I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am very pleased to introduce the first piece of legislation that the new Administration are putting before Parliament. It signals a profound change in the way in which Government will interact with the people they serve.
The national identity card scheme represents the worst of government. It is intrusive and bullying, ineffective and expensive. It is an assault on individual liberty which does not promise a greater good. The Bill is, therefore, partly symbolic. It sends a message that the Government are going to do business in a different way. We are the servants of the people, not their masters, and every action that we take must be considered in that context.
Of course our first duty is to keep people safe. That truism cannot be repeated often enough. We will do whatever it takes to honour that covenant. Sometimes, respecting the rights of the few while protecting the many will be a delicate balancing act. Not on this occasion. We have no hesitation in making the national identity card scheme an unfortunate footnote in history. There it should remain—a reminder of a less happy time when the Government allowed hubris to trump civil liberties.
Last month, the coalition set out its plans to abolish ID cards and the national identity register. The register contains the biographic and biometric fingerprint data of cardholders. In bringing forward this stand-alone Bill, we are now seeking swift approval to enable us to abolish both.
The Government are of course also bringing forward a freedom Bill, and will launch a consultation on the laws that the British people want to see repealed. So the Identity Documents Bill is just our first measure as we begin to restore the balance between national security and civil liberties—the crucial, delicate balance which was so carelessly abandoned during Labour’s years in office.
I opposed identity cards from the very beginning and I have not changed my views, but will the Home Secretary bear in mind that in 1996 the Conservative Home Secretary, Michael Howard, announced that the Conservative Government intended to bring in an identity card scheme? It was described as voluntary—whatever that meant. It was not possible to do so for obvious reasons: because of what happened in 1997.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding us of what was done in 1996 by a former Conservative Home Secretary and what was proposed. That Conservative Government did indeed look at the possibility. We have looked at the idea brought forward by the Labour Government and we do not think that it is right. We take a different view, which is that we should abolish the identity card scheme. The hon. Gentleman referred to his opposition and indeed a number of Labour Members objected to the proposals of their Front-Bench colleagues.
No. I shall come to that point later. There are biometric residency permits for foreign nationals and they are completely separate from the identity card scheme. They were rolled into the ID scheme only because the Labour Government were trying desperately to bolster it; they claimed that the residency permits were somehow part of the ID card scheme, which they are not. Those biometric residency permits will continue to exist.
As one of the Labour Members who opposed identity cards from the beginning, I am delighted that the Bill is one of the first pieces of legislation that the new Government are putting through. Will the Home Secretary say something about people who went ahead and rather stupidly bought an identity card? Does she feel that they should be recompensed or does she think they should have listened to those of us on both sides of the House who said, “This is the wrong scheme and you shouldn’t be doing that”?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. She does indeed have an honourable record of maintaining opposition to identity cards. I will make reference to this point later, but I can tell her now that we will not be offering refunds to all those who chose to get an identity card. [Hon. Members: “Outrageous!”] Labour Front Benchers shout “Outrageous”, but we made it clear that we were opposed to identity cards. The Liberal Democrat party made it absolutely clear that it was opposed to identity cards. People knew well before the election what would happen if a Conservative Government were elected.
Does the Home Secretary recall that the Labour party’s manifesto in 2005 had a commitment to introduce a voluntary ID card scheme? Does she recollect that it was the Labour party that won that general election? In what way was it illegitimate—or, indeed, “stupid”, to quote my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey)—for people then to buy a card that was legitimate and had been set out in the manifesto of the winning party?
I must make a confession; I did not study the 2005 Labour party manifesto in any great detail because I was too busy promoting the 2005 Conservative party manifesto—[Interruption.] I am not trying to rewrite history; the right hon. Gentleman and his party won the 2005 election and introduced the identity card scheme. Let us remember; the scheme was not introduced in the very early stages of the Government’s term, but we made it clear from an early stage that if the Conservative party came into government, ID cards would be scrapped. That was clear to people, and the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling)—
No, I said that I was going to make some progress. I have been quite generous already in taking interventions.
Much of the Identity Cards Act 2006 will be undone but the Bill will re-enact certain provisions in the 2006 Act that do not relate solely to ID cards. Those provisions on offences and passport verification make available powers in relation to the detection and prevention of fraud, and the consular fees provision makes it possible to issue passports at subsidised rates. It will remain an offence to carry an identity document that a person knows or believes to be false or to hold a genuine document that relates to someone else, or that has been improperly obtained. Also it will remain illegal to possess equipment for falsifying documents. Under the Bill, ID cards will be invalidated. Holders will not be able to use them either to prove their identity or as a travel document in Europe. On the passing of the Bill, I will not issue any more cards. Following Royal Assent, cards will remain valid for just one more month.
Will the Home Secretary give way? I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady for doing so. [Laughter.]
I have not said that that is the case from today. I have a rather greater belief in the value of Parliament than the last Labour Government showed. Any provisions will come into force only once the Bill has been approved by Parliament and has received Royal Assent. It is after Royal Assent that cards will remain valid for one more month only. I will be writing to all those who already have a card to inform them of the change, so the right hon. Gentleman can look forward in due course to receiving a letter from me. Let us get this in proportion: fewer than 15,000 people already have a card.
I am sorry for intervening again, but as the House will appreciate, the subject is rather close to my heart. I understand entirely that the document will not be useable for travel purposes once the Bill has received Royal Assent, but I understood the right hon. Lady to say that it would not be valid in offering any proof of identity. Just before that, she said that it would be illegal. I am trying to ascertain whether using this document, which has my fingerprints and photo and is more authentic than my passport, would make me a criminal were I to use it for other purposes, such as opening a bank account.
I followed the right hon. Gentleman’s argument quite carefully and perhaps I can reprise what I actually said earlier. Under the Bill, the cards will be invalidated. Holders will not be able to use them either to prove their identity or as a travel document in Europe. On Royal Assent, they will remain valid for only one more month. I did not use the word “illegal”, except in relation to those who possess equipment for falsifying documents. I trust that, as a former Home Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman is not intending to hold equipment for the falsification of documents.
For the record, the right hon. Gentleman nodded at that point.
The post of Identity Commissioner will be abolished. The public panels and experts groups that were established by the Identity and Passport Service have already been disbanded, and 60 temporary staff in Durham have already been released early.
I am very grateful. The Home Secretary has just announced that 67 people in my constituency were made redundant last week because the Government are not continuing identity cards. What efforts will her Government make to get jobs for those people who lost them this week, and for those who are likely to lose their jobs because the Government are not going ahead with the second generation biometric passports?
If I can just correct a slight inaccuracy of terminology in the way in which the hon. Lady referred to the job losses in Durham, the people concerned were temporary staff on short-term contracts and they have been released early from those contracts. There are implications to abolishing the previous Labour Government’s scheme but, as the hon. Lady may know, we as a Government have considerable proposals for helping people who are unemployed to get into work. Our single work programme, which will replace the previous Government’s proposals for helping people into work, will give people much more focused individual help on getting them into the workplace and ensuring that they are retrained and given the skills that they need.
No, I am going to make some progress.
The Bill also places a duty on me to destroy all information recorded in the national identity register within two months of Royal Assent. Photographs and fingerprint biometrics will be securely destroyed. This will not be a literal bonfire of the last Government's vanities, but it will none the less be deeply satisfying. The national identity register will then cease to exist entirely.
The Government will always defend the security and integrity of the British passport, in order to safeguard the free movement of its citizens abroad and protect our borders from illegal immigration.
That will be for me to judge in due course.
We will continue to work to ensure the free movement of citizens abroad. We are halting work on fingerprint passports—the so-called second generation biometric passports—because we believe, in common with the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, that we can maintain the integrity of our passports by other security measures. Already a combination of physical and electronic security features makes the British passport very hard to counterfeit and forge. A new design with improved physical security features will be issued from 5 October, and we are considering ways to strengthen further the electronic security features.
In November 2008 the previous Administration began issuing to non-EEA nationals the biometric residency permits mentioned in an intervention. I want to reiterate the point that I made in response to that intervention. For purely political reasons those permits were referred to by the previous Government as identity cards for foreign nationals. Let no one in the House be in any doubt. They are not ID cards, and they will continue.
We anticipate that the net cost of the Bill will amount to about £5 million this year, which includes termination of contracts, writing off equipment, contacting cardholders and others to inform them that the project is over, exit costs for staff who cannot be redeployed elsewhere, and payments to contractors for secure destruction of identity information. I regret that another unavoidable cost is maintaining the ability to issue new cards before our statutory obligation to do so is removed. This is yet another example of why we want to act as quickly as possible.
The good news, however, is that the taxpayer, as I said in answer to a previous intervention, will be saved some £86 million over the next four years. Moreover, the public will not be hit with the roughly £800 million of ongoing costs over the next 10 years. To put that in perspective, that is a millennium dome’s worth of savings. At any time it is utterly wrong for Government to waste taxpayers’ money on a folly. In the current climate, it is obscene.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods), she said that the staff were on short-term contracts. I should remind her that she, too, is on a short-term contract, as are all of us. How does she intend to use the provisions of the Bill in relation to the Consular Fees Act 1980?
I shall disappoint the hon. Gentleman by saying that I will not give him a precise answer in response to that point. We are ensuring that we still have those abilities in the Act to allow discounts on applications for passports under the consular fees permission in the Bill. The Bill enables us to retain the ability to do that, should we at some stage choose to do so, but I shall not give the hon. Gentleman a more detailed answer at present. I am sure he can make his points known during the debate if he chooses to catch the Speaker’s eye.
No. I shall go a little further in my speech. I return to the subject of savings. The Bill is not just about saving money. [Interruption.] Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I be the first to congratulate you on your appointment as Chairman of Ways and Means? I look forward to many debates in the Chamber under your wise rule in the Chair.
If an overwhelming case could be made that ID cards would keep us safe without intruding on civil liberties, we would find the funding. But that is not the case. First, if databases are compromised, so too is security. The Labour Government’s track record on this was appalling. We all remember the moment the House was told that HMRC had lost data for 25 million people, including their dates of birth, addresses, bank accounts and national insurance numbers, and that was just one example of many. We recognise that some data storage is essential, but these events do not point in the direction of a massive expansion of the surveillance state, which ID cards would necessarily involve.
Moreover, ID cards would not make us safer or beat benefit fraud. Benefit fraud usually involves people lying about their personal circumstances rather than their identity. Turkish and Spanish ID cards stopped neither the Istanbul bombers in 2003 nor the Madrid bombers in 2004; nor did German ID cards prevent terrorists plotting 9/11 in Hamburg. As Charles Clarke, the former Home Secretary, said after the 7/7 attacks here in London:
that ID cards—
“would have made a difference. I’ve never argued . . . that ID cards would prevent any particular act.”
The point that I am making is a simple one. The last Labour Government claimed that this would be—[Interruption.] A shadow Minister on the Front Bench says, “No. we didn’t.” As I had not said what I was going to say the Government had claimed, I suggest that she is being a little premature, or perhaps she is learning the ways of opposition rather earlier than some of her colleagues.
Many claims were made at various times about what the Government said. One of them was that the purpose of ID cards was to keep this country safe. The examples that I gave show that ID cards do not keep this country safe and are an intrusion into civil liberties. The imposition of an enormously expensive system, which will be a target for computer hackers, might result in greater identity fraud and would not make us safer, cannot be justified.
There is one other objection to such an extension of the state’s surveillance powers, and it is one that Labour never understood: it is unBritish. We are a freedom-loving people, and we recognise that intrusive government does not enhance our well-being or safety. In 2004 the Mayor of London promised to eat his ID card in front of
“whatever emanation of the state has demanded that I produce it.”
I will not endorse civil disobedience, but Boris Johnson was expressing in his own inimitable way a discomfort even stronger than the discomfort to be had from eating an ID card. It is a discomfort born of a very healthy and British revulsion towards bossy, interfering, prying, wasteful and bullying Government. The coalition Government are determined to do things differently.
I pay tribute to all those who have campaigned so vigorously for the abolition of ID cards. They include N02ID, Liberty, and the parties that make up the coalition Government. I am also grateful that Members in other parts of the House, including Labour Members, as indicated earlier, have had the integrity to speak out and vote against the issue and, in the case of Labour Members, against those on their Front Bench. Indeed, Labour Members may even find that voting for the abolition of ID cards curries favour with the next leader of their party although, with the notable exception of the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), none of the leadership candidates appears to have taken an interest in civil liberties.
Let me read to the House what the hon. Lady said during her impassioned speech against the Identity Cards Bill in 2005:
“As the evening has worn on, the Government Whips have subjected several of my colleagues to their usual rough-hew methods of persuasion. However, I say to colleagues in the closing minutes of the debate that voting against the Bill would be far from betraying our Government or going against Labour principles, because we would be doing the Government a great service. The more the public hear of the Bill, the less they like it, so the sooner it is stopped in its tracks, the better.”—[Official Report, 28 June 2005; Vol. 435, c. 1248-9.]
I could not agree more.
I urge Members in all parts of the House to vote with their conscience, and to show their constituents that they stand for freedom, sound expenditure and common sense. The case for ID cards has not been made and will not be. It is an extension of state power that we cannot, in any sense, afford. I commend the Bill to the House.
I feel honoured, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to be the subject of your first pronouncements from the Chair. It will be a pleasure to serve under you.
We on the Labour Benches will not vote against the Bill on Second Reading. Although we do not think the general election was in any way a referendum on ID cards, we accept that the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have a mandate to abandon the measure. We believe that the 15,000 cards already in use should continue to be a legitimate form of identity, and that those citizens who have purchased them should not be treated in the unfair and arrogant way that the Home Secretary proposed: it is arrogant to punish the public because the Government believe that the public were duty bound to presume a Conservative victory at the general election. That is constitutional nonsense and I have never heard anything so arrogant from a political party in my life.
We think a version of the national identity register must continue to exist in some form, and that second generation biometric passports need to go ahead. However, we will pursue those arguments in Committee and at other stages of the Bill’s passage.
In recent times, my party has been consistently in favour of an identity card scheme, the Liberal Democrats have been consistently opposed and the Conservatives have been inconsistent to the point of perversity. The Bill before us to abandon a voluntary identity card scheme, which the right hon. Lady says is intrusive, bullying and unBritish, was in the first semi-Conservative—I suppose we could call it—Queen’s Speech for almost 14 years.
The irony is that the previous Queen’s Speech under a Tory Administration, in November 1996, included a Bill to introduce a voluntary ID card scheme, following extensive public consultation by the then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, who said that the potential benefits fell into two categories. It is worth repeating them to the House. This was a Conservative Government, proposing a Bill at the Queen’s Speech—[Interruption.] “Fifteen years ago,” says the Minister for Immigration. We will get on to what has changed in the almost 15 years since 1996, and how the problems that led that Conservative Government to put forward an “unBritish, bullying and intrusive” Bill have actually worsened in the ensuing period. However, Michael Howard summed up the benefits succinctly, noting first, the
“direct benefits to the individual holder (e.g. through use of an identity card as a travel card or to provide reliable proof of identity including for commercial transactions)”;
“the wider benefits to all citizens, (e.g. by reducing the level of certain crimes or by providing more efficient or less costly provision of state services).”
That description of the benefits is as accurate today as it was then. The consultation under the Conservative Government found that 64% of the public supported ID cards, with 36% opposed, and the last Tory Government to be elected to power in their own right—perhaps the last in more ways than one—proceeded to include the measure in the Gracious Speech.
I, too, very much welcome you to the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Does my right hon. Friend understand the concerns of my constituents, who have been in touch having bought that voluntary ID card precisely for the reasons that he just gave? They saw it as an opportunity to get proof of identity without going down the route of obtaining a passport and to have something in their pocket? Does he also understand their concerns in writing to me and asking me to vote against this measure because they want either to get some recompense for the card that they have bought, or, if hon. Members will pardon the pun, to passport it for use in another way?
My hon. Friend should write and tell them that the Government believe—this Government, who believe in the big society and in listening to people—that the scheme into which they bought, which Parliament approved at every stage and which was in the 2005 manifesto of the party that was elected to government, is somehow illegitimate. His constituents should realise that it was their mistake in not presuming a victory for the Tory party at the recent general election. That seems to be the reason.
That description of the benefits to which I referred is accurate, and the consultation carried out by the previous Conservative Government showed overwhelming public support. The Labour Government resuscitated the proposals and subjected them to a fresh, six-month public consultation and further scrutiny in the form of a draft Bill in 2003. The Select Committee on Home Affairs held a simultaneous inquiry, and the outcome of all that was, again, overwhelming public support.
I am trying desperately to understand the right hon. Gentleman’s position. He still seems to be for ID cards, but he will not oppose the Bill this evening. What is the Labour party’s position on ID cards? Can we expect to see them in a future Labour party manifesto?
That is to be determined by the party. However, we cannot suggest that we did not lose the election; we cannot simply oppose every measure that the Government propose. We have to ensure that we consider the will of the people. I do not doubt that the mandate of the two parties in government allows them to introduce the measure before us, but they are absolutely wrong to cancel the national identity register, to say that they will not go ahead with second-generation biometric passports and, most of all, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) said, to take such an arrogant and dismissive approach to the British public.
The Home Secretary said that ID cards would be made a footnote to history, so let us carry on with the history. The Conservative Government proposed ID cards and undertook public consultation; Labour resuscitated the proposal; the Home Affairs Committee supported it; public scrutiny supported it; and the draft Bill gained overwhelming support.
I should at this point mention the strange episode of the ten-minute Bill in January 2002, when the then Member for Broxtowe, now sadly no longer a Member, proposed leave to introduce an identity card Bill. The House will know that on a ten-minute Bill only the die-hard supporters of a proposition will turn up to vote, but among that bunch of ID card zealots, those people who wanted an “unBritish, intrusive and anti-democratic” scheme, we find the former shadow Home Secretary, now the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), the current Leader of the House, and a whole bunch of their Conservative colleagues.
To listen to the Home Secretary speak today, one would never believe that she once walked through the Aye Lobby in support of ID cards. I have to reveal that she did. Members should listen to her speech today, or read it again in Hansard, and then recall that the Home Secretary supported Second Reading of the Identity Cards Bill on 20 December 2004; and she was not a Tory rebel: she voted with her party in support of that Bill, whose measures she now seeks to repeal. The Conservatives continued to give their support. Indeed, they supported it under the leadership of Michael Howard at the 2005 general election.
The right hon. Lady now says that people were foolish to go out and buy ID cards, but both main parties at that general election supported ID cards, so the proposition that they should be removed is quite extraordinary. The Conservatives continued to give their support right into the 2005 general election, when Labour’s winning manifesto pledged
“to provide citizens with a…secure identity card to protect them…from identity theft and clamp down on illegal working and fraudulent use of public services.”
Why does the Home Secretary now believe that it was an infringement of civil liberties, the cause of the end of civilisation as we know it, when she voted for that precise scheme in 2004?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and welcome you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to your position. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that only a few days ago the head of the TUC, Brendan Barber, said that the scheme would have been an expensive folly and an unwelcome intrusion into people’s private liberties and lives? Does he also know that the TUC head said that he welcomed and supported this Government’s proposals to get rid of ID cards? Given Labour’s current financial circumstances, is it wise to ignore paymasters in that way?
The TUC is a lot of things, but it is not a paymaster. I was not aware that Brendan Barber had said that, but if that is his view he is perfectly entitled to express it. I am setting out the views of the current Home Secretary and the Conservative party on Second Reading on 20 December 2004 of the Bill whose measures they now seek to repeal. Indeed, they are not just seeking to repeal that legislation, but describing in extraordinarily derogatory terms anyone who supported it.
I quoted our precise manifesto commitment in 2005. We were in the course of carrying out that commitment, and everyone recognised that it would be a long process, but it began with the Tories’ enthusiastic support at the 2005 general election, and ended with their bitter opposition. How do we explain the Conservative party’s change from hard-headed pragmatists to the political wing of Liberty? In respect of the issues that galvanised the Conservatives to act in the 1996 Queen’s Speech and support the Identity Cards Bill on Second Reading in 2004, the only change is that the problems that they sought to address have become more acute.
The mantra of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats is civil liberties, but the Home Secretary should remember that when we talk about civil liberties—our basic freedoms—we are not talking solely about the rights of individuals but about the rights of society as a whole. We are talking about the right to be able to travel freely, the right to have access to efficient and effective public services, and the right to live our lives free from crime. ID cards, biometric passports and the national identity register that supported them were designed precisely to protect those freedoms, but at the same time to help to increase security—the security of each individual’s identity, the security of our borders and, yes, an added layer of security in the fight against terrorism.
The Home Secretary might like to be aware, because she mentioned it, that it was not me who first pointed out the link with terrorism—it was the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), who is, I confess, not normally guilty of any inconsistency. During the Second Reading debate in 2004, he said, as shadow Home Secretary at this very Dispatch Box:
“I would not have countenanced ID cards before 11 September. After that, however, I accept that we must consider them. After 11 September, it is incumbent on all of us to examine carefully any measures that might enhance the nation’s security. Identity cards introduced properly and effectively may help to do that.”—[Official Report, 20 December 2004; Vol. 428, c. 1953.]
That is what he said as shadow Home Secretary.
My right hon. Friend—I will call him that, because he knows our relationship—is carefully not quoting the rest of the speech or saying what actually happened. What we did at that time was to give the Government of the day the benefit of the doubt because there had just been some terrorist events that obviously brought the country into some risk. We therefore said, “We will support the Government on this, under five tests”—they were very fond of five tests in those days. The five tests were that the Government could control the cost of the programme, which they did not; protect the privacy of the individual, which they did not; manage it competently, which they did not; protect the security of the data, which they did not; and show its effectiveness against terrorism and crime, which they did not. That is why we opposed it.
I apologise to my right hon. Friend in this broad coalition, but I do not have time to quote the whole speech. Of course he made those points in that very important debate, after which the Tories walked through the Aye Lobby with us. I do not agree that the tests were not met. My point, however, is that the Conservatives are now in government. They can carry out the proposal that was in the Queen’s Speech in 1996 and meet the tests that they set.
That debate took place on 20 December 2004, three years after 9/11 and, unfortunately, seven months before 7/7, and before the airline bomb plot, the liquid bomb plot, and all the other terrorist outrages that we have had to counter. The right hon. Gentleman cannot say that anything has changed in relation to national security except that these problems are more acute. We are at a severe level of readiness. No one on the Government Benches can say, “Well, things have changed since 1996,” or since 2004. They have changed—they have got worse, and that has made the case for ID cards stronger.
I will make some progress and then give way.
Of course, for the Government, as the Home Secretary said, it is conveniently symbolic to have this debate so early on in this Session of Parliament. It is a symbolic act to prove that the coalition can actually agree on something, as it certainly cannot agree on Europe, the alternative vote, or even the Human Rights Act.
It is certainly true that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have been consistently smug in suggesting that a simple ID card scheme will mean the end of civilisation as we know it. Not for nothing are the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister known as the self-righteous brothers, although they are bound to have lost that loving feeling before too long. The Deputy Prime Minister has a Dutch mother and a Spanish wife, so he should know that the claim that ID cards are an affront to liberty and freedom would be greeted with bemusement in Holland, Spain, France, Finland, Sweden, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and all the other countries that have managed to provide their citizens with the cards’ pragmatic advantages without becoming despotic oligarchies.
The Bill has provisions to keep the clauses of the 2006 Act that relate to false documentation, and we welcome that, but we need much more than penalties for false documents if we are to win the fight against identity fraud and illegal immigration.
Was it the shadow Home Secretary’s intention that it would be compulsory for everyone to have ID cards? If not, how on earth could they help to prevent terrorism, benefit fraud or anything else, given that the people who were likely to commit those acts were unlikely to apply for an ID card?
That is a very good point. No, it was not my intention to make the cards compulsory. Indeed, we made it absolutely plain that people could use their biometric passport as an identity document or use an ID card, which was a smaller, simpler, cheaper version. France has a voluntary ID card scheme, as do many countries in Europe that would not go to the compulsory stage, and it helps people to protect and prove their identity, which is the fundamental reason behind it. As I said, it was the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden who mentioned the link with terrorism, not moi.
My right hon. Friend is making a customarily amusing yet powerful contribution to the debate. He is wise to accept the mandate of the coalition Government, whereby they believe that they have a right to dismantle their version of the surveillance state. Does he agree, however, that the Bill does not remove any obligation on any Department to verify people’s identity, so there will be no less identity verification going on? If the Government really want to reduce the surveillance state, they should give citizens ownership of their data so that Departments do not continually data-share—there might be more of that as a result of the Bill—and have a transparency register that means that every occurrence of data-sharing that goes on between Departments is in the public domain so that people have the right to challenge it?
My hon. Friend makes a very powerful point; he has a good track record in this area. He is highlighting the real issues of civil liberties, which are not only to do with a simple identity card to prove and protect identity but a whole range of other issues that I shall come to in a moment.
No, I need to make some progress.
If we want to travel abroad, take an internal flight, open a bank account, take up a new job, register with a doctor, get a driving licence or get married, we need to prove our identity. No one would dispute that it is perfectly reasonable to have to provide proof of identity in such circumstances. For those who voluntarily acquire an ID card, it enables them to prove who they are quickly, easily and securely. It provides a universal and simple proof of identity and a convenient end to the disorganised use of a year’s worth of photocopied bank statements that people have to hand over—phone bills, birth certificates and so on, all copied to numerous different places because of the ways that people have to prove their identity. The Conservatives agreed about that almost unanimously in 1996 and again in 2004. For those lucky enough to be blessed with youthful good looks—like you and me, Mr Deputy Speaker—it also provides proof of age. For those who are less well-off, it provides a cheap and convenient alternative to a passport for European travel. It enables people easily to access the services to which they are entitled. The fact that a robust and trusted form of identification can be a tool for empowerment is something that the Government have ignored in all their posturing on civil liberties.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about other countries in Europe and gave us a long list without deviation, hesitation or repetition, but can he say whether one of them introduced a national identity register? That is unique to this country, and an unprecedented complete disaster.
There was nothing Big Brotherish about the system that we were implementing. We already have the NHS database for those registered with GPs. Incidentally, I note from yesterday’s Independent—I do not know whether it is true, but if we have read it in the papers, it probably is—that the Government have reneged on their pledge to scrap that database. We already have the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency database for those with a driving licence and the passport database with information on 80% of the people in this country—exactly the same information as is on the ID card.
All that we want to do is make it easier for banks, GPs and employers to verify someone’s identity and thereby make it much more difficult for people to create multiple identities and commit identity fraud. That crime costs our economy £1.2 billion every year and has increased by 20% in the first quarter of this year alone. Combating identity fraud protects the security not just of individuals but of all of us collectively. Drug dealers, people traffickers and terrorists depend on access to false documents. Having no simple method of establishing and recording someone’s identity simply plays into their hands, as the police have said in numerous submissions, as the Conservative party stated in its pronouncements before the 2005 election and as the public have said in every consultation held by Governments of both persuasions over the past 14 years. The introduction of ID cards was linked to the switch to biometric passports, with all the costs intertwined. The national identity register is crucial to both, for reasons that I shall explain in a moment.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the scheme would be successful on none of those points unless it were, in time, to move towards being compulsory? People who are going to commit crimes would not participate in a voluntary scheme. During my early years in Northern Ireland, people were compelled to carry photographic driving licences whether they were drivers or not. That fundamentally altered the relationship between the citizen and the state, in a profoundly detrimental way.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, which has rather bedevilled this debate, as the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden well knows. There was a confusion among the public and politicians about whether the scheme would be compulsory or voluntary, and the whole debate in 2004 and subsequently was about whether future Parliaments would have the opportunity to declare the scheme compulsory. It would have taken a vote of Parliament, but yes, that was implicit in the legislation.
In the debate on 20 December 2004, Charles Clarke, who is sadly no longer in the House, said in his very first address to the House as Home Secretary, “Don’t vote for this Bill if you don’t want to see ID cards become compulsory.” The current Home Secretary voted for the Bill. I can only imagine what she would say if we proposed a compulsory ID cards scheme, having heard her rhetoric about how a voluntary scheme is the end of civilisation. However, she voted for that scheme on the clear statement of the then Home Secretary that Members should vote for it only if they wanted it to become compulsory. I disagree with a compulsory scheme and believe that we can have simple proof and protection of people’s identities without it becoming compulsory.
Second-generation biometric passports, planned to commence in 2012, would provide a crucial additional level of security, enabling verification that the person presenting a passport had the same fingerprints as those encoded on the chip. Amazingly, the Liberal Democrats appear to have convinced the Tories in their political pre-nup to scrap second-generation passports.
My hon. Friend pre-empts a crucial point that I shall come on to in a moment.
There was no mention of scrapping second-generation biometric passports in the Conservative manifesto. In fact, the Tories have not only been in favour of biometrics but wholeheartedly and enthusiastically in favour of them. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr Garnier) summed up the matter in 2007 when he said:
“There is not a Conservative Member…who disagrees with the notion that there should be biometric passports.”—[Official Report, 5 February 2007; Vol. 456, c. 671.]
The Prime Minister himself has admitted that
“there is a need for the use of biometrics on passports”.
Why the change of heart when we know that by locking people to one identity using advanced passport technology, we would help protect our country against the use of multiple identities by criminals, illegal immigrants and terrorists? Why, given that updating our passports would bring us in line with the rest of Europe, which has already set minimum passport standards to include facial and fingerprint biometrics, do we intend to allow our country to become an easy target for illegal immigration and our citizens to be subject to onerous checks at airports and ferry ports around the world? We had already introduced facial recognition image biometrics in British passports in 2006, but now the countries in the Schengen agreement are going further and the US has already imposed a fingerprint requirement on all visitors who have not historically required a visa—in other words, those from the UK.
I turn to the important point that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South raised. In March, when I was Home Secretary and sitting alongside the then Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (David Miliband), the House heard about the inquiry carried out by the Serious Organised Crime Agency, at the request of the Dubai authorities, into how 12 people with joint UK-Israeli citizenship had had their passports cloned without their knowledge. Those were pre-biometric passports. Second-generation biometrics would make such cloning impossible. Indeed, the current Foreign Secretary, who was then shadowing the position, when that statement was made, said:
“The Foreign Secretary said that the biometric passports introduced four years ago are more difficult to counterfeit. Does he consider these new passports to be as invulnerable to counterfeiting as it is possible to make them, or will the Government review whether any other steps are needed to protect the integrity of British passports? Is there any suggestion that British passports are more vulnerable than those of other countries, including other EU countries?”—[Official Report, 23 March 2010; Vol. 508, c. 135.]
No, there was not such a suggestion then, but there is now that, amazingly and incredibly, this Government are planning to abandon second-generation biometric passports and leave our country more vulnerable to attack. It is beyond me to understand how the new Home Secretary could have been lulled into that decision. Identity fraud, illegal immigration, terrorism and organised crime are international problems, and it makes sense for Britain to continue working with our international neighbours to tackle them. Biometric passports are part of an international drive to make travel documents more secure. Their electronic security features, including fingerprints, are a significant impediment to forgers and counterfeiters, and we need to keep pace with our neighbours if the UK passport is to continue to be recognised as having the highest integrity.
I, too, congratulate you on your illustrious elevation, Mr Deputy Speaker.
In Dover, people are concerned that border security has been lax for years. Why did the right hon. Gentleman not put more energy into dealing with the security of our borders? If he had done that rather than dealing with ID cards, maybe we would have had less illegal immigration.
That intervention was not worth waiting for. We put considerable effort into securing our borders. As he represents Dover, he will know that the chief constable of Kent has seen the number of illegal immigrants roving around the county reduced by 92% since my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) went over and did a deal with Sarkozy, who was then the Interior Minister, and shut down Sangatte. We have taken every measure possible. If the hon. Gentleman is interested in the security of his constituents in Dover, I tell him that I am talking about the current Government abandoning second-generation biometric passports, probably on the basis of a decision at the hippy commune known as the Liberal Democrat conference. That is an incredible decision.
On funding, the Government claim that scrapping the scheme will produce an initial £84 million in savings in the next four years. I would be extremely interested to learn how the Home Secretary came to that figure. On none of the statistics I saw when I was doing her job only three weeks ago does that make sense. Seventy per cent. of the start-up costs for ID cards are linked to first-generation biometric passports, to ensure that they fall into line with international standards. Those costs are unavoidable and the money is committed, so where does the £84 million come from?
Indeed—and for the grand sum of £1 million, which she will save by not giving pensioners and students their money back on the cards they acquired because they had the temerity not to forecast a Conservative victory at the general election. We will question that more closely in Committee.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way; I was unfortunately unable to persuade the Home Secretary to take an intervention on refunds.
I am seeking my right hon. Friend’s support for a suggestion made to me by one of my constituents, and perhaps the Government will also consider it. If the Government are unwilling to refund those who applied for a passport and paid the £30 in good faith, perhaps they would consider giving a credit to all card holders for the next time they apply for a passport.
That is a sensible suggestion, except that some people who have ID cards do not have passports. They are part of that 20% of the population who generally will not have a driving licence or bank account. We used to call them the socially excluded—indeed, the Government are supposed to be wedded to the idea of helping them—and many of them will not have that facility because they do not have a passport, but my hon. Friend’s point is relevant, and I shall address it further shortly.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Home Secretary must also cost in the additional cost in unemployment benefit that must be paid to my constituents if they do not manage to secure alternative employment when they lose their jobs because of the Government’s decision?
My hon. Friend might get an answer to that from the Home Secretary. Perhaps those staff should not have had the temerity to take those jobs, because they should have known that the Conservatives were going to win the next general election. This is the new, bizarre world in which we are living.
Abolishing the national identity register would save very little for three reasons: first, all the information held on our existing passport database will continue to be held; secondly, that information will need to be held securely, as it is now; and thirdly, we will still need to collect and securely hold the fingerprints of foreign nationals on a database.
The Government’s claim that scrapping ID cards will save £800 million in operating costs over the next 10 years is utter fantasy. We always proceeded on the basis of full cost recovery and made it perfectly clear that over 10 years, the operating costs of ID cards would be recovered through fees, so there would be no charge on general taxation over that period. However, if there are no ID cards, there is no charge for ID cards, and therefore no way of recovering the costs. By cancelling the scheme, the Government remove the income stream but leave the cancellation costs, which the taxpayer will be forced to pay, and let us not forget the continuing cost to the economy of fraud, abuse of the NHS, illegal immigration and unauthorised working. By cancelling the scheme, the Government will make not a saving, but a substantial loss.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that our black and Asian British constituents will come under suspicion, because some in authority will assume that they ought to have the card that foreign nationals must carry? We will have a return of the sus laws, because there will be double standards: one towards black and Asian migrants and British citizens who might be suspected of being migrants, and another towards other British citizens. Can the Home Secretary or a Home Office Minister assure us that there will be no increase in stop-and-search or sus law-type provisions against black and Asian British citizens?
That precise point has been made by Liberty, which opposes ID cards—[Interruption.] An hon. Member says that Liberty does not make that point, but it does, on the basis that ID cards for foreign nationals will be compulsory. Although it is a card with fingerprints and biometric identification, we cannot now call it an ID card, which is really silly—it must be called a “permit” or “warrant” or some such thing. Liberty says that either everyone should have a card, which is novel for Liberty, or no one should have one.
I will not give way because I am about to conclude.
My final point is that the Government intend not only to stop issuing cards, but to make the 15,000 already in circulation illegal. I find that despicable, and I do not think that that is too strong a word. How can any Government seek to punish hundreds of thousands of its citizens for having the temerity to take advantage of a scheme that was pledged in a manifesto, supported in law and introduced in an entirely legitimate way? [Interruption.] The Home Secretary is chuntering from the Front Bench, but I will gladly take an intervention.
Fifteen thousand is a significant number of people—[Interruption.] On Monday, the Deputy Prime said that he had made a slip of the tongue when he told one of my hon. Friends that the Government will certainly campaign for a yes vote in a Welsh referendum to devolve powers to Wales, and I think I am entitled to make a similar slip of the tongue. Of course I am talking not about hundreds of thousands of people—it would have been if the scheme had gone on a few months longer—but thousands, and 15,000 is a significant number of people.
Those in possession of identity cards ought to be able to continue to use them as a legitimate form of identification, and to travel in Europe and access services. At the very least, they should receive a refund, or the Government should take up the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) and offer a discount off future purchases. The Government should be ashamed of themselves for even thinking that they could treat people with such off-hand arrogance, and they must look again at that aspect of the Bill.
The Opposition remain unconvinced by the Government’s arguments for scrapping ID cards. The money saved will not pay for 3,000 extra police officers, as the Lib Dems claimed. In the long term, the proposals will cost us more money, hamper the efforts of the police to tackle identity fraud, and weaken rather than defend civil liberties. Illegalising cards that have already been issued will penalise those who bought them in good faith, including pensioners and students. Scrapping second generation biometric passports will threaten our borders and encourage illegal immigration, because our passport technology will lag behind that of our European neighbours. I urge the Government to rethink this expensive, misguided and spiteful little Bill.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to address the House for the first time, and in this fascinating debate, on a day when we are both maidens together—I would not comment on which of us is the fairer.
As is customary, I pay tribute to my predecessor, Sir Peter Viggers, who served as a Member of the House for 36 years, having been elected in 1974. Most notably, he was a junior Minister for Northern Ireland, and over the years was a member of the Select Committee on Defence and the Treasury Committee. I wish Sir Peter and Lady Viggers a very happy, restful, long and happy retirement, and my sincere hope is that they are both able to reflect upon many long years of public service, and not upon the events that dominated the last 12 months of the previous Parliament.
Another notable predecessor was Lord Palmerston, who may well have approved of the latest coalition: having started political life as a Conservative Member of Parliament, he crossed the Floor of the House to join the Whigs, was elected as the first MP for South Hampshire in 1832 and of course went on to become Prime Minister. As a humble new girl, and the first woman to represent Gosport, I am conscious of being a bit behind the drag curve. Being 13 years older—I do not admit that freely—than Lord Palmerston when he was offered the job as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and given that I did not catch the Prime Minister’s eye three weeks ago, when he filled that job, I suspect I will drop further behind my illustrious predecessor.
It is customary in a maiden speech to speak glowingly about one’s new constituency. Although a duty, it is also an enormous pleasure, because Gosport could be described as my dream seat. The Gosport constituency includes not only the historic town of Gosport, but the charming seaside resort of Lee on Solent, the beautiful coastal village of Hill Head and the equally lovely rural village of Stubbington. The man I call “Mr Gosport”, Councillor Peter Edgar, tells of a Gosport legend in which King Stephen and his brother Bishop Henry de Blois were on a little medieval ship that was caught in a fierce storm in the Solent. In danger of drowning, they were rescued by some brave fishermen who took them ashore in Gosport, at which point the bishop struck the ground with his stick and named the place “God’s Port Our Haven”—that is where Gosport got its name—and rewarded them with profitable markets and fairs. It is a good story—royalty in danger, a brave rescue and a good reward—and will always remain part of the story of Gosport. So, too, will the true story of Bishop Godfrey de Lucy, who in 1204 was commissioned by King John to build a fleet of ships to recapture Normandy from the French. So began Gosport’s 800-year history as a vital part in the defence of the realm. Indeed, England has never been involved in a major conflict without Gosport playing its part, right up to the modern day: we have just welcomed back 33 Field Hospital from Afghanistan.
There is a common misconception that Gosport is near Portsmouth, but as my constituents will explain, it is Portsmouth that is near Gosport. Gosport and Portsmouth fought on opposing sides during the civil war, and I am proud to say that on that occasion Gosport was on the side of Parliament. Gosport is a constituency of contrasts. It may be part of the affluent south of England, but it has pockets of shocking deprivation. I have met kids in my school visits who talk of things that young children should never have to experience. Thinking of my own seven-year-old son, it makes me so determined to work hard and change things for them.
Conversely, we have stunning waterfronts, the beauty of Stokes bay looking over to the Isle of Wight and the Falklands memorial gardens, with their amazing views across the harbour. There is also evidence of Gosport’s distinguished military heritage everywhere: HMS Sultan, which was one of the earliest Royal Flying Corps airfields in the country, and the military hospital Haslar, which first received patients in 1754. It later took patients from conflicts such as the battle of Trafalgar, and Queen Victoria described it as the noblest of institutions.
Reading my predecessor’s maiden speech in 1974, it staggers me how many of the Royal Navy establishments that he described have been stripped from Gosport in the past 30 years—not only that noble hospital at Haslar, but submarine base HMS Dolphin and Daedalus air base. We still have a range of military facilities including for engineering training and helicopter maintenance, but the prospect of shutting any more of those bases would be a disaster for my constituency. Any thought of moving the Royal Navy engineering school at HMS Sultan to Wales would be a huge upheaval for those from Portsmouth-based ships and their families, as well as a vast and unnecessary drain on the defence budget. If amalgamation of engineering training is so vital, why not bring the Royal Air Force and Army to Gosport and save huge amounts of money? We would welcome them with open arms, and it would save a huge sum.
Of course, the crowning glory of Gosport is its very special people, with their strength of character, warmth of spirit, good humour and generosity—not to mention their immaculate good taste at election time. However, recent Governments have starved the peninsula of infrastructure. We are the largest town in Britain with no railway station. Our one major access road, the infamous A32, has no dual carriageways and is blocked for much of the day. That is made worse as much of the population has to commute out to work because huge swathes of housing were built to match the targets of the previous Government but no jobs were created to match them.
Also under the previous Government, the wonderful Haslar hospital was closed. It was not only the last remaining military hospital in the country but a well-used community resource. Now Gosport is inadequately served for accident and emergency and other services, and this great hospital sits there in a mummified state of limbo at a time when we need military hospitals so badly. This is why I have chosen to talk in this debate: the billions of pounds already spent on identity cards were badly needed elsewhere for roads, better housing and to save that hospital. The good people of Gosport should be free to get on with their lives, with their jobs and with raising their families, and not have to share information about themselves unless it is for a good reason. They should not have every personal detail stored on a national register. It is appropriate for me to support the abolition of identity cards as a small gesture towards acknowledging the freedom of this nation’s people, given that Gosport has done so much to deliver the freedom of both this and other nations around the world.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) on a feisty maiden speech, demanding that her constituency get a greater share of resources and investment from the Government, and I wish her well in that endeavour. I also congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker, on your election. I intend to be brief, because my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary’s speech was excellent and put forward in considerable detail a great deal of what I would otherwise have needed to say. I speak as the former Home Secretary who published the Bill to which he referred extensively and which was supported by senior Conservative Members. However, I do not want to cover old ground; instead I want to admit to one or two mistakes, and touch on what may have happened since.
I need to be contrite enough to congratulate Phil Booth from NO2ID, Dr Whitley from the London School of Economics identity project, and others, for the tremendous campaign that they have run, over the past five years in particular, to stop this scheme. I congratulate them because they changed the culture and atmosphere around, and attitudes towards the scheme and its intentions in a way that those of us initially involved could not have conceived. In doing so, they have persuaded large swathes of the normally well-informed population, including vast swathes of the media, that the identity cards scheme and the second generation biometric register were intended to impact on the public and intrude on their civil liberties in a way that was never intended and was never going to happen. That they were wrong should not mislead us into misunderstanding what can happen in a vigorous democracy, and how careful we have to be in explaining our intentions and taking on arguments openly.
It is because we have such a vigorous democracy that we have reached this situation and are accepting that—for the time being, at least—the proposition is dead. However, the issues will not go away. The issue of second generation biometric passports will not go away because the rest of the world is moving around us, and because they are a more authentic and therefore verifiable way of securing our identities. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) is right to say that we need to find and develop simpler ways of securing, presenting and owning our own identities, in a manner that was not possible 10 years ago but is becoming possible now.
That is so particularly for specific purposes. In the end, I believe that our person will be our identity, and that we will be able to walk through electronic border controls and present ourselves, not a card or passport. It will automatically register our biometric fingerprints, our irises—in the future; at the moment the technology is not up to it, but it will be—and use facial recognition based on digital technology, which will avoid fraud.
I have a card here; I am very proud of it. I have been offered a lot of money for it on eBay. I have agreed with Simon Davies of Privacy International that we could frame it and put it in a gallery. I do not intend to auction it off because my grandchildren will want to hold it in their hands. They will say, “Granddad, what was so terrible about this card that you paid £30 for it? Did it involve you actually having to give deeply private information that was going to be shared with the rest of the world, or be intruded upon by criminals who were going to steal the information that was registered when you took up the card?” I will have to say to them, “I’m terribly sorry, but that didn’t happen. It was never going to happen, but people believed it was going to happen.” My grandchildren will say, “Did they really believe that? Do I understand from reading the history books that people believed it was going to cost £2.5 billion, and that they were going to employ 3,000 extra police officers?” I shall say, “Yes, they did.” My grandchildren will ask, “Did they go to school, granddad? Did they do mathematics? Did they have any grasp of economics?” I shall say, “No, they were substantially driven by the Liberal Democrats,” and that the Deputy Prime Minister from 2010 onwards, who was the leader of the Liberal Democrats, actually believed his own rhetoric.
I have a lot of time for the new Home Secretary. I like her personally, and I do not believe that she believed a word of the adjectival hyperbole with which she started her speech. She does not believe that the scheme was going to cost billions or that money that had never been raised would have been spent on projects that could not be funded because the money being spent on the register and the ID card was not coming from the taxpayer or from those purchasing the passport and the ID card. She does not believe that, but she has been forced to, because of the coalition agreement, which the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats sat down one afternoon to work out. Presumably, the new Chief Secretary managed to persuade the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), now the Foreign Secretary, that he had got it completely wrong, making it necessary to do away not only with the ID card—which, as the Home Secretary said, is symbolic—but with second generation biometric passports. The Foreign Secretary was persuaded that afternoon, and the Government and the country are now lumbered. What an odd way to carry on.
I do not know whether the new Chief Secretary has any grasp of economics, but he must now know, as the Conservatives now know, that there were no billions of pounds available to spend on anything else, whether on hospitals in Gosport or anywhere else. There was no pot of gold to draw on. We are apparently going to save £5 million a year over 10 years. Well, that is really going to knock a hole in the deficit and provide the cash for the deficit reduction strategy!
I have in my other hand my existing passport, which is totally forgeable, and is not really worth the paper it is written on. When I went to Europe twice this last month, they were really happy to have my ID card, because it has biometrics on it and it is more authentic, ensuring my identity is proved.
What have I learned from the last eight years? First, we need to explain more clearly what is beneficial to the individual rather than to the state. Secondly, we need to be absolutely clear about the costings so that they are not rolled up over 10 years and people’s individual purchase is not confused with taxation. Thirdly, we need to ensure that people do not believe that additional data is going to be taken that would previously not have been available for the passport or for the DVLA driving licence.
Incidentally, the BBC managed to get a driving licence for Freddie Forsyth, who wrote “The Day of the Jackal”, and for me. I promise the world that at no point in the future will I ever use the driving licence that the BBC obtained on my behalf in order to drive around this country. I would have been a much greater risk to the people of Britain than identity cards would ever have been in terms of intruding on their lifestyle, their liberty and their well-being. When I took out the ID card, the only thing I had to provide over and above the information for my passport was to pick from 25 options something relevant to my past that only I would know, which I could offer if my identity were to be challenged and a further check had to be made. That is all—no information that could be transferred for other purposes, no intrusion that criminals could get hold of and use beyond what they already had access to in other ways, nothing nefarious that would in any way intrude on my or anyone else’s civil liberties. The truth is, however, that people believed otherwise. They believed that there would be those problems, that the card would cost a lot of money, which could be spent on something else, and that the register and biometrics were not a priority at the time.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, but this is typical new Labour arrogance: everybody else was wrong, and they were right. What has been described are these benign, nice and inexpensive cards, forgetting the fact that they hold up to 50 pieces of information that would be stored and shared. That is what new Labour were enthusing about with these identity cards. Can the right hon. Gentleman not accept that perhaps the rest of us have got it right and he has got it wrong?
I thought I had accepted this afternoon that I and many others got it wrong, but not my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) or our admirable, and honourable, Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), who did a fantastic job in the time she was in post in getting the message across. I have already indicated that we did not explain the issue. The hon. Gentleman illustrates the position extremely well in saying that 50 bits of information were required. If he had gone along and got himself an ID card, he would have realised that that was complete and utter bunkum, but this has been repeated so often that people started to believe it. I challenge anyone who has an ID card, who went along and gave the information to be placed on that database to stand up this afternoon and challenge me. I will give way quite happily if people believe that they can justify the claim that this mega-amount of information had to be provided over and above what was required for the passport.
In the end, however, if people believe something in a democracy, that is what counts. I remember saying at 3 am Friday morning after the general election, “If you’re defeated, you’re defeated.” When defeated, it is right to go back, think again and work out how to develop sensible arguments that protect civil liberties, and protect the nation’s well-being as well.
I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your well-deserved appointment, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) on her excellent maiden speech.
I support the Identity Documents Bill, but one of the difficulties is that it should really be called the Identity Documents and Register Bill. It is the register aspect that I would like to concentrate on. Section 10 of the Identity Cards Act 2006 deals with
“Notification of changes affecting accuracy of Register”.
The claim that maintaining a database and any changes to it has no cost is ludicrous. There is obviously a saving from not having to change the database.
Under section 10(1):
“An individual to whom an ID card has been issued must notify the Secretary of State about…every prescribed change of circumstances affecting the information recorded about him in the Register”.
Under section 10(7):
“An individual who contravenes a requirement imposed on him by…this section shall be liable to a civil penalty not exceeding £1,000.”
Essentially, what that means is that once the information dealt with in schedule 1 is on the register, anyone who has an ID card—whether they are compulsory or not—is under a duty to notify and will be fined up to £1,000 if they do not inform the Government of those changes. Perhaps that was the stealth tax that was going to get the Government out of the financial mess the country was in. If we are talking about £1,000 fines for 60 million people, that comes to £60 billion, which is a good start: there is a third of the deficit gone. The reality is that all the debate, on the basis of which public opinion was formed, has been about the card and its cost. Once people start being fined for not telling the Government about changes, the position becomes much more difficult.
Schedule 1 of the 2006 Act is relevant to the subject of the 50 pieces of information, although the amount of information required obviously depends on the individual. The requirement for the individual’s “full name” is straightforward, but people change their names by deed poll from time to time, and if they do not tell the Government, they must pay a £1,000 fine. Next, the schedule refers to
“other names by which he is…known”.
People may have nicknames. If someone fills in an election nomination paper with a name by which he is known, but does not tell the Government for the purposes of the identity card, he will have to pay a £1,000 fine.
There are requirements for “date of birth” , “place of birth” and “gender” to be recorded. “Gender” is an interesting one. Under the Identity Cards Act 2006 (Application and Issue of ID Card and Notification of Changes) Regulations 2009, people can register two genders if they wish. I shall say more about that later.
The schedule also refers to
“the address of his principal place of residence”.
To be fair, people do need to tell the various authorities where they live, for electoral purposes and the like. However, paragraph 1(g) refers to
“the address of every other place in the United Kingdom or elsewhere”.
Someone with a holiday home in France must tell the United Kingdom Government where it is. If he sells it and does not tell the Government where he has moved, he will have to pay a £1,000 fine. It is a good way of raising money. A great many people, including many in the House, have more than one residence—they may have to work away from home—but if they do not tell the Government where that other residence is, they must pay £1,000.
The schedule demands
“a photograph of his head and shoulders (showing the features of the face)”.
The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) and my hon. Friends the Members for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) and for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) may wake up one day and decide that they would like to use the razor to a greater extent than usual. If they take such action and do not tell the Government, they must pay a £1,000 fine for not sending another photograph.
The passport system is simple and straightforward. Every 10 years, people must renew their passports and send in a new photograph. At one stage the Government got into a real mess with babies. They required a baby not to have its mouth open when being photographed, and people had to send in 20 photographs before one was considered acceptable. That was a serious problem. Under the ID card system, such people would fall outside the time limits specified in section 10 of the Act, and would have to pay a £1,000 fine.
My daughter decided to dye her hair green. Obviously that is a change, involving not just the price of the dye but a possible £1,000 fine for dyeing her hair green and not telling the Government. Let us suppose that I decide tomorrow to put on a dress and call myself Doris. The statutory instrument requires me to tell the Government that I am calling myself Doris and have an alternative gender. If the day after that I decide to call myself Ethel and do not tell the Government, I will have to pay a £1,000 fine. The Government are definitely making good progress in getting rid of the deficit: this is a very good stealth tax.
It is all a question of whether the Government serve the citizen or the citizen serves the Government. One of my constituents was stopped by the police on the Coventry road, which—as those who are acquainted with Yardley will know—is a very big road that, unsurprisingly, leads to Coventry. Everything, including his insurance, was perfect, but the wrong box was ticked on a form, and he was subsequently prosecuted and convicted of an offence that he had not committed. It took a lot of doing for us to reverse the conviction and remove it from the system. That is an example of what can happen when things are done for the convenience of the state rather than the convenience of the citizen. The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) said that this was not Big Brother, but I think that having to tell the Government every time one does something is a bit like Big Brother.
During the general election campaign I cut my finger on a piece of paper, and obviously that changed my fingerprint. Schedule 1.2 is headed “Identifying information”, and subparagraph (c) refers to fingerprints. If I had had an ID card and had not told the Government that I had cut my finger, I would have had to pay a £1,000 fine. Members may laugh, but such things happen. The purpose of speed cameras was to make money out of the fines. If a Department is targeted to be self-financing, it will look for solutions such as another change that should have been, but has not been, put on the identity card register.
There is no point in my reading out all of schedule 1, which is available to Members, as are the regulations which amend schedule 1. More than 50 pieces of information may be required, but the main issue is the sudden creation of a major duty for the citizen to tell the Government everything that he or she does. We all know how good the Government are at keeping information secure. They can get a little memory stick and lose a number of bank accounts, for instance. There is also the question of access to the information. The Data Protection Act may make it an offence to sell access to any of the databases, but when there is a single database in a single place all the information is tidily collated, and it may be worth someone’s while to obtain and pass to someone else information such as where a holiday home is in France, what name a person uses when wearing a dress, the colour of a person’s hair, or a national insurance number.
I am the proud owner of an ID card, and I went through the process of filling in the application form. Yes, I did give information such as my name and address, but there were huge parts of the form that I did not have to fill in, because I had already provided that information in order to obtain my passport. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that we should not give such information in order to obtain a passport?
If I follow the hon. Gentleman’s advice and shave it off, and then do not provide a photograph for the ID register, I will pay a £1,000 fine.
It is recognised that passport photographs go out of date. That is why children’s passports do not last as long as adults’ passports. But, having applied for a passport, we do not have a duty to tell the passport office that we have moved to a new address, or that the location of a second home has changed. There will be no £1,000 fine in such circumstances. The real difference is that individual citizens are threatened with a fine of up to £1,000 if they do not inform the Government’s ID card department of such changes. It could be said that the most intrusive aspect is not the ID card itself, but the maintenance of the register and, in particular, the duty for the individual to update the register.
I think that all the other aspects have been ably dealt with. A voluntary scheme is unlikely to achieve anything in terms of preventing crime, particularly serious crime. People who are willing to die in the process of committing crime will not be frightened of a £1,000 fine for not giving a photograph of themselves to the Government. We have heard no good arguments for how ID cards and the ID database would prevent crime. What is clear is that the identity register is massively intrusive. The duty that it places on the citizen to inform the Government of every change is an extreme step, forcing people to serve the Government and make things convenient for them by providing such information. It is obvious that this is all about convenience in the provision of services. The public interest is defined as the achievement of more efficiency in providing public services. The basic point is that the Government are here to serve the citizen; the citizen is not here to serve the Government.
I congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker, on your election and thank you for the opportunity to make my maiden speech. It is a privilege—an interesting one—to follow a fellow Birmingham MP, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming), who made the point very well that was brought out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) that there are those who believe in caricatures and myths.
Birmingham, which I am proud to represent, is a remarkable city, the birthplace of local government and municipal enterprise. Under Joseph Chamberlain and the visionary Victorian pioneers, Birmingham city council provided gas, water and electricity. The council built some of the first swimming pools because it understood the link between health and well-being. Some of those pools are still in use, including the great Moseley Road baths. Birmingham city council even established a municipal bank.
In the 20th century, under visionary pioneers such as Dick Knowles, the national exhibition centre, the national convention centre and the national indoor arena were remarkable examples of municipal enterprise and partnership with the private sector, which brought millions to Birmingham.
Birmingham remains the industrial heartland of Britain: 100,000 people work in manufacturing. Birmingham’s manufacturing contributes billions to our economy and to the quality of life and the culture of Birmingham itself. That is captured by the legend in the municipal museum,
“By the gains of Industry we promote Art.”
Birmingham is indeed a city of culture that deserves to win the accolade of European city of culture.
Birmingham is a city of diversity. As the proud son of Irish parents who left the emerald isle to escape poverty and to build a better life, I feel at home with what is the largest Irish community outside London, the Erin Go Bragh Gaelic games club, the magnificent St Patrick’s day parade and enjoying the craic in the New Inns. I feel at home in a city that celebrates its diversity: the Afro-Caribbean community and its churches, Vaisakhi, that great Sikh festival that brought 100,000 people to Birmingham’s Central park, and St George’s day, celebrated with passion in the working men and working women’s clubs, with more flags of St George being flown than I have ever seen before—English people proud of their identity and rightly recapturing the flag from the brain-dead bootboys of the BNP.
Birmingham is characterised by Brummie pride. There is a distinct ethos of hard work and enterprise, of smiling in adversity, of community and solidarity. I have attended excellent events such as that for Help for Heroes. These are proud people in proud communities in Erdington. Castle Vale, which I am privileged to represent—entered through Spitfire island, rebuilt under the remarkable Robin Corbett—is still a remarkable community to this day. It has a great community spirit; 5,000 people turned out recently to celebrate the life of a young girl who died of asthma and to raise money for charity so that no more would follow that terrible fate. Among the great communities of Erdington are Pype Hayes, the Asian community in Slade road, the traditional Green, Perry Common and Kingstanding.
Erdington is a constituency with manufacturing in its blood. Sadly too many workplaces have gone to the wall: Fort Dunlop, Cincinnati and IMI. However, there are still great industrial enterprises such as the Jaguar plant, the jewel in the crown of manufacturing excellence; GKN; Valor Fires, recently the winner of the Queen’s award; and small but dynamic companies such as Guhring.
Erdington is a stronger, fairer, better place thanks to 13 years of a Labour Government. The schools were rebuilt and new children’s centres were built, including the Gunter school and children’s centre, giving kids the best possible start in life. We have world-class health centres such as that in Stockland Green. Thousands of homes have been renovated as a consequence of Labour’s decent homes programme, including those on the Lyndhurst estate.
For all those advances over 13 years, Erdington has enduring deep-seated problems, including high unemployment. I have seen the impact of that. An excellent craftsmen from LDV lost his job and five years on was desperate to get back into work. A young builder from Marsh lane was almost in tears with frustration because he could not get a job in the industry for which he had been trained. Often there is still poor housing, long waiting lists and a lack of affordable family housing, which divides families and breaks up communities.
Crime is down thanks to Labour’s investment in the police and the excellent police community support officers in Erdington, but there are still too many examples of unacceptable antisocial behaviour. Too many people in Erdington were left behind, including those in Kingstanding. People lost their jobs three or four times in the 1980s and some of them never went back to work again. Two generations have grown up in workless households.
Erdington is a community that believes in the power of community, solidarity and self-help. I mention the excellent Enta project. Recently I was privileged to be with young men and women who had been brought back into the labour market by that excellent organisation, which believes in the legend of that song “You Raise Me Up”. But Erdington is a community that knows this: the deep-seated problems of jobs and housing are incapable of resolution without the power of good government.
For 25 years I fought great battles for working people in Birmingham. I am a Labour man proud of my trade union background, but I have worked with those from other political parties: the admirable hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), who chaired brilliantly the recent Select Committee inquiry into the scandal of the Kraft takeover of Cadbury’s; Baroness Shephard, who stood alongside me and my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan) in the drive to take the Gangmasters (Licensing) Bill into law, ending modern-day slavery; and the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), with whom I fought to save Rosyth dockyard from closure in Scotland. Therefore, where the Government get it right, I will work with them, but where government, national or local, gets it wrong, I will stand up for the people of Erdington as their champion, fighting their corner, making a difference for them and with them, and defending that which matters to their lives. There can be no rolling back of those great advances that we have made. Yes, choices have to be made, but I will resist any notion of asking those who are least able to bear the burden to pay the price of the misdeeds of the bankers.
I have seen that at first hand. A young schizophrenic approached me in Erdington high street and said, “Jack, for 10 years I could not get out of my home. Now I can, helped by a local project. They are going to help me to get back into work, but what will I do when they close the project because of city council cuts?” Therefore, my message to the Government is this: if they cut the future jobs fund, they will deprive the unemployed of Erdington of hope; if they cut the child trust fund, they will deprive parents of modest means of the ability to pass on to their children assets for the future; if they cut Labour’s expansion of university places, it will not be the stockbroker belt of Surrey and Sussex that suffers, but the young working-class kids of Erdington who will be deprived of the chance to become the first in their family to go to university.
I pay tribute to my predecessors: Robin Corbett and Siôn Simon, who have served the people of Erdington well, and I hope to follow in their footsteps. I have one other message to Government: do not step back from what Labour has done in recent years on industrial activism—that necessary partnership between industry and good Government. Everyone now understands, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, that we must rebalance our economy, no longer be heavily dependent on the financial sector but again rebuild the real economy, including our manufacturing base.
Locally, I have seen this in Castle Vale. The admirable chief executive of the Castle Vale community housing association says that we have rebuilt the housing and built a community, but we have a desperate shortage of jobs. That is why my No. 1 priority will be jobs and manufacturing—and I have to say that the subject of ID cards did not come up once in the 4,000 doorstep discussions I had throughout the general election campaign.
My priority will be jobs and manufacturing. I want us to preserve what is left of our manufacturing base, which is why I will promote a “Cadbury’s law” so that we protect vital British industrial assets from hostile takeovers by foreign multinationals. That is why I will stand up for the future of the Jaguar plant in my constituency, and that is why I will work—with Government, I hope—to promote the hi-tech industries of the future. I want green manufacturing in Birmingham and a green investment bank for Birmingham, but as I know from experience of dealing with major manufacturing companies, there is a simple reality: manufacturing will flourish only if there is a partnership between good government and these world-class companies.
Historically, Birmingham was the laboratory of the world and the workshop of the world, combining British genius, enterprise and hard work. Too often now, however, it is British genius, but made in China. For both Birmingham and Britain, the single biggest task is the renaissance of our manufacturing industries, and I say this to the Government: do not walk away from Birmingham’s great industries, and do not condemn this generation to the fate suffered by that of the 1980s. In the 21st century, we must not have a generation of young people with no work and no hope. Birmingham, Erdington deserves better.
I congratulate you on your election, Mr Deputy Speaker, and thank you for giving me this opportunity to make my maiden speech. I also congratulate the previous maiden speaker, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), not only on his excellent speech but, if I am not mistaken, on becoming the first Member of this House to make his maiden speech while his wife, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), was not only present in the Chamber but sitting before him on the Front Bench.
It is a big step for anyone to represent his cathedral city in this House. Many previous maiden speakers have alluded to the difficulties of filling the large shoes of their predecessors. In my case, that is literally true as both of my feet would probably fit into one of Parmjit Dhanda’s shoes. I pay tribute to him for the work he did on behalf of Gloucester, his great interest in Gloucester City football club and his contribution to the relocation and rebuilding of Gloucestershire college. I also respected his enthusiasm—although I did not share it at all—for the regionalisation of many things, including government, planning, the police and fire control centres. In these respects at least, I hope that small is beautiful.
It is appropriate that I am making this maiden speech on behalf of my Gloucester constituents during the Second Reading debate of the Bill to abolish ID cards, which are certainly a vivid example of the misuse of both parliamentary time and taxpayer money.
The main issue in my city and others like it is not dissimilar to that described by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington: we are a great working city which now has record youth unemployment and too many families with no working role model—in fact, there are occasionally three generations living entirely off benefits. I believe that everyone in Gloucester will support me in our main endeavour today—to increase business growth in order to generate more jobs, especially for the young, and that this will in turn generate the tax revenues that fund the front-line services that are so crucial for everyone in my city.
Let me try to put our work in context. Gloucester first appeared on the map through two early attempts at European integration: first, it was the Roman colonia of Glevum, and it was then at the forefront of a large Norman military and religious building programme, which has left us with the glories of Gloucester cathedral. However, as Conservative Members know so well, economic development rarely follows Government plans, and our next phase of mass tourism was created by the unfortunate and regrettable homophobic act of regicide against Edward II in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael). The numbers of pilgrims then arriving in our city have only recently been exceeded, with another pilgrimage after the filming of Harry Potter in our cloisters.
Our true business adaptability was shown during the industrial revolution, however, when we created, first, the world’s deepest canal, and then Britain’s most inland port, to bring raw materials to Gloucester to make things. That is where my city has excelled: we have always made things. We manufactured wagons during the age of the railway to carry everything from coal to maharajahs, with slightly different degrees of comfort, and most spectacularly we built the world’s first jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor, which was exported to 14 countries.
Today, we face different times and challenges. Like many other constituencies, our business sector has a strong retail and financial element, but we continue to manufacture despite the large drop in our manufacturing sector during the last 10 years. Some 15% of Gloucester’s gross domestic product still comes from manufacturing, including health products and large quantities of materials for the aerospace industry such as insulation, coatings and cylinders, and almost every ice cream that every Member has eaten in this country comes from the Wall’s ice cream factory in Gloucester.
It is as a symbol that I am today wearing something manufactured in Gloucester. The shirt I am wearing was made two days ago on the Cross in the heart of our city by Gloucester cutters and machinists, and I am proud to say that the company that makes these wonderful shirts will shortly be opening a retail space in Bombay, demonstrating that Gloucester will soon be exporting to India again.
At the same time as this greater diversity in manufacturing and business enterprise, we have seen a growing diversity of our residents. I thought it would be useful as a new Member of Parliament to have lived and worked in 10 countries and to speak the languages of eight of them, but the people of Gloucester speak 46 languages and so, in this as in so much else, I still have a lot to learn.
It will be of interest to Members to learn that many of our residents from overseas come from close to the Indian port of Surat in Gujarat, which was, by wonderful historical irony, the port where Elizabethan sailors from this country first landed in India some 450 years ago. I welcome all my friends from Gujarat, and also more recent arrivals. I am proud to have been invited as the guest of honour at the opening this weekend of the new association for Tamils and also to an event by the Polish community.
Today, the truth is that all of us, whatever our origins, face severe difficulties in handling the record youth unemployment and in trying to re-grow our economy to provide jobs for our young people. That is why all my constituents will welcome measures taken by this Government to stimulate business, which we must remind ourselves is the sole source of growth, providing jobs and then tax revenues for the services that many Members are calling for in our different constituencies.
The most famous book written about Gloucester is Beatrix Potter’s “The Tailor of Gloucester”. Some Members will remember the sad moment when the tailor runs out of money and finds that there is “no more twist”. In his case, he was bailed out by the mice, who in the dead of night brought both the cloth and the needles and finished his sewing for him, but today we cannot trust entirely to the benevolence of the mice in Gloucester to re-stimulate our economy, and therefore I welcome the changes that I am sure this Government will make in order to bring about that re-stimulation.
So I promise the constituents of Gloucester, whom I am so proud to serve, that I will work ceaselessly, especially to help business growth that will provide job opportunities and generate tax revenues. To those ends, I intend to create a new all-party parliamentary group on urban regeneration—which links so many of these issues together—and I shall work with Members on both sides of the House to explore new ways of contributing to the solutions in that area. If we can successfully stimulate micro-regeneration on the streets, as well as macro-regeneration through projects and new investment, it will be possible for the people of Gloucester to take greater pride in our city and for hon. Members and people all round the country to see that, like our cathedral and our rugby club, our entire city belongs to the premier league.
I am grateful to you for calling me to make my maiden speech today, Mr Deputy Speaker. I should like to congratulate the hon. Members for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) and for Gloucester (Richard Graham) on their excellent maiden speeches, and, especially, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) on his passionate and informative speech.
I believe that a Member of Parliament once described maiden speeches as lasting 10 minutes, beginning with a few nice words about the previous Member—often the most difficult part—followed by a description of the constituency and an indication of the Member’s own parliamentary obsessions, and concluding with a passing reference to the subject at hand. I can assure hon. Members that I have no difficulty in paying tribute to my predecessor, Martyn Jones. I have known him for 24 years; indeed, I campaigned for him when he was first elected in 1987, in what was then the parliamentary constituency of Clwyd, South-West. Martyn was rightly proud of serving as Chair of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, and of all the painstaking and detailed work he did to ensure that money left lying in dormant bank accounts found its way to good causes. Many hon. Members who served alongside Martyn will recall his distinctive bow ties. Indeed, one of the first messages I received after my election came from a well-wisher who ended his note with the rather startling comment:
“Long may the tradition of bow tie-wearing Joneses representing Clwyd South continue.”
I am afraid that I might have to break with that tradition before it becomes too entrenched.
Clwyd South is not one community but many, and that is something that we are very proud of. It has agriculture, industry, tourism—including a world heritage site at Pontcysyllte aqueduct—natural beauty, including the breathtaking Horseshoe pass, and a world-famous international music festival in the Llangollen international eisteddfod. It was also the home of Wales’s first ever national Welsh language youth festival, the 1929 Urdd eisteddfod, at Corwen. It is the home of the great centre of the co-operative movement at Cefn, and of the site of the citadel of Welsh music, culture and non-conformity at Rhosllanerchrugog. We also have the historic base of a former iron and steelworks at Brymbo, which was where my father worked. Sadly, the steelworks itself closed almost 20 years ago, with its blast furnace being shipped off to power the economic revival of China. My constituency also has a history of coal mining, including mines near Chirk, Bersham and Hafod.
There is a history of coal mining in my family, as there is in many families from my area. My paternal grandfather was killed in a major mining accident in Gresford in 1934. My maternal grandfather, also a coal miner, started work at the age of 12. A year or two later, my grandmother had left school and was caring for her parents and siblings. Because of childhood illness, my mother was not allowed to sit the 11-plus examination. She left school and went to work at 15, having to train in her own time to become a medical secretary. All those people, and many others like them from my home community, experienced a poverty of finance and of opportunity in one way or another. It was the kind of poverty that brought together ordinary people in communities across the United Kingdom to seek election to this House to change things for the good. Without such people, many of the opportunities that people of my generation have enjoyed would not have been possible.
That type of poverty—of finance and of opportunity—has been well documented, and rightly so. But there was another type of poverty in my home community that is less well known. It was the poverty of a child going into their local school and not merely being denied the opportunity to be taught in their own language, but in many cases being punished for speaking it. Indeed, in the 19th century, there was the common punishment of the “Welsh Not”, a piece of wood worn around the necks of children who spoke Welsh, who would later be caned. It might shock hon. Members to learn that, even after the use of the “Welsh Not” ceased—indeed, as recently as the 1930s and 1940s—children in the communities that now make up Clwyd South and in many other parts of Wales were punished for speaking Welsh at school; and even after those barbaric practices ceased, there was a sharp decline in the use of the Welsh language. It took decades before its use was finally accepted as mainstream.
Today, I rejoice that I can swear my oath as a Member of Parliament in Welsh, but in doing so, I pay tribute to people such as my former head teacher, Mrs Mair Miles Thomas, who fought for the Welsh language at a time when it was not fashionable to do so. They were ordinary people in the mould of Mrs Rosa Parkes, and their commitment and dedication to civil rights deserve wider recognition.
I know that, for many Members, part of the art of a maiden speech is naming every single community in their constituency, but for Clwyd South that would not be possible, such is the profusion of villages and small towns spread over a vast terrain of 240 square miles. In today’s debate, we have heard much about the protection of the rights of the few, and I have found much of that debate interesting and informative. When one considers the nature of constituencies such as Clwyd South, one is indeed considering the rights of the few. It is not difficult to understand why, over the years, local campaigners have spoken out against proposals drawn up in metropolitan areas, apparently with our best interests at heart, whether for the deregulation of the bus services in the 1980s, for a rural school, for a post office, or for a game plan drawn up by metropolitan policy wonks to “equalise” us all into communities of 70,000 people, regardless of sparseness, terrain, or other local factors. Those of us who care about our rural communities will not be railroaded in that way.
That is why I also hope that those who have to make undoubtedly difficult decisions will not consider the rate of value added tax as a mere statistic to be increased at will. In many areas such as Clwyd South, where small businesses form the backbone of the local economy, the net result of high rates of VAT would be an intense struggle in many cases, and bankruptcy for the local builder, the plumber, and the small business person in others.
On that note, and having made those points, I pledge to do my best to serve the people of the communities of Clwyd South and to contribute to the life and work of this House. Diolch yn fawr.
May I add my congratulations on your recent election, Mr Deputy Speaker, and thank you for giving me this opportunity to make my maiden speech? It is a great honour to serve Finchley and Golders Green, and I have found the trust placed in me quite humbling as I walk around this building. I should also like to thank the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) for telling the House of the interesting and emotional journey that has led her here, and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) for his passionate support for Birmingham and for the manufacturing industry that he seeks to recreate. I should also like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) for his evocative description of that fair city.
First of all, I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor. Dr Rudi Vis was not of my party, but I do regard him as a friend of over 20 years. He served this House for 13 years before retiring a few weeks ago, but he sadly died less than a week ago. He will be a sad loss to public service. He was a diligent public servant, in this House and also in the London borough of Barnet, where we both served together. Sadly, he leaves a wife and teenage children, but I know that they can be proud of his record of public service. He served his community of Finchley as a local councillor, and represented the wider community of Finchley and Golders Green in this House.
I should like to comment on another of my predecessors. Those hon. Members in the Chamber a couple of days ago will have heard my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) claiming that his constituency gave the country the first king of England. I cannot claim that for Finchley and Golders Green, but perhaps I can claim that we gave the country the latter-day Boadicea—in one Margaret Hilda Thatcher. In my view, my noble Friend is the best peacetime Prime Minister that we have had. In this current economic climate, we could learn much from her resolve in addressing the economic crisis that she inherited. Then, unemployment and inflation were rising, and our public sector spending was out of control.
Perhaps the task ahead for our Government today is slightly greater, as Baroness Thatcher never managed to cut public spending. She was able only to slow its growth, yet we have laid out plans to cut public expenditure—something of a daunting task. Like her, however, I believe that we must return to sound money and good housekeeping, and to protecting our cherished freedoms. Throughout her premiership, she remained an active and effective constituency MP, and I shall be fortunate if I achieve a fraction of what she achieved through my campaigns to improve breast cancer screening for local women, to promote infrastructure investments on the north circular road, and for the free schools programme, which are so wanted and deserved by my local population.
Finchley and Golders Green is no longer the suburban seat that Margaret Thatcher knew. It is now metropolitan London. We have huge pockets of wealth and pockets of deprivation. We have the Hampstead Garden suburb, the largest conservation area in Europe where houses can cost from £80 million downwards. Within miles, however, we come to pockets of deprivation on our estates that need regenerating. We also have Brent Cross Cricklewood, which is the largest regeneration scheme in the UK. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will soon give the green light to it.
We also have the finest schools in the country. Barnet council is a net importer of pupils from our neighbouring boroughs, which clamour to send their children to our local schools. If I may, I should like to mention one fine school: Christ’s College, which produced my noble Friend Lord Sachs, the Chief Rabbi, and of course our own Mr Speaker Bercow.
Finchley and Golders Green is not known for manufacturing or farming, and neither does it have a fabulous cathedral about which I could wax lyrical. However, it does have the highest level of graduates in London and we rely on, and contribute to, the knowledge-based economy.
Perhaps it was always thus. Those colleagues who still use fountain pens might be pleased to know that, in 1832, Dr Henry Stephens invented blue-black ink, and that he was based in Finchley. I am pleased to say that he went on to become the Conservative Member of Parliament for the neighbouring seat of Hornsey, which is now held by our coalition partners in Hornsey and Wood Green.
We are also home to the European headquarters of McDonald’s, which I am sure hon. Members will have heard of, and to the Pentland Group, of which they may not have heard. However, I am sure that they will have heard of some of their brands, such as Berghaus, Ted Baker, Lacoste, Red or Dead and Speedo. The latter brand is quite prominent in the popular press this week. The Pentland Group is also the greenest and most innovative company in the UK. The way that it turns goods produced by local manufacturing companies into global brands is quite remarkable.
Finchley and Golders Green is now a vibrant metropolitan area, with one of the most diverse communities in the UK. I have the largest Jewish population of any constituency in the UK, at some 25% of my electorate. However, living harmoniously alongside that very large Jewish community is a large and growing Muslim and Hindu community. Historically, those communities have not always seen eye to eye, yet our area enjoys beacon status for community cohesion.
It is that community cohesion that has led those communities to cherish their historic rights and freedoms. Many of our faith communities oppose ID cards, albeit for different reasons. The Jewish community opposes them because of their history and experience in Nazi Germany, and the Muslim community does so because of their experience post-7/7 and post-11 September 2001.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) once commented that ID cards had been touted around from Minister to Minister until one was found who was gullible enough to accept the idea. The ID cards were a solution looking for a problem: they were meant to combat under-age drinking first of all, then identity theft, fraud and illegal immigration, and now terrorism. However, they would do little to reduce the numbers of those who work or employ illegally. Employers are already required to check documentation. Illegal employment is due to weak enforcement and poor compliance by both the agencies involved and employers.
As a former banker—and I have to confess that my family are somewhat confused as to whether going from banker to full-time politician is a move up or down—I can tell the House that I have seen at first hand how organised crime can produce counterfeit documents that not even the Government could produce through their official agencies. I have seen instances of identity theft and fraud that have been based on such counterfeit documentation, and that leads me to believe that no ID card would counter those crimes, as organised crime will beat the system.
Moreover, the use of ID cards in Madrid did not prevent terrorism there, and it would not have stopped the bombers on 7/7. In my view, we are right to abolish ID cards, as they shift the balance away from citizen to the state and give the Government access to data that we do not know will be kept secure—and neither do we know how that data might be used.
Sixty years ago, Finchley played a role in abolishing the last ID card system, which was introduced during the second world war. On 7 December 1950, one Clarence Willcock was driving down Ballards lane in Finchley—the very road where my constituency office is based—when he was stopped by the police and asked to produce his identity papers. He refused. He was then prosecuted and convicted. He appealed, and the Lord Chief Justice hearing his appeal said that ID cards were intrusive and undermined the relationship between law enforcement and the people. He was right then, and he is right today. The result was that ID cards were scrapped.
Sixty years ago, a resident of Finchley instigated the scrapping of ID cards. Today, I am pleased that this resident of Finchley will be doing his bit to scrap the latest version of ID cards.
I congratulate you on your appointment, Mr Deputy Speaker. I can already sense you melting into that Chair, and I wish you many years in the role. I can also see the other Mr Deputy Speaker bursting to get on to that Chair, dressed in what can only be described as the best of Deputy Speaker finery.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) on a fine maiden speech. He had some remarkable predecessors and he paid a fitting tribute to Rudi Vis, who was very much respected and liked across the Chamber. We have heard some other fantastic maiden speeches, including a fine and passionate one from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey). He brings vast experience to the Chamber and I look forward to hearing many more robust and meaningful contributions from him as this Parliament progresses. The hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) gave a passionate defence of the Welsh language, and my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) and I are similarly passionate about the Gaelic language. We hope to hear many more speeches on that theme as she makes her contributions in Parliament.
I enjoy the maiden speech season. It is great because we hear all these fine tributes to former colleagues and are given an encyclopaedic tour of the UK’s constituencies. We have several more maiden speeches to hear and I must say that I could hear one every day for the next Parliament if so many are as fine as the ones that we have heard in the past few days; all the speeches have been excellent, and I look forward to hearing some more this afternoon.
I congratulate the coalition Government because they have been as good as their word. The Con Dems have condemned Labour’s hated identity cards to the scrap bin of history and I say well done to the coalition Government. Is it not bizarre, even in these days of political cross-dressing, that it has taken a right-wing Conservative Home Secretary to scrap perhaps the most anti-civil libertarian measure of recent times, which was proposed and introduced by a Labour Government?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that. I observed with great interest the Conservatives’ new interest in civil liberties when they were in opposition. We must hope that they maintain it in government and do not go back to form, because the Conservatives have not got a great track record on these issues.
I shall leave it to the Labour party to decide how it wants to describe itself, but what on earth were Labour Members were thinking about? What were they trying to do with ID cards? What was a left- of-centre, notionally socialist, party doing introducing ID cards? ID cards were the low water mark of Labour’s anti-civil libertarian agenda and the high water mark of Labour’s attempt to usher in a new surveillance society. Thank goodness the cards have been stopped and Labour has not got away with it.
Listening to the right hon. Members for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) and for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), one would have thought that they were introducing nice, cuddly, friendly, inexpensive little things that would not bother a soul. The truth is that ID cards would have changed for ever the nature of the relationship between the citizen and the state. ID cards, and the much more dangerous national register, would, for ever and a day, have put the onus on the citizen to have his information shared. They would have changed the relationship around entirely, so I am pleased they have gone.
Where on earth did these things come from? I wish to be charitable—you know me, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am charitable when I can be—so I should say that perhaps they were an incoherent, bizarre, knee-jerk response to the events of the past decade. One can imagine the conversation around the Cabinet table, with the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough saying, “Listen boss, I have a new idea that will show that we are actually doing something—ID cards. They will upset the civil liberties brigade, but that plays well with the focus groups. They will certainly wrong-foot the Tories.” One can just picture the enthusiastic nodding of Messrs Reid and Clarke as they thought that they had come up with a cunning plot to get one over on the Tories and seem as though they were doing something. That is what it was all about—I am being charitable to them. They wanted to be seen to do something in the face of the dreadful events at the beginning of the previous decade.
Of course, time passed and the cards did upset the civil liberties brigade, but time also proved that, for tackling terrorism, the cards were as much use as Emu without Rod Hull. They would have done nothing to tackle terrorism. We have seen the events in Spain and Turkey. Fair enough, I accept that, as hon. Members have said, there were convictions based on the use of ID cards, but the cards did nothing to stop those events. The story had to change: the cards could no longer exclusively be about tackling terrorism, but had to be about more than that. Seemingly, they were about tackling identity fraud and illegal immigration and would even help people to play the lottery. They would be not so much ID cards but supercards—the cure of all society’s ills. The problem was that nobody believed a word of it. Despite the ridiculous rewriting of history about what identity cards were and what they were intended to be, everyone knew what they were. It was the difference between the state and the individual.
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman’s speech, which we are all enjoying, but does he accept that the ultimate irony in all this is that although ID cards were to remedy all of society’s ills, as he has outlined, they were to be voluntary at first? There was to be an attack on social security fraud, terrorism and criminality, but people had to volunteer for it.
The hon. Gentleman is right. That contradiction was even acknowledged by Labour Front Benchers as being the thing that would do ID cards in. What was the point of them if the scheme was to be voluntary? Could anyone see Mr Terrorist popping off to his post office voluntarily to apply for an ID card? That was never likely to happen. It was a ridiculous idea and the Labour party knew that, as has been acknowledged by its Front Benchers.
Labour persisted with the scheme, but that approach and all the talk about the new things that ID cards would do only further confused the already sceptical public about what the cards were all about. The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle is right that ID cards were quite popular in their early days. At first, about 80% of the public thought that they would be a good thing, but that number slowly went down over the years as the public became familiar with what the cards were to do and as they heard the arguments and saw the costs escalate year after year. What ID cards became for new Labour was not so much some great suggestion that it was bringing to the British people as a political virility signal—something that a dying and decaying Government had to push forward to be seen to do something.
When I was preparing this speech, I had no idea what the right hon. Gentleman was going to say. I did not know whether ID cards were to be dumped or to be the first inclusion in the next Labour party manifesto. Indeed, I still am not sure exactly what the Labour party’s position is on them. We know that it is not voting against the measure tonight. What I have heard from Labour Members so far is that they think that ID cards are still a good idea, but the way that they have described them is like no other description of them that I have ever heard.
I had thought that ID cards would be subject to the same sort of revisionism that has been seen with some of the Labour leadership candidates. I thought that they might go the same way as the Iraq war or Alf Garnett’s immigration policies, but, no, it seems that they are still to be a feature of Labour’s new vision and version to reconnect with the British public. They will be there to try to reconnect with the British public.
Might the hon. Gentleman be being a little harsh on the Labour party? That might seem an odd thing to say, but this idea has rested since time immemorial in the Home Office, which pulled it out yet again in Michael Howard’s Green Paper, which was defeated. There is a long history of the state—the Crown—seeking to number and identify every citizen in this kingdom.
The hon. Gentleman is spot on. He has made a better assessment of the functions and uses of ID cards than we have heard from Labour Members.
I come to where we are now. I welcome the Bill, but a few issues concern me and I say this with all sincerity to the Minister for Immigration. I am still concerned that foreign nationals are expected to have ID cards. It might be called a permit or something else, but it seems to me to be quite like an ID card. I wish that the Government would do away with the whole scheme. Why keep an element of a discredited scheme? All I can see is some kind of divisive legacy to Labour’s ID cards if they are kept for foreign nationals. I hope that he will reconsider that.
I want to ask a bigger question. What are we to make of the Conservatives as the champions of civil liberties? That is great, but it certainly does not chime with experience. Throughout the last few decades, the Conservatives were totally illiberal when it came to proposing legislation, although they found a new thirst for civil liberties in opposition. I hope it stays.
I know you will be thinking, Mr Deputy Speaker, that all those Liberals will protect us and make sure the Conservatives do the right thing when they are presented with the first national security brief that comes their way. However, although the Minister for Equalities is part of the Home Office Front-Bench team, most of the senior positions seem to be reserved for our Conservative friends. I wonder whether perhaps the Liberals are not trusted on the key issues for the Home Office; for example, the views of some Liberals on immigration might not chime so well with Back-Bench Conservatives. I am concerned that the Liberals have some work to do to make sure that those guys are kept on the right track. That is their job, because if the Conservatives go back to form, we may be in a bit of trouble. Only recently, the Conservatives opposed the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000, so the Liberals will have a tough job keeping the Conservative party on track.
But today is not a day to be churlish. There is good news. We have what we wanted—the end of ID cards. It is good riddance to bad rubbish. It was a dreadful, dreadful idea. I still do not know what Labour was thinking about. Now that Labour Members are in opposition, I hope they acquire a thirst for civil liberties again and that the party goes back to what it used to be when its members championed civil liberties.
Let us never again have a situation when any Government propose such anti-civil libertarian measures. Campaign groups have done an extraordinary job in bringing them to our attention. NO2ID and Liberty have been fantastic at informing the British public about the ID card proposals, and I pay tribute to their excellent work. I hope that the Minister for Immigration and the Front-Bench team will look at some of the outstanding issues such as ID cards for foreign nationals
Today is a good day. We have wanted rid of ID cards since they were first suggested. They have not been available for any Scottish services. To people who took out ID cards and want compensation—sorry. They should have at least identified that the cards were controversial before they bought them, and they should not be entitled to compensation. They took the risk of buying ID cards; it was their decision.
Today is good news. Let us make sure it continues, but let us keep watching the Conservatives like a hawk.
May I congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker, on your new position? I also congratulate the other maiden speakers today.
I did not think I would be following up a line about Rod Hull and Emu in my maiden speech. I have a lot of respect for the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). I have met him many times and agree with many of the things he said. Following the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I can sit together during World cup matches and support England.
I want to say a few words about identity documents. As has been pointed out, I do not believe that terrorists will volunteer to get an ID card. I do not believe that after the public’s initial enthusiasm for ID cards they wanted to be taxed again for more paperwork.
Many supporters of identity cards suggested that they would address illegal immigration. During the election campaign in Keighley and Ilkley, immigration was a big issue. Sadly, that was because many people had lost confidence in the Government’s addressing illegal immigration to this country. At that point, sadly, some people considered supporting right-wing extreme parties, as people in Keighley have done in the past. What was actually required to address the issue was not an ID card, but a strong, robust and sensible position on immigration—capping numbers and making sure that we secured our borders. The good news is that we did offer that, and the public listened and believed us. The two right-wing fascist groups that stood in Keighley were severely trashed.
I would like to compliment the work of my predecessor, Mrs Ann Cryer. I have known Mrs Cryer for many years and, politically, we first met when she was campaigning to save Oldfield school—at the time, the smallest school in the constituency—which the local Labour council was trying to close. She intervened, spoke to the Secretary of State and gained support to save the school. I was a councillor in that ward at the time—I still am, in fact—and many local people appreciated her intervention.
Mrs Cryer campaigned vigorously for the rights of women. At one event I remember attending, there was a significant proportion of members of the Muslim community. They had been segregated into women and men. Ann insisted on only addressing the women in the room if they were to be segregated. It was a powerful statement to the men in the room that the women did not need to be treated in that way.
Members will know of the work that Ann did in highlighting the abuse of young women by men in my constituency, and her work is being continued. Sadly, the abuse is still going on and the work of the police and social services is seeking to address it. The final piece of work by Ann Cryer about which the House will know is forced marriages, which are not to be mixed up with arranged marriages. Forced marriage is a vile activity that Ann fought against for nearly all her time as an MP. I am sure that she will continue the fight in retirement. I offer my wishes that Mrs Cryer has a long and happy retirement.
The family name will of course be kept in the Chamber for some time to come, in that the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer) has been elected. I met him for the first time in 32 years a couple of weeks ago. He and I went to school together. He was the Labour candidate in the mock elections in 1979 and I was the agent for the Conservatives. [Hon. Members: “Who won?”] Sadly, he won on that occasion. In the same year, his father, the late Bob Cryer, won the parliamentary seat by 78 votes, the first time that Keighley had not gone in the direction of the Government of the time.
I am from the village of Oakworth, and live there. Before I leave the Cryers, I should say that Ann, Bob and John are all from Oakworth and, obviously, they have all become MPs. I have the great privilege of representing my town as well. The first MP for Keighley was from Oakworth. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr Pickles), is from Oakworth. The son of the local vet, one Alastair Campbell, is also from Oakworth. The Notting Hill of the north, possibly? Or maybe there is something dodgy in the water.
I have listened to many maiden speeches over the last couple of days and many Members have talked about their constituency being the jewel in the crown of the country. They are wrong; mine is. The place I represent has Brontë country: Haworth, the wuthering heights and the wildness of the moors. Ilkley moor looks down on the town of Ilkley, a beautiful place with a great sense of identity. There are also the great towns of Keighley and Silsden. It is an immensely diverse place with great wealth in parts of it. Sadly, there is also great poverty. Keighley Central is one of the most deprived wards in the whole country, to the extent that some people are still using outside toilets, which is a disgrace in the 21st century.
In parts of the constituency, life expectancy is nine years longer than in other parts. Educational attainment is low, particularly among Muslim young men and boys, who are not achieving their potential. Unemployment is high. Drug dealing and drug abuse is a big issue. I have the great privilege of representing a beautiful place which is immensely diverse, with a great populace and huge social issues that need to be addressed. On our estates, there is third-generation benefit dependency. Many young members of our Muslim community are not ambitious or aspirational and do not have the opportunity to break out of the poverty in which they live.
I believe that education and skills are the way forward. To benefit from that—Ann said this and I repeat it—our young people must come to school speaking English. There is a huge issue associated with that, not just in the Muslim community, but in the white community. Understanding of the English language is poor in many of our white working-class areas. That needs to be tackled.
Until a couple of weeks ago, I had the great privilege of being the leader of Bradford council, which is a tremendous honour. Bradford is a place of massive challenge, but also a great city. I put on record my thanks to the chief executive, Tony Reeves, and his staff for the tremendous work that they do, particularly in education and with looked-after children, which is extremely important to his team.
I took on the responsibility of attempting to address community cohesion in Bradford. We were asked how such an academic philosophy can be put into practice. The answer is through an educated work force, decent homes, and people being healthy, having jobs and living in a safe environment. Then, when communities are brought together, they do not simply tolerate each other, but respect each other. I want to aspire to promoting and achieving that during my term as the MP for Keighley.
Finally, I am former Private Hopkins of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment and I am extremely proud of that. It is now amalgamated into the Yorkshire Regiment, which gets its new colours next week. I have watched this place making decisions, and sometimes not being able to make decisions, about war. We send our guys and our women to war, and it must be a legal war. I am very much aware of my responsibility in sending those young men and women to war. We must give them the right equipment and, when the conflict ends, look after and care for them.
I support the end of the identity document. I also intend to support the Government in addressing the huge financial deficit in the coming years as the MP representing Keighley and Ilkley.
May I congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker, on being elevated to your position? I thank you for giving me the honour of making my first speech in the House on today’s date, 9 June, which has some significance in my locality. May I congratulate also those other hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today? They include the hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) and the hon. Members for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) and for Keighley (Kris Hopkins).
I particularly welcome the hon. Member for Keighley and his maiden speech, because I know that he, as a former leader of Bradford city council, will bring local government experience to the House, albeit from a different political perspective from mine. Furthermore, Mr Deputy Speaker, you need not worry about me undermining the British film industry by giving away any secrets about the demise of the house elves in my constituency, as happened last week.
It is with enormous pride that I stand here, honoured to represent the people of my home town, Gateshead, where I have lived for more than 30 years. In doing so, I am conscious of the fact that I follow in the footsteps of a formidable predecessor, David Clelland, the former MP for Tyne Bridge, whose constituency formed half the new constituency of Gateshead. The other half of the constituency was represented in the previous Parliament by my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), who, I am glad to say, is still with us.
David Clelland was not only an excellent representative of the people of the Tyne Bridge constituency and a first-class Member; he was and remains a personal friend. Having worked with David for more years than I care to remember, first as Labour party colleagues, subsequently together as councillors and, most recently, he as MP and I as deputy leader of Gateshead council, I know all too well the great passion that David has always devoted to representing the people of Tyne Bridge and, in particular, Gateshead. David would be the first to say that his work was both an honour and a privilege. However, I want to place on the record my gratitude and that of the people of Gateshead for David’s contribution, both as a councillor and as a Member of Parliament, to making Gateshead an even better place to live.
The mantle of representing Gateshead has now fallen to me. Gateshead is truly a great place, made all the better by the people who live there. The fact that this is a debate on the Identity Documents Bill may be a flimsy pretext for saying that, of course, the people of Gateshead and of Tyneside are very proud of their distinct north-east identity. None the less, it is true—and we do not need any documents to prove it. One of Gateshead’s most famous inhabitants in the 19th century—possibly fictitious, but well known—was a young lady by the name of Cushy Butterfield, whose description in song gives us some insight into the Tyneside males’ mindset at the time:
“She’s a big lass and a bonny lass and she likes her beer.
And they call her Cushy Butterfield and ah wish she was here.”
At the beginning of my speech I mentioned today’s date, 9 June, which has great significance for the people of Tyneside, for it was on 9 June that the people of Tyneside went to Blaydon races, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson). And, in the words of the song by Geordie Ridley, the people took the bus from Balmbra’s, a music hall in central Newcastle, and proceeded on their way, meeting many trials and tribulations along the road. I shall return to Blaydon races in due course, but I am here to represent Gateshead.
Yes, it is a town—soon to be a city, I hope—that has had many problems. Having been heavily dependent upon primary industries, heavy engineering and manufacturing, the town suffered all the social and economic problems associated with the decline of those traditional industries, yet the resilience and fortitude of the people of Gateshead simply do not allow for self-indulgent moaning. The former Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher, who was spoken about warmly in an earlier speech, once famously described the people of the north-east as “moaning minnies”, but I can honestly say that nothing could be further from the truth.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Gateshead suffered from some of the worst unemployment rates on the United Kingdom mainland. Educational attainment was to say the least poor, if not very poor, and in every social and economic indicator or league table, if it was good news Gateshead was near the bottom, and if it was bad news Gateshead was inevitably near the top. However, the renaissance in Gateshead over the past 20 years has been remarkable, and a testament to the support of the previous Government and, more importantly, to the clear strategic leadership of my colleagues on Gateshead council.
One example is the rejuvenation of Gateshead quays. Where once there stood derelict warehouses and empty factories, now there stands the iconic Gateshead Millennium bridge, BALTIC, the centre for contemporary art, and the magnificent Sage Gateshead, designed by Sir Norman Foster. To the south of the town centre, and just over the border into the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon, stands Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North. We also have, in the ward that I have represented on the council for 27 years, Saltwell park—a shining example of a Victorian municipal park visited by more than 2 million people annually. These are not just glittering buildings and monuments without substance or purpose—no, they are all internationally acclaimed and recognised, part of Gateshead council’s vision to transform Gateshead. Indeed, the Sage Gateshead, which I know that many Members have visited for conferences over the past few years, has been acclaimed as one of the most acoustically perfect concert halls in the whole world.
With this transformation we have witnessed an unprecedented reversal of fortunes in comparison with the Gateshead of the ’70s and ’80s. From being among the areas with the worst educational achievement, Gateshead is now towards the top on many measures. In almost every aspect of life, Gateshead has been transformed. Education, housing, social care and employment—all have been transformed by the support from a supportive Government and with leadership from a truly inspirational council, but most of all by the resilience, fortitude and hard work of the people of Gateshead themselves.
There is still poverty. There is still hardship. There are still too many lives untouched by change. But to anyone who doubts that Britain has got better since we took over from the Tories in 1997, I say this: come to Gateshead and see what the people here have achieved. Those are not my words, but those of the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Tony Blair, five years ago at the Labour spring conference. Indeed, our current Prime Minister was gracious enough to acknowledge that his party had been well received on their visit to Gateshead at the same venue—and yes, I truly would welcome him back to my constituency should he take up my offer to return with his party’s conference in the future.
As I consider the task of representing the interests of Gateshead, it is that record of achievement that I will be defending. Having been deeply involved, as the former deputy leader of Gateshead council, in Gateshead’s renaissance, I know how substantial the changes have been. However, I also know just how fragile this recovery could be. Gateshead’s strength is its people—their intelligence, their hard work and, most of all, their caring and deep sense of community. We are, and will always remain, remote from the economic centre of the United Kingdom and from the European and world markets. In a free-market global economy, Gateshead needs governmental support. In the north-east, more than 30% of the work force is employed in the extended public sector; in my borough of Gateshead that figure is probably closer to 40%.
Like many others in the north-east, I remember all too vividly the social unrest and devastation that was the 1980s: soaring unemployment, poverty, frustration, increasing alienation and a crippling sense of hopelessness. Gateshead, and indeed Britain today, is a far better place, and it is my duty to the people of Gateshead to ensure there will be no return to those bad days. I will play my part. I will speak up for Gateshead and its people. I will ensure that the interests of the people I represent will not be forgotten or overlooked. I know that my former colleagues in Gateshead council will also play their part.
As for the new Government: be warned, I will be watching. My colleagues and I will no doubt scrutinise every single proposal that comes out of Government. Our aim will be to ensure that the social costs of deficit reductions caused by a recession that was caused by the greed and incompetence of bankers and speculators are not simply passed on to the poorest in our communities.
I know that the responsibility of governing is great, and the new coalition will meet its tribulations along the way, but if they follow the example of the Tyneside folk on their way to Blaydon races, they may survive, for a time:
“But gannin ower the Railway Bridge
The bus wheel flew off there
The lasses lost their crinolines
And veils that hide their faces
I got two black eyes and a broken nose
In gannin to Blaydon races.”
But undaunted they went on:
“Now when we got the wheel back on”—
because the wheel does come off occasionally—
“Away we went again
But them that had their noses broke
They went back ower hyem
Some went to the dispensary
And some to Doctor Gibbs
And some to the infirmary
To mend their broken ribs.”
But the bulk of them carried on, and went to Blaydon races.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak on behalf of the people of Gateshead, whom I am very proud to represent.
Thank you for calling me to make my maiden speech, Mr Deputy Speaker, especially on the day when you take the Chair for the first time. May I say how personally pleased I am to see you in the role?
I should like to start, as is customary, by referring to my predecessor in what was then the constituency of Elmet. Mr Colin Burgon was a Labour MP from 1997 until he retired at the election just gone. It would probably be fair to say to anybody who knew Mr Burgon that our politics probably could not have been further apart if we had tried. This was a man who was well and truly on the left of the Labour party and indeed had a passionate interest, and I believe still does to this day, in Venezuela and Hugo Chávez. However, although we were so diametrically opposed in our politics, I always found him to be courteous and an honourable Member of Parliament who looked after his constituents. During my time as the candidate for the new Elmet and Rothwell constituency, he was more than willing to pick up the phone, discuss constituency matters that may have come my way and return calls—an honourable man indeed.
I was looking through Mr Burgon’s maiden speech and noticed it to be full of historical references to the Elmet constituency, which does not surprise me because he was a scholar of history. Being an engineer, I am little able to emulate such a speech, but I can tell Members that the Elmet and Rothwell seat, as it now is, has had many boundary changes, starting with the Great Reform Act in 1832. I am the first ever Conservative MP to represent the town of Rothwell, which was its own constituency between 1917 and 1950, and I am very proud indeed to do so.
As I said, the constituency started to get some of its boundaries in the Great Reform Act of 1832, and there have been no fewer than 10 boundary changes bringing us up to the recent election. However, many people have stopped me in this place and asked, “Where is Elmet and Rothwell?” The Rothwell bit gives it away, but the Elmet bit does not. It is actually a Leeds constituency, and I like to describe it as the piece of countryside between Leeds and North Yorkshire. Members may be interested to know that Elmet was actually the last Celtic kingdom in England, and I shall draw on that fact later.
It is interesting that I am classed as a Leeds MP, and that is why I felt it appropriate to stand up in this debate to make my maiden speech. We are talking about the abolition of the Identity Cards Act 2006. If identity cards had been in place, they would not have stopped the 7/7 bombings in 2005 in any shape or form. Of course, the people involved came from Leeds, which took a very hard hit, not least in the international press, which described the north of England as some derelict wasteland and asked whether it was any surprise that terrorists came from it. It was described as some sort of third-world country. However, I can assure Members that Leeds is one of the most vibrant cities in this country, and one for which I was very proud to be a councillor for six years while we were governing the city. I am now exceptionally proud to be a Member of Parliament within it.
My predecessor, and his predecessor, my former Conservative colleague Spencer Batiste, who was the MP from 1983 to 1997, were both honourable gentlemen. After what went on in the previous Parliament, we all need to be honourable Members and bring faith back to politics.
As I have said, my constituency is the slice of countryside between Leeds and North Yorkshire. I will probably send my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) into apoplexy by saying that after the boundary changes, the old kingdom of Elmet actually stretches across into North Yorkshire. That causes some concern, because people say to me, “Oh, you must represent me in Sherburn-in-Elmet”, but I do not, because that is a North Yorkshire village and is part of my hon. Friend’s seat. I therefore lay down a marker at this early stage that that may be something to consider.
Many colleagues have offered advice on making a maiden speech and said, “This will be one of the most important speeches that you ever make in this House. It will be the one that is read for time immemorial by every successor you have in the seat, and people might look it up if you go on to greater things.” Nobody reads the third speech made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but they do read his maiden speech, so I am putting down a marker for anybody who might come along to research my maiden speech: if you go and have a look at my third or fourth speech, you might have a slightly better idea of who I am as a politician, because the maiden speech is a somewhat daunting process, and hopefully, MPs relax as they grow into their role.
I should like to outline to the House two priorities for me in this Parliament, the first of which—increasing job security and job numbers—I hope will be a successful policy of this Government. I am lucky in that although my constituency suffers unemployment, it is not massively affected by it. However, my constituents are very worried about the jobs they are in, which I heard time and again, and about securing the economic recovery and job security.
There are great areas of regeneration in my constituency, and there are some innovative, technological companies, some of which, including the LNT Group in the town of Garforth in my constituency, have excellent apprenticeship schemes. The LNT Group is an excellent company, and gives people real opportunities. Recently, it hired people who had unsuccessfully tried their hand at private business, in small enterprises. Those people were able to find employment with that well-regarded local employer. That is just one story about the companies in my constituency. I very much hope that I can work closely with the Government to ensure that the policies we introduce will benefit all my constituents, as well as the country.
I mentioned regeneration in the constituency. It is a strange constituency, in the sense that the northern part of it is very affluent and has a lot of farming history, and as we move south through the constituency, we move into former mining areas. I will not shy away from the fact that those mining areas were affected, not least in 1994 by the closure of the last colliery, at Allerton Bywater. However, Allerton Bywater as a village is now starting to move forward, and already I am involved in casework with Business Link in Yorkshire that could help to secure 10 jobs in that small village and regenerate it. Such regeneration is important, and those are my key priorities in this first term.
However, I have a long-term aim, and I made it quite clear to my constituents in the election that although it is a promise and something I want to move forward, they will not see any results for a very long time. Indeed, by the time they see results, I may well not even be the Member of Parliament for the area. I am talking about rail links. More than 30,000 people in my constituency, in a major metropolitan city, have absolutely no rail links whatever, after the branch lines were removed in the Beeching review. The town of Wetherby serves a huge number of people in the commuter belt to Leeds who must all travel down the A58 and, latterly, the A1 link road.
However, rail links are not just about allowing those people to travel to Leeds more efficiently and effectively; they will also ease-up the congestion that blights everyone in constituencies on the east side of the city. Therefore, I am laying down that marker. I will be working with Network Rail and taking a keen interest in the high speed rail policy as it moves through the House. Let us be honest, in the economic circumstances, the chances of us getting a branch line rail link built to Wetherby and surrounding villages, just to serve them, are pretty slim. However, high speed rail is a major national project, and there would appear to be opportunities to branch off that line to serve people in my constituency much more effectively and efficiently.
I shall close by drawing on what I said earlier. We need to restore faith in politics, and I think we are making a good start with such a great intake of new MPs, and with returning hon. Members realising that much work needs to be done to improve this place. I just hope that as we move forward in this Parliament, my constituents will be very proud to call me their Member of Parliament.
To avoid any misunderstanding, I make it clear that I am not making my maiden speech—I did that quite a few years ago! I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) for his fine speech, and to everyone else who has spoken today, including my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) and for Gateshead (Ian Mearns). They will I am sure all make valuable contributions to the House and the parliamentary party.
I have opposed identity cards from the start, and I dispute with the Home Secretary, who gave the impression that the Conservatives hold the high ground, that they—and they alone—have stood against identity cards from the beginning. That is not the position. Inevitably, if we are frank, there have been divisions within the two main parties over identity cards—some being for, some opposed. My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary referred to a ten-minute Bill put forward by a Conservative Member, but I shall go back further. In July 1988, a ten-minute Bill was proposed by another Conservative Member, who is no longer in the House, with the purpose of bringing in identity cards. It is interesting to note that the Bill was defeated, even though the Conservatives had a majority, and that not one Labour Member voted in favour. Everyone who voted for the unsuccessful Bill was Conservative, so no high-ground propaganda please, because it serves no purpose. Incidentally, taking part in that Division 22 years ago, in the No Lobby of course, was someone we all know—Tony Blair. I think his views somewhat changed later on.
As my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary said, in August 1996, when Michael Howard was Home Secretary, it was announced that the Conservative Government intended to introduce an ID cards scheme. So, again, there is clear evidence that the Conservative party, at one stage, considered ID cards to be essential. The Conservatives thought that not for dubious reasons, but for the same reasons my party concluded—wrongly, in my view—that ID cards were necessary. My opposition persisted when the Labour Government decided to bring in the cards. Moreover, under a Labour majority, a comprehensive inquiry was conducted by the Home Affairs Committee, and I was the only person on that Committee who voted against the scheme. Conservative Members voted with Labour Members in favour of ID cards in 2004.
I have always taken the view that my opposition is absolutely firm, except for one factor: if I could be persuaded that ID cards would help in the fight against terrorism, I would change my mind, because I believe—I am sure the same applies to all Members of the House—that the security and safety of our country and people must come first. Were there such evidence, I would reluctantly support ID cards. However, as has been said enough times today, there is no evidence that terrorism would be prevented by ID cards. The atrocities on 7 July 2005 would not have been prevented. Reference has been made already to the atrocity a year earlier in Madrid, where more than 100 people were murdered by al-Qaeda, and there is no evidence that ID cards in Spain could have prevented, or did prevent, such atrocities.
As to the argument sometimes put forward that, although identity cards would not and did not prevent such atrocities—I only wish they could have done—they nevertheless helped to bring the culprits to justice, I have to say that there is very little evidence for that. We need to bear in mind, of course, that for years, Spain faced a different terrorist campaign from ETA, but again identity cards have hardly helped in any way.
The police remain in favour of identity cards, but no one is surprised by that. In making his maiden speech earlier today, the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) made a valid point about what happened in 1952, I believe, when a person refused to show his identity card to a police constable. What happened to the person was upheld by the courts and identity cards were abolished.
No, the person was found guilty; the law was the law. In the judgment, however, the reason why the law was intolerable was given: its maintenance for a security or emergency situation such as war should not prevail in peacetime. It was the Churchill Government, elected in 1951, who then did away with that law.
The hon. Gentleman, who is my constituency neighbour, and I never agree on economic issues, but we tend to share certain views on civil liberties. He is right in what he says about the Churchill Government, and I am sure that the Attlee Government would have done the same, had they been re-elected in 1951. We are going back a long time, but I am not aware that the Conservative Opposition in the 1945 Parliament argued for the abolition of identity cards. I am glad that those cards were abolished; I did not want to see them come back after half a century.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I want to move on to function creep, which is another factor. In evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, the point was made that when identity cards were introduced in 1939—and rightly so in the circumstances of those days—there were three reasons for doing so: conscription, national security and food rationing. By 1950, there were no fewer than 35 stated purposes as to why an identity card was necessary, one of which, incidentally, was the prevention of bigamous marriages. We have not heard an argument in the recent debate that ID cards are necessary for that purpose.
I am sorry to intrude on an Attlee versus Churchill argument, but the hon. Gentleman should perhaps remember that Clarence Willcock was a Liberal candidate, and when asked to explain what he did, he said:
“I am a Liberal and I am against this sort of thing.”
That is a clear precedent. Had there been a Liberal Government at that time, ID cards would definitely have been scrapped.
The chances of having a Liberal Government in 1950 were as remote as having a Communist Government, but be that as it may; the hon. Gentleman has made his point.
It has sometimes been argued that biometrics provide an additional important difference from previous identity cards in Europe, but when evidence was given by experts—their expertise was not in doubt—before the Home Affairs Committee, considerable technical doubt was thrown over the extent to which biometrics would necessarily always be reliable. As for the national identity register, I have listened over the years to the arguments as to why it is necessary and all I can say is that, again, I have not been persuaded. It is suggested that such information is necessary for national insurance and passports and therefore why should we worry about it for identity cards, but surely the difference is that, although the other documents are not the subject of any controversy, identity cards are, because in the main they are one step too far, which remains the view held by many people in this country.
I am not arguing—it would be a foolish argument—that if identity cards had been introduced into Britain, we would have become a sort of semi-police state. That is absolute nonsense, but I do believe that they would have been an infringement of civil liberties. When we look at other European countries and fellow members of the European Union that do have identity cards, we find that they are certainly not police states. Some have a very dubious past, but we are very pleased that they are now no less democratic than we are. They have a different history, and our history—one that I want to see maintained—suggests that in peacetime we should not have identity cards, as they do not do what they are supposed to do. I wish that the whole issue had not been raised either by the Conservatives or by Labour over the past 22 years.
I have many differences with the Conservative Government. Only yesterday I gave an indication of my feelings about the cuts: along with my Labour colleagues, I will defend the position of those who are least able to bear the burden. There will be many battles with the Conservative Government, and, as I have said, we will not hesitate to defend the people who sent us here. However, I am pleased that identity cards are to be abolished.
Who knows what may happen in four or five years, but I think it most unlikely that we in the Labour party will employ identity cards as one of the features of the next general election campaign. I want to see the issue buried for good. There is no necessity for identity cards, and I hope that, at long last, both sides in the House of Commons will reach the view held by me and by a number of other Labour Members that we should not have them in peacetime.
I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your magnificent election victory and elevation to the Chair. I am delighted to be able to give my maiden speech today, and pleased to be able to speak in a debate on the Identity Documents Bill, but given that this is my maiden speech, I hope you will forgive me if I drift into one or two other subject areas.
I have enjoyed the excellent contributions made by many maiden speakers today, particularly those of my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), who has just disappeared from the Chamber.
There is no greater honour, privilege or responsibility than being elected to Parliament to represent the constituency in which I grew up, was educated and have lived for most of my life. Selby and Ainsty is a new seat, which the Boundary Commission had the very good sense to create and, hopefully, will have the very good sense to keep. It is a largely rural seat with more than 100 villages and hamlets covering the area between York, Harrogate and Pontefract in the south. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell that the residents of Sherburn-in-Elmet are more than happy with the current boundary arrangements.
Selby is the largest settlement in the constituency. It is a market town, and although it was originally a shipbuilding town on the River Ouse, its economy is now largely based on agriculture, tourism to our stunning abbey, and its status as a commuter town for Leeds and York. We have significant historical connections with America, as can be seen in the 14th-century Washington window of Selby abbey, which bears the Washington family arms and is believed to have been used as the basis for the American flag, the Stars and Stripes. I urge all hon. Members to visit the abbey to see that wonderful spectacle.
The bulk of the new constituency consists of the old Selby seat. I pay tribute to John Grogan, the former Member of Parliament for Selby, who was the first and last Labour Member to represent the constituency. I have always found him extremely courteous, and he has been an excellent local MP and advocate for Selby both in Yorkshire and in the House. Despite our obvious political differences, he and I share a number of interests. Given that the brewing town of Tadcaster is in the constituency, it is difficult not to be a fan of beer. In fact, you do not get to be my size without being a significant fan of beer. We are both also passionate supporters of Yorkshire county cricket club. He and many other hon. Members—perhaps even including you, Mr Deputy Speaker, although you represent a Lancastrian seat—will be thrilled that the world’s greatest cricket club is riding high again in the county championship. Mr Grogan has expressed an interest in returning to the House and I wish him well in that endeavour, although not too well if he is considering a return to Selby.
I pay tribute to John Grogan’s predecessor, the late Michael Alison, who represented Selby and its predecessor Barkston Ash in the House. The fact that I took an interest in politics is down to him. I saw at first hand, as a child in the 1970s, the help that he gave my parents in attaining a grant to install central heating in our home. Some years later, I had the opportunity to repay that good deed. It was during the 1992 election. I received his campaign leaflet through my door with a hand-written note. I was very impressed, so I called his agent and asked whether there was anything that I could do to help Mr Alison’s campaign in the election, however small. That offer of help was my first political mistake, as the following day around 1,000 leaflets arrived on my doorstep with a note that read,
“Please call the office if you need any more.”
In addition to the Selby district, the remainder of the new seat is referred to as Ainsty. There is not an actual place called Ainsty but, like Elmet, it is an ancient wapentake. The area is made up of four wards from the Harrogate borough and takes in villages west of York, skirting around Wetherby and Harrogate. The area was previously served in the House partly by David Curry, who diligently served as MP for Skipton and Ripon for 23 years, and partly by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), who was the only ever Member for Vale of York. I welcome her, albeit belatedly, back to the House.
Sadly, over recent years, we have seen an increase in unemployment and our area has lost many businesses, including chemical factories, the paper mill and the short-lived Selby coalfield. I have personal experience of redundancy and the despair that it can cause, so trying to get people back into work will be a personal priority for me.
Coal mining has now disappeared from the constituency. As the grandson of a coal miner, I was thrilled to receive help from former coal miners canvassing and delivering leaflets in my election campaign, although not all the people from former mining communities have supported my endeavours and candidacy. May I share with Members a quick story that involves a recent family funeral in a village called Grimethorpe. Some Members may know that that is not yet a Conservative stronghold in South Yorkshire, but my cousin approached me to say that it was the first time that he had ever shaken hands with a Tory and that it would be the last. He went on to say:
“thee grandfather would be turning in his grave if he knew tha’ wants to be a Tory MP”.
I would like to think that my grandfather might also have been secretly proud. I know that my late mother would have been.
The Selby and Ainsty seat does its bit for energy production with two large coal-fired power stations: Drax and Eggborough. Drax alone provides 7% of the UK’s electricity needs. It has plans to build three new large-scale dedicated biomass plants alongside the co-firing facility at its existing coal-fired station, which could result in Drax becoming responsible for supplying at least 15% of the UK’s renewable power and up to 10% of total UK electricity. The total renewable capacity could be enough to power 2 million homes, which is the equivalent output of 2,000 wind turbines.
Regular readers of the Selby Times and The Press in York—I am sure that there are many of those in the House this afternoon—will be aware that in the seat there are several controversial applications, including for onshore wind farms and incinerators, which are causing great concern to local residents. A total of 30 turbines are in planning, each over 400 feet high and taller than power station cooling towers. More are being scoped by developers. If all the applications go ahead, the landscape of our district will be blighted by a forest of windmills that will do little to meet our desire to reduce carbon emissions. I agree that wind power should play a part in a mix of renewable sources, but it would be a better idea to install them where the wind blows fairly regularly: offshore.
Residents elsewhere in the constituency face many different challenges, including several unauthorised Traveller encampments, where land has been bought and camps set up without permission. One of them is even masquerading as a caravan sales site, and just below that sales sign there is another sign saying, “Enter at your own risk.” That is not the most welcoming marketing slogan for a supposed caravan retailer. Local authorities must be given more powers to prevent such law-flouting, and I am encouraged by this Government’s proposals to curtail the ability to apply for retrospective planning permission and to create a new criminal offence of intentional trespass. Law-abiding citizens are expected to jump through hoops if they want to build anything in rural areas, and it is plain wrong that certain groups get special treatment to bypass the rules.
Small businesses are the lifeblood of the community in my constituency, and they are the engine room for any local economy. Like everyone, they have been hit hard by the recent downturn. They have been overtaxed and burdened with red tape. There is no better illustration of this than my county council’s decision to ban on health and safety grounds Selby traders from placing an A-board on the pavement outside their premises. In the midst of a recession, I can think of no more ridiculous piece of over-zealous bureaucracy than to threaten small firms with large fines for daring to advertise their wares to potential customers.
There are in my constituency the sites of two of the bloodiest battles ever fought in England: the battle of Towton in 1461 in the war of the roses, which resulted—quite rightly—in a decisive victory for the Yorkists, and the battle of Marston Moor in 1644, where Cromwell’s parliamentarians prevailed. I am not an advocate of a return to civil war, but I am an advocate of civil liberties. Under the previous Government, there was an unprecedented attack on Britain’s historic freedoms, and I am convinced that an ID card would be a further infringement of those freedoms. I promise that for as long as I sit in this House I will fight hard for the interests of my constituents, although my methods may be slightly less bloody than those adopted at Towton and Marston Moor.
I am grateful to have had this opportunity to address the House for the first time, and I thank the good people of Selby and Ainsty for putting their trust in me. I intend to repay that trust with all I have.
I am very grateful to have been given an opportunity to make my maiden speech in this debate. Whatever disagreements different Members and political parties may have about how to tackle crime, terrorism and identity theft, we can all agree that they are issues of great concern to our constituents, and it is for all of us to address them. I congratulate every Member who has made their maiden speech today. They were truly excellent speeches, which I must now follow.
Let me begin by paying tribute to my predecessor, Geoff Hoon, who represented Ashfield for 18 years. Geoff was a barrister by trade but was born and bred into a long line of railwaymen, and I know that the values he learned from his family shaped his political outlook. Above all, he was determined to put those values into practice as a Minister. He spent six years as Secretary of State for Defence, making him the second longest-serving Defence Secretary to date. Much of that is known about Geoff, but less well known is his passion for pop music and his encyclopaedic knowledge of bands of the 1960s and ’70s. Geoff Hoon was very serious about his music, and, to be honest, he would probably cringe if he looked at the music on my iPod.
Ashfield is a constituency shaped by industry, and proud of it—and those industrial roots have shaped those privileged enough to represent it. Everywhere I went during the election campaign, I was reminded just how large the shoes are that I have to fill—including those of Frank Haynes, who, after years below ground as a miner, represented Ashfield in this House from 1979 to 1992. In doing my research, I learned that Frank was famous for having one of the loudest voices in the House of Commons. When I promised the voters of Ashfield that, if they sent me to Parliament, I would shout up for them, I was speaking metaphorically. Frank clearly promised the same thing, but meant it quite literally. He was loved by many in Ashfield and by many in this House. Everyone tells me how popular he was. His key quality, which I shall always try to emulate, was that he was always himself. I love the image of him asking Margaret Thatcher a tough question at Prime Minister’s questions and calling her “duckie”, which is the legendary term of endearment that Nottinghamshire folk use every day. I am assured that the Iron Lady smiled.
I am the first Member of Parliament to begin serving Ashfield with no local men underground mining for coal. Our most famous sons were from mining backgrounds. They include Harold Larwood, a Nottinghamshire and England fast bowler who left school at 14, before the war, to work in the mines. His statue still stands today in Kirkby-in-Ashfield. D. H. Lawrence was born in the town of Eastwood and was the son of a miner who could barely read. He called Eastwood “the country of my heart”. It is not only the decline of mining that has hit Ashfield hard. I am delighted to be here as the first woman to represent the constituency, because women played a full part in building Ashfield’s prosperity by working in the textile industry, but one by one the textile factories have gone the way of the pits. Yes, new jobs have been created, but too often they do not pay as well or offer the job security of those they replaced, and there are not enough of them.
Ashfield could be forgiven for thinking that its best days were behind it, but my mission in representing the people of my constituency in this House is to prove that that fear is misplaced, because the thing that has seen Ashfield through good times and bad is its sense of community. Indeed, I could say that the big society is alive and well there. For us, that is not a smart phrase invented by those from the leafy lanes of Notting Hill: one can smell it in the novels of Lawrence and see it there today. Every village has its community hub: the Stanton Hill community shop, the Huthwaite community action group, the Eastwood volunteer bureau, the Kirkby volunteer bureau, the Acacia avenue community centre and the Friends of Colliers Wood—I could go on and on. We do not just look out for each other in Ashfield; we stand up for ourselves, too, as those involved in the Kirkby and Sutton area residents associations prove every day by trying to keep the green fields in Ashfield green. D. H. Lawrence might be our historical hero, but it is the local heroes who are alive and well today who I want to support and pay tribute to. We can read about them each week in the Ashfield Chad and the Eastwood & Kimberley Advertiser.
I came from a pretty poor background, and I believe that it is thanks to my party speaking up for people from backgrounds such as my own that I was able to go to university, have a successful media career and today speak from these green Benches. I believe that Governments can and should help to transform people’s lives for the better. Of course it takes individual effort and the support of the family, but there is something else that transforms people’s lives, and that is community.
I know that it is fashionable for some on the Government Front Bench to talk about community, and I am delighted that they have rediscovered the word—along with “society”—but I am not convinced that they really understand it. They have presented a false divide between the big society and big government. I am arguing for an enabling Government who help people to come together and look after their interests. It is not a matter of choosing between society and the state; it is about binding the two together, for then, truly, the whole is worth more than the sum of the parts. The result is an empowered community and a flexible, responsive, enabling state, working together, rather than one replacing the other.
It is ironic that the so-called new politics, which suggests that state and society are somehow opposed and that one can flourish only if the other withdraws, should so precisely mirror the mistakes made by the worst of old Labour, which sometimes gave the impression that the state knew best and should dictate what happened. Underneath its rhetoric, the new politics represents the flip side of the same coin. Its adherents seek to trumpet society at the expense of the state, which the Conservative party says should be smaller as a matter of principle. I do not know whether its supposed partners agree with that, but I guess that we will find out eventually.
It is dogma to suggest that, if we roll back the state, the big society will flourish in its wake. Places like Ashfield need strong communities and strong government. If that means big government, then that is fine if that is what is needed. We do not need big government for its own sake, of course, but we do need strong and active government, for a purpose. After all, were Sure Start or community support officers examples of big government? Is a Government-initiated apprenticeship one?
Today, Ashfield needs a new economic backbone to enable local people to develop their talents and become the D.H. Lawrences and Larwoods of the future. We need it to promote the talents of people who come from Ashfield and ensure that those talents stay in the area to develop its future economic strength.
We know that tough economic times lie ahead. Ashfield can cope with a lot, but it is up to Government to help us. Ashfield is a place with a tremendous sense of community, but we need the Government to help us on the way. Ashfield has a big heart and lies at the heart of England. We will be as strong, vibrant and successful as we were in our heyday, but such a renaissance will happen only with a strong state and a strong society working hand in hand. If hon. Members on the Government Benches cannot see that and make it happen, when we get our chance, we will.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Deputy Speaker, and congratulations on your election. It is nice to see so many elections in this place at the moment.
It is a great honour to follow so many maiden speeches, from hon. Members on both sides of the House. I pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), who gave a very confident and stylish description of Ashfield and the value of community in that area.
On the subject of ID cards, it is also a great privilege to follow the hon. Members for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and for Walsall North (Mr Winnick). They have been steadfast in their stance on this matter, and have agreed with the Liberal Democrats that ID cards have always been wrong. I am delighted to follow them.
Identity cards have always been a passion of mine. I was a very early member of NO2ID and was very involved in its campaigning. I pay tribute to the work of that organisation—to Phil Booth, for his work nationally, and to Andrew Watson, the eastern co-ordinator.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) said that the issue of ID cards did not come up in his constituency during the election. In my constituency of Cambridge, one of the largest of the 35 hustings that we held was organised by NO2ID, along with Oxfam and Amnesty International. The subject came up at almost every one of the other hustings that we had.
The ID card proposal also caused me to be involved with Liberty, which was mentioned earlier. I was elected to its national council, partly through my interest in identity cards and my understanding of what was happening. I am therefore delighted that one of the first steps of this coalition Government is to get rid of identity cards, finally.
Why do I oppose ID cards? I have always thought that there are three main reasons why we should not have them: the issues of principle, practice and price. We have talked about the principle, and we have heard how Clarence Henry Willcock, the Liberal from Finchley and Golders Green, objected in 1950. He was the last person to be convicted under the National Registration Act 1939, and his case led to a change in the law.
What was said on appeal is particularly interesting. Lord Goddard, the Lord Chief Justice, said that the use of identity cards
“tends to make people resentful of the acts of the police, and inclines them to obstruct the police instead of assisting them.”
That was true in 1952, and it is true now.
That deals with the question of principle, but what about identity cards in practice? They, and the much worse identity register, are part of a complex Government IT project. We know what happens to such projects—they tend not to work very well, they cost too much, there are a security problems, and they are hard to implement. I hear some complaints from Opposition Members, but my comments are not just targeted at the previous Government, because this is a general problem of Government IT projects across the world. Mission creep is also a problem, because one starts off by collecting only a little information and gradually more and more is obtained. That has occurred in too many instances.
On mission creep, is my hon. Friend aware that when this matter and a statutory instrument were being debated, the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell), who is in his place, expressed an interest in using any spare capacity on the chip to store other information, but he was not able to tell us what that information would be? Is that not a good illustration of how mission creep might arise without people realising it?
Indeed it is, and I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I was not aware of the history of that debate, but what he describes is exactly the sort of problem that occurs: extra information ends up being stored and what starts off as—possibly—a semi-innocent project becomes more and more sinister. A lot of work has been done on this by a colleague in Cambridge, Professor Ross Anderson. I pay tribute to his work on that and on summary care records, which also relates to Government IT systems. I hope that hon. Members will sign my early-day motion 186 and persuade this Government not to go ahead with that awful project too.
The price of ID cards was also an issue, and we heard some argument about the exact cost to the public purse earlier. I say to the shadow Home Secretary that it is not just the public purse that matters; we should also care about the cost to all the people who had to buy the cards and would have continued to buy the cards under the Labour Government’s scheme. We are limiting the cost to them as much as we can, as well as limiting the cost to the public purse. As we have heard, there would have been continued costs for them in the form of fines and the cost of keeping the database going.
This Bill is not exactly as I would have drafted it. As a new Member, I certainly would not have written it in this particular style, but I suspect that I will have to get used to that. I would like clarity to be provided on a couple of points as this Bill goes through the rest of its process. We have discussed mission creep, and I am very concerned about overly broad descriptions. We have seen from the previous Government how something that seems fairly good in law can be taken wider and wider until we find that somebody can be convicted for making a joke on Twitter. We must be careful about what we say, and I hope that we will have a chance to explore what “relevant information” means in clause 10(3) and exactly how that is to be controlled.
I would also like to understand more about clause 4, in particular subsection 2(b), which makes it an offence to use documentation for “ascertaining or verifying” information about somebody. I wish to understand exactly what that means. If I were to take a family member’s passport to someone else to prove who they are, would that be an offence? I have concerns about that, given how the provision is drafted. We should explore that in Committee, when I am sure the Government will make it clear how I have misinterpreted that and why I should not worry.
The other issue that should come up in our discussion is identity cards for foreign nationals—or any other such term that we might use. I disagree with some of the comments made about that, because I consider that such cards are discriminatory. We should be getting rid of all these identity cards, whoever they are for in this country. They are discriminatory and they involve the same problems that we have discussed: they do not work very well, and they involve the same problems of cost, practicality and keeping a database secure. I hope that this Government will examine that issue, either later during the passage of this Bill or in a future Bill.
Someone who did buy an identity card has asked me what now happens to it and to the money that they spent. That is a fascinating issue, and I should be interested if the Government were to work out what the cost would be of maintaining the entire system and all the back-up systems to service the 15,000 people in that position. That involves issues relating to interaction. [Interruption.] If, as the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) is suggesting, it is free, that would also be useful to know.
I was interested to hear the shadow Home Secretary’s line that no changes should be made when a new Government come into power, and that it is somehow wrong ever to change anything that has happened. I seem to remember Gordon Brown changing a few things when he came into office in 1997, and that affecting decisions previously made on tax changes. We cannot have a system whereby Governments cannot change decisions made previously for fear that they might affect people inadvertently.
In general, I support this Bill and I am delighted to see it, because it is a wonderful start of real liberal values in this new coalition. It is a real start on rebalancing the relationship between the citizen and the state, and I hope that it will be the first of many acts of a reforming, progressive Government.
I congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker, on your election and on the fact that you are sitting in the Chair. I wish you many years as a Deputy Speaker of the House.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert). He reminded me that that is where I first joined the Labour party when I was a student. It is also where I first met and heard a speech by the Secretary of State for International Development and where I met the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin) and the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington). All of them are now in the Government and one of them has my old job as the Minister for Europe. The hon. Member for Cambridge gave a very intelligent speech, and I am sure that he will make a huge contribution to the House in the years to come. Cambridge has always been a swing seat and I congratulate him on making sure that he kept it for his party at the last election.
We have had some magnificent maiden speeches. In fact, it should be compulsory for older Members to come and listen to the kind of speeches that we have heard. The hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), who is just about to leave the Chamber—I am not trying to stop him—has not only made a wonderful maiden speech, but already covered himself in glory by having been on the victorious side in the tug of war between the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The cup is displayed in the Tea Room, I think. I am not sure what it is to be filled with, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I am sure that you, he and all of us will join in ensuring that it is emptied.
I first met my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) as a member of the national executive committee of the Labour party. When I first heard her speak, I knew that she would become a Member of Parliament, but I had no idea that she would speak so eloquently in her maiden speech in the House. She made a brilliant speech in which she paid tribute to Geoff Hoon, who was a very good friend to all on both sides of the House—we wish him well in his career. I know that my hon. Friend will be able to make a huge contribution in the years to come. I congratulate her and all the hon. Members who made their maiden speeches and then had to disappear to recover from the great experience of addressing the House for the first time. They were so good that I wish I could rewrite my maiden speech and give it again, but that is probably against the rules and even you, Mr Deputy Speaker, with your new powers would not enable me to do that.
Let me concentrate on the Identity Documents Bill and recognise the presence on the Labour Front Bench of the former Minister with responsibility for ID cards, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier). She appeared before the Select Committee on Home Affairs in the last Parliament and, in her own style, gave us important information as to why the scheme would be successful when it was fully implemented. I note that the Opposition’s position is not to oppose what the Government propose to do tonight, and we are right not to oppose them, because the proposal was clearly a Conservative manifesto commitment. Together with their coalition partners, the Conservatives command a large majority in the House, as we saw in yesterday’s votes. The Government have decided that their first home affairs Bill should be on ID cards, and it is right and proper that we in the Opposition should accept the will of the people.
I hope that as the Bill proceeds through Committee some of the comments that have been made by Opposition Members will be taken into account. There are three areas that I want to raise with the Minister, whom I welcome to the Dispatch Box. His official title is the Minister for Immigration, but I know that he is covering the Front Bench for the rest of his team today. It must be very pleasant for him to sit in the Home Office with the permanent secretary and all those fine people bearing in mind what happened to him in opposition and I wish him a long stay at the Home Office.
When the Minister winds up, if he is to do so, will he answer a few factual points that would be of value to the House in making its decision tonight? First, can he give some clarity as to the number of identity cards that have been issued so far? The figure of 15,000 has been given. I am afraid that I do not know what the process is—are cards still being issued, or did that stop with the election of the Government? Of course, the Government aim to stop the cards, but is the process ongoing? Will the number reach 15,000-plus? It would be sensible to stop the whole process immediately even though the House has not yet made a decision, because it would be completely unfair for members of the public voluntarily to get identity cards that we shortly after take away from them. If the Minister could give us clarity on that point, I should be extremely grateful.
Absolutely. We need to know the numbers in the system, but as the Home Secretary made it clear that money would not be returned, I do not think we need further clarification about that.
It would be helpful to know how many foreign nationals have received what are no longer to be regarded as identity cards. The Home Secretary said that that process would continue and we understand the reasons why, but if there is to be differentiation of foreign nationals and those of us who are British citizens, we need to be clear about it. Looking at some of our previous debates, we see that one of the criticisms the Government made when they were in opposition was that there was differentiation of foreign nationals and British citizens. Presumably, we now have a completely different process, but no doubt the Government will continue to issue those cards.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick), who told me he would have to leave the Chamber, mentioned a Home Affairs Committee report from a previous Parliament when I was not the Chair—it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham)—although I think the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) may have been a member of the Committee at the time. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his unopposed election as Chair of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. Unopposed election is a good form of democracy, although unfortunately it did not apply to other Select Committees. I wish him well and I hope that he will take to his new chairmanship some of the excitement of serving on the Home Affairs Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North made great play of the fact that he was the only member of the Select Committee to vote against identity cards, and that all its other members—I now see from the list that they did not include the hon. Member for Monmouth, although there were other Conservatives—voted for them. The overall conclusions in chapter 6 of the report are clear. Even then the Committee said, in paragraph 280:
“However, the introduction of identity cards carries clear risks, both for individuals and for the successful implementation of the scheme. We are concerned by the lack of clarity and definition on key elements of the scheme and its future operation and by the lack of openness in the procurement process. The lack of clarity and openness increases the risks of the project substantially. This is not justified and must be addressed if the scheme is to enjoy public confidence and to work and achieve its aims in practice.”
Although I do not have to defend the decision of a Committee that I was not chairing at the time, it is worth noting that even at that stage the Committee registered concern about some aspects of the scheme.
In the Committee’s report on the surveillance society, published in May 2008—when the hon. Member for Monmouth was a member and an important participant in the Committee’s deliberations—we again raised concerns about data and data loss. We have heard an unequivocal statement from the Home Secretary that every bit of data will be destroyed at a suitable time, when Parliament has its view and the Bill becomes law. I am concerned as to what happens to the data between now and then. Although I do not seek a ticket to the ceremony for the destruction of the data that have been gathered so far, I am sure someone in the Home Office press department will be thinking up something suitable. Simply cutting up an identity card will not be good enough for the coalition. After the impressive press conferences given by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister that we have seen so far, we expect something more for the destruction of the data. I just hope they will be kept safe until then.
In our report on the surveillance society in May 2008, we pointed out our concern about the huge amount of personal data that were being retained. The former Minister with responsibility for identity, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch, was very good when she gave evidence before the Select Committee and was clear that she was absolutely satisfied that the data were safe. But we conducted our review at a time when, as the Home Secretary said, a lot of discs were going missing. We were very concerned, although we of course accepted my hon. Friend’s assurances; one always accepts the assurances of a diligent Minister when he or she appears before the Select Committee, especially someone as erudite as my hon. Friend. Our concern remains that there are a lot of data still being held and this matter needs to be addressed.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who has been an excellent Chairman of the Select Committee. I suggest to him that if we were unable as a Parliament to look after our own data on the activities of MPs, it will be difficult for the public to have any confidence that we will do a better job with their data.
The hon. Gentleman is right; we have to be very careful with data protection and the way in which we look after data. We have not had a lost disc for some time; at least, not for the last three weeks, which is pretty good. The last major loss was several months, if not a year, ago. Maybe the civil servants and others with responsibility for all this will ensure that no further discs will be lost in the future. I hope that we will have assurances about how that will be done.
In conclusion, although the Home Secretary made a terrific case against identity cards—she is always very good at putting the case—the Opposition will not vote against the Bill. Speeches from people such as me should be relatively brief; that is why I will not take up my full allocation of time.
I look forward to finding out when my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch replies to the debate. Until the election, we were very much in favour of ID cards. When she replies, she will tell us. I am trying not to second-guess my hon. Friend, who is pretty good at her job. I will let her speak for herself and tell the House what she thinks the official Opposition’s position is.
I hope that we will tread carefully in the next few weeks and that we will take forward the suggestions that have been made. I know that it is in the nature of new Governments to feel that they should do things very quickly and urgently and it is obviously up to the Government what legislation they put before the House. But I hope that they will take advice from former Ministers who have been involved in these issues and will read carefully the reports of the Select Committee in the last Parliament.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I join in the warm welcome you have received this afternoon. It is hard to believe that 25 years have passed since we first fought socialism in south Wales. My congratulations to you.
I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me in a debate that is close to my heart, one that has been a long time in coming. I have been passionately opposed to identity cards and to the national identity register for a number of years. However well intentioned a Government may be towards safeguarding our identities, data and personal information, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The 2006 Act did not reach its logical conclusion and was not implemented to its full potential but it set out an alarming framework that would have led to the sort of society in which I do not think many of us would want to live.
The shadow Home Secretary taught me much today about how to defend the indefensible. The best form of defence is attack. I am a new student of the politics of the Chamber and I am grateful to him for teaching me that lesson. However impressive his presentation was, it could not get away from the sad fact for him and the Opposition that the policies that they implemented and the Act represented by them was flawed, unwelcome and an infringement of the natural rights that we as citizens should expect to have. It represented a dangerous reversal of the burden of proof between the individual and the state.
No longer were the Government there at the behest of all of us, governing with our consent. The logical conclusion of the Act was that ultimately we would have to prove our own existence. Why do I say that? Because in the Act was the presumption of accuracy—the presumption that all the information and registrable facts that could have been entered on that register were accurate. If it recorded the fact that I was Mrs. Robert Buckland, I would have had to prove that I was not. What an absurd, almost Kafkaesque situation that would have been. I can assure the House that I am Mr. Robert Buckland, and it would be ridiculous to have to prove that.
Like the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) in his excellent speech, I pay tribute to the campaigners of NO2ID. They worked assiduously, with great enthusiasm and conviction. I pay tribute to all that my local group in Swindon, a non-party political group of concerned individuals, did. They organised petitions, campaigned on the streets and sought to persuade legislators in this place and more widely of the error of that policy. They succeeded in moving public opinion considerably on from where it was only five years ago. It is a significant achievement, which was recognised by the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), the former Home Secretary, in a thought-provoking and intelligent contribution, as we would expect from him.
The issue gives rise to strong emotions and passions. In an intervention, I suggested earlier to the shadow Home Secretary that the national identity register was unprecedented. We will have to agree to differ on that. It is, in my view, entirely unprecedented because of the sheer number of registrable facts that would potentially have had to be entered by the individual. No other country in the world had attempted that, and the Government, in their gradual withdrawal from the rather grandiose suggestions at the beginning of the life of the 2006 Act, seemed to recognise that there was an inevitability about the danger of trying to create a super-database—one database trying to deal with all that information.
Reality dawned a little too late on the previous Government and their attitude to data retention. It is not just a matter of Kafka or George Orwell. There was an element of low farce in the implementation of the 2006 Act. The Act received Royal Assent on 30 March 2006 and immediately repealed the parts of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 that made it a criminal offence for a person to have a false passport or immigration document in their control. Sections 25 and 26 of the 2006 Act made it a criminal offence for a person to have a false identification document in their custody or control. In other words, the successor provision dealt with and covered the lacuna or loophole that would have opened up with the abolition of the relevant parts of the 1981 Act. That is all well and good, but unfortunately a mistake was made, because the commencement order that brought the new provisions into force was not passed until 7 June 2006. More than two months went by during which no criminal offence of having a false identification document existed in England and Wales. Clever lawyers—better lawyers than me, perhaps—brought that matter to the attention of certain court proceedings, and I know of at least one set of proceedings that came to an undignified halt because of that alarming loophole.
I said low farce, but the situation was more serious than that, because it meant that, potentially, people went undealt with by the criminal justice system for the serious offences—let us not forget—of possessing false identification documents, including passports, for which custodial offences would normally and quite properly follow. I am glad to see that no such danger arises from the Bill before us, because the provisions in section 25 of the 2006 Act, on the criminal offences surrounding the possession of false documents, have been retained, and the transitional provisions are carefully worded to ensure that no such loophole ever opens again. The 2006 Act was yet another sad example of legislation passed without due consideration for those who have to operate it. A number of people who work in our criminal justice system had their hearts in their mouths when they were considering prosecutions brought in that two-month—nine-week, to be accurate—period.
The arguments that were deployed in favour of the identity card scheme shifted like the sands of time. We started with an argument about benefit fraud. From my experience of dealing with benefit fraud over a number of years, it is axiomatic that most of it occurs not because of false identification documents, but because of wrongful declarations about living status. That argument went by the wayside. We heard an argument based on immigration, which also went by the wayside; and then the argument became a credit-card argument about convenience—a one-stop-shop offering people access to services. None of those weak arguments stacks up when we balance them out with fundamental freedoms and liberties, and that is why I am delighted that this Government’s first act is to bring forward a Bill to repeal the 2006 Act.
The 2006 Act represented government at its worst: overweening, over-ambitious, arrogant and out of touch. We now have a chance to redress that balance. I look forward to the death rites being pronounced upon the 2006 Act, and I will play my part, however small, in making sure that that is done.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and congratulations on being elevated to your post. I also congratulate the hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) on his maiden speech—[Interruption.] I apologise. I am not sure what the parliamentary term is for a second speech, but I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his almost-maiden speech. I should have known by how assured he was that, in fact, it was not his first speech.
I am here to contribute to this debate because I believe in identity cards and think it quite wrong to back away from something for which I have campaigned on behalf of my constituents for the past 10 years. I predict that, whether the current Government or a future Government are in place, we will be back here within five years, because of the way the world is developing: it is becoming a smaller place, ID fraud is increasing exponentially, and in the first quarter of this year we saw a 20% increase in ID fraud cases and prosecutions. As a result, our constituents will be demanding a new way of securing, and being able to prove, their identity. We can call that system ID cards, or anything we like—but we will be back here arguing the case, because the world will not stand still while we procrastinate or talk about freedom in the terms that we have heard today.
Another reason why we will be back here is that our partners in the EU and internationally will demand that we come back. They will not accept our scrapping the second generation of biometric passports, because they will require ever greater and ever more solid proof that we can substantiate our identities in our passport system. We can make as many stands at the beginning of a Parliament as we like, but these practical problems will arise.
I support ID cards because my understanding of the words “freedom” and “liberty” is very different from that of many Members of this House. My understanding comes from a constituency where people work hard for very little and are frightened of crime and antisocial behaviour. They fear crime more than they are likely to be victims of it. For them, freedom lies in community and in the ability of the police, the Government and the state to protect them as individuals. That is why, in all the consultation I have done in my constituency—and I have done much over the years—they overwhelmingly support ID cards.
It is, in my view, wrong to talk about wanting to tighten up the immigration system so that we know who is in this country unless we have an ID system. Nobody has been able to explain to me how we will be able to tell who is here without such a system. Nobody has been able to explain to me how we will get rid of NHS tourism without some way for people to demonstrate their right to access those services. At the moment, the NHS is ill equipped to be able to carry out the function of understanding and pursuing who is entitled to NHS treatment, because of the ability to create fraudulent documents. As somebody who spends hours every week on immigration casework, I still cannot tell what is, or is not, a fraudulent document.
For those practical reasons, I think that we will see an inching towards ID cards. I hope so, on behalf of my constituents, who have, in all the work that I have done with them, overwhelmingly supported their introduction. I understand the position of those on my Front Bench—accepting that the parties who won the election clearly made a manifesto commitment to remove ID cards. However, I believe that people in Mitcham and Morden will be disappointed that we have rowed back from this, just as we appear to want to put more controls on CCTV and a DNA database. People want to feel secure and protected. They see that their environment and their world is changing. Simply standing still and not bringing in measures to protect them is not the answer.
May I, too, Mr Deputy Speaker, offer my warmest words of congratulation to you, Sir, on your elevation? I have been well aware of the dignity and gravitas that the Deputy Speaker can bring to important occasions ever since he acted as my best man about 10 years ago—but that is another story.
I also offer my warmest words of congratulation to the Home Secretary and to the other Home Office Ministers. It is fitting that a Government who promised to make law and order a top priority have today introduced a Bill that is about both law and order, and supporting and protecting human rights—real human rights, that is, not the ones that Labour Members sometimes talk about. I have taken a great interest in that matter through my membership of the Home Affairs Committee and in my work as a special constable with the British transport police.
I have heard all sorts of claims about the benefits of ID cards, and we have heard some of them today. We have heard about how they would defeat terrorism, prevent people from claiming access to benefits, solve criminality and all sorts of other things. The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) came out with a new one when she talked about NHS tourism. I tried to bring that issue to the attention of Health Ministers in the previous Government on several occasions and was assured that there was no problem at all, so at least we are getting somewhere if the Opposition now accept that there is a problem. The hon. Lady also talked about illegal immigration, but perhaps she did not hear the Home Secretary’s speech, which made it absolutely clear that people coming into this country will still require a form of identity document—not the ID card, but another form of identification. That issue therefore does not even begin to arise.
There was a gaping hole in the argument that the previous Government advanced, which was that the cards were always going to be voluntary. That, of course, meant that they would have been ineffective, because the people who fiddle their benefits and break the law would not have applied for them. Everyone could see that glaring hole in the argument. There would have been some argument for having ID cards—although I would not have supported it—if they had been compulsory, but that was not suggested, or at least it was not talked about openly.
My personal view is that if ID cards had been introduced in a voluntary form and the programme had continued, somewhere along the line it would have become compulsory to have them. Otherwise, there really would not have been much point in them. There have been times when, working as a police officer, it has been hard to ascertain someone’s identity. Had they had an ID card and been compelled to carry it at all times, that would have been quite useful, but the previous Government were not willing to say whether it would be compulsory to have one, and if so, whether it would be compulsory to carry one at all times and on all occasions.
I could have foreseen the cards being rolled out on a voluntary basis at first, and then, when the take-up had reached about 60% or 70%, the Government making them compulsory. They would then have had the problem of whether to enforce the law strictly and ensure that people carried them all the time. I suspect that there would have been all sorts of civil disobedience, with protestors deliberately going out of their way not to carry ID cards and the police not being terribly enthusiastic about prosecuting a lot of otherwise law-abiding students for a minor infringement of the law. Prolific criminals would not have carried the cards, and we would have spent thousands of pounds dragging them before the courts and fining them 75 quid or so, which they would never have paid. Then somebody in government would have said, “Hold on a minute, this is outrageous. The Daily Mail journalists are ringing me up all the time saying that we’ve got this law and nobody’s obeying it, so we’ll have a target. We’ll tell the police to go out and prosecute a lot of people.” Then, a lot of pensioners and otherwise law-abiding people who had unfortunately forgotten their cards one morning would have been stopped and fined large sums of money. The whole thing would have been chaos, because this country is just not ready for it. I am glad that we have got rid of it.
It was something of an anomaly that although the Labour party talked about human rights rather a lot, they gave us a so-called Human Rights Act that in my opinion was nothing more than a spurious means for all sorts of people involved in terrorism and on the fringes of criminality to sue the Government for large sums when their “human rights”, as they put it, were not respected. At the same time, all sorts of law-abiding people were having their liberties infringed in all sorts of ways, one of which was the introduction of ID cards.
I say to Members such as the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who was so passionate about the matter, that we on the right of politics have always believed in liberty, and we do not separate social liberty from economic liberty. I do not believe that we can have a truly libertarian Government when half our gross domestic product is being spent by the state. I look forward to my Front-Bench colleagues introducing further Bills that will reduce state interference in our lives socially and economically. As we have a great big happy family now, with people whose views are as diverse as mine and those of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), I say to Opposition Members—even the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick), with whom I have served on the Home Affairs Committee for several years—that they should come and join the true libertarians on our side of the House, and we will continue to cut red tape, look for ways of reducing costs and support real human rights and, most importantly, liberty for all British people.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and may I take this opportunity to welcome you to your elevated status in the Chair? I commend hon. Members on both sides of the House for their maiden speeches, and welcome the Home Secretary and other Home Office Ministers to the Dispatch Box.
I wholeheartedly support the Bill for three reasons, the first of which is basic principle: I believe in a country in which the state is accountable to the citizen, not the other way round. ID cards would reverse that relationship through the national identity register, a central database that hoards vast amounts of personal data on every citizen and that is open to the sprawling arms of Government, who would be able to widen access still further by order, not primary legislation. In addition, the database is run by the state sector, which has an appalling record on safeguarding our personal data. Despite all the spin from the previous Government, they planned eventually to have a compulsory ID card regime: they would not rule out making it impossible to renew or apply for a passport without one.
My second reason for supporting the Bill is that ID cards simply cannot, will not and could never do what it says on the tin. They were proposed in the aftermath of 9/11, initially as a preventive counter-terrorism measure—not any old kind of counter-terrorism measure—yet we know that ID card regimes in Germany, Spain and Turkey did not and could not stop the 9/11 bombers who were based in Hamburg, the Istanbul bombers in 2003, or the Madrid bombers in 2004. Next, it was said that ID cards would stop benefit fraud, yet as we heard earlier from the Home Secretary—persuasively—most benefit fraud involves lying about personal circumstances, not identity. It was then claimed that ID cards would help to tackle illegal immigration, which is an equally spurious reason—it was scarcely credible given that under previous plans, foreign nationals would not need an ID card for the first three months of any stay.
Last year the Government changed tack altogether and tried to sell ID cards as a way to help young people to access services. A cost of £30, with a potential fine of £1,000 if they move home or marry and forget to tell Big Brother, is the last thing the average young Briton needs today, which helps to explain the very low take-up. However, in retrospect the most extraordinary thing is the long journey that ID cards have travelled from security panacea to friendly service provider. This is a veritable chameleon of a project that seeks to hide its real nature with every change in presentation.
My third reason for supporting the Bill is cost, and we have heard plenty in the debate about the billions of pounds it would cost to maintain and run the scheme. Although the future cost of ID cards was always much higher than the previous Government could ever bring themselves to admit, there is a further point to make: the flawed design and inherent vulnerability of the database to fraud, as attested by expert after expert, represent a massive contingent liability that this Government and the taxpayer should relinquish at the very first opportunity.
In sum, ID cards are intrusive, ineffective and ludicrously expensive. This is Labour’s great white elephant of a project that has been left lumbering around Whitehall, and Britain can well do without it.
May I, too, congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your recent elevation and successful election? May I also congratulate the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) and all other hon. Members who have made maiden speeches this day? Having done it so recently myself, I well recall how nerve-racking it is.
I shall not detain the House for long, but I wish to make a couple of points, the first of which is the concern of the people of Dover and Deal about ID cards. Surprisingly, during the election campaign, this issue was often raised on doorsteps in my constituency. People said, “Look, the thing with ID cards is they are a bit of a continental thing. Not so long ago—65 or 70 years ago—we were opposing people who wanted to come to Britain and impose that kind of regime on us, and we are not very keen on that.” We believe in freedom, democracy and liberty; and we care strongly about that.
We also feel that the ID cards were very expensive. Would it not have been a better use of Government resources to have improved and strengthened border control in this country? People in Dover are very clued up on these issues. Many of them work for the UK Border Agency and often say, “The thing is, studies by the London School of Economics show there are about 863,000 or so people in this country unlawfully. They do not seem to have ID cards.” They say, “There’s not much point in having ID cards if they’re voluntary, and if they’re compulsory it would simply be unacceptable. It would be better to secure our national border security.”
I note that the previous Government were reducing our border security at Dover. Immigration officers were being fired, and the idea was to replace them with less experienced officers. Many people in the local UKBA office came to me expressing serious concern, and I hope the current Government will review that situation and perhaps consider better ways forward. The previous Government did other things that people in Dover were concerned might weaken our border security. That is important. It is not just about illegal visitors, but about human trafficking, drug running, and guns and weapons coming through our borders. It is about preventing terrorists from getting into the country. It is an issue not just about illegal visitors, but about national security.
I listened with great interest to the shadow Home Secretary when he said that the ID cards scheme was voluntary, that 15,000 people have applied for one, and that it would be unfair on those people because they were volunteers. I have had an e-mail from a constituent, Naomi, who works for the UK Border Agency. She wrote to me saying:
“I am a very disgruntled immigration officer from the Dover area…As a staff member of the Home Office, I was actively encouraged to apply for my ID card, which I duly did...Had I not worked for Home Office (Immigration) and been based mainly in juxtaposed controls, I would not have bothered with it. I was told that the Home Office would not contribute to us getting our cards, but they wanted us to get them.”
We have heard from the shadow Home Secretary that this was a voluntary scheme, but it seems to me that some public sector workers might have been less volunteers and more volunteered. It would have been wrong to impose a flagship Government scheme on public sector workers and to have volunteered them for that kind of thing. It would be wrong in principle for that to have happened. During her winding-up speech, I hope that the shadow Minister will explain whether it was truly a voluntary scheme, as regards people in the UKBA and, no doubt, other public sector organisations, or whether they were volunteered. It would be wrong, for a bit of spin and public relations, to have volunteered people for something that they did not want, because they already had a passport, driving licence and all the other required identification that make ID cards completely useless and unnecessary.
I add my heartfelt congratulations to those expressed by others on your elevation to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. I also add my congratulations to all those whom I have heard make their maiden speeches today. I well remember how awful mine was. By contrast, theirs shame me. Fortunately, the height of these Benches prevents the world from seeing that one’s knees are trembling, and mine certainly were—my mouth was dry and I have never dared read the speech again. I hope that the section of the Common’s files are burnt down. I can express only my admiration for the maiden speeches. Certain things said had a theme that related to the Bill that we are debating today, as well as to the purpose of maiden speeches.
I am proud to be in this House with a large number of new Members who were elected to represent distinctive constituencies. They will judge the national interest on behalf of those they represent. That is no easy task, unless they always follow the guidance of the Whips. In fact, it turns upon Members sometimes, because the making of law and the holding of Governments to account is what we are involved in. The judgment involved in creating criminal law, which is behind the Bill before us, is a very solemn responsibility.
I have always maintained that the function of this House and the history of this nation is the long march of everyman to safeguard liberty. It was not easily won, but it was accomplished, as is seen in the changing nature of this House from first being merely the King’s House and then an oligarch’s House in the 18th century to the early stages of the 1832 Reform Bill—even if the Deputy Prime Minister is not as familiar with his history as he might have been—and then to the great achievement of Disraeli’s Reform Bill of 1867, from which we became a free people. John Bright, whose statue stands outside this Chamber, on his annual visit to Birmingham all those years ago asked why Englishmen should be slaves in their own country. That is what led to the 1867 Bill. The majority of people in England did not have the vote at that time—an Englishman in Canada had it, as did an Englishman in the United States, South Africa and Australia—but they had it after 1867. That is the heritage for new Members, and I maintain that the main reason we are here is to defend that liberty.
Sat on the Front Bench is the Minister for Immigration, my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), who saw what the power of a misdirected state could do when an assault was made on the integrity of this House. When measures are brought before this House by the Executive, supposedly to protect our liberty, we should be mindful. That is where the great difficulty comes—the clash of loyalties between “the urgency of now”, to quote an American President, and the urgency of the issues that sometimes confront us.
We make much of playing across the House and there has, of course, been an aggrandisement of the state in some of the pettiest of ways. In the face of an emergency, rushed through—in less than half an hour, I believe—was the infamous section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911. That happened because of the threat of war at the time. That legislation was done away with by Douglas Hurd and the then Conservative Government in 1989, but similar provisions were re-formed in the new Bill, saying that anyone, including the Crown—even the gardeners in the royal parks—who released any information had committed an offence. That was it. It created a great dampening rug over British society. It was as if knowing the number of teaspoons in the Ministry of Defence would somehow reveal to enemy forces our readiness for war, as the numbers employed by the Ministry could be guessed. That is an example of the sort of nonsense that went on, showing how difficult it was to do away with secrecy.
This is where the identity cards issue comes in. We have looked at how it came about. It was in a sense a continuation of what had happened in the first world war through a national registration system. It ceased immediately at the end of the first world war, but in 1945 it did not cease. It suited the socialist Government at the time, who believed that this would somehow enable them to plan better. That was what was really behind it. That was when we saw the “reason creep” that we now see in the Identity Cards Act 2006 that we are about to abolish. It crept and crept, and then a perverse citizen—glory be to God for dappled things!—challenged a policeman. Of course he was rushed to court, and of course he was found guilty. He appealed, but the Lord Chief Justice is also tied by laws, the laws that we make, and the man was guilty. It was a prima facie case: he had not been prepared to show his identity card. But the uproar in public opinion created huge agitation, and the incoming Churchill Government did away with the law. So our history is important when it comes to these matters.
I saw examples in the 1980s. I must speak very cautiously, however, because we have security anxieties in this country—there is the Northern Ireland situation, for instance—but we have done terrible things in terms of that central principle of the liberty of the individual. We all know about 42 days and 96 days, and the outer reaches of arresting people without their knowing the offence with which they are charged. It took the judges of our land a long time to find that that was improper, although the requirement for every citizen to know who accuses them and with what they are charged is so basic to our common law. We are, in a sense, the custodians of that common law and of that noble tradition. I am thinking not just of England but of Scotland, and the declaration of Arbroath. These islands are the centre of that liberty.
The original Bill—that monstrous Bill—was introduced because we were in a panic, or rather the Government were in a panic. We have a press that heightens and dramatises every incident, and we have almost lost our character in the way in which we respond. This city was bombed—indeed, this Chamber was bombed and destroyed—in the war, and I believe that 20,000 people were killed in one bombing incident.
I come from the west midlands, which includes Coventry and Birmingham, and other Members represent other industrial centres around this island that were bombed. Hundreds died—hundreds. So serious was it that the national Administration did not want the figures to be known in case they resulted in widespread panic. Those are the difficulties involved in the judgments that Governments must make, but I am no sympathiser with Governments who introduce measures for putting information on central databanks like that of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which we cannot get at.
I can only think of a young man who had some difficulties, and the attempt to extradite him to the United States. What was his offence? He had accessed the national security computers at the Pentagon. That is now serious in our world—very serious—but if one individual living in London, or wherever, can access that information, who cannot access a national databank? That is what this is about. The very first principle of what I call civil liberties but what is now called human rights—secondary, tertiary and so forth—is the autonomy of the citizen, which is what that impinged on.
No one doubts that the action was mandatory, and the reasons given changed frequently. Whatever new emergency arose, this was the answer to it. Michael Howard presented a Bill to deal with benefit fraud, and Peter Lilley—is he in the House of Lords, or is he still here?—did for it in the Cabinet. That is why the Conservative sense of liberty is something to be proud of. Front Benchers panic, and Back Benchers are the brake on that.
The Labour party failed abysmally. I give credit to the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick)—it is true that he opposed these measures throughout—but do not doubt that Conservatives also opposed them throughout. We watched the dancing princes of new Labour as they asserted that the very life of the nation was threatened, but we are still here. The test of the life of the nation being threatened is part of the Human Rights Act, and they trampled all over that. It is not the Human Rights Act that matters. What matters is what we, a sovereign Parliament, hold to be appropriate.
I see the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) sitting there. He had the most distinguished of predecessors, who is missed because he forensically and quietly argued the case for liberty. So did my friend from Grantham, Douglas Hogg. That case was argued across the House. We had right on our side. The conversion of my party to remembering and asserting those rights, freedoms and liberties is expressed in the first legislation to be brought to the House in this Parliament. I commend the Government for that. It is testament to something important that this House is on the move again.
I add my congratulations to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on the distinction and honour that the House has seen fit to give you. It is a signal honour and I am absolutely convinced that you will perform your functions accordingly.
I thank those who have made their maiden speeches today, and must say how impressed I have been with them. Having given mine only a couple of days ago, I all too well recall the nerves in doing so. I also congratulate the Home Secretary on introducing the Bill, on the honour of her appointment and on the appointment of the Home Office team. This Bill is signally important because it will repair some of the damage that the Labour party has done to our civil liberties. On the liberty of the individual, Winston Churchill once said that those who ignore history—those with short memories—will be condemned to repeat it. Thanks to 13 years of Labour Government, since 1997 no fewer than 404 acts or forms of behaviour have become unlawful. Human rights have been damaged by 13 years of Labour. It may have introduced an Act calling itself the Human Rights Act, but it has damaged human rights in this country. People do not feel as secure or as safe as they have done historically. That is the responsibility of Labour following its governance of this country.
When identity cards were introduced in 1918, they were a knee-jerk reaction; the country was deeply concerned with the war situation. The Government recognised that they needed to be removed as soon as the situation improved. Identity cards were reintroduced in 1939. The mistake was that, after the war ended in 1945, identity cards were allowed to continue apace. That resulted—the case has already been alluded to in the Chamber—in a famous episode where a man in the street, when challenged by a police constable, refused to show his identification papers. He is recorded as having said to the constable, “No, I am a liberal.” What he was indicating was the illiberality of having to show, on the demand of a constable in uniform, identification papers just on mere suspicion. I am given to understand that the grandson of that man is now one of my hon. Friends newly elected to this Chamber, and that is a signal distinction. That incident led to a case that has been alluded to, which went before the High Court of Justice, where the matter was explored in some detail and the public were, of course, outraged. That led, under Churchill’s Government, to the abolition of identification cards, and rightly so.
Criminals today—and, I am sure, historically as well—do not apply for identification cards if they are voluntary. The previous Labour Government said they wanted a voluntary scheme of identification cards, but the reality is that a voluntary scheme would simply mean that the criminals and those disinclined to follow the law would not apply for them, yet those inclined to follow the law would feel increasingly obliged to carry them. It is what is referred to in the military as mission creep, and elsewhere as function creep. I understand that one of the methods by which the previous Labour Government were going to introduce those identification cards was via airports and airlines. They were going to have airside workers carrying these cards first. Trade unions and airlines expressed concern that this voluntary scheme would become impractical and that it would eventually be required to be compulsory.
As we have seen, that has happened in many historical cases, such as with the discontinuance of the use of cheques. They have not been banned, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to use a cheque, and there is pressure to discontinue them entirely. On Sunday trading, too, it has been said that, although Parliament as then assembled was careful not to make the new law compulsory, the safeguards have been eroded, so that those employees who would otherwise have chosen not to work on a Sunday have felt increasingly obliged to do so, whether or not that is a legal requirement. There is every indication that if identification cards had come into existence there would have been exactly that kind of mission creep, or function creep. Some people might have found it increasingly difficult to go into work, especially in certain lines of work, if they did not have a card.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in essence, he is explaining that the last Government were working on the shameful premise of, “If you’ve got nothing to hide, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have one”? That alone is a reason why their measure must be killed off tonight.
Yes, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. We heard from another of my hon. Friends about how a constituent of his working in the port at Dover was already feeling under pressure to acquire one of these identification cards. There is every reason to believe that that attitude would have become extremely damaging in the longer term. Criminals, however, would have ignored all of this.
The card’s security measures are not impregnable either. In recent years, I have prosecuted a number of criminal cases in the Crown courts in England involving the fraudulent misuse of identification documents, usually passports. Passports are now quite sophisticated documents, but even all the sophisticated apparatus designed to protect their integrity can be circumvented without particularly highly specialist care. That is because it is often the naked eye that is used to determine the veracity or otherwise of a document. Many court cases have resulted from such situations.
There is no substance to the Labour argument. We have now a kind of Big Brother watch in this country, and Labour’s attitude that one is guilty until proven innocent has paid into the lack of security and lack of integrity in our system. I pointed out to the shadow Home Secretary, when he was in his place, that in a press release on 27 May, the head of the TUC backed the coalition Government’s proposals. Brendan Barber said that
“identity cards were a costly folly…and would have been an unwelcome intrusion into people’s personal liberty…Scrapping identity cards is an important sign that the new Government is committed to safeguarding civil liberties.”
When the shadow Home Secretary first became Home Secretary, he announced that ID cards would no longer be compulsory, which gave the distinct impression that he had not been much in favour of them in the first place.
I am delighted to support this Bill as the first measure that Her Majesty’s Government are bringing before the House. The compulsion by stealth was a feature that would have been completely deleterious to the interests of the people of this country. The cost was another factor altogether. Some £800 million will be saved over the next 10 years by abandoning this absurd and costly scheme. It is interesting to note that Labour Members are not taking a stance against the Bill. Perhaps that is because they understand that the cost-benefit analysis has not worked out. There is no substance to the Labour argument, and there never was. I am delighted to support this measure.
I echo the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) in congratulating all those hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today. Like him, I remember making mine about a week ago. At the time, I was unsure whether I was more nervous about making the speech or about having to wait so many hours to make it. So I offer my congratulations—and, in some ways, my commiserations —to all those who have had to sit here today waiting for their time to come.
I also want to echo the comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) when he congratulated the team who put together the NO2ID campaign. They did superb, ground-breaking work at an early stage in making use of some of the social media sites. As a user of Twitter and Facebook myself, I think that they did a super job in bringing people together and creating a cohesive campaign. It is ironic that some of those same social networking groups have had questions raised about data protection and the data that they hold on people. My core problem with identity cards has always related to data protection.
When the legislation was first introduced in March 2006, I had an instinctive feeling that it was the wrong thing to do, as I am a believer in small government. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North mentioned function creep. That and the Big Brother state added to the feeling that this was yet another system that the previous Government were using to gain more knowledge and control over all of us. It is interesting that it moved to being a voluntary scheme, following the initial proposal to make it compulsory. I congratulate the Home Secretary and the entire ministerial team on using one of our first Bills to get rid of this vile piece of legislation.
I look at the matter quite simply. My decision to speak today is based on my conversations over the past few years with residents in my constituency of Great Yarmouth. I have spoken to tens of thousands of people, and I was wracking my brains today as I worked through the pros and cons of the argument. I wanted to play devil’s advocate and produce a strong and positive case for identity cards, yet I cannot remember any Great Yarmouth residents asking me when they could get theirs. Not one person has told me that we should make it compulsory, or that we should hurry up its introduction.
Residents of Great Yarmouth said many things during the election, but I struggle to remember anyone asking, “Will you please make sure that, if your party is successful and forms a Government, you keep the identity card legislation? I am very much looking forward to getting my card.” That is not a conversation that I recall, although I wait to be corrected by any resident who does recall it.
A very long-serving Member of this House who is no longer here gave me some advice earlier this year. I was told that, if I was fortunate enough to be elected, I should ensure that I know why I am speaking on an issue in the Chamber, and why I am voting on it. I was told to be aware of the positive impact that any proposal would have on the lives of my constituents and the country. I cannot think of a single thing about the Identity Cards Act 2006 that is beneficial, and so can see no reason to support it. For that reason, I support its abolition.
Given that my residents in Great Yarmouth do not want identity cards, what is the economic case for them? The figures that I have seen show a set-up cost of around £450 million to bring the scheme in, and that operating it over the next 10 years would cost something like £4.1 billion. We heard at Prime Minister’s Question Time earlier today that the interest charge alone on our national debt will cost us around £70 billion a year or more, so it seems to me that we simply cannot afford such a hugely expensive scheme. I have not met anyone among my residents of Great Yarmouth who wants the scheme, although I appreciate that some Opposition Members might have a different view. It is an expensive folly, and I cannot see why we should get involved in something that we simply cannot afford.
From the perspective of what is good for my residents and what they want, it is clear that they do not want identity cards. Given also that we cannot afford them, why would we consider them? Is it a question of civil liberties? Earlier, one hon. Member mentioned that other countries have identity cards, but is their use forced on those countries’ populations? What would be the benefit for us?
I do not know about other Members of this House, but I have a passport. I also have utility bills and a photocard driving licence. I have credit cards—unfortunately!—and lots of other proofs of identity. I know so many people who also have lots of different proofs that I started to wonder why I would want an identity card as well. What benefit would I get from having one? Again, I cannot think of any.
Would having identity cards make us safer and protect us against crime and terrorism? Even the now shadow Home Secretary and his predecessors—Charles Clarke among them, I think—have admitted that the identity card scheme would not do much to prevent terrorism. Indeed, the shadow Home Secretary himself said a while ago that he regretted the emphasis that had been put on the card’s usefulness in that regard.
The reason for that, as was noted earlier this debate, is that the card was supposed to be voluntary. Why would a person considering committing any sort of crime, such as fraud or an act of terrorism, go and get an identity card voluntarily? That is beyond me but, as a new Member, I am sure that Opposition Members will enlighten me in the hours to come, but I cannot see the benefit.
Certainly, I cannot see that having an identity card would be the first thing on the mind of a person looking to commit a major fraud or act of terrorism. I do not believe that such a person would think, “I can’t commit this crime because I have an identity card and the authorities might find out who I am.” At the same time, we have also heard that modern electronics such as those involved in computers, printing and so on are so advanced that it would not be difficult for anyone who is criminally minded to find a way around the system, falsify the documents and create a false identity card. That would give us another problem and a real issue to deal with, because a black market would thus be created whereby people make fraudulent documents to sell to people who want to commit other crimes.
Some of my local residents in Great Yarmouth have concerns about antisocial behaviour. Our local police are working hard to improve the situation and some of their thinking outside the box has done a phenomenal job. They have also cracked down on under-age drinking. We all want that to happen, and we have heard much talk of that across the House and in the press over the past few months. A substantial black market in creating false identity cards would receive a hugely beneficial financial boost from under-age drinkers who want to obtain such cards in order to buy alcohol. That shows that we could be walking a hugely dangerous tightrope in future, and I have not yet got too far into dealing with worries about a Government who have a database that contains 50 pieces of information about everyone in the country.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s question, because it gives me the opportunity to deal with that matter. As I said, I do have a driving licence—a photocard version—and a passport. That is one reason why I do not need another piece of identification to prove who I am. I say that despite the favourite independent organisation of all of us explaining to me recently over the phone that it could not answer a question until it had confirmed who I was—it does that by a return call. That happened two weeks ago, but I have not yet heard from that organisation—perhaps it will pick me up on the cameras tonight and realise who I am.
My concern relates to the holding of that database. Hon. Members should be frank about the fact that over the past few years a number of Government bodies and other organisations have lost data and had data corrupted. The idea of that kind of data being held does worry people. My core point is that my residents have never asked or begged me for any of this and I do not think that they particularly want to waste such an amount of money on ID cards, leaving aside the fact that they would then have to pay for the pleasure of having a card at a time when they are under economic pressure.
There are other ways of helping people, particularly youths, who might want to have an identity card to make things easier for them. The police force in Great Yarmouth has come up with a fantastic scheme, which I shall be inviting my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary or one of her Ministers to come to see some time this year—I hope that one of them will visit. The police are working on a voluntary scheme, which is sponsored by a commercial organisation, to allow young people to have a local identity card that they can use in various outlets and gain points, as happens with supermarket reward cards. Those young people are, thus, encouraged to go to school and to improve their behaviour because they can gain points that give them access to do other things. That carrot is being used, as well as the stick.
That local scheme is not about holding identity details; it simply allows those young people to have a reward card. Such an approach could play a large part in moving things forward. It is a small-scale local scheme, worked out by local people and our local police force, to deliver a positive local end product. It is not a great big national scheme of huge expense that creates more bureaucracy and involves another set of forms that those who decide voluntarily to take it up have to fill in, get back and go through, and all so that we all have another card in our pocket.
I simply do not see the benefit of the identity card. I can see huge risks ahead of it in terms of the data, the black economy and encouraging crime, rather than discouraging it. I cannot see how the card would be a good investment of getting on for £4.5 billion-worth of our money. Therefore, I am delighted that this Bill is being introduced to abolish it and I will give the Bill my full support.
As this is the second time I have had the honour to speak in the Chamber this week, I am very grateful to you for calling me, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am particularly grateful to be able to speak in this debate to take part in rejecting the Identity Cards Act 2006 and the proposal for identity cards introduced by the previous Administration. Many Government Members have spoken on this issue and it is telling that the Opposition Benches are entirely empty of people prepared to defend what the previous Government had planned to introduce. [Interruption.] I look forward to seeing which way the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) votes in the Lobby.
There are three solid reasons to support this Bill to abolish the prospect of identity cards. Those reasons tell us a lot about the Government formed in the past month and have given me great hope regarding their strength and underlying motives for the years to come. The first reason, which has been touched on, is the cost of the ID card scheme. The official estimate of £800 million was bad enough, but independent experts came up with another estimate of £20 billion for the total cost of the scheme. Given the current state of extremely tight national finances, the idea of spending £800 million on such an unnecessary scheme is something that we should reject.
What is more, I clearly remember the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) trying to argue, when we proposed abolishing ID cards to save money, that that would not save money because the cost would be borne entirely by those forced to take up the cards. That says an awful lot about the attitude of anyone who could say that, because whether the cost would have been £800 million to the Exchequer or £30 to everyone in the country, it would eventually have been borne by the same people—the taxpayers. It was greatly to disregard the taxpayer to put forward a scheme that clearly was not going to work, as several of my hon. Friends pointed out, with so little regard to its cost.
The second reason why it is such good news that the scheme is being abolished is the risk involved. I clearly remember the then Chancellor of the Exchequer standing at the Dispatch Box about three and a half years ago and admitting to the whole country, with his hands shaking and his papers quivering, that two data discs containing information and bank account details for every single child in the country had been lost. I also remember the national outrage that followed. That demonstrated—I hope that we do not have to demonstrate it again—the danger of keeping sensitive and private information all on one huge database in this age when it is so easy to transfer information electronically. That danger, and the contingent liability that comes with holding that information is a great risk not only in an extremely practical sense in that it can be lost—we all know that data discs can be lost and get into the hands of national newspapers—but because holding it in one place can be extremely risky.
The final and most exciting reason why this is the first Bill that the new coalition Government have introduced is that it reveals the faith in human nature of the Government who have put it forward. The fact that some think that the way to solve crime and to regulate our society better is to have an enormous state database and to force everybody to hold a card in their pocket is extremely revealing of the view of human behaviour held by those wanting to make such laws. We must understand that people are all individuals and are all different, and that society is best organised by the people in it coming together rather than by the people at the top telling them what to do. That is an extremely strong principle that we on the Government side hold dear. That is demonstrated in the fact that the rejection of the Identity Cards Act is the very first Bill being debated under this Government. On those bases alone, I should be in favour of a Bill to reject identity cards. The situation is best summed up by the now shadow Chancellor, who obviously understands the costs. I rest my case on a statement he made before—for some reason—he changed his mind. He said:
“I don’t want my whole life to be reduced to a magnetic strip on a plastic card.”
I could not put it better myself. I commend the Bill to the House.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Madam Deputy Speaker. Many congratulations on your elevation to that position.
Unlike me, Madam Deputy Speaker, you have not had the privilege of sitting through the entire debate. We have had the opportunity to hear from a number of colleagues who made their maiden speeches. First, the hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) told us that it was not Gosport but God’s Port. She told us that Portsmouth is close to Gosport, but as someone who grew up in Portsmouth and went back and forth on the Gosport ferry on Saturday afternoons, when my mother made sure she got us out of the house for recreation, I have fond memories of Gosport from a slightly different perspective.
The hon. Lady spoke in glowing terms of her constituency and spoke up strongly for the future of HMS Sultan, urging her Government to think carefully about the impact of their decision on her constituents. Like many speakers, she mentioned identity cards and I shall turn to that issue when I have congratulated other speakers on their comments.
The hon. Lady was followed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), who was not making his maiden speech. He was Home Secretary when the Identity Cards Bill was first published and he eloquently explained some of the original thinking behind identity cards. He highlighted the fact that the issues the identity card system was set up to deal with will not go away. He particularly bemoaned the passing of the second generation of biometric passports, which I shall touch on later in my comments.
We then heard from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming). I would say that his criticisms applied equally to driving licences. On the basis of his comments, perhaps the Government’s next policy will be to abolish them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) made his maiden speech, but with his background and experience we can look forward to many good and knowledgeable speeches from him. He gave a spirited history of his constituency and of municipal investment in Birmingham. He spoke of the benefits of Labour investment, particularly in the decent homes programme. He also highlighted the many problems that remain to be tackled in his constituency, especially unemployment and the lack of affordable family housing. There is no doubt that in him we have a strong champion for Erdington in the Chamber.
The hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) spoke movingly about manufacturing in his constituency and his desire to see it improve. Unbeknown to me, Gloucester is famous for making health and aerospace products, but particularly for making ice cream. We look forward to hearing more from him. He has a strong commitment to his constituency—even the shirt on his back was made by his constituents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) is a fellow Co-operative Member of Parliament. She warmly acknowledged the work of Martyn Jones, particularly his success in ensuring that money from dormant bank accounts went to good causes. Her thoughtful and moving description of life in Clwyd now and in the past will remain with me. We look forward to many eloquent speeches from her.
The hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) rightly paid tribute to Rudi Vis. On the Labour Benches, we join the hon. Gentleman in acknowledging Rudi’s contribution to the Chamber. We pass our condolences to his family.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of another predecessor in the seat—Baroness Thatcher—about whom we may not share the same level of agreement. He then spoke about identity cards. It was heartening that, despite the fact that Members were making maiden speeches, several of them commented on identity cards.
We then heard an amusing speech from the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). If I were being mean, I could talk about cheap oratory, but he talked about identity cards as being anti-civil liberties. Were he in his seat, I would ask him if he has a passport and I will touch on that. He talked about Emu and Rod Hull. I was not sure whether we were hearing from Emu or Rod Hull, but we had a good time listening nevertheless.
We heard from the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), who was generous in his tribute to Ann Cryer, his immediate predecessor in the seat, and he rightly highlighted her work on tackling the abuse of young women by men and on forced marriages. He also talked about the many illustrious sons of Oakworth, his home village.
We then heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), who we thought at a number of points was about to burst into song, as he quoted from “Blaydon Races” and gave a tour of the international venues in his constituency. I have no doubt that as we go to many conferences over the years, we will remember that speech.
The hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) is the first Conservative to represent the town of Rothwell, a constituency that apparently has had 10 boundary changes. Whether there is more to come from the Government and whether the seat will stay in anything like the same form are matters for a future debate.
We then heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick), who rightly highlighted the muddle and inconsistency of Government policy on the issue. I will touch on some of the other points that he raised.
The hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) spoke in glowing terms about his constituency and paid warm tribute to his predecessor, John Grogan. He wondered whether his grandfather, a miner, would have been proud of his grandson becoming a Conservative MP. I am sure he would, Madam Deputy Speaker, and we look forward to hearing more from the hon. Gentleman.
We then heard a very powerful speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero). She spoke warmly about her predecessor Geoff Hoon, a former Defence Secretary and Chief Whip. She spoke about literacy and the sporting tradition in her constituency and she was proud—quite rightly—to be the first woman to represent Ashfield. She spoke movingly of a real sense of community in her constituency and about the legacy of the mining traditions.
We then heard from the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), although this was not a maiden speech. It is heartening that a number of new Members are already contributing fully to debate in this House. He spoke quite a bit about the 1950s. It is worth saying that, in terms of identity cards, the 1950s were quite a long time ago. We are talking today about a very different programme that was proposed by the last Government and is being opposed by this Government. We had a number of history lessons on that but the identity card system was rather different from now, as is—I would say to the hon. Gentleman—this place is from academia. Academic debate is all very well but government, in which he now plays a part, has to deal with practical realities. We wait to see how the Government will cope with those realities on this issue and others.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) helpfully reminded us of previous parliamentary scrutiny of identity cards, a number of points from which were taken on board by the last Government as they developed the policy over time.
We then heard from the hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland), which took me back to one of my first public meetings on the issue. He opposes ID cards on the basis that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I suggest that the Government would do very little if it took that to its ultimate extreme. I went to South Swindon in my early days as Minister responsible for identity cards and met NO2ID. After we entered the room and found that, seemingly, there was nobody there to oppose ID cards, we looked out and realised that the three or four people outside were the demo. As a result of that meeting, the local newspaper—the redoubtable Swindon Advertiser—stopped carrying quite so many letters from that organisation. Members have praised NO2ID today; it was relatively small in number, but it was effective, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough acknowledged.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) spoke movingly about the sort of freedoms that her constituents expect, including the freedom to live peacefully in their community. She felt that ID fraud was an important issue to be tackled, and that it was something that her constituents wanted to see tackled. That was one of the reasons why she has been such a strong supporter of and advocate for ID cards over the years. She is right that there is a demand still, and there will be greater demand in the future for the improved personal security that ID cards represent.
Let me make it clear to the House that we have not abandoned the policy of using fingerprints or having a proper database to back that up. The policy of our Government was clear and remains so. However, we have to recognise the reality that we did not win the general election—nor did the Conservatives, but with their friends the Liberal Democrats, they form the Government. We recognise that and the will of the people. In opposition, although we will attack, we also need to recognise when the Government have put forward a view and want to get that through. Sometimes we will not oppose just for the sake of it. I will return to some of the issues later.
We heard from the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) largely what we would expect to hear from him. He is giving lessons to many new Members. The hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) spoke about the state being accountable to the citizen. We all agree with that, though perhaps not about the ways in which we would achieve it. The hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) spoke about trafficking, where I would counter that fingerprints make a difference. In that regard, we may be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr Shepherd) gave an eloquent history lesson about civil liberties, as he sees them, and ID cards over the years. We then heard from the hon. Members for Northampton North (Michael Ellis), for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) and for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock).
It has been interesting to listen to a debate dominated by newer Members who spoke eloquently and with enthusiasm. However, it is easy to make a speech from the Back Benches with energy and enthusiasm, but as those on the Government Front Bench, the Home Secretary and her colleagues will learn—or, in many cases, do not need to learn—the challenges of being in government are quite different. They have to examine the facts in detail and consider the problems of national security that they must deal with.
When the ID card was first launched last year, does the hon. Lady recall that at the launch in the north-west, the Minister forgot her own ID card? If she could forget, what chance would the rest of us lesser mortals have had in the brave new world of ID cards?
That rather proves my point. The law as it stood and still stands is that no one is required to carry their national identity card. [Hon. Members: “What is the point?”] The chorus of approval for that comment from a sedentary position suggests, perhaps, that the Government may be proposing a compulsory scheme. It is important to remember that as the law still stands, there was never a requirement to carry the card. It is easy to make cheap debating points, but that was an important part of the scheme. Like previous Home Secretaries and the most recent Home Secretary, I did not want to see a card demanded of people. That was never in the Act and would never be a requirement.
Section 14 explicitly ruled out the possibility that anyone would have to show a card to access any public service. It was important that we won the trust of the public and let them buy into the scheme if they wished, so that they could see for themselves the benefit. The British passport is not a compulsory document, yet eight out of 10 British citizens choose to have one, and it has an important resonance and role.
There were three main reasons or broad themes for introducing identity cards. It is understandable that many Members will think that there were mixed messages. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough said, that is a fair point. It seemed at different times that there were different reasons. In fact, if one goes back and reads the speeches made on two attempts to give the Bill a Second Reading—a general election interrupted—by the former Member for Norwich, South, Charles Clarke, who was then Home Secretary, terrorism was not mooted as the main reason for identity cards, but because of the events of 11 September, that question was often posed in the media. The debate was often hyped in that way.
Protecting the public was one of the reasons for introducing identity cards. It allowed people the option of locking their identity firmly to their fingerprint and thereby helped to reduce the risk of ID fraud for those who chose to take up the option, as I did and as my colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench did.
As I said earlier, my hon. Friend deserves great credit for her work on this matter. Congratulations, by the way, Madam Deputy Speaker.
From the end of 2001, we were constantly asked about terrorism and whether an identity card of some description would help, and we constantly indicated that that was not the prime concern. However, MI5 made it explicit and put on the record that more than one third of those people who were known to be associated with international terrorism used false and multiple identities. MI5 would have been helped in its struggle to protect us by having a system that was verifiable and authenticable in a way that the existing system is not.
I thank my right hon. Friend who, from his own, special perspective, proves my point exactly.
There was a second point, convenience, which was a key contributor. Eight out of 10 people already have a passport, but we were keen to improve its security, and the little plastic card was an additional convenience factor and something that those who were keen to have one very much took up. They wanted an easy, convenient thing that one could slip in one’s wallet and, yes, forget. Perhaps some hon. Members have more organised lives than mine, but one would not normally carry around one’s passport. People indicated that they were keen on the convenience of the plastic card. It was one thing that made the card popular with those who chose to take it on.
The third main issue is that the card was a travel document within Europe. Indeed, for £30, it was not only a travel document, but a passport-plus, because it allowed travel, plus that more secure form of ID to which I have referred. For the four out of five British citizens who have passports, that is fine, but there was also an issue about those who do not.
I do not have time to deal with all the nonsense, to be frank, that came out in today’s debate, but there was some discussion about a huge Government Big Brother database being built like no other. I am tempted to ask how many hon. Members present have a British passport, and what on earth they think happens to the data that they hand over when they receive one, because that information is held on a database. It has been held on a database ever since passports were introduced, and I recommend hon. Members visit the database records in Peterborough, where they will see paper records from 1916, microfiche records and more up-to-date records. Of course, if one has a safe and secure passport, and one wants it to become a proper document that makes British citizens first-class citizens in the world, one needs a back-up database; and we proposed putting fingerprints on passports, so it was important to ensure that the database was more secure.
That is why we proposed three databases that could not be downloaded or looked up. In time, with a reader machine, as many new hon. Members may not be aware, one could have taken the card and—by checking against the register and the database, with no information going to the person to whom one was proving one’s identity—just proved one’s identity. There would have been no need for bits of paper going to a back room to be photocopied and possibly stolen, and no need for bills in different names, which is a challenge for many people. There would have been just one card, involving just the individual and their fingerprint. That would have put the citizen in control of their data. That was our vision, and it is still the vision of this Opposition.
So, the database already exists. My question to the Minister, who is now responsible for passports, because they have been thrown into the mix with immigration even though they used to have their own Minister, is what will happen to the passport database and to the passport? If we do not introduce fingerprints on to passports, we risk British citizens becoming second-class citizens in the world. They will have to pay for visas as countries demand more security, and we also risk having a much less secure document. The Government use the curious phrase,
“halting second generation biometric passports”,
which are those with fingerprints, so will the Minister clarify that?
There is Tory muddle on this issue, and I have some further questions. Is the hon. Gentleman in favour of fingerprints in general? [Interruption.] Clearly, many hon. Members want to give me their fingerprints. Very nice. We have foreign national identity cards, and people who come to this country provide their fingerprint for inclusion on that database, which was going to be part of the same database. People applying for visas abroad have their fingerprints taken before they arrive in the UK—an important security measure that I hope that the Minister, with his immigration hat on, agrees with. If the Government are in favour of fingerprints in those cases, then why not for British citizens too? Why are British citizens being denied this right?
The Government are also in a muddle on costs and savings. Cards would have been funded by fees. If someone paid £30, they got a card; if they did not pay £30, they did not. That seems a fair-minded transaction that did not involve lots of money from the general taxpayer. Yes, there were set-up costs, which would have been recouped, but the £4.75 billion total cost was paid for not out of taxation but out of fees over a 10-year period. No cards, no fees—and no money to spend on other things.
Perhaps the Prime Minister should be told this, because in September 2007, in an online question and answer session with The Daily Telegraph, he said:
“A future Conservative Government will…Scrap the ID card scheme, saving £255.4 million in the first three years.”
Where is that number now? It seems to have shrunk to £84 million. Worryingly for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Prime Minister went on to say that they would use those savings to provide extra prison places, so that is another Government policy gone.
Let me quickly explain who will lose out through this. Current cardholders will lose out, and it is mean-spirited of this Government not to compensate them. Sending out two letters to cardholders will cost at least as much as it would to give them a credit for a passport. Moreover, the convenience factor has gone.
This Bill is a symbolic gesture, as the Home Secretary said. The Government have not had time to look at the detail and the consequences. It is ill thought out and mean-spirited, and it has a worrying disregard for the security of the passport. I really do hope that the Minister has some proper answers as he risks the safety of the British public.
It is a delight, Madam Deputy Speaker, to see you in the Chair, which I am sure you will adorn for years to come.
For some of us, this debate is an exciting occasion. Those of us who have campaigned against the ID card scheme since the day it was introduced by the previous Government regard it as not just a duty but a pleasure to be able to lay it to rest. On a personal note, in the 13 years that my party spent in opposition, I rebelled only once against a three-line Whip, and that was to vote against ID cards, so it is a particular joy to be at the Government Dispatch Box to get rid of them. I advise Labour Members, particular new ones, that for Opposition Members occasionally to rebel against their Front Benchers can be very rewarding. Let me also say to my own hon. Friends that for Government Back Benchers to do the same thing is completely reprehensible.
Scrapping the ID card scheme shows the clear intent of the coalition Government to roll back the intrusion of the state and to return personal freedom and control to the individual citizen. This Bill is a major step on that road. Bringing the Bill before the House at such an early stage of the new Government signifies the importance that we place on creating a free society and on cutting unnecessary expenditure. The Bill is also about trust. It is about the people having trust in the Government to know when it is necessary and appropriate for the state to hold and use personal data, and it is about the Government placing their trust in the common-sense and responsible attitude of the people. The previous Government’s ID cards scheme and the national identity register, which lay at its heart and which was its most reprehensible part, failed on both counts.
The indiscriminate collection, use and storage of vast amounts of biographical and biometric data belonging to innocent people is not a role for the state. People do not want the state keeping information on the basis that in some far-off and speculative circumstance it may be of benefit. The lack of public trust in the scheme was reflected in the very low numbers coming forward to buy the cards. I suspect that that also reflects—the shadow Home Secretary may reflect on this—the knowledge that a new Government would drop the scheme.
I am afraid that the hon. Lady did not leave me enough time to give way to her, as she overran her time.
Let me start with what the shadow Home Secretary said. He gave a completely bravura performance. It was entertaining and funny, and it was particularly good from someone whose heart, I felt, was not really in it. I do not believe that he is a fully paid-up member of the authoritarian tendency on the Labour Benches. The fact that his speech was so good disguised the central incoherence in it. He said that he wanted ID cards to be voluntary, and his speech also contained a long, passionate passage about how they would be effective in the fight against terrorism. He can either hold the view that we need compulsory ID cards to fight terrorism, or he can hold the view that we need voluntary ID cards, but he cannot hold both at once. He knows as well as I do that a voluntary card system would have no effect on terrorists, criminals or benefit fraudsters, who would not sign up to a voluntary scheme. That was the central incoherence in his speech.
May I correct one example that the right hon. Gentleman gave? He said that France had a national identity database. It does indeed have a national identity card scheme, but the cards are issued, and the accompanying register held, at local level. There is no single French identity database, so he was wrong about that.
Like others, I pay tribute to the many good speeches that we have heard. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr Shepherd) that it was a privilege to hear his magnificent speech in favour of freedom and Parliament’s essential role in defending it. I now move on to the many hon. Members on both sides of the House who made their maiden speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) gave a stirring defence of naval tradition of which I believe Lord Palmerston, one of her distinguished predecessors, would have been proud. It was a delight to hear the maiden speeches of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), who will clearly be a strong champion for Birmingham, and of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), who gave us a fascinating and educational tour ranging from Piers Gaveston to Harry Potter by way of Beatrix Potter.
I sympathise with the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), who said that the size of her constituency was 240 square miles. Until a recent boundary review mine covered 220 square miles, so I know that she has a lot of travelling to do over the next few years. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) and the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) in using this occasion to pay tribute to Rudi Vis, who died last week and was a friend to many of us on both sides of the House.
I was delighted to learn from my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins) that the village of Oakworth is the Notting Hill of the north in providing a tightly knit group of massive political talent. I was also educated by hearing from the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) that the most famous running of the Blaydon races was on today’s date, 9 June; I will store that fact away. Similarly, I learned from my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) that Elmet was the last Celtic kingdom in this country—another fascinating fact for everyone. My hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) told us that he is the grandson of a miner. He might not know that the Government Chief Whip was a miner himself, so if I were him I would concentrate on emphasising that fact. It could be career-enhancing.
To stay with mining, it was a delight to see the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) make her maiden speech. I was delighted to hear that the big society is clearly alive and well in Ashfield. Many of us will have woken up with her on many occasions when she was on GMTV, and it is a great privilege to have her here in the House in person.
There were also speeches from those who were recently elected but were not making their maiden speeches. It was a particular delight to hear from my hon. Friends the Members for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) and for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), both of whom are clearly great new fighters in the House for liberty and freedom. My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) gave a fascinating speech, and I can assure him that the current Home Office Ministers will not try to strong-arm their staff into buying identity cards.
I wish to address some of the specific points that the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch and other hon. Members made. I was slightly shocked to hear the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) say that the British passport was easy to forge. As a former Home Secretary, he knows that it is actually a secure, high-integrity document and very difficult to counterfeit or forge. I do not believe that when he was Home Secretary he told the House or anyone else that it was easy to forge.
In response to an intervention, the shadow Home Secretary made a point about the biometric residence permit and minority communities. It is clearly nonsense to suggest that the permit, which has to be held by people who are living in this country because they want to work here, could in some way be used to revive the sus laws. He knows as well as I do that no one is required to carry it with them at any time. Frankly, it is an insult to the police to suggest that they would behave like that.
Many interesting points were made by the former Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). In particular, he speculated on how we might destroy the national identity register when the time comes. I suspect that the Home Secretary, other ministerial colleagues and I might bend our minds to find the best and most dramatic way of striking that blow for freedom.
The right hon. Gentleman asked a number of detailed questions, including one about the number of cards that had been issued. As of 27 May 2010, the number of ID cards issued was 14,670. He also asked what is happening now and whether people can still apply for a card, and therefore waste £30. We have adopted a common-sense approach to that, so staff at the Identity and Passport Service inform any potential applicants that it is the Government’s stated intention to scrap ID cards, and then ask them whether, in that light, they want to reconsider going ahead with the application. The Government have taken a common-sense attitude, but I have heard some anecdotal evidence that some journalists are desperate to be the last person to buy an identity card so that they can write an article about it. I am not sure whether any normal citizens, as it were, are continuing to apply.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about biometric residence permits. Since 25 November 2008 the UK Border Agency has issued 188,000 residency permits. The attempt by the previous Government to rebadge those as ID cards for foreign nationals, in an attempt to make more acceptable a scheme that was clearly unacceptable to the British people, was pretty disingenuous, and it clearly failed.
The right hon. Gentleman asked what happens when people have applied but not yet received a card. When a person has made an application but payment has not been made, they are informed of the coalition Government’s policy and the introduction of the Bill, because we want to save their time and money, and we request that they hold off their application pending the outcome of parliamentary consideration of the Bill.
The decision to scrap the scheme is mainly about stopping the state snooping into the lives of innocent people. We would have introduced the measure even if we were not saving significant sums of money by doing so, but a lot has been said in the debate about the expense. Even though this measure is a matter of principle, it is a happy coincidence that in putting our principle of freedom into practice, we are saving the British people hundreds of millions of pounds. The previous Government planned to spend £835 million on ID cards over the next 10 years, even after they had stripped out the costs that they were loading on to the IPS.
The previous Government claimed, as shadow Ministers have today, that the whole scheme would cost nothing, because the money would be recovered from charges. I have got news for those former Ministers: it is the British people who would have paid those charges. Whether the Government take money from people as a charge or a tax, that is still taking away people’s money. By that measure, this Government are leaving in the pockets of the British people £835 million that the previous Government would have extracted for their terrible scheme.
No, because I am talking about the ID card scheme, which is a separate scheme. The former Home Secretary—like all the other former Home Secretaries and former Home Office Ministers—seems not to get the point that if we charge someone for something they have to give us some money, and their money is taken away. What makes it worse is that the previous Home Secretary, at a press conference, memorably called this level of saving “diddly squat”. The British people will disagree that it is not worth saving £835 million of their money. [Interruption.] Labour Front-Bench Members are chuntering from a sedentary position, “You’re not saving it.” No we are not: British citizens, the British people, are saving it. I find it extraordinary that they cannot understand that if somebody has to write a cheque to the Government, they lose that money and the Government get it. They do not regard that as a saving, but other people do.
I shall deal with some of the other caveats that have been raised. Liberty, a pressure group for which I have a very high regard, talks about the biometric residence permit, and is worried that we will continue with it as an ID card for foreign nationals. I hope that I have laid that fear to rest: it is a completely different scheme under a completely different law. It is not mentioned in this Bill because it is covered under EU, not British, law.
May I say what a pleasure it is to be a Home Office Minister standing at the Dispatch Box and reading a Liberty brief on a Government proposal that it describes as “hugely welcome”? This is a first, certainly in recent years. The hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) made the good point that all the major parties in the House have a spectrum, with some at the authoritarian end and others at the civil liberties end. I can assure him that the civil libertarian end is now in the ascendance in the Conservative party, and given his long, honourable and principled opposition to ID cards, I wish him success in driving out the authoritarian tendency that took over the Labour party under the previous Government.
It is also clear that there are some civil libertarians new to the House in other parties as well. I welcome the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), who made the point that he is not happy with the wording of clause 10—a point that I dare say we can, and should, take up in Committee. I know that he is very knowledgeable about such matters. I am delighted to have Liberty’s support on this Bill, but I am also pleased to join others, on both sides of the House, who have paid tribute to NO2ID—a campaign whose meetings I have addressed and supported over the past few years—and I am delighted to hear that he was a leading member of it in Cambridge. I will discuss with him the details of the other parts of the Bill reintroducing previous parts of the ID cards Bill that are necessary. I know that others on the Conservative Benches have worries about that too.
Beneath all the arguments about cost, second generation biometrics and biometric residence permits, we have before the House a matter of principle. A functioning national identity register would be the biggest intrusion into the privacy of the British people that the British Government have ever devised. Just because technology has transformed how the Government can use our personal information, it does not mean that a sensible Government will go down that route. In all eras of technology, the principle that the state should serve the citizen, and not vice versa, is a good one, to which Governments should stick.
The bigger the capacity to collect and share information, the greater the danger to privacy and therefore freedom. That is why the Government are acting quickly and decisively. We want to avoid further spending by the taxpayer and to dismantle the scheme at the minimum cost to the public. We want early destruction of the personal data held on the national identity register and of the register itself, and we want to bring an end to the practice of the state gathering data on its people simply because it has the power to do so. Instead, the Government should be held accountable to the people they represent, and should justify their actions in the key areas of personal freedom and liberty. The Bill is a statement of the coalition Government’s new approach. It is just the first step in our commitment to rolling back the database state created by Labour and restoring the civil liberties of the British people. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
identity documents bill (programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Identity Documents Bill:
1. The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
2. Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 8 July 2010.
3. The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Consideration and Third Reading
4. Proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
6. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on consideration and Third Reading.
7. Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed.—(Bill Wiggin.)
Question agreed to.