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Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The Government's record on major IT projects is currently
 
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pretty dreadful. The longer the scheme is put off, the better the Government may become at such projects. The delay may therefore result in considerable savings.

Mr. Clegg: Given the almost draconian enormity of the scheme, I should have thought that the Government would leap at the chance of having a bit more time in which to work out the practicalities and the costs, given that they are shamefully vague about both at present. The hon. Gentleman has made a good point, which merely reinforces my feeling that the amendments, as well as representing a serious political compromise, offer a practical way forward.

Mr. Love : Does the hon. Gentleman see any contradiction between his party's position in respect of a democratically elected second Chamber and the fact that these so-called compromise amendments result from the fourth opportunity that the House of Lords has taken to ask the House of Commons to change its mind?

Mr. Clegg: The other place is entirely within its rights in rejecting an attempt by the Government to impose compulsion by stealth in the name of voluntarism. The nub of the problem is that every Member of both Houses is being asked to indulge in doublespeak whereby "voluntary" mutates into "compulsory". Surely they are within their rights in saying that that will not happen in their name.

The final merit and virtue of the amendments is that they would allow the electorate to have another look at the issue, and to judge whether the Government have been straightforward in their acrobatics. As I have said, the commitment in Labour's last manifesto to a voluntary introduction of identity cards has miraculously re-emerged as an introduction of identity cards by compulsion. If the Government accepted the amendments, at least the voters would be able to decide what is voluntary and what is compulsory. I hope that common sense would prevail when they read the extraordinarily ambiguous doublespeak in that manifesto.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I speak as one who has been implacably opposed to identity cards throughout his political life. Is not the great benefit of these proposals that if the Government insisted that they wanted to introduce the cards, they would have to go to the country with an absolutely clear proposition, given the trouble that they have got into in the past year? Meanwhile, the rest of us could go to the country with an entirely different proposition. It could become a real issue, with the public realising that there was a real choice, and—I would hope—it could provide another very good reason for the public to reject an increasingly authoritarian Government.

Mr. Clegg: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Giving voters the opportunity to make up their own minds at the next general election is a more democratic and accountable way of resolving this issue than resorting to the semantics to which this Government have subjected us for so long.
 
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The Home Secretary is insisting on rejecting amendments that, as I have tried to explain, are serious in their political intent, and which are real, practical compromises that are better than any of the alternatives. In the absence of any clear justification for such rejection, I join those who urge Members in all parts of the House to support Lords amendments Nos. 22G and 22H.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): When the Conservatives cry "Freedom!", it usually means one of two things: either the French are about to invade us, or the Conservatives cannot rely on their arguments, which are usually quite weak on such issues. Having listened to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), I believe that today is a case of the latter. He and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) have made a great deal of what was said in the Labour party manifesto. I do not intend to go too far down that road, but it seems that the Lords' justification for continuing to delay this process is that the manifesto in some way contradicts the Bill. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough quoted the words that he thinks are ambiguous, and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam accused us, in relying on those words, of indulging in semantics. The quotation that the hon. and learned Member for Harborough gave—it was an accurate one—is that the scheme will be introduced

Simon Hughes : On a "voluntary" basis.

Mr. Howarth: Yes, as people renew their passports. As I said when we debated this issue just over a week ago, the voluntary principle is based on the idea that people voluntarily take out a passport. [Interruption.] There is no compulsion. [Interruption.] I accept that there may well be very good reasons why people need to have a passport, but the process itself—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Does the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) wish to make an intervention.

Mr. Garnier: No, Madam.

Mr. Howarth: If the hon. and learned Gentleman did wish to make an intervention, I would gladly accept it, but he obviously does not have a point to make.

Mr. Garnier: It is an old filth's trick to quote selectively. The right hon. Gentleman has accepted that my quotation was accurate. If he reads the whole of the passage that I referred to, it is quite clear that the voluntary roll-out refers to the introduction of the ID card scheme. Nobody in their right mind could possibly argue the case that he is arguing; he really ought to apply his mind to the whole of the phrase used.

Mr. Howarth: I have read the whole of that section of the manifesto; in fact, I took the trouble to read it before the general election, and I would have supported a compulsory scheme in any event. The hon. and learned Gentleman has repeatedly selectively quoted from the manifesto, purely to justify the ongoing ping-pong with
 
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another place over that passage's precise meaning. There is no justification for his continuing to do so, and still less for an unelected House's continuing to do so.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howarth: No; if I conclude my remarks, somebody else might be able to speak; indeed, the hon. Gentleman might be able to.

The second game of semantics that the hon. and learned Member for Harborough engaged in today involved quoting my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he was shadow Home Secretary in the 1990s, saying that he was opposed to the introduction of an identity cards Bill. The implication is that my right hon. Friend changed his mind on this issue when he came into government. That is partly true, but it was not true between 1997 and 1999, when I was a junior Home Office Minister. I have good reason to know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was still opposed to the introduction of identity cards during that period. Opposition Members must ask themselves what has happened in the meantime to make him and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary believe that the time is now right for their introduction.

The world has changed enormously since that time. We have seen huge changes in mass migration around the world, and the rise of Islamist terrorism. The events of 9/11 constituted the worst example of that terrorism, and last summer's London bombings the most recent. That is why people feel that the time is right to introduce identity cards.

It stretches the imagination too far to claim that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and Home Secretary want to introduce identity cards for a reason entirely different from what has been claimed. The world has changed and, for my part, I would support the introduction of compulsory identity cards. However, the proposals in the Bill will at least give us an opportunity to challenge people to prove that they are who they say that they are.

5.45 pm

Mr. Cash : In respect of the process of discussion involving the Lords and the Commons, I have observed that, although we in this House sometimes get cut out on the pong, we occasionally get an opportunity to speak on the ping.

I want to put it on record that I object strongly to the compulsory aspect of the Bill. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), I voted on Second Reading in the absolute certainty that that was the wrong way to go. This is a constitutional issue of the first order, and I believe that the Government, if they are intransigent on the matter, must use the Parliament Acts to get their proposals through.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) said that the electorate should decide this matter, and that that the Lords will not insist on the amendment proposing that the introduction of identity cards should be held over until 31 December 2011. If he is right—and
 
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we on the Back Benches are not privy to those discussions—the effect will be to allow the voluntary arrangements to go through.


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