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Mr. Clarke: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the chance to clarify that point. My understanding is that an individual can renew their passport at any time. If there is an error on the UK Passport Service website, I will deal with that immediately.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): The Home Secretary will know that many people have no objection to the idea of signing up to an international agreement to have a new form of passport with the necessary biometric and other details. However, is the implication of the Government's insistence on the linkage that there will be a new precondition for any British citizen who wants to have a British passportthat they will also have to accept an identity card? Does that not change the basis on which we were entitled to passports in the past? They were always in theory discretionary, but given to people if there was no very good reason for not doing so.
Passports are voluntary documents[Laughter.] Well, of course they are. No one is forced to renew a passport if they choose not to do so. That will remain the case once we begin issuing identity cards alongside passports. Election manifestos cannot possibly deal with every detail of an existing policy, but it is clear to me that, in saying very explicitly that the roll-out would initially be on a voluntary basis, the manifesto refers to what has always been the Government's position, as Members on both sides of the House who have considered the matter carefully should acknowledge. That position is that the scheme will initially be based on a stand-alone identity card, issued on its own on a voluntary basis, or together with a document such as a passport, which is also issued on a voluntary basis. That seems to be clear and unequivocal.
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David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Home Secretary tell the House what proportion of the 60 million residents of the United Kingdom do not hold, or are not included on, a UK passport? For them, this really would be optional.
Mr. Clarke: I will take the intervention from the right hon. Gentleman and say 15 per cent. The point is that a significant proportion of people do not choose to have a passport, for a variety of different reasons. In my opinion, that simply reinforces my point.
Later this year, we plan to start to interview all adult first-time passport applicants to confirm their identity at a network of 69 new UK Passport Service local offices. That will require a personal visit, just as will be the case when people enrol biometrics for an identity card.
The structure that I have described indicates that there are four common-sense reasons for rejecting the amendments from the other place: costs, benefits, convenience and security. First, on costs, we want the identity card scheme to provide the greatest benefits at the lowest cost to the taxpayer. The Lords amendments would increase the cost of establishing the scheme because of the greater complexity of handling an optional service that would mean that some people could opt out of having an identity card when obtaining a passport. Moreover, uncertainty would affect the unit cost and thus the fee level for identity cards. That is a serious point. Cost is a factor that has been raised across the House and the Lords amendments make the issue more, rather than less, difficult to resolve.
Secondly, there would be an impact on the benefits of the identity card scheme. Reducing the speed of the roll-out of ID cards would slow down the wider benefits such as combating illegal immigration or improving the effectiveness of public services. Thirdly, there would be inconvenience to the public if the Lords amendments were passed. It does not make sense to issue a biometric passport without the accompanying identity card. The process of enrolling biometrics and checking identity for both documents will be virtually identical. The same data will be held in both cases. Fourthly, there is the question of security. We would directly be offering an open goal to fraudsters, criminals and immigration offenders if we said that they could simply choose to avoid being included in the national identity register when they applied for a passport or an immigration document.
The amendments have been fully debated during the passage of two Bills in both this place and the other place. The House has made its position very clear on a number of occasions. We should send the amendments back to another place with the message that it is now time for their lordships to accept that the Bill should pass without further amendment. The case is clear for the House to insist again on its disagreement with Lords amendments Nos. 16 and 22 and to agree Government amendment (a) in lieu.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): On the face of it, this is just another Committee stage debate about the inclusion of the word "may" or the word "must" in clauses 5 and 8, or the words of Government amendment (a). Despite the guillotine, this short debate is about a lot more than that. The amendments are not, as the Home Secretary says, technical. One would have to be deaf or stupid to accede to the arguments advanced by him tonight.
We all know the Home Secretary is neither deaf nor stupid, but for the life of us we cannot understand what the Government are attempting to do, yet again, by riding roughshod over common sense and justice. We are discussing the relationship between the citizen and the state, and whether it is right for the Government to change that relationship fundamentally by requiring the citizen to do what the state says he must do for its convenience, rather than his. This part of the Bill and the debate that we are having fully describes the difference between, on the one hand, me, my party and our supporters tonight and the Members of the other place whose amendments we are seeking to sustain, and on the other hand, the Government.
Through the Bill, the Government have revealed their true colours and motives more clearly tonight than they may have realised: "Do as we say, not as we do." What do they do? Let us have a look, as the Home Secretary invited us to do. I know that he is not deaf or stupid, so we will take him back to his own manifesto, to which he glibly referred us this evening. It is worth repeating, and it is a document that he will no doubt enjoy hearing. It states:
The words are plain and their meaning is obvious. I doubt that anybody, even the Home Secretary, is confused by what the Government intended that the public should understand before the general election in 2005.
It is clear beyond doubt that the Government know that their case is flawed and that Baroness Scotland in the other place and the Home Secretary and his Ministers in the House know that they are dangling on a flimsy thread of argument, yet they still seem to enjoy the twisting in the wind that we observe. Why else did they agree to introduce compulsion only following further primary legislation for that 15 or 20 per cent. of the British public who do not have a passport? They did it because they were complying with their own manifesto. They knew what "voluntary" means, but now they pretend it means something else.
This is not about the Salisbury convention or about a proper balance between this House and the other. It is about a Government who are guilty of intellectual
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dishonesty on a grand scale and who do not have the decency or the common sense to understand that, admittedly unusually, the public have read their manifesto and taken them at their word.
We recently had the derisory spectacle of the Secretary of State for Health throwing the Labour party's manifesto commitment on smoking in public places into the ashtray. Clearly, manifestos are relied on only when it suits the occasion, but it is surely better to have half an eye on the wording if they want to rely on it.
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