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9 Jun 2010 : Column 345

Identity Documents Bill

Second Reading

1.14 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am very pleased to introduce the first piece of legislation that the new Administration are putting before Parliament. It signals a profound change in the way in which Government will interact with the people they serve.

The national identity card scheme represents the worst of government. It is intrusive and bullying, ineffective and expensive. It is an assault on individual liberty which does not promise a greater good. The Bill is, therefore, partly symbolic. It sends a message that the Government are going to do business in a different way. We are the servants of the people, not their masters, and every action that we take must be considered in that context.

Of course our first duty is to keep people safe. That truism cannot be repeated often enough. We will do whatever it takes to honour that covenant. Sometimes, respecting the rights of the few while protecting the many will be a delicate balancing act. Not on this occasion. We have no hesitation in making the national identity card scheme an unfortunate footnote in history. There it should remain-a reminder of a less happy time when the Government allowed hubris to trump civil liberties.

Last month, the coalition set out its plans to abolish ID cards and the national identity register. The register contains the biographic and biometric fingerprint data of cardholders. In bringing forward this stand-alone Bill, we are now seeking swift approval to enable us to abolish both.

The Government are of course also bringing forward a freedom Bill, and will launch a consultation on the laws that the British people want to see repealed. So the Identity Documents Bill is just our first measure as we begin to restore the balance between national security and civil liberties-the crucial, delicate balance which was so carelessly abandoned during Labour's years in office.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): I opposed identity cards from the very beginning and I have not changed my views, but will the Home Secretary bear in mind that in 1996 the Conservative Home Secretary, Michael Howard, announced that the Conservative Government intended to bring in an identity card scheme? It was described as voluntary-whatever that meant. It was not possible to do so for obvious reasons: because of what happened in 1997.

Mrs May: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding us of what was done in 1996 by a former Conservative Home Secretary and what was proposed. That Conservative Government did indeed look at the possibility. We have looked at the idea brought forward by the Labour Government and we do not think that it is right. We take a different view, which is that we should abolish the identity card scheme. The hon. Gentleman referred to his opposition and indeed a number of Labour Members objected to the proposals of their Front-Bench colleagues.

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Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): The Home Secretary is talking about the abolition of the scheme. Is she telling the House, and the wider country, that the abolition of the scheme will include foreign nationals coming to this country?

Mrs May: No. I shall come to that point later. There are biometric residency permits for foreign nationals and they are completely separate from the identity card scheme. They were rolled into the ID scheme only because the Labour Government were trying desperately to bolster it; they claimed that the residency permits were somehow part of the ID card scheme, which they are not. Those biometric residency permits will continue to exist.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): As one of the Labour Members who opposed identity cards from the beginning, I am delighted that the Bill is one of the first pieces of legislation that the new Government are putting through. Will the Home Secretary say something about people who went ahead and rather stupidly bought an identity card? Does she feel that they should be recompensed or does she think they should have listened to those of us on both sides of the House who said, "This is the wrong scheme and you shouldn't be doing that"?

Mrs May: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. She does indeed have an honourable record of maintaining opposition to identity cards. I will make reference to this point later, but I can tell her now that we will not be offering refunds to all those who chose to get an identity card. [Hon. Members: "Outrageous!"] Labour Front Benchers shout "Outrageous", but we made it clear that we were opposed to identity cards. The Liberal Democrat party made it absolutely clear that it was opposed to identity cards. People knew well before the election what would happen if a Conservative Government were elected.

Alan Johnson (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab): Does the Home Secretary recall that the Labour party's manifesto in 2005 had a commitment to introduce a voluntary ID card scheme? Does she recollect that it was the Labour party that won that general election? In what way was it illegitimate-or, indeed, "stupid", to quote my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey)-for people then to buy a card that was legitimate and had been set out in the manifesto of the winning party?

Mrs May: I must make a confession; I did not study the 2005 Labour party manifesto in any great detail because I was too busy promoting the 2005 Conservative party manifesto- [ Interruption. ] I am not trying to rewrite history; the right hon. Gentleman and his party won the 2005 election and introduced the identity card scheme. Let us remember; the scheme was not introduced in the very early stages of the Government's term, but we made it clear from an early stage that if the Conservative party came into government, ID cards would be scrapped. That was clear to people, and the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling)-

Alan Johnson: This is arrogance.

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Mrs May: I fail to see how it is arrogant for a political party to make clear to the electors that if it gets into government it will pursue a particular policy, to allow electors to make a decision as to their actions on the basis of that knowledge.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): I agree with the Home Secretary. Has there been any estimate of the cost of continuing the system for those few people who already have identity cards?

Mrs May: I am coming on to some of the cost issues but, over the next four years, we will be saving £86 million by getting rid of the identity card scheme, with over £800 million being saved over the next 10 years.

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mrs May: No, I said that I was going to make some progress. I have been quite generous already in taking interventions.

Much of the Identity Cards Act 2006 will be undone but the Bill will re-enact certain provisions in the 2006 Act that do not relate solely to ID cards. Those provisions on offences and passport verification make available powers in relation to the detection and prevention of fraud, and the consular fees provision makes it possible to issue passports at subsidised rates. It will remain an offence to carry an identity document that a person knows or believes to be false or to hold a genuine document that relates to someone else, or that has been improperly obtained. Also it will remain illegal to possess equipment for falsifying documents. Under the Bill, ID cards will be invalidated. Holders will not be able to use them either to prove their identity or as a travel document in Europe. On the passing of the Bill, I will not issue any more cards. Following Royal Assent, cards will remain valid for just one more month.

Mr David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab): Will the Home Secretary give way? I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady for doing so. [ Laughter . ]

Mrs May: I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr Blunkett: The right hon. Lady paused and I believed she had given way. My apologies for that.

I have an ID card here. Is the right hon. Lady saying that from now on any use of the document to reinforce my identity would be illegal?

Mrs May: I have not said that that is the case from today. I have a rather greater belief in the value of Parliament than the last Labour Government showed. Any provisions will come into force only once the Bill has been approved by Parliament and has received Royal Assent. It is after Royal Assent that cards will remain valid for one more month only. I will be writing to all those who already have a card to inform them of the change, so the right hon. Gentleman can look forward in due course to receiving a letter from me. Let us get this in proportion: fewer than 15,000 people already have a card.

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Mr Blunkett: I am sorry for intervening again, but as the House will appreciate, the subject is rather close to my heart. I understand entirely that the document will not be useable for travel purposes once the Bill has received Royal Assent, but I understood the right hon. Lady to say that it would not be valid in offering any proof of identity. Just before that, she said that it would be illegal. I am trying to ascertain whether using this document, which has my fingerprints and photo and is more authentic than my passport, would make me a criminal were I to use it for other purposes, such as opening a bank account.

Mrs May: I followed the right hon. Gentleman's argument quite carefully and perhaps I can reprise what I actually said earlier. Under the Bill, the cards will be invalidated. Holders will not be able to use them either to prove their identity or as a travel document in Europe. On Royal Assent, they will remain valid for only one more month. I did not use the word "illegal", except in relation to those who possess equipment for falsifying documents. I trust that, as a former Home Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman is not intending to hold equipment for the falsification of documents.

Mr Blunkett indicated assent.

Mrs May: For the record, the right hon. Gentleman nodded at that point.

The post of Identity Commissioner will be abolished. The public panels and experts groups that were established by the Identity and Passport Service have already been disbanded, and 60 temporary staff in Durham have already been released early.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mrs May: I am going to make a little progress if the hon. Gentleman will wait.

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mrs May: In deference to the hon. Lady's constituency interest, I will give way to her.

Roberta Blackman-Woods: I am very grateful. The Home Secretary has just announced that 67 people in my constituency were made redundant last week because the Government are not continuing identity cards. What efforts will her Government make to get jobs for those people who lost them this week, and for those who are likely to lose their jobs because the Government are not going ahead with the second generation biometric passports?

Mrs May: If I can just correct a slight inaccuracy of terminology in the way in which the hon. Lady referred to the job losses in Durham, the people concerned were temporary staff on short-term contracts and they have been released early from those contracts. There are implications to abolishing the previous Labour Government's scheme but, as the hon. Lady may know, we as a Government have considerable proposals for helping people who are unemployed to get into work. Our single work programme, which will replace the
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previous Government's proposals for helping people into work, will give people much more focused individual help on getting them into the workplace and ensuring that they are retrained and given the skills that they need.

Chris Bryant: Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mrs May: No, I am going to make some progress.

The Bill also places a duty on me to destroy all information recorded in the national identity register within two months of Royal Assent. Photographs and fingerprint biometrics will be securely destroyed. This will not be a literal bonfire of the last Government's vanities, but it will none the less be deeply satisfying. The national identity register will then cease to exist entirely.

The Government will always defend the security and integrity of the British passport, in order to safeguard the free movement of its citizens abroad and protect our borders from illegal immigration.

Chris Bryant: Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mrs May: If the hon. Gentleman has a little more patience, I will make more progress.

Chris Bryant: How much patience?

Mrs May: That will be for me to judge in due course.

We will continue to work to ensure the free movement of citizens abroad. We are halting work on fingerprint passports-the so-called second generation biometric passports-because we believe, in common with the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, that we can maintain the integrity of our passports by other security measures. Already a combination of physical and electronic security features makes the British passport very hard to counterfeit and forge. A new design with improved physical security features will be issued from 5 October, and we are considering ways to strengthen further the electronic security features.

In November 2008 the previous Administration began issuing to non-EEA nationals the biometric residency permits mentioned in an intervention. I want to reiterate the point that I made in response to that intervention. For purely political reasons those permits were referred to by the previous Government as identity cards for foreign nationals. Let no one in the House be in any doubt. They are not ID cards, and they will continue.

We anticipate that the net cost of the Bill will amount to about £5 million this year, which includes termination of contracts, writing off equipment, contacting cardholders and others to inform them that the project is over, exit costs for staff who cannot be redeployed elsewhere, and payments to contractors for secure destruction of identity information. I regret that another unavoidable cost is maintaining the ability to issue new cards before our statutory obligation to do so is removed. This is yet another example of why we want to act as quickly as possible.

The good news, however, is that the taxpayer, as I said in answer to a previous intervention, will be saved some £86 million over the next four years. Moreover, the public will not be hit with the roughly £800 million of ongoing costs over the next 10 years. To put that in perspective, that is a millennium dome's worth of savings.
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At any time it is utterly wrong for Government to waste taxpayers' money on a folly. In the current climate, it is obscene.

Chris Bryant rose-

Mrs May: I have relented and I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Chris Bryant: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods), she said that the staff were on short-term contracts. I should remind her that she, too, is on a short-term contract, as are all of us. How does she intend to use the provisions of the Bill in relation to the Consular Fees Act 1980?

Mrs May: I shall disappoint the hon. Gentleman by saying that I will not give him a precise answer in response to that point. We are ensuring that we still have those abilities in the Act to allow discounts on applications for passports under the consular fees permission in the Bill. The Bill enables us to retain the ability to do that, should we at some stage choose to do so, but I shall not give the hon. Gentleman a more detailed answer at present. I am sure he can make his points known during the debate if he chooses to catch the Speaker's eye.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mrs May: No. I shall go a little further in my speech. I return to the subject of savings. The Bill is not just about saving money. [Interruption.] Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I be the first to congratulate you on your appointment as Chairman of Ways and Means? I look forward to many debates in the Chamber under your wise rule in the Chair.

If an overwhelming case could be made that ID cards would keep us safe without intruding on civil liberties, we would find the funding. But that is not the case. First, if databases are compromised, so too is security. The Labour Government's track record on this was appalling. We all remember the moment the House was told that HMRC had lost data for 25 million people, including their dates of birth, addresses, bank accounts and national insurance numbers, and that was just one example of many. We recognise that some data storage is essential, but these events do not point in the direction of a massive expansion of the surveillance state, which ID cards would necessarily involve.

Moreover, ID cards would not make us safer or beat benefit fraud. Benefit fraud usually involves people lying about their personal circumstances rather than their identity. Turkish and Spanish ID cards stopped neither the Istanbul bombers in 2003 nor the Madrid bombers in 2004; nor did German ID cards prevent terrorists plotting 9/11 in Hamburg. As Charles Clarke, the former Home Secretary, said after the 7/7 attacks here in London:

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