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Simon Hughes: Has the hon. and learned Gentleman been able to discover a single example of any occasion during or immediately after the general election when the Home Secretary gave the explanation that he gave to the House tonight? Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the new interpretation has arisen only since, as he said, the suggestion of primary legislation to do with compulsory ID cards?

Mr. Garnier: Trying to extract from the Government's words any coherent intellectual basis for the case that they are now making is extremely difficult. The Government have changed their reasons for supporting not only identity cards, but the national identity register, and they change their position on what they mean by "voluntary" and what they think they mean by "compulsory" day by day.

10.15 pm

As the Home Secretary undoubtedly had reported to him, because he is neither deaf nor stupid, the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality said in Committee that the Government accept that their arguments in support of identity cards and the national identity register as a bulwark against terrorism are flawed. He also said that they accept that their arguments in support of identity cards and the national identity scheme as a bulwark against general crime, immigration breaches and other matters are all flawed. As each defence has been removed from them, they have returned to the argument that they will find ID cards "more convenient".

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that this is an extremely good example of what Lord Hailsham once described as "an elective dictatorship"?

Mr. Garnier: It is but one example, and we have had several since 1997.

On 13 February, the Government agreed that compulsory registration on the national identity register and the identity card scheme for the 20 per cent. of the population who do not have passports should require new legislation. Did they think that the remaining 80 per cent. of the population would not notice that attempt at compulsion by stealth? Unless one voluntarily applies to renew one's passport, one will face a financial penalty.

All the information set out in schedule 1 to the Identity Cards Bill must be spewed up into the Government's great bucket of information. Some 40 million British citizens are being told that to be compelled to do something at the Government's convenience—they will have to go through a processing
 
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centre; individually, they will probably have to pay a lot more than £30 directly; and collectively they will have to pay millions indirectly—is a voluntary process.

Look at what the Government are now proposing and compare it with the words of the Home Secretary just a moment ago, when he read out his own manifesto:

I know that the Government do not like hearing their own words, which allow the public to appreciate precisely what they mean, but they will hear them again and again until they realise that their arguments are flawed and that the public are no deafer and no more stupid than the Home Secretary.

The Government have said that identity cards will defeat terrorism, welfare fraud, general crime, immigration breaches and identity fraud. They have said that it is vital to introduce identity cards and the national identity register to deal with all those problems. If that were the magic of this great scheme, they would not "let it roll out" over the next 10 years; they would have introduced it yesterday or the day before.

The Government have stopped believing in anything that they say, and even if they keep saying it, they know that it will not produce the results that they claim. There is no urgency in their programme—assertion has followed assertion, but they know that that will not do. They have resorted to an argument based on public convenience and a deliberately misleading reliance on an international obligation to introduce biometric passports. Many Labour Members realise that the argument in relation to biometric passports is utterly flawed, because it is simply not a proper comparison. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) mentioned on 13 February, biometric passports will contain perhaps three biometrics, not 13. There is no obligation under our international treaties to make the passport a gateway to the national identity register.

The Government will not tell us what further documents are to constitute that gateway. One of the 61 powers that the Bill gives the Home Secretary to make law by statutory instruments allows him to create a list of designated documents. So far, the Government admit that it includes passports, residence documents and other forms of travel documents—but what are those other documents, and where is the list? They have not a clue, and it shows every time they argue for the Bill and against the Lords amendments.

What will this exercise cost? Again, the Government have not a clue, and it shows. [Laughter.] It is interesting that they seem to think that this attempt fundamentally to change the relationship between citizen and state is a matter of risibility. The problem that they face is that they no longer have any understanding of the public, any understanding of what they are in business for, or any understanding of what this House is for. The longer they go on sniggering, the longer the public will find their arguments increasingly unattractive. Will this resistance to the Lords amendments make the national identity register and the identity cards scheme fit for purpose, to use a favourite phrase? They have not a clue, and the history of this
 
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legislation shows it. Do they know if and when, or how, these proposals will adversely affect the individual? They have not a clue, and if they do, they do not care.

Parliament should protect the citizen against the overbearing Executive. That is our duty, and tonight it should also be our pleasure. We are not here for the convenience of this arrogant Government. Let us hold firm for liberty and common sense. I urge the House to support the Lords amendments.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): The "Oxford English Dictionary" gives the following definition of "voluntary":

This debate is not only about the fate of a Bill that will introduce one of the most expensive, illiberal follies in recent times—it is also about our specific disagreement on the meaning of that one word.

The Labour party's manifesto at the last election was refreshingly—some would say uncharacteristically—clear on the introduction of identity cards. ID cards would, the manifesto said—it bears repetition—be rolled out

Liberal Democrat Members take that to mean simply what it says—that when renewing their passports, individuals will be able to choose, of their own free will, whether they wish to receive ID cards as well. Yet by way of a painful linguistic contortion that the Home Affairs Committee has rightly condemned as stretching

the Government now seek to persuade us that "voluntary" actually means "compulsory". In rejecting Lords amendment No. 16, the Government are saying that every time someone renews their passport, they must receive an ID card; that every time someone applies for a new passport to pop across to Calais, visit relatives abroad or go on holiday to sunnier climates, they must receive an ID card; and that every time someone goes abroad for business with a new passport, they must receive an ID card.

About 80 per cent. of all Britons possess a passport and are likely to wish to renew it in the coming years. How can the Government seriously ask us to believe that a scheme that could compel up to 80 per cent. of the British population to possess ID cards is voluntary? That is possible only if we all suspend our shared understanding of the English language. A Government who specialise in stealth taxation now want to start on stealth compulsion. A Government who have built their reputation on spin are now reaching new heights of doublespeak.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): The Government pray in aid the fact that people are free not to travel, but I do not think that many people who voted at the last election believed that the Government seriously meant that they had to stay at home and not leave this country if they did not want an ID card.


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