to these issues.
Mr. Winnick: My right hon. Friend and I disagree profoundly in the Home Affairs Committee, so we have a minority report of one. I know that he is even more strongly in favour of identity cards than the Government. He talked about and gave examples of the ways in which identity cards will resolve various problems, but many of us believe that they are being held up as some sort of panacea on terrorism and identity fraud, whereby if we name a problem, the identity card will resolve it. We simply do not believe that identity cards will be the solution any more than they have been in countries such as Spain, where there has been terrorism.
I am in danger, which I said I would avoid, of being drawn into a Second Reading debate. My hon. Friend played an active role in our inquiries. As he said earlier, we agreed entirely with what the Government are now doing on the point that we are discussing. My viewand that of the majority of the Select Committeeis that identity cards will make a significant contribution to each problem that we are trying to tackle. They will absolutely solve few if any problems, but without an identity card system we will be far less well equipped to tackle them.
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Anybody who suggests that identity cards or the national identity register are a panacea for all problems is wrong and would be misleading people, but those who say that they have no useful role in tackling identity fraud are also wrong.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I pay tribute to the exceptionally deft and dexterous manner in which the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality and the Home Secretary handled compulsion. It takes special skill to present to the House an unworkable scheme, suffer a defeat on it in the other place and subsequently present an acceptance of a defeat on an unworkable scheme as a remarkable triumph and concession. Ministers should be given due credit for that.
I listened to some of the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) with wry amusement. He said that the Government were going into reverse gear. Some of us remember that when the Identity Cards Bill was introduced in the previous Parliament, the Conservative party began in reverse gear. It managed to coast in neutral for a while and it has now managed to find a forward gear, albeit a low one.
As the Minister has already said, I have been critical of the little-lamented super-affirmative procedure, which was unworkable. However, as one who deeply opposes the identity cards scheme and the identity register and does not want the introduction of any element of compulsion, I almost mourn its passing. The super-affirmative procedure was a secondary legislative procedure and the Parliament Act could not be applied to it. It would therefore have been possible, especially given the requirement to agree a report in both Houses, to block the implementation of a compulsory scheme indefinitely. However, it is not the job of the House to implement law that we know to be bad, even if it sometimes appears convenient to do that. The Lords amendments improve the opportunity for scrutiny through a second primary measure and Liberal Democrat Members welcome that.
The hon. and learned Member for Harborough has already made the point that the compulsion that the amendments would exclude is merely express compulsion. The possibility of compulsion by stealth, which we shall discuss shortly, through the designated documents remains. The Government oversell their position when Ministers claim, as they did today, that they have made some great concession that requires the House to revisit compulsion at a later date in primary legislation.
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My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) made a good point, which the Minister and his officials should consider at their leisure, about the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which is beginning its passage through the House. Hon. Members know that, if enacted in its current form, it would allow the Government to amend primary legislation through using statutory instruments. It therefore remains open to the Government to use secondary legislation to amend the Identity Cards Bill or to introduce compulsion. That worries me.
There are two possible routes that could be taken here. The first is that the Minister could stand up today and state expressly that that is not the Government's intention. The alternative routewhich I believe would be open to the House on another occasion, and I commend it to hon. Members in the light of thatwould be to amend the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill when we have the opportunity to do so. To give the Government the power to amend primary legislation in the sweeping way that is proposed by that Bill seems very wrong.
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