The right hon. Gentleman asked a number of detailed questions, including one about the number of cards that had been issued. As of 27 May 2010, the number of ID
cards issued was 14,670. He also asked what is happening now and whether people can still apply for a card, and therefore waste £30. We have adopted a common-sense approach to that, so staff at the Identity and Passport Service inform any potential applicants that it is the Government's stated intention to scrap ID cards, and then ask them whether, in that light, they want to reconsider going ahead with the application. The Government have taken a common-sense attitude, but I have heard some anecdotal evidence that some journalists are desperate to be the last person to buy an identity card so that they can write an article about it. I am not sure whether any normal citizens, as it were, are continuing to apply.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about biometric residence permits. Since 25 November 2008 the UK Border Agency has issued 188,000 residency permits. The attempt by the previous Government to rebadge those as ID cards for foreign nationals, in an attempt to make more acceptable a scheme that was clearly unacceptable to the British people, was pretty disingenuous, and it clearly failed.
The right hon. Gentleman asked what happens when people have applied but not yet received a card. When a person has made an application but payment has not been made, they are informed of the coalition Government's policy and the introduction of the Bill, because we want to save their time and money, and we request that they hold off their application pending the outcome of parliamentary consideration of the Bill.
The decision to scrap the scheme is mainly about stopping the state snooping into the lives of innocent people. We would have introduced the measure even if we were not saving significant sums of money by doing so, but a lot has been said in the debate about the expense. Even though this measure is a matter of principle, it is a happy coincidence that in putting our principle of freedom into practice, we are saving the British people hundreds of millions of pounds. The previous Government planned to spend £835 million on ID cards over the next 10 years, even after they had stripped out the costs that they were loading on to the IPS.
The previous Government claimed, as shadow Ministers have today, that the whole scheme would cost nothing, because the money would be recovered from charges. I have got news for those former Ministers: it is the British people who would have paid those charges. Whether the Government take money from people as a charge or a tax, that is still taking away people's money. By that measure, this Government are leaving in the pockets of the British people £835 million that the previous Government would have extracted for their terrible scheme.
Mr Blunkett: I would accept the Minister's point if he were announcing this evening that there will be a substantial cut in both the projected and the existing charge for the passport. Is he proposing that?
No, because I am talking about the ID card scheme, which is a separate scheme. The former Home Secretary-like all the other former Home Secretaries and former Home Office Ministers-seems not to get the point that if we charge someone for something they have to give us some money, and their money is taken away. What makes it worse is that the previous Home
Secretary, at a press conference, memorably called this level of saving "diddly squat". The British people will disagree that it is not worth saving £835 million of their money. [Interruption.] Labour Front-Bench Members are chuntering from a sedentary position, "You're not saving it." No we are not: British citizens, the British people, are saving it. I find it extraordinary that they cannot understand that if somebody has to write a cheque to the Government, they lose that money and the Government get it. They do not regard that as a saving, but other people do.
I shall deal with some of the other caveats that have been raised. Liberty, a pressure group for which I have a very high regard, talks about the biometric residence permit, and is worried that we will continue with it as an ID card for foreign nationals. I hope that I have laid that fear to rest: it is a completely different scheme under a completely different law. It is not mentioned in this Bill because it is covered under EU, not British, law.
May I say what a pleasure it is to be a Home Office Minister standing at the Dispatch Box and reading a Liberty brief on a Government proposal that it describes as "hugely welcome"? This is a first, certainly in recent years. The hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) made the good point that all the major parties in the House have a spectrum, with some at the authoritarian end and others at the civil liberties end. I can assure him that the civil libertarian end is now in the ascendance in the Conservative party, and given his long, honourable and principled opposition to ID cards, I wish him success in driving out the authoritarian tendency that took over the Labour party under the previous Government.
It is also clear that there are some civil libertarians new to the House in other parties as well. I welcome the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), who made the point that he is not happy with the wording of clause 10-a point that I dare say we can, and should, take up in Committee. I know that he is very knowledgeable about such matters. I am delighted to have Liberty's support on this Bill, but I am also pleased to join others, on both sides of the House, who have paid tribute to NO2ID-a campaign whose meetings I have addressed and supported over the past few years-and I am delighted to hear that he was a leading member of it in Cambridge. I will discuss with him the details of the other parts of the Bill reintroducing previous parts of the ID cards Bill that are necessary. I know that others on the Conservative Benches have worries about that too.
Beneath all the arguments about cost, second generation biometrics and biometric residence permits, we have before the House a matter of principle. A functioning national identity register would be the biggest intrusion into the privacy of the British people that the British Government have ever devised. Just because technology has transformed how the Government can use our personal information, it does not mean that a sensible Government will go down that route. In all eras of technology, the principle that the state should serve the citizen, and not vice versa, is a good one, to which Governments should stick.
The bigger the capacity to collect and share information, the greater the danger to privacy and therefore freedom. That is why the Government are acting quickly and decisively. We want to avoid further spending by the taxpayer and to dismantle the scheme at the minimum cost to the public. We want early destruction of the
personal data held on the national identity register and of the register itself, and we want to bring an end to the practice of the state gathering data on its people simply because it has the power to do so. Instead, the Government should be held accountable to the people they represent, and should justify their actions in the key areas of personal freedom and liberty. The Bill is a statement of the coalition Government's new approach. It is just the first step in our commitment to rolling back the database state created by Labour and restoring the civil liberties of the British people. I commend the Bill to the House.
That the following provisions shall apply to the Identity Documents Bill:
1. The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
2. Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 8 July 2010.
3. The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Consideration and Third Reading
4. Proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
6. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on consideration and Third Reading.
7. Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed.- (Bill Wiggin.)
In presenting this petition, I pay tribute to Mr. Brian Aitchison, a Portsmouth resident who has done so much to support the victims of Equitable Life's maladministration in his home town and elsewhere.
"The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to uphold the constitutional standing of the Parliamentary Ombudsman by complying in full with the findings and recommendations of her Report upon Equitable Life.
Declares that the Petitioners either are or they represent or support members, former members or personal representatives of deceased members of the Equitable Life Assurance Society who have suffered maladministration leading to injustice, as found by the Parliamentary Ombudsman in her report upon Equitable Life, ordered by the House of Commons to be printed on 16 July 2008 and bearing reference number HC 815; and further declares that the Petitioners or those whom they represent or support have suffered regulatory failure on the part of the public bodies responsible from the year 1992 onwards, but have not received compensation for the resulting losses and outrage.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to uphold the constitutional standing of the Parliamentary Ombudsman by complying in full with the findings and recommendations of her Report upon Equitable Life.
Mr Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): May I, through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, thank Mr Speaker for allowing me this evening's debate. It is pleasure to see you in the Chair on what I think is your first day. I believe that this is the first time that I have addressed the Minister from the Opposition Benches, and I am very pleased to do so. I assure him that it will not be the last time that we will be engaged in these conversations.
From this Adjournment debate on alleged fraud in the Wirral hospital trust, I am looking for three things. First, I am sure that I am not exceptional in the number of constituent cases about alleged fraud that I refer to the relevant authority. In every case I have passed on, whether it be to the Department for Work and Pensions or to the Department of Health, I have never had a satisfactory reply that I could then refer to my constituent. I would not disclose the information, but if I had such a reply, I could say that I had been able to read the papers and assure constituents that they were mistaken in alleging fraud. I could say that a proper investigation had been carried out and we could leave the case there. As I say, however, that has never occurred. One thing I am looking for this evening, then, is for the Government to consider the particular role in which elected representatives sometimes find themselves in handing to the Government alleged cases of fraud, yet never being able satisfactorily to report back to their constituents.
Secondly, I have tried to use the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in order to gain the information that Wirral hospital trust denied me. I was refused on the basis that disclosure of the information would provide me with sensitive personal information such as the name of the person against whom the allegations of fraud were made. However, given that everybody involved in the case knows the name of the doctor, although I have never used it in public, it seems somewhat farcical to use the Freedom of Information Act in this way to prevent my gaining access to reports that have been commissioned.
Thirdly, this saga has been going on for a long time, and I have no intention of letting go of it, so I hope that the Minister might be able to advise me on the next best steps to take to resolve the issue. Through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to remind the House of what happened.
All too long ago, one of my constituents was sitting in the surgery at their doctor's. The doctor was engaged in a telephone conversation with one of his patients, who turned out to be a private patient. During the conversation, for reasons that I cannot possibly explain, the doctor assured the person that they had been treated as an NHS patient although they were being charged as a private patient.
I started to look into the case. I asked both the primary care trust and the hospital trust-Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust-to investigate. I had a meeting with the hospital trust at which the chairman and the senior directors were present, as well as the locally based official who was in charge of
countering fraud in the health service. At that stage the doctor admitted that, as a result of an error, he had put through as NHS patients about 180 patients whom he was charging as private patients, but who were being given tests as NHS patients.
The doctor admitted that that had been an error in all cases, and repaid money. I asked, through its chairman, whether the trust-on the basis of the core of cases of private patients being fed through the NHS-would examine other procedures in the hospital to establish whether any of those 180-odd patients had had scans or X-rays, and whether the doctor had again forgotten to declare that they were private patients when ticking the forms assuring the NHS that they were, in fact, NHS patients.
Ms Eagle: My right hon. Friend has raised an issue that affects all of us who represent constituents in the Wirral, which is served by the hospital concerned. Does he think that this individual case of fraud involving an individual doctor raises issues about conflicts of interest that may well resonate in other areas of the NHS, and does he agree, on the basis of his experience of this case, that there are general rules that all Members should consider applying more generally throughout the NHS to avoid such financial conflicts of interest?
Mr Field: I strongly agree, and I hope that at some stage the medical profession will give serious consideration to how the interface between the public and private sectors might be policed in the context of health.
As the fraud officer present said that it was quite reasonable to undertake the next stage of the inquiries, I left the meeting, only to find that later the chairman of the hospital trust and her senior executives had said that no such investigation would take place, and that I would not have access to their reports on this case of alleged fraud unless I was prepared to sign a document saying that after reading the information I would never use any of it in public debate. I was not prepared to sign such a gagging clause.
I appealed for access to the documents concerned under the Freedom of Information Act. Because the hospital trust is not known for its efficiency, it applied to block my appeal under the wrong section of the Act. When I appealed to the commissioner, he had to point out to the trust that if it wanted to block my original appeal it would have to use another part of the Act, which of course it then did.
I then appealed to the tribunal, which ruled that I should not have access to the document, or documents, because if I had such access I would gain sensitive personal information to which I was not entitled, such as the name of the person against whom the allegations were being made. As at every stage everyone who was in that room has known the name of the doctor concerned but none of us has made it public, it seems bizarre that it was on those grounds that I was denied access to the counter-fraud report which is alleged to have been undertaken.