Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Clegg: My hon. Friend makes a compelling point. The problem is compounded by the fact that the Home Secretary has told us that any move to fully fledged
13 Mar 2006 : Column 1255
compulsion will be made through primary legislation. We are being asked to accept that gratefully as a significant concession. What possible purpose will be served by primary legislation to make the possession of identity cards compulsory if they have, to all intents and purposes, already been made compulsory for the vast majority of the population? Legislating badly is one thing. Legislating for something that the Government have already imposed surreptitiously on the British people is at best a waste of parliamentary time and at worst downright cynical.

There are many good reasons for not making such a flawed Bill compulsory. It is based on the flimsiest costings. Only last week, the London School of Economics estimated that the Government would rack up a deficit of £1.8 billion in 10 years unless they significantly raised the fees for identity cards and new biometric passports. The Government's guesstimate—it is no more than that—of a fee of £93 for the combined card and passport already appears entirely implausible.

The central database for ID cards will be far more powerful than any other equivalent ID database used elsewhere in Europe. Experience in the United Kingdom suggests that initial use will soon be expanded. When ID cards were introduced as a wartime measure in 1939, they had three stated purposes: conscription, national security and rationing. By 1950, an audit found that that had expanded to 39 stated purposes. The inevitable creeping expansion of the information held on individuals by the state will unalterably change the relationship between citizen and Government in this country.

The Bill is based on flimsy costings, does not have a clear purpose and now rests on a fictional use of the English language. Such a measure is bad enough. It should not now be foisted on the British people through the back door. I urge hon. Members to support the Lords amendment.

Mr. Shepherd : Both Opposition Front Benchers have made much of altering the relationship between the citizen and the state. They are right. One of the most curious aspects of the measure, which is being foisted on the British public, is its link to the royal prerogative. The Home Secretary exercises the royal prerogative in issuing passports. He is the determinant of that.

I am therefore puzzled that the Home Secretary uses something that is in the gift of the royal prerogative—whether we have passports is down to the Government, not to any right in legislation—and links it to this appalling Bill, which diminishes the liberties of the House and our people exponentially. He will not even take questions properly to try to advise us about why he finds the royal prerogative the right means for directing the new Labour concept that each one of us should be numbered, identified and subservient to the state. It is a perverse proposition, which reduces us greatly. Passports should not be the route whereby he forces on the British people something that appeared in the Labour party manifesto as a voluntary opportunity.

The House should stand with the House of Lords and reject this miserable Government's proposals.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): I am not opposed to the concept of identity cards but I oppose the
13 Mar 2006 : Column 1256
misuse of the English language. I am surprised that my relatively close neighbour, the Home Secretary, is trying to argue what he knows will, in parliamentary language, not be accepted by most people as being close to the truth.

Anyone who read the Labour party manifesto believed that the Government proposed that identity cards would, at least initially, be introduced voluntarily. The Home Secretary now suggests that, somehow or other, getting a passport is a voluntary concept. A passport is a right. It is what the Government give us to say who we are when we wish to pass ports to go to other countries. We have a right to have it and no Home Secretary should deny it to us unless there is a genuine reason of state for his doing that. To tell us that we cannot have a passport unless we are prepared to pay extra for something that we do not want is not to suggest that we have a voluntary choice. It is, in any language except parliamentary language, untruthful to suggest that. I say to the Home Secretary very directly: no one outside this House believes you. No one thinks that what you say, as a translation of the Labour party manifesto, is what anyone else ever thought, and those on the Benches behind you do not believe it either, because they are honourable men who understand what the English language says—[Interruption.] Well, there is one lady there who does believe you, but most do not.

10.30 pm

If this country moves from a position in which to hold a passport is our right, we shall move to a position that Britain has never been in before. I do not have a passport because I want one; I have one because it is my right to have one, should I require it. For the Government to say that I cannot have a passport unless I comply with their proposal also to have an identity card is to make that compulsory. When I next apply for a passport, I shall want an identity card because I am in favour of them in principle. So of course I shall ask for one. However, those who do not wish to have one should not be forced to have one. That is the difference between voluntary and compulsory.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman says that he is in favour of identity cards, but is he in favour of the people who apply for passports subsidising the identity card scheme so that he can have a cheaper identity card?

Mr. Gummer: That question is so unimportant compared with the central philosophical issue with which we are dealing that I am not going to answer the hon. Lady.

I want simply to say to the Home Secretary that he must consider very seriously how he is going to get the British people to believe him about anything else after he has explained away the words in the Labour party manifesto to mean something that no sane person could possibly believe they meant at the time. In those circumstances, he stands condemned both as Home Secretary and as a Member of Parliament.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): There are two constantly repeated assertions with regard to the compulsory ID card system. The first is that the
13 Mar 2006 : Column 1257
Government planned all along to deliver a compulsory ID card scheme from the start. The second is that this ID card scheme is required in order for the Government to meet their international obligations. I should like briefly to question those assertions.

The Swedish Government have introduced their new biometric passport, which complies with the International Civil Aviation Organisation's recommendations on biometrics and machine-readable travel documents. It has digitised facial images of the holder stored on a microchip on the card, so there is no requirement for a central database. Fingerprints will be added at the appropriate time by February 2008. The passport also complies with the United States visa waiver programme requirements. So the argument that we need a compulsory identity card, let alone a central biometric register, is plainly wrong.

We could have done as the Swedish Government have done, and introduced a basic biometric passport with the inclusion of fingerprints at the appropriate time by February 2008 or, in line with the Labour manifesto pledge, introduced a genuinely voluntary biometric ID card in conjunction with the new passport. The Home Secretary suggested earlier that the collection of the necessary information would have been one and the same in either case. This could all have been done on a similar basis to the Swedish model, with the biometric information held on the card rather than on a central database, with all the costs and dangers implicit in that.

There is no obligation under any international treaty or domestic manifesto pledge to issue a compulsory biometric ID card. There is absolutely no requirement to roll out from day one what is effectively a compulsory ID card through the issuing of a passport under the false insistence, or disguise, that it is voluntary, and then to do so compulsorily for any number of spurious reasons in future—not least the fraudulent pretext that £1.7 billion will be saved, mainly in the private sector. That is a falsehood; it was not rebutted properly in the last debate. It would be wrong to introduce the compulsory ID card and the national biometric database on that justification.

I want to speak briefly on the Government's manifesto pledge, which others have spoken about:

This is not voluntary; it is effective compulsion. As the manifesto expressly stated that it would happen on a voluntary basis, the Lords' disagreement does not violate the Salisbury convention, as it says precisely that the passport option means that people are not voluntarily joining the ID card scheme. To all intents and purposes, this is wholly compulsory. On that basis, my hon. Friends and I shall support the Lords amendment.

Next Section IndexHome Page