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"would have made a difference. I've never argued . . . that ID cards would prevent any particular act."
Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): The right hon. Lady is right that ID cards did not stop the bombing in Madrid, but does she accept that ID cards in Spain allowed the bombers to be traced from the fingerprints on the Atocha bombs?
Mrs May: The point that I am making is a simple one. The last Labour Government claimed that this would be- [Interruption.] A shadow Minister on the Front Bench says, "No. we didn't." As I had not said what I was going to say the Government had claimed, I suggest that she is being a little premature, or perhaps she is learning the ways of opposition rather earlier than some of her colleagues.
Many claims were made at various times about what the Government said. One of them was that the purpose of ID cards was to keep this country safe. The examples that I gave show that ID cards do not keep this country safe and are an intrusion into civil liberties. The imposition of an enormously expensive system, which will be a target for computer hackers, might result in greater identity fraud and would not make us safer, cannot be justified.
There is one other objection to such an extension of the state's surveillance powers, and it is one that Labour never understood: it is unBritish. We are a freedom-loving people, and we recognise that intrusive government does not enhance our well-being or safety. In 2004 the Mayor of London promised to eat his ID card in front of
"whatever emanation of the state has demanded that I produce it."
I will not endorse civil disobedience, but Boris Johnson was expressing in his own inimitable way a discomfort even stronger than the discomfort to be had from eating an ID card. It is a discomfort born of a very healthy and British revulsion towards bossy, interfering, prying, wasteful and bullying Government. The coalition Government are determined to do things differently.
I pay tribute to all those who have campaigned so vigorously for the abolition of ID cards. They include N02ID, Liberty, and the parties that make up the coalition Government. I am also grateful that Members in other parts of the House, including Labour Members, as indicated earlier, have had the integrity to speak out and vote against the issue and, in the case of Labour Members, against those on their Front Bench. Indeed, Labour Members may even find that voting for the abolition of ID cards curries favour with the next leader of their party although, with the notable exception of the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), none of the leadership candidates appears to have taken an interest in civil liberties.
"As the evening has worn on, the Government Whips have subjected several of my colleagues to their usual rough-hew methods of persuasion. However, I say to colleagues in the closing minutes of the debate that voting against the Bill would be far from betraying our Government or going against Labour principles, because we would be doing the Government a great service. The more the public hear of the Bill, the less they like it, so the sooner it is stopped in its tracks, the better."-[ Official Report, 28 June 2005; Vol. 435, c. 1248-9.]
I urge Members in all parts of the House to vote with their conscience, and to show their constituents that they stand for freedom, sound expenditure and common sense. The case for ID cards has not been made and will not be. It is an extension of state power that we cannot, in any sense, afford. I commend the Bill to the House.
We on the Labour Benches will not vote against the Bill on Second Reading. Although we do not think the general election was in any way a referendum on ID cards, we accept that the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have a mandate to abandon the measure. We believe that the 15,000 cards already in use should continue to be a legitimate form of identity, and that those citizens who have purchased them should not be treated in the unfair and arrogant way that the Home Secretary proposed: it is arrogant to punish the public because the Government believe that the public were duty bound to presume a Conservative victory at the general election. That is constitutional nonsense and I have never heard anything so arrogant from a political party in my life.
We think a version of the national identity register must continue to exist in some form, and that second generation biometric passports need to go ahead. However, we will pursue those arguments in Committee and at other stages of the Bill's passage.
In recent times, my party has been consistently in favour of an identity card scheme, the Liberal Democrats have been consistently opposed and the Conservatives have been inconsistent to the point of perversity. The Bill before us to abandon a voluntary identity card scheme, which the right hon. Lady says is intrusive, bullying and unBritish, was in the first semi-Conservative-I suppose we could call it-Queen's Speech for almost 14 years.
The irony is that the previous Queen's Speech under a Tory Administration, in November 1996, included a Bill to introduce a voluntary ID card scheme, following extensive public consultation by the then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, who said that the potential benefits fell into two categories. It is worth repeating them to the House. This was a Conservative Government, proposing a Bill at the Queen's Speech- [ Interruption. ] "Fifteen years ago," says the Minister for Immigration. We will get on to what has changed in the almost 15 years since 1996, and how the problems that led that Conservative Government to put forward an "unBritish, bullying and intrusive" Bill have actually worsened in the ensuing period. However, Michael Howard summed up the benefits succinctly, noting first, the
"direct benefits to the individual holder (e.g. through use of an identity card as a travel card or to provide reliable proof of identity including for commercial transactions)";
"the wider benefits to all citizens, (e.g. by reducing the level of certain crimes or by providing more efficient or less costly provision of state services)."
That description of the benefits is as accurate today as it was then. The consultation under the Conservative Government found that 64% of the public supported
ID cards, with 36% opposed, and the last Tory Government to be elected to power in their own right-perhaps the last in more ways than one-proceeded to include the measure in the Gracious Speech.
Does my right hon. Friend understand the concerns of my constituents, who have been in touch having bought that voluntary ID card precisely for the reasons that he just gave? They saw it as an opportunity to get proof of identity without going down the route of obtaining a passport and to have something in their pocket? Does he also understand their concerns in writing to me and asking me to vote against this measure because they want either to get some recompense for the card that they have bought, or, if hon. Members will pardon the pun, to passport it for use in another way?
Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend should write and tell them that the Government believe-this Government, who believe in the big society and in listening to people-that the scheme into which they bought, which Parliament approved at every stage and which was in the 2005 manifesto of the party that was elected to government, is somehow illegitimate. His constituents should realise that it was their mistake in not presuming a victory for the Tory party at the recent general election. That seems to be the reason.
That description of the benefits to which I referred is accurate, and the consultation carried out by the previous Conservative Government showed overwhelming public support. The Labour Government resuscitated the proposals and subjected them to a fresh, six-month public consultation and further scrutiny in the form of a draft Bill in 2003. The Select Committee on Home Affairs held a simultaneous inquiry, and the outcome of all that was, again, overwhelming public support.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I am trying desperately to understand the right hon. Gentleman's position. He still seems to be for ID cards, but he will not oppose the Bill this evening. What is the Labour party's position on ID cards? Can we expect to see them in a future Labour party manifesto?
Alan Johnson: That is to be determined by the party. However, we cannot suggest that we did not lose the election; we cannot simply oppose every measure that the Government propose. We have to ensure that we consider the will of the people. I do not doubt that the mandate of the two parties in government allows them to introduce the measure before us, but they are absolutely wrong to cancel the national identity register, to say that they will not go ahead with second-generation biometric passports and, most of all, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) said, to take such an arrogant and dismissive approach to the British public.
The Home Secretary said that ID cards would be made a footnote to history, so let us carry on with the history. The Conservative Government proposed ID cards and undertook public consultation; Labour resuscitated the proposal; the Home Affairs Committee supported it; public scrutiny supported it; and the draft Bill gained overwhelming support.
I should at this point mention the strange episode of the ten-minute Bill in January 2002, when the then Member for Broxtowe, now sadly no longer a Member, proposed leave to introduce an identity card Bill. The House will know that on a ten-minute Bill only the die-hard supporters of a proposition will turn up to vote, but among that bunch of ID card zealots, those people who wanted an "unBritish, intrusive and anti-democratic" scheme, we find the former shadow Home Secretary, now the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), the current Leader of the House, and a whole bunch of their Conservative colleagues.
To listen to the Home Secretary speak today, one would never believe that she once walked through the Aye Lobby in support of ID cards. I have to reveal that she did. Members should listen to her speech today, or read it again in Hansard, and then recall that the Home Secretary supported Second Reading of the Identity Cards Bill on 20 December 2004; and she was not a Tory rebel: she voted with her party in support of that Bill, whose measures she now seeks to repeal. The Conservatives continued to give their support. Indeed, they supported it under the leadership of Michael Howard at the 2005 general election.
The right hon. Lady now says that people were foolish to go out and buy ID cards, but both main parties at that general election supported ID cards, so the proposition that they should be removed is quite extraordinary. The Conservatives continued to give their support right into the 2005 general election, when Labour's winning manifesto pledged
"to provide citizens with a...secure identity card to protect them...from identity theft and clamp down on illegal working and fraudulent use of public services."
Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and welcome you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to your position. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that only a few days ago the head of the TUC, Brendan Barber, said that the scheme would have been an expensive folly and an unwelcome intrusion into people's private liberties and lives? Does he also know that the TUC head said that he welcomed and supported this Government's proposals to get rid of ID cards? Given Labour's current financial circumstances, is it wise to ignore paymasters in that way?
Alan Johnson: The TUC is a lot of things, but it is not a paymaster. I was not aware that Brendan Barber had said that, but if that is his view he is perfectly entitled to express it. I am setting out the views of the current Home Secretary and the Conservative party on Second Reading on 20 December 2004 of the Bill whose measures they now seek to repeal. Indeed, they are not just seeking to repeal that legislation, but describing in extraordinarily derogatory terms anyone who supported it.
I quoted our precise manifesto commitment in 2005. We were in the course of carrying out that commitment, and everyone recognised that it would be a long process, but it began with the Tories' enthusiastic support at the
2005 general election, and ended with their bitter opposition. How do we explain the Conservative party's change from hard-headed pragmatists to the political wing of Liberty? In respect of the issues that galvanised the Conservatives to act in the 1996 Queen's Speech and support the Identity Cards Bill on Second Reading in 2004, the only change is that the problems that they sought to address have become more acute.
The mantra of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats is civil liberties, but the Home Secretary should remember that when we talk about civil liberties-our basic freedoms-we are not talking solely about the rights of individuals but about the rights of society as a whole. We are talking about the right to be able to travel freely, the right to have access to efficient and effective public services, and the right to live our lives free from crime. ID cards, biometric passports and the national identity register that supported them were designed precisely to protect those freedoms, but at the same time to help to increase security-the security of each individual's identity, the security of our borders and, yes, an added layer of security in the fight against terrorism.
The Home Secretary might like to be aware, because she mentioned it, that it was not me who first pointed out the link with terrorism-it was the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), who is, I confess, not normally guilty of any inconsistency. During the Second Reading debate in 2004, he said, as shadow Home Secretary at this very Dispatch Box:
"I would not have countenanced ID cards before 11 September. After that, however, I accept that we must consider them. After 11 September, it is incumbent on all of us to examine carefully any measures that might enhance the nation's security. Identity cards introduced properly and effectively may help to do that."-[ Official Report, 20 December 2004; Vol. 428, c. 1953.]
Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): My right hon. Friend-I will call him that, because he knows our relationship-is carefully not quoting the rest of the speech or saying what actually happened. What we did at that time was to give the Government of the day the benefit of the doubt because there had just been some terrorist events that obviously brought the country into some risk. We therefore said, "We will support the Government on this, under five tests"-they were very fond of five tests in those days. The five tests were that the Government could control the cost of the programme, which they did not; protect the privacy of the individual, which they did not; manage it competently, which they did not; protect the security of the data, which they did not; and show its effectiveness against terrorism and crime, which they did not. That is why we opposed it.
I apologise to my right hon. Friend in this broad coalition, but I do not have time to quote the whole speech. Of course he made those points in that very important debate, after which the Tories walked
through the Aye Lobby with us. I do not agree that the tests were not met. My point, however, is that the Conservatives are now in government. They can carry out the proposal that was in the Queen's Speech in 1996 and meet the tests that they set.
That debate took place on 20 December 2004, three years after 9/11 and, unfortunately, seven months before 7/7, and before the airline bomb plot, the liquid bomb plot, and all the other terrorist outrages that we have had to counter. The right hon. Gentleman cannot say that anything has changed in relation to national security except that these problems are more acute. We are at a severe level of readiness. No one on the Government Benches can say, "Well, things have changed since 1996," or since 2004. They have changed-they have got worse, and that has made the case for ID cards stronger.
Of course, for the Government, as the Home Secretary said, it is conveniently symbolic to have this debate so early on in this Session of Parliament. It is a symbolic act to prove that the coalition can actually agree on something, as it certainly cannot agree on Europe, the alternative vote, or even the Human Rights Act.
It is certainly true that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have been consistently smug in suggesting that a simple ID card scheme will mean the end of civilisation as we know it. Not for nothing are the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister known as the self-righteous brothers, although they are bound to have lost that loving feeling before too long. The Deputy Prime Minister has a Dutch mother and a Spanish wife, so he should know that the claim that ID cards are an affront to liberty and freedom would be greeted with bemusement in Holland, Spain, France, Finland, Sweden, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and all the other countries that have managed to provide their citizens with the cards' pragmatic advantages without becoming despotic oligarchies.
The Bill has provisions to keep the clauses of the 2006 Act that relate to false documentation, and we welcome that, but we need much more than penalties for false documents if we are to win the fight against identity fraud and illegal immigration.
David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Was it the shadow Home Secretary's intention that it would be compulsory for everyone to have ID cards? If not, how on earth could they help to prevent terrorism, benefit fraud or anything else, given that the people who were likely to commit those acts were unlikely to apply for an ID card?
Alan Johnson: That is a very good point. No, it was not my intention to make the cards compulsory. Indeed, we made it absolutely plain that people could use their biometric passport as an identity document or use an ID card, which was a smaller, simpler, cheaper version. France has a voluntary ID card scheme, as do many countries in Europe that would not go to the compulsory stage, and it helps people to protect and prove their identity, which is the fundamental reason behind it. As I said, it was the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden who mentioned the link with terrorism, not moi.
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