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Given that my residents in Great Yarmouth do not want identity cards, what is the economic case for them? The figures that I have seen show a set-up cost of around £450 million to bring the scheme in, and that operating it over the next 10 years would cost something like £4.1 billion. We heard at Prime Minister's Question Time earlier today that the interest charge alone on our national debt will cost us around £70 billion a year or more, so it seems to me that we simply cannot afford such a hugely expensive scheme. I have not met anyone
among my residents of Great Yarmouth who wants the scheme, although I appreciate that some Opposition Members might have a different view. It is an expensive folly, and I cannot see why we should get involved in something that we simply cannot afford.
From the perspective of what is good for my residents and what they want, it is clear that they do not want identity cards. Given also that we cannot afford them, why would we consider them? Is it a question of civil liberties? Earlier, one hon. Member mentioned that other countries have identity cards, but is their use forced on those countries' populations? What would be the benefit for us?
I do not know about other Members of this House, but I have a passport. I also have utility bills and a photocard driving licence. I have credit cards-unfortunately!-and lots of other proofs of identity. I know so many people who also have lots of different proofs that I started to wonder why I would want an identity card as well. What benefit would I get from having one? Again, I cannot think of any.
Would having identity cards make us safer and protect us against crime and terrorism? Even the now shadow Home Secretary and his predecessors-Charles Clarke among them, I think-have admitted that the identity card scheme would not do much to prevent terrorism. Indeed, the shadow Home Secretary himself said a while ago that he regretted the emphasis that had been put on the card's usefulness in that regard.
The reason for that, as was noted earlier this debate, is that the card was supposed to be voluntary. Why would a person considering committing any sort of crime, such as fraud or an act of terrorism, go and get an identity card voluntarily? That is beyond me but, as a new Member, I am sure that Opposition Members will enlighten me in the hours to come, but I cannot see the benefit.
Certainly, I cannot see that having an identity card would be the first thing on the mind of a person looking to commit a major fraud or act of terrorism. I do not believe that such a person would think, "I can't commit this crime because I have an identity card and the authorities might find out who I am." At the same time, we have also heard that modern electronics such as those involved in computers, printing and so on are so advanced that it would not be difficult for anyone who is criminally minded to find a way around the system, falsify the documents and create a false identity card. That would give us another problem and a real issue to deal with, because a black market would thus be created whereby people make fraudulent documents to sell to people who want to commit other crimes.
Some of my local residents in Great Yarmouth have concerns about antisocial behaviour. Our local police are working hard to improve the situation and some of their thinking outside the box has done a phenomenal job. They have also cracked down on under-age drinking. We all want that to happen, and we have heard much talk of that across the House and in the press over the past few months. A substantial black market in creating false identity cards would receive a hugely beneficial financial boost from under-age drinkers who want to obtain such cards in order to buy alcohol. That shows that we could be walking a hugely dangerous tightrope in future, and I have not yet got too far into dealing
with worries about a Government who have a database that contains 50 pieces of information about everyone in the country.
Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): Given that the hon. Gentleman said that he has a passport-I presume that he also has a driving licence-what information that would be kept on his ID card is he so worried about the state holding?
Brandon Lewis: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's question, because it gives me the opportunity to deal with that matter. As I said, I do have a driving licence-a photocard version-and a passport. That is one reason why I do not need another piece of identification to prove who I am. I say that despite the favourite independent organisation of all of us explaining to me recently over the phone that it could not answer a question until it had confirmed who I was-it does that by a return call. That happened two weeks ago, but I have not yet heard from that organisation-perhaps it will pick me up on the cameras tonight and realise who I am.
My concern relates to the holding of that database. Hon. Members should be frank about the fact that over the past few years a number of Government bodies and other organisations have lost data and had data corrupted. The idea of that kind of data being held does worry people. My core point is that my residents have never asked or begged me for any of this and I do not think that they particularly want to waste such an amount of money on ID cards, leaving aside the fact that they would then have to pay for the pleasure of having a card at a time when they are under economic pressure.
There are other ways of helping people, particularly youths, who might want to have an identity card to make things easier for them. The police force in Great Yarmouth has come up with a fantastic scheme, which I shall be inviting my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary or one of her Ministers to come to see some time this year-I hope that one of them will visit. The police are working on a voluntary scheme, which is sponsored by a commercial organisation, to allow young people to have a local identity card that they can use in various outlets and gain points, as happens with supermarket reward cards. Those young people are, thus, encouraged to go to school and to improve their behaviour because they can gain points that give them access to do other things. That carrot is being used, as well as the stick.
That local scheme is not about holding identity details; it simply allows those young people to have a reward card. Such an approach could play a large part in moving things forward. It is a small-scale local scheme, worked out by local people and our local police force, to deliver a positive local end product. It is not a great big national scheme of huge expense that creates more bureaucracy and involves another set of forms that those who decide voluntarily to take it up have to fill in, get back and go through, and all so that we all have another card in our pocket.
I simply do not see the benefit of the identity card. I can see huge risks ahead of it in terms of the data, the black economy and encouraging crime, rather than discouraging it. I cannot see how the card would be a good investment of getting on for £4.5 billion-worth of our money. Therefore, I am delighted that this Bill is being introduced to abolish it and I will give the Bill my full support.
Matthew Hancock (West Suffolk) (Con): As this is the second time I have had the honour to speak in the Chamber this week, I am very grateful to you for calling me, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am particularly grateful to be able to speak in this debate to take part in rejecting the Identity Cards Act 2006 and the proposal for identity cards introduced by the previous Administration. Many Government Members have spoken on this issue and it is telling that the Opposition Benches are entirely empty of people prepared to defend what the previous Government had planned to introduce. [ Interruption. ] I look forward to seeing which way the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) votes in the Lobby.
There are three solid reasons to support this Bill to abolish the prospect of identity cards. Those reasons tell us a lot about the Government formed in the past month and have given me great hope regarding their strength and underlying motives for the years to come. The first reason, which has been touched on, is the cost of the ID card scheme. The official estimate of £800 million was bad enough, but independent experts came up with another estimate of £20 billion for the total cost of the scheme. Given the current state of extremely tight national finances, the idea of spending £800 million on such an unnecessary scheme is something that we should reject.
What is more, I clearly remember the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) trying to argue, when we proposed abolishing ID cards to save money, that that would not save money because the cost would be borne entirely by those forced to take up the cards. That says an awful lot about the attitude of anyone who could say that, because whether the cost would have been £800 million to the Exchequer or £30 to everyone in the country, it would eventually have been borne by the same people-the taxpayers. It was greatly to disregard the taxpayer to put forward a scheme that clearly was not going to work, as several of my hon. Friends pointed out, with so little regard to its cost.
The second reason why it is such good news that the scheme is being abolished is the risk involved. I clearly remember the then Chancellor of the Exchequer standing at the Dispatch Box about three and a half years ago and admitting to the whole country, with his hands shaking and his papers quivering, that two data discs containing information and bank account details for every single child in the country had been lost. I also remember the national outrage that followed. That demonstrated-I hope that we do not have to demonstrate it again-the danger of keeping sensitive and private information all on one huge database in this age when it is so easy to transfer information electronically. That danger, and the contingent liability that comes with holding that information is a great risk not only in an extremely practical sense in that it can be lost-we all know that data discs can be lost and get into the hands of national newspapers-but because holding it in one place can be extremely risky.
The final and most exciting reason why this is the first Bill that the new coalition Government have introduced is that it reveals the faith in human nature of the Government who have put it forward. The fact that some think that the way to solve crime and to regulate our society better is to have an enormous state database and to force everybody to hold a card in their pocket is
extremely revealing of the view of human behaviour held by those wanting to make such laws. We must understand that people are all individuals and are all different, and that society is best organised by the people in it coming together rather than by the people at the top telling them what to do. That is an extremely strong principle that we on the Government side hold dear. That is demonstrated in the fact that the rejection of the Identity Cards Act is the very first Bill being debated under this Government. On those bases alone, I should be in favour of a Bill to reject identity cards. The situation is best summed up by the now shadow Chancellor, who obviously understands the costs. I rest my case on a statement he made before-for some reason-he changed his mind. He said:
"I don't want my whole life to be reduced to a magnetic strip on a plastic card."
Unlike me, Madam Deputy Speaker, you have not had the privilege of sitting through the entire debate. We have had the opportunity to hear from a number of colleagues who made their maiden speeches. First, the hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) told us that it was not Gosport but God's Port. She told us that Portsmouth is close to Gosport, but as someone who grew up in Portsmouth and went back and forth on the Gosport ferry on Saturday afternoons, when my mother made sure she got us out of the house for recreation, I have fond memories of Gosport from a slightly different perspective.
The hon. Lady spoke in glowing terms of her constituency and spoke up strongly for the future of HMS Sultan, urging her Government to think carefully about the impact of their decision on her constituents. Like many speakers, she mentioned identity cards and I shall turn to that issue when I have congratulated other speakers on their comments.
The hon. Lady was followed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), who was not making his maiden speech. He was Home Secretary when the Identity Cards Bill was first published and he eloquently explained some of the original thinking behind identity cards. He highlighted the fact that the issues the identity card system was set up to deal with will not go away. He particularly bemoaned the passing of the second generation of biometric passports, which I shall touch on later in my comments.
We then heard from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming). I would say that his criticisms applied equally to driving licences. On the basis of his comments, perhaps the Government's next policy will be to abolish them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) made his maiden speech, but with his background and experience we can look forward to many good and knowledgeable speeches from him. He gave a spirited history of his constituency and of municipal
investment in Birmingham. He spoke of the benefits of Labour investment, particularly in the decent homes programme. He also highlighted the many problems that remain to be tackled in his constituency, especially unemployment and the lack of affordable family housing. There is no doubt that in him we have a strong champion for Erdington in the Chamber.
The hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) spoke movingly about manufacturing in his constituency and his desire to see it improve. Unbeknown to me, Gloucester is famous for making health and aerospace products, but particularly for making ice cream. We look forward to hearing more from him. He has a strong commitment to his constituency-even the shirt on his back was made by his constituents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) is a fellow Co-operative Member of Parliament. She warmly acknowledged the work of Martyn Jones, particularly his success in ensuring that money from dormant bank accounts went to good causes. Her thoughtful and moving description of life in Clwyd now and in the past will remain with me. We look forward to many eloquent speeches from her.
The hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) rightly paid tribute to Rudi Vis. On the Labour Benches, we join the hon. Gentleman in acknowledging Rudi's contribution to the Chamber. We pass our condolences to his family.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of another predecessor in the seat-Baroness Thatcher-about whom we may not share the same level of agreement. He then spoke about identity cards. It was heartening that, despite the fact that Members were making maiden speeches, several of them commented on identity cards.
We then heard an amusing speech from the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). If I were being mean, I could talk about cheap oratory, but he talked about identity cards as being anti-civil liberties. Were he in his seat, I would ask him if he has a passport and I will touch on that. He talked about Emu and Rod Hull. I was not sure whether we were hearing from Emu or Rod Hull, but we had a good time listening nevertheless.
We heard from the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), who was generous in his tribute to Ann Cryer, his immediate predecessor in the seat, and he rightly highlighted her work on tackling the abuse of young women by men and on forced marriages. He also talked about the many illustrious sons of Oakworth, his home village.
We then heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), who we thought at a number of points was about to burst into song, as he quoted from "Blaydon Races" and gave a tour of the international venues in his constituency. I have no doubt that as we go to many conferences over the years, we will remember that speech.
The hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) is the first Conservative to represent the town of Rothwell, a constituency that apparently has had 10 boundary changes. Whether there is more to come from the Government and whether the seat will stay in anything like the same form are matters for a future debate.
We then heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick), who rightly highlighted the muddle and inconsistency of Government policy on the issue. I will touch on some of the other points that he raised.
The hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) spoke in glowing terms about his constituency and paid warm tribute to his predecessor, John Grogan. He wondered whether his grandfather, a miner, would have been proud of his grandson becoming a Conservative MP. I am sure he would, Madam Deputy Speaker, and we look forward to hearing more from the hon. Gentleman.
We then heard a very powerful speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero). She spoke warmly about her predecessor Geoff Hoon, a former Defence Secretary and Chief Whip. She spoke about literacy and the sporting tradition in her constituency and she was proud-quite rightly-to be the first woman to represent Ashfield. She spoke movingly of a real sense of community in her constituency and about the legacy of the mining traditions.
We then heard from the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), although this was not a maiden speech. It is heartening that a number of new Members are already contributing fully to debate in this House. He spoke quite a bit about the 1950s. It is worth saying that, in terms of identity cards, the 1950s were quite a long time ago. We are talking today about a very different programme that was proposed by the last Government and is being opposed by this Government. We had a number of history lessons on that but the identity card system was rather different from now, as is-I would say to the hon. Gentleman-this place is from academia. Academic debate is all very well but government, in which he now plays a part, has to deal with practical realities. We wait to see how the Government will cope with those realities on this issue and others.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) helpfully reminded us of previous parliamentary scrutiny of identity cards, a number of points from which were taken on board by the last Government as they developed the policy over time.
We then heard from the hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland), which took me back to one of my first public meetings on the issue. He opposes ID cards on the basis that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I suggest that the Government would do very little if it took that to its ultimate extreme. I went to South Swindon in my early days as Minister responsible for identity cards and met NO2ID. After we entered the room and found that, seemingly, there was nobody there to oppose ID cards, we looked out and realised that the three or four people outside were the demo. As a result of that meeting, the local newspaper-the redoubtable Swindon Advertiser-stopped carrying quite so many letters from that organisation. Members have praised NO2ID today; it was relatively small in number, but it was effective, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough acknowledged.
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