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Simon Hughes: I was warming to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) until his last couple of phrases. However, I assure him that those of us who oppose the proposal are not saying that people should join us because it is a Liberal Democrat vote. The vote is against the principle so I hope that not only the hon. Gentleman realises what is going on, but that colleagues from all parties who have stayed true to their principles will continue to maintain their position.

The argument of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Steve McCabe) is flawed in one obvious respect. He says that we will be able to see how people respond when the Bill is passed. It is exactly because the Bill has been amended in this form by the Lords that we shall not be able to see people's responses so clearly. Until today, we were fighting the argument that there could be a choice. He and his Government are trying to ensure that there will be no choice.

I want to deal with the Home Secretary's repeated constitutional point. Today, he again lamented the fact that the House of Lords had stood so firm for so long. If there had been a clear Government manifesto commitment, the arguments about how the second non-elected Chamber should respond might have been different. But the Government manifesto was at least ambiguous, and many of us believe that their subsequent arguments were the opposite of their manifesto commitment. The other part of Parliament is thus absolutely within its rights to stand up to a Government who claim an unjustified authority.

The Home Secretary cannot deploy the argument against the Lords because they are hereditary, bishops or appointed. The current House of Lords was created by the Labour Government. It has been made up in its    current form because of the policies of the
 
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Prime Minister and the Labour Government. It is no good their complaining that the Lords are not doing what they are meant to do; the Government put them there, some possibly, as we have heard recently, in unacceptable ways.

Colleagues in our party argued the case consistently in the other place. It is a great regret to me and many people outside this place that Conservative and Cross-Bench colleagues and Labour Back Benchers did not stay with my colleagues and take the Government to the    wire. It would have been a perfectly justified constitutional challenge and a reasonable defeat of the Government, and would have resulted in a much better Bill.

If the Home Secretary thinks this is the end of the matter, he is wrong. Many of us have made it absolutely clear that we will do everything in our power, personally and on behalf of other people, never to have identity cards or to be on a national identity register. I encourage everybody listening and watching to renew their passports now so that they will not have to be subject to the ID card regime for the next 10 years. I hope that many will do so.

The Liberal Democrats hope that the Government lose their majority—not just their moral majority but their majority support among the British public, which they lost a long time ago—but also their majority in the House of Commons. They won only 35 per cent. of the vote and were backed by only 20 per cent. of the British public, yet they have a majority in the House of Commons. When that majority goes too, one of the first things that my colleagues and I will insist on in the next Parliament is that the ID card legislation is reversed.

We are happy to go to the country in defence of liberty, to oppose an increasingly authoritarian Government. That is true to our traditions, and the British public will respond far better to us than to the Bill, with its new powers of enforcement, even if there is a Labour majority for the proposal in the House of Commons tonight.

Dr. Palmer: Very briefly, because we have all been debating the Bill for sufficient time, I should like to reaffirm the basic principle that the Armstrong amendment reaffirms this evening: as each individual in Britain renews their passports, and later, after the next election, we hope that for each individual throughout the country, everyone's identity will be secured, so we will not have a situation where others can pretend to be us. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Steve McCabe), when I consult my constituents, there are those who are in favour; there are those who are opposed, but I know no one who has argued that we should delay and delay until 2010 or beyond. So there is overwhelming support for the principle that we ought to get on with it, that we should get the register working and that we should get that protection in place for the British people.

10.15 pm

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): Through certain of our laws, this country has defined its character, and there are some laws that are of particular importance. Through our common law and our statute law, we can trace a finger to show why we are an
 
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independent, free and liberated country. If there was a message that we sent around the world, it was the concept of our liberty. It was reiterated through the declaration of independence of the United States and the constitutions of Australia, Canada and New Zealand. That is the tradition of which we are part.

Today we are faced with the final round of a Bill that restates who we are: we are the servants of the state if the new Labour Government prevail in the passage of the Bill. It looks a lost cause, but I believe profoundly that this nation is more vibrant and more lively and that it will in the end not tolerate this nonsense. If we look to the history of who we are and we stand firm by the belief in the individuality and autonomy of the citizen, we know that the measure gives unto the Government the central control of information through a register that may or may not be secure, and the information that we have had from people who understand these matters is that no system can render secure the information that is our personal data.

On the proposition of the Government therefore, the House is now prepared to launch billions of pounds in an experiment that not only diminishes the people of this country, but beggars them in a sense: it beggars them in liberty, but it beggars them through taxation, too. For what purpose is this engineered? The rules of the game have changed, we are told. To what extent does that mean that we must surrender the first presumption of every citizen of these islands that we are free, independent and not the servants of the state?

The House should go out with a ringing defiance of a majority predicated on party, because this is a measure that extends beyond the sense that we are loyal party men or women. We are representatives of something stronger, deeper, longer and more intense than anything that the Home Office now presents to us as the settled will of the new Labour Government. I agree with much of what has been said this evening: people will unpick and begin to understand about all those who will provide information to the Government, who say that they deserve to know all about us. What about the derelicts under the bridges beneath Waterloo? What about the old and confused? What about the mentally anxious?

Those are the people who will be squeezed to try to remember who they are, but we will remember who we are. One day, this Government will experience the wrath and indignation of a country that understands that this is not a small social measure; it is in fact a declaration by Government that the centralised state is more important and greater than the sum of every individual free citizen of the country that we were sent to represent. We should oppose to the utmost and to the end this benighted and wrong Bill.

Lynne Jones : I will be brief. I just want to make two points. First, the Information Commissioner said:

Secondly, none of our fellow states in Europe is going down the route of having the central database. Indeed, the European Commission's data protection working party believes that the centralised storage of biometric information on a centralised database presents an increased risk of data misuse. I share its preference for
 
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information to be kept on a smart card that is within the control of the individual. The Lords amendment does not address any of those issues. For the privilege of being involved in this draconian scheme and having their data on the centralised database, even those who do not wish to have an identity card, but want to have a passport, will have to pay £30. I remain opposed to the legislation.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): I will be brief. There is no real compromise in the amendments for UK citizens. They do not change the compulsory inclusion on the central biometric database, merely the carrying of an identity card. Although there is a time-limited opt-out in the amendments, that is only for carrying the card and that time limit ends prior to the last date possible for the next general election. That is important. This series of measures has been opposed, at least until tonight, by six Opposition parties and many Labour Members. It is a shock that the Conservative party has capitulated at this late hour. The measure is a fundamental shift in the relationship between the citizen and the state.

The Labour manifesto offered a voluntary scheme, not a compulsory one. Notwithstanding the power of the Labour Whips, given that a manifesto that offered a voluntary scheme was supported and backed by some 21.6 per cent. of the electorate, it was incumbent on the Government to accept the longer time-limited opt-out to allow the proposal to be put before the electorate at another election.

Many on the Labour Benches—indeed, many in the Chamber—will remember the opposition to the poll tax. When the scale of the opposition to carrying an ID card or to being included on a central biometric database rises to the scale of the opposition we saw to the poll tax, I fear that the entire edifice will collapse. Our resistance to the central database will continue.


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