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John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Notwithstanding the advice from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), a number of my hon. Friends and I have been very consistent in opposing the introduction of identity cards. We voted against the original Second Reading on 20 December 2004 and on each and every subsequent occasion. Our position is explicit, clear and unmistakable, and it will not change.
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that that has been his position and that of a number of Conservative Members. However, it has not been the position adopted by Conservative Front Benchers, which is what I was pointing out. The country judges the position of Conservative Front Benchers in elections and at other times, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has confirmed that while some Conservative Members have been consistent, Conservative Front Benchers have displayed no consistency whatsoever.
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Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does the Home Secretary agree that it was apparent on Second Reading that the policy advocated by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) was geared to the question of compulsion? When my right hon. and learned Friend was Home Secretary, he adopted a policy on a voluntary scheme, so our current policy is entirely consistent with the views that he originally adopted.
Mr. Clarke: I will not go through what the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe might or might not have done when he was Home Secretary, but I will quote what he said on 20 December 2004 as Leader of the Opposition:
Of course the Government will listen and reflect on what is said, but I must repeat that we cannot accept Lords amendments Nos. 22G and 22H, which would undermine the basis of the planned identity cards scheme just as much as the earlier Lords amendments that this House rejected.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): May I begin by apologising on behalf of the shadow Home Secretary, who cannot be here because of a meeting of the shadow Cabinet? No doubt he will be here as soon as he can.
May I clear up three little points that the Home Secretary endeavoured to make at the end of his remarks? He said that we have had quite enough debate about the issue for nowthere were 39 hours of discussion in the Commons before the Identity Cards Bill went to the Lordsbut he did not condescend to tell us that the debates in Committee on designation and compulsion by stealth were time-limited. The Government imposed knives in Committee, and they have applied the rules of the House, which are in their gift, to impose time limits on these debates, too.
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): As the hon. and learned Gentleman will remember, we both served on that Committee. The Opposition did not, in fact, use a great deal of the time available. Will he comment on that?
The Home Secretary said that the argument was all about designation, and that we had exhausted that debate, bringing matters to a necessary conclusion. I hesitate to say that he has done so deliberately, but he has confused a debate about designated documents per se with one about compulsion by stealth. The kernel of the debate, which he does not want to address, is whether it is appropriate for the Government to stand at the general election on a manifesto that says one thing, then to seek to railroad a measure through the Houseand, by threats and others means, to do so in the other place, toothus avoiding the central issue of compulsion by stealth.
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The Government accept that there should be express compulsion by primary legislation for the 20 per cent. of the public who do not hold a passport, but they find it extremely difficult to get their heads around the factand it is only logical that they should do so if there is to be any consistency in the application of their thinkingthat there should be a plain and clear statement of their intention to introduce compulsion through designated documents either by a voluntary arrangement, which they advocated at the general election, or by another piece of primary legislation. Of course, they do not have the intellectual or the political courage, let alone the self-confidence, to advance that argument, because they know that it would not attract public support, still less support from anyone else.
The Home Secretary's final and most desperate throw was to rely on the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who had supported identity cards. Again, that allows the Government to fall into a trap of their own making. They would like us to forget that the Bill is not primarily about identity cards but about the national identity register. If they were intellectually honest and confident about their policy they would have called the Identity Cards Bill the national identity register Bill. People would therefore understand that they wish to compel them, either through primary legislation, which we have yet to see, for the 20 per cent., or by stealth via designated documents, to supply information to a vast Government computer, which will be a huge bucket into which other Government agencies and, indeed, private companies can dip. We cannot audit the register's activities and trawls, as that is prohibited by the Bill. It therefore does the Home Secretary little credit to seek to rely on my right hon. and learned Friend.
When the current Prime Minister was Leader of the Opposition shortly before the 1997 electionwe remember that, but perhaps the Home Secretary does nothe clearly opposed identity cards, which he thought were a waste of money and an invasion of civil liberties. He did not think that the Labour party could possibly countenance them under his leadership. I cannot imagine what has happened to him since, but as public confidence in what the Labour party says and does is at an all-time low, it behoves the Government, having been elected on a manifesto, to adhere to their promises.
John Bercow: I am extremely grateful to my hon. and learned Friend, who is presenting his case in the characteristically understated fashion for which he is renowned and respected throughout the House. Would he care to remind the House that when the current Prime Minister was Leader of the Opposition he specifically said that he rejected the idea of compulsory ID cards, which he dismissed as something demanded by the Tory right?
Mr. Garnier: Let me assist you, Madam Deputy Speaker, by saying that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) and I are wholly at one in our appreciation of the Prime Minister's skills. They ought to be trumpeted up and down the country. He is a master at saying one thing and meaning another.
On the last occasion when we debated the matter in the House, there was a rather unfortunate intervention from the hon. Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove), who laid claim to having written the relevant passage of the Labour party manifesto. She was rather proud of it at the time, but perhaps she did not realise what she was doing. The Home Secretary may not have been keen that she should continue to take part in these debatesI do not see her in the Chamber today.
I shall explain the position in simple language to those on the Government Front Bench. They promised the British public at the last election that they would introduce ID cards on a voluntary basis as people renewed their passports. What they now propose, for which the other place is holding the Government to account, is compulsory registration on the national identity register, incidentally to get an identity card, by stealthby some underhand secret method. [Interruption.]
I know that manifestos are a matter of great amusement to the Government, but if the Government had intended that the public should understand that the policy on which they wanted to be re-elected was, "We will introduce a compulsory system whereby, when you renew your passport or some other designated document, the list of which is yet to be defined, you will be registered on the national identity register", they would have said it.
I hope the hon. Member for South Swindon, who is not present, will forgive me, but it seems to me that that section of the Labour party manifesto was written by a fool or a knavea knave if it was intended to mislead or confuse, or a fool if it resulted from a failure to understand the ordinary meaning of those simple English words. I do not mind which it is, but either way the British public elected the Government under a false prospectus.
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