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Lord Gould of Brookwood: My Lords, in the past six months this House has debated a series of Bills dealing with security and identity. It would be impossible to have followed those debates without being impressed by them and without learning from them, and I for one have learnt a great deal. One does not have to agree with an argument to see its merit, and I have come to understand the force with which Members on both sides are committed to a point of view with which I simply do not agree; but I respect those contrary views and I have learnt a lot from them.
As time has passed, two things have become clear. First, step by step, the Government are getting their legislation through and the public's will is prevailing. Democracy and common sense are winning the day, albeit slowly. There will be those, and there have been those today, who say that public support for identity cards has fallen; but let us look at the facts. In the Daily Telegraph in February, YouGov, in a poll that caused such enormous excitement on the Liberal Democrat Benches, showed a lead of 52 per cent in favour of ID cards compared to 37 per cent against. That is still a pretty large lead as far as I am concerned.
If we look at the same pollster, in June 2005 YouGov had 45 per cent in favour and 42 per cent against. A lead of 3 per cent has expanded to a lead of 15 per cent, with the same pollster, using the same methodology, over the very six months that we have been debating these issues. If the tide has turned, it has turned with us and not in the other direction.
I have observed a second tendency. As time has passed, relationships between the Liberal Democrat and Conservative Benches have gradually become closer. Letters have been passed, jokes shared, meetings held; acquaintance has turned to friendship, which has turned in time to something approaching courting.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, has the noble Lord, Lord Gould of Brookwood, my near geographical neighbour, any comments to make about me passing notes to the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland? I am agog with developing interest.
The relationship reached its full consummation this morning, however, when the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who, I see, is not in his place, said in an interview that he was forming an alliance with the Liberal Democrats. The mind boggles. What will this new alliance be called? Perhaps the "Conservative and Liberal Union", a union designed to oppose measures that help our security, whatever the people say and whatever the other place decides.
Sadly, it is now impossible to tell where the Conservative Benches end and the Liberal Democrat Benches begin. The issue today is the spurious use of the concept of "voluntary", a piece of spin of the kind that I thought that most of us, including me, had given up some time ago. Despite attempts to distort the manifesto, I see it as quite plain: I will not read out the whole thing again, as it has been read out 50 times. However, it states:
That seems clear. Noble Lords cannot understand it, but the people would understand it. It is not a compulsory activitywhen they renew their passport, they receive an identity card. It is clear and the public get it, but I am afraid that the Benches opposite do not. This attack is spurious and should be repelled. The will of the people and the elected Parliament should prevail.
These are new times with new challenges. The politics of identity demands new approaches, and the rise of identity theft and welfare fraud new solutions. We must choose between serving the people and forming alliances designed to thwart the will of the people. I know which choice I will make.
First, it is wholly illogical that the Government, having accepted that the scheme as a whole should not become compulsory without primary legislation, should be telling us that we should accept creeping compulsion without primary legislation. Creeping
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compulsion is wrong, but it is also illogical in view of the Government's decision about further primary legislation in the next year or so.
Secondly, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Gould, has said, not by the greatest stretch of the imagination can creeping compulsion be said to be sanctioned by the Labour Party election manifesto, which referred, as we have heard, to a scheme rolled out,
It is absurd to suggest that a person who has to travel volunteers to apply for a renewal of his passport when his old passport expires. He is required to obtain a renewal because his old passport has expired. It does not require a genius to recognise that.
Thirdly, creeping compulsion may be convenient from an administrative point of view. The Minister talked euphemistically of a manageable roll-out. Those required to register, however, will be selected on an entirely arbitrary basis. It will not depend on any rational assessment as to whom the state would like to see registered but on whose passport expires in a particular year, and on the pure chance of whose passports come up for renewal. It is impossible to see how this will help the fulfilment of any of the aims of the Government's scheme. Indeed, a lot of time and money will be wasted as a result of people requiring access to the register only to find that there is no entry for the person on whom they seek information, because that person has not come up in the lottery and has not been required to apply for a new passport. I invite the House to support these sensible amendments.
Lord Thomas of Swynnerton: My Lords, as I think I am probably the only historian in the House, I should like to say something very briefly. I think that the Government have not recognised the extent to which the idea of a compulsory registration of citizens on a national register is a break with our national traditions. Despite what the late Lord Stratford once said, I am among those who believe that traditions are to a nation what a soul is to a man.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, in supporting my noble friend Lord Phillips, who said that this measure was ill thought through, perhaps I may remind the Minister of the written reply that I received from her last week on passports. She rightly said that, from the last quarter of this year, every new adult passport applicantand there are about a million of those each yearwill have to go for a personal interview to verify their identity. I asked the Government where the 69 new passport interviewing offices would be located. Currently there are only seven offices, so the number will increase to 69. The Government's Answer was, "We don't know; we haven't decided. We're negotiating". So within six months we are to have these new passport offices but as of last week the Government could not tell me where they were to be located.
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Some 600 new officers are to be trained but that training has not even started yet. There are so many imponderables here. The Government are not only presenting us with a measure that is ill thought through but they are doing so in total unpreparedness. Everyone will need a personal interview within six months but there is no word on how that will be accomplished. It is not only ill thought through; it is also totally unacceptable.
The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, I have four quick points. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said, if these things are so wonderful and convenient, everyone will want oneso what is the problem? The noble Lord, Lord Gould's, concept of voluntary sounds a bit like the Army sergeant who walked into the canteen and said, "Any musicians here?". When someone with very delicate fingers volunteered that he was, he was sent to the officers' mess to move the grand piano.
Secondly, I say to the Minister that it is splitting hairs very finely to suggest that foreign agencies may not have direct access to the database but they can get the information on the database. That is splitting hairs very finely. I am very glad to hear that they will not have direct access to the database as that would be a major security risk.
Thirdly, I presume that Motion F will be agreed to because there is no Motion suggesting that it will not be. That means that the system will be self-checking. The commissioner will be part of the department which will be checking itself. I very much disapprove of these modern systems that do not have outside checks. The commissioner should be answerable to Parliament. It is horrific that the Commons turned down that proposal. Given that it has been turned down, I think we must keep this thing voluntary. I might think otherwise if we were to have an independent commissioner who was outside the Secretary of State's power and reported directly to Parliament. I still would not be happy at all though. How can an employee criticise their own boss? It would not be good for one's career prospects.
Finally, a lot has been said about the manifesto commitment. It is extreme hypocrisy when a government use a manifesto commitment to drive a proposal through the House until it does not suit them, when they abandon the doctrine of the manifesto commitment. They cannot have it both ways. If they force through this proposal against their manifesto commitment, I think that in future they will have to drop their demand that we support a manifesto commitment without any modification. We should be permitted in future to modify manifesto commitments in the light of current thinking in the country since the last general election, and given that the Government had the support of only about one-third of the voters in the country.
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