Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) (Lab): I feel that we are making very slow progress, but progress none the less, and I welcome that. I was delighted when the Home Secretary said this afternoon that he welcomed the positive tone being adopted.
The Lords amendments are a huge compromise. Some of us have had enormous reservations and have battled on the issue for weeks and weeks. It is almost difficult to accept but, in the interests of compromise, we must accept the Lords amendments, which are well intentioned and seem to be the only way forward that has a chance of reaching compromise with the Government. The Home Secretary said this afternoon that he will listen. That, too, is a welcome development, but only if he listens to the debate and is prepared to accept some compromise, whether the one now on offer or, later in the day, some other. Otherwise, listening and adopting a positive tone will mean nothing.
We have made some progress already this afternoon. For the first time, we have heard from the Government what the debate is not about. We had been led to believe that it was about us coming in line with an international network of information that would allow us to tackle international terrorism and international crime. It was interesting that the Home Secretary said today that Britain was not acting as part of an international
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network, nor in relation to any requirement from the EU. We are doing it for our Government's national reasons. There is no doubt that they have sincere reasons, which we have heard from the Home Secretary in previous debates. We have established today that the scheme will not help us internationally. It may help us inside Britain to deal with those matters, but it will not be our contribution to an international effort to tackle terrorism and crime. It is important that the Home Secretary has said that.
The debate is also not about the so-called battle between the two Houses. I do not agree that this is a constitutional matter, and it should not be. That is a bad reason. Our Whips are undoubtedly putting pressure on Labour Members on exactly that basis"Surely you cannot want to side with the Lords and obstruct the Commons". That is crude and represents a misunderstanding of our constitution.
We are a Parliament made up of two Houses and both of them have the same job: to scrutinise and hold the Government of the day to account. We should be doing that in co-operation with each other, which is not to say that the House of the Executive, which is this House, should not have supremacy. I believe that it should, but supremacy through co-operation, argument and compromise, not supremacy because we are elected. That is a very good reason, but in my view both Houses ought to be elected. As soon as they are, and I would hasten that day, that argument will fall. Even after both Houses are elected, this Chamber should be the supreme Chamber because the Executive is located here. The House of scrutiny should be along the other end of the corridor.
We are working on the same matters and, given that the job of both Houses is to scrutinise the Government, it is right and proper that, if the other House has doubts, it should express them and refer us to reconsider what we are doing and saying. There is nothing improper or unconstitutional about it. It is wholly constructive. The Lords are demonstrating the good faith of that constructive parliamentary attitude by coming up again and again with attempts to find a compromise. In this case, they have gone very far with amendments 22J and 22K. Those are worthy of the Government's consideration.
I hope that the Government will not seek to drive the proposition through now or later today. If they do, that would demonstrate that they were uncertain about their own case. They have good cause not to be confident. The Government do not trust the public to support an Identity Cards Bill that is truly voluntary. They have cited opinion polls showing that 70 per cent. of the public support identity cards, but the public do not know what will be in the register and do not understand it. When the public scrutinise the measure, I doubt whether they will accept a voluntary scheme. If the Government were really confident of their case, they would put it to the electorate and allow them to sign up or not sign up through a voluntary scheme. If they were persuasive and articulate, perhaps they would persuade the people of this country to sign up to a voluntary scheme.
Everybody is against terrorism and everybody is against international crime. If the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister were to make a sufficiently passionate and articulate case, we would get what we
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should have, which is a voluntary scheme that the people of this country want to sign up to because they see it as a co-operative effort against crime and terrorism. However, the Government do not have that confidence in their case and do not think that the public will sign up.
The Government are not confident that the country would support a compulsory scheme. If the scheme were compulsory, they would not be able to compel the public to sign up and charge them £90 or £100, in which case they would have to pick up the cost themselves. I do not think that the Home Secretary is confident that he can persuade the Chancellor to provide the £13 billion that the scheme will costthe figure is possibly greater than that. If the Chancellor had had to consider in his Budget whether to make cuts or to put up taxes to find that £13 billion, the Home Secretary would have received a very dusty answer.
Mark Fisher: I do not think that the Government are as confident about the view of either the public or the Chancellor as they have suggested. If they are not confident, and if the arguments that I have suggested carry any weight or merit, I beg the Home Secretary to find a compromise. Several compromises are possible, but the compromise that has come from the Lords today is very reasonable and represents a big step towards the Government. It certainly commends itself to me, so I shall support it, and I hope that it commends itself to the Government.
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Earlier, the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) raised a point of order, and I said that I would have the matter investigated, which I have done. I am satisfied that private interests, as defined for the purposes of hybridity, are not affected in a differential way.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): If reasoned argument were to prevail, the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher) would see us through this day.
As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) has said from the Front Bench, this Bill is profoundly important. It challenges the very assumptions that many of us had about what being a British citizen is, namely the freedom to move around one's country not at the behest or let of the Government. The Government want to introduce a central data register, which seeks to look into the very depth and nature of the privacy of the citizen. That is territory that Britain has never faced before, not even through the wartime identity cards of the first world war or the second world war.
The Government are seeking profoundly to change the nature of our relationship with our state. Who is the servant and who is the master? The Government assert that the state must be the master, and they are therefore challenging our very understanding of what is personal liberty and freedom. I have always argued that the essential character of the British constitution and of how
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we have developed through the long march of everyman is about freedom. This scheme contradicts that central, basic principle and understanding of who we are.
The Government have called the ID card a voluntary card, and they have propelled that proposition on the basis that when one applies for a passport, it is, of course, a voluntary act. This is a trading nation, and the wealth and creativity of our people has been developed by engagement in the wider worldwe have sought markets, and we have seen prosperity arise from that. The Government are now saying that one cannot engage in the very basis of the livelihood of this nation without applying for a passport and having an identity card linked to a central register. I do not suppose that many of us have the luxury of being able to say that we will desist from international trade or engagement with the outside world, so the compulsion lies in the necessity of having a passport.
The last time that we debated this matter, many of my hon. Friends asserted that we have a right to a passport, but we have no such thing. There is no common law that grants us the right to a passport, and there is no statute that defines the nature of citizenship. An article of the Canadian constitution firmly states the freedom of Canadian citizens to leave and enter Canada, but we have no such right, because it is a matter of the royal prerogative. That is what disturbs me, because it is almost a dictum of our modern constitution that we are all equal before the law.
I shall pose this question, because I want to see the Government explore the nature of our state: is the Queen to have an identity card? She is, after all, a citizen of Europe, so why should she not? Must she now have a passportit is her prerogative, after all? Will the Prince of Wales be required to produce an identity card? I think that the Home Secretary should tell us straight whether we are all equal before the law. And why is the identity card linked to prerogative power?