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Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the proposed words be there added.

Question agreed to.

The Deputy Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (Standing Order No. 31(2)).


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Identity Cards

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): May I inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister and has imposed a 12-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches?

7.16 pm

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): I beg to move,

May I begin my remarks with an apology to the Home Secretary? When he made his statement about identity cards last week, I joked with him that his announcement was a fudge arranged between a new Home Secretary who wanted to scrap the ID cards scheme and a Prime Minister who did not. I had, not unsurprisingly, assumed that the result was an ugly compromise between the two, resulting in a voluntary scheme that will cost a large amount of money but will not work. I had also assumed that the Home Secretary had been forced into it in order to keep the Prime Minister off his back, but it now seems that I was completely wrong. The Prime Minister had nothing to do with last week’s announcement—in fact, he did not even know all the things that the Home Secretary was going to announce. On reflection, I suppose that is hardly surprising, given that this Prime Minister is clearly no longer in control of his Cabinet, the Chancellor keeps going off piste and the Home Secretary is now joining him.

What did surprise me was what that statement actually means. It means that the completely daft announcement made last week that the Government’s flagship ID card scheme, which we were once told was designed to play a central part in the battle against terrorism, will be voluntary was not another stupid pronouncement from the Downing street bunker, but was, in fact, the brainchild of the new Home Secretary. Perhaps my apology should be to the Prime Minister and not to the Home Secretary, who was clearly off his rocker when he made that announcement. How on earth is a voluntary ID card scheme going to work? Will the terrorists sign up? Somehow, I do not see the al-Qaeda sleeper cells all rushing down to Boots with their 30 quid to make sure that they have their own ID cards. What about the organised criminals? Will the traffickers and drug smugglers all rush to sign up? Somehow, I doubt it. What about the benefit fraudsters? They probably will not sign up either. So what we are left with is a multi-billion pound ID scheme for young drinkers in pubs and the vain hope that there will be enough volunteers to pay for it.

Although we did not agree with them, at least previous Home Secretaries appeared to have some method to what they were doing—this one appears to be taking a flight into cloud cuckoo land. How many millions of people does the Home Secretary honestly think will get up one morning saying to themselves, “I know, I’ll skip the curry tonight, go down the shops and spend 30 quid on an ID card instead.”? How on earth can a voluntary ID card be of any use in law enforcement?

Let us make no mistake about it: the ID card scheme was the magic bullet that the Government told us would solve everything from crime to immigration fraud and
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terrorism. We were told that once it was introduced, citizens would be safe in the knowledge that there was a piece of plastic and a database that, when combined, would provide the single source of truth about a person.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a very good point. Does he agree that it was always absurd to suppose that an illegal immigrant coming into this country would somehow escape all passport checks but would suddenly be caught out by a check on an ID card? It is completely unnecessary, is it not, to demand an ID card as well as a passport? We should use the passport.

Chris Grayling: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, if we had a proper border police force in this country—that is what we need—the problem would not arise in the first place because we would intercept those illegal immigrants at the border.

We were told that with the card, nobody need any longer fear that their identity could be stolen, because the Government would have it under lock and key—unless of course someone decided to burn the contents of the database on to a CD and then post that through a letter box, leave it in a car or on a roundabout or follow any of the other imaginative ways that the Government have worked out for losing our data. No longer would people need fear that crimes would go unsolved. Between the DNA database, the ID cards and the identity register, the police could just take a quick swab, poke a few buttons and, hey presto, the criminal’s identity would be revealed. No longer would people need to fear terrorism. For all the comments that the Home Secretary made last week about the terrorism issue being overplayed, we have all sat here month after month, year after year while his predecessors have told us that voting against ID cards was betraying the nation because they were an essential part of the war against terror. Now it seems that either those views were exaggerated or the current Home Secretary has got it wrong.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman says that he has consistently voted against these proposals. Will he cast his mind back to 23 January 2002, when he voted in favour of my proposal to introduce ID cards?

Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in the early part of this decade, we were more supportive of the Government’s proposals than we are now. We have become completely convinced by what we have seen over the years from successive Home Secretaries that this Government are incapable of delivering this scheme. I have spoken with many people in the security world and not one has argued that we are wrong about ID cards and that they are an essential part of the security tool kit.

I ask the Home Secretary why he has changed his mind about ID cards and terrorism. After all the statements by the Government over so many years that ID cards were an essential part of combating terror—including comments after incidents in this country and in others—what has suddenly changed?

The Government told us that the ID card would keep us safe, that it would prevent crime and terrorism and that it would tighten up our immigration system. We are now being told that it will be a benign, handy-sized piece of plastic that will help us to travel around Europe
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in peace. Of course, it will also be useful for those aged under 21 and trying to buy a drink in a pub. We are left, according to the Home Secretary, with none of the advantages his Government have trumpeted, save continental travelling, and all of the disadvantages. We are left with the staggering costs to which the Government have already signed up through the poisoned pill contracts; the identity register; the cost to the individual; and the hidden nasty that is still there—compulsion by the backdoor of the passport office.

Jacqui Smith (Redditch) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Chris Grayling: I will happily give way to the former Home Secretary.

Jacqui Smith: A central plank of the Opposition’s argument is the savings that they argue could be made by scrapping the scheme. The credibility of their case is therefore dependent on the hon. Gentleman being able to tell us how much can be saved, over what time scale and what that money would be spent on. Can he do so?

Chris Grayling: The credibility of what we say will be determined by whether this scheme is right or wrong. We have argued all along that this scheme is wrong, and we are now seeing the Government back away from it. I fear that the right hon. Lady and her predecessors have written poison pill clauses into the contracts for this project that will make it much more difficult for a future Government to back away from the scheme. I will happily give way to her again if she can tell us that there are no such clauses in any of the contracts that would tie the hands of a future Government. If this Government are tying the hands of their successor, as I fear they may be, that is an unacceptable practice by any Administration. It may make it harder for us to do the right thing, but it will not stop us. The right hon. Lady does not appear to want to intervene on that point.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Is my right hon. Friend struck by the fact that the right hon. Lady, one of the main architects of this policy, did not make a single argument in favour of ID cards in her intervention, and instead chose to ask the Opposition questions about it? Does not that speak volumes?

Chris Grayling: It does indeed speak volumes, but then very few positive reasons for the scheme remain. One reason why I was taken aback by the reports at the weekend was that I thought that the new Home Secretary had realised that and was trying to scrap the scheme outright. I was disappointed to discover that that was not the case. We will have to await the arrival of the new Government to secure that change.

Of course, the battle over ID cards between Ministers has been played out over the airwaves and the newspaper columns for some time now. We have seen an array of different opinions aired about how best either to keep or end the scheme. In March, the then Home Secretary insisted that the scheme was going ahead. She said:

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However on 28 April, a national newspaper reported a “senior Cabinet minister” as saying:

On the same day, another former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) also called for the ID card scheme to be scrapped, in favour of mandatory biometric passports. Asked whether ID cards could be dropped, he said:

Then on 29 April, when asked at the Institute of Directors conference if he supported ID cards, the Chancellor rowed back and said:

So he made a commitment to biometric passports, but was very cautious about ID cards.

When the current Home Secretary took over, things looked much brighter for those opposing ID cards. He reportedly launched an urgent review of the identity card scheme, paving the way for a possible U-turn on the policy. A source was quoted as saying:

Statutory instruments relating to the scheme were due to be debated this week but have now been postponed.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): It is not the fact that Ministers have made different statements at different times that concerns some of us: it is the fact that we now have a scheme that will be compulsory for some people who are resident in this country and voluntary for others. The two-tier system being created is the real problem.

Chris Grayling: I understand that point. The issue for me, with the various different views coming out of the Government, is that we have a total lack of strategy. The Government have forgotten what the scheme is all about and they do not seem able to explain its purpose. We have something that is neither fish nor fowl, and that is no way to run what would be one of the biggest schemes of its kind that this country has ever seen.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): Can the hon. Gentleman explain to the House what the Conservative party intends to do to tighten up controls on foreign nationals who work and live in this country, if it does not go forward with an ID scheme?

Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman clearly was not listening to what I said a moment ago. The big issue that we have when it comes to people getting into and out of the country is the lack of a proper border police force. That has been central to the strategy that the Conservative party has put forward for a long time. The Government
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made an attempt to copy the policy two years ago but failed to do so properly. We need properly policed borders.

The new Home Secretary raised expectations that he would change things, but immediately he rowed back from that and said:

He added:

It was reported that the contract to make the cards—for which Fujitsu, IBM and Thales were bidding—would not be awarded until the autumn of 2010, a year later than expected. Then came last week’s announcement, in which the Government abandoned plans to make identity cards compulsory for British citizens, to scrap the airside scheme and to extend the voluntary scheme in Manchester to the north-west as a whole. I have to say that I still do not understand how a voluntary scheme works. What is the policing benefit of a voluntary scheme. If a police officer stops someone in the street, can he ask for an ID card? The person can say, “I didn’t want to have one, so I can’t produce it.” Where is the benefit to an individual of buying an ID card and, more to the point, where is the benefit to the country of spending billions of pounds on setting up the mechanisms in the hope that someday enough people will buy enough of the cards to get that money back? It seems to me to be a scheme without a purpose.

Even last week’s announcement was not the final thing to be said. Despite what appeared to be a final clarification from the Home Secretary, the noble and dark Lord Mandelson intervened and insisted that the Government still planned full take-up of ID cards. He insisted that the Government have

He was quoted as saying that last week. Perhaps the Home Secretary could clarify. Given that the noble and dark Lord is de facto the Prime Minister of the country at the moment, and appears to have rowed back on the Home Secretary’s commitment of last week that the scheme would only be voluntary, will the Home Secretary clarify the scheme’s status? Will he categorically rule out compulsion and will he say that Lord Mandelson’s comments were wrong?

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): It is no surprise to any of us that the Darth Vader of modern politics is in favour of the scheme. However, my hon. Friend is being unfair on my previous opponent the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith). The author of the scheme was the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). He has said, in these terms, that the database society is a bad idea. Let us not worry about the card or the passport. What is my hon. Friend’s opinion of the national identity register, which is the key threat behind the system?

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