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The shadow Home Secretary taught me much today about how to defend the indefensible. The best form of defence is attack. I am a new student of the politics of the Chamber and I am grateful to him for teaching me that lesson. However impressive his presentation was, it could not get away from the sad fact for him and the Opposition that the policies that they implemented and the Act represented by them was flawed, unwelcome and an infringement of the natural rights that we as citizens should expect to have. It represented a dangerous reversal of the burden of proof between the individual and the state.
No longer were the Government there at the behest of all of us, governing with our consent. The logical conclusion of the Act was that ultimately we would have to prove our own existence. Why do I say that? Because in the Act was the presumption of accuracy-the presumption that all the information and registrable facts that could have been entered on that register were accurate. If it recorded the fact that I was Mrs. Robert Buckland, I would have had to prove that I was not. What an absurd, almost Kafkaesque situation that would have been. I can assure the House that I am Mr. Robert Buckland, and it would be ridiculous to have to prove that.
Like the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) in his excellent speech, I pay tribute to the campaigners of NO2ID. They worked assiduously, with great enthusiasm and conviction. I pay tribute to all that my local group in Swindon, a non-party political group of concerned individuals, did. They organised petitions, campaigned on the streets and sought to persuade legislators in this place and more widely of the error of that policy. They succeeded in moving public opinion considerably on from where it was only five years ago. It is a significant achievement, which was recognised by the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), the former Home Secretary, in a thought-provoking and intelligent contribution, as we would expect from him.
The issue gives rise to strong emotions and passions. In an intervention, I suggested earlier to the shadow Home Secretary that the national identity register was unprecedented. We will have to agree to differ on that. It is, in my view, entirely unprecedented because of the sheer number of registrable facts that would potentially have had to be entered by the individual. No other country in the world had attempted that, and the Government, in their gradual withdrawal from the rather grandiose suggestions at the beginning of the life of the 2006 Act, seemed to recognise that there was an inevitability about the danger of trying to create a super-database-one database trying to deal with all that information.
Reality dawned a little too late on the previous Government and their attitude to data retention. It is not just a matter of Kafka or George Orwell. There was an element of low farce in the implementation of the 2006 Act. The Act received Royal Assent on 30 March 2006 and immediately repealed the parts of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 that made it a criminal offence for a person to have a false passport or immigration document in their control. Sections 25 and 26 of the 2006 Act made it a criminal offence for a person to have a false identification document in their custody or control. In other words, the successor provision dealt
with and covered the lacuna or loophole that would have opened up with the abolition of the relevant parts of the 1981 Act. That is all well and good, but unfortunately a mistake was made, because the commencement order that brought the new provisions into force was not passed until 7 June 2006. More than two months went by during which no criminal offence of having a false identification document existed in England and Wales. Clever lawyers-better lawyers than me, perhaps-brought that matter to the attention of certain court proceedings, and I know of at least one set of proceedings that came to an undignified halt because of that alarming loophole.
I said low farce, but the situation was more serious than that, because it meant that, potentially, people went undealt with by the criminal justice system for the serious offences-let us not forget-of possessing false identification documents, including passports, for which custodial offences would normally and quite properly follow. I am glad to see that no such danger arises from the Bill before us, because the provisions in section 25 of the 2006 Act, on the criminal offences surrounding the possession of false documents, have been retained, and the transitional provisions are carefully worded to ensure that no such loophole ever opens again. The 2006 Act was yet another sad example of legislation passed without due consideration for those who have to operate it. A number of people who work in our criminal justice system had their hearts in their mouths when they were considering prosecutions brought in that two-month-nine-week, to be accurate-period.
The arguments that were deployed in favour of the identity card scheme shifted like the sands of time. We started with an argument about benefit fraud. From my experience of dealing with benefit fraud over a number of years, it is axiomatic that most of it occurs not because of false identification documents, but because of wrongful declarations about living status. That argument went by the wayside. We heard an argument based on immigration, which also went by the wayside; and then the argument became a credit-card argument about convenience-a one-stop-shop offering people access to services. None of those weak arguments stacks up when we balance them out with fundamental freedoms and liberties, and that is why I am delighted that this Government's first act is to bring forward a Bill to repeal the 2006 Act.
The 2006 Act represented government at its worst: overweening, over-ambitious, arrogant and out of touch. We now have a chance to redress that balance. I look forward to the death rites being pronounced upon the 2006 Act, and I will play my part, however small, in making sure that that is done.
Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and congratulations on being elevated to your post. I also congratulate the hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) on his maiden speech- [ Interruption. ] I apologise. I am not sure what the parliamentary term is for a second speech, but I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his almost-maiden speech. I should have known by how assured he was that, in fact, it was not his first speech.
I am here to contribute to this debate because I believe in identity cards and think it quite wrong to
back away from something for which I have campaigned on behalf of my constituents for the past 10 years. I predict that, whether the current Government or a future Government are in place, we will be back here within five years, because of the way the world is developing: it is becoming a smaller place, ID fraud is increasing exponentially, and in the first quarter of this year we saw a 20% increase in ID fraud cases and prosecutions. As a result, our constituents will be demanding a new way of securing, and being able to prove, their identity. We can call that system ID cards, or anything we like-but we will be back here arguing the case, because the world will not stand still while we procrastinate or talk about freedom in the terms that we have heard today.
Another reason why we will be back here is that our partners in the EU and internationally will demand that we come back. They will not accept our scrapping the second generation of biometric passports, because they will require ever greater and ever more solid proof that we can substantiate our identities in our passport system. We can make as many stands at the beginning of a Parliament as we like, but these practical problems will arise.
I support ID cards because my understanding of the words "freedom" and "liberty" is very different from that of many Members of this House. My understanding comes from a constituency where people work hard for very little and are frightened of crime and antisocial behaviour. They fear crime more than they are likely to be victims of it. For them, freedom lies in community and in the ability of the police, the Government and the state to protect them as individuals. That is why, in all the consultation I have done in my constituency-and I have done much over the years-they overwhelmingly support ID cards.
It is, in my view, wrong to talk about wanting to tighten up the immigration system so that we know who is in this country unless we have an ID system. Nobody has been able to explain to me how we will be able to tell who is here without such a system. Nobody has been able to explain to me how we will get rid of NHS tourism without some way for people to demonstrate their right to access those services. At the moment, the NHS is ill equipped to be able to carry out the function of understanding and pursuing who is entitled to NHS treatment, because of the ability to create fraudulent documents. As somebody who spends hours every week on immigration casework, I still cannot tell what is, or is not, a fraudulent document.
For those practical reasons, I think that we will see an inching towards ID cards. I hope so, on behalf of my constituents, who have, in all the work that I have done with them, overwhelmingly supported their introduction. I understand the position of those on my Front Bench-accepting that the parties who won the election clearly made a manifesto commitment to remove ID cards. However, I believe that people in Mitcham and Morden will be disappointed that we have rowed back from this, just as we appear to want to put more controls on CCTV and a DNA database. People want to feel secure and protected. They see that their environment and their world is changing. Simply standing still and not bringing in measures to protect them is not the answer.
David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): May I, too, Mr Deputy Speaker, offer my warmest words of congratulation to you, Sir, on your elevation? I have been well aware of the dignity and gravitas that the Deputy Speaker can bring to important occasions ever since he acted as my best man about 10 years ago-but that is another story.
I also offer my warmest words of congratulation to the Home Secretary and to the other Home Office Ministers. It is fitting that a Government who promised to make law and order a top priority have today introduced a Bill that is about both law and order, and supporting and protecting human rights-real human rights, that is, not the ones that Labour Members sometimes talk about. I have taken a great interest in that matter through my membership of the Home Affairs Committee and in my work as a special constable with the British transport police.
I have heard all sorts of claims about the benefits of ID cards, and we have heard some of them today. We have heard about how they would defeat terrorism, prevent people from claiming access to benefits, solve criminality and all sorts of other things. The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) came out with a new one when she talked about NHS tourism. I tried to bring that issue to the attention of Health Ministers in the previous Government on several occasions and was assured that there was no problem at all, so at least we are getting somewhere if the Opposition now accept that there is a problem. The hon. Lady also talked about illegal immigration, but perhaps she did not hear the Home Secretary's speech, which made it absolutely clear that people coming into this country will still require a form of identity document-not the ID card, but another form of identification. That issue therefore does not even begin to arise.
There was a gaping hole in the argument that the previous Government advanced, which was that the cards were always going to be voluntary. That, of course, meant that they would have been ineffective, because the people who fiddle their benefits and break the law would not have applied for them. Everyone could see that glaring hole in the argument. There would have been some argument for having ID cards-although I would not have supported it-if they had been compulsory, but that was not suggested, or at least it was not talked about openly.
My personal view is that if ID cards had been introduced in a voluntary form and the programme had continued, somewhere along the line it would have become compulsory to have them. Otherwise, there really would not have been much point in them. There have been times when, working as a police officer, it has been hard to ascertain someone's identity. Had they had an ID card and been compelled to carry it at all times, that would have been quite useful, but the previous Government were not willing to say whether it would be compulsory to have one, and if so, whether it would be compulsory to carry one at all times and on all occasions.
I could have foreseen the cards being rolled out on a voluntary basis at first, and then, when the take-up had reached about 60% or 70%, the Government making them compulsory. They would then have had the problem of whether to enforce the law strictly and ensure that
people carried them all the time. I suspect that there would have been all sorts of civil disobedience, with protestors deliberately going out of their way not to carry ID cards and the police not being terribly enthusiastic about prosecuting a lot of otherwise law-abiding students for a minor infringement of the law. Prolific criminals would not have carried the cards, and we would have spent thousands of pounds dragging them before the courts and fining them 75 quid or so, which they would never have paid. Then somebody in government would have said, "Hold on a minute, this is outrageous. The Daily Mail journalists are ringing me up all the time saying that we've got this law and nobody's obeying it, so we'll have a target. We'll tell the police to go out and prosecute a lot of people." Then, a lot of pensioners and otherwise law-abiding people who had unfortunately forgotten their cards one morning would have been stopped and fined large sums of money. The whole thing would have been chaos, because this country is just not ready for it. I am glad that we have got rid of it.
It was something of an anomaly that although the Labour party talked about human rights rather a lot, they gave us a so-called Human Rights Act that in my opinion was nothing more than a spurious means for all sorts of people involved in terrorism and on the fringes of criminality to sue the Government for large sums when their "human rights", as they put it, were not respected. At the same time, all sorts of law-abiding people were having their liberties infringed in all sorts of ways, one of which was the introduction of ID cards.
I say to Members such as the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who was so passionate about the matter, that we on the right of politics have always believed in liberty, and we do not separate social liberty from economic liberty. I do not believe that we can have a truly libertarian Government when half our gross domestic product is being spent by the state. I look forward to my Front-Bench colleagues introducing further Bills that will reduce state interference in our lives socially and economically. As we have a great big happy family now, with people whose views are as diverse as mine and those of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), I say to Opposition Members-even the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick), with whom I have served on the Home Affairs Committee for several years-that they should come and join the true libertarians on our side of the House, and we will continue to cut red tape, look for ways of reducing costs and support real human rights and, most importantly, liberty for all British people.
Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and may I take this opportunity to welcome you to your elevated status in the Chair? I commend hon. Members on both sides of the House for their maiden speeches, and welcome the Home Secretary and other Home Office Ministers to the Dispatch Box.
I wholeheartedly support the Bill for three reasons, the first of which is basic principle: I believe in a country in which the state is accountable to the citizen, not the other way round. ID cards would reverse that relationship through the national identity register, a
central database that hoards vast amounts of personal data on every citizen and that is open to the sprawling arms of Government, who would be able to widen access still further by order, not primary legislation. In addition, the database is run by the state sector, which has an appalling record on safeguarding our personal data. Despite all the spin from the previous Government, they planned eventually to have a compulsory ID card regime: they would not rule out making it impossible to renew or apply for a passport without one.
My second reason for supporting the Bill is that ID cards simply cannot, will not and could never do what it says on the tin. They were proposed in the aftermath of 9/11, initially as a preventive counter-terrorism measure-not any old kind of counter-terrorism measure-yet we know that ID card regimes in Germany, Spain and Turkey did not and could not stop the 9/11 bombers who were based in Hamburg, the Istanbul bombers in 2003, or the Madrid bombers in 2004. Next, it was said that ID cards would stop benefit fraud, yet as we heard earlier from the Home Secretary-persuasively-most benefit fraud involves lying about personal circumstances, not identity. It was then claimed that ID cards would help to tackle illegal immigration, which is an equally spurious reason-it was scarcely credible given that under previous plans, foreign nationals would not need an ID card for the first three months of any stay.
Last year the Government changed tack altogether and tried to sell ID cards as a way to help young people to access services. A cost of £30, with a potential fine of £1,000 if they move home or marry and forget to tell Big Brother, is the last thing the average young Briton needs today, which helps to explain the very low take-up. However, in retrospect the most extraordinary thing is the long journey that ID cards have travelled from security panacea to friendly service provider. This is a veritable chameleon of a project that seeks to hide its real nature with every change in presentation.
My third reason for supporting the Bill is cost, and we have heard plenty in the debate about the billions of pounds it would cost to maintain and run the scheme. Although the future cost of ID cards was always much higher than the previous Government could ever bring themselves to admit, there is a further point to make: the flawed design and inherent vulnerability of the database to fraud, as attested by expert after expert, represent a massive contingent liability that this Government and the taxpayer should relinquish at the very first opportunity.
In sum, ID cards are intrusive, ineffective and ludicrously expensive. This is Labour's great white elephant of a project that has been left lumbering around Whitehall, and Britain can well do without it.
Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): May I, too, congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your recent elevation and successful election? May I also congratulate the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) and all other hon. Members who have made maiden speeches this day? Having done it so recently myself, I well recall how nerve-racking it is.
I shall not detain the House for long, but I wish to make a couple of points, the first of which is the
concern of the people of Dover and Deal about ID cards. Surprisingly, during the election campaign, this issue was often raised on doorsteps in my constituency. People said, "Look, the thing with ID cards is they are a bit of a continental thing. Not so long ago-65 or 70 years ago-we were opposing people who wanted to come to Britain and impose that kind of regime on us, and we are not very keen on that." We believe in freedom, democracy and liberty; and we care strongly about that.
We also feel that the ID cards were very expensive. Would it not have been a better use of Government resources to have improved and strengthened border control in this country? People in Dover are very clued up on these issues. Many of them work for the UK Border Agency and often say, "The thing is, studies by the London School of Economics show there are about 863,000 or so people in this country unlawfully. They do not seem to have ID cards." They say, "There's not much point in having ID cards if they're voluntary, and if they're compulsory it would simply be unacceptable. It would be better to secure our national border security."
I note that the previous Government were reducing our border security at Dover. Immigration officers were being fired, and the idea was to replace them with less experienced officers. Many people in the local UKBA office came to me expressing serious concern, and I hope the current Government will review that situation and perhaps consider better ways forward. The previous Government did other things that people in Dover were concerned might weaken our border security. That is important. It is not just about illegal visitors, but about human trafficking, drug running, and guns and weapons coming through our borders. It is about preventing terrorists from getting into the country. It is an issue not just about illegal visitors, but about national security.
I listened with great interest to the shadow Home Secretary when he said that the ID cards scheme was voluntary, that 15,000 people have applied for one, and that it would be unfair on those people because they were volunteers. I have had an e-mail from a constituent, Naomi, who works for the UK Border Agency. She wrote to me saying:
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