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It is a great honour to follow so many maiden speeches, from hon. Members on both sides of the House. I pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), who gave a very confident and stylish description of Ashfield and the value of community in that area.
On the subject of ID cards, it is also a great privilege to follow the hon. Members for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and for Walsall North (Mr Winnick). They have been steadfast in their stance on this matter, and have agreed with the Liberal Democrats that ID cards have always been wrong. I am delighted to follow them.
Identity cards have always been a passion of mine. I was a very early member of NO2ID and was very involved in its campaigning. I pay tribute to the work of that organisation-to Phil Booth, for his work nationally, and to Andrew Watson, the eastern co-ordinator.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) said that the issue of ID cards did not come up in his constituency during the election. In my
constituency of Cambridge, one of the largest of the 35 hustings that we held was organised by NO2ID, along with Oxfam and Amnesty International. The subject came up at almost every one of the other hustings that we had.
The ID card proposal also caused me to be involved with Liberty, which was mentioned earlier. I was elected to its national council, partly through my interest in identity cards and my understanding of what was happening. I am therefore delighted that one of the first steps of this coalition Government is to get rid of identity cards, finally.
Why do I oppose ID cards? I have always thought that there are three main reasons why we should not have them: the issues of principle, practice and price. We have talked about the principle, and we have heard how Clarence Henry Willcock, the Liberal from Finchley and Golders Green, objected in 1950. He was the last person to be convicted under the National Registration Act 1939, and his case led to a change in the law.
"tends to make people resentful of the acts of the police, and inclines them to obstruct the police instead of assisting them."
That deals with the question of principle, but what about identity cards in practice? They, and the much worse identity register, are part of a complex Government IT project. We know what happens to such projects-they tend not to work very well, they cost too much, there are a security problems, and they are hard to implement. I hear some complaints from Opposition Members, but my comments are not just targeted at the previous Government, because this is a general problem of Government IT projects across the world. Mission creep is also a problem, because one starts off by collecting only a little information and gradually more and more is obtained. That has occurred in too many instances.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): On mission creep, is my hon. Friend aware that when this matter and a statutory instrument were being debated, the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell), who is in his place, expressed an interest in using any spare capacity on the chip to store other information, but he was not able to tell us what that information would be? Is that not a good illustration of how mission creep might arise without people realising it?
Dr Huppert: Indeed it is, and I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I was not aware of the history of that debate, but what he describes is exactly the sort of problem that occurs: extra information ends up being stored and what starts off as-possibly-a semi-innocent project becomes more and more sinister. A lot of work has been done on this by a colleague in Cambridge, Professor Ross Anderson. I pay tribute to his work on that and on summary care records, which also relates to Government IT systems. I hope that hon. Members will sign my early-day motion 186 and persuade this Government not to go ahead with that awful project too.
The price of ID cards was also an issue, and we heard some argument about the exact cost to the public purse earlier. I say to the shadow Home Secretary that it is not just the public purse that matters; we should also care
about the cost to all the people who had to buy the cards and would have continued to buy the cards under the Labour Government's scheme. We are limiting the cost to them as much as we can, as well as limiting the cost to the public purse. As we have heard, there would have been continued costs for them in the form of fines and the cost of keeping the database going.
This Bill is not exactly as I would have drafted it. As a new Member, I certainly would not have written it in this particular style, but I suspect that I will have to get used to that. I would like clarity to be provided on a couple of points as this Bill goes through the rest of its process. We have discussed mission creep, and I am very concerned about overly broad descriptions. We have seen from the previous Government how something that seems fairly good in law can be taken wider and wider until we find that somebody can be convicted for making a joke on Twitter. We must be careful about what we say, and I hope that we will have a chance to explore what "relevant information" means in clause 10(3) and exactly how that is to be controlled.
I would also like to understand more about clause 4, in particular subsection 2(b), which makes it an offence to use documentation for "ascertaining or verifying" information about somebody. I wish to understand exactly what that means. If I were to take a family member's passport to someone else to prove who they are, would that be an offence? I have concerns about that, given how the provision is drafted. We should explore that in Committee, when I am sure the Government will make it clear how I have misinterpreted that and why I should not worry.
The other issue that should come up in our discussion is identity cards for foreign nationals-or any other such term that we might use. I disagree with some of the comments made about that, because I consider that such cards are discriminatory. We should be getting rid of all these identity cards, whoever they are for in this country. They are discriminatory and they involve the same problems that we have discussed: they do not work very well, and they involve the same problems of cost, practicality and keeping a database secure. I hope that this Government will examine that issue, either later during the passage of this Bill or in a future Bill.
Someone who did buy an identity card has asked me what now happens to it and to the money that they spent. That is a fascinating issue, and I should be interested if the Government were to work out what the cost would be of maintaining the entire system and all the back-up systems to service the 15,000 people in that position. That involves issues relating to interaction. [Interruption.] If, as the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) is suggesting, it is free, that would also be useful to know.
I was interested to hear the shadow Home Secretary's line that no changes should be made when a new Government come into power, and that it is somehow wrong ever to change anything that has happened. I seem to remember Gordon Brown changing a few things when he came into office in 1997, and that affecting decisions previously made on tax changes. We cannot have a system whereby Governments cannot change decisions made previously for fear that they might affect people inadvertently.
In general, I support this Bill and I am delighted to see it, because it is a wonderful start of real liberal
values in this new coalition. It is a real start on rebalancing the relationship between the citizen and the state, and I hope that it will be the first of many acts of a reforming, progressive Government.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert). He reminded me that that is where I first joined the Labour party when I was a student. It is also where I first met and heard a speech by the Secretary of State for International Development and where I met the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin) and the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington). All of them are now in the Government and one of them has my old job as the Minister for Europe. The hon. Member for Cambridge gave a very intelligent speech, and I am sure that he will make a huge contribution to the House in the years to come. Cambridge has always been a swing seat and I congratulate him on making sure that he kept it for his party at the last election.
We have had some magnificent maiden speeches. In fact, it should be compulsory for older Members to come and listen to the kind of speeches that we have heard. The hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), who is just about to leave the Chamber-I am not trying to stop him-has not only made a wonderful maiden speech, but already covered himself in glory by having been on the victorious side in the tug of war between the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The cup is displayed in the Tea Room, I think. I am not sure what it is to be filled with, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I am sure that you, he and all of us will join in ensuring that it is emptied.
I first met my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) as a member of the national executive committee of the Labour party. When I first heard her speak, I knew that she would become a Member of Parliament, but I had no idea that she would speak so eloquently in her maiden speech in the House. She made a brilliant speech in which she paid tribute to Geoff Hoon, who was a very good friend to all on both sides of the House-we wish him well in his career. I know that my hon. Friend will be able to make a huge contribution in the years to come. I congratulate her and all the hon. Members who made their maiden speeches and then had to disappear to recover from the great experience of addressing the House for the first time. They were so good that I wish I could rewrite my maiden speech and give it again, but that is probably against the rules and even you, Mr Deputy Speaker, with your new powers would not enable me to do that.
Let me concentrate on the Identity Documents Bill and recognise the presence on the Labour Front Bench of the former Minister with responsibility for ID cards, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier). She appeared before the Select Committee on Home Affairs in the last Parliament and, in her own style, gave us important information as to why the scheme would be successful when it was fully
implemented. I note that the Opposition's position is not to oppose what the Government propose to do tonight, and we are right not to oppose them, because the proposal was clearly a Conservative manifesto commitment. Together with their coalition partners, the Conservatives command a large majority in the House, as we saw in yesterday's votes. The Government have decided that their first home affairs Bill should be on ID cards, and it is right and proper that we in the Opposition should accept the will of the people.
I hope that as the Bill proceeds through Committee some of the comments that have been made by Opposition Members will be taken into account. There are three areas that I want to raise with the Minister, whom I welcome to the Dispatch Box. His official title is the Minister for Immigration, but I know that he is covering the Front Bench for the rest of his team today. It must be very pleasant for him to sit in the Home Office with the permanent secretary and all those fine people bearing in mind what happened to him in opposition and I wish him a long stay at the Home Office.
When the Minister winds up, if he is to do so, will he answer a few factual points that would be of value to the House in making its decision tonight? First, can he give some clarity as to the number of identity cards that have been issued so far? The figure of 15,000 has been given. I am afraid that I do not know what the process is-are cards still being issued, or did that stop with the election of the Government? Of course, the Government aim to stop the cards, but is the process ongoing? Will the number reach 15,000-plus? It would be sensible to stop the whole process immediately even though the House has not yet made a decision, because it would be completely unfair for members of the public voluntarily to get identity cards that we shortly after take away from them. If the Minister could give us clarity on that point, I should be extremely grateful.
Steve McCabe: Does my right hon. Friend think it would be useful to seek clarity for people whose applications may be in the system? They may have already paid. What will happen to them? We heard earlier that they will not get their money back.
It would be helpful to know how many foreign nationals have received what are no longer to be regarded as identity cards. The Home Secretary said that that process would continue and we understand the reasons why, but if there is to be differentiation of foreign nationals and those of us who are British citizens, we need to be clear about it. Looking at some of our previous debates, we see that one of the criticisms the Government made when they were in opposition was that there was differentiation of foreign nationals and British citizens. Presumably, we now have a completely different process, but no doubt the Government will continue to issue those cards.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick), who told me he would have to leave the Chamber, mentioned a Home Affairs Committee report from a previous Parliament when I was not the Chair-it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton,
Itchen (Mr Denham)-although I think the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) may have been a member of the Committee at the time. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his unopposed election as Chair of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. Unopposed election is a good form of democracy, although unfortunately it did not apply to other Select Committees. I wish him well and I hope that he will take to his new chairmanship some of the excitement of serving on the Home Affairs Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North made great play of the fact that he was the only member of the Select Committee to vote against identity cards, and that all its other members-I now see from the list that they did not include the hon. Member for Monmouth, although there were other Conservatives-voted for them. The overall conclusions in chapter 6 of the report are clear. Even then the Committee said, in paragraph 280:
"However, the introduction of identity cards carries clear risks, both for individuals and for the successful implementation of the scheme. We are concerned by the lack of clarity and definition on key elements of the scheme and its future operation and by the lack of openness in the procurement process. The lack of clarity and openness increases the risks of the project substantially. This is not justified and must be addressed if the scheme is to enjoy public confidence and to work and achieve its aims in practice."
Although I do not have to defend the decision of a Committee that I was not chairing at the time, it is worth noting that even at that stage the Committee registered concern about some aspects of the scheme.
In the Committee's report on the surveillance society, published in May 2008-when the hon. Member for Monmouth was a member and an important participant in the Committee's deliberations-we again raised concerns about data and data loss. We have heard an unequivocal statement from the Home Secretary that every bit of data will be destroyed at a suitable time, when Parliament has its view and the Bill becomes law. I am concerned as to what happens to the data between now and then. Although I do not seek a ticket to the ceremony for the destruction of the data that have been gathered so far, I am sure someone in the Home Office press department will be thinking up something suitable. Simply cutting up an identity card will not be good enough for the coalition. After the impressive press conferences given by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister that we have seen so far, we expect something more for the destruction of the data. I just hope they will be kept safe until then.
In our report on the surveillance society in May 2008, we pointed out our concern about the huge amount of personal data that were being retained. The former Minister with responsibility for identity, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch, was very good when she gave evidence before the Select Committee and was clear that she was absolutely satisfied that the data were safe. But we conducted our review at a time when, as the Home Secretary said, a lot of discs were going missing. We were very concerned, although we of course accepted my hon. Friend's assurances; one always accepts the assurances of a diligent Minister when he or she appears before the Select Committee, especially someone as erudite as my hon. Friend. Our concern remains that there are a lot of data still being held and this matter needs to be addressed.
David T. C. Davies: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who has been an excellent Chairman of the Select Committee. I suggest to him that if we were unable as a Parliament to look after our own data on the activities of MPs, it will be difficult for the public to have any confidence that we will do a better job with their data.
Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is right; we have to be very careful with data protection and the way in which we look after data. We have not had a lost disc for some time; at least, not for the last three weeks, which is pretty good. The last major loss was several months, if not a year, ago. Maybe the civil servants and others with responsibility for all this will ensure that no further discs will be lost in the future. I hope that we will have assurances about how that will be done.
In conclusion, although the Home Secretary made a terrific case against identity cards-she is always very good at putting the case-the Opposition will not vote against the Bill. Speeches from people such as me should be relatively brief; that is why I will not take up my full allocation of time.
Pete Wishart: Does the right hon. Gentleman have any idea as to the position of the Labour party now on ID cards? We understand that Labour will not vote against the Bill. Will ID cards be part of the programme of the Labour Opposition?
Keith Vaz: I look forward to finding out when my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch replies to the debate. Until the election, we were very much in favour of ID cards. When she replies, she will tell us. I am trying not to second-guess my hon. Friend, who is pretty good at her job. I will let her speak for herself and tell the House what she thinks the official Opposition's position is.
I hope that we will tread carefully in the next few weeks and that we will take forward the suggestions that have been made. I know that it is in the nature of new Governments to feel that they should do things very quickly and urgently and it is obviously up to the Government what legislation they put before the House. But I hope that they will take advice from former Ministers who have been involved in these issues and will read carefully the reports of the Select Committee in the last Parliament.
Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): Mr. Deputy Speaker, I join in the warm welcome you have received this afternoon. It is hard to believe that 25 years have passed since we first fought socialism in south Wales. My congratulations to you.
I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me in a debate that is close to my heart, one that has been a long time in coming. I have been passionately opposed to identity cards and to the national identity register for a number of years. However well intentioned a Government may be towards safeguarding our identities, data and personal information, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The 2006 Act did not reach its logical conclusion and was not implemented to its full potential but it set out an alarming framework that would have led to the sort of society in which I do not think many of us would want to live.
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