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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, will the noble Baroness indicate whether the reports are correct—apparently supported on 15th January by Mr. Portillo—that the Government seek to enable decisions of the European Court of Justice to be revoked or reviewed by the Council of Ministers on qualified majority voting? Is there any truth in that quite absurd suggestion? It seems completely to contradict the rules relating to the separation of powers.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: No, my Lords, I do not think so.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, perhaps the Minister will indicate what her reply means. Is the suggestion being contemplated by the Government? That is what I ask.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, it is much too early to predict what will be discussed at the IGC. We have not even finished our own internal discussions. Having been a member of a former government, the noble Lord knows full well that until we reach the end of the process I shall not say yea or nay. However, I gave him a clear hint in my first Answer.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, the Question was whether certain views had been canvassed with other member states and what responses were obtained. To the best of my recollection, the noble Baroness does not appear to have answered that part of the Question. If Ministers have not been involved in canvassing the views of others, can the Minister say whether they have been dealt with at the COREPER level with their own permanent representatives making the appropriate approaches, receiving responses and relaying them to Her Majesty's Government?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, any discussions at the present moment are necessarily tentative. But of course members of the Government—by that, I mean Ministers—are discussing the forthcoming Inter-Governmental Conference with European counterparts. But certainly I cannot comment on the

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discussions, which have been held in private; and no decisions have been arrived at. I shall be listening to the noble Lord in the debate this afternoon.

Lord Richard: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that her negative ambiguity in answering this Question is regarded by some of us on this side of the House as a very positive sign? May I take it that that is the way in which she would wish her Answer to be regarded?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the noble Lord knows that I always like to be positive with him; but sometimes he causes me to be negative.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister would care to take this opportunity to welcome the European Research Group's recent pamphlet A Europe of Nations, with a foreword by the Prime Minister, which certainly proposes substantial repatriation of powers to the nations of Europe, is supported by 80 centre-Right politicians from across Europe and which can be roughly described as coming from the centre of the Conservative Party?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister stated in his foreword, it is a very good document for debate. Occasionally the authors behind the document may claim more authorship for it than it actually has.

Lord Mishcon: My Lords, will the Minister forgive me if I have become a little confused between the negatives and the positives? In those circumstances, can she positively say that, if any such suggestion were made in regard to the upsetting of the division of powers as was indicated by my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, it would be vigorously opposed in principle by the Government?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the sort of balance of powers to which the noble Lord refers is indeed not so simple and straightforward. If I took a line now, it would be thrown at me for ever more. We are not at the end of our discussions on what will be debated and what will not. I shall take the careful path until we are ready to make a decision.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, will my noble friend agree that, as we have now had a Euro-debate, we could all go home?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am sure that some Members would be very willing to accept the noble Lord's offer; but I suspect that one or two others might not. We shall have a debate anyway.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, will the noble Baroness agree that the European Court of Justice is more a political court than a court of law, manned by non-lawyers and people who are not skilled in the law? Will she therefore agree that the separation of powers does not really exist?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, first, on a point of information, the European Court of Justice—as I am sure our noble and learned friend Lord Slynn would indicate—is indeed manned by lawyers, not by non-lawyers. We need a strong court to enforce

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Community rules and obligations; the Community can only work if all member states are held to their obligations. The European Community needs an independent judiciary to adjudicate over disputes and to be the final interpreter of the treaties and the decisions that are adopted under them. Certainly some aspects of the court's jurisprudence may not be to everybody's liking. We are considering what proposals we might make to address the concerns positively in the 1996 IGC.

National Identity Card Proposal

2.55 p.m.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will now consider the introduction of compulsory electronically-based identity cards.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has announced his intention to publish a Green Paper in the spring which will set out the possible options for a national identity card scheme and invite views upon them.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford: My Lords, as the Home Office has no idea whatever how many illegal immigrants there are, is it not very urgent for it to find out rapidly by using an electronically-based system of identity cards which can be instantly verified and which cannot be forged?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the whole purpose of having a Green Paper and exploring all the options—which will range from a compulsory scheme to a number and range of voluntary schemes —is to have just that sort of debate to discuss the possible benefits. One will possibly be to prevent crime; another may well be to give security to those people who have bona fide residence in the country and to help sort out those who do not.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the police now support a compulsory scheme?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, in advance of the debate, we know the view of the Association of Chief Police Officers: it supports a voluntary scheme. Whether or not that will be confirmed as a result of the consultation process we do not know. At this stage it certainly supports a voluntary scheme.

Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will agree that the introduction of at least a voluntary ID card scheme is inevitable. The vast majority of our people are now accustomed to carrying some form of ID card. First, is the Department of Transport going ahead with its plans to introduce a photo-ID card for all motorists by July 1996? Secondly, in view of the fact that investigations are taking place within departments in respect of the ID card, can the Minister give an indication as to the likely outcome and what form the consultation will take before it is introduced?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, on the noble Lord's first point, we know that there is a great deal of support for an

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identity card scheme. What we do not know is the nature of that support. There is a great debate about what form it should take. On a recent survey, 75 per cent. of people responded positively that they would support an ID scheme.

On the second point, it is true that plans are at the developmental stage to introduce a travel card. That is to conform with a European directive that there should be a common travel document throughout the European Community. Work is in hand to that end. A possible benefits card is also being developed at the moment. The travel card is due to be introduced in 1996. I cannot be precise about any further consultation on that. We are conforming to the law so far as the driving licence card is concerned.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: My Lords, will my noble friend, in the course of her consultations, bear in mind that most of us already have a passport, a driving licence, two or three credit cards, a sort of halter that we put round our necks to prove that we are Members of the House of Lords and dozens of other pièces d'identité? Does she agree that the introduction of still further compulsory articles made of plastic will not necessarily serve any useful purpose?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, my noble and learned friend is absolutely right. I think that that is what lies behind the popular view that this is not a threat. I have to say to my noble and learned friend that other people take a different view; namely, that somehow or other it is an infringement of liberties. My noble and learned friend makes an important point: we all carry numbers of identification documents on our person every day. Of the 15 European countries, 10 have schemes, of which six are compulsory and four are non-compulsory. Five European Union countries, including the United Kingdom, do not have such a scheme at present but are contemplating one.


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