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Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, in the Queen's Speech we saw the reference to Wales and the proposal that there will be a White Paper on the extended powers for the Welsh Assembly. Wales is of course a very gentle and peaceful country. Many leaders of the peace movement over the years have come from Wales. Some will remember the work of the Davies family of Llandinam, of Henry Richard and of Gwynfor Evans, the first Plaid Cymru Member of the House of Commons, who died recently and to whom Wales is very much indebted, particularly in the realm of peace.

We are not a warlike people. You go on to the rugby field and meet the New Zealand team and their Haka, and you are scared to death before you start to play. But we in Wales, though we won the Grand Slam, have a comparatively more gentle way of tackling this particular matter. We are a peaceful people. So it is with our development over the years, which is a development not of revolution but of evolution—a nation treasuring its identity and seeking to safeguard that uniqueness in every possible way. Each nation has its traditions and culture to preserve, and the secret is to take our place in the wider world while at the same time preserving our national identity.

I would claim that Wales has taken its place in the wider world. I never cease to remind people that Abraham Lincoln's great grandmother came from the Conwy valley, from Ysbyty Ifan, or that Thomas Jefferson and his family came from Llanberis. There are many more. Wales has sought to protect its own identity and at the same time to contribute not only to the United Kingdom but also to an even wider world.

Over the past 150 years we have seen a development in Wales, in which we seem to be reclaiming that identity in a firmer way than for many years before. There has been the disestablishment of the Church of England and the establishment of a museum, a national library, a university, a board of education, a board of health and an independent television channel—S4C. Those have all helped to safeguard that Welsh identity. And then of course we had a Minister of State for Wales in 1957; and then Jim Griffiths, whom people held in great respect, whichever party they belonged to, took his place in the Cabinet in 1964 as the first Secretary of State for Wales.

We see a gradual development—a peaceful people who do not want revolution but do want to claim their own identity. When Jim Griffiths took his place, the Welsh Office took control of expenditure in Wales. So we have seen a move during the past century towards a greater autonomy in Wales. In 1979, the first referendum did not bring about that assembly or senate that we desired. We had to wait 18 more years, until 1997, when the Labour Party kept its promise, and we had that referendum which by the narrowest of margins saw the establishment of an Assembly in Cardiff.
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The powers of that Assembly are limited, however: it does not have powers for primary legislation, and Westminster still controls the purse strings. That is not so in Scotland. In Holyrood, in Edinburgh, there is far more freedom to decide on Scottish matters and, if necessary, to raise up to 3p in the pound to fund new projects. Not so in Wales. Every parish or community council has a right to levy a precept, but not the Welsh Assembly. There is also an uncertainty over authority. Certain responsibilities need clarification. When, just before the general election, we debated the Education Bill, we realised the fudge—the uncertainty of responsibilities between Cardiff and Westminster. We need to clarify in that direction.

We need to sort out those uncertainties, and we welcome the intention to present a new White Paper on the government of Wales, to be followed by a Bill. We on these Benches will co-operate wholeheartedly in ensuring that any new proposals will benefit Wales and the people of Wales. All the way the emphasis is not on revolution but on evolution. We search for ways to make the Assembly more effective and better able to act in the devolved areas, such as education, health and agriculture. There appears to be no reason at all why Wales should not be given full authority and primary legislative powers in those areas.

Scotland already has those powers, and those who accuse the Welsh Assembly of being merely a talking shop would have to think again. What is good enough for our Celtic cousins north of the Border would be good enough for us in Wales.

With added authority and ability to act speedily and effectively on Welsh issues some of those who now seek election to the Westminster Parliament might see that their contribution could be even more effective if they took their place in Cardiff in the Welsh Assembly. It would strengthen the membership of that Assembly.

The all-party commission of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, favoured such a development. The proposal is that by 2011 the Welsh Assembly should have primary legislative powers. We await with great interest the publication of the White Paper to see whether it goes along with those recommendations. It will be a two-stage process if the White Paper agrees with the commission; removing at the second stage any veto Westminster might have over decisions made by the Assembly.

We need a firm timetable to make certain that by 2011 the new powers are granted fully and the Assembly is given those new opportunities. We want a definite timetable, not just a vague undertaking to do something some time. There should be automatic progression in any stage process. I hope that today we can be told when to expect the White Paper and when the Government will publish the Bill to enhance the Assembly's stature.

I remember well the feeling of elation when the result of the 1997 referendum was announced. In one sense we felt that we were a nation again: we had reclaimed the territory. A new government of Wales Bill could be another historic step in that direction.
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8.37 pm

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, for those in this House who are already thinking of their summer vacation, I come bearing news from Spain. There are now Spanish resorts where tourists voluntarily have a microchip implanted under the skin in their forearm so that they can gain entrance to nightclubs, purchase food and drink and dance unencumbered by wallets or handbags. After a quick scan of the forearm the barcode comes up, and as long as we have enough funds in our previously deposited account, we are free to rave the night away.

Apparently British companies are now looking at the great benefits and opportunities that could come from expanding on that social experiment. Think of the possibilities. We could be scanned on buses and tubes. We could have students scanned going into classes. We could have welfare recipients scanned as they receive their benefits. In fact, I am almost frightened to mention it in front of my colleagues on the Front Bench in case the proposal finds favour in Downing Street.

It has not stopped in Spain. The Venerable Bede school in Sunderland has been testing iris scanning for its dinner provision, so that when a child goes to the lunch hall, instead of swiping a card or inserting a token, he has his iris scanned to see if he has paid enough money into his account to cover his lunch. However, the school abandoned the scheme because too frequently the scanner did not recognise the iris patterns.

I have spoken before about my concerns over the introduction of ID cards. The government position remains that 80 per cent of the public supports the idea because of the convenience and efficiency involved. Think how easy it will be to travel with easyJet to Scotland, or to join a gym, or to get a video out of the rental store: no more production of utility bills, apparently. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said, when the full implications of ID cards are debated with the electorate they are much less convinced of the benefits. In Australia, 90 per cent support for ID cards turned to 70 per cent opposition once the public realised what was actually involved.

It is anticipated that a card would record your name, address, date of birth, employment, marital status, sex, a photograph, and numbers from National Insurance, driving licence and passport. It would also carry an iris scan, a face scan, or an electronic fingerprint. All of those are being investigated. There is conjecture that in the fullness of time we might even have our genetic profile on the card.

As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, said, it is not so much the card as the creation of the national database which is the essential component in the system that carries huge risks to our liberty. Future governments of a less benign nature could make frightening use of such a comprehensive and coherent tracking system. The Chinese are currently introducing a new high-tech card that is causing alarm to human rights groups the world over because of the impact on dissidents. We are talking about the ability to live your life free of
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intrusion. These invisible freedoms make the quality of our life here in Britain so rich, and yet, it is these very steps, these erosions of liberty, which may seem small but which create fundamental shifts in the relationship between the citizen and the state. Many worry about the theft of their identity and see ID cards as a remedy, but a greater worry might be the theft of your liberty by an authoritarian government.

A report on Britain's proposals for ID cards was compiled by a committee of the Canadian parliament in October 2003. It stated:

The officials from the Home Office who briefed the Canadians made it clear that an ID card would not help with the issue of terrorism. They also conceded that there were concerns about the security and integrity of the card because the foundation documents are so easy to reproduce. Just think: every member of the European Union would be entitled to apply for and acquire an ID card. How would we test the validity of the documents that they presented to the appropriate department? There are also of course concerns about the huge cost, currently running at £5.5 billion—money that might better be spent elsewhere on the prevention of crime.

Britain wants to do something that no other western country has done, or is even proposing: the creation of a gigantic centralised database of the biometrics of every one of the 60 million citizens of this country. The biometric working group at GCHQ, one of our leading intelligence agencies, said in a report:

The same group warns that,

As a means of detecting crime or illegal immigration, the level and the frequency of checking of those ID cards would necessarily be in direct proportion to its effectiveness. It would have to be compulsory in terms of participation, and there would also be an obligation to produce the card. What would be the point of the police stopping someone and asking for their ID card, their saying, "I do not have it with me", and the policeman saying to the suspected terrorist or illegal immigrant, "Well, could you turn up at the police station a week from now?". It is nonsense. We know what would be involved in the creation of such cards.

I am happy to have additional biometric information included in my passport if that is capable of helping to police our borders more effectively; but I have my doubts. I do not want there to be an internal passport—a licence to live in this country.

The major concern for me is that the card would have alarming consequences for social cohesion—for the black and other minority communities that are already subject to more frequent police intervention than any other citizens. Lawyers in France have told me that it is those minorities—les marginaux—that are harassed to produce cards, and of the divisiveness that it creates in their society. There are likely to be huge
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problems over accuracy, data sharing, statutory overrides of data protection principles and a lack of audit trails—never mind computer failures, on which the Home Office of course has a track record. I have real concerns about ID cards, and I hope that they will be soundly tested in this House and the other place.

I also have concerns about the plans to introduce a law dealing with incitement to racial hatred. That is because I believe strongly that there is an important role for debate and criticism in a vibrant democracy. To close down that debate will be enormously damaging. The offence is being brought before these Houses as an attempt to appease Muslim communities that feel disenchanted over the political system as of late. I raise the matter because I believe that many people in minority communities, such as the Muslim communities, think that an offence will be created that will protect their beliefs rather than themselves as believers. As a result, they may in the end feel disenchanted with the law, because it will leave them unrequited when it fails to produce their desired outcomes. It will not mean that Salman Rushdie's book or valid criticisms of aspects of their religion can be prosecuted.

We should recognise that religious conservatives the world over—whether Christian fundamentalists, extreme orthodox Jews or Muslim fundamentalists—often seek to silence others and impose on society not merely tolerance of their beliefs, but acceptance of them. Over the years, I have had a close association with the Southall Black Sisters, a women's organisation that includes Asian women of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu backgrounds. It has struggled for many years to gain acceptance of its campaigns against violence towards women. It is clear in its opposition to the proposed new law on incitement to religious hatred, because that law would support and encourage the culture of intolerance that already exists in many religions.

Challenge has to be offered to religions, particularly over human rights issues and particularly as they affect women and homosexuals. The women in such groups have no doubt that this law would be used as a weapon to suppress dissent in their communities, particularly crushing those who are more vulnerable and powerless. I warn the Government that it may have very undesired effects.

I may be concerned about other parts of the legislative programme, but those are my primary concerns. I say to the Government that we are going through a period of change. Our societies are becoming much more diverse. There are undoubtedly new challenges, such as terrorism and international crime. There are great demands on our national purse and, of course, new technologies that provide both solutions and problems, because they could be greatly abused. As we legislate, we should be alert to the unintended consequences that can flow from the choices that we are making now. The role of this House must always be to take the long view—that we are here
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to warn the public of the long-term consequences of short-term initiatives. I hope that we continue to carry out that role in the weeks and months to come.

8.49 pm

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