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Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, and oppose the Government's Motion. Motion A1 offers the Government an honourable and reasonable compromise. It comes as near as possible to giving the Government what they say they need while preserving, with the opt-out provision, the vital element of personal freedom to which the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, has referred.
The Home Secretary said last week that he welcomed the helpful intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, and that he was grateful to him for his efforts to resolve the impasse on the matter of compulsion in the initial stage of rolling out the national register and ID card scheme. We, too, are grateful to him. He has taken a most constructive course and we give him our full support.
As has been explained by the noble Lord and the Minister, last week we offered a different compromise to the Government, but they rejected it, despite the fact that we had tried to move a significant way towards the Government's position. The Government offered no hope of any discussions on a compromise that might resolve the impasse that we faced. We could have insisted today upon that amendment. However, we decided that it was far better to show even further flexibility by supporting the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong. His approach endorses the principle that we have espoused throughout our debates on the Bill: that it would be wrong to make the right to leave this country for all those who need a new passport conditional upon succumbing to the compulsion to be entered on the national identity register and by an ID card.
As the Minister said, our debates have been long and complex. However, personal freedom is a matter of the utmost importance to all of us, so it is right to have taken time. I have made it clear throughout our debates on this Bill that we are seeking to reach agreement with the Government on this matter, and we remain resolved to do so.
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The Home Secretary and the Minister have claimed that this amendment would have the same defect as that offered by the House last week: it would introduce a degree of uncertainty into the plans for rolling out ID cards on a compulsory basis linked to a person's application for a passport. But the Home Secretary has himself introduced a greater element of uncertainty by advising those who want to escape compulsion in this initial stage to surrender their existing passport and apply for a new one before the designation order takes effect. The Minister referred to that advice again today.
Let us put aside the obvious financial penalty that would be imposed on a family who have a long period to run on their existing passports, and would, under the Home Secretary's advice, have to stump up the cost of new passports earlier than they expected. The fact is that the Home Secretary himself proposed to put more uncertainty into the system, because his advice maintains the need for two databases for a longer period. Last week, I pointed out that the Government's own position on the number of databases is obscure. Neither the Minister, nor the Home Secretary in another place, rebutted those arguments.
The Government's system of compulsion by stealth in the initial period has real complexity in its arrangements. It must enable those who do not need a passport to sign up for an ID card. There will have to be a record of those true volunteers, in addition to those who are forced to have an ID card if they need to travel abroad for work or to visit their relatives. There is also still some confusion over whether the Government intend to adapt the passport system into the proposed national identity register; whether a separate NIR would ultimately replace the passport system; or whether the two would co-exist.
Whatever the decision, it is clear that the ID scheme would involve multiple systems developed over time to achieve multiple functions. During our debates last week, I pointed out that the Government's policy on how they would run the scheme is still evolving. Instead of the system the Government talked about in both Houses, whereby verification of identity would be by electronic readers, Mr Burnham now says that the Government plan to use the chip and PIN system at first.
Are the Government still making up their ID card policy on a daily basis? Well, indeed, they are. A peek at the Guardian last Thursday proved that. Health officials have now revealed that the personal data gathered on all of us could be held by several different companies, rather than in one central government database. That is one more dramatic change from the information given to us in our long debates on the Bill. It is clear that the Government have not yet determined the initial architecture of the IT system; but, as I said before, I am not necessarily criticising them for thatit may be no bad thing. If the Government are prepared to take the time to consider carefully a more effective, reliable and fair system, I would welcome thatand so, I think, would the majority of Members of this House.
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The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, has shown us that we could find a sensible compromise on the matter of the promised voluntary rollout, as against the threatened compulsion in the initial stages. The Government's own Back-Benchers in another place advised the Government last Tuesday to adopt a compromise approach if this House returned the Bill to another place once more. I hope that the Government take the advice of their Back-Bench colleagues to heart, even if they continue to ignore me. I remain an optimist. I believe that there are always reasonable and honourable solutions to problems. It is right to take the time, now, and act in good faith to find those solutions.
The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, has had the most distinguished career. His expertise in reaching sensible solutions to seemingly intractable problems is second to none. His solution seems startlingly obvious. It is simple; it is just; it is fair. It is a very British compromise. I trust him, and will support him as he assists us all today to reach a solution to the problems we face.
When the Minister made her introductory remarks today, she carefully pointed out that the Government rejected this amendment, and gave the reasons for doing so. But she also said, very carefully, that she would listen to what the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said. I thought that was a constructive approach. If the Minister remains unable to join in the spirit of compromise offered with this Cross-Bench amendment, I shall strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, in the Lobby, and I will urge all my noble friends to join me.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong. He has released me from my impalement on an amendment that I have moved four times. I was only too happy to see his name on the Marshalled List today. For all the reasons that he so reasonably gave in a remarkably reasonable justification, I urge the House to support him in the amendment.
I merely want to add two or three points to what has been said. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, referred, perfectly fairly, to the laborious consideration given to the Bill in this place. It comes to 76 hours, and I am so deranged as to have spent
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75 hours and 55 minutes of those 76 hours sitting in my place. None the less, it has been a House of Lords exercise of which we should be proud. This is not any old Bill. It is a Bill that has the widest ramifications of cost, longevity, scope and, above allechoing the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrongin terms of the citizen's liberty and the relationship between the citizen and the state. I note that the Minister did not refer to any of those issues. Maybe that is right, maybe it is not. It may be a reflection of an increasing sensitivity in this Government to what might be called the "liberty issues" in relation to this massive scheme.
To those on the other side of the House who have said that we on these Benches have opposed the Bill root and branch, I would add the following fact: we have put forward 150 or so amendments to the Bill and roughly 40 of them have been accepted by the Government as ameliorating amendments. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, was kind enough to compliment our efforts when we reached the end of Report stage. Any suggestion that the amendments that have been tabled hitherto, let alone the amendment that has been tabled today, were produced in a wrecking spirit cannot be substantiated.
I accept that a Bill that started in the other place, and that has been considered as much as it has in this place, must reach the statute book. One single issue remains that prevents it reaching the statute book. The argument is made that it is wrong of us to persist in our constitutional objection and that we are wrong on constitutional grounds. Indeed, it was suggested last week that we are in some sort of constitutional crisis. There is not much sign of it in the media. I am not sure how much, if any, notice this debate will receive in the media, but as long as they remember that the ping comes from here and the pong from the other place, I am happy.
This is the fifth time that we have sent the Bill back. This is a sensible and cautious House. The Cross Benches are highly sensitive to charges of an excess of partisan zeal. Therefore, why are we here again, in large numbers and led by a Cross-Bencher? It comes down to one fact, and, in saying that, I do not override the basic objection enunciated by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong. On Sunday, Geoff Hoon, the Leader of the Commons, said in an interview with Sky News Sunday programme:
"But it's always been recognised, indeed said to be a convention of the constitution, that once a government puts into its manifesto a particular proposal, then the House of Lords would not stand in the way of that proposal becoming law.
Others have been sayingand the Minister, Andy Burnham, said it this week"Actually forget the manifesto. What you must look at is the Bill that preceded the manifesto and the Bill that succeeded the manifesto. That is what you must look at". That is not what the convention is. That is not what Geoffrey Hoon saidand rightly said. The trouble with Mr Hoon is that he had not read his own manifesto, or he would not have dared advance the case that, "We set that out clearly in the manifesto". Yes, they set it out clearly. The thing that sticks in the gullets of the majority in this House is the thought that we are doing our duty to support an act of dishonour by the other place in relation to a manifesto. How can it conceivably be a convention that this House should underpin a policy and a piece of legislation within months of an election where the Government explicitly said:
I know that noble Lords opposite do not like those words being mentioned. But they are at the heart of the constitutional feeling on this side of the House that this is not an occasionand I agree absolutely with the assertion of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrongon which we should be inhibited in resisting this single but vital aspect of the Bill.
Finally, I would just say that events shift and uncertainties seem to breed. For those of your Lordships who think that this uniquely large and comprehensive ID card scheme is a well considered, well-founded and well constructed plan of campaign, I beg you to read the 42 pages of witness statements given to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee last week, published yesterday, and if any of your Lordships really think, quite apart from any other issues, that this is a ship on which to sail on the high seas, I can only think that we inhabit different realms.
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