Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington: My Lords, it may well be useful to look at the history of the past nine to 10 years regarding identification cards and such issues. The right honourable Michael Howard, the leader of the opposition in another place, said at the 1994 Tory Party conference that identification cards were an,

Those sentiments were not taken forward fully mainly because it was felt by the police, among other agencies, that to take them forward in the way that he mentioned would erode relationships with the public. Interestingly enough, there was no discussion of costs.

Your Lordships know, as do others, that since 1994 the world has changed. Since 1994 the question in relation to terrorism is obvious. Since 1994 the question in relation to organised crime has ratcheted up. We are now dealing with a problem of human trafficking and the enforced slavery, if you like, of women from other parts of Europe and the world.

Noble Lords have heard about fraud in relation to that area from the noble Baroness.

I shall give noble Lords some examples of what has taken place in the past two weeks in terms of results in combating identity theft. The dangers to this country
 
31 Oct 2005 : Column 28
 
of illegal immigration have already been spelt out, as far as the social make-up of the country is concerned and more importantly that illegal immigration is, on occasion, linked in with all the four issues that I talked about earlier. They must not be seen in isolation. Terrorists can be, and on many occasions are, involved in organised crime and fraud, and nearly every single case other than the cases that involved the so-called "home-grown terrorists" has involved identity theft.

The identification that is used by terrorists at present is as good as the identification that I have in my pocket. The police have recovered hundreds of forged passports and identification documents that are as good in every way as those that you and I carry in our everyday lives. I have some recent illustrations. I refer to the Bourgass case—the ricin plot—of the individual who was found guilty of conspiracy. He was trained in the camps of Afghanistan and went to and fro on a regular basis, which at the end of the day was monitored. He had multiple identifications that were as good as those that you and I carry in our pockets.

Last week, a man was sentenced to five years' imprisonment for defrauding various organisations in this country of £1 million. He had 130 different identifications, again as good as those that you and I carry in our pockets. In another case reported last week, which I know inside out, a lady had £57,000 taken from her because her identification was stolen by a criminal.

Interpol has on its records 8.2 million stolen passports taken from various parts of the world. They are out there on the streets and can be used at any time if they are doctored by a criminal or by anyone who wishes to cross boundaries. It is worth remembering that there are massive databases in this country: for instance, those dealing with credit cards, mobile phones and even the electronic passes to get in and out of your Lordships' House and the other place. These databases are uncontrolled in terms of the type of control that noble Lords are rightly looking for in relation to ID cards. There is the view that perhaps if we put those databases under one control with independent scrutiny and the scrutiny of your Lordships' House as well as the other place, that would be far safer than to leave the databases to build up on a willy-nilly basis.

The new technology is certain, which is the reason why the Association of Chief Police Officers and others have changed their view. Yes, retinal scans may have problems in certain areas; but fingerprints do not. Otherwise, tens of thousands of people who have been convicted over the past 150 years would be released or have their sentences quashed; and that will not happen. I believe that the move towards DNA would be a move too far. So in relation to where we are on identification cards, the police and others in the security services are absolutely certain that there is a need for a certainty of identification.They have no problem in terms of what that scrutiny should be. The Minister has set out that there should be further scrutiny of details of the Bill.
 
31 Oct 2005 : Column 29
 

Of course the costs are an issue, and I leave that to other people to talk about. However, independent oversight—it has been described—is surely a way forward. I for one have confidence in judges—the independent judiciary—to ensure that the Human Rights Act is used in a way that protects people's individual rights. Then of course we have the Data Protection Act.

I and others think that there is, in general, an overwhelming case for identity cards. I would like to end on another issue, which is that when police officers stop people in the street, one of the main rubbing points—it causes a great deal of aggravation—is the person's identity. The situation starts something like this: "Where do you live?" "I live in A." "Do you really live in A?". By the time that it is has finished three to four minutes later, you can have a very difficult situation. I have been part and parcel of those situations myself, and seen them even more recently. Certainty of identification is about more than only the five issues on which I have talked. It is about ensuring that you can identify the person who is there with certainty and, in such a case, take away the emotion from some of these very emotive instances.

Let us not forget also about the benefit of intelligence. We could say that, from an intelligence point of view, a national identity card would be an incredible gain. It could revolutionise the way in which we deal with intelligence. If we had a single point of contact in terms of people's identification, and of where people are in relation to their criminal or terrorist activity, it would be extremely useful and beyond that for the law enforcement agencies of this country. Of course there must be proper safeguards but, in very general terms, they are outlined in the Bill.

4.13 pm

Lord Soley: My Lords, I very much welcome this opportunity to make my first speech in this House, having served 26 years as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons, and with almost as many years as a political activist doing all the strange things that political activists do in parties, which the rest of the world does not understand.

I have to say that I was a little ambivalent about coming, not because I did not think that I could do a useful job here—I am sure that I can, and I know what I want to do here. It was not because I think this place does not serve a very useful purpose—it serves a very important purpose, and sometimes one that is not well understood. Nor was it because the place is not representative. I say that knowing and insisting that the elected Chamber must and will always be the dominant Chamber. But one thing that struck me about this place some time ago was the way in which the appointments system can change the face of the place and, in some ways, makes it more representative of our nation. In the number of women, ethnic minorities, disabilities and so on, this House is in many ways more representative than the House of Commons. If I had said 10 years ago that, a few years later, we would have the first black woman Leader of the House of Lords, a lot of people would have said
 
31 Oct 2005 : Column 30
 
that I was exaggerating—even though we had a black Member of Parliament in the late 19th century, who was elected. We need to remember such things. It was my ambivalence. I felt that maybe I was a born-again masochist, and simply could not give up politics and the business of government in one form or another. I have a horrible feeling that that may be true.

Because of my 26 years in Parliament, the awful thought suddenly came back to me that in one of my many previous jobs I was a probation officer. During my early training for that job, I was asked by the court to see a guy who had just been released from what was called "seven years' preventive detention". At that time, preventive detention was a sentence of up to seven years, even for really minor offences, as it was in his case. It was used for people who had had many convictions, and if noble Lords think that "three strikes and you're out" is new, forget it—it has always been around; it is just the number of strikes that has changed.

Altogether, this guy had had 26 years in closed institutions of one type or another. He had done his seven years, went straight down the road, picked up a brick, chucked it through the jewellers' window and stood there waiting to be arrested, which he duly was. For his sins, which must have been many and varied, he was sent to see me. I said to him, "You're really just trying to get back inside again, aren't you?" He said, with commendable honesty, "Yeah. Is there any chance?" I thought, "I've done 26 years in the House of Commons. This is worrying".

Somewhere out there, perhaps that man is listening to this debate. I would like to think that he is and that he could say what I said to him. I said that I would write to him when he was back inside again. So perhaps he will write to me and ask all the things that probation officers ask when they write to prisoners, such as: what is the food like; what is the governor like; and do you get banged up for this, that or the other? I would be able to say, "Well, the food here is pretty good, and actually we don't have a governor; we have a very nice chap who sits on a Woolsack. On top of that, we don't get banged up for speaking out of turn".

Indeed, from my relatively short time here, it seems to me that Members of the House of Lords have turned speaking out of turn into an art form, whereas in the Commons it is a highly developed statistical skill. I am sure that the Speaker now has to take a degree in statistics in order to get the calling of Members right. Both systems work, although if you tried to take the place of another person who was getting up to speak during Questions in the Commons, there would be a pretty impressive row, and I do not know how well it would work. In any event, no doubt my ex-client would have sat there thinking, "This poor lad. I always knew he was going off the rails". He would have written to me, I am sure.

The other thing that struck me when I came here—I had not noticed it before, despite the fact that I used to show constituents and others this place as well as the House of Commons—was that two lines, two sword lengths apart, are not drawn on the Floor in this
 
31 Oct 2005 : Column 31
 
Chamber. Those of us who were in the Commons can draw two conclusions from that. One is that noble Lords are far more respectful and decent to each other; the other is that here there is an opportunity to get your jab in first, which is the much more brutalised approach that one finds in the House of Commons.

Those are some of my initial thoughts, and I now want to turn briefly to the subject of the Bill. If I had been asked five or 10 years ago whether we should have identity cards, I would have said no, but I would not have said that with any great principle or strength of feeling because I knew then, as I do now, that many democratic countries around the world have identity cards. So I do not think that this can be turned into a matter of principle.

One thing that made me begin to think again about the need for identity cards was the fact that in the late 1990s the area that I represented—Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush—like a number of areas represented by constituency MPs, had a very large number of ethnic minorities. They came here either as asylum seekers or refugees, or they came for work or other purposes. It is true that sometimes there is a problem of abuse by such people. It happens, and we should bear in mind that towards the end of my time in that constituency I would have 400 current cases at any given time, so you do build up a lot of experience. But that was not the only kind of abuse; there was also abuse by employers, and I cannot stress that enough.

I shall return to the subject of how an identity card might work on that basis in a moment but, first, I want to say that I came across employers who knowingly employed people who should not have been here—they had entered the country illegally. On top of that, those employers were paying below the minimum wage and, on top of that, they were taking money off the employees for accommodation and food. That is particularly true in some trades—the restaurant trade among others. They would also charge them tax. One was told, "We will collect your tax for you". I understand the difficulty of saying that an ID card will solve that. We need a system whereby an employer does not have an excuse and cannot say he did not know. Consider some of the cases before the courts at the moment. I do not want to mention the Chinese cockle-pickers' case as that is at present before the courts, but I want to use it to remind Members how desperately serious the situation is. I do not know how we can control the situation without a much better system of identification than we have.

I believe that Clause 18 is profoundly important as it says that one does not have to carry a card at all times. That is something that troubles people outside this House. If one does not have to carry one's card at all times, it will not be as intrusive and will not lead to stop-and-search as some groups fear. Clause 14 is also important as it enables one to know, up to a certain limit, what is on a card. The limits concern not the personal information per se on a card, but certain circumstances in which security forces might want to look at a card. My noble friend Lady Kennedy has said that she will put me right on this later, but remember
 
31 Oct 2005 : Column 32
 
that one has some protection under the European Court of Human Rights legislation because access to a card for certain reasons has to be proportionate.

The ID Bill was bound to come. It is very difficult to argue that modern democracies do not need such legislation. Cards are not counter-intuitive to the democratic form, to the rule of law or to freedom of speech. If they were, that would be a principal reason to oppose them. The Government have to get the detail right and I hope that they will listen to and consider some of the amendments that have been tabled because people must feel confident in the system. Confidence in the system, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, will know, is very important. As the opposition spokesman said, this will be a long debate. I hope that there will be some movement on amendments, but overall the Bill is necessary. It was bound to come about and if we use it well it can protect people from extreme abuse which is something I very much want to do.

4.22 pm


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page