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The practical use of the project is unclear, the trust of our citizens has not been won, and the detailed design of the project is flawed. It deserves termination. But for my lack of knowledge of the contractual obligations entered into, and any consequential costs, I would gladly
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support the Opposition’s motion tonight. However, I must confine myself merely to withdrawing support for the Government’s position.

9.31 pm

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): The Scottish National party has always opposed the identity card, and we will continue to oppose it. We will join the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats tonight in the Lobby. I agree very much with the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), and it is a great pity that the Liberal Democrat amendment was not selected, because it goes to the crux of the matter.

We have always been concerned about the confusion regarding the purpose of the identity card. It was first proposed after 9/11 by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to fight terrorism. It seems to have gone through many rotations since. It became the solution to whatever problem happened to be uppermost in the Government’s mind—benefit fraud, people trafficking or whatever. Frankly, the scheme has never been credible because of that.

The arguments hit a new low tonight when the Home Secretary effectively said that the scheme was for the convenience of the citizen, who could carry a small card rather than a passport or other documents to prove their identity. That might be useful, but it is not worth at least £5 billion of public money.

There is another serious concern about identity cards. It was mentioned that during the second world war, everyone carried an identity card. I do not think that we can quite equate the current situation with war time. In any event, even then there was what the Americans call mission creep, since the identity card went from having three purposes to 39. In 1951, the English High Court said:

In other words, the identity card took on more and more functions.

We must be clear, given the Home Secretary’s recent announcement, that the identity card is not dead. Biometric passports are proposed. I understand that 80 per cent. of the population carry a passport, so there will be a large number of such passports in circulation. Will those passports effectively become ID cards? That seems to be the way things are moving. I am deeply concerned that we might get into a position in which the Government say that a person cannot access health or other services unless they produce a specific piece of identity, whether that is an identity card or a biometric passport. I do not see why we citizens should need to do that, but in the case of many services, the Government determine what identification is needed. It seems that we are moving towards effective compulsion by the back door, because one will either carry the document or not access services. That is very disreputable.

Dr. Palmer: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Weir: No, I will not. I do not have much time.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) raised with the Home Secretary the example of the Scottish Parliament, the right hon. Gentleman rather brushed it aside, but it is an important example. When the Scottish Parliament voted on the principle of ID cards, no one, but no one,
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supported it. The Labour party abstained en masse. But the Scottish Parliament controls public services in many areas in Scotland, and ID cards or biometric passports will not be made compulsory to access those services, whatever the Government down here choose to do.

The Home Secretary assured us that the database was totally secure—he even stated, if I heard him correctly, that it was not downloadable. I am no computer expert, but I am fairly certain that it would be impossible to create a database that is not downloadable in any event. Others have mentioned the Government’s record both on IT projects and on loss of data, so I shall not elaborate further.

I am concerned about the huge costs associated with the database and the lack of clarity about the costs involved. The Government give a cost of between £4 billion and £5 billion. In an intervention, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), who is no longer in his place, pointed out that for that cost to be covered, some 35 million people would have to get an identity card voluntarily at a cost of £30. Members can decide how likely it is that that number will do so, unless the Government try to make it compulsory by the back door.

That is not the largest cost that has been estimated for the scheme. There is great difficulty involved in trying to find out the true cost of the identity card scheme. The London School of Economics put a 10-year cost range between £10.6 billion and £19.3 billion. That has been strongly attacked by the Government, who do not accept those figures, about which there has been considerable controversy. Using the method employed by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, as I pointed out earlier, more than the entire population of the UK would have to apply voluntarily for an identity card at a cost of £30 for the Government to get anywhere near covering the projected cost. It is impossible, and the figures do not add up.

It is interesting to note that such is the controversy about the figures that the London School of Economics has stated that it will not issue further costings because of the secrecy and contradictions around the identity card scheme. It should cause all Members great concern that we cannot get even such basic information.

The identity card has been proposed for all sorts of reasons, but there is no evidence that it will deal with those problems. There is no evidence that it is a cost-effective way of addressing those problems—for example, benefit fraud. Identity is only a tiny part of the problem of fraud in the benefits system, and even if the identity card helped to tackle that, it would not tackle the main problem. Many countries have much worse identity card theft than Britain, because they rely on a single reference source, which will effectively be the problem if we move towards an identity card or a biometric passport in this country.

Commenting on the recent announcement by the Home Secretary, Liberty said that the Government proposal still amounted to a compulsory scheme. It said:


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I could not agree more with Liberty. The whole thing is a disaster area. It does not do what it says on the tin, to quote someone else. It will be a massive cost that we cannot afford in these economic times, it is a waste of money and it should be ditched immediately.

9.39 pm

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): This has been a most instructive debate: those who have always opposed identity cards now seem to do so with more strength and passion than they ever did; and those who supported them reluctantly seem to be moving from that position. Even the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer), who is a leading enthusiast of them, admitted that he is now not in favour of what the Government are doing. The case was put very well by the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who described the Government’s position as a shambles, and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell), who described ID cards as a policy in search of a problem.

The Home Secretary revealed the essential emptiness of the Government’s position. I am delighted to welcome the Minister for Borders and Immigration back from France to wind up the debate. He did not listen to the first hour and a half, and, candidly, I would have advised him to stay and have the dinner; it would have been more fun than trying to respond to this debate.

The Home Secretary’s speech revealed the essential emptiness at the heart of the Government’s remaining arguments for the scheme. He was at pains to say that the Government had never argued that it was going to stop terrorism or be that effective against crime or benefit fraud, and that, in fact, there had never been any particular purpose to it. He is right: those arguments were all used at various stages—and some of us voted against the scheme all the way through—and never were at all convincing. However, what remaining shred of conviction and argument one could have had about the effectiveness of identity cards in fighting crime, terrorism and benefit fraud is completely removed when they are voluntary.

Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Damian Green: The hon. Lady has not been present for the whole debate, so if she will excuse me I shall not, because we have very little time left.

The Home Secretary revealed the hollowness at the heart of his argument when he said that the scheme had always been intended to be voluntary, but those of us who sat through the debates do not quite remember it like that: it was clearly a scheme that the Government always intended to make compulsory. The legislation states that there has to be another vote for it to be made compulsory, but the provision is in the legislation and it was always clearly the Government’s intention to move to compulsion. That was one of the last things that made it logical. What is completely illogical is the Government’s position since last week. They have tried to pretend that the scheme was always meant to be voluntary, but none of its so-called benefits applies if it is to be voluntary.

The Home Secretary has blown a hole in the centre of the arguments that successive Labour Prime Ministers and Home Secretaries have made. The previous Prime Minister talked about ID cards being


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The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), when he was Home Secretary, talked about ID cards making “our borders more secure” And his successor but one, the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), described identity cards as “central to measures to prevent illegal working”. All sorts of claims have been made—none of which can be credibly made about the current system.

Laura Moffatt: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Damian Green: All right, I will give way to the hon. Lady, because I am like that.

Laura Moffatt: I am deeply grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I certainly was present for the beginning of the debate; I just missed an hour in the middle. Has he had discussions with Conservative leaders of local authorities? At a recent roadshow run by the Home Department, the Conservative leader of Crawley borough council saw the enormous benefits of ID cards, both in delivering council services and for the business community. Would the hon. Gentleman like to answer that?

Damian Green: I see no advantages to the identity card scheme, and I could happily discuss it with my colleagues in local government.

We all now agree that ID cards will not prevent terrorism; that is now of no dispute between anyone. They certainly will not prevent illegal immigration, because foreign visitors will not have to have an ID card unless they plan to stay in the UK for more than three months. They will not prevent identity fraud. Microsoft’s national technology officer, Jerry Fishenden, has said that introducing ID cards would make the problem even worse, warning that it could

[ Interruption. ] The Minister for Borders and Immigration asks how, but I suggest that he talk to Microsoft. We are five years into the scheme—why does he not talk to one of the world’s biggest and most successful computer companies about the effects of his policy?

The Government should have spent time and resources on ensuring that biometric passports were secure. In November 2006, an investigation by The Guardian found that the passports could be electronically attacked and cloned with a microchip reader costing £174. A computer expert took 48 hours to write software that could take all the information from the chips.

How have the Government got to the current situation? Contrary to all the assertions about opinion polls showing that ID cards were popular, when real people—airport workers in Manchester and London City airport—were told that they had to have identity cards, they rebelled. Neither the airlines nor the airline workers wanted them. Nobody wanted them, so the Government promptly retreated. As a good former trade union official, the Home Secretary recognised that the trade unions were against the idea, so—as Labour Ministers do when faced with trade union rebellions—he retreated and announced a U-turn.


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Previously, the Home Secretary had claimed that, despite their resistance, the airport workers had to have an ID card for security reasons. Now, however, the pilots are to be voluntary. One of the most absurd bits of last week’s announcement came when the Home Secretary claimed that he was accelerating the roll-out of ID cards. I gently suggest to him and the Minister for Borders and Immigration that given our discussions today, in various forms around the House, of the fines of up to £1,000 for which people will make themselves liable if they take a voluntary ID card, the voluntary take-up will be particularly small.

That brings me to the subject of costs, which has dominated a lot of the debate. The bad news for the Minister for Borders and Immigration, who is about to wind up, is that the Home Secretary was completely and characteristically honest about the issue—he said that he had no idea how many people would voluntarily take up the card. If the Government have no idea about that, they can have no idea of the cost to the taxpayer. Everything that Ministers say about the cost is bogus; they do not know any more about it than anyone else.

None of the rest of us knows much about the cost because Ministers have spent the past few years energetically trying to hide it. They keep asserting that 70 per cent. of the cost is due to the passports and that only 30 per cent. will go on ID cards—although 30 per cent. of £5 billion seems a lot of money and worth saving to me. However, even if what they say is true, the Government have adduced no detailed evidence for the assertion; they have not allowed anyone to look at any of the accounts, but simply repeat the assertion. We simply cannot know how much preserving biometric passports but not proceeding with an identity card scheme or the national identity register would save. On that point, I reassure the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) that we could happily have imported his party’s amendment into ours; we are as strongly against the national identity register as he is. It is one of the central things that are wrong.

One of the other myths perpetuated this evening is that the passport database is essentially the same as the national identity register. I commend schedule 1 to the Identity Cards Act 2006 to all those who have been peddling that myth; they should read the list of the information that may be recorded on the identity register. The list includes:

Any attempt by anyone to look at a person’s records gets registered. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary says that that is absolutely right. There is much more on the national identity register— [Interruption.] We do know, although some of the right hon. Gentleman’s colleagues do not seem to. They seem to think that the information is the same as that on a passport, but it absolutely is not—it is much greater and more intrusive than the information that would be on the passport database, and it would be dishonest of the Government to claim otherwise.

The scheme is not wrong only in cost terms. A Conservative Government would scrap the scheme not just because it is a waste of money—it is also wrong. The Government do not understand a simple, obvious truth: we cannot defend our liberties by sacrificing them. We have taken a principled stance against the
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Government’s control state. We are fundamentally opposed to the Orwellian society that Labour is trying to create through schemes such as this. Privacy International—the Home Secretary should be ashamed of this—now ranks Britain as the most invasive surveillance state and the worst at protecting individual privacy of any western democracy. That is what we have come to after 12 years of new Labour Government. [ Interruption. ] The Home Secretary is objecting to Privacy International, which is no doubt another body that he has no time for. Frankly, however, he must recognise that ID cards are a bad idea whose time has never come.

Anyone who cares about either freedom and privacy or the state of the public finances—some of us care about both—will vote for our motion. The ID scheme is a sickly policy that needs to be put out of its misery. If this Government will not do that, the Conservatives will do it if we win the election. I commend our motion to the House.

9.50 pm

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): It is a pleasure to serve under your speakership in this Chamber for the first time, Mr. Speaker. May I start by apologising to you, to the House and to the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) for not being here at the beginning of the debate? I am sure that the House would have been supporting me in what I was doing in France in securing our borders.

The modern-day Conservative party has an identity crisis. It is seeking to square its authoritarian instinct with its liberal appeal. Up and down this country there are Conservative councils that use CCTV and use access cards for local services, and whose members and activists support the idea not only of an identity card but a compulsory identity card; we know that because people tell us so in our constituencies. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell, who has flipped on this issue, showed his true colours on 23 January 2002 when he supported the very wise Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer).

Two prime myths are perpetuated by the Opposition. I refer to the official Opposition, not to the Liberal Democrats, who have been consistent in their folly in opposing our policy, unlike the Conservatives, who have been inconsistent in their folly. The first myth is the allegation that the Government are allocating up to £5 billion of public money to pay for an ID card scheme. That is simply a fabrication. We have heard the accusation that clarity has not been given; the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) made that point. I refer hon. Members to the document, “National Identity Service Cost Report”, published in May 2009—particularly to pages 6 and 7, where tables lay out the estimates. The first paragraph on page 7 says:

that is, for the total of £4.945 billion over a 10-year period—


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