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The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, says that nothing undermines the state of politics more than passing a Bill of this kind. I say to him that nothing undermines people's trust and confidence in politics than a Bill that is increasingly supported by a majority of the people, that people want to be enacted, and that has twice been approved by the other placean elected assemblybut which the alliance opposite believes should be rejected. It is that which is undermining the political process and undermining trust.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, referred to the surveillance society and the noble Baroness last week referred to this being a fascist Bill. I can tell her what fascism is: it is the destruction of the individual. This Bill is about recognising the individual and giving the individual an identity. Members opposite laugh. That is because they do not have a clue, frankly, what the people of this country think. They do not understand why the people of this country wish to have identity cards.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, will the noble Lord kindly give way? Can he say how he personally knows what the people of this country think? Can he also tell me why I need an identity? I already have an identity. I know who I am.
Lord Gould of Brookwood: My Lords, the first way in which I know is that there was a general electiona party won and a party lostand this measure was in the manifesto. The union opposite distorts what, to me, is a clear move towards a stage of compulsion. That is the first way.
I shall tell noble Lords opposite why I know what the public think: it is because we asked them what they think, and they said that they support identity cardsand they support identity cards in significant numbers, with a great majority. It is such a failure for the House and Members opposite not to understand that if the people's will is rejected time and time again, confidence in this process will be undermined. I say to the House that enough is enough. Let us follow the will of the people. Let us trust the people, as the noble Baroness opposite said, and let us move on.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, perhaps I may say in answer that if it is really the case that the people were mad enough to choose voluntarily to bring themselves under a system of compulsion which will expose the innermost secrets of their lives to identity theft, which is already growing and which will make them extremely vulnerable, I am very disappointed in the public. I would be most interested to meet the kind of people the noble Lord meets because I can imagine no one saying, "Yes, I want a passport, but I also insist on having compulsorily an identity card which will put me at risk".
Incidentally, the very creation of such an enormous national identity register will be a present to terrorists; it will be a splendid thing for them to disrupt and blow up. It will also provide valuable information to organised crime and to the intelligence services of unfriendly countries. It will be accessible to all of these. I find it extraordinarily difficult to believe why anyone would voluntarily and enthusiastically come forward and say, "Do let me join this dangerous club".
The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, I am not sure whether there have been many contributions from these Benches at the earlier stages of the Bill. I hope that this one brief contribution will be allowed now.
I come to this matter in relation to the other Bills which have been before the House relating broadly to the area known as civil liberties. On those matters, I found myself siding quite clearly with the concerted opposition to the Government's proposals. However, on this matter I find myself more persuaded by the position the Government have taken, while accepting that there is a judgment to be made and, as with all these issues, a balance to be struck.
We are told that to have identity cards and the national identity register as eventually a compulsory measureand, as an interim step, a compulsory measure for those who have other documentswould fundamentally change the relationship between the individual and the state. We must recognise, however, that that relationship has been changing for a long time. A hundred years ago, you could travel anywhere
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in Europe, and get a job anywhere in Europe, without a passport. The world changed during the 20th century. Of course, restrictions were introduced during the two world wars. In the context of the 21st century, it is inevitable that, sooner or later, something like the proposal before us will come.
For those reasons, I think that the Government are probably doing a sensible thing in taking this step. Technically, and in reality, it might be somewhat differentperhaps, to some noble Lords, very differentfrom what was in the manifesto. Is not it likely, however, that prevention of terrorism is precisely the area in which government thinking would move on relatively quickly? I agree that a great deal of information will be provided that currently is not provided when we apply for a passport, but I find the description of the details to be requested as the innermost secrets of our lives or an intimate audit trail to be an overstatement. I note, however, that we must give the date of our death as part of the information, which is perhaps food for thought.
In the 21st century, we face difficult threats to determine and assess. We live in an ever more global age in which, to some degree, there is a clash of civilisationsperhaps of several different civilisations with a whole series of interfaces. Our global culture of communications and travel makes that extremely sensitive and difficult. I believe that it would be wise for the House to accept the will of the other place on this matter and then to concentrate on the things that really matterhow the register is to be protected, how it is to be safeguarded, how it is to be used, and all the other questions including costs.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the right reverend Prelate, but I am not sure that this is the appropriate time for a Second Reading speech. Had he been in the House at earlier stages he would have heard all the debate about the protection of the register and the other points that he raises.
Lord Monson: My Lords, in her winding-up speech on this matter nine days ago, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, suggested in so many words, at col. 568 of the Official Report, that acquiring an identity card was no more cumbersome or intrusive than acquiring a new biometric passport. At that point it was clear that the House was anxious to proceed swiftly to a Division, so I did not intervene. Will she now concede, however, that there is one major difference between ID cards and biometric passports?
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A person who acquires a biometric passport will not be obliged to inform central government every time he or she moves house, on pain of a penalty of up to £1,000. It is this prospect that will infuriate members of the public once they discover it, which, at the moment, very few have.
Lord Peston: My Lords, I intervene with reluctance. I say immediately that I have no intention of debating identity cards in what I have to say. Unlike Mozart's music, hearing the speeches on this subject once is enough. We do not need to hear them several times, as seems to be offered at the moment.
This is not about identity cards. It is a serious constitutional question about the relationship between this House and the other place. I am just about to enter my 20th year here, and I know of no example of misbehaviourI use that word advisedlyof this House corresponding to what is being proposed at present. We are a scrutiny House and any legitimacy that we have is based on our dispassionate scrutiny of legislation. Our role is to expose the nature of Bills and to ask the other place whether it would like to think again. I remind your Lordships that the Government do not have a majority in this House, nor do the Official Opposition. In my judgment, there will never, in our lifetimes or beyond, be a majority in this House for an elected government in this country. The House will always be as it is now, balanced broadly between the Government and the principal Opposition, with plenty of other Peers as well.
Unless the Official Opposition have come to the conclusion that they will never form the government of this country again, they are behaving in the most foolhardy way imaginable in suggesting that we should send this back to the Commons yet again. The other House may be wrongI do not want to argue about that; it is often wrongbut it is the elected Chamber. I thought that we had for some time accepted that it was the primary Chamber, and whether it was right or wrong, it must get its own way. I have not the slightest doubt about that. Noble Lords who are in favour of the amendment may well be rightI do not know as I do not have the expertise. But whether we are right or wrong is now completely irrelevant to what is confronting us. What is confronting us is a very deep constitutional matter. We have asked the other place to think about this twice, and twice is sufficient. Not only would it be unconstitutional, but I advise noble Lords opposite that if they are ever in government again, they will be deeply sorry if they create a precedent on this matter today.
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