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Lord Desai: My Lords, I have been in favour of identity cards since way before the Labour Party came into government. I, along, with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharpleswho told me earlier today that she could not be bothered to speak yet again on identity cardshave been two solid supporters of identity cards, and we have always been that way. There are a number of issues that I should talk about.
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First, in some sense the whole debate about our ancient liberties perhaps may be resumed another day. But when that debate was first held, it was a hostile, oppressive monarchy that people were opposing. John Stuart Mill was writing at a stage when there was no universal franchise and it was an aristocratic government. At that time, the poorer people did not have the ancient liberties that we are talking aboutread E P Thompson on 18th century farmers. It is terrible to think that people were done for stealing from common property. I have always been sceptical about the idea that our ancient liberty started with Charles I or even before and has always been there. Real liberties came when universal adult franchise was established, and my party fought for it more than any other.
If a government are elected democratically, I would trust that government to look after my interests. I am not worried about the oppression that people talk about, because eventually any government in our system can be replaced. I would like the party opposite to say unequivocally that if it came to power it would abolish identity cards if it did not like them; it is very simple. It may come to power some day; it is not like the Liberal Democrats. It can promise that it will abolish them, and that would be interesting to hear.
I have had a lot of experience of identity cards and similar systems. When I went from India to America, everywhere you went around campuses in America you had to have an ID of some sort, partly in those days, because I was younger, to prove my age when I went drinking. Later on, when I became a frequent traveller to the United States I acquired an INS pass, for frequent travellers. They took my palm print, which allowed me quick access at New York airport. I just had to put down my palm and they checked it against the original print. Biometric data are reliable, they work, there is no great problem.
Lately in this country there has been an interesting discussion about whether there is too much diversity. Progressive, liberal people such as David Goodhart who edits Prospect and my friend Bob Rowthorn who is a professor at Cambridge have been arguing that immigration has resulted in too much diversity and the cohesion of the community is breaking down. I resist that argument, but the people who are making it are not racist and they are not right wing; they are really good, progressive people. That leads to the following thought. If there is that threat to the community, what is the common minimum core that we would gather around? It would have to be something in the public space. I agree with my noble friend Lord Gould who, in a very good speech, said that eventually citizens can share one thingeveryone will have an identity card, and that will tell them that they are part of the community.
I do not know about many other people, but my children certainly were always stopped by the police when walking down Holloway Road. That is routine. No hassle, they were walking down Holloway Road doing no harm and happened to be distinctly non-white and they got stopped and searched. There is not
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any problem. They survived all that. That sort of problem may be dealt with even when a card is not compulsory; I bet you that a member of an ethnic minority community would find it useful to carry it.
I shall tell you another reason why. Ten years ago, my passport ran out so I got my passport renewed and left my old and new passports in a cab. I had to go abroad in three days' time, so I went round to the post office and said, "I need some kind of identity documentI have to go". The reply was, "Sorry, sircan't do that. You must give me your original immigration document". I said, "Look, I've lived here for 30 years. I'm a Member of the House of Lords. What is wrong with me?". This lovely lady, who was Afro-Caribbean herself, said, "I'm sorry, but I'm not allowed to give you an identity card because you have not been born here". Even citizenspassport holdersof dusky colour are not the same as people not of dusky colour.
It is useless to pretend that all oppression is going to end and that we shall go back to Star Chamber; no doubt arguments will remain. Given the ethnic diversity in this country, in the multicultural context of absorbing the community, doubts are arising now about a variety of people. We are asking how we can have home-grown terrorists. For God's sake, we have had home-grown terrorists in the IRA for 50 years, but because they were white no one worried about them being home-grown. It is only blacks who are not allowed to be home-grown terrorists. I shall not defend terrorists, but I want to say that the argument has not lost its asymmetry. We are trying our best but, if every citizen had an identity document, life would be simpler, at least for members of ethnic minorities.
It is possible for us to discuss details. For example, I would prefer a minimal identity card with minimal information on it. Then people might be able to choose to add more stuff, as my noble friend Lord Maxton said. Why not? After all, my information is already with all my credit card people. My bank has information. Every time that I call American Express, I am asked my mother's maiden name. Thank God I remember it; there might be inebriated moments when I lose that. I would rather trust the statea democratically elected governmentto have information on me than the private sector, which already has the information on me.
There are two further matters. One is cost. Given that there are 45 million adults and the card could be a 10-year document, if it were to cost £5 per year that would be £50 per person. You begin to see that the kind of cost that people think of with horror is actually not that horrible. People talk in billions and so on, but divide by 45 million and all numbers look manageable. Even if the card was expensive, what is the alternative? Would you rather save moneyhave more policemen on the beat, to put it rhetoricallyand allow all sorts of terrorists to commit passport fraud and other sorts of fraud and leave yourselves subject to that?
I want to say one more thing because the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, is in his place. He talked about how he had met pre-war émigrés who were so relieved
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that they were in a country where there were no passports. As we had passports in the Second World War, I thought that they must have sleepwalked through the war and perhaps existed without passports. People tell me that there were passports in this country and that our ancient liberties did not disappear.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, the noble Lord has obviously not understood what I attempted to convey on their behalf. I was talking mainly about Jewish émigrés, who felt that they were coming to a country free of state intervention and control in a most general but pervasive way. That was the impression that I was trying to convey.
Lord Desai: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. Perhaps the difference was not that, but that they were in a country where a democratically elected government with universal franchise existed. That was not that prevalent before the Second World War, so they were entering a country in which they were secure, not because there was no identity cardthere wasbut because there was a democratically elected government. If you have a democratically elected government, you are trusted.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, it is pretty obvious from the debate that the Government will have a certain amount of difficulty getting the Bill on to the statute book so far as this House is concerned. I would like to put my position simply: I have always supported the need for a national identity register. Thus, I support the purpose behind the Bill, but I do not support the way in which the Bill proposes to achieve those purposes. I shall explain why in a moment. First, I would like to dealfrom my own perspective, anywaywith the fundamentalist libertarian objections to an ID measure, such as worry the Liberal Democrats in particular.
It is the functions of a state that make such a measure necessary. The very concept of a state, rather than a primitive anarchical society, means that the state must have information about those within its borders if it is to perform its fundamental functions of keeping security from external and internal threats and of helping those of its citizens who need help. I am a Burkean Conservative. I believe that the role of a state is to hold the ringto protect the citizen from exploitation or ill treatment, whether as an individual, consumer, employee or investor, in times of sickness, childhood or ill health. That is where I come from, but there is nothing new in that.
"In those days a decree was issued by the Emperor Augustus for a general registration throughout the Roman world. This was the first registration of its kind; it took place when Quirinius was governor of Syria".
Another example, about a thousand years later, was William the Conqueror's Domesday Book, which was a very full record of his property-holding subjects. It not only identified a tax base but codified a feudal social system that lasted for the next 800 years and is still of some use today. We must recognise that the function of the state requires such information in various ways.
The state should have a link, via a number, between the name and the biometric details of a person. A card can produce its own problems. First, it produces all those emotive fears of tyranny and dictatorship"Vos papiers, monsieur" and so on. Secondly, I refer to a point made by my noble friend Lord Waddington: it seems that, as proposed by the Government, the card could lead to forgery because, as I understand it, it is to have on it a chip incorporating the biometric details of the holder. Last year, I took part in the passport service biometrics enrolment trial. My "demonstration card", as it is calledit states that I must not use it for anythinghas a chip containing my photograph, fingerprints and iris recognition pattern. But if the chip is on the card, therein lies the danger. If someone presents a card with a name on it and the chip is used to identify what that person shows when he presses his finger or shows his eyes, it will be very easy for al-Qaeda or anyone else cleverly to produce a false card. It is essential not that the biometric details are on the card but that they are held centrally somewhere different, so that down the line the investigating people can take the biometric details from the person concerned and check them with the central register. That is how it should work.
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