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Mr. Garnier: I had not appreciated that the Home Secretary was such a sensitive flower. I used the word "gulag" as shorthand for the processing process and for the construction of centres to which members of the public will have to come to have their details taken before they are submitted into this Government bucket, but if it was too aggressive an expression, of course I withdraw it. I trust that the Home Secretary will now be able to concentrate on the poverty of his own arguments rather than worrying about the language that I have used.
A delay in the implementation of compulsion will provide more scope to build a system that is technologically feasible and that has the utility to justify its costs. We are asking for intellectual integrity, and for
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a cohesive policy that will stand up to public examination. The other place has given the proposals that examination, as should this House. The Government do not deserve a blank cheque or a free pass. It is incumbent on us, as Members of Parliament representing constituents of all political parties and of none, not simply to roll over and grovel when the Government say that we must have this, that or the other. It is our job to examine everything that the Government doallegedly in our nameand if we disapprove of it, to say so and, more importantly, to vote against it. I urge the House to support the Lords in their amendments Nos. 22G and 22H.
Dr. Palmer : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In his earlier remarks, the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) said that he completely disagreed with the assertion that the Opposition had not taken all the time available to the Committee. I wonder whether you would now like to give him the opportunity to avoid misleading the House on that. I have the relevant copy of Hansard here, in which your colleague, the Chairman of the Committee, says, perhaps a little sarcastically, that
Madam Deputy Speaker: I have already dealt with that point of order. May I remind hon. Members of the assertion in "Erskine May" that "good temper and moderation" should be the hallmark of our debates? Perhaps we should all remember that.
I am perhaps not the best person to persuade the Home Secretary to look at this matter again. I have opposed identity cards from the start, and I am sure that he is not going to take much notice of what I am going to say now. However, we shall reach agreement on one point. It is nonsense to say that if the scheme comes into operation there will be gulags and concentration camps. Our European partners have identity cards, and they are not police states. We are very pleased that they are fellow democracies. So let us continue to debate this subject without exaggeration.
By and large, I believe that the views of this Chamber should always prevail over those of the House of Lords. I hold that view even more strongly when the House of Lords votes down a measure that I happen to support. But on a general constitutional level, I do not believe that it would be wrong to continue to adhere to that principle, although there must be exceptions. Although this is a constitutional issue, and although I feel as
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strongly as their lordships in the majority, I have abstained on previous occasions after voting against the Bill on Second Reading. I shall continue to follow that line; I shall abstain when we vote on this proposition later.
On the substance of the matter, howeverand without going into the issue of election manifestosI am worried that, if the Government have their way, we shall have a scheme in which anyone who renews their passport after a certain date will automatically have their name entered on the national identity register. That is what I object to. Many law-abiding people are opposed to identity cards and having their names on the national identity register. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will not disagree that there are peoplealthough we might disagree about the numberswho have such strong views and who see no reason why they should renew their passport before the due time.
Those are the sort of people who, if there is primary legislation in due course in which Parliament decides that there should be a compulsory scheme, would accept the law. They have no desire to be fined, not to pay those fines, to go to prison and be a martyr. However much they object, they accept that Parliament is the decisive policy maker. What they disagree to, which is the reason that I cannot support the Government, is that it is intended that people will automatically go on the identity register once they renew their passport, without Parliament deciding that there should be a compulsory scheme. That is the reason for a lot of disquiet.
I hopeI doubt it, but I am ever optimisticthat my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be willing to seek a compromise rather than stand absolutely firm as he has done today. If the Government's position is upheld tonight and they have a majority, as I have no doubt that they will, the Lords might give way following that decision. They have done so on other issues, and they might do so on this one. If they do not, however, I hope, as I have already mentioned, that the Home Secretary will be willing to see what compromise can be reached. It would be totally inappropriate for the Parliament Act to be invoked on this measure.
Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) (Lab): All right hon. and hon. Members on the Labour Benches agree with the general proposition that we expect the elected House of Commons to have primacy in general terms. The fact is, however, that the other place is giving us the opportunity to reconsider this fundamental issue carefully. There are important issues in relation to the passport matter, and I think that the French are having a little difficulty. I would have thought that that was a strong case for getting the biometrics and the passport operating properly before we move on.
Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): The Home Secretary has rejected amendments Nos. 22G and 22H from the other place, claiming, if I understand correctly, that they are not serious compromises. I wonder why that is, because any cool and objective assessment of the amendments would suggest that they are very serious compromises indeed. Let me highlight three reasons for that.
First, the amendments are a major concession of principle from those who objected to identity cards and their compulsory introduction, because opponents accept for the first time that they will become compulsory, but according to a deferred timetable. That has been a painful and difficult decision for those who have a long track record of opposing the Bill out of principle. The Home Secretary's dismissal of the seriousness of that concession does not do justice to their deliberations.
Secondly, it is simply implausible to suggest that the amendments would cause huge practical problems. All that they suggest is a deferral from 2009, which would be the first full year of operation of the ID card scheme, to the end of 2011, 18 to 24 months later. Nothing that we have heard today suggests that that shift of a few months poses enormous complexities and practical problems for the Government.
Thirdly, I should have thought that, from the Government's point of view, these compromise amendments would be a good deal better than some of the other compromise amendments that are doing the rounds. During the debate in the other place, Lord Armstrong referred explicitly to the possibility that, when the Bill returned there, he would table amendments inserting a complete opt-out for those who do not want to subscribe to the identity card scheme at all. That would blow a hole in the Bill that would surely be much more serious for the Government than these measured amendments. They represent a major compromise, undertaken in a spirit of careful deliberation over where the two sides may meet on this difficult issue. They are practical, they will not lead to insuperable obstacles, and they are certainly better than the alternatives that may now be debated in the other place.
The Home Secretary said that the amendments would introduce uncertainty, delay and extra costs. I do not see what is uncertain about a date, 31 December 2011. That seems to me very certain and very precise. The date is a little further away than what is envisaged in the much vaguer timetable that the Government appear to have in mind, but there is nothing uncertain about it. Yes, it involves a delay, but a modest delay that has been mooted with the aim of securing a reasonable compromise. As for the costs, it is impossible to test the assertion that the amendments would lead to extra costs, because the scheme has not been properly costed by the Government and we have not yet been given a detailed account of what the costs would cover. The costs that have been floated have been summarily rejected and called into question by independent analysts, not least in the London School of Economics, which recently suggested that in its first 10 years of operation the scheme would run up a whopping £1.8 billion deficit.
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