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Mr. Clarke: I am happy to confirm that that is total nonsense. There is no proposal either for an EU identity card or for an EU-wide card of any sort. As far as I am aware, there is no proposal on the table. What has been discussed in the EU is biometrics for passports and biometrics for residents' documents. That has been discussed not only in the EU but in countries throughout the worldespecially the United Statesas a means of helping people to travel more effectively. There is no requirement, and the canard, if I might use a Frenchism, that this is all an EU plotsomething that the right hon. Gentleman sometimes suggestsis not true in this instance.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I agree with my right hon. Friend about the lack of an EU conspiracy. However, will he comment on why the UK alone is going down the route of having a centralised data base and an audit trail, which is not in line with recommendations that are coming from Europe?
There are no recommendations coming from Europe on this matter so that the issue of being in line does not arise. The arguments for the Bill stand in their own terms. I remind my hon. Friend that they have been debated during the consideration of two Bills in
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this place and in the other place. They have also been considered on many occasions during debates on Lords amendments. However, the issue that my hon. Friend has raised is not the substance of the debate that is before us. My hon. Friend has been clear about her position throughout the debates and I have no criticism of that. I hope that she will now acknowledge, as an elected Member of Parliament, that it is time for the elected House to have its will and for unelected peers not to proceed as they are seeking to do.
I have no intention of accepting any changes that would have the effect of blowing a hole in the Bill or damage the delivery of the identity cards scheme. Of course, I have read carefully what was said yesterday in the other place. I recognise that some of their Lordships realise that they cannot continue to delay the passage of the Bill, and that there has to come a time when the unelected House should bow to the will of this House.
I was particularly struck that Lord Armstrong said that he would have no objection to obtaining an identity card when his passport came up for renewal. He said also that he thought that his amendment might form the basis for an acceptable compromise, possibly with the insertion of a time limit after which any opt-out would no longer apply. He went on to ask directly whether the Government would consider such a compromise. The answer that I have to give is that the Government are not being intransigent. If a different compromise were to be proposedone that was workableI would consider it carefully, as I have carefully examined a series of changes that we have made when considering how best to introduce this legislation.
I realise that there are many in the other place who feel uncomfortable about the length of time during which they have defied the will of the elected House. They know that it is wrong that they are in that position. I realise also that some of their Lordships are trying to end the impasse. I will watch carefully what happens next.
As I have made clear previously, the Bill will affect not only holders of British passports once these documents are designated. By about 2008 or 2009 we intend to start issuing biometric residents' permits to those foreign nationals who are temporarily resident in the UK. Without the requirement for designation and registration on a national identity register, foreign nationals will be able to opt out of the scheme completely. I believe that it would be entirely unacceptable if foreign nationals with those documents could opt out of registration, which would be the effect of the amendment that is before the House.
There is little more that I can say other than to suggest that at this time the other place should listen and recognise that the elected House, again today, will insist on retaining the requirement in the Bill for anyone obtaining a designated document such as a passport to be entered on the national identity register. I believe that the scope for further compromise is small, but I and my right hon. Friend Baroness Scotland of Asthal will be
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prepared to listen constructively to what is said when the Bill returns to the other place today, in the hope that it can at last pass on to the statute book.
David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): In the spirit of that compromisethe Home Secretary knows that I am always prone to compromiseI would like the right hon. Gentleman to elaborate on the problem that he sees with respect to foreign residents being cut out by the proposal made by Lord Armstrong. If we can resolve the issue, we might come to some conclusion on the matter.
Mr. Clarke: As always, I am amazed, encouraged and even excited by the right hon. Gentleman's positive tone. The concern that I have, on the particular narrow point of foreign nationals, is that we are establishing the identity documentsin my opinion, rightlyand bringing them on to the national identity register. I understand the quasi constitutional objections of some in the other place to the idea that a British citizen should have an identity card whether they want it or notthat is the essence of their concernbut I do not believe that that concern should extend to foreign nationals under the schemes that operate. I am thinking about the protection of our borders. Occasionally, I see the comments of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden in the public media on such matters, to which he is deeply committed. That is one of the reasons why I think that the amendment from the other place is inappropriate. However, I hear what the right hon. Gentleman has to say.
As I have said before, it would be inappropriate and a waste of parliamentary time, in my opinion, for the Opposition in the other place to force the Government into using the Parliament Act to enact the proposed legislation. I hope that we shall reach a conclusion today. I have made it clear that the Government will listen and reflect on what is said both here and in the other place. I have to repeat that the Government cannot accept amendments Nos. 22J and 22K.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): I hope that I can begin on an uncontroversial note in a debate on what has been a controversial Bill, and that is that the House must surely wish Lord Phillips of Sudbury the most speedy recovery from what I hope is a temporary illness.
The arguments for the Bill, as the Home Secretary said, stand in their own terms. It seems that the arguments in favour of the Bill stand in an interesting substance, but I am not sure that its own terms recommend it.
The Home Secretary would like us to believe that there is a huge constitutional wrangle between the House of Lords and the House of Commons, over which House of this Parliament should have supremacyus, the elected House, or the other House as the unelected and largely appointed House. I say in parenthesis that a large proportion of its Members have been appointed by the present Prime Minister.
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I would describe the dispute that we have in other terms: that it is a dispute between the citizen and the state. It is a dispute between truth and freedom of the individual and the power of the Executive. I would describe it
Mr. Cash: I do not want to cut my hon. and learned Friend short. Having said what he has just said, does he agree that it is not merely a question of battling with the Lords? The issue is fundamentally the constitutional point that he is making, which is the key to the answers to the questions that we are raising in these debates between the two Houses.
Mr. Garnier: I agree. We are debating, both in this Chamber and in the other place, the fundamental relationship between the citizen and the state. If we upset that balance, which has evolved over centuries, we shall do ourselves and our electorates a disservice.
I would not want to go over the arguments that we have had about the terms of the Labour party's manifesto at the last election. Those arguments are well known and they are clear. As I have said during previous debates, repetition never made a good point better. The point is there and it is one that the House can consider.
I gently remind the Government that their earlier reliance on the need to have biometric passports was irrelevant to the earlier debates on the Bill and the setting up of the national identity register, and is even more irrelevant today, especially in the context of Lord Armstrong's amendments.
Today, the Government can do two things. They can either stubbornly turn their face to the wall and ignore the helping hand that is proffered by Lord Armstrong or they can be sensible and realistic and accept it. I had an inkling from the Home SecretaryI was slightly put off by his over-excitement at the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), which I found a disturbing prospectbut I cast that aside. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary says from a sedentary position that he was dreaming about having a bath with my right hon. Friend. I will leave them to have those private discussions elsewhere.
A door may have opened in the Home Secretary's mind, because he uttered the word "compromise". That is a helpful step forward, because I did not think that that word could be extracted from his mouth. However, I would like more detailsI am happy to accept an intervention from himabout the terms of any compromise that he would find acceptable. In the past, he has set his face against proposals from the other place and the Opposition. If he is in the mood to mention the word "compromise", perhaps he could tell us more about the nature of an acceptable compromise. In the
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meantime, as he queues with his towel outside the bathroom of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden
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