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The Government introduced the Bill with the intention of protecting the public. To give that protection, they seek power and the public will expect that it be exercised in trust for those for whose protection it is given. Power based on trust should be the key to our acceptance of the Bill. I am a fervent believer in human rights, our traditional values and our sense of liberty. But I also accept the dynamics of
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modern society: terrorism that is as technologically adept as the private citizen could ever hope to be; crime that uses the newest methods of information and communication to cause damage to us, the people; and immigration, the proper control of which is, whether we wish it or not, a predominant preoccupation among many. These are the fundamental features of our society and they are dynamic. I simply do not accept that in dealing with them the law as we have always known it should be static. But if power is to be based on trust, that power must be exercised within reasonable limits.
The Bill has three components: the principle, the implementation and the cost. On the principle, I accept the wisdom of others. As to the threat to our national security, particularly from terrorism, I adopt the measured approach of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew.
On crime I accept the advice of an experienced and eminent policeman, the noble Lord, Lord Stevens; on the importance of immigration I accept the knowledge of my noble friend Lord Gould with his particular experience of gauging public thinking; and on the threat I accept the wisdom of my noble friend Lord Bhattacharyya. We simply have to realise that they are ahead of us.
So the Bill in principle surely is acceptable. But it would be wrong, both in supporting it or opposing it, to descend into the apocalyptic. The principle is there to serve the protection of the public. The critical question, if that is a proper principle, is its implementation and the cost of it. Let us turn to the implementation. I have two, I hope, constructive proposals to make about itone of detail, but important detail, and one more far reaching. The detail is that, to my surprise, under Clause 27(7) somebody who is in possession of apparatus and equipment for the production of passports is punishable only by a sentence of two years' imprisonment. I realise that there are more serious offences in that clause commanding a sentence of 10 years, but I find a maximum of two years for the carrier of apparatus to be used for the production of false identity cards to be hopelessly inadequate. That is a detail, but I hope that it illustrates that if we are to protect the public, let us protect them with some force where required.
The second proposal is a more general consideration about implementationpower based on trust. To give the Secretary of State, as the Bill does, nearly 60 statutory obligations and powers is remarkable in its extent, both numerically and in the scope of what it allows him or her to do. I do not object, provided there is adequate control and oversight. Why should the commissioner be responsible to the Government? Surely the commissioner should be responsible to the public to ensure that this statute is being properly applied with effect in the public interest, and be in a position to deal with any necessary changes or complaints by way of individual report or, in particular, by report to this House. That is no unreasonable restraint on executive power; it merely
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reflects the obligation on the Government to report to the people through an independent person on the exercise of powers as far ranging as these. Those are genuine concerns. If the provision is power based on trust, then it should be a proper and balanced agreement between those who exercise the power and those who give that power to be exercised.
I turn to the cost. Clause 42 is disarmingly brief. It simply gives power to the Secretary of State to spend whatever is required to implement the scheme. I am concerned. This is a massive exercise in administration, in finance and in planning. Government ministries are not the usual receptacles for such arrangements to be efficiently managed. They cause tremendous difficulty in public companies and commercial life. So I have some suggestions to make.
First, contracting should be privatised. The Government should contract for identity card manufacturing and changes with professional outside adviserscommercial, legal and technicalwith the most powerful of penalty clauses and the ability of "we the people", paying our taxes to the Government, to make sure the supplier does his job effectively. It can be done. Every country in Europe that uses identity cards has done it without undue cost. Secondly, it should be phased in step by step to see how any changes needed can and should be made. Thirdly, the system should be maintained cost-effectively. Lastly, the cost-effectiveness should be reported on to Parliament. Expenditure in this area may run into billions of pounds. We are talking about an issue that is central to the security of our people. Its cost, prudently managed, is a topic for us all.
I have dealt with the powers, principles, implementation and cost. Those matters require legislative management of the Bill of great skill and care, such as we have come to expect from my noble friendgreat skill and care not simply to achieve its passage but to do so in a way that commands public confidence. When, in trust, you give power and it succeeds, you command public confidence. When you give trust to power and it does not work, there is a failure of public confidence. That is unacceptable in a matter as grave is this.
I support the Bill, but I do so objectively, on the basis of reason and in the hope that where change becomes appropriate in Committee, it will be reasonably debated and, where sensible, properly accepted.
Baroness Corston: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to make a very brief contribution to this debate. One feature of being an elected politician is that one's opinions are frequently and, sometimes, painfully tested in the furnace of public opinion. When the Government announced that they were consulting on identity cards in August 2002, I decided to hold a consultation in my constituency. I sent the consultation paper to 100 organisations and individuals in Bristol East. That was followed up by a meeting with the then Minister, my right honourable
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friend Beverley Hughes MP, for her to be able to explain in more detail what the scheme would entail and for people who had contributed to the consultation to talk to her about it and to give their views.
Their written responses were overwhelmingly in favour, as they were during the course of the consultation. Most of the arguments advanced that morning have been airedprincipally by my noble friendsbut there was one that I have not heard from any noble Lord. It came from Asian women. My constituency was in the inner-city, by and large, and contained some areas of extreme deprivation. Those women lived in an area of Bristol that was not wealthy. They were passionately in favour of identity cards and wanted them as soon as possible. They said: "We either do not have passports or do not have access to our passports because our husbands or fathers have them. We are not allowed to have bank accounts. We do not have savings accounts. We do not have store cards. We do not have utility bills. We do not exist. If we are victims of domestic violence and we go to the local authority housing office, wanting to be rehousedby the way, people for the local authority housing office were there that day, who confirmed thiswe cannot prove who we are. That puts the local authority in a really difficult position in helping us, because they must know who we are. So, if the Government made the scheme compulsory, we could go to our husbands or fathers and say, 'We must do this', and we would become someone".
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, we have had an interesting debate on this very controversial Bill. My own analysis so far indicates that almost 17 Members are in favour of the legislation and almost as many are against. I assume that the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, will follow her party line. An interesting factor is that some supporters of the Bill have reservations about a number of its aspects.
The Bill was introduced in February 2005. But despite its receiving a Second Reading at that time, we were not prepared to give consent for it to proceed beyond that stage. There have been minor changes to that enabling measure since then but our objections remain and our position has not changed. My noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury is right: we oppose the Bill.
I offer three main reasons for our opposition. One reason cited by noble Lords on this side of the House, and one of the most important ones, is that the Bill affects the fundamental relationship between the individual and the state, so ably demonstrated by the
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Select Committee on the Constitution, which reported last week. The constitutional significance of the changes has been well spelt out.
I commend my noble friend Lord Holme of Cheltenham on his contribution. I do not dispute that the Bill's provisions were included in the Labour Party manifesto. I have no problem with thatin case at some stage the Government think it appropriate to use the Parliament Act. But your Lordships' House, when we talk about constitutional matters, should look very carefully at noble and learned Lords' comments on matters of constitutional importance in the Hunting Act. They ought to be taken very seriously. I have the judgment with me, but I do not intend to refer to it at this stage.
The second reason for our opposition is that the Bill impinges on rights and liberties that we have enjoyed since the days of Magna Carta. Again, I commend the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, on that.
The third and most important reason relates to the Bill's purpose. In key areas of national security, identity cards cannot protect us from terrorists or acts of terrorism, and we do not believe that they will help us to tackle benefit fraud or substantial health fraud. In addition, ID cards have serious cost implications, of which so many noble Lords cited examples. In essence, it is a flawed system and will seriously harm community relations, particularly through its effect on certain groups in society, so often identified by many noble Lords in the context of stop-and-search (SAS) laws and related issues.
The Select Committee on the Constitution has produced an important report. I hope that reports of this nature will be debated in your Lordships' House. What is important about it is that the membership of the Constitution Committee comprises some of the most distinguished Members of your Lordships' House. The conclusions they have reached ought to be taken very seriously. The committee gave the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, an opportunity to put the Government's case. But there remains a serious concern that the scheme envisaged will record in a single database,
Why do we need so much information? That is not the case in many of the western countries cited by noble Lords opposite. Let me start with some of the possible assumptions the Government have made in their consultation document, Entitlement Cards and Identity Fraud. We are told that a card scheme could be a powerful weapon in combating illegal immigration. If that is the case, why do we not sort out the chaotic immigration procedure that lets in illegal entrants? We are to have biometric passports whether we like it or not; they will be introduced. But we have a choice which identity cards do not offer, and compulsion must be next in line.
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If we had proper, managed migration, a proper system of admission of those economic migrants whose services we require and a proper method of dealing with those who are genuinely being persecuted and are seeking refuge here, identity cards then become less relevant. Identity cards cannot be forced upon people who enter this country. They will not have a card when they come here to seek refuge. The cards are designed for those lawfully settled in this country. How identity cards will stop illegal entrants baffles the imagination.
We have said that we would support a system of immigration based on the United Kingdom's needs. We will support a system which is designed to help refugees and to deal effectively with those who enter the country unlawfully. Identity cards will do no such thing. To set up this aspect of policy as an end to all illegal immigration is just not true. It is not possible. It may placate the tabloid newspapers, but its impact would be negligible. The noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, has been a good friend. He had my full support when he was the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. But by their own admission the Government have confirmed that the Bill is unlikely to make any difference to the general powers of the police to stop people for no reason or to demand proof of identity. So all the hoo-hah that someone can simply produce an identity card when they are stopped by the police is just a nonsense. There is no obligation on anyone to do that.
The only justification the police have is to obtain quicker and more reliable access to confirmed identification so that the time spent in police custody is reduced. But I am afraid that that also makes no sense. I have served as a magistrate, I have worked in prisons and I worked for the Commission for Racial Equality. Large numbers of suspects provide adequate information when questioned, and at present many stops and searches do not lead to a process of arrest. Identity cards are only marginal so far as policing matters are concerned. The police do not like fishing expeditions. Intelligence-based policing is more likely to be effective than identity cards.
Quite simply, the Bill before us specifically prohibits any regulations whose effect would be to require an individual to carry an identity card with him at all times. But of course that position may change at some stage.
We know that the Bill has had a very difficult birth. Let us cast our minds back and consider the headlines in the old days when David Blunkett was the Home Secretary and he faced serious opposition from some of his own colleagues in the Cabinet. But every time the argument has been knocked down by the Opposition, the Government have come up with a new one. Even magicians will confirm that there is a limit to how many rabbits you can produce from one hat. The Government must now be, I suspect, scraping the bottom of the barrel as far as this legislation is concerned.
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According to the Government, you do not have to carry the card. If that is the case, how will it be effective against terrorism? Even if it is made compulsory, will it stop terrorism? The Government should speak to the police in Madridwe didand ask them if identity cards would have made a difference there. They did not believe that having an identity card would have made any difference whatever; it would not have helped to stop the terrorist attack. It is absurd to think that ID cards would have stopped the bombings of our Tube and buses undertaken by the British-born terrorists on 7 July.
Of course we acknowledge the serious threat of terrorism. In the majority of cases that have been identified, terrorists did not use false or multiple identities. The problem of passport fraud, identified by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, will be, to an extent, resolved when the international community reaches a decision on the kind of passport required.
Past evidence in the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries abroad demonstrates that terrorists are capable of carrying out atrocities without changing their identities. Identity cards are of little relevance to those who are hell bent on destroying themselves. We may know the identity of someone, but that does not tell us what they are about to do. Let us take, for example, the classic case of Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber. Even if he had had an identity card, would it have given a clue about what he was about to do? Those who wish to destroy themselves do not care whether or not they have an identity document. This pattern is well established among suicide bombers. The Government's argument is seriously flawed if they think that this is the way to stop terrorists or their activities.
Let me put another point. If this matter is so urgent and the threat from terrorists in this country is so compelling, why will we have to wait eight to 10 years for the system to become compulsory? If we need it for that reason, surely we need it now. This does not make sense at all. I do not dispute that an identity card would provide people who are lawfully resident in the United Kingdom with a means of confirming their identity to a high degree of assurance. The problem is that it will stop neither terrorism nor illegal immigration, the planks on which the identity card argument was based in the first instance.
The Government's other objective is to help people gain entitlement to products and services provided by both public and private sectors, particularly those who might find it difficult to do so at presentwe do not dispute thatand there is of course benefit and health fraud, but I fail to see what that has to do with identity. The vast amount of health and benefit fraud that occurs in the United Kingdom would not be stopped by the availability of identity cards. Is it not the case that only 5 per cent of cases involve individuals pretending to be someone they are not?
The cost implications of the introduction of ID cards still remain a mystery. How much will it cost? What technology do the Government have in mind? This is a major national investment which requires
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intense security. It has to be evaluated on the basis of the other cards and other identity documents that many people possess.
Who will operate the system, and who will be responsible for the protection of readable data? Is the Data Protection Act enough to protect that information? What guarantees are there that they will not be accessed for other purposes? It can be acceptable when a government are sympathetic, but information stored on identity cards in the hands of a government who are not sympathetic, particularly on immigration and other matters, could be put to some very worrying uses.
The Government have not had much luck with computerised services. We have been given examples of where they have worked, but those of us who have worked in the criminal justice system know jolly well that in many cases the services have not delivered what they have set out to do. We will need a lot of convincing that a foolproof system that will not break down is available.
Even before these questions have been answered, we see the unique situation in Wales. The National Assembly for Wales, under devolved powers, can take its own decision about ID cards on health provision. It has said that it will not ask for ID cards. Here is an example of the first unilateral declaration of independence from that Labour stronghold. Listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, I suspect that that may happen in Scotland as well.
There is a serious concern in the regulatory impact assessment about complex procedures and cultural problems. We have seen the impact of stop-and-search powers on our black and minority ethnic communities. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has produced research evidence from Europe which suggests that,
The other issue identified by the regulatory impact assessment is that only certain groups will be asked for proof of identity. I suspect that like the anti-terrorist legislation that caused so many problems for the Government, this provision is likely to be considered disproportionate in its use, discriminatory towards foreign nationals and adversarial in its impact on black and ethnic minority people in this country.
We want to know the true cost of the system; more importantly, we want to know, when fully operational, what will be the financial contribution of each citizen in the UK, together with the cost of the biometric readable passport that we will be obliged to produce. Then we can argue about what alternatives are available to us in place of ID cards, such as more police, more intelligence officers and more spending on secure borders.
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The success of a national identity card depends on a sensitive, cautious and co-operative approach, involving all key stakeholder groups, including an independent and rolling risk of assessment and a regular review of management practices. In essence, we are not convinced that we understand and agree with the scheme. Costs, no matter how the Government define them, will be excessive on society or the individual. We are not convinced that it can work or be effective, and we have no doubt that its impact on society and civil liberty will be extensive. We shall oppose this measure.
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