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My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) spoke movingly about the sort of freedoms that her constituents expect, including the freedom to live peacefully in their community. She felt that ID fraud was an important issue to be tackled, and that it was something that her constituents wanted to see tackled. That was one of the reasons why she has
been such a strong supporter of and advocate for ID cards over the years. She is right that there is a demand still, and there will be greater demand in the future for the improved personal security that ID cards represent.
Let me make it clear to the House that we have not abandoned the policy of using fingerprints or having a proper database to back that up. The policy of our Government was clear and remains so. However, we have to recognise the reality that we did not win the general election-nor did the Conservatives, but with their friends the Liberal Democrats, they form the Government. We recognise that and the will of the people. In opposition, although we will attack, we also need to recognise when the Government have put forward a view and want to get that through. Sometimes we will not oppose just for the sake of it. I will return to some of the issues later.
We heard from the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) largely what we would expect to hear from him. He is giving lessons to many new Members. The hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) spoke about the state being accountable to the citizen. We all agree with that, though perhaps not about the ways in which we would achieve it. The hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) spoke about trafficking, where I would counter that fingerprints make a difference. In that regard, we may be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr Shepherd) gave an eloquent history lesson about civil liberties, as he sees them, and ID cards over the years. We then heard from the hon. Members for Northampton North (Michael Ellis), for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) and for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock).
It has been interesting to listen to a debate dominated by newer Members who spoke eloquently and with enthusiasm. However, it is easy to make a speech from the Back Benches with energy and enthusiasm, but as those on the Government Front Bench, the Home Secretary and her colleagues will learn-or, in many cases, do not need to learn-the challenges of being in government are quite different. They have to examine the facts in detail and consider the problems of national security that they must deal with.
Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): When the ID card was first launched last year, does the hon. Lady recall that at the launch in the north-west, the Minister forgot her own ID card? If she could forget, what chance would the rest of us lesser mortals have had in the brave new world of ID cards?
Meg Hillier: That rather proves my point. The law as it stood and still stands is that no one is required to carry their national identity card. [Hon. Members: "What is the point?"] The chorus of approval for that comment from a sedentary position suggests, perhaps, that the Government may be proposing a compulsory scheme. It is important to remember that as the law still stands, there was never a requirement to carry the card. It is easy to make cheap debating points, but that was an important part of the scheme. Like previous Home Secretaries and the most recent Home Secretary, I did not want to see a card demanded of people. That was never in the Act and would never be a requirement.
Section 14 explicitly ruled out the possibility that anyone would have to show a card to access any public service. It was important that we won the trust of the public and let them buy into the scheme if they wished, so that they could see for themselves the benefit. The British passport is not a compulsory document, yet eight out of 10 British citizens choose to have one, and it has an important resonance and role.
There were three main reasons or broad themes for introducing identity cards. It is understandable that many Members will think that there were mixed messages. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough said, that is a fair point. It seemed at different times that there were different reasons. In fact, if one goes back and reads the speeches made on two attempts to give the Bill a Second Reading-a general election interrupted-by the former Member for Norwich, South, Charles Clarke, who was then Home Secretary, terrorism was not mooted as the main reason for identity cards, but because of the events of 11 September, that question was often posed in the media. The debate was often hyped in that way.
Protecting the public was one of the reasons for introducing identity cards. It allowed people the option of locking their identity firmly to their fingerprint and thereby helped to reduce the risk of ID fraud for those who chose to take up the option, as I did and as my colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench did.
Mr Blunkett: As I said earlier, my hon. Friend deserves great credit for her work on this matter. Congratulations, by the way, Madam Deputy Speaker.
From the end of 2001, we were constantly asked about terrorism and whether an identity card of some description would help, and we constantly indicated that that was not the prime concern. However, MI5 made it explicit and put on the record that more than one third of those people who were known to be associated with international terrorism used false and multiple identities. MI5 would have been helped in its struggle to protect us by having a system that was verifiable and authenticable in a way that the existing system is not.
Meg Hillier: I thank my right hon. Friend who, from his own, special perspective, proves my point exactly.
There was a second point, convenience, which was a key contributor. Eight out of 10 people already have a passport, but we were keen to improve its security, and the little plastic card was an additional convenience factor and something that those who were keen to have one very much took up. They wanted an easy, convenient thing that one could slip in one's wallet and, yes, forget. Perhaps some hon. Members have more organised lives than mine, but one would not normally carry around one's passport. People indicated that they were keen on the convenience of the plastic card. It was one thing that made the card popular with those who chose to take it on.
The third main issue is that the card was a travel document within Europe. Indeed, for £30, it was not only a travel document, but a passport-plus, because it allowed travel, plus that more secure form of ID to which I have referred. For the four out of five British citizens who have passports, that is fine, but there was also an issue about those who do not.
I do not have time to deal with all the nonsense, to be frank, that came out in today's debate, but there was some discussion about a huge Government Big Brother database being built like no other. I am tempted to ask how many hon. Members present have a British passport, and what on earth they think happens to the data that they hand over when they receive one, because that information is held on a database. It has been held on a database ever since passports were introduced, and I recommend hon. Members visit the database records in Peterborough, where they will see paper records from 1916, microfiche records and more up-to-date records. Of course, if one has a safe and secure passport, and one wants it to become a proper document that makes British citizens first-class citizens in the world, one needs a back-up database; and we proposed putting fingerprints on passports, so it was important to ensure that the database was more secure.
That is why we proposed three databases that could not be downloaded or looked up. In time, with a reader machine, as many new hon. Members may not be aware, one could have taken the card and-by checking against the register and the database, with no information going to the person to whom one was proving one's identity-just proved one's identity. There would have been no need for bits of paper going to a back room to be photocopied and possibly stolen, and no need for bills in different names, which is a challenge for many people. There would have been just one card, involving just the individual and their fingerprint. That would have put the citizen in control of their data. That was our vision, and it is still the vision of this Opposition.
So, the database already exists. My question to the Minister, who is now responsible for passports, because they have been thrown into the mix with immigration even though they used to have their own Minister, is what will happen to the passport database and to the passport? If we do not introduce fingerprints on to passports, we risk British citizens becoming second-class citizens in the world. They will have to pay for visas as countries demand more security, and we also risk having a much less secure document. The Government use the curious phrase,
"halting second generation biometric passports",
which are those with fingerprints, so will the Minister clarify that?
There is Tory muddle on this issue, and I have some further questions. Is the hon. Gentleman in favour of fingerprints in general? [ Interruption. ] Clearly, many hon. Members want to give me their fingerprints. Very nice. We have foreign national identity cards, and people who come to this country provide their fingerprint for inclusion on that database, which was going to be part of the same database. People applying for visas abroad have their fingerprints taken before they arrive in the UK-an important security measure that I hope that the Minister, with his immigration hat on, agrees with. If the Government are in favour of fingerprints in those cases, then why not for British citizens too? Why are British citizens being denied this right?
The Government are also in a muddle on costs and savings. Cards would have been funded by fees. If someone paid £30, they got a card; if they did not pay £30, they did not. That seems a fair-minded transaction that did not involve lots of money from the general taxpayer. Yes, there were set-up costs, which would have been
recouped, but the £4.75 billion total cost was paid for not out of taxation but out of fees over a 10-year period. No cards, no fees-and no money to spend on other things.
Perhaps the Prime Minister should be told this, because in September 2007, in an online question and answer session with The Daily Telegraph, he said:
"A future Conservative Government will...Scrap the ID card scheme, saving £255.4 million in the first three years."
Where is that number now? It seems to have shrunk to £84 million. Worryingly for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Prime Minister went on to say that they would use those savings to provide extra prison places, so that is another Government policy gone.
Let me quickly explain who will lose out through this. Current cardholders will lose out, and it is mean-spirited of this Government not to compensate them. Sending out two letters to cardholders will cost at least as much as it would to give them a credit for a passport. Moreover, the convenience factor has gone.
This Bill is a symbolic gesture, as the Home Secretary said. The Government have not had time to look at the detail and the consequences. It is ill thought out and mean-spirited, and it has a worrying disregard for the security of the passport. I really do hope that the Minister has some proper answers as he risks the safety of the British public.
The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green): It is a delight, Madam Deputy Speaker, to see you in the Chair, which I am sure you will adorn for years to come.
For some of us, this debate is an exciting occasion. Those of us who have campaigned against the ID card scheme since the day it was introduced by the previous Government regard it as not just a duty but a pleasure to be able to lay it to rest. On a personal note, in the 13 years that my party spent in opposition, I rebelled only once against a three-line Whip, and that was to vote against ID cards, so it is a particular joy to be at the Government Dispatch Box to get rid of them. I advise Labour Members, particular new ones, that for Opposition Members occasionally to rebel against their Front Benchers can be very rewarding. Let me also say to my own hon. Friends that for Government Back Benchers to do the same thing is completely reprehensible.
Scrapping the ID card scheme shows the clear intent of the coalition Government to roll back the intrusion of the state and to return personal freedom and control to the individual citizen. This Bill is a major step on that road. Bringing the Bill before the House at such an early stage of the new Government signifies the importance that we place on creating a free society and on cutting unnecessary expenditure. The Bill is also about trust. It is about the people having trust in the Government to know when it is necessary and appropriate for the state to hold and use personal data, and it is about the Government placing their trust in the common-sense and responsible attitude of the people. The previous Government's ID cards scheme and the national identity register, which lay at its heart and which was its most reprehensible part, failed on both counts.
The indiscriminate collection, use and storage of vast amounts of biographical and biometric data belonging to innocent people is not a role for the state. People do
not want the state keeping information on the basis that in some far-off and speculative circumstance it may be of benefit. The lack of public trust in the scheme was reflected in the very low numbers coming forward to buy the cards. I suspect that that also reflects-the shadow Home Secretary may reflect on this-the knowledge that a new Government would drop the scheme.
Damian Green: I am afraid that the hon. Lady did not leave me enough time to give way to her, as she overran her time.
Let me start with what the shadow Home Secretary said. He gave a completely bravura performance. It was entertaining and funny, and it was particularly good from someone whose heart, I felt, was not really in it. I do not believe that he is a fully paid-up member of the authoritarian tendency on the Labour Benches. The fact that his speech was so good disguised the central incoherence in it. He said that he wanted ID cards to be voluntary, and his speech also contained a long, passionate passage about how they would be effective in the fight against terrorism. He can either hold the view that we need compulsory ID cards to fight terrorism, or he can hold the view that we need voluntary ID cards, but he cannot hold both at once. He knows as well as I do that a voluntary card system would have no effect on terrorists, criminals or benefit fraudsters, who would not sign up to a voluntary scheme. That was the central incoherence in his speech.
May I correct one example that the right hon. Gentleman gave? He said that France had a national identity database. It does indeed have a national identity card scheme, but the cards are issued, and the accompanying register held, at local level. There is no single French identity database, so he was wrong about that.
Like others, I pay tribute to the many good speeches that we have heard. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr Shepherd) that it was a privilege to hear his magnificent speech in favour of freedom and Parliament's essential role in defending it. I now move on to the many hon. Members on both sides of the House who made their maiden speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) gave a stirring defence of naval tradition of which I believe Lord Palmerston, one of her distinguished predecessors, would have been proud. It was a delight to hear the maiden speeches of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), who will clearly be a strong champion for Birmingham, and of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), who gave us a fascinating and educational tour ranging from Piers Gaveston to Harry Potter by way of Beatrix Potter.
I sympathise with the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), who said that the size of her constituency was 240 square miles. Until a recent boundary review mine covered 220 square miles, so I know that she has a lot of travelling to do over the next few years. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) and the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) in using this occasion to pay tribute to Rudi Vis, who died last week and was a friend to many of us on both sides of the House.
I was delighted to learn from my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins) that the village of Oakworth is the Notting Hill of the north in providing a tightly knit group of massive political talent. I was also educated by hearing from the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) that the most famous running of the Blaydon races was on today's date, 9 June; I will store that fact away. Similarly, I learned from my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) that Elmet was the last Celtic kingdom in this country-another fascinating fact for everyone. My hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) told us that he is the grandson of a miner. He might not know that the Government Chief Whip was a miner himself, so if I were him I would concentrate on emphasising that fact. It could be career-enhancing.
To stay with mining, it was a delight to see the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) make her maiden speech. I was delighted to hear that the big society is clearly alive and well in Ashfield. Many of us will have woken up with her on many occasions when she was on GMTV, and it is a great privilege to have her here in the House in person.
There were also speeches from those who were recently elected but were not making their maiden speeches. It was a particular delight to hear from my hon. Friends the Members for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) and for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), both of whom are clearly great new fighters in the House for liberty and freedom. My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) gave a fascinating speech, and I can assure him that the current Home Office Ministers will not try to strong-arm their staff into buying identity cards.
I wish to address some of the specific points that the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch and other hon. Members made. I was slightly shocked to hear the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) say that the British passport was easy to forge. As a former Home Secretary, he knows that it is actually a secure, high-integrity document and very difficult to counterfeit or forge. I do not believe that when he was Home Secretary he told the House or anyone else that it was easy to forge.
In response to an intervention, the shadow Home Secretary made a point about the biometric residence permit and minority communities. It is clearly nonsense to suggest that the permit, which has to be held by people who are living in this country because they want to work here, could in some way be used to revive the sus laws. He knows as well as I do that no one is required to carry it with them at any time. Frankly, it is an insult to the police to suggest that they would behave like that.
Many interesting points were made by the former Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). In particular, he speculated on how we might destroy the national identity register when the time comes. I suspect that the Home Secretary, other ministerial colleagues and I might bend our minds to find the best and most dramatic way of striking that blow for freedom.
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