Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 1
Identity documents for transgendered persons
(1) This section applies to a person who—
(a) is a transgendered person,
(b) has not been issued with a gender recognition certificate, and
(c) is living in both the birth gender and the acquired gender.
(2) The Secretary of State must make arrangements for the issue to any person falling within subsection (1), on the application of that person, of two copies of a passport or some other form of identity document of comparable standing, one in the birth gender of the person and the other in the acquired gender.
(3) The form of the document referred to in subsection (2) shall be prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument, which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
(4) Any ID card issued to a person falling within subsection (1) shall (notwithstanding section 2(2)) remain valid until it expires, or until the requirement in subsection (2) is satisfied, whichever is the earlier, and section 2(3) shall not apply in relation to any cardholder who is a person falling within subsection (1).’.—(Julie Hilling.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
It is a privilege to move a new clause to a Bill in the House for the first time.
New clause 1 relates to a group of people who are often forgotten—in fact, they seem to have been forgotten by the Government because they were not covered by the equality impact assessment on the Bill—and for whom the identity card was a valued asset because they were able to have one card in their birth gender and another in their acquired gender.
Changing gender is not something that happens overnight; people have to go on a journey that might take several years. For the vast majority of people, it takes at least two years until they reach the position of saying that they wish to live as another person and are able to undergo gender reassignment surgery. However, many trans people choose not to undergo surgery, either because it can be dangerous, painful or unsuccessful, or for other reasons.
Gender identity is extremely complex and there is a broad spectrum of trans individuals. At one end of the spectrum are trans individuals who commit to living in another gender and undertake gender reassignment processes to help them to achieve that, while at the other end are individuals who feel trans, but continue to live in their birth gender, even though they feel trapped in that gender. In between those two ends of the spectrum are trans individuals who feel genderless and prefer to remain gender-neutral, as well as trans individuals who genuinely identify with both genders. There are also people who identify with their non-birth gender, but need to continue to live in their birth gender in certain situations.
In Committee, I talked about my friend who I will call Jane. Jane is still working as John in a very male-dominated industry. She is usually Jane at home, although she is not yet Jane with some of her family, especially her elderly parents, who she does not wish to upset. Jane is on a journey, but at the moment she has to live her life in two genders. It is hard to imagine the problems that arise in her life. What does she do when she wants to book a hotel room or a flight? The ability to have two identity cards has allowed her to go on holiday as Jane, but to continue to live her work life as John. Identity cards were not a full solution to the problem faced by dual-gendered people such as Jane, however. Although the scheme allowed individuals to hold cards in both genders, only one card was valid for overseas travel.
Another trans person—I shall call her T—has contacted me to tell me about her experiences. After feeling transgendered from a young age, T has just started to take active steps to make herself physically more feminine. Of course, it takes time for the physical aspects of gender to change, so T is not yet ready to start living as a woman all the time. Anyone who has had any contact with the transgender community will know the importance of people being able to pass as the opposite gender from their birth gender.
T is a professional working for a very conservative firm. She is only too aware of the difficulties she would face if she started to dress as a woman before she was physically able to pass. Although there is legislation to protect such people against discrimination in the workplace, she knows that she would face great difficulty in her field of work and that, if she was sacked, she would be unlikely to get another firm to take her on. She has therefore decided that she will not start living as a woman in the workplace until she is physically and mentally ready to do so.
T is a trans person with a life away from the workplace, however. She lives as a woman at home and goes out as a woman. It is when T travels abroad as a woman that she feels most liberated with her gender identity.
T has travelled abroad as a woman on a male passport, but that was never easy, even when travelling to relatively trans-friendly countries. Problems arose because when she presented her passport to immigration officials, not only did she look different from her passport photo, but the document stated that she was male, not female. That typically led to delays involving prolonged questioning and embarrassment, but on a few occasions the situation was more severe. In one country, she was taken for further questioning into a side room in which she was mocked and ridiculed by several male immigration officials. They refused to allow her to be frisked by a female immigration official and she was inappropriately molested by a male immigration official—one can only imagine the humiliation.
After that incident, T decided to apply for a passport in the female gender and adopted a female name. That has had a remarkable effect on her life because she no longer faces delays and prolonged questioning. There is no more embarrassment because there is no discrepancy between the person presenting themselves to immigration officials and their passport. When travelling in certain countries, she is confident of joining queues to be frisked by women, not men. Fortunately, she has not experienced any negative issues when travelling as a female on a female passport, and she is grateful for the protection that that female passport has brought.
The problem has not been solved completely, however, because there are still instances when T is required to travel as a man. She has not disclosed her trans status to her employer, so she has had to refuse all international travel at work because any flights and hotels would be booked by her secretary and, of course, bookings have to mirror the name and gender on a passport. Her continued refusal of international travel is likely to have an adverse effect on her career.
The right to travel is an important aspect of the fundamental right to liberty, and T feels it is important that she travel as a woman in her early stage of transition. However, although she is dual-gendered, there will be instances when she is required to travel as a male. She is therefore in an impossible situation because how does she choose the gender for her passport? The most logical solution to the problem, as set out in the new clause, is that dual-gendered people should be allowed to be issued with two passports. Of course, some single gender people are issued with two passports, particularly when they want to travel to countries in which it is inappropriate to have the passport stamp of certain other countries, so there is a means by which two passports may be issued.
A small number of people make up the trans community. ID cards were not a perfect solution, but they gave those people some liberation. I suggest that people should be allowed to keep their identity cards as a valid means of travel until the Government bring forward an alternative solution.
The Government indicated in Committee that an alternative proposal would be put forward to solve the problem, but unfortunately it has not yet been presented to Labour Members. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us by telling us how the Government will resolve the problem experienced by a small group of people who benefited from identity cards, but will face difficulty due to the cards’ removal.
I echo the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling).
In Committee and through subsequent correspondence, I have pressed the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), on the consultation that she and her Department undertook when putting the Bill together. However, I have received no answer, so I hope she will tell the House the groups that she consulted, given that the issue did not even feature in the Government’s impact assessment. This House is a tolerant House, and I know that the hon. Lady is a relatively new Minister, but if a mistake has been made, I hope she will have the decency at least to acknowledge that in the House and to apologise to the people affected, who have very little voice. However, there is a vocal group in her Department who have been influential in shaping policy across Whitehall and beyond.
We recognise that the problem is not easy to solve—either here and now on the Floor of the House or more generally—but a small but nevertheless important provision of the Identity Cards Act 2006 was introduced to bring about the existing benefit. We do not necessarily expect a detailed answer from the Minister today, but she has not reassured me, either through correspondence or in Committee, that serious action is under way in government to address the situation. The matter is not so much one for the equalities unit, which she indicated in her last letter was examining the situation, but one for the Identity and Passport Service, which deals with identity issues for the Government as a whole.
We want a real commitment to action today, but all I have heard from the hon. Lady—perhaps she will expand on this during the debate—is the suggestion that the Government are looking to work with international partners to remove gender markers from passports entirely. That proposal could be subject to a huge debate, and I am not sure that we would want that to happen—I think that Government Back Benchers agree. The approach would seem to be a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It would also confuse a lot of people, but even if it was an answer that could be agreed as a way forward, such international negotiations would take a long time, meaning that the proposal is a long-grass solution. We are looking to see a timetable for action and a commitment to action. I once again remind the hon. Lady that she is now a Minister. Whatever her previous record, words are easy. Action may be harder, but action from the Minister is what we are after today.
As Members know from my comments on a similar amendment in Committee, I very much support initiatives that will advance the rights of transgendered people. In Committee I acknowledged the role of the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) in providing a measure in the Identity Cards Act that enabled a transgender person to be issued with two identity cards, one in the gender of birth and another in the gender of their choice.
As hon. Members know, only one of those cards is available for use for travel in Europe. The second card issued in the second identity is available only for use in the UK for identification purposes. The person was required to choose which identity applied to which card at the time of application.
The hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) described to us in detail some of the complex and difficult issues faced by transgender people—I should say people with gender identity issues, because they can be anywhere on the spectrum. It is not simply a case of being one gender or the other. As the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch said, the transgendered community can at times be marginalised, difficult to communicate with and difficult to gather together. Her Government’s approach to transgendered people and identity cards did not, however, extend to passports, which it could have done. There was ample opportunity both before and since the identity cards legislation was passed in 2006 for the previous Government to apply the same provisions to passports, but they chose not to do so. There are good reasons for that.
In speaking to the amendment, Opposition Members did not explain why passports did not benefit from the same provisions. I intend to set out briefly some of the issues involved and what we will be doing to seek a consolidated solution on identity and for transgendered people. I will deal in due course with the points raised by the hon. Ladies.
Current passport policy enables a passport to be issued in a person’s acquired gender without a gender recognition certificate, on production of medical evidence indicating that they experience gender dysphoria, or a report to some such effect. A passport in the acquired gender can be a key facilitator in gaining evidence to put before the gender recognition panel to show that a person is living their life in the acquired gender, thus allowing them to get the certificate.
The passport is, of course, an international travel document. It is a good argument that one can get two passports if there is a difficulty with the stamp of a particular country, but there are identity issues associated with passports that are more complex than the same physical image and the same or a similar name appearing. A passport is issued on the basis of nationality and citizenship. It is a secure document that meets strict international standards and enjoys a high international reputation. The standards are agreed and set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
We are not aware of any member state that issues two passports on the basis of transgender, and there are a number of reasons why we do not currently envisage the issuing of two passports—I made some inquiries about that possibility—to the same person but in different identities and with different facial images. There are fairly obvious security and immigration control issues arising from a person travelling to a country in one identity and perhaps leaving in another identity. There is also the personal situation for a transgendered person.
I do not know whether hon. Members are aware that following the Committee sitting I wrote about it on my blog. It was clear—[Interruption.] That is often a good way of communicating with the transgendered community.
I am amazed that the Minister tells us that she wrote on her blog about the issue, as though that is a formal Government process. I have asked her repeatedly what formal Government consultation took place and her answer is her personal blog. Is this the way the Government intend to continue?
The hon. Lady is pushing it. That was not an answer to the formal question. I mentioned my blog to illustrate the point that security issues in relation to travel are not the only consideration. There is also the personal situation of a transgendered person. The responses to that blog post indicated, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) identified in Committee, that—
Will the Minister give way?
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will answer the formal question from the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch about consultation. The scrapping of ID cards formed part of the manifesto for the 2010 general election for both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. The policy received considerable media coverage and our opposition to ID cards has been in the public domain from the outset. The coalition agreement clearly sets out our aim to scrap ID cards and to destroy the national identity register. Therefore, although a formal consultation was not undertaken, we have been open and transparent in what we intended to do and what we are doing.
It is clear from the messages—Opposition Members may think a website is not a formal place—from the community that transgendered people do not welcome the state emphasising their individual circumstances. That is why we will be engaging with the transgendered community and others to determine what they consider is the best approach and how we can best achieve a suitable outcome to the issue raised by Opposition Members, which I agree is extremely important—how to deal with the state of not quite being one gender or the other, or in process between the two.
So what the Minister is telling us is that the Government did not carry out an equality impact assessment, and that the substitute for that is correspondence with individuals on her blog. That takes the place of an impact assessment, which is a legal requirement.
No, that is not exactly what I said. The impact assessment for the Bill was published on 4 June 2010 and is available on the website of the Identity and Passport Service. The impact assessment indicates that the policy of scrapping ID cards does not have an impact on statutory equality duties.
As the Minister for Immigration indicated in his letter of 19 July to the Chairs of the Committee considering the Bill, the ID card is just one form of identity and although the policy in respect of issuing two cards to a transgendered person may be considered as innovative, scrapping ID cards would not impact on their ability to access services or to travel in their chosen gender. It ill behoves the Opposition to make light of the transgender community communicating through whichever means it wishes.
We need to be careful that in seeking to extend the rights of the transgendered person when travelling, we do not create the potential for additional difficulties. That is why we intend to work with the transgendered community and others on determining what they consider is the best approach and, in conjunction with the Government Equalities Office, consider how we can move this important issue forward. It is important that we listen to those who are most affected. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge mentioned in Committee, a number of his constituents who would be affected and with whom he has had discussions do not favour the approach suggested by the amendment.
At the same time, through the International Civil Aviation Organisation, we will discuss with our international partners the issue of gender recognition in passports. It is possible for a passport to be issued with an X instead of an M for male and F for female. However, we anticipate that the use of an X may raise more questions than answers. Instead, we will consider other options, including whether it might be possible to remove gender identifiers from passports, and look at any potential consequential security implications of this. We aim to consult groups in the UK this autumn and with the ICAO and others over the coming months.
I am puzzled that that proposal has come out of leftfield one might say—but perhaps with this coalition, out of rightfield—as a solution. It seems like a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and it is a very big proposal to suggest that “male” and “female” be removed from a document that 80% of the British public use.
To return to an earlier point, however, the Minister’s ego is quite extraordinary. Her blog and no official consultation seem to be her answer to things, and I worry about the civil service. There are some excellent civil servants in her Department, as I well know, and they have to act on the basis of two political manifestos and a personal, political blog. Within government, there are statutory and other requirements for consultation, but the Minister has come to the Dispatch Box to explain that this Government do not take them seriously. They prefer party political routes, with all their imperfections, to what one might reasonably expect, which are proper Government routes.
As I have already explained to the hon. Lady, we are taking formal Government routes, too. Indeed, we will proceed with more formal routes and properly consult a wide range of transgender groups.
The new clause is impractical and fails to recognise its impact on transgendered people. It asks that ID cards that have been issued to transgendered people remain valid until expiry or until another system is in place, but in practice that would mean that only transgendered people would have ID cards. Apart from the huge cost of maintaining the ID infrastructure, whenever that card were used the gender background of the cardholder would be immediately identifiable. Rather than enabling transgendered people to get on with their lives without interference, the proposal would bring them unnecessary and potentially harming attention and focus, and the same problems would arise if transgendered people were issued with a bespoke identification document other than a passport.
This Government are producing the first action plan on transgender equality ever produced by an Administration. Perhaps Opposition Members did not realise the unintended consequences of their new clause, but I recommend that it be withdrawn.
I am a new Member, and this is the first time that I have been through this process. However, a Bill has been introduced to get rid of previously enacted legislation that served some members of our community well—a small proportion, but it served them well—and I am deeply shocked that, without any formal consultation or proper discussion with that community, we are now saying that we will get rid of it.
I was not a Minister and cannot answer that point, but I thought that we were supposed to have impact assessments before we made legislation. The Government are making legislation without them, and I am deeply shocked.
I wish that I were reassured, but I am not sure that I am. I listened to what the Minister said about the need to go forward on the issue and the transgender community being consulted on the solution. I hope that she will undertake that consultation.
Believe me, I recognise that the situation is difficult to resolve. I understand the difficulty of saying, “Let’s not have a gender in the passport” because that would not be a solution; and I understand the difficulty of issuing people two passports. The House should not misunderstand me; I understand that difficulty. However, it is so important for that small group of people that we do not allow our citizens to be humiliated as they go through passport control or people to lose their careers because of the difficulties that they face. On the basis of the Government’s guarantees that they will take the issue forward, take it seriously and work on it, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
New Clause 2
Passport fees for holders of ID cards
(1) This section applies to a person (“P”) who—
(a) held a valid ID card on the day on which this Act was passed, and
(b) paid a fee for the card.
(2) On the first occasion after the passing of this Act on which P applies for a passport, the fee charged for the passport shall be reduced by £30.’.—(Meg Hillier.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 4—Transfer of information from National Identity Register to Identity and Passport Service
‘The Secretary of State must ensure that any information recorded in the National Identity Register which—
(a) relates to a person (“P”) who has indicated that P wishes to retain P’s identity card until its expiry date, and
(b) is relevant to an application by P for a passport,
is transferred to the Identity and Passport Service.’.
Amendment 5, page 1, line 16, in clause 2, leave out from ‘day’ to end of line 10 on page 3 and insert
‘will remain valid until their expiry date.’.
Amendment 6, page 2, line 13, leave out clause 3.
Amendment 8, page 2, line 16, in clause 3, at end insert—
‘(2) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of four months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, present to Parliament a report identifying the information destroyed in accordance with subsection (1).’.
I shall not rehearse all the arguments that were made in Committee, but the Opposition are concerned about the mean-spirited nature of the Bill. Some 14,000 people took up ID cards, most of which were paid for, and those individuals thought that the cards would be valid for 10 years. It was a simple transaction not just with a commercial body, but with Her Majesty’s Government and, indeed, the Identity and Passport Service, one of the most trusted public bodies in this country, as research shows. Yet if the Bill goes the way the Government wish and, similarly, through the Lords, one month after Royal Assent those individuals will lose the ability to use the card that they had thought would be valid for 10 years. We have tabled some new proposals and given the Government a choice about how to deal with the matter. There is still an opportunity for the Minister for Immigration to recognise that, in his haste to get rid of identity cards, which for him is a big ideological issue, he does not need also to be unfair to those who in good faith paid their £30.
The new clause and amendments detail two proposals. There is no money resolution attached to the Bill, so we cannot press for a refund. However, we propose that the fee that people paid be added as a credit to the passport database. The data-matching would be relatively straightforward, given that everybody who holds an identity card, including myself, has, or has recently had, a passport. Of course, there are data protection rules, and we would have to gain permission from those individuals, but I would happily give permission for my data to be transferred.
In the process, we would lose the fingerprint, because it cannot be stored—[Interruption.] I am glad to see that the Minister is listening. It cannot be stored on the passport database—[Interruption.] I am being ironic: the Minister will, I hope, be listening in a moment. It cannot be stored, because the Government, in their desire to get rid of it so quickly—[Interruption.] In their reckless desire to get rid of it quickly, I repeat for the Minister, the Government do not plan to introduce passports with fingerprints. However, that credit would give some comfort to those who paid £30, and it would represent basic fairness.
The Government make great play of fairness—they often point to their coalition agreement, which makes much of it—and, as we seem to be quoting manifestos today, each individual party spoke about fairness in its manifesto, so we ask that the proposal be considered. It would be a relatively straightforward transaction, and with another amendment we will probe the Minister on a further issue. If the Government are planning to destroy the data, they will have to handle the information and do something with it, so they might as well pass it over to the passport database.
If the hon. Gentleman had had the courtesy to listen, he would have heard me deal with that point at the beginning of my comments.
We also suggest an alternative, so the Government have a choice. The Minister has two options in order to be fair to those members of the British public who bought a card in good faith. The alternative is to allow cards to continue for 10 years and, again, with the permission of the individual cardholder, for data to be migrated to the passport database, which is not a terribly difficult transaction, so that ID cards can continue as passports. We recognise that that is not a perfect solution, because with few cards already out there and, given all the points that we rehearsed in Committee about someone’s ability to recognise the document, there might still be issues. However, that would represent a choice for the individual who had paid their £30 to have the card.
We learned in Committee that of the 14,670 ID cards that were issued, almost 3,000 were given free of charge, so only 11,000 cards were paid for. Are the Opposition, in the second of their two options, suggesting that we maintain the card infrastructure for the next 10 years just for those 11,000 people, at a cost of £50 million to £60 million for 16 people per constituency?
That is not what we are suggesting, as the hon. Gentleman would see if he read the new clause. As I said, we are suggesting that the information be migrated to the passport database.
We recognise that this is a rare area of unity for both Government parties, which is perhaps why it is being rushed through. The Government clearly want to get rid of the national identity register. However, it would not be difficult to migrate data to the passport database, especially given that everybody who currently holds a card has recently held, or currently holds, a passport. Of the 11,000 people affected, many may choose not to take up migration of the card. If there were to be the option of a credit on their passport database, some may not choose to take that up either. However, it would give them the option. I believe that it can be done relatively cheaply, and that it is fair.
This is being done with the ideologically driven haste of the Minister. We have debated this previously and I know that he is passionate about getting rid of ID cards, but basic fairness is involved. Frankly, those who bought in good faith from the trusted Identity and Passport Service have been diddled by this Government. If the Minister gets up and talks about what his manifesto said, we will be driven to despair. We discussed this in Committee. When somebody buys a passport or an identity card, or has any other transaction with Government, they will not necessarily take into account something that has been said in a political manifesto. Government has some degree of continuity and when an individual has bought something in good faith, there needs to be some recompense for them.
We recognise, reluctantly, that both parties in this Government had a mandate to get rid of identity cards; as I said, it is one area of unanimity within the coalition. Therefore, whatever our position on that general issue, we will not press the matter to a vote. However, the issue of compensation is very important, and we will seek to divide the House on the new clause unless the Minister can give us some reassurances.
I rise to oppose vigorously the new clause.
We have to be absolutely and abundantly clear about the fact that identity cards are exclusively and solely a new Labour creation. Every single other party in this House made it absolutely clear that we would have nothing whatsoever to do with them and that if we had even the remotest opportunity to get rid of these useless and intrusive lumps of plastic, we would do so immediately. We actively encouraged people not to take out ID cards. For those who did so, under new Labour encouragement, that was their free and fair choice: tough luck to them. We are now enacting exactly what we told them. The new coalition Government are absolutely right to try to get rid of ID cards. They said they would do it in 100 days. I am disappointed that it will take a little bit longer than that, but thank goodness we are getting rid of this hated, obtrusive and ridiculous scheme.
We refer to these as ID cards, but let us give them their proper name. They are not ID cards, but NLID cards—new Labour identity cards. They are a monumental folly that symbolises new Labour’s attempt to create the anti-civil libertarian state, and thank goodness they did not get away with it. Instead of droning on about compensating the poor mugs they encouraged to take out ID cards, why do not Labour Members get on board and join us in celebrating the removal of these things? Nobody wants them.
I appreciate the very strong feelings that the hon. Gentleman is conveying, but I want to draw out his views not on whether ID cards should be abolished but on whether individuals who paid for them honestly and in good faith should be recompensed, as suggested in the new clause.
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s intervention. We told people who were thinking about taking out an ID card, “Don’t do it—we’re going to abolish this scheme.” In fact, if someone took out an ID card in Scotland, they would not require compensation but having their head looked at. The Scottish Government made it clear that people would not be able to use an ID card to access public services in Scotland. We did everything we could as a Government and as a party to discourage people in Scotland from taking out ID cards—and thank goodness they listened to us. I think that perhaps one in 10 of the people involved took out an ID card in Scotland. Anyone who did so would have to be the biggest new Labour cheerleader waving in and celebrating the arrival of the anti-civil libertarian state in Scotland. They would need to have had “Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath’s Finest” tattooed on their chest to have taken out an ID card in Scotland: that is how ridiculous a proposition it would have been.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way in the course of such an impassioned speech. Does he agree that not all Labour Members take the same view? In fact, the Labour party leadership candidate, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), has said that ID cards were a great mistake and that the party should show some humility and admit that it got it wrong.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because I have that quote from the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), who said:
“As someone who is liberal on social issues and civil liberties, I accept that in government we were too draconian on aspects of our civil liberties…We have to have to be able to say we won’t go back to ID cards.”
Come on, the rest of you—catch up! He might be your leader, because according to the opinion polls he is ahead. You are way behind current thinking on this. Labour had a good record on civil liberties until new Labour came along—please get back in touch with your civil libertarian roots.
I am interested to hear the Scottish National party’s position. In fact, people could not easily apply for ID cards in Scotland, and that is why very few did so. They were not formally launched there at the point at which the Government changed, but they would have been coming and I am sure that there are many people in Scotland who would have liked one.
Leaving that aside, it would be interesting to know what the SNP’s position is on fingerprints in passports, which is something that Members from many parties in this House, both Government and Opposition, have indicated is very important, and something that my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North has not ruled out.
If you will allow me, Mr Deputy Speaker, because we are straying somewhat from the terms of the debate, I would say to the hon. Lady that I am very pleased that the coalition Government are picking up the Scottish example as regards databases. They have seen the good sense of the SNP Government in their approach to these issues, and I congratulate them on following and copying their model.
Given that it was Labour Members alone and exclusively who encouraged people to take out ID cards, why are they asking the taxpayer to help with compensation? It should be the Labour party that compensates the poor souls who took them out. It has all these trade union funds—what is it going to do with them? If you want compensation to be paid to these people, pay it yourself.
I have one bit of comfort for all those who have taken out ID cards in the course of the past year: they are becoming a collector’s item. This is really intriguing and interesting. Forget about compensation—all they need to do is get one of the great Labour champions of the anti-civil libertarian state to sign their card. If anyone watching this has an ID card, they should get Mr Clarke, Mr Reid or Jacqui Smith to sign it, and that will increase its collectability. They might get more than the £30 that they want the Government to pay them back. Here is a good idea: they should get the absolute champion of ID cards, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), to sign it; they would probably turn a profit given the collectability that that would have in the future. The collectability of ID cards makes them almost like little bits of the Berlin wall, appropriately, and that is how they are likely to remain.
I make a plea to the Labour party: get on board with this. Get in touch with your civil libertarian roots, find a new agenda, listen to what is happening in your leadership contest, and forget about droning on about compensation and trying to get this scheme to go on. It is done, finished—move on. I am with the Government on this one. We should reject this new clause, make sure that nobody gets compensation, and end the scheme tomorrow if we can.
It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who, with Celtic chutzpah, put the damning case against identity cards and the national identity register extremely well and with great wit and humour. I pay tribute to him.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) will forgive me for saying that the fortitude with which she moved the new clause characterised her approach throughout the long march of ID cards up to the top of the hill and now, happily, down again. She reminds me of Queen Victoria during the Boer war. When it was put to her in the early stages that there was a possibility of defeat, she memorably said, “I do not accept the possibility of defeat. It does not exist.” The attitude of the hon. Lady and the former Government to ID cards is encapsulated in that memorable quotation. There has been a state of denial and an almost fanatical refusal of the reality of how the debate on ID cards has shifted since the early days, when I concede opinion polls were somewhat against those who opposed the cards.
There is no doubt that there has been a sea change in public opinion in recent years, encouraged not only by parties in the House but by a genuine campaign across the country against the menace of ID cards and the national identity register. Yet the former Government did not listen to that campaign or to members of my party, the Liberal Democrats or the nationalist parties. There was a grand coalition against the proposals, but still they pressed ahead. Worse than that, to use another military metaphor, they laid booby trap after booby trap to make it as difficult as possible for people to withdraw from the scheme. That is where the new clause fails the test that we should set it.
Although I appreciate the spirit behind the proposal, there is no doubt that members of the public who chose to buy an identity card would, by definition, have been aware of the raging debate about that contentious issue. I have to say to them, caveat emptor—let the buyer beware. When buying the card, they knew that it was my party’s stated intention to take immediate steps to end the scheme, and that other parties were saying exactly the same thing. The message was loud and clear.
The situation is rather like the one 13 years ago, when the Labour Government came to office. They made their position clear about certain policies—for example, promising an end to tax credits for people on private health schemes. We are not here to debate that now, but it is a parallel point. Labour was elected to office overwhelmingly and carried out its policy, as it was entitled to do. The electorate were given a clear message, and the late Government did not renege upon their promise. They pressed ahead based upon the mandate that they had received. Although we can debate the merits of that decision, it was their prerogative. Now, 13 years later, we are in a similar position. We have a Government consisting of two parties that made their position crystal clear before the election, yet if we accept the amendment, we will be applying a different rule.
Politics is a tough occupation—I am sure we all have direct experience of that. We win some, we lose some. Labour comprehensively lost the argument on identity cards and the national register, and I submit that in those circumstances, the best thing for it to do is accept defeat gracefully and not press the new clause.
The hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) was eloquent and I agree with much of what he said, above all about the centrality of the manifesto on which a party is elected. The Conservative party was elected on a very clear manifesto against the alternative vote, and of course Conservative Members are now marching into the Lobby to vote for a referendum on it. However, he will have to learn a lesson about politics that I have had to learn for much of my life, which is the pleasure of swallowing one’s previous pledges and standing on one’s head. On AV, which is far more important than this minor Bill, the Conservative party is doing both. The nation will duly take note.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) was wondrous in his eloquence. His speech was clearly a bid to join the coalition, and I would have thought that he should get a ministerial job. The Government are short of Scottish talent. Actually, they are short of talent, and he is both Scottish and talented. He should certainly be sitting on the Treasury Bench. He represents the nationalistic passions of Scotland, the country where I was born and where an awful lot of my family still live.
I wish that new Labour had been the inspiration for ID cards, but it was not. The Netherlands, Germany, Spain and France all have them. ID cards are a European idea, but in today’s evolving political landscape it is always important to hear the nationalist rant against European practice. That is another reason why the hon. Gentleman may find himself much happier sitting on the Government Benches.
I turn to the new clause itself, which is not about the origins and use of ID cards, or about whether they were in the manifesto that the British people supported, just as they handsomely supported the party opposed to AV and defeated the one in favour of it. It is simply about whether the state can confiscate money. The hon. Gentleman is wrong; it was not taxpayers’ money that paid for my ID card but a £30 cheque or credit card payment from my miserable pre-Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority salary. I am not sure whether it is a claimable expense. As euro-waffler-in-chief, I do an awful lot of travel in Europe, but I am not sure whether I could put in a claim for an ID card.
I am terribly sorry, but I obtained my ID card and paid my £30. The new Government are rightly seeking to confiscate it, but they owe me modest compensation for doing so. I would never be allowed, under your stern tutelage, Mr Deputy Speaker, to accuse the Ministers of misleading the House or not being straight with us, but may I say that they are being a right pair of tea leaves at the moment? They are going to steal my money and not hand it back. [Interruption.] I mean that they are fond of tea and coffee. A very sound principle of British law is that if the state changes regulations and confiscates an individual’s property that was bought in good faith, forms of compensation are normally paid.
That is not just my view but that of a distinguished Conservative adviser, Lord Levene, who I believe the Prime Minister has hired to advise him on reducing defence expenditure, or perhaps more accurately to achieve smarter procurement in defence, which is his speciality. He wrote a very cross letter to The Times, about which we later had a very nice telephone conversation, in which he said that it was quite preposterous that having bought his identity card in good faith, he should now have it confiscated without any compensation. I bow to Lord Levene as a banker, a man of affairs, a business leader and a distinguished Government adviser, and shelter behind his outrage. Frankly, it does not matter if we are talking about one person or 14 million people. I put it to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire that the Government could do themselves no end of good by accepting the new clause, because 14,000 or 15,000 people, in good faith, took out ID cards—[Interruption.] Sorry, 11,000 people paid money for cards and others got them free. They have used the cards for three months, so compensation could be made pro rata. It would do the Government no harm—they have sent letters to Lord Levene and me, but they will be sending more—to put a little cheque in the post for those people.
The right hon. Gentleman was in danger of coming close to a serious point, and I thought it deserved to be dealt with. I am sure he has read the Bill and the Identity Cards Act 2006 carefully, so he will be aware that the Government of whom he was such a distinguished and eloquent supporter for so many years wrote the legislation so that the ID card, which he says is to be confiscated, is not his property. The ID card has always been the property of the state, so he cannot run the argument that his property will be confiscated.
I am grateful for that hair-splitting point. My passport remains the property of the state, but the plain fact is that I and 11,000 others paid £30. That is not a lot of money, but it was paid in good faith. New clause 2, gently and in a friendly way—there will be other opportunities to make similar points—says that there should be polite compensation. That is a long-established principle of British democratic practice. We are talking peanuts, so the Government would do themselves no harm at all if they erred gently on the side of generosity.
I shall not detain the House long, but the Bill has rightly been described as a long march. The previous Government’s policy began years ago as a proposal for a compulsory scheme, forcing ID cards on individuals. As a result, there was tremendous opposition. It is surely a rare day when the Conservative and Liberal coalition is supported by Justice and other individuals and organisations that promote civil liberties.
The Government, having decided that the scheme would be compulsory, indicated in the previous Parliament that the scheme would be voluntary. I confess that my vast research was not into answering the question whether schemes in other parts of Europe are compulsory rather than voluntary, which the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) raised. However, the UK scheme was voluntary and people signed up it.
The 2006 Act wound its way tortuously through the House, slowly but surely, faltering at every step, like some relic of yesteryear, as the previous Government attempted to demonstrate tremendous moral fibre in some shape or form. They were in the position of having to carry the measure, and the scheme eventually became voluntary. As soon as the scheme became voluntary, the argument in favour of repayment fell away. People were not obliged to sign up for an ID card, and could instead rely on their passports, driving licences or alternative documentation.
The reality is that people voluntarily signed up to pay for an ID card. They were not forced to sign up, so the Government’s approach must be dramatically different. The decision to sign up is for the individual, and the legislation states that if they do not want to sign up, they do not have to do so. It is not incumbent on the state, at this or at any other stage, to pay compensation.
A variety of things could happen in that situation, not least suing the council. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that various people who gave evidence to the Public Bill Committee indicated that they might contemplate suing the Government. People could sue the council if they were put in that position.
That is not so much the key point as the context of such decisions. When lots of people are saying, “Do not buy this because we are going scrap it,” people are making an informed decision. If they choose to buy voluntarily an ID card, that is surely up to them.
Liberty is also in favour of removing ID cards for foreign nationals, or biometric identity documents, or whatever people wish to call them. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with Liberty? Is he aware that surveys revealed that the Identity and Passport Service is one of the most trusted public bodies in the country? That trust is being breached by the Government’s decision. All we are saying to the Government is, “Be fair to those who bought an ID card.” Frankly, the idea that everybody read all the manifestos, as some hon. Members are saying, rather overrates their importance, and suggests that hon. Members are not in touch with the many people who do not follow politics and daily read manifestos .
I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker, if I have in any way drawn Members into other areas.
The short answer to the hon. Lady is to ask her this question: if the ID cards satisfaction survey showed that they were so popular, why did so few people sign up? Fewer than 15,000 signed up, and several thousand did not have to pay.
I, too, do not want to take too long on new clause 2 and in speaking to amendment 8. I enjoyed the contribution of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). I am going to try to find out who the 10 people in Scotland who want to join his fan club are, and I will do anything I can to put them in contact with him.
I want to acknowledge that there is one area of agreement. The Lib Dem and Conservative parties both went into the election on a promise to abolish identity cards, and we cannot really find fault with that. Of course, the Lib Dems also promised thousands of extra policemen, and I do not know where that figures in the current arrangements. However, if people are going to pray in aid that their manifesto commitment is the great justification, we need a total explanation. As far the Lib Dems are concerned, their justifications amount to nothing.
This is a relatively small issue, and we could go too far on it, but the people who bought ID cards did so in good faith—
It is a narrow point, but it is an important point. Since 1945, there have been many elections—although perhaps not recently—in which a party has said that if elected it would nationalise a private industry. The owners of the shares in that industry—even if the shares amounted to £20 and were bought on the day of the election—always received due compensation. We do not confiscate without some compensation. That is a very important point of British democracy.
There is a principle here, and that is my point. People bought these cards in good faith. It is all very well for other hon. Members to say that it was clear that if the election results went a certain way they would be abolished, but everyone—including the hon. Members for Hexham (Guy Opperman), for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) and indeed for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart)—must remember that no one won the last election. The Conservatives did not convince the electorate of the merits of their manifesto, nor did the coalition partners. That is why we have a coalition. The election result was not clear cut and no single party succeeded in convincing the electorate that they had a right to govern by itself. In that context, it would be reasonable to show a bit of humility in the proposals the Government make.
I have no objection to the Government choosing to abolish ID cards, but I do object to them seeking to penalise and punish those who bought cards in good faith. The electorate will remember all these grand speeches saying that those people do not count for anything and the derogatory remarks—although I am sure that they were made in jest—of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire. Hon. Members should recognise that those people acted in good faith and it is not appropriate to penalise them.
We do not want to make a massive deal of this, but the Minister has had quite a lot of time to think about it. We are talking about a relatively modest amount of money, but the precedent it would set is very important. If the precedent is set that people will be punished if, after having acted in good faith by doing something that the Government of the day encouraged, it will cause paralysis in many other areas.
The hon. Gentleman said that this proposal would cost a relatively modest amount, but does he have any idea how much it would be? The current cost of maintaining the present system, as we know from Committee, would be £50 million to £60 million over 10 years. Other hon. Members have suggested migrating the data to the Passport Service, but I have no idea what that alternative proposal would cost. Does the hon. Gentleman know what the cost of maintaining the system for 11,000 people would be?
Fortunately, I do not suffer from the voodoo economics of Conservative Members, so I do not have a clue where the hon. Gentleman gets the figure of £50 million or £60 million. We are saying that there should be a £30 discount when the person who currently holds a card next applies for a passport. Under whichever education system hon. Members operate, they should be able to work the figure out for themselves.
I like and respect the Minister and I trust what he says, but clause 3 states that the information on the national identity register will be destroyed. It is fair to say that when this was discussed in Committee his knowledge of the technical detail of the register was almost as good as mine, and neither of us is likely to get a job with Bill Gates any time soon. We know from the information that was presented to the Committee that there is some doubt in Government and in Government organisations about what is meant by the national identity register. We cannot pass legislation in good faith and then discover that it cannot be implemented because the Minister has been asked to do something that he is not technically capable of doing.
I make this point for two reasons. First, since the election, my colleagues and I have listened to the grandstanding from the Government Benches about their civil libertarian credentials. That will work in the early months of government, when it is easy to run around saying that they are against speed cameras or DNA testing, but it will not work when they face constituents who have suffered and want to know why the Government are not on their side—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire wants to come to the defence of his new-found friends again, I will give way.
I just wanted to give the hon. Gentleman an opportunity to say whether he is in line with the thinking of the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), who has said that the previous Government were too draconian on civil liberties. Is that an admission that the hon. Gentleman recognises?
Let me be blunt. I may find myself loyally serving my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband)—who knows—but I am not against ID cards. Nor would I say that the previous Government, in the circumstances with which we had to deal, were draconian. We took the difficult decisions that were necessary, and there will come a time when Ministers in this Government have to come to the House to tell us what they are having to do to protect the public because of a deterioration in our security situation. It is easy to grandstand now, but tomorrow always comes—and what is said now may come back to haunt you.
It is all very well painting a bleak picture of the previous Government, but can the Minister tell us today how the information contained on the national identity register will be destroyed? He will know that in the evidence given to the Committee the chief executive of the UK Border Agency was not entirely clear what the national identity register was. Some people thought that it was to do with facial geometry, some thought it was not. Some people thought that it was to do with a Sagem algorithm, whatever that is, and others thought that it was to do with the Cogent algorithm. One person thought that it was “co-ordinated” and another said that it is not a box with everyone’s name in it—I think we know that much.
I do not want to push the new clause to a vote, but is the Minister able to tell us today how he will comply with the requirements of clause 3? If not, will he agree to come back to the Chamber and report what has happened? The last thing that I want to do is be back here at some point in the future accusing Ministers of failing to comply with their own legislation.
It is a pleasure, as always, to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe). I have done it so often he might want a restraining order at some stage.
I understand the argument for why the people who foolishly bought an ID card should get some compensation—[Interruption.] I am not saying I support that argument, but I can see its logic. However, I struggle to see the logic behind the arguments for new clauses 2 and 4, one of which would, if I am right, see the existing cards be valid for nearly another 10 years. The other would provide for a discount, at some point during those 10 years, if someone applied for a new passport. I struggle to see, however, how having ID cards that are still valid in nine years and nine months would give those holding them the advantages they sought when they paid for them. Where would those ID cards be accepted as a proven form of identity? What is the risk that people could forge them? Would people struggle to tell the difference, if they did? Would people be able to travel around the EU using an ID card instead of a passport? I struggle to see how that would happen, and it would open up the door to a manner of identity fraud different from what we already have, so I cannot vote to keep it in place for the next 10 years.
The idea of credit against a passport is a better one, but again we would have the problem of having to keep the data for all that period. We would also have the problem of how to process that data. I presume that the easiest way would be that, when a person applied for a passport, they would have to send in their ID card to prove that they actually had one in the first place. Again, however, how would we deal with people who had changed their names, lost their ID card or found it useless for eight years until their passport renewal came round and had to dig it out from the bottom of a drawer somewhere? There would also be the risk that people might try to create fraudulent cards, meaning that someone would have to go back to the original list of people with ID cards for proof. And how would we handle the fact that not everyone actually had paid for their card? I accept that the proposal provides for that, but it means that someone would need a record of who had paid for their card and who had got theirs free.
With respect, therefore, I cannot see how we can vote for either of the two solutions. There is no way I can vote for either. Given some of the concerns raised by Opposition Members about the legal issues involved in scrapping ID cards without compensation, I would be grateful if the Minister could repeat the assurance he gave us in Committee that the Government had received solid legal advice that it is legal and will not be overturned at huge cost to the taxpayer resulting from the court proceedings subsequent to this process.
Hon. Members on both sides have been extremely rude to constituents of mine who have written to me about how they bought an ID card in good faith. I assume that a lot of Members in the Chamber today were not part of the pilot programme in which constituents were able to buy ID cards. Had they been, perhaps they would also be speaking up on behalf of those constituents who bought ID cards but will not now get a refund. Those who have written to me are mainly pensioners and on a low income. They decided that they were only going to be travelling as far as Europe and that therefore an ID card was a good value alternative to paying the full amount for a full passport. These people are taxpayers.
Especially in a marginal.
I have received letters from about a dozen people in my constituency, and as I say, they are on low incomes and are taxpayers. Each of them entered into a contract with their Government saying, “I will purchase an ID card, and for that I will have the benefit of travel within Europe and other benefits, such as proof of identity, for 10 years.” It is not unreasonable for those constituents to expect either to get their money back or to receive credit for it.
I will happily answer that question. The only people who prior to the election could get an ID card were those whose passport had recently expired. They were mainly elderly people who made a decision not to travel further than Europe, and they were mainly people who could not afford, or found it difficult to afford, the full cost of a passport.
Several Members have talked about how the message was loud and clear that the ID cards would disappear. My constituents are not fortune-tellers and could not say what the outcome of the election would be. In actual fact, they made their views clear by returning a Labour MP, so it is insulting to them to say that they should have expected the ID cards to disappear.
In all fairness, the hon. Lady should concede that it was almost unprecedented in all the polices taken through by the Labour Government for a break clause to be flagged up by the then shadow Home Secretary and others. That sent a very strong signal to commercial organisations that the current Government would not continue with the ID cards programme. I am not saying that all her constituents will be reading the trade press, or even the quality press, but it was clear that both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party had made manifesto commitments to abolish ID cards.
Does my hon. Friend agree that many of the constituents who have written to us and who we deal with, and who are concerned about not receiving any compensation, do not follow avidly the words of a shadow ministerial team? Largely, they are probably not interested in the pronunciations of a shadow ministerial team, but are busy trying to survive day to day on a state pension, to make ends meet, to get their shopping and to look after their grandchildren. They are not avidly following the intricacies of the position of the shadow ministerial team.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point, because I agree with her absolutely.
If someone buys a service from the Government, of whatever colour, they would expect their Government to continue to provide that service, and if they did not continue to do so, they would expect to be compensated. That is the major point.
I thank the hon. Lady for being so generous in giving way. I put it to her that her constituents ought to be complaining to the Labour party, which was in government at the time, because it was made clear to them that we would not be continuing with this scheme. The fault for the costs that her constituents have borne should rightly be laid with Labour Members and the Labour Front-Bench team. Is that not true?
Can we nail this extraordinary new constitutional doctrine that because a party thinks it is going to win an election, everything should come to a dead halt before the people have voted? I saw the shadow Home Secretary at the Great Eastern Tandoori restaurant in Pimlico the day after the election, except he was not to become the Home Secretary. Should he receive compensation? We really have to stop this nonsense. Power might have changed hands, but we should still accept responsibility and pay the compensation.
I remain absolutely convinced that my constituents deserve fair treatment. They deserve either to have the money refunded—sadly, this mean-spirited Bill does not allow that to happen—or for their identity cards to continue, although I accept that this might be difficult. The easiest thing would be to allow them £30 credit towards a passport.
People have talked about alternative means of identification, but I wonder whether those hon. Members who are present know how much they cost. All those alternative means of identification cost more than the identity card. Those who are disabled—for instance, those with a visual disability or other conditions—cannot get a driving licence; and indeed, if someone was never going to drive, why would they apply for one? However, a driving licence is one of the few photographic means of identification that we have in this country. The identity card was therefore valuable as a tool with which people could prove their identity, which is becoming increasingly important and difficult to do nowadays.
Let me finish by saying that I believe that the Bill is mean-spirited. The Government should give £30 credit to those affected, and I very much hope that hon. Members will vote for that later.
I have known you long enough to know that when you frown in the way that you have, Mr Deputy Speaker, you wish and expect short speeches from hon. Members. I therefore intend to be brief.
I came into the Chamber mindful of the Opposition amendment and with a view to supporting the proposal to pay compensation to those who have taken out voluntary cards. However, I have listened to what hon. Members have said, including the thoughtful speech by the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman). It is probably right that people should have been cautious in taking out a voluntary card, knowing that the policy was not carried in all parts of the House. However, it would have been better for the Government to pay the money back as a good-will gesture than for us to be fighting about £30 multiplied by 11,000 on the Floor of the House. I understand that the principle is important, and I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) that the 12 constituents and others who may have written to her are obviously deeply concerned. Perhaps £30 is not a lot to some people, but it is certainly a great deal to the constituents whom she mentioned.
Just to clarify whether £30 is a significant amount, in fact, we are not talking about £30; we are talking about the additional £50 that will be required to get another valid form of identification. An extra £50, making £80 in total, is a lot of money for some people, and particularly for pensioners, who have to save for some time to afford it.
I agree with my hon. Friend: it is a lot of money for some people, but it is not clear whether there is a huge point of principle, based as it is on the fact that people were clear that identity cards were an absolutely partisan policy on the part of the previous Government. Only my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South—
I thank my hon. Friend for reminding me—I think I just about know the difference between my sister and my hon. Friend, who was so often the conscience of the Select Committee on Home Affairs when it considered the issue in the previous Parliament. We accepted that the previous Government had an absolute right to put through their legislation on ID cards. It was only my hon. Friend who reminded the Committee on so many occasions that he thought that the policy was wrong.
As for the previous Government, obviously there was controversy among Labour Members on the subject—it would have been odd if that were not so—but does my right hon. Friend not agree that the original idea for identity cards came from Michael Howard, when he was the Home Secretary in, of course, a Conservative Administration?
Unfortunately I did not know about those points until they were made. Had I known that they would be raised, I would not have given way. However, as you say, Mr Deputy Speaker, this is not a debate about Lord Howard; it is a debate about new clause 2.
Although I came into the Chamber wanting to support those on my Front Bench—and I still want to, because I have great respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), who was a superb Minister, appearing many times before the Home Affairs Committee on identity issues, including the cost of identity cards and their implementation—I am probably minded to abstain if there is a vote.
I understand that the Minister has written to—[Interruption.] Let me say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane), for whom I have enormous respect and affection, that I do not think that what is proposed is the equivalent of the nationalisation of British Steel, with the Government moving in to take away somebody else’s property, including his own. As the Minister said, the card that my right hon. Friend is waving before me is the property of the Government. However, that is a side issue. I understand that when he makes his point, he comes from the steel capital of Britain, but we are not talking about the nationalisation of British Steel.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend—for whom I worked as a Parliamentary Private Secretary for many happy years—for giving way. I would be quite happy to concede the financial point if the Government were prepared to cut a deal and let me keep the card until it expired. That seems quite reasonable, because it is a European card. Every time I have used it to go through airports in the past three months, people have said, “Ooh, that’s a good idea! The Brits are becoming like us.” Well, thanks to the coalition, now we are not.
Indeed. Let me say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) that he is the last person who needs an identity card to get into France. He is probably the only former Minister for Europe to be fluent in half a dozen European languages. His very face is sufficient to get him into the European Union.
I meant the mainland European Union.
Anyway, before this becomes a debate about the European Union, let me say that I shall abstain on new clause 2. However, I am attracted to amendment 8, which stands in the name of my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) and for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson), and not just because they are distinguished members of the Home Affairs Committee, as the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley) is, but because there is a lot of merit in what they say. The Minister should take amendment 8 seriously. I do not know whether my hon. Friends will push it to a vote, but the destruction of the data is an important issue.
When I raised this matter on the Floor of the House, following the Home Secretary’s announcement that ID cards were to be abolished, either she or the Minister—I cannot be sure which—said that there would be a huge event in which all the data would be destroyed. I think that it was said, perhaps playfully, that there would be a big bonfire, and that Members of the House would be invited to attend such an event. I know that that was meant in jest, but this is a serious point.
I support what the Government are doing to remove the names of innocent people from the database. That is absolutely a move in the right direction. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) asked whether the previous Government had lost their way on civil liberties issues, and I would say that we did a little, partly because of a lack of scrutiny by this House, rather than through any intent on the part of the Government. We should have been better at scrutinising legislation.
I hope that, when the Minister responds, he will give us a clear statement on how the data are to be destroyed. My hon. Friends who have tabled amendment 8 have proposed a time limit of four months, within which a statement must be made to the House. I do not believe for one moment that that is an unreasonable request. I hope that the Minister will give my hon. Friends the assurances that they seek. This is not a huge issue, but it goes to the heart of what the coalition Government say that they are going to do with these data. We must not keep the data unless it is absolutely necessary to do so, and I hope that he will give some comfort to my hon. Friends, and an assurance that the data will be destroyed within four months.
It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), although he lapsed from his usual urbanity and eloquence when he did not recognise the difference between his charming sister and the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick)—
That goes without saying.
I am quite fond of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), but he rather over-egged the pudding. Let us remember that it was his Government who gave us 90-day detention without trial. In 2005, they told us that it was imperative that we force through that measure, disregarding hundreds of years of close attention to civil liberty and due process. They were then humiliated in an unprecedented vote—given that they had a 66-seat majority—and the proposal went down to 42 days.
It was indeed defeated, by one vote, because of the good sense of many of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues on the then Government’s side who saw that it would not be sensible to traduce the British traditions of liberty and fairness on the back of a scare campaign from some people who were taking an authoritarian, draconian approach. To be fair and open-minded, as I aspire to be, I should say that the debate went on in my own party as well. Some Conservatives took the view that we should be tough on law and order, and that we should do the right thing and support the then Prime Minister. A small number of my colleagues voted for that proposal. I must not perambulate too far from the new clause that we are debating, but we must bear in mind that context as we listen to Labour Members’ arguments about civil liberties today. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) was absolutely right to say that, until that point, there had been a fine tradition in the Labour party of support for civil liberties.
I shall defer to the good sense of the Deputy Speaker and pass over those issues. I am mindful, of course, that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak has worked in the Whips Office, and that Whips are a bit more bare-knuckled in debates than some others. I shall move swiftly on.
I want to talk about authority and establishing one’s policies before an election. I made the point to the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) that—
I shall speak specifically to the proposal about compensation, Mr Deputy Speaker. Please forgive me if I meandered somewhat.
There is, of course, precedent for a party being elected, putting a programme forward and sticking to its manifesto commitments without paying compensation, even at a modest level. For instance, one has to think only of the assisted places scheme, a windfall tax on utilities or the national minimum wage—they all had fiscal ramifications, but the Conservative party in opposition did not insist that there was any necessity to make specific compensation to specific groups.
The substantive general point, which the hon. Gentleman does not want to concede, is that what is happening is a direct result of a new Government who with their coalition partner have a mandate to take a decision that has fiscal ramifications through new legislation. My point is that the precedent has been set in the past for new legislation having financial ramifications; it will inevitably affect some groups of taxpayers and voters, but the Government will not see fit to compensate them in a particular way, even on a modest scale.
Of course it is regrettable that some of the constituents of the hon. Member for Bolton West will be in a difficult position as a result of the decisions made, but I come back to the point that the two parties that form this Government won 60% of the vote on an unequivocal commitment to abolish identity cards, whereas the party that was unequivocally in favour of them comprehensively lost the election on 6 May. Although only a modest amount of money is involved, the amendment is inappropriate, particularly during a time of less than benign financial circumstances when we need to reduce the deficit.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to contribute to the debate.
Labour Members fully understand that repealing the Identity Cards Act 2006 and scrapping ID cards was a manifesto pledge of both the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat parties and that they are fulfilling a pledge to the electorate on this issue. In fact, I think this is one of the few actions taken by the coalition Government that can claim at least some sort of mandate from the public. I add, however, that Labour was elected in 2005 with a manifesto pledge that stated:
“We will introduce ID cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports.”
That was the manifesto basis on which the decisions were made.
The current Government have taken the scheme in its infancy and killed it off before it has even had a chance to prove itself—in terms of finance, security, issues of identity theft, protection and, indeed, popularity, or any other measure of its worth. As we learned in Committee, the Government have their arguments, but in my view their reasons for revoking ID cards are weak, mean and, most important of all, costly to the taxpayer. In Committee, the Minister for Immigration stated that he was committed to abolishing identity cards
“because it was—and, until the Bill is enacted, is—an expensive and misguided scheme.”––[Official Report, Identity Documents Public Bill Committee, 1 July 2010; c. 43.]
That assertion is, I contend, completely wrong and misguided. The ID card scheme will become more expensive as soon as the Bill is enacted because the expenditure has already been incurred in setting up the scheme—on infrastructure, computer software and so forth. Furthermore, recovering that money relies on allowing the ID card scheme to continue. Conservative Members should remember that the expenditure was incurred subsequent to a manifesto commitment by the previous Labour Government.
I do not want to dwell on the motives behind the Bill, and I suspect that the motives of Liberal Democrats are completely different from those of Conservative supporters. It is clear, however, that Conservative Members base their opposition to the ID card proposals on a false premise.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that those who write to me in my constituency are asking me to scrap the ID legislation as quickly as possible, purely on the grounds of civil liberties. I find it astonishing that there can be any debate about this for much longer. Indeed, a number of people have suggested that we should wind up the debate immediately, although obviously a good many Members want to continue it. I have not received a single letter asking me—
I do not think that the Government’s arguments have been effective. Aspects of the scheme deserve to be retained, and they are embodied in the new clauses and amendments. Clause 2 states:
“All ID cards that are valid immediately before that day are to be treated as cancelled by the Secretary of State at the end of the period of one month beginning with that day.”
In Committee, the Minister stated proudly that this was the Government’s first Bill. I am astonished that he can be pleased with himself, given that this first Bill from the new Government breaks a contract that was established between citizen and state. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), people put their faith in the Government and bought ID cards. They entered into that contract on a voluntary basis—there was no element of compulsion—and I believe that they have been let down sorely and spitefully by the Bill and the Government. The Government’s behaviour is illogical, unfair and frankly unnecessary.
Hon. Members have suggested various reasons why people may have decided to invest in ID cards. The need to protect their identities must have been a major concern, as identity theft is a huge problem that costs the economy billions of pounds and causes individuals untold stress and suffering. They may simply have wanted a more versatile method of identification—Labour Members have given some excellent examples of that—or even a proof of age. Whatever their reasons, they entered into a contract, and that contract should be honoured, but the coalition Government are tearing it up, and people who acted in good faith can justifiably feel let down.
Members on the Government Benches have argued that it might have been reasonable for people to expect ID cards to be scrapped if the Tories won power. That applies to the Liberal Democrats as well, as it was in their manifesto. But should we really be sending the public the message that they should not take too much notice of what the current Government say, because the next Government may say something different? That is a dangerous message to send.
I know that the hon. Gentleman is already a very assiduous constituency Member of Parliament. When constituents asked me about ID cards before the last election, I gave them clear advice: I advised them not to obtain ID cards, because they were too controversial and might be rescinded. What would the hon. Gentleman have said if a constituent had asked his advice about ID cards, given that they were so contentious?
That is dangerous territory, which we explored earlier today and in Committee. If that principle is to be applied to what a Government may do, should it be applied to nationalisation without compensation? Is that the logic of the argument?
The decision to terminate existing and operational ID cards one month after Royal Assent—I assume that the Bill will be passed today—with no compensation for those who have purchased cards is not only shameful, but a travesty. I mentioned that Labour had made a manifesto pledge to the public, and that the public had returned Labour to government in 2005. We implemented a scheme allowing a citizen to receive, for a £30 fee, a card that would expire in 10 years. For the current Government to come to office and turn that system on its head without consideration for those who participated in the scheme on a voluntary basis, and had handed over their money in good faith, strikes me as a complete dereliction of duty that sets a dangerous precedent for the future.
The scheme is in its infancy and, essentially, it was marketed in only two areas—Manchester and London. It would have been rolled out further and then, presumably, have had much greater appeal. There is an interesting contradiction: the big corporate interests who were involved in this scheme were paid compensation, but no recompense is to be made to ordinary citizens who paid £30 for a card.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) mentioned the £30 figure. It may seem a trifling sum to some Members, but for a great many people, including many of my constituents, it is a considerable amount of money. There has been some discussion of why individuals on low incomes might have chosen to spend such a sum on an ID card, and whether many did so. We must consider the fact that alternative forms of identification are more expensive—for example, a provisional driving licence is an accepted form of ID commonly used by younger people as proof of age and it costs £50. There is a cost reason that led some people voluntarily to choose to buy an ID card, therefore. People on lower incomes who needed to prove their age would naturally be inclined to opt for an ID card, but whether the person who bought the card was on a low income or a millionaire is, in fact, irrelevant because the behaviour of this Government in not addressing the unfairness and injustice contained in the Bill is deplorable.
I cannot see why the cards that have already been issued cannot in some way remain valid until their expiry date. The parties in the coalition Government have only a handful of policies on which they truly agree and I accept that not continuing with the ID card is among them, but not enough care has been given to reimbursing cardholders or to making some attempt to maintain already issued cards, perhaps with some reduced functionality. There remains a database for passports, and this card could perhaps, at least in some way, remain an authenticated identification document. Did the Minister seek any advice on possible functions for the already issued cards, or was he content just to allow them to fall? There seems to me to be no reason why the cards cannot remain valid until the expiry date.
The Government are abandoning ID cards without any concern for the expenditure that has already been incurred by the taxpayer or any consideration for current ID cardholders, and with little thought for the future of British passport security and the use of biometric data. The Minister has had every opportunity to address the issues Opposition Members raised in Committee, and it is a shame that he was unable to work with us, at least to try to improve some aspects of the Bill.
We have heard a festival of synthetic indignation from Labour Members over the past hour or so. We know they do not mean it because they did not even vote against the Bill on Second Reading, so they do not oppose it very hard. They are scratching around to find ways to express some opposition.
As has been amply illustrated by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), there are, however, some glimmers of light in the authoritarian dark that was the Labour Government. One or two of the leadership candidates, including the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), have said the previous Government were wrong about ID cards. The right hon. Gentleman says he thinks his party should move on from that idea. As that has been stated several times during the debate, I feel it is only fair also to record—
I will in a moment, after I have paid tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s colleague, the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), who has consistently been against identity cards. As we are mentioning the Labour party leadership candidates who are virtuous in this regard, I should mention her too, because no Labour Member did.
I hate to interrupt the Minister when he is in such fine flow, but I just want to suggest to him that he has misunderstood our position. This is not synthetic indignation and nobody on our side is rejecting the Government’s right to abolish ID cards—in fact, a number of us have acknowledged it. We are objecting to the mean-minded attitude that sets out to punish the relatively small number of people who bought ID cards in good faith.
The hon. Gentleman made that point, with characteristic eloquence, in his speech, and I will address it shortly. I am pleased to report to the House that, as those who sat through the Committee stage will be aware, the Labour party has come up with no new ideas to defend the ID cards scheme since then; we have heard all these arguments before.
This group of amendments, which groups together all the arguments that the Opposition can make against the Bill, is a series of impractical and expensive suggestions, made, I suspect, with varying degrees of seriousness. If I were to be kinder than I have been up to now, I might say that some of them may excite genuine feelings among Opposition Members, but others have been tabled for the sake of it.
First, I shall deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) and repeated by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) about refunds or passport-related refunds. We debated this extensively in Committee, and I recognise that £30 is a significant sum to many people, particularly those who are struggling economically in these difficult times, when the Government have had to absorb a terrible economic inheritance from their predecessor.
I do not have any data on the socio-economic status of the very small number of people who bought ID cards, nor, as far as I am aware, do any Labour Members. Before anyone stands up to ask me about this, I shall say that I do not propose to waste any public money by undertaking a survey of who they are. There are times when even those in this House need to step back and apply some common sense to the matters before them. I do not think that anyone in really difficult economic and financial circumstances would have thought, “What is the best thing to spend £30 on this week? I know, a very controversial ID card that will enable me to travel to Europe, but not anywhere else in the world. That’s the most important thing to spend my last £30 on.” I do not believe that one person in this country took that decision, and I have heard nothing from those on the Opposition Benches during our discussion of this Bill to convince me that that is any way a realistic proposition.
I further point out to the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), who leads for the Labour party on this, that the charging system for ID cards introduced by her Government took no notice of the ability to pay. It set a flat fee, which took no account of whether someone was unemployed, an old-age pensioner or in full-time employment, like the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane). Sadly, he is no longer in his place, but he was asking us whether he should have claimed for his ID card on expenses. I would have thought that, at the time, that would have been a seriously terrible idea.
The only exception made on this flat fee of £30 that these allegedly struggling people were paying was for those who were in employment and working at one of the airports, where the then Government were anxious to foist the scheme on people in its early days. Anyone in that position would have been one of the 3,000 or so who were given a card free of charge. Those 3,000 lucky people—all, by definition in full-time employment—represent almost 20% of those to whom any card was ever issued. Of course, those cards were paid for by the taxpayer, so when one actually looks behind the indignation expressed by Labour Members, one does not find any substantial argument on this, which they have made the main point of their attack on this Bill.
The Government inherited an ID card scheme that has found very little favour with the public. That is a key issue. Many Opposition Members have talked about the costs, and the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) advanced the extraordinary proposition that even though he accepted that the coalition Government had the perfect right to get rid of the ID cards scheme, we should have carried on with it because the longer it went on the further the costs would be spread. That seemed to me an extraordinary attitude to parliamentary democracy. This is a key issue as the taxpayer has already paid £292 million with fewer than 15,000 cards having been issued—20% of them paid for by the taxpayer. So the calculation at the moment is that the cost to the taxpayer so far is about £20,000 per card. If we exclude the cards issued free of charge, it is £25,000 per card. That is by any standards a scandalous waste of public money that lies squarely at the door of Ministers in the previous Government.
The argument has come from the hon. Member for Easington that the scheme would have become self-financing over time. Based on public demand, there is no evidence to support that, particularly when the cost report in 2009, produced by the Labour party when it was in government, showed that a further £835 million was to be spent on ID cards by 2019, either by the taxpayer or by individual citizens having to sign up for those cards.
In the light of those facts and the already excessive spending of taxpayers’ money on an unpopular and deeply intrusive scheme, we have proposed this Bill. That is why we opposed ID cards in opposition and why we have introduced this Bill so quickly. We do not see why the taxpayer should have to pay yet again. During the debate, several of my hon. Friends asked how much the cancellation would cost, and the answer is about £400,000. As I have illustrated, enough has been spent on the scheme and the taxpayer should not face a further bill of the best part of half a million pounds. That is why we have been clear that refunds will not be offered.
As a practical point, the vast majority of people who have bought ID cards already have passports, so it would be entirely valueless to them.
There are practical difficulties with the amendment. It would require the keeping of identity card records for many years to come to ensure that only those who were entitled to a refund could apply for one. I shall come on to the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak about the destruction of data, but we have made it very clear that we will destroy all the data obtained under the ID cards scheme and that we do not wish to retain any data for this reason or for any other.
I observe in the group of amendments that we are discussing that the twin threats are unnecessary data retention and cost to the taxpayer. Those are the two things that Labour Members who proposed the amendments seem to be concerned about. I assume that new clause 4 is intended to be helpful in avoiding the need for an individual to provide further personal information in the event that they should subsequently apply for a passport. The hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) is, I am sure, aware that, as I have just said, the vast majority of ID cardholders are or were passport holders, so the information relevant to a passport application will already be held on passport records.
In any case, the proposed new clause misses the point of the Bill. The Identity Documents Bill is about scrapping the ID card scheme and destroying the national identity register. We are opposed to the register in principle on the grounds that it is a database holding huge amounts of personal and biometric data simply because a person has applied for an identity card. We do not believe that holding the data is either necessary or proportionate for the purpose for which they were obtained. Instead, it represents a significant intrusion by the state into the lives of our citizens. That is why we are looking to destroy all the information recorded on the NIR. Officials are currently finalising work with contractors on how that will be achieved and the Information Commissioner’s Office has been notified of the destruction process.
That is very reassuring, but in his mind and that of the Home Secretary is there a time scale by which this should be done? We appreciate that contractors have been instructed, but has the Minister said that the Government would like that done in a certain number of months?
It would be slightly premature for me to give too much detail now because the legislation has not been passed. We have tried to be as clear as possible in saying that we will do it as quickly as possible after the Bill has passed through all its stages, but I do not wish unnecessarily to annoy or provoke the other place by saying anything else.
The hon. Gentleman has ingeniously asked the same question as his right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, to which I shall therefore give exactly the same answer, or revert to an old parliamentary phrase and refer him to the answer I gave some moments ago. We are in contact with the Information Commissioner’s Office about the destruction process, as I have said, precisely to ensure transparency and openness about the physical destruction process.
The Chairman of the Committee made the point that I had jokingly suggested that we might have a sort of auto-da-fé of all that unnecessary information. I was only half joking when I said that and, sadly, it is not possible because the information is on various databases, so we are going to have to delete it. To answer the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak’s technical question, that is like any other act of removing information and involves deleting it from the various databases. That is why we are doing it in conjunction with the Information Commissioner. The hon. Gentleman is waving the Bill at me, so I will say that it must be done within two months of Royal Assent. The reason I cannot give the exact answer that the Chairman of the Committee wants is simply that I do not know when Royal Assent will be, but I hope that it is soon. We will then do it as soon as possible within the two months set out in the Bill. I hope that reassures the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak. There is a serious point here: if one believes, as we on the Government side do, that this information has been held unnecessarily, it is sensible to get rid of it as soon as possible, and Parliament needs to know about that.
Let me anticipate what the hon. Gentleman is about to ask. It has always been my intention that when that had happened, Parliament would be informed by way of a written ministerial statement about both the process and delivery of destruction. I could not be more open or transparent about this. We will do it within two months and as soon as possible after Royal Assent. When we have done it, I shall produce a written parliamentary statement that will say not only that we have done it but how we have done it. I hope that I have finally satisfied the hon. Gentleman on all those points.
On new clause 4, I suspect that hon. Members may not have considered its cost implications. There are significant costs associated with establishing whether a person wants their record to be retained, what information he or she is content to be transferred, the security and data transfer costs and, finally, future storage costs—particularly if the person does not subsequently apply for a passport. I am afraid that this is another amendment that seems intent on adding again and again to the cost of the ID card scheme. We want to scrap the scheme at minimal cost to the taxpayer. The new clause would not achieve that aim and would not remove the state’s ability to retain data without good reason.
That profligate approach is evidenced in another of the amendments before us, supported by the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South. We covered the issue of the life expectancy of the card during earlier stages of the Bill and indicated then that the cost of implementing that amendment would be between £50 million and £60 million over 10 years.
I note that the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch has not added her name to the provision, despite tabling something similar in Committee. She indicated in Committee that she thought that figure was at the top end of the estimates, but I am not sure of the basis on which she reached that conclusion. The estimate is a reasonable reflection of the exorbitant cost to the taxpayer that would be incurred by providing a service over the next decade for fewer than 15,000 people, almost 3,000 of whom did not pay for their card in the first place. Leaving aside the cost, the proposal would mean retaining the whole national identity register for another decade, which would involve holding the fingerprints of 15,000 innocent people.
I apologise to the hon. Lady. If she wishes to associate herself with such a ridiculous proposal, I am happy for her to do so.
The proposal would mean that cardholders would run the risk of their card’s usefulness diminishing even further over time because of the very small number in circulation. That would be likely to result in little or no future engagement or investment by travel operators, carriers and other agencies in accepting ID cards. The provision would give cardholders the false hope that their ID card would continue to be useful, if they had found it useful in the past. I recognise that the amendment to retain the national identity register has been tabled as a consequence of the proposal that ID cards should remain extant for 10 years.
The national identity register sits at the heart of our opposition to the whole scheme. We do not believe that it is the role of the state to gather huge amounts of personal and biometric information about its citizens unless there are proportionate and necessary reasons for doing so. Such reasons could involve the prevention and detection of crime, or national security and safety, but part of the underlying problem with the ID card scheme has always been that its purpose was ill defined, with the reason behind its introduction moving over time from dealing with terrorism to accessing local services.
The national identity register is nothing but a database containing data on individuals who have, by choice, applied for an ID card. The holding of such data represents a significant intrusion on the privacy of the individual. Scrapping the scheme and destroying the national identity register are major steps towards returning power to the public and reducing the intrusion of the state. We are opposed to building up banks of data that neither serve a specific purpose nor deliver a specific outcome. The national identity register fails on both counts.
I have dealt in some detail with all the new clauses and amendments tabled by Labour Members. Each of them fails on practicality, and many of them fail because they would create an extra charge on either the public purse directly, or the citizens of this country indirectly. They all fail, however, because behind them lies the desire to intrude far too much on the private lives of people that was at the heart of the previous Labour Government. As a civil libertarian, I genuinely hope that the future Labour party will reject that in its entirety.
I was puzzled by the Minister’s speech because it sounded more like a rallying cry to a group of students than an attempt to address the new clauses and amendments. I should say, however, that I have no problem with rallying cries to groups of students in their place. In fact, not long before the election—when the Minister and I sat on opposite sides of the House—we addressed students together, and he announced that a Conservative Government would remove ID cards to an audience of about 25 people.
Let me make it absolutely clear that we tabled new clauses 2 and 4 as alternatives for the Government to consider as we try to find a way of providing some recompense to those members of the public who bought the cards in good faith. We would have preferred to have tabled a measure providing for a refund but, because there is no money resolution attached to the Bill, we could not. With that in mind, we intend to press both new clauses to Divisions, although if the first is agreed to, we will not need a vote on the second.
I need to pick up on a couple of points that the Minister made. We were not suggesting in the amendments—perhaps he should look more closely at them—that we expect the national identity register to continue. They were carefully worded to suggest migration of data to the existing passport database. In fact, the identity register would have been a modern passport database, had the Government had the courage to continue that approach.
New clause 4 is not about being helpful to those who already had passports or wanted a passport. It would allow cards to continue, but would attach them to the existing passport database. Accepting that the Government’s intention is to destroy the national identity register, it sought to find a solution to that. The Minister has not given very good answers about why that could not be done. Had the Government included a money resolution, it would have been possible—instead of sending two letters out to everybody—to provide a refund to those who had paid or those who had applied for a refund, which would not necessarily have been everybody. The Government’s approach is mean-spirited.
The Minister spoke about the state holding huge amounts of information. I hope that his Government still believe that the NHS should hold information on people, that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency should hold information, and that the passport database should exist. The national identity register was a modernisation of the passport database.
I assure the House and anyone else who may be watching proceedings today that there is nothing synthetic about our indignation. We recognise that both Government parties had clear policies on the issue, and we can do the maths. We know that we have limited options to improve the Bill, and we are trying to make the best of a bad job because the Bill does many things of which we disapprove. New clauses 2 and 4 attempt to provide some recompense to the people affected.
We have heard some disparaging comments. The hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) spoke about politics being tough. It is clear that his Government are saying that it is tough on members of the public who bought a card. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) spoke about the mugs who bought a card. That disparaging attitude may well be reflected in the Lobby, so let us be clear who is on the side of the consumer in this case. It is certainly not the Government.
The Minister used his cod maths when talking about the cost of the identity card scheme. It does not behove a Government Minister to be so flippant and free with figures when he well knows that the cards had to be paid for by fees. As is the case with the first issue of anything, when the first Mini rolled off the production line, it probably cost several million, if not billions of pounds, but for the last Mini, by definition, the cost per item was much lower because many thousand would have been produced. Identity cards had been issued for a few months at the time of the general election, but under Treasury rules they had to be paid for out of fees, just like passports, as the Minister knows. It ill behoves him to take that approach. I wish to divide the House on the new clauses.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
The House proceeded to a Division.
The House having divided: Ayes 189, Noes 302.Division No. 63][4.13 pmAYESAinsworth, rh Mr BobAlexander, rh Mr DouglasAllen, Mr GrahamAustin, IanBailey, Mr AdrianBain, Mr WilliamBalls, rh EdBanks, GordonBarron, rh Mr KevinBeckett, rh MargaretBell, Sir StuartBenn, rh HilaryBenton, Mr JoeBerger, LucianaBlenkinsop, TomBlomfield, PaulBlunkett, rh Mr DavidBrennan, KevinBrown, rh Mr NicholasBryant, ChrisBuck, Ms KarenBurnham, rh AndyCampbell, Mr AlanCampbell, Mr RonnieClark, KatyClarke, rh Mr TomCoaker, VernonCoffey, AnnConnarty, MichaelCooper, RosieCooper, rh YvetteCorbyn, JeremyCrausby, Mr DavidCreagh, MaryCreasy, StellaCruddas, JonCryer, JohnCunningham, AlexCunningham, Mr JimCunningham, TonyCurran, MargaretDakin, NicDanczuk, SimonDarling, rh Mr AlistairDavid, Mr WayneDavidson, Mr IanDavies, GeraintDe Piero, GloriaDenham, rh Mr JohnDobbin, JimDobson, rh FrankDonohoe, Mr Brian H.Doran, Mr FrankDowd, JimDoyle, GemmaDromey, JackDugher, MichaelEagle, Ms AngelaEagle, MariaEfford, CliveElliott, JulieEllman, Mrs LouiseEsterson, BillEvans, ChrisFarrelly, PaulField, rh Mr FrankFlello, RobertFlint, rh CarolineFovargue, YvonneFrancis, Dr HywelGardiner, BarryGilmore, SheilaGlindon, Mrs MaryGoggins, rh PaulGoodman, HelenGreatrex, TomGreen, KateGreenwood, LilianGriffith, NiaGwynne, AndrewHain, rh Mr PeterHamilton, Mr David Hamilton, Mr FabianHanson, rh Mr DavidHarman, rh Ms HarrietHarris, Mr TomHealey, rh JohnHendrick, MarkHillier, MegHilling, JulieHodge, rh MargaretHodgson, Mrs SharonHopkins, KelvinIllsley, Mr EricJames, Mrs Siân C.Jamieson, CathyJohnson, rh AlanJohnson, Diana R.Jones, GrahamJones, Mr KevanJones, Susan ElanJowell, rh TessaJoyce, EricKaufman, rh Sir GeraldKeeley, BarbaraKeen, AlanKendall, LizLammy, rh Mr DavidLavery, IanLeslie, ChrisLewis, Mr IvanLloyd, TonyLove, Mr AndrewLucas, CarolineMacShane, rh Mr DenisMactaggart, FionaMann, JohnMarsden, Mr GordonMcCabe, SteveMcCann, Mr MichaelMcClymont, GreggMcDonagh, SiobhainMcFadden, rh Mr PatMcGovern, AlisonMcGovern, JimMcGuire, rh Mrs AnneMcKinnell, CatherineMeacher, rh Mr MichaelMearns, IanMiliband, rh EdwardMitchell, AustinMoon, Mrs MadeleineMorrice, GraemeMorris, Grahame M.Mudie, Mr GeorgeMunn, MegMurphy, rh PaulNandy, LisaNash, PamelaO'Donnell, FionaOnwurah, ChiOsborne, SandraOwen, AlbertPearce, TeresaPerkins, TobyPhillipson, BridgetQureshi, YasminRaynsford, rh Mr NickReed, Mr JamieReeves, RachelRiordan, Mrs LindaRoy, Mr FrankRoy, LindsayRuddock, rh JoanSeabeck, AlisonSheerman, Mr BarrySheridan, JimShuker, GavinSkinner, Mr DennisSlaughter, Mr AndySmith, rh Mr AndrewSmith, Angela (Penistone and Stocksbridge)Smith, NickSmith, OwenSoulsby, Sir PeterSpellar, rh Mr JohnStraw, rh Mr JackStringer, GrahamStuart, Ms GiselaTami, MarkThomas, Mr GarethThornberry, EmilyTimms, rh StephenTrickett, JonTurner, KarlTwigg, DerekTwigg, StephenUmunna, Mr ChukaVaz, ValerieWalley, JoanWhitehead, Dr AlanWilliamson, ChrisWilson, PhilWinnick, Mr DavidWinterton, rh Ms RosieWoodcock, JohnWoodward, rh Mr ShaunWright, DavidWright, Mr IainTellers for the Ayes:Lyn Brown andMr Dave WattsNOESAfriyie, AdamAldous, PeterAlexander, rh DannyAmess, Mr DavidAndrew, StuartArbuthnot, rh Mr JamesBacon, Mr RichardBagshawe, Ms LouiseBaker, NormanBaker, SteveBaldry, TonyBaldwin, HarriettBarclay, StephenBarker, GregoryBebb, GutoBeith, rh Sir AlanBellingham, Mr HenryBenyon, RichardBirtwistle, GordonBlackman, BobBlackwood, NicolaBlunt, Mr CrispinBoles, NickBone, Mr PeterBottomley, PeterBradley, Karen Brady, Mr GrahamBrake, TomBray, AngieBrazier, Mr JulianBridgen, AndrewBrine, Mr SteveBrokenshire, JamesBrooke, AnnetteBruce, FionaBuckland, Mr RobertBurley, Mr AidanBurns, ConorBurns, Mr SimonBurrowes, Mr DavidBurstow, Mr PaulBurt, LorelyByles, DanCairns, AlunCampbell, rh Sir MenziesCarmichael, Mr AlistairCarmichael, NeilCarswell, Mr DouglasCash, Mr WilliamChishti, RehmanClark, rh GregClarke, rh Mr KennethClifton-Brown, GeoffreyCollins, DamianColvile, OliverCox, Mr GeoffreyCrabb, StephenCrouch, TraceyDavey, Mr EdwardDavies, David T. C. (Monmouth)Davies, Glynde Bois, NickDinenage, CarolineDjanogly, Mr JonathanDodds, rh Mr NigelDonaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.Dorrell, rh Mr StephenDorries, NadineDoyle-Price, JackieDrax, RichardDuddridge, JamesDuncan, rh Mr AlanDuncan Smith, rh Mr IainDunne, Mr PhilipEdwards, JonathanEllis, MichaelEllison, JaneEllwood, Mr TobiasElphicke, CharlieEustice, GeorgeEvans, GrahamEvans, JonathanFabricant, MichaelFallon, MichaelFarron, TimFeatherstone, LynneField, Mr MarkFoster, Mr DonFox, rh Dr LiamFrancois, rh Mr MarkFreeman, GeorgeFreer, MikeFullbrook, LorraineFuller, RichardGale, Mr RogerGarnier, MarkGauke, Mr DavidGeorge, AndrewGibb, Mr NickGilbert, StephenGillan, rh Mrs CherylGlen, JohnGoldsmith, ZacGoodwill, Mr RobertGove, rh MichaelGraham, RichardGrant, Mrs HelenGray, Mr JamesGreen, DamianGrieve, rh Mr DominicGriffiths, AndrewGummer, BenGyimah, Mr SamHalfon, RobertHames, DuncanHammond, rh Mr PhilipHammond, StephenHancock, MatthewHarper, Mr MarkHarris, RebeccaHart, SimonHarvey, NickHayes, Mr JohnHeald, Mr OliverHeath, Mr DavidHeaton-Harris, ChrisHemming, JohnHenderson, GordonHendry, CharlesHinds, DamianHoban, Mr MarkHollingbery, GeorgeHollobone, Mr PhilipHopkins, KrisHorwood, MartinHowell, JohnHughes, SimonHuhne, rh ChrisHunter, MarkHurd, Mr NickJackson, Mr StewartJames, MargotJavid, SajidJohnson, GarethJohnson, JosephJones, AndrewJones, Mr DavidJones, Mr MarcusKennedy, rh Mr CharlesKnight, rh Mr GregKwarteng, KwasiLaing, Mrs EleanorLamb, NormanLancaster, MarkLansley, rh Mr AndrewLaws, rh Mr DavidLeadsom, AndreaLee, JessicaLee, Dr PhillipLeech, Mr JohnLeigh, Mr EdwardLeslie, CharlotteLetwin, rh Mr OliverLewis, BrandonLiddell-Grainger, Mr IanLidington, Mr DavidLloyd, StephenLlwyd, Mr ElfynLord, Jonathan Loughton, TimLuff, PeterLumley, KarenMacNeil, Mr Angus BrendanMain, Mrs AnneMaude, rh Mr FrancisMaynard, PaulMcCartney, JasonMcCrea, Dr WilliamMcIntosh, Miss AnneMcPartland, StephenMcVey, EstherMenzies, MarkMercer, PatrickMetcalfe, StephenMiller, MariaMills, NigelMilton, AnneMoore, rh MichaelMordaunt, PennyMorgan, NickyMorris, Anne MarieMorris, DavidMorris, JamesMowat, DavidMulholland, GregMundell, rh DavidMunt, TessaMurray, SheryllMurrison, Dr AndrewNeill, RobertNewmark, Mr BrooksNewton, SarahNokes, CarolineNorman, JesseNuttall, Mr DavidOfford, Mr MatthewOllerenshaw, EricOpperman, GuyPaice, Mr JamesPaisley, IanParish, NeilPatel, PritiPawsey, MarkPenning, MikePenrose, JohnPercy, AndrewPerry, ClairePickles, rh Mr EricPincher, ChristopherPoulter, Dr DanielPritchard, MarkPugh, Dr JohnRaab, Mr DominicRandall, rh Mr JohnReckless, MarkRedwood, rh Mr JohnRees-Mogg, JacobReevell, SimonReid, Mr AlanRifkind, rh Sir MalcolmRobertson, AngusRobertson, HughRobertson, Mr LaurenceRogerson, DanRudd, AmberRussell, BobRutley, DavidSanders, Mr AdrianSandys, LauraScott, Mr LeeSelous, AndrewShannon, JimShapps, rh GrantSharma, AlokShelbrooke, AlecShepherd, Mr RichardSimmonds, MarkSimpson, DavidSkidmore, ChrisSmith, HenrySmith, JulianSmith, Sir RobertSoames, NicholasSoubry, AnnaSpelman, rh Mrs CarolineSpencer, Mr MarkStanley, rh Sir JohnStephenson, AndrewStevenson, JohnStewart, BobStewart, IainStewart, RoryStride, MelStuart, Mr GrahamStunell, AndrewSturdy, JulianSwales, IanSwinson, JoSwire, Mr HugoSyms, Mr RobertTapsell, Sir PeterTeather, SarahTimpson, Mr EdwardTomlinson, JustinTruss, ElizabethTurner, Mr AndrewTyrie, Mr AndrewUppal, PaulVaizey, Mr EdwardVara, Mr ShaileshVilliers, rh Mrs TheresaWalker, Mr CharlesWalker, Mr RobinWallace, Mr BenWatkinson, AngelaWebb, SteveWeir, Mr MikeWharton, JamesWheeler, HeatherWhiteford, Dr EilidhWiggin, BillWilletts, rh Mr DavidWilliams, HywelWilliams, Mr MarkWilliams, RogerWilliamson, GavinWilson, Mr RobWilson, SammyWishart, PeteWollaston, Dr SarahYeo, Mr TimYoung, rh Sir GeorgeZahawi, NadhimTellers for the Noes:Miss Chloe Smith andJeremy WrightQuestion accordingly negatived.
New Clause 4
Transfer of information from National Identity Register to Identity and Passport Service
‘The Secretary of State must ensure that any information recorded in the National Identity Register which—
(a) relates to a person (“P”) who has indicated that P wishes to retain P’s identity card until its expiry date, and
(b) is relevant to an application by P for a passport,
is transferred to the Identity and Passport Service.’.—(Tony Cunningham.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
Repeal of Identity Cards Act 2006
The amendments address an issue that was much discussed in Committee. They are not central to the Bill itself, but they are an important part of the wider picture. As we have already discussed at all stages, the Bill is about scrapping ID cards, destroying the data held on the national identity register and, as a result, removing the disproportionate hand of the state in the gathering of personal and biometric data for the purpose of issuing an ID card. It removes the ability of the state to require that a cardholder informs the state for the next 10 years of their personal circumstances, and it removes the threat of a heavy fine of up to £1,000 should they fail to do so.
Most of the clauses in the Bill re-enact the parts of the Identity Cards Act 2006 that were useful and proportionate. Clause 10 re-enacts the provisions of section 38 of the 2006 Act, which allows the Secretary of State to require relevant information to be provided to verify information provided in a passport application or to decide whether to withdraw a passport. In this context, “relevant information” includes identity information to confirm that the applicant is a real person and the person whom they claim to be. It enables the Identity and Passport Service to obtain information relevant to the application and considered necessary to conduct an effective interview with first-time applicants. That may include records from the credit reference agency that will show how long the person has lived at an address and at how many addresses they have lived. It would be unlawful and a breach of the Data Protection Act to require information that was not relevant to the passport application.
During the oral evidence sessions in Committee, two pressure groups—Liberty and Justice—supported the provisions in the clause, which is a welcome and envious position for any Government when bringing new legislation before Parliament. However, I indicated in Committee that I would welcome representations from members of the Committee on the scope of clause 10—in particular, on ensuring that information obtained is indeed passport-specific—and on the retention policy on data obtained.
Many points were made in Committee, and I have reflected on them. Many of the most cogent points were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), who is sadly not in his place today. As he indicated in the fifth sitting of the Committee, clause 10 would benefit from greater clarity about the Secretary of State’s ability to require information. The amendments before the House would place a statutory limitation in the Bill, requiring that information be obtained only in respect of the passport application.
It would not be appropriate for two reasons, still less practical, to list what that information may be. First, doing so would obviously alert potential fraudsters to the categories or sources of information being used, and may give them an indication of what information sources they should satisfy to ensure that a fraudulent passport application might be successful. Secondly, the format and source from which information could be obtained is not exhaustive, and it would be unnecessarily restrictive on the operational ability of the Identity and Passport Service not to be able to make use of verification sources that would support the main aim of preventing and reducing fraud. Importantly, we believe that we have strengthened the legislation by clarifying in the Bill that any information required must be relevant to the passport application.
The amendments to clause 10 also place a requirement on the Secretary of State to destroy any information obtained under the clause within 28 days of the passport being issued. That is already current practice in the Identity and Passport Service, but placing the requirement on to a statutory footing will increase transparency and accountability. Where information has been obtained in consideration of a possible withdrawal of the passport, any information gathered must be destroyed within 28 days of a decision not to withdraw the passport. Where a passport has been refused, the information will be retained only for as long as is necessary for possible investigative and prosecutorial purposes. We believe that that is a proportionate approach to data retention, and it is appropriate that the retention policy should be set out in the Bill. Amendment 1 is a technical amendment, proposed in the light of the changes to clause 10 that I have outlined.
The passage of the Bill through this House has served to illustrate the level of support for our overall policy of scrapping the ID card scheme. The Bill went through unopposed on Second Reading. I commend the wisdom of the Opposition in not seeking to oppose the principle of the Bill, although their rhetoric has not quite matched the practicalities of their votes. However, one thing that does not divide me from the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), who leads for the Opposition on this issue, is that we both recognise that we must continue to do everything that we can to tackle identity fraud. We recognise the importance of clause 10 in preventing and combating fraud, and in maintaining the effectiveness of counter-fraud investigators in achieving successful prosecutions against those who seek to make fraudulent applications. With the amendments, the revised clause 10 will achieve that, at the same time as increasing transparency and accountability. I hope that hon. Members from all parts of the House will welcome the improvements that the amendments propose.
In general terms, Her Majesty’s Opposition support the amendments, but I have a number of small points to make and questions to ask of the Minister. I understand his reasons for not publishing the list of organisations that might be referred to. I recognise the valid security reasons for that, but it does rather go against his desire for transparency. I wonder how he will try to square that circle, to ensure that safeguards are in place with respect to which organisations are approached. I am aware that internal audits take place on a routine basis in passport offices up and down our different countries. However, the Minister has made much of the need for transparency and safeguards, and the two do not work well together.
I reserve judgment on the proposal to retain data for 28 days. I recognise that the current practice in the Identity and Passport Service works quite well, and it is interesting that the Government want to put those arrangements on to a statutory footing. It is interesting partly because passports are issued under the royal prerogative, an arrangement that is not on a statutory footing. I also wonder whether such a move might limit any necessary flexibility. What conversations has the Minister had with those who deal with the security of our passports, in particular the excellent team based in the Glasgow passport office, who often put themselves at great risk while investigating and uncovering fraud? I am aware that data relating, in particular, to withdrawn passports can be especially important in uncovering rings of individuals trying to help others fraudulently to obtain passports. Generally, I support the principle of not holding information any longer than is necessary for this purpose, but we need to ensure that the Government are not unnecessarily restricting action on fraud.
In passing, I must also add that the Bill is a lost opportunity to tackle fraud. Had we still been pursuing the inclusion of fingerprints in passports, which the Minister is throwing out under the terms of the Bill, that would have helped to reduce fraud more generally. If the Minister can answer those two points, it would reassure me considerably.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her questions. As I understand it, in one of them she is suggesting that I am being too transparent, and in the other that I am not being transparent enough. I appreciate the difficulties of opposition, having had 13 years of it, just as she will appreciate some of the pressures on Ministers. She asked me to reveal internal conversations within the Department, particularly with people who are involved with difficult and dangerous anti-fraud operations. She will know as well as I do that it would be hugely inappropriate and unwise for me to answer that question directly.
I fully appreciate that, but I did not actually ask the Minister to answer that question directly. I shall take him to be a man of honour and a man of his word if he can tell us that these issues have been fully explored and that he is personally content about them. It is important that the House knows that that is the case, partly because those individuals put themselves in harm’s way when doing their job.
Indeed so. This is not an adversarial climate, but the hon. Lady will know as well as I do that striking a balance between transparency and flexibility on the one hand and security on the other lies at the heart of much of what the Home Office does, and, indeed, of much of what the Bill seeks to do. She and I would probably find ourselves on different points of that particular spectrum, but we both recognise that it is a spectrum within which we both have to operate. I can only say that it would clearly not be appropriate for me to set out for the benefit of potential fraudsters which organisations they would have to satisfy in order to be issued with a passport, so I shall decline the opportunity to talk to her about the individual organisations concerned.
If the Minister is not hearing what I am saying, perhaps there is an issue about how he is answering questions generally. I was not asking him to do that, so that is fine; we agree. I simply want to know whether he feels personally reassured that these measures will not detract from the ability of the UK Passport Service to carry out the security checks that normally take place. If that was not clear before, I hope that it is now absolutely clear. I do not think that we are asking for different things; I am just seeking reassurance from the Minister that he has done his job as thoroughly as I expect he has.
Of course the Department that the hon. Lady used to be responsible for would not put the security of our passports at risk.
To answer the hon. Lady’s other point, information relevant to future investigations would be retained under the proposals before us, with the amendments here. I hope that she will agree that that strikes an appropriate balance. Genuine concerns were expressed—not just by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), but by Members of all parties—to the effect that the simple repetition of the original clause might put us at the wrong side on the spectrum between transparency and security. That is why I agreed to put the 28-day provision directly in the Bill. The hon. Lady asked about that, and I see no reason to believe that this will in any way inhibit or impede anti-fraud operations. What the amendments will do by changing the clause is to allow operations to be properly conducted while at the same time reassuring individual applicants that any information they give is not kept for an unnecessarily long period of time. That is what this set of amendments is designed to achieve. I commend the amendments to the House.
Amendment 1 agreed to.
Verification of information
Amendments made: 2, page 5, line 24, leave out subsections (1) to (3) and insert—
‘(1) This section applies where it appears to the Secretary of State that a person within subsection (4) may have information that could be used—
(a) for verifying information provided to the Secretary of State for the purposes of, or in connection with, an application for the issue of a passport, or
(b) for determining whether to withdraw an individual’s passport.
(2) For the purpose of making the verification or determination mentioned in subsection (1)(a) or (b), the Secretary of State may require the person within subsection (4) to provide the Secretary of State with the information by a date specified in the requirement.’.
Amendment 3, page 6, line 2, leave out
‘of relevant information to the Secretary of State’
‘to the Secretary of State of information that could be used as mentioned in subsection (1)(a) or (b)’.
Amendment 4, page 6, line 16, at end insert—
‘(8A) In a case within subsection (1)(a) where a passport is issued, information provided in accordance with this section must be destroyed no later than 28 days after the passport is issued.
(8B) In a case within subsection (1)(b) where a passport is not withdrawn, information provided in accordance with this section must be destroyed no later than 28 days after the determination is made not to withdraw the passport.
(8C) Subsections (8A) and (8B) do not apply in a case where it appears to the Secretary of State to be desirable to retain the information for the purpose of—
(a) preventing or detecting crime, or
(b) apprehending or prosecuting offenders.’.—(Damian Green.)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
It is a huge pleasure to move Third Reading. The Bill has now proceeded through the scrutiny stages of this House. I appreciate that this is a short and simple Bill, but it is a genuinely historic one—not only because, as mentioned, it was the first Bill introduced by the coalition Government, but because its content is historic and marks a significant shift in direction in the relationship between the state and the citizen in this country. That in itself represents a significant step forward.
The House has agreed to destroy data held by the state without condition or distinction. Consigning the ID cards scheme and the national identity register to the scrapheap reflects the absolute commitment of the coalition Government to reduce the interference of the state and return power back to the people. I am very proud of what the Bill will achieve and I am encouraged by the support for it in all parts of the House. I emphasise “all parts” because we have had some fairly partisan debates this afternoon, but even Labour Members have admitted that the Conservative party had a clear commitment in its manifesto, as did the Liberal Democrats and the nationalist parties in their manifestos.
Many of us welcome the fact that two fifths of wisdom is beginning to creep into the Labour party in that two of the five leadership candidates have decided that the ID card scheme was a mistake. I fear for those who have expressed such strong support for that scheme; if the wrong Miliband wins, they could be in trouble. I also fear for the peace of the dinner party in that the civil libertarian/authoritarian divide is beginning to open up in the Labour party and has even opened up in the Miliband family. This will be an issue that they will have to resolve in a few weeks’ time.
This Bill has sought to repeal parts of the 2006 Act that dealt with the ID card scheme, but we have been careful—I want to emphasise this—to re-enact the important powers on fraud prevention and detection available to protect the public. There is no reduction in public security as a result of the Bill; rather, it is about seeing an enormous increase in public freedom.
I am grateful to all hon. Members who have taken part in the Bill’s scrutiny. We have taken on board the concerns raised on Second Reading and in Committee on information verification, and we have successfully tabled amendments to strengthen safeguards for the public and raise accountability. We noted the comments made in Committee about transgendered people, and will engage in further work with international colleagues in relation to the points raised about passports.
The Bill should also be seen as part of a wider programme to increase individual freedom. Along with Bills such as the freedom Bill, it will, as I have said, alter the balance irrevocably, giving us more powerful citizens and a less than all-powerful state. That is one of the significant changes for the better that the Government will be able to achieve for the country.
There was a discussion about who was responsible for the ID card scheme: about whether it was a new Labour creation, or, ingeniously, the creation of my noble and learned Friend Lord Howard of Lympne. The truth is that it was neither. We had ID cards in this country during the second world war. They were abolished in the 1950s, to great public acclaim, by a Conservative Government who concentrated, as we have done throughout the decades, on the importance of maintaining the power of the citizen.
In times of crisis, Governments often return to ID card schemes, and it was clearly the view of the last Government that Britain was at war after 9/11, that we were at war with terrorists permanently, and that we therefore needed to be put on a permanent war footing. It is at the heart of the contention of those of us who voted against the original Bill, and campaigned successfully against it—as has now been proved with the passage of this legislation—that we cannot and should not lead our lives as though we are in a state of permanent warfare: that if people’s freedoms are restricted so much in an attempt to defend those freedoms, those who threaten our freedoms have already won.
This is a significant victory for the British people. I pay tribute not only to Members on both sides of the House who have supported the Bill, but to the various pressure groups involved. Liberty and Justice have been mentioned, but I also pay tribute to the NO2ID campaign, which can chalk itself up as one of the most successful pressure groups in history. It was formed less than 10 years ago, and within a decade of its formation it has achieved its principal aim.
No doubt all the pressure groups that I have just praised will spend the next few years complaining that we have not gone far enough in various directions. However, I look forward to constructive discussions with them. The broad conclusion that the country can draw from the passage of the Bill is that the march of freedom is happening again, and the British people are beginning to recover their historic freedoms and gain new freedoms. That is one of the many ways in which this Government will improve the lives of people throughout the country.
In a speech on Second Reading, when there was a time limit, I paid tribute to campaigning groups that had been extremely effective in swaying opinion in the media, at least—if not the opinion of the country—against the idea of new forms of biometric recording and an up-to-date and verifiable national register showing who was in the country and their identity. I now pay tribute to the Minister for his dedicated work in opposition, and in the four months of the coalition Government, in implementing the commitment of the coalition partners.
I do not, however, pay tribute to people who believe their own rhetoric. I have done it myself, and it is not a good idea. Eventually one comes to believe things that are not true, such as the idea that the last Government took away our civil liberties and were intent on strengthening the authoritarianism of the state. I am very sad that people who are standing for senior office in my party have also bought the myth that a second-generation biometric register somehow took away the civil liberties of the British people. However, we lost the election, and those of us who believed that we were doing the right thing lost a level of the debate that was crucial to the continuation of the scheme.
I am very happy to pay tribute to Lord Howard as the father of the modern scheme. We did not have the facility of second-generation biometrics when he advocated the scheme in 1996. However, he at least understood that if we were going to control unwarranted immigration, deal with the rising level of fraud, which was minuscule compared with the level today, and tackle the verification and authentication of genuine identity not least in respect of access to what are, uniquely, free public services such as the NHS, we needed something better than the passport as we had it then, and, it has to be said, as we have it today even with the improvements in the photographic evidence.
I wish the Government well in implementing e-Borders in their border police force. I do not know how that will enhance the sophistication of addressing illegal entry into the country or the identification of those who are already illegally here given that when in 2004 we introduced the registration system for the extended European Union A8 nationals we found that 40% of the people who registered were already in the country before the freedom of movement regulations had come into being for those new EU entrant countries. I do not know how the Government are going to do this, therefore, but I wish them well in trying.
This evening, I merely want to say that I speak as someone who has spent years persuading their senior colleagues in Cabinet to go in a particular direction and who has taken the slings and arrows of being accused of being authoritarian because they genuinely believe that updating the evidence that is already taken for the passport and the driving licence makes sense as it will be genuinely authentic—as opposed to the myth we peddle that somehow the identity documents we use are genuinely verifiable when they are not. In short, I speak as someone who has been told that they have betrayed the civil liberties and historical rights of people in this country when they have not, yet my only regret is that, having spent so much time having to put up with the black looks of Lord Prescott and the grumbles of our former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), and having eventually won the decision in government and started to implement the policy, I find that I am defeated at the last hurdle.
All I can say is congratulations to those who have won and commiserations to those who were misled into believing that ID cards would cost £2.5 billion and there were therefore going to be major savings from scrapping them, rather than the sum of £84 million over four years. I say commiserations to those who feel they were taking a great step yet find that that step has not led them anywhere new at all.
The Minister said on 9 June that the civil libertarians were in the ascendant in the Conservative party today and that is true, but let us not confuse libertarianism with liberty. Let us not confuse being concerned about out and out libertarianism with authoritarianism. These are not opposites; they are nuanced issues and they are difficult to deal with in government at a time of—whatever Ministers may feel—continuing risk. I should also point out that we must ensure that we move as the international community moves, because I guarantee that within 30 years second-generation biometrics will be used for international passport purposes.
Finally, I say just three words: rest in peace.
It is a great pleasure to follow the former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), who took us all the way back to the birth of ID cards and has now read out their last rites in the Chamber of the House of Commons. I do not think he should take the criticism of the last Labour Government personally. People say many things in leadership election campaigns. Let us see what happens next week when, in opposition, we have an opportunity to fashion our new policies. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for all he did as Home Secretary on so many issues to do with his portfolio.
I also pay tribute to the Minister. Anyone who has followed Home Office debates over the past few years since he has been on the Front Bench will have noted the enthusiasm, delight and intellectual vigour that he put into the campaign against identity cards. I am sure it gives him great satisfaction to be here to read the last rites of the identity cards and to do so very modestly. I suppose that when faced with the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative party, the Scottish National party, Justice and Liberty—a very odd combination—it is probably right that the official Opposition have, in a sense, thrown in the towel. The shadow Minister accepted that there was no appetite among Labour Members to oppose the Bill on Second Reading and she tabled some carefully thought-out amendments, but the Government, with their majority and with this Bill as a central part of their Home Office agenda, have got their Bill through, after only 12 weeks.
I hope that the Minister will take seriously—I know that he will—the concerns expressed about the destruction of data. The Select Committee on Home Affairs will be writing to him in two months’ time. I know that he did not give that as the absolute timetable, but he mentioned two months and then a further two months, and he then said that this would depend on what happens in the other place. I do not think that it will be a problem there, so by Christmas or, at least, by the new year we should be in a position to know that these data have been destroyed. I am sure that we will be writing to him to ensure that now that the funeral is over, the ashes will be scattered in about four months’ time.
This is indeed an historic occasion and it is gratifying that the coalition has been able to deliver so early in its life such a significant change and such an improvement in our civil liberties. This is clearly the first stage in a much wider programme. Members on the Government Benches have been accused of being obsessed with civil liberties, but it is a sign of how regressive or repressive the Labour Government had become that they characterised supporters and defenders of civil liberties as people, or Members, who were obsessed with that subject over and above any other.
The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) spoke of the so-called myth that the previous Government had an agenda that was contrary to civil liberties. However, they gave us identity cards, which we no longer have. We also had pre-charge detention, control orders, fingerprinting in schools and DNA retention. In my view, that constituted a full-frontal assault on our civil liberties, and we are right to try to redress the balance. He also said that there might be only £84 million-worth of savings—I do not know whether he actually used the word “only”. Even if that figure is indeed right, in the current context those are savings that we need to achieve.
In my view, and that of the coalition Government, this Bill is just the first step in a programme of rebuilding and restoring our reputation as a nation that values civil liberties and is willing to defend them whenever they are under assault.
Good riddance to the most thoroughly bad rubbish. Thank goodness we are standing on the brink of getting rid of the pernicious and hated ID cards. They were new Labour ID cards—NLID cards, as I called them in the previous debate—created solely by the previous Government. They are now thankfully being abolished, and I give great credit to the coalition Government for being able to introduce this Bill so quickly. Thank goodness we are getting shot of these cards today.
I also wish to pay tribute to the many campaigners who fought so hard and long to ensure that we never saw ID cards introduced in this country. I am referring to NO2ID, Liberty and all the other groups that were out there campaigning. This became a real election issue, and I am sure that other hon. Members also found that it was regularly raised in the hustings. People talked about Labour’s creeping authoritarian state and its anti-civil libertarian agenda, and how Labour must be stopped. Thankfully, today is the day that we can put to bed not just ID cards but, I hope, the whole anti-civil libertarian agenda that the Labour party tried to foist on us.
This Bill has been relatively easy for the Liberals and Conservatives as well as for those of us in the Scottish National party and other national parties. We opposed these things—we hated them and we wanted rid of them. This has been a real challenge for Labour Members and I have watched their agony throughout this Bill. I did not know whether they were going to oppose it or support it. I had to wait for the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) to get to his feet to know whether it would be the first line of the next Labour manifesto or whether they were going to support the scrapping.
I still do not know what Labour Members’ response to ID cards is. They have not opposed them in any way. They supported Second Reading—or abstained—and they proposed tame, minimal amendments in Committee. We have heard a lot of huff and puff today about compensation, but I still do not know what the Labour party’s approach to ID cards is. I would like to hear—perhaps in the summing up—whether it has now dropped the whole idea. I hope that it has, because Labour should come home. We need the Labour party in opposition to come home to its civil libertarian past.
When poor people in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency want to open a bank account or do any of the many things for which people need to prove their identity, if they do not drive and do not have utility bills how will they prove their identity in his new free world?
This is the thing that the Labour party consistently refuses to appreciate and understand. ID cards were an attempt to change the whole nature of the relationship between the individual and the state. That was what they were about. People in groups such as Liberty and NO2ID did not oppose ID cards because they were a nice cuddly little thing that would help people to access services—they opposed them because they were a new element to the relationship between state and individual. That was why ID cards became so hated throughout the nation.
The hon. Gentleman is emotionally attached to the idea of the perniciousness of the scheme, but I want gently to test how far his libertarianism would go. There are two states in the United States where a blind person can obtain a licence to own a gun. One of those states does not require a blind person to have a driving licence—
It was a good point, and you have rescued me, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I would have found it pretty hard to respond to it. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) for intervening, because I want to pay tribute to him, too, in the course of all this. Of course, ID cards were his child. He argued them through Cabinet and, as he said in his speech, he had all sorts of opposition and he fought his corner. However, he has left the Labour party a dreadful legacy. I hope that it can join the rest of us—where it should be—in ensuring that we can continue to hold this Conservative Government to account.
It was great when the Conservatives were in opposition—of course they were against the anti-civil libertarian agenda—but we will have to watch them like hawks in government, and we need the Labour party on board for that task. We need the Labour party to help to hold the Conservatives to account, because I have a sneaking suspicion that once they have had a good start and once they have their feet under the table, they will start to consider several issues and the old Conservatives will start to come back. We will start to see that move towards the authoritarianism that was a trademark of so many previous Governments. I appeal to the Labour party to help us to hold the Government to account and to get rid of the opposition to this. They should say, “Good riddance” and be thankful that we have got rid of ID cards.
This runs through the whole history of Labour and ID cards. We never even knew what they were for—that was the great thing. We did not know what they were supposed to achieve. When the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough introduced them—he can correct me if I get this wrong—his intention was that there would be a fully compulsory scheme, so that everybody in the UK would have to hold an ID card. That, I believe, was his intention and that was what he wanted to try to deliver. As he tried to get the scheme through, the opposition started to kick in. Opposition to the idea seemed to be growing and growing, so we saw the reasons behind ID cards changing. The scheme changed into a voluntary scheme that not only would keep us safe but could be used to make sure that we could buy services. I believe that being able to play the lottery was one of the great reasons we were given to have an ID card. They became not so much ID cards as super cards that would solve all society’s ills.
It might not have been the right hon. Gentleman who said that and I am sorry if I have characterised him in that way. I believe that his true intention was to have everyone signed up to a mandatory ID card; that was the first attempt and agenda of the Labour party when it introduced the idea. All the way through the difficult conception and birth of the ID card, there was no real consistency in the way in which Labour tried to get it through. That has been the difficulty throughout the whole experience.
Labour’s opposition to the Bill has been woeful—not knowing whether to support it or not and making some caustic comments about compensation; that has been its attitude—but there is light at the end of the tunnel. According to all the opinion polls, it looks as though the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) might win the Labour leadership election and he has said that ID cards were a step too far. He talks about the fact that they were not a good idea and says that there should be no further backing for them. Perhaps we will start to get the Labour party back on board; I certainly hope so.
Today has been a thoroughly good day. I congratulate the Minister on taking the Bill through in his usual manner—with good grace and listening to some of the arguments and representations—and on a job well done. This day is the end of ID cards, and thank goodness for that. Good riddance to them and let us hope that we never see their likes again.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) has done exactly as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) said and has begun to believe his own rhetoric, entertaining though it was to listen to. It might be helpful if I explain to him and to the rest of the House the position of the official Opposition. I remind the House that although many things are said in election campaigns, what happens in reality when people have power is often very different. We have a good example of that in front of us in the form of the coalition Government, but I shall say no more on that.
Her Majesty’s Opposition recognise the Government’s clear position and the reality of the maths. We know that both parties were elected on manifestos to get rid of ID cards and that the Bill is the fruition of what is a fairly rare point of agreement. Indeed, only on Monday the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), was speaking with enthusiasm about her position when she was in opposition and had to be quickly reminded of something by her Parliamentary Private Secretary, who passed her a note. She then swiftly began to read an alternative position from the coalition agreement, so we know that sometimes things are said but then change. However, the reality is that both parties agreed on this point and we recognise that that gives the Government a mandate. We are not here to oppose for the sake of opposition, but we feel that the Bill sweeps aside many important things.
On Second Reading, the Minister said that the Bill is symbolic—and it is for him and his Government. It is also ideologically based and very rushed. Had he been in his Department a bit longer and had other Ministers in that Department and in government thought things through, they might rue the day they swept away the baby with the bathwater. The Bill has the serious consequence of removing the option to have fingerprints in passports, which the identity register allowed. That would have updated the passport database to allow for the very secure retention of that important biometric.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire is very exercised about data being held by the state. I am sure that he must have a passport for travel and I wonder whether he has ever given a moment’s thought to where passport information is held. As I reminded members of the public and others up and down the country during many of my roadshows, visits and talks about this issue over three years, 80% of us have a passport and that information is held securely. We have a good Passport Service, but what we proposed was a more secure approach. I shall not dwell on what we could have done or what we would do differently again, but it is an important principle of the Opposition that the passport should be secure not only now but in future. The new design for a more secure physical passport that I signed off earlier in the year has been unveiled and produced in the Blaydon constituency. We wanted greater security with fingerprinting, but the Government have effectively abandoned that.
Interestingly, the Bill sets the tone for the way in which the Government wish to work. It was brought forward in quite a rush. We finally managed today to extract from the Government the fact that there was no consultation on the Bill, so mentions in manifestos and on individuals’ blogs seem to be the way in which the Government choose to consult. We also know that the Bill’s impact assessment was inadequate, which is sad, given that one of the Ministers responsible for the Bill is also the Minister for Equalities. Labour Members will watch closely to ensure that such sloppiness does not take place in the future, and I hope that Ministers acknowledge that they have a responsibility to do their jobs thoroughly and properly.
We look forward to hearing more about the transgender issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling). We tried to put in place something that would make the best of a bad job in this regard, but the Government removed that option overnight without any recognition of that fact. No full solution is forthcoming, so we ask the Government to report to Parliament as progress is made on the issue. I ask the Minister with responsibility for passports to write to me around Christmas or in January to let me know what progress has been made, and to place a copy of the letter in the Library. I have been contacted by many people who would be grateful for such information. A lot of them do not have voices of their own, but they will be looking closely at how the House scrutinises the issue and have made it clear that they want to know what is going on.
The Bill prevents the Government from collecting and storing fingerprints, which means that the British passport will fall behind international standards relatively quickly, although international passports improve over years. Over time, British citizens will be forced to pay for visas when they make certain international visits. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have indicated that they favour biometrics on passports and increasing passport security, so I wonder whether the Bill has been fully squared in government. We hear that the Government are halting the use of fingerprints, but we do not know for how long. I hope that they will consider putting that back on the table because we all have a genuine interest in ensuring that the British public are safe when they travel and that our identity documents are as secure as possible. The use of fingerprints also helps to tackle identity fraud because many criminals have multiple identities, yet fingerprints are one of the surest ways of prevention.
I know that Ministers take seriously the Home Office’s responsibility to do everything in its power to protect people—that is the Department’s raison d’être—but the Bill throws out the baby with the bath water. The Opposition would revisit the issue of biometrics on passports, even though I give no commitment about what we would do on identity cards, given that we will shortly be under new leadership. However, if we were to get into power in five years’ time, we would be in a different place than if we were not to get into power—heaven forefend—for 10 years. We recognise that we will have to deal with the landscape that we face at the time. I would hope that that landscape would involve fingerprints for passports, but the Bill does not make that look likely.
The Bill’s refusal of any recompense to those who bought cards in good faith is mean-spirited, as is the fact that we have had no opportunity to press for refunds, which was why some of the new clauses that we tabled were complex. As I said, no proper account was taken of the equalities impact. If I was to be particularly mean, I would suggest that the mean-spirited nature of the Bill is a metaphor for the Government as we approach tough spending decisions.
I thank hon. Members who have played an important part in developing our policy and supporting my Front-Bench role. The Opposition’s redoubtable team has mostly consisted of newly elected Back Benchers, who have been committed to addressing the Bill. I put on record my thanks to the former right hon. Members for Redditch, for Norwich South and for Airdrie and Shotts, the last of whom will no doubt give the Bill a run for its money in the other place, as well as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough. It is rare that a junior Front-Bench spokesman has such support from a series of former Home Secretaries, but they have been incredibly supportive and helpful.
We are not yet dancing on the grave of identity cards. I live in hope that the Government will see the error of their ways and that, despite this Bill, they will revisit the issue of passport biometrics. I look forward to seeing how the Bill progresses in the Lords.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.