|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
That this House recognises this Governments commitment to not repeating the mistakes of past recessions, and to ensuring young people are not trapped in long-term unemployment; notes since 1997 there are 300,000 extra students in higher education and public funding has increased by over 25 per cent. in real terms; praises this Governments commitment to helping graduates through the downturn, including an ambition for 5,000 extra internships this autumn; notes investment in apprenticeships is over £1 billion this year and that in 1997 there were only 65,000 starts compared to 225,000 in 2007-08; further notes the success of Train to Gain in supporting over 1.2 million course starts; further notes the September Guarantee offering all 16 to 17 year olds an apprenticeship, school, college or training place; and commends this years Budget for investing £1 billion in the Future Jobs Fund to guarantee a job, training or work experience for every young person unemployed for 12 months, part of a £5 billion investment in tackling unemployment.
That this House believes the Governments identity cards scheme should be cancelled immediately.
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 weeks announcementin 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 Governments 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 doingthis 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, Ill 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
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 countrythat is what we needthe 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 keyunless 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 criminals 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 Governments 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 terrorincluding comments after incidents in this country and in otherswhat 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
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 therecompulsion by the backdoor of the passport office.
Jacqui Smith: A central plank of the Oppositions 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:
We are on track to introduce identity cards this autumn, and we have already started to issue ID cards for foreign nationals. Next month, we plan to award two contracts for the national identity scheme.[ Official Report, 23 March 2009; Vol. 490, c. 15.]
My sense is that ID cards will not go ahead. We have to find savings somewhere, and it would be better to shelve schemes like this that arent popular.
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:
I think it is possible to mandate biometric passports. Most people already have a passport but they might want something more convenient to carry around than the current passport and may be able to have it as a piece of plastic for an extra cost.
ID cards are an interesting point because the lions share of the expenditure is going on biometric passports. People are rightly concerned about who comes in and who goes out of this country. Your old conventional bog-standard passport was okay but it was not too difficult to improvise, shall I say. The biometrics means that its very much more difficult. That is the bigger cost.
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:
Alan is more sympathetic to the civil liberties arguments than previous home secretaries. He is genuinely open minded. He wants to see all the evidence and then he will make his decision before the end of the summer.
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?
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
made an attempt to copy the policy two years ago but failed to do so properly. We need properly policed borders.
We remain on course to bring in a policy that we believe has widespread public support.
In my very first interview as Home Secretary I made clear that ID cards were a manifesto commitment and that legislation governing their introduction was passed in 2006.
It was reported that the contract to make the cardsfor which Fujitsu, IBM and Thales were biddingwould not be awarded until the autumn of 2010, a year later than expected. Then came last weeks 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 didnt want to have one, so I cant 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 weeks 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
always made clear we want to move to a full take-up of ID cards and what Alan Johnson has said is fully consistent with that.
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 Secretarys commitment of last week that the scheme would only be voluntary, will the Home Secretary clarify the schemes status? Will he categorically rule out compulsion and will he say that Lord Mandelsons 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. Friends opinion of the national identity register, which is the key threat behind the system?
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|