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Lord Waddington: My Lords, I hope noble Lords will bear with me if I start with a little bit of history. I think that I have my old identity card somewhere. When I came across it a year or two ago, it was an unpleasant reminder of the post-war years when Britain was clinging on to war-time controls long abandoned by others. Identity cards did not long survive the arrival of the Conservative government in 1951, and when they were eventually abolished the general mood of the people was "Thank goodness, we are just getting back a little bit of the liberty which we willingly sacrificed during the war years". But I have to remind noble Lordsand I am sorry to say this in view of the excellent contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenswhat really hastened the demise of identity cards were revelations of abuse of power by the police.
In one case in 1951, Lord Goddard castigated the police for using powers passed to safeguard national security to require motorists to produce identity cards as a matter of routine whenever they were stopped on the road for whatever reason. In another case, two girls minded to spend the night in a hotel with men friends registered in false names and were prosecutedmark you, prosecuted under a measure passed for reasons of national security. I do not think that anyone in the House today would be brave enough to say that under this scheme, such abuse would not take place.
The Government's aim is eventually to make it compulsory for everyone to be included on the national identity register and to have an identity card. How can it possibly be right to give the Secretary of State power to move from a voluntary to a compulsory scheme by use of secondary, rather than primary, legislation, even with the super-affirmative procedure? How can that possibly be right when the Government apparently take the view that this House would not be entitled to reject an order under Clause 7 to make the scheme compulsory? But that is what the Minister in the other place, Mr Burnham, said in Committee on the Bill on 12 July at col. 216. I hope that I am wrong. I hope that the Minister in the other place was speaking out of turn. If he was, I hope that the noble Baroness will say so and quickly because it is absolutely outrageous to have a scheme in the Bill
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under which the Government can move from a voluntary to a compulsory scheme without this House being able to do anything at all about it.
Perhaps even more worrying is the fact that long before the Secretary of State makes the necessary orders under Clause 6, the scheme will have ceased to be voluntary by a sort of creeping compulsion. A citizen will not be able to renew a passport or a driving licence without registering under the scheme. As time goes by, the Government will no doubt use the order-making power in Clause 4 to designate other documents, such as TV licences and credit cards, as documents that cannot be issued without an entry in the register. Although Clause 15(3) specifically rules out making it compulsory to carry a card, the individual will soon find it very inconvenient if he does not. More and more organisations from banks to public libraries to department stores will decline to provide a service or supply goods unless a card is produced; and when the citizen is stopped by the police, it will look pretty suspicious if he cannot produce a card to verify his name and address, even if, in theory, the police cannot demand one.
I do not argue that no national identification scheme could ever be justified, but when the Government present to Parliament a Bill that gives the Secretary of State power to make no less than 61 statutory instruments; when they ask for enormously wide powers to collect and store on a national identity register information about every person in the land and then allow that information to be accessed by a wide range of public bodies; when they seek power to require the citizen to have a card and to pay the cost of getting it, and keeping it up to date, it is surely up to the Government to show not just that some benefit may come of it all, but that the scheme is absolutely necessary to meet the threat that the country faces and that the cost in terms of individual liberty and money is absolutely justified. So far, the Government have done nothing of the sort.
But will it? We all know that the 9/11 terrorists travelled under their own identities, as did those who attacked Madrid, and the Home Secretary has admitted that identity cards would not have stopped the London bombers. Surely the real problem with criminals, terrorist and non-terrorist, is not one of identifying suspects but one of trying to catch and convict them. Strangely enough, as was made absolutely plain by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, a short time ago, that is exactly what the police said when the Conservative government proposed an identity cards scheme back in 1995. The police also saidand their words were echoed by Mr Blair at the 1995 Labour conferencethat an identity cards scheme would deflect financial and policing resources
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away from crime prevention and crime detection. Here is a quotation from none other than Mr Blair at Brighton in 1995:
The Government say that identity cards would help to prevent identity fraud. I wonder. Forging cards will be difficult, but the rewards of success will be all the greater as a result. The forged card will be of considerable value because it will be accepted as positive proof of the false identity, and the criminal industry of stealing and manufacturing identities will prosper as never before. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, will agree with me on that.
Everyone knows that benefit fraud is rarely a matter of identity. It usually involves lying about one's state of health, disability, dependants or earnings. This is what Chris Pond, a government Minister, said to the Home Affairs Committee in April 2004:
The Government raise the subject of immigration control and illegal working by immigrants. That is pretty brave of them, considering the almost total disintegration of immigration control, with enough immigrants coming in last year to people a city the size of Leicester. The Home Secretary no doubt intends to use the Bill to show that he is doing something about that major scandal, when he must know that he is doing nothing and that the Bill will do nothing. Illegal immigrants are usually either people smuggled in without valid documents or people with valid documents overstaying their leave to be here. As for illegal working, employers are supposed to require documents now. They are supposed to ask anybody who comes to work whether he has a national insurance number. But they do not ask and they will not ask.
On costs, as many noble Lords will know, I have unhappy memories of the community charge, and I would not wish the same trouble on any of my successors. But if the scheme goes ahead, the Government will have created their very own plastic poll tax. The scheme, we are told, will involve the biggest computer contract in western Europe for 20 years, and we know what has happened to other vast projects. The NHS computer scheme was originally predicted to cost £1 billion; it is now the subject of estimates ranging up to £30 billion. The Government recently estimated the set-up costs of this scheme at £5.8 billion. That in itself is almost double what Mr Blunkett said only a year ago. We are told that that would mean a charge for the combined passport and ID card of £93 and £30 for the card alone. That would be burdensome for some, particularly when to it must be added the cost of travel to the place where the card must be issued, the charge leviable when the card has to be updated as a result of, say, a
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change of address, and the penalty of up to £1,000 payable when a change of circumstances is not reported.
But of course nobody thinks that in the event the cost of the card will be limited to anything remotely like £30. The LSE study puts the launching costs as, at the very lowest, £10 billion, and at the highest, £19 billionnearly four times what the Government have said and which means that the charge for a card and a passport would be between £200 and £300, with perhaps a third of that for the card alone.
Personally, I find it extraordinary that the Government should be planning to charge the citizen anything for a piece of plastic that they insist on thrusting on to him whether he wants it or not, let alone to charge him the punishing sum being suggested by respected experts. But more generally, if they want this Bill to reach the statute book they have got to make a far better effort than they have thus far to explain why these enormously wide powers are necessary and how they are going to avoid the cost of the scheme spiralling out of control.
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