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Mr. Redwood: Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that, while compromise may be a good thing, there can be no compromise over the principle of compulsion? We cannot accept a compulsory identity card in this Parliament, given the Government's position at the election and the strong sense among our constituents that we want freedom in this country.
Mr. Garnier: I entirely agree, but I am trying to extract from the Government precisely how close to us they are prepared to move. The closer they move, the more likely they are to have their Bill not just before Easter but even tonight. We look forward to hearing their response either in the House or in the other place.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): My hon. and learned Friend said that he did not want to rehearse previous arguments but, further to the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), may I put it to him that each of these debates must be self-contained and intelligible to the widest possible audience? In seeking negotiation, it is highly pertinent to draw attention to the difference between what the Government have said today and what they said last May.
Mr. Garnier: I accept that but, as my hon. Friend will know, Dickens wrote some of his greatest novels as part works. They were serialised before being brought together to form a whole. I hope that his interventions in our debates will form part of a great encyclopaedia of parliamentary occasions, so that at the flick of an internet switch anyone will be able to search his great works.
I want to move on from our earlier debates, because last week, Mr. Deputy Speaker chided me for rehearsing that argument. Everyone knows my views on the Labour manifesto, and everyone knows what that manifesto says, so we can reach our own conclusions about the meaning of those English words. Lord Armstrong has sensibly endeavoured to find a way through that does not wreck the Bill and preserves a decent and proper balance between the citizen's rights and freedoms and the Government's necessary demands to realise their policy. His amendments are clearly not all that my party and I would want, but that is the nature of compromise. If the Government are prepared to accept our good will in supporting his amendments and if they are prepared to accept our genuine concerns about the rights of the individual as against the power of the state, I hope that they will conclude that Lord Armstrong's attempt to broker a deal between the two warring sides is certainly worth supporting this evening.
Lord Armstrong's amendments provide a clear and simple solution that achieves fairness and justice, and which ought to commend itself to hon. Members on
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both sides of the House, whether or not we support the general principle behind the Bill and the establishment of the national identity register. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) is in the Chamber, and he will know Government policy often appears to be made up on the hoof from day to day. Different announcements appear in the newspapers as the Bill is manoeuvred through the highways and byways of Government policy making. However, if the Government are confident that their policy is right, they should allow the public to prove their case by giving them the choice to opt out of registration on the back of designated documents.
Both the Home Secretary and Baroness Scotland have accepted the thrust of Lord Armstrong's amendments by arguing that people can avoid compulsion by stealth if they renew their passports before the Bill in its unamended form becomes law. If they are prepared to advise the public to "cheat" to avoid the Bill's requirements, it is not logical for them to resist Lord Armstrong's attempt to bring light to this overheated debate. I urge the House to be adult about the matter so that at least we can put a Bill that is clear on the statute book. If we accede to Lord Armstrong's amendments we will, I accept, dissatisfy both sides of the argument but, presumably, we will achieve consensus, which gives the Government time to think and digest the quality of the arguments for and against opting out. Lord Armstrong's intervention in this affair is timely and constructive and it is certainly worth queuing outside the bathroom of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden for it. I look forward to the Home Secretary moving quietly towards that upstairs room with his bath towel in hand.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): May I say straight away that I am in favour of the Lords amendment, which is a sensible proposal? I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will accept it, as Lord Armstrong has tried his best to find a solution. However, I must be frank and express some disquiet, as I am one of the few Members who is in a genuine dilemma about the issue. The Opposition parties have made it clear that they would be willing to accept the Lords amendments at the end of the day, and some of my hon. Friends take the same view. The large majority of my right hon. and hon. Friends support the Government regardless.
While I accept the need for the Lords amendment, I reiterate what I have said on many occasions as a Member of Parliament: it is the elected Chamber that should decide. It would therefore be wrong, irresponsible and contradictory to say that, just because I share the view of the majority in the House of Lords, their view should prevail. Like the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), I am encouraged by the Home Secretary's suggestion that there is room for compromise. The last thing that I want to do is use the Parliament Acts, but if the Lords absolutely refuse to agree, it is likely that they will be
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used. I accept that it is right to use them for certain issues, but it would be inappropriate to do so on this occasion. I very much hope that, even at this late stage, the Home Secretary is willing to enter negotiationsif that is the right descriptionto achieve a satisfactory outcome and to ensure that the view of the House of Commons prevails, whatever amendment or compromise is agreed. I do not think that we should be worried about compromise, as it is part of political life.
Mr. Winnick: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not give way, as I wish to heed Madam Deputy Speaker's advice about brevity. I shall cross my fingers and hope that compromise can be reached to prevent ping-pong throughout the day and night. Most of all, I do not want the Parliament Acts to be used. If my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary used the word, and if he means what he said, I can only hope, like everyone else with doubts and reservations, that compromise will be reached today.
Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): Last week I suggested to the Home Secretary that, if he rejected the amendments that were before us then, he would, as turned out to be the case, be facing the amendments before us today, which are arguably just as problematic from his point of view, because they would, as he explained, allow a wholesale opt-out from the need to register for an ID card. It remains my view that he would have been well advised to settle for the amendments that were before us last week. Even so, I hope that, even at this late stage, the Home Secretary will put himself and us out of our misery and accept the amendments from Lord Armstrong of Ilminster.
but that voluntarism, or voluntariness, as he put it, was entirely in keeping with the Government's oft-quoted election manifesto, where there was a clear emphasis on voluntarism in the introduction of identity cards, an emphasis which the Government have been so quick and keen to forget. As the noble Lord rightly said:
"There are a good many people out there who genuinely thought that the Government were proposing a voluntary scheme, and they were prepared to go along with it on that understanding".[Official Report, House of Lords, 28 March 2006; Vol. 680, c. 651.]
The Government have already conceded the principleit was a welcome concessionthat compulsion will occur only on the back of separate primary legislation, which makes it all the more inexplicable that they seek to reject amendments that would allow them to do precisely that and take a voluntarist approach in the early stages of the introduction of identity cards, to be replaced by legislation enforcing compulsion at a later stage. That is the Government's intention. That is what they have explained to us. The amendments do not disturb that plan at all; indeed, they are perfectly consistent with it.
The other compelling reason why the Government would be well advised to support the amendments is that they would allow time to deal with the accumulating list
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of uncertainties about how the draconian ID database would work in practice. We still do not know how much it would cost, who would run it or how they would run it. We have heard conflicting messages about chip and pin features and biometric features, but we do not know what would be on the card.
On Monday, we heard that yet another uncertainty had come to light. In a written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) explained that some British citizens would have two identity cardsone listing their nationality, which could be confiscated if the Government wished to prevent them from travelling, and another not listing their nationality, which they would retain while the other one was confiscated, to access domestic services.
"However, to ensure that anyone subject to restrictions for an extended period of time can demonstrate their identity for domestic purposes, they will be able to obtain an identity card which will be issued to the same standards as other cards but which will not be valid for travel. This will be achieved by not specifying the nationality of the card holder on the face of the card.[Official Report, 27 March 2006; Vol. 444, c. 758W.]
We now know that we might have not one, but two identity cards, on top of all the other uncertainties that I have enumerated. This is a model of bad Government policy and bad legislation. It raises the question why the country is expected to accept the imposition of a scheme that we know is illiberal in principle and flawed and open-ended in practice. For that reason and many others, I hope that the House will support the amendments tabled by Lord Armstrong.
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