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Ed Balls (Normanton) (Lab): I have listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman's speech and he has made a series of arguments that have not been easy to follow, but as far as I can see, almost every one of them is equally an argument against the Home Office running a passport system using a computer on which identities are stored. I struggle to understand why he is against ID cards, but in favour of passports. His main point seems to be that passports are compulsory, so if ID cards are applied to people with a passport, they will become compulsory too. But is he really saying that passports are compulsory?
David Davis: I am afraid that I do not take responsibility for the hon. Gentleman not being able to understand something. It is as simple as this, and if he listens he may understand. There is a national identity register. It is a central database system. It has many thousands of access points around the country. It has to do so because that is the way it works. It is different from most other identity card systems around the world. The compulsory ones are largely localised databases, not national, and that is why they cost only about £4 a head, not the sort of cost that this system will engender when we see it.
In a moment of frankness last year, the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality admitted that the Government had exaggerated the value of ID cards in the fight against terrorism. He was very honest, he always is, and I give him credit for that. But as Dr. Gladman suggests, the truth may be far worse. The creation of the national identity register may create a mechanism that will actually allow terrorists to operate under the radar more effectively, undetected until their
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plans come to fruition. All of those are good reasons for individual citizens not to want to put their details on the national identity register.
Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the whole purpose of having a clean identity base is to ensure that once someone's identity has been verified by taking the biometric, that biometric can then never be used by anyone else? If someone takes someone's identity to begin with, they would have to continue with that identity for the rest of their lives. Therefore, the purpose of a clean identity base nationally is to achieve what the Conservative party paraded as its policy before the election, namely, an understanding of who is in the country, who is entitled to work, who is entitled to services and to ensure that those who are not, are precluded from working, drawing down on free services or being involved in other such ventures. Is that not the case?
David Davis: The right hon. Gentleman makes a point that he adheres to honestly and straightforwardly, but on which we differ, and that is that it is possible for the proposed system to be entirely clear and to have perfect integrity. When we were considering the early stages of this when he was still Home Secretary, I went to see the Metropolitan police, at that point under Sir John StevensI know a favourite of hisand I talked to him and all his deputy commissioners about their interest in the system. I put to them a question that I subsequently put to his previous advisers, to the Cabinet Office advisers, and to the briefers who talked to us about this at various stages. The question was this: how will somebody be prevented from putting a virus into one of the many thousands of access points in the system to change a piece of data, for example, relating to me, by inserting a little programme that says that every time a question is asked about me, answer yes?
David Davis: There are many with the name David Davis. That would be a major disruption for the entire country of Wales. But the simple point was that we received no answer and we still do not have one. That is the point that the Microsoft specialist in this area has made: that it is a very vulnerable exercise to create what he called a honeypot for fraudsters, conmen, thieves, terrorists
David Davis: I have not finished answering this question. I will give way to the hon. Lady in a moment. The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) deserves a clear reply because he will know more of the inwardnesses of this than many others.
The second point with regard to creating a clean database is that, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, whoever creates it will have to have some originating documents. One of our concerns about this was the prospect that people would come in from mainland
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Europe and have three months clear, without doing anything, but even if they did nothing for three months, they might come in with documents that were cleared in another part of Europe that is perhaps a little less careful than we are. I will not insult any particular country by picking it out, but they do exist and the right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do who they are.
Earlier today, we heard concerns about the common travel area and the Irish Republic, and although we do not know what the outcome will be, that issue represents a 5 million-person hole in the system. Given the value of corrupting the system, the size of the system and the fact that all the data will be in one place, people will try to corrupt the system andI hate to say thisthe likelihood is that they will succeed. The right hon. Gentleman has asked a good question, but his argument is not right.
Lynne Featherstone : Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the disproportionate basis on which people from different communities are likely to be stopped, searched and therefore have their information accessed on the database is another good reason not to introduce such a database? And does he know whether the Minister has conducted a proper race impact assessment and, if so, have the proposals been changed?
David Davis: I am not aware that such a race impact assessment has been conducted. The hon. Lady is right that the system will be disproportionate in a variety of interesting ways, and it will disproportionately affect minority communities in some respects. Early adopters on the database are likely to be the least risky people. A person who poses a risk to the country at large will not want to sign up for a passport or any other documentation, if they can avoid doing so. For example, an illegal immigrant would clearly not want to sign up for such documentation, and many others would take the same approach.
It looks like the system will not bite for the best part of a decade, so it will not do any good for the best part of a decade. Why are the Government breaking their manifesto pledge to make the first stage voluntary and insisting on this covert, creeping compulsion? The answer is simple: they know that this expensive, cumbersome system will never be popular once it is up and running, and they will therefore contrive every method possible to ensure that the massive majority of the population are already signed up, whether they like it or not, before the question of compulsion is put before Parliament again. Whether the method involves a super-affirmative order or whether it involves primary legislation, 70 to 80 per cent. of the population will be in the system before we re-examine the matter, which will be presented as an inevitable development.
John Bercow: Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a question of not only numbers signed up, but money spent? Will he accept that the Government, who should be candid enough to acknowledge this fact, are seeking to create a ratchet whereby so much money is spentwisely or unwisely; for good or illthat the point will come when Ministers have the temerity to argue that not proceeding to compulsion would waste that money?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. The Government want us to face an argument of
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inevitability. They will say, "We have got a huge sunk cost. The vast majority of the population is on the system alreadywhy not make it everybody?" That will seem eminently practical and sensible, but the benefits will not have accrued, because, as Ministers know, if the ID cards system is going to do many of the things that the Government claim, it must be compulsorycarrying an ID card will probably have to be compulsory, too, but we can address that point in five years' time.
Passports will ensure that some 80 per cent. of the population is on the register in a decade. I was mildly surprised by the Home Secretary's remarks about driving licences, because the Government tried to take the power to recall all driving licences in the Road Safety Bill. The Home Secretary has said that that was not to allow further designation for ID cards, and I must believe him, but the Lords did not believe him, and they blocked the measure. That is not an issue now, although it might have been, but it is another reason not to allow the Government the right to enforce this creeping compulsion.
There is a final, serious matter of principle. The way in which the Government have gone about trying to deliver this Bill is of a piece with what they have done to other hard-won rights of the British people. The ID card will make no difference to serious security issues for at least a decade, if ever, and the difference may not be positive, too. Before then, this House will make a serious and considered decision about compulsion. Let us not allow ourselves to discover at that point that we have inadvertently already made that decision. Let us not discover too late that we have sleepwalked into the surveillance state. Let us protect the British citizen's right to choose, and this House's eventual right to decide. Let us reject the Government amendment this afternoon.
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