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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, one does not have to agree with all the views of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, to be grateful to him for his detailed and tenacious consideration of these complex issues. In the thickets of European law, he is a rare forester. I am as intrigued as he is to know whether the central questions he raisednamely, is the game up and are we now subject to whatever the EU may decide for us vis-à-vis our ID card system?are right or wrong.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, we should be indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, for his research into the possibilities of an ID card being imposed on us by the European Union whether we like it or not. Everything he said is true. We simply have to look at the history of the European Union to know that things do not proceed in huge leaps or jumps, but by ratchet. That is precisely what the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has been describing tonight: the EU ratchet. The EU realises that if it jumps and leaps about, it frightens people, but it can do things by stealth because EU decision-making is so complex that people do not understand it. It becomes so difficult that even Members of Parliament in both Houses do not know what is happening and, as it is so complicated, they often do not even read what they are being asked to decide upon, after it has been agreed in Brussels by unanimity or by qualified-majority voting. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is absolutely right in pointing out, yet again, that once Ministers have made a decision in Brussels, and once the 22 nations, by qualified majority, have imposed a directive on the European Union, neither this House, the House of Commons, nor anybody else has any power to change that. It has to be accepted whether we like it or not. That is why we must be doubly indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, for bringing this before us so that we can make it absolutely clear to the House that if the Government go along the lines that he has outlined, and agree or have it imposed on them by a qualified majority vote, neither the House of Commons nor this House will be able to do anything about it.
I believe that the Government already intend that there should be an EU identity card. It will be a standard card, and the biometrics and the other information that will be on it will eventually be dictated by the European Union, probably by a qualified majority vote. I say that because only last year the Home Secretary told the Home Affairs Committee that he looked forward to the day when
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there would be a usable EU identity card. He did not say that it would be compulsory, but he said that it would be used throughout the European Union.
The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is right to be suspicious, as is this House. The House of Commons should also be suspicious, because the matter, I believe, has already been secretly decided, and this Bill is part of the stealth towards an eventual European Union identity card.
I know that the noble Baroness and her colleague the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, will strenuously deny that that will happen, but in my time in both Houses of Parliament I have heard so many denials that have eventually proved to be completely and utterly misguided and wrong that I shall continue to be suspicious of whatever reply I receive from the noble Baroness, because I believe that it has already been decided that we shall have an EU identity card eventually.
Lord Selsdon: My Lords, as the noble Lords, Lord Pearson and Lord Stoddart, know, all passports in Europe at the moment have "European Union" on the front cover and the inside cover in 12 languages. The problem now is in how many other languages it will be. We will have sovereignty over our own passports. The problem is not the passport, but the identity register.
I have already received representations from Italy, France and Germany opposing wholeheartedly the full flat-out gallop at which we are going in this direction, way ahead of anyone else. The Germans do not like it at all and have suggested that the Commission may get hold of this idea before long, and in the interests of something else ask for an exchange of information from the identity register.
This country has a good passport office. It went through a bad time for a while, but it is probably the best in the world at the moment. There is a certain friendliness and a welcoming approach among our immigration officers. Perhaps they have a new instruction to be friendly. There are differences, however. I return to Germany, which has the biggest single population80 million or soin the EU. As noble Lords may be aware, passports in Germany are issued with identity cards by the Oberbürgermeisterthe mayor. It is a regional and a local activity; it is not centralised. Part of the Germans' fear is that information will be centralised, and they will strongly oppose any activity of the sort that might happen in Brussels.
I must not refer to my Italian friends as wops, because I have done that before. Noble Lords will be fully aware that "wop" is not an insulting word. It was introduced when we invaded Italy in the Second World War when the fascisti threw away their papers. They were named "without papers"they were wops. A great advantage of our democracy is that we are not frightened about being without papers. We may be wops, but we are who we are, and long may we remain so.
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The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, it may benefit the House and help the noble Lords, Lord Stoddart and Lord Pearson, if, in the context of this amendment, I mention something that I was going to raise later. Noble Lords will be aware of the recent ministerial decision, approved unanimously at an EU conference in Manchester last year, setting out four "ambitious targets" for European e-government by 2010. Item four of those targets calls on member states to work towards,
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I shall be very brief as it has all been said. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, for trying to lead us through this labyrinth of complexities. To cut to the chase, the question is that put by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. We want assurance on whether the game is up and what further steps, if any, must be taken before we enter a Europe-wide identity cards scheme. As my noble friend said, our previous debate continued late into the night and into the morning. We have subsequently had a chance to look further at what the Minister said. I hope that she can respond particularly with regard to the fact that my noble friend was unable to refer to the protocol the last time. I suspect that she will express the same objective but I hope that she can give us a further explanation.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, for outlining with his usual clarity why he feels that there should be anxietynay, alarmabout the current position. I am not at all surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, says that it does not really matter what we say, he will never be reassured anyway. With that as a background, I shall clarify the position as best I can.
The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, probably already knows the answers that I will give, but I will give them for the record. When the noble Lord last spoke on this matter, he focused on the treaties of Amsterdam and Nice. His comments in that regard were coloured a little by his failure to differentiate between the arrangements proposed in the constitution, which was not proceeded with, and the prevailing situation.
Amendment No. 111A seeks to state in primary legislation that it is for Parliament to decide whether an identity card scheme, be it voluntary or compulsory, should be introduced into the UK. The amendment makes similar statements on who should be required to possess an ID card and the security standards required for both the ID card and the register.
I hardly need to say it, but Parliament is sovereign. Unless and until primary legislation concerning ID cards is brought before this Parliament, there will be no ID cards scheme in the United Kingdom. This Bill
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is that primary legislation. We have debates on whether the scheme should be compulsory or voluntary, but there is no debate that this Bill will bring in the ID cards scheme if this Parliament determines that that should occur. It is strange and, if I may respectfully say so, unnecessary to state in a Bill that is before Parliament the fact that Parliament is sovereign over the subject matter to which the Bill relates.
Although Parliament will prescribe, by way of affirmative order, the information to be recorded on ID cards and the format of that information, the security standards of ID cards and of the register will not be set out in legislation. It would be inappropriate to release details of the security standards required for ID cards or the register into the public domain. I hope that noble Lords will concur with the reasons for that. To do so may compromise the future security and integrity of the register itself, giving potential wrongdoers a good place to start when looking for ways to attack the register.
Subsection (2) of the amendment seeks to prevent any international body imposing conditions on any UK citizen to attend any place for the purpose of the issue of an identity card unless this has been agreed to by a UK statute. Subsection (3) of the amendment seeks to prevent any Minister entering into an undertaking with the EU to introduce an ID card scheme in the UK, or agreeing any common standards in relation to such a scheme, unless Royal Assent has been given to the Identity Cards Bill or any other statute for that specific purpose.
As I stated on previous occasions, and more recently in my letter of 10 Januarywhich has been quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannochthe Government's position is that there is no question of identity cards being introduced by fiat from Brussels. We very much doubt, as the noble Lord has set out from my letter, that the treaties could provide a legal basis for so doing. Even ifwhich once again we doubtit could be argued that Title 4 could provide a treaty base, the United Kingdom would be bound by such a measure only if it opted into it. Notwithstanding what the noble Lord has said in relation to that, I think that even he accepts that we would have to opt in in order for it to apply. He, of course, says that we may be minded at some stage to do so. But there is no indication of that and, unless and until we opt in, we would not be so bound. In any event, in so far as there is any scope for making such arguments, restating parliamentary sovereignty in the Bill does not change the position. I hope that I have been able to assure noble Lords about that.
Mention has been made of the EU measures on ID cards which were entered into in December. The conclusion adopted at the Justice and Home Affairs Council was an intergovernmental measure which is not legally binding. It sets out some common principles which all member states agreed were important for the security and issuance of ID cards. Noble Lords will know, as the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, has made clear, that 22 countries in the EU currently have ID cards. Their citizens use those
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ID cards to come to this country. It is in our interests to make sure that the provisions which apply to ID cards are secure and safe for those who come to this country because we have to rely on the integrity of their documents because they are the ones they choose to use.
This was requested by the Hague programme and the July 2005 Justice and Home Affairs Council because national ID cards are acknowledged to be the least secure of the identity and travel documents which are commonly used in the EU. It is in the interests of all of us that ID cards are as secure as possible. The council conclusions do not and cannot impose any obligation on states to introduce ID cards if they do not already have them. That is the case, for instance, in Latvia, Denmark and Ireland as well as the United Kingdom.
I absolutely understand the concerns of the noble Lords, Lord Pearson of Rannoch and Lord Stoddartwho remain resolutely Euro scepticbut I have to tell your Lordships, as clearly as I can, that they are unfounded. It will be this Parliament which determines whether ID cards will be introduced; it will be this Parliament which decides the conditions which apply; and it will be this Parliament which says yea or nay to their introductionand no other.
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