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"I am a very disgruntled immigration officer from the Dover area...As a staff member of the Home Office, I was actively encouraged to apply for my ID card, which I duly did...Had I not worked for Home Office (Immigration) and been based mainly in juxtaposed controls, I would not have bothered with it. I was told that the Home Office would not contribute to us getting our cards, but they wanted us to get them."
We have heard from the shadow Home Secretary that this was a voluntary scheme, but it seems to me that some public sector workers might have been less volunteers and more volunteered. It would have been wrong to impose a flagship Government scheme on public sector workers and to have volunteered them for that kind of thing. It would be wrong in principle for that to have happened. During her winding-up speech, I hope that the shadow Minister will explain whether it was truly a voluntary scheme, as regards people in the UKBA and, no doubt, other public sector organisations, or whether they were volunteered. It would be wrong, for a bit of spin and public relations, to have volunteered people for something that they did not want, because they already had a passport, driving licence and all the other required identification that make ID cards completely useless and unnecessary.
Mr Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): I add my heartfelt congratulations to those expressed by others on your elevation to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. I also add my congratulations to all those whom I have heard make their maiden speeches today. I well remember how awful mine was. By contrast, theirs shame me. Fortunately, the height of these Benches prevents the world from seeing that one's knees are trembling, and mine certainly were-my mouth was dry and I have never dared read the speech again. I hope that the section of the Common's files are burnt down. I can express only my admiration for the maiden speeches. Certain things said had a theme that related to the Bill that we are debating today, as well as to the purpose of maiden speeches.
I am proud to be in this House with a large number of new Members who were elected to represent distinctive constituencies. They will judge the national interest on behalf of those they represent. That is no easy task, unless they always follow the guidance of the Whips. In fact, it turns upon Members sometimes, because the making of law and the holding of Governments to account is what we are involved in. The judgment involved in creating criminal law, which is behind the Bill before us, is a very solemn responsibility.
I have always maintained that the function of this House and the history of this nation is the long march of everyman to safeguard liberty. It was not easily won, but it was accomplished, as is seen in the changing nature of this House from first being merely the King's House and then an oligarch's House in the 18th century to the early stages of the 1832 Reform Bill-even if the Deputy Prime Minister is not as familiar with his history as he might have been-and then to the great achievement of Disraeli's Reform Bill of 1867, from which we became a free people. John Bright, whose statue stands outside this Chamber, on his annual visit to Birmingham all those years ago asked why Englishmen should be slaves in their own country. That is what led to the 1867 Bill. The majority of people in England did not have the vote at that time-an Englishman in Canada had it, as did an Englishman in the United States, South Africa and Australia-but they had it after 1867. That is the heritage for new Members, and I maintain that the main reason we are here is to defend that liberty.
Sat on the Front Bench is the Minister for Immigration, my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), who saw what the power of a misdirected state could do when an assault was made on the integrity of this House. When measures are brought before this House by the Executive, supposedly to protect our liberty, we should be mindful. That is where the great difficulty comes-the clash of loyalties between "the urgency of now", to quote an American President, and the urgency of the issues that sometimes confront us.
We make much of playing across the House and there has, of course, been an aggrandisement of the state in some of the pettiest of ways. In the face of an emergency, rushed through-in less than half an hour, I believe-was the infamous section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911. That happened because of the threat of war at the time. That legislation was done away with by Douglas Hurd and the then Conservative Government in 1989, but similar provisions were re-formed in the new Bill, saying that anyone, including the Crown-even the gardeners
in the royal parks-who released any information had committed an offence. That was it. It created a great dampening rug over British society. It was as if knowing the number of teaspoons in the Ministry of Defence would somehow reveal to enemy forces our readiness for war, as the numbers employed by the Ministry could be guessed. That is an example of the sort of nonsense that went on, showing how difficult it was to do away with secrecy.
This is where the identity cards issue comes in. We have looked at how it came about. It was in a sense a continuation of what had happened in the first world war through a national registration system. It ceased immediately at the end of the first world war, but in 1945 it did not cease. It suited the socialist Government at the time, who believed that this would somehow enable them to plan better. That was what was really behind it. That was when we saw the "reason creep" that we now see in the Identity Cards Act 2006 that we are about to abolish. It crept and crept, and then a perverse citizen-glory be to God for dappled things!-challenged a policeman. Of course he was rushed to court, and of course he was found guilty. He appealed, but the Lord Chief Justice is also tied by laws, the laws that we make, and the man was guilty. It was a prima facie case: he had not been prepared to show his identity card. But the uproar in public opinion created huge agitation, and the incoming Churchill Government did away with the law. So our history is important when it comes to these matters.
I saw examples in the 1980s. I must speak very cautiously, however, because we have security anxieties in this country-there is the Northern Ireland situation, for instance-but we have done terrible things in terms of that central principle of the liberty of the individual. We all know about 42 days and 96 days, and the outer reaches of arresting people without their knowing the offence with which they are charged. It took the judges of our land a long time to find that that was improper, although the requirement for every citizen to know who accuses them and with what they are charged is so basic to our common law. We are, in a sense, the custodians of that common law and of that noble tradition. I am thinking not just of England but of Scotland, and the declaration of Arbroath. These islands are the centre of that liberty.
The original Bill-that monstrous Bill-was introduced because we were in a panic, or rather the Government were in a panic. We have a press that heightens and dramatises every incident, and we have almost lost our character in the way in which we respond. This city was bombed-indeed, this Chamber was bombed and destroyed-in the war, and I believe that 20,000 people were killed in one bombing incident.
I come from the west midlands, which includes Coventry and Birmingham, and other Members represent other industrial centres around this island that were bombed. Hundreds died-hundreds. So serious was it that the national Administration did not want the figures to be known in case they resulted in widespread panic. Those are the difficulties involved in the judgments that Governments must make, but I am no sympathiser with Governments who introduce measures for putting
information on central databanks like that of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which we cannot get at.
I can only think of a young man who had some difficulties, and the attempt to extradite him to the United States. What was his offence? He had accessed the national security computers at the Pentagon. That is now serious in our world-very serious-but if one individual living in London, or wherever, can access that information, who cannot access a national databank? That is what this is about. The very first principle of what I call civil liberties but what is now called human rights-secondary, tertiary and so forth-is the autonomy of the citizen, which is what that impinged on.
No one doubts that the action was mandatory, and the reasons given changed frequently. Whatever new emergency arose, this was the answer to it. Michael Howard presented a Bill to deal with benefit fraud, and Peter Lilley-is he in the House of Lords, or is he still here?-did for it in the Cabinet. That is why the Conservative sense of liberty is something to be proud of. Front Benchers panic, and Back Benchers are the brake on that.
The Labour party failed abysmally. I give credit to the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick)-it is true that he opposed these measures throughout-but do not doubt that Conservatives also opposed them throughout. We watched the dancing princes of new Labour as they asserted that the very life of the nation was threatened, but we are still here. The test of the life of the nation being threatened is part of the Human Rights Act, and they trampled all over that. It is not the Human Rights Act that matters. What matters is what we, a sovereign Parliament, hold to be appropriate.
I see the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) sitting there. He had the most distinguished of predecessors, who is missed because he forensically and quietly argued the case for liberty. So did my friend from Grantham, Douglas Hogg. That case was argued across the House. We had right on our side. The conversion of my party to remembering and asserting those rights, freedoms and liberties is expressed in the first legislation to be brought to the House in this Parliament. I commend the Government for that. It is testament to something important that this House is on the move again.
Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): I add my congratulations to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on the distinction and honour that the House has seen fit to give you. It is a signal honour and I am absolutely convinced that you will perform your functions accordingly.
I thank those who have made their maiden speeches today, and must say how impressed I have been with them. Having given mine only a couple of days ago, I all too well recall the nerves in doing so. I also congratulate the Home Secretary on introducing the Bill, on the honour of her appointment and on the appointment of the Home Office team. This Bill is signally important because it will repair some of the damage that the Labour party has done to our civil liberties. On the liberty of the individual, Winston Churchill once said that those who ignore history-those with short memories-will be condemned to repeat it. Thanks to 13 years of Labour Government, since 1997 no fewer than 404 acts or forms of behaviour have become
unlawful. Human rights have been damaged by 13 years of Labour. It may have introduced an Act calling itself the Human Rights Act, but it has damaged human rights in this country. People do not feel as secure or as safe as they have done historically. That is the responsibility of Labour following its governance of this country.
When identity cards were introduced in 1918, they were a knee-jerk reaction; the country was deeply concerned with the war situation. The Government recognised that they needed to be removed as soon as the situation improved. Identity cards were reintroduced in 1939. The mistake was that, after the war ended in 1945, identity cards were allowed to continue apace. That resulted-the case has already been alluded to in the Chamber-in a famous episode where a man in the street, when challenged by a police constable, refused to show his identification papers. He is recorded as having said to the constable, "No, I am a liberal." What he was indicating was the illiberality of having to show, on the demand of a constable in uniform, identification papers just on mere suspicion. I am given to understand that the grandson of that man is now one of my hon. Friends newly elected to this Chamber, and that is a signal distinction. That incident led to a case that has been alluded to, which went before the High Court of Justice, where the matter was explored in some detail and the public were, of course, outraged. That led, under Churchill's Government, to the abolition of identification cards, and rightly so.
Criminals today-and, I am sure, historically as well-do not apply for identification cards if they are voluntary. The previous Labour Government said they wanted a voluntary scheme of identification cards, but the reality is that a voluntary scheme would simply mean that the criminals and those disinclined to follow the law would not apply for them, yet those inclined to follow the law would feel increasingly obliged to carry them. It is what is referred to in the military as mission creep, and elsewhere as function creep. I understand that one of the methods by which the previous Labour Government were going to introduce those identification cards was via airports and airlines. They were going to have airside workers carrying these cards first. Trade unions and airlines expressed concern that this voluntary scheme would become impractical and that it would eventually be required to be compulsory.
As we have seen, that has happened in many historical cases, such as with the discontinuance of the use of cheques. They have not been banned, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to use a cheque, and there is pressure to discontinue them entirely. On Sunday trading, too, it has been said that, although Parliament as then assembled was careful not to make the new law compulsory, the safeguards have been eroded, so that those employees who would otherwise have chosen not to work on a Sunday have felt increasingly obliged to do so, whether or not that is a legal requirement. There is every indication that if identification cards had come into existence there would have been exactly that kind of mission creep, or function creep. Some people might have found it increasingly difficult to go into work, especially in certain lines of work, if they did not have a card.
Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con):
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in essence, he is explaining that the last Government were working on the shameful premise of, "If you've got nothing to hide, there's no reason why
you shouldn't have one"? That alone is a reason why their measure must be killed off tonight.
Michael Ellis: Yes, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. We heard from another of my hon. Friends about how a constituent of his working in the port at Dover was already feeling under pressure to acquire one of these identification cards. There is every reason to believe that that attitude would have become extremely damaging in the longer term. Criminals, however, would have ignored all of this.
The card's security measures are not impregnable either. In recent years, I have prosecuted a number of criminal cases in the Crown courts in England involving the fraudulent misuse of identification documents, usually passports. Passports are now quite sophisticated documents, but even all the sophisticated apparatus designed to protect their integrity can be circumvented without particularly highly specialist care. That is because it is often the naked eye that is used to determine the veracity or otherwise of a document. Many court cases have resulted from such situations.
There is no substance to the Labour argument. We have now a kind of Big Brother watch in this country, and Labour's attitude that one is guilty until proven innocent has paid into the lack of security and lack of integrity in our system. I pointed out to the shadow Home Secretary, when he was in his place, that in a press release on 27 May, the head of the TUC backed the coalition Government's proposals. Brendan Barber said that
"identity cards were a costly folly...and would have been an unwelcome intrusion into people's personal liberty...Scrapping identity cards is an important sign that the new Government is committed to safeguarding civil liberties."
When the shadow Home Secretary first became Home Secretary, he announced that ID cards would no longer be compulsory, which gave the distinct impression that he had not been much in favour of them in the first place.
I am delighted to support this Bill as the first measure that Her Majesty's Government are bringing before the House. The compulsion by stealth was a feature that would have been completely deleterious to the interests of the people of this country. The cost was another factor altogether. Some £800 million will be saved over the next 10 years by abandoning this absurd and costly scheme. It is interesting to note that Labour Members are not taking a stance against the Bill. Perhaps that is because they understand that the cost-benefit analysis has not worked out. There is no substance to the Labour argument, and there never was. I am delighted to support this measure.
Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): I echo the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) in congratulating all those hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today. Like him, I remember making mine about a week ago. At the time, I was unsure whether I was more nervous about making the speech or about having to wait so many hours to make it. So I offer my congratulations-and, in some ways, my commiserations -to all those who have had to sit here today waiting for their time to come.
I also want to echo the comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) when he congratulated the team who put together the NO2ID campaign. They did superb, ground-breaking work at an early stage in making use of some of the social media sites. As a user of Twitter and Facebook myself, I think that they did a super job in bringing people together and creating a cohesive campaign. It is ironic that some of those same social networking groups have had questions raised about data protection and the data that they hold on people. My core problem with identity cards has always related to data protection.
When the legislation was first introduced in March 2006, I had an instinctive feeling that it was the wrong thing to do, as I am a believer in small government. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North mentioned function creep. That and the Big Brother state added to the feeling that this was yet another system that the previous Government were using to gain more knowledge and control over all of us. It is interesting that it moved to being a voluntary scheme, following the initial proposal to make it compulsory. I congratulate the Home Secretary and the entire ministerial team on using one of our first Bills to get rid of this vile piece of legislation.
I look at the matter quite simply. My decision to speak today is based on my conversations over the past few years with residents in my constituency of Great Yarmouth. I have spoken to tens of thousands of people, and I was wracking my brains today as I worked through the pros and cons of the argument. I wanted to play devil's advocate and produce a strong and positive case for identity cards, yet I cannot remember any Great Yarmouth residents asking me when they could get theirs. Not one person has told me that we should make it compulsory, or that we should hurry up its introduction.
Residents of Great Yarmouth said many things during the election, but I struggle to remember anyone asking, "Will you please make sure that, if your party is successful and forms a Government, you keep the identity card legislation? I am very much looking forward to getting my card." That is not a conversation that I recall, although I wait to be corrected by any resident who does recall it.
A very long-serving Member of this House who is no longer here gave me some advice earlier this year. I was told that, if I was fortunate enough to be elected, I should ensure that I know why I am speaking on an issue in the Chamber, and why I am voting on it. I was told to be aware of the positive impact that any proposal would have on the lives of my constituents and the country. I cannot think of a single thing about the Identity Cards Act 2006 that is beneficial, and so can see no reason to support it. For that reason, I support its abolition.
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