With your permission, Mr. Speaker, may I take the opportunity before I answer the question to wish all hon. Members a happy St. George’s day? I know that I am here to answer questions, but may I ask my English colleagues why they do not make more of William Shakespeare’s birthday?
With regard to the hon. Gentleman’s question, although I have had no such discussions, I have regular discussions with the First Minister on a range of issues. I look forward to further constructive discussions in the interests of the people of Scotland.
May I echo the Secretary of State’s sentiments on St. George’s day?
The Secretary of State will know that the next Conservative Government are pledged to abolish identity cards anyway, so any discussion held now might become rather academic. He knows that the Scottish Executive are pledged to obstruct the implementation of ID cards in Scotland. Does he not realise that non-implementation in Scotland would fatally undermine any identity cards system throughout the UK?
The hon. Gentleman aspires to a Government with a policy to abandon the scheme. However, I venture to suggest that the necessity for secure and reliable proof of identity, which will continue, requires the Government to respond to the desire of the people of the United Kingdom. As presently measured, the idea attracts support from more than 60 per cent. of the population. The Scottish Executive will not be able to obstruct the introduction of the identity cards scheme throughout the United Kingdom. If they, as providers of devolved services, choose not to avail themselves of the opportunities that the scheme allows to assert the identity of those who seek public services, that is entirely a matter for them. That is what devolution is all about.
When it comes to tackling terrorism and providing security in this country, does my right hon. Friend agree that ID cards have a part to play? Such things should be dealt with at the UK level, contrary to what that bunch diametrically opposite suggest. Their suggestion that they should be dealt with in Scotland is, at best, a dangerous distraction.
My hon. Friend is quite right. The evidence is overwhelming that those who have been convicted of terrorism—during the past year, a significant number have been convicted beyond reasonable doubt in our courts—almost invariably use multiple identities to advance their horrific objectives. There is no question but that a secure and reliable system of identity that fixes the identity of a person through biometrics will assist in dealing with terrorism, and everyone involved in policing terrorism confirms that that is the case. Many quotations from those charged with that responsibility express the idea that one of the most important things we could do to assist in that task is set up an identity card scheme underpinned by biometric identity. Moreover, 71 per cent. of the people of the UK agree with that, because they understand its importance in our fight against terrorists.
When the right hon. Gentleman does have that discussion with the First Minister, he will clearly learn that the people of Scotland do not want ID cards. The Scottish Parliament has voted against the introduction of ID cards, and they will not be required for Scottish Government services. Will he assure me that there will be no attempt to introduce ID cards in Scotland through the back door—by targeting students’ bank accounts and loans, for example?
For the bulk of the things that matter to the people of Scotland, this House is the front door. As far as security of their identity is concerned, the people of Scotland are in no different a position from the rest of the United Kingdom, or indeed, I venture to suggest, no different a position from the hon. Gentleman. If he were to open his wallet today, I suspect he would find many proofs of his identity. If that identity were underpinned by a biometric database, he would be secured against others seizing that identity and abusing it. We will deliver that for the people of Scotland. We will roll it out incrementally, and they will welcome it and use it voluntarily much more than he would wish them to.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the genuine concerns that the public have expressed about the increasing amount of fraud. When he meets the First Minister to discuss the implementation of identity cards, will he explain its benefits for reducing fraud?
On a day when we probably all woke to the announcement of the publication of yet another report that shows the amount of identity fraud through credit cards and the cost to the United Kingdom, there is no question but that we need to move to the same position as 24 out of 27 of the countries in the European Union and have identity cards. Those countries do not have oppressive regimes. Indeed, in many respects, the current Administration in Scotland look to them with envy. They are social democratic regimes that have moved to identity cards because they help people to protect their identity, especially against the sort of fraud that is perpetrated daily.
One aspect of the Government’s identity card scheme is that everyone, of any age, will have to travel to one of only 11 biometric centres in Scotland. For some people who do not live close to the centres, that means long and expensive journeys to get their identity protected. Of course, the Secretary of State knows all about identity theft, having stolen one from the Secretary of State for Defence. Is not it absurd that the Government solution to counter-terrorism is that 80-year-olds in Pitlochry will have make 100 mile round trips to get their data scanned, while people in England have to have an identity card to get the services that they need?
I will speak to the hon. Gentleman afterwards so that he can explain the joke, because I do not believe that any of us got it.
The hon. Gentleman and his party support a passport system, which is underpinned by biometrics. That is his party’s policy. Eventually, every adult who has a passport in this country—that is a significant number of adults of all ages—will have to go through exactly that process. That is why we have developed a network of offices, which will be expanded if necessary. There currently are nine throughout Scotland. The journeys that people must make to have their biometrics secured are no different from those that he would continue to impose on them through supporting the policy on biometric passports. The criticism is nonsense and he knows it.