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Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD):
It is worth my placing our objections to the amendments in the context of the Bill as a whole. The Bill has raised some of the most fundamental issues of principle imaginable. The introduction of identity cards will usher in one of the most far-reaching changes in British public life in
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recent times. It will change, unalterably, the relationship between the individual and the state by massively increasing the quantity and scope of information held centrally by the Government on each and every British citizen. It will revolutionise the capacity of the state to monitor the movements and behaviour of each and every one of us. It erodes privacy, and in extremis it will curtail freedomand, to boot, it comes at a cost.
Even after all the debates that we have had, we still do not know the true financial cost of the Bill. The latest independent financial assessment from the London School of Economics estimates that the Government will run up a whopping deficit of £1.8 billion in the first 10 years of its operation. We still do not know who will run it. We still do not know how the database will be organised, and the Government's lamentable record in running large IT projects raises serious questions over whether it will ever be run successfully at all. It is a monstrous expression of big, big government.
Mr. Cash: As an unrequited opponent of the Bill in principle, let me ask the hon. Gentleman a question about the disposition of the votes in the House of Lords. Is it the case that the Cross Benchers somehow or other pulled out in such a way as to guarantee that, if the measure returned to the Lords, there could not be the same result as on the previous occasion? In other words, has Lord Armstrong become rather economical with the votes?
Mr. Clegg: It is certainly true that the amendments before us now are very different, in two important respects. First, as has already been pointed out, they would provide an opt-out only from having the card: a person's details would still be entered in the register. Lord Armstrong's first set of amendments refer to the register rather than the holding of the card. Secondly, they introduce the sunset clause referring to 1 January 2010, which simply does not pass the acid test of falling on the other side of the latest conceivable date for a general election.
The Bill is also based, as we know, on a form of covert compulsion by the back door, despite the Government's own election manifesto commitment to the voluntary introduction of identity cards. That makes the Government's agreement to introduce separate primary legislation to usher in full-blown compulsion at a later date a largely redundant concession.
Mr. Charles Clarke: Does the hon. Gentleman concede that his own general election manifesto made specific reference to the proposals in the terms that we are now discussing? Admittedly his party was in opposition, but he was clear about the fact that this was the meaning of the proposals. The suggestion that this was "covert" is quite wrong.
I am glad that the Home Secretary scrutinised our manifesto with the care and attention that we have devoted to that of his party. Our manifesto stated, dare I say, the flamingly obvious, which is that it was always the Government's intention to ram the Bill through as a compulsory measureand that is exactly what they propose to do now, if on the slightly later date of 1 January 2010. We were right back then, we have been right throughout all these debates and we are right this evening.
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That is why we have consistently argued that the British people should be given another opportunity at the next general election to judge for themselves this illiberal, expensive and possibly unworkable scheme. That is why we agreed with Lord Armstrong when he said yesterday:
"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.]
And on that understanding alone. Incidentally, that is also why I found myself in unusual agreement with the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood)he is not here nowwhen he said this afternoon, "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."
Simon Hughes: Does my hon. Friend accept that tens of thousands of peoplepossibly millionsshare exactly the view expressed by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood)? The fact that the Government have gone back on their election undertaking and pushed this provision through Parliament does not mean that there will not be widespread resistance to it in the country. Many people simply will not accept that this Parliament has decided this issue on that manifesto.
Of course we recognise the extent to which the Government have been forced to climb down and to defer the imposition of covert compulsion in these amendments, but this climbdown does not pass the key test: that any move to compulsion must, under all circumstances, occur after the latest possible date of the next general election. As has been said, it is also significantly less important as a concession than Lord Armstrong's original amendment, since it only allows people to opt out of having the cards; their details will still appear on the ID register.
I have admired and agreed with almost everything that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) has said about this Bill, but here we part company. He is prepared to go along with the Government's victory in ramming through compulsion during this Parliament on the basis that, in practice, things somehow will not be so straightforward. For us, second-guessing the precise timing of the next general election or predicting exactly what may or may or not occur between January and May 2010 can never be a substitute for an objection of principle. The imposition of compulsory ID cards must not under any circumstances occur before the electorate make their own views known where it countsat the ballot box. That is why, once again, we will vote tonightalone, if necessaryagainst the Government.
Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab):
I want to make a very brief contribution. I was a member of the Committee that considered the original Bill and it
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seems to me that few Bills have been subject to as much debate and scrutiny as this one. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) tell us that millions of people are against this measure. In my constituency, it seems that thousands are in favour of it, so I do not know where he takes the temperature.
I welcome the compromise on offer tonight. I thought for one horrible moment that we were going to witness the spectacle that the Tory party membership witnessed during their recent leadership election: the remarkable facility of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, or, in this case, from the jaws of a respectable draw. What we actually witnessed tonight was the alternative: him marching his troops to the top of the hill, screaming from the top of his voice that he is against every single measure in the Bill, and yet, at the end of the process, telling them to march back down and vote for it. If that is his principle, I am glad that I am on the Government side of the Chamber and not on his.
The provision will be tested in the future, but tonight's result means that we will be able to get on with introducing it. If people think that it is wrong, they can test it at an election and cause it to be undone. However, the goal has always been to protect people from dangers such as identity theft, fraud, and major, organised crime. Our constituents tell us that they care about such matters: the Bill gives us a chance to address them.
Mr. Cash: I end this argument as I began it. I am not certain that there will be a vote[Interruption.] It sounds as though the Liberal Democrats will press this matter to a vote, and it is with great regret that I must tell the House that I shall enter the Lobby with them, as a matter of principle.
I have fought this proposal from Second Reading onwards, and I have been joined by people such as my hon. Friends the Members for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and for Buckingham (John Bercow), among others. Not all of them will know what has happened this evening, and some may therefore not join the Liberal Democrats in the Lobby.
It was astonishing to hear the Home Secretary argue, in the most spurious fashion, that he had three bases for accepting these amendments. The amendments were tabled by Lord Armstrong, who I said earlier was being economical with the votesan adaptation of the expression "economical with the actualité", with which
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the House may be familiar. By the sound of it, the amendments represent a stitch-up with the Cross-Benchers in the House of Lords.
What are the three bases for the Home Secretary's acceptance of the amendments? He mentioned the integrity of the register. Could any word be less well chosen, in this context, than "integrity"? This is not a matter of integrity.
The Home Secretary went on to say that all information would be on the register, but I am glad to inform him that I shall be excluded from the provisions until 2016. That is simply because, by an accident, I happened to receive a passport and a driving licence only this week. All the other people in this country affected by this authoritarian and totalitarian provision will simply be overridden by what has been described as an "elective dictatorship". As a matter of principle, I find it impossible to support the proposals.
In conclusion, I have never before voted with the Liberal Democrats on a matter of constitutional importance, but that party's tradition goes back to the great Liberal party. It has departed from that old Liberal legacy, which remains a bastion and a beacon of independence and integrity when it comes to the country's constitution and our people's right to make their own choices.
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