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Identity Cards (Manchester)

Volume 487: debated on Monday 9 February 2009

9. Whether Manchester is planned to be one of the pilot areas to take part in the next phase of the national identity card scheme. (254645)

As many people will know, identity cards are to be issued to airside workers at Manchester airport in the autumn. No decision has been taken on the next stage, which will be issuing cards to ordinary people or to young people in 2010, but as they will be issued at Manchester airport, Manchester is certainly a strong contender for the phase after airports.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Does she accept that there is no evidence to suggest that identity cards will have any positive impact on dealing with crime on our streets, and that a much better way of using the money would be to put extra police officers on our streets to combat burglary, for instance, which is on a massive increase in south Manchester?

There are already more police on the streets than there have been for some time, but perhaps I can give the hon. Gentleman a little lesson in how the cost of identity cards will work. There is not a big pot of money sitting and waiting to be spent on identity cards; there will be money to spend on them only if the general population choose to take them up. It is clear from my conversations with the public and other stakeholders that there is demand for identity cards.

Given the hyperdiversity and hypermobility within the UK’s biggest cities, does the Minister believe that it is sensible to consider either Manchester or the city that both of us represent, London, as testing grounds for this policy? If we are to have an identity cards system, would it not be the worst possible start to try to introduce it in one of the very big cities of the UK?

I am slightly puzzled by the hon. Gentleman’s comments. We are looking to start with the airports scheme at Manchester airport and London City airport. We are still evaluating areas in which to start the general roll-out to the early adopters in the population and to young people from next year. We need to get going on identity cards. We have passed the Act, the scheme is under way and we are issuing cards to foreign nationals. I will be surprised if the hon. Gentleman and his party do not wish to see an upgrade in passports, which is really what identity cards will build on, or greater controls and greater security in passports and identity documents in general.

The Minister has just said that airport workers in Manchester will be one of the first groups to have compulsory ID cards. Labour Members may wish to know that those airport workers themselves proposed a motion that was passed overwhelmingly at the TUC conference last year, to oppose ID cards

“with all the means at their disposal”.

Does that not tell the Minister that when real people are told that they must have an ID card, they recognise the scheme as expensive, intrusive, pointless and a dangerous threat to our freedom? Why does she not save time and scrap it right now?

Both my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I have met trade unions a number of times. Most recently, my right hon. Friend met the trade unions from the airport on 29 January, on her visit to Manchester, and they were very supportive of the scheme. We are working closely with all the partners in the airports to ensure that the scheme delivers real benefits to airport workers, including on such matters as the portability of passes, to prevent very high costs and challenging circumstances for staff who often have to wait a long time for their security clearance before they are paid. Identity cards will speed that up, and we look forward very much to working with airports to ensure that the scheme works and that we learn lessons for the further roll-outs.