some default text...
Previous Section Index Home Page

2.18 pm

Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to address the House for the first time, and in this fascinating debate, on a day when we are both maidens together-I would not comment on which of us is the fairer.

As is customary, I pay tribute to my predecessor, Sir Peter Viggers, who served as a Member of the House for 36 years, having been elected in 1974. Most notably, he was a junior Minister for Northern Ireland, and over the years was a member of the Select Committee on Defence and the Treasury Committee. I wish Sir Peter and Lady Viggers a very happy, restful, long and happy retirement, and my sincere hope is that they are both able to reflect upon many long years of public service, and not upon the events that dominated the last 12 months of the previous Parliament.

Another notable predecessor was Lord Palmerston, who may well have approved of the latest coalition: having started political life as a Conservative Member of Parliament, he crossed the Floor of the House to join the Whigs, was elected as the first MP for South Hampshire in 1832 and of course went on to become Prime Minister. As a humble new girl, and the first woman to represent Gosport, I am conscious of being a bit behind the drag curve. Being 13 years older-I do not admit that freely-than Lord Palmerston when he was offered the job as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and given that I did not catch the Prime Minister's eye three weeks ago, when he filled that job, I suspect I will drop further behind my illustrious predecessor.

It is customary in a maiden speech to speak glowingly about one's new constituency. Although a duty, it is also an enormous pleasure, because Gosport could be described as my dream seat. The Gosport constituency includes not only the historic town of Gosport, but the charming seaside resort of Lee on Solent, the beautiful coastal village of Hill Head and the equally lovely rural village of Stubbington. The man I call "Mr Gosport", Councillor Peter Edgar, tells of a Gosport legend in which King Stephen and his brother Bishop Henry de Blois were on a little medieval ship that was caught in a fierce storm in the Solent. In danger of drowning, they were rescued by some brave fishermen who took them ashore in Gosport, at which point the bishop struck the ground with his stick and named the place "God's Port Our Haven"-that is where Gosport got its name-and rewarded them with profitable markets and fairs. It is a good story-royalty in danger, a brave rescue and a good reward-and will always remain part of the story of Gosport. So, too, will the true story of Bishop Godfrey de Lucy, who in 1204 was commissioned by King John to build a fleet of ships to recapture Normandy from the French. So began Gosport's 800-year history as a vital part in the defence of the realm. Indeed, England has never been involved in a major conflict without Gosport playing its part, right up to the modern day: we have just welcomed back 33 Field Hospital from Afghanistan.

There is a common misconception that Gosport is near Portsmouth, but as my constituents will explain, it is Portsmouth that is near Gosport. Gosport and
9 Jun 2010 : Column 364
Portsmouth fought on opposing sides during the civil war, and I am proud to say that on that occasion Gosport was on the side of Parliament. Gosport is a constituency of contrasts. It may be part of the affluent south of England, but it has pockets of shocking deprivation. I have met kids in my school visits who talk of things that young children should never have to experience. Thinking of my own seven-year-old son, it makes me so determined to work hard and change things for them.

Conversely, we have stunning waterfronts, the beauty of Stokes bay looking over to the Isle of Wight and the Falklands memorial gardens, with their amazing views across the harbour. There is also evidence of Gosport's distinguished military heritage everywhere: HMS Sultan, which was one of the earliest Royal Flying Corps airfields in the country, and the military hospital Haslar, which first received patients in 1754. It later took patients from conflicts such as the battle of Trafalgar, and Queen Victoria described it as the noblest of institutions.

Reading my predecessor's maiden speech in 1974, it staggers me how many of the Royal Navy establishments that he described have been stripped from Gosport in the past 30 years-not only that noble hospital at Haslar, but submarine base HMS Dolphin and Daedalus air base. We still have a range of military facilities including for engineering training and helicopter maintenance, but the prospect of shutting any more of those bases would be a disaster for my constituency. Any thought of moving the Royal Navy engineering school at HMS Sultan to Wales would be a huge upheaval for those from Portsmouth-based ships and their families, as well as a vast and unnecessary drain on the defence budget. If amalgamation of engineering training is so vital, why not bring the Royal Air Force and Army to Gosport and save huge amounts of money? We would welcome them with open arms, and it would save a huge sum.

Of course, the crowning glory of Gosport is its very special people, with their strength of character, warmth of spirit, good humour and generosity-not to mention their immaculate good taste at election time. However, recent Governments have starved the peninsula of infrastructure. We are the largest town in Britain with no railway station. Our one major access road, the infamous A32, has no dual carriageways and is blocked for much of the day. That is made worse as much of the population has to commute out to work because huge swathes of housing were built to match the targets of the previous Government but no jobs were created to match them.

Also under the previous Government, the wonderful Haslar hospital was closed. It was not only the last remaining military hospital in the country but a well-used community resource. Now Gosport is inadequately served for accident and emergency and other services, and this great hospital sits there in a mummified state of limbo at a time when we need military hospitals so badly. This is why I have chosen to talk in this debate: the billions of pounds already spent on identity cards were badly needed elsewhere for roads, better housing and to save that hospital. The good people of Gosport should be free to get on with their lives, with their jobs and with raising their families, and not have to share information about themselves unless it is for a good reason. They should not have every personal detail stored on a national
9 Jun 2010 : Column 365
register. It is appropriate for me to support the abolition of identity cards as a small gesture towards acknowledging the freedom of this nation's people, given that Gosport has done so much to deliver the freedom of both this and other nations around the world.

2.26 pm

Mr David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) on a feisty maiden speech, demanding that her constituency get a greater share of resources and investment from the Government, and I wish her well in that endeavour. I also congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker, on your election. I intend to be brief, because my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary's speech was excellent and put forward in considerable detail a great deal of what I would otherwise have needed to say. I speak as the former Home Secretary who published the Bill to which he referred extensively and which was supported by senior Conservative Members. However, I do not want to cover old ground; instead I want to admit to one or two mistakes, and touch on what may have happened since.

I need to be contrite enough to congratulate Phil Booth from NO2ID, Dr Whitley from the London School of Economics identity project, and others, for the tremendous campaign that they have run, over the past five years in particular, to stop this scheme. I congratulate them because they changed the culture and atmosphere around, and attitudes towards the scheme and its intentions in a way that those of us initially involved could not have conceived. In doing so, they have persuaded large swathes of the normally well-informed population, including vast swathes of the media, that the identity cards scheme and the second generation biometric register were intended to impact on the public and intrude on their civil liberties in a way that was never intended and was never going to happen. That they were wrong should not mislead us into misunderstanding what can happen in a vigorous democracy, and how careful we have to be in explaining our intentions and taking on arguments openly.

It is because we have such a vigorous democracy that we have reached this situation and are accepting that-for the time being, at least-the proposition is dead. However, the issues will not go away. The issue of second generation biometric passports will not go away because the rest of the world is moving around us, and because they are a more authentic and therefore verifiable way of securing our identities. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) is right to say that we need to find and develop simpler ways of securing, presenting and owning our own identities, in a manner that was not possible 10 years ago but is becoming possible now.

That is so particularly for specific purposes. In the end, I believe that our person will be our identity, and that we will be able to walk through electronic border controls and present ourselves, not a card or passport. It will automatically register our biometric fingerprints, our irises-in the future; at the moment the technology is not up to it, but it will be-and use facial recognition based on digital technology, which will avoid fraud.

I have a card here; I am very proud of it. I have been offered a lot of money for it on eBay. I have agreed with Simon Davies of Privacy International that we could frame it and put it in a gallery. I do not intend to
9 Jun 2010 : Column 366
auction it off because my grandchildren will want to hold it in their hands. They will say, "Granddad, what was so terrible about this card that you paid £30 for it? Did it involve you actually having to give deeply private information that was going to be shared with the rest of the world, or be intruded upon by criminals who were going to steal the information that was registered when you took up the card?" I will have to say to them, "I'm terribly sorry, but that didn't happen. It was never going to happen, but people believed it was going to happen." My grandchildren will say, "Did they really believe that? Do I understand from reading the history books that people believed it was going to cost £2.5 billion, and that they were going to employ 3,000 extra police officers?" I shall say, "Yes, they did." My grandchildren will ask, "Did they go to school, granddad? Did they do mathematics? Did they have any grasp of economics?" I shall say, "No, they were substantially driven by the Liberal Democrats," and that the Deputy Prime Minister from 2010 onwards, who was the leader of the Liberal Democrats, actually believed his own rhetoric.

I have a lot of time for the new Home Secretary. I like her personally, and I do not believe that she believed a word of the adjectival hyperbole with which she started her speech. She does not believe that the scheme was going to cost billions or that money that had never been raised would have been spent on projects that could not be funded because the money being spent on the register and the ID card was not coming from the taxpayer or from those purchasing the passport and the ID card. She does not believe that, but she has been forced to, because of the coalition agreement, which the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats sat down one afternoon to work out. Presumably, the new Chief Secretary managed to persuade the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), now the Foreign Secretary, that he had got it completely wrong, making it necessary to do away not only with the ID card-which, as the Home Secretary said, is symbolic-but with second generation biometric passports. The Foreign Secretary was persuaded that afternoon, and the Government and the country are now lumbered. What an odd way to carry on.

I do not know whether the new Chief Secretary has any grasp of economics, but he must now know, as the Conservatives now know, that there were no billions of pounds available to spend on anything else, whether on hospitals in Gosport or anywhere else. There was no pot of gold to draw on. We are apparently going to save £5 million a year over 10 years. Well, that is really going to knock a hole in the deficit and provide the cash for the deficit reduction strategy!

I have in my other hand my existing passport, which is totally forgeable, and is not really worth the paper it is written on. When I went to Europe twice this last month, they were really happy to have my ID card, because it has biometrics on it and it is more authentic, ensuring my identity is proved.

What have I learned from the last eight years? First, we need to explain more clearly what is beneficial to the individual rather than to the state. Secondly, we need to be absolutely clear about the costings so that they are not rolled up over 10 years and people's individual purchase is not confused with taxation. Thirdly, we need to ensure that people do not believe that additional data is going to be taken that would previously not have been available for the passport or for the DVLA driving licence.


9 Jun 2010 : Column 367

Incidentally, the BBC managed to get a driving licence for Freddie Forsyth, who wrote "The Day of the Jackal", and for me. I promise the world that at no point in the future will I ever use the driving licence that the BBC obtained on my behalf in order to drive around this country. I would have been a much greater risk to the people of Britain than identity cards would ever have been in terms of intruding on their lifestyle, their liberty and their well-being. When I took out the ID card, the only thing I had to provide over and above the information for my passport was to pick from 25 options something relevant to my past that only I would know, which I could offer if my identity were to be challenged and a further check had to be made. That is all-no information that could be transferred for other purposes, no intrusion that criminals could get hold of and use beyond what they already had access to in other ways, nothing nefarious that would in any way intrude on my or anyone else's civil liberties. The truth is, however, that people believed otherwise. They believed that there would be those problems, that the card would cost a lot of money, which could be spent on something else, and that the register and biometrics were not a priority at the time.

Pete Wishart: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, but this is typical new Labour arrogance: everybody else was wrong, and they were right. What has been described are these benign, nice and inexpensive cards, forgetting the fact that they hold up to 50 pieces of information that would be stored and shared. That is what new Labour were enthusing about with these identity cards. Can the right hon. Gentleman not accept that perhaps the rest of us have got it right and he has got it wrong?

Mr Blunkett: I thought I had accepted this afternoon that I and many others got it wrong, but not my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) or our admirable, and honourable, Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), who did a fantastic job in the time she was in post in getting the message across. I have already indicated that we did not explain the issue. The hon. Gentleman illustrates the position extremely well in saying that 50 bits of information were required. If he had gone along and got himself an ID card, he would have realised that that was complete and utter bunkum, but this has been repeated so often that people started to believe it. I challenge anyone who has an ID card, who went along and gave the information to be placed on that database to stand up this afternoon and challenge me. I will give way quite happily if people believe that they can justify the claim that this mega-amount of information had to be provided over and above what was required for the passport.

In the end, however, if people believe something in a democracy, that is what counts. I remember saying at 3 am Friday morning after the general election, "If you're defeated, you're defeated." When defeated, it is right to go back, think again and work out how to develop sensible arguments that protect civil liberties, and protect the nation's well-being as well.


9 Jun 2010 : Column 368
2.38 pm

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your well-deserved appointment, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) on her excellent maiden speech.

I support the Identity Documents Bill, but one of the difficulties is that it should really be called the Identity Documents and Register Bill. It is the register aspect that I would like to concentrate on. Section 10 of the Identity Cards Act 2006 deals with

The claim that maintaining a database and any changes to it has no cost is ludicrous. There is obviously a saving from not having to change the database.

Under section 10(1):

Under section 10(7):

Essentially, what that means is that once the information dealt with in schedule 1 is on the register, anyone who has an ID card-whether they are compulsory or not-is under a duty to notify and will be fined up to £1,000 if they do not inform the Government of those changes. Perhaps that was the stealth tax that was going to get the Government out of the financial mess the country was in. If we are talking about £1,000 fines for 60 million people, that comes to £60 billion, which is a good start: there is a third of the deficit gone. The reality is that all the debate, on the basis of which public opinion was formed, has been about the card and its cost. Once people start being fined for not telling the Government about changes, the position becomes much more difficult.

Schedule 1 of the 2006 Act is relevant to the subject of the 50 pieces of information, although the amount of information required obviously depends on the individual. The requirement for the individual's "full name" is straightforward, but people change their names by deed poll from time to time, and if they do not tell the Government, they must pay a £1,000 fine. Next, the schedule refers to

People may have nicknames. If someone fills in an election nomination paper with a name by which he is known, but does not tell the Government for the purposes of the identity card, he will have to pay a £1,000 fine.

There are requirements for "date of birth" , "place of birth" and "gender" to be recorded. "Gender" is an interesting one. Under the Identity Cards Act 2006 (Application and Issue of ID Card and Notification of Changes) Regulations 2009, people can register two genders if they wish. I shall say more about that later.

The schedule also refers to

To be fair, people do need to tell the various authorities where they live, for electoral purposes and the like. However, paragraph 1(g) refers to


9 Jun 2010 : Column 369

Someone with a holiday home in France must tell the United Kingdom Government where it is. If he sells it and does not tell the Government where he has moved, he will have to pay a £1,000 fine. It is a good way of raising money. A great many people, including many in the House, have more than one residence-they may have to work away from home-but if they do not tell the Government where that other residence is, they must pay £1,000.

The schedule demands


Next Section Index Home Page