§ Order for Second Reading read.9.38 am
§ Mr. Speaker
I have been unable to select the reasoned amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett).
§ Mr. Howell
I thank my sponsors for all the help that they have given me in drafting the Bill. I also thank the Clerks of the House, the staff of the Library and several other people who have helped me.
The principal reason for introducing the Bill is that crime is increasing at an alarming rate despite all that the Government have done. This Government have done more than any previous Government because they have spent more money on improving police and prison officers' pay and recruiting more police and more prison officers, and we have the biggest prison building programme ever. Yet, year after year, crime increases; and in the past 10 years, it has increased by an alarming 50 per cent.
Even more alarming is what has happened since an identity card system was abolished in 1952. The crime rate today is seven times as great as it was in 1952. The time has come when the people of this country have had enough of lawlessness. They want to be able to live their lives in peace and something more must be done than has been done so far.
We are having this debate today because a mistake was made in 1952. Although is is understandable that unnecessary regulations should have been abolished after the war, that provision should not have been abolished, and it is time now for us to correct that mistake. The Bill is based on the wartime measure. It is relevant to say that, after years of appeasement and failing to face up to the threat of Nazi Germany, the first measure presented to the House on 3 September 1939 was a National Registration Bill. It passed through all its stages on 4 September and 5 September and registration was effective from 29 September. We acted quickly then, and it gave a great psychological uplift to the whole country. At last we were galvanising ourselves into taking adequate action. Although that measure alone did not win the war, it would have been foolish to attempt to fight the war without such national registration.
We are fighting a different problem now, but the whole country must be brought in to fight crime. We can increase the police as much as we like, we can increase prison building as much as we like, but, until the whole country declares war on crime, it will continue to rise. An identity card scheme would be the first and most positive step and would give tremendous hope to those who suffer so seriously, especially in inner-city areas, from present-day lawlessness.
§ Mr. Howell
I shall give way in my own time.
1266 The Government are taking a neutral attitude to the Bill, and that is something to be grateful for. At least they are not opposing it.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)
§ Mr. Howell
I am glad to see that my hon. Friend the Minister of State is nodding agreement.
However, the Government have proved the case for me. We have already introduced the Football Spectators Bill, which proposes indentity cards; that proves that the Government believe that some measure of protection will come to law-abiding football supporters through indentity cards. I do not want to go into the matter deeply but my criticism of that Bill is that only 1 per cent. of the population attend football matches and they attend football matches for only 1 per cent. of the week. It seems hard on the other 99 per cent. of us who want protection from crime that no provision is made to help us by means of identity cards. Furthermore, although the Football Spectators Bill seeks to stop people going abroad to attend football matches, we are doing nothing about the lager louts on their way to Spain, who discredit this country.
The Government should recognise that public opinion is very much on the side of the Bill. A public attitudes survey, published this morning, shows that 57 per cent. of people support an identity card system, 37 per cent. oppose it and 6 per cent. do not know. It is not very dignified for the Government to be with that 6 per cent. of "don't knows". The Government should know one way or the other.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, despite the publicity, there has almost been an absence of protest from constituents? The matter received considerable publicity in a national daily newspaper in Northern Ireland, but there was not a single protest.
§ Mr. Howell
That is an interesting point, and the leading article in The Times bears it out.
There are other interesting points in the survey. Of those who have an opinion, 61 per cent. are in favour and 39 per cent. are against. Of those who support the Labour party, 47 per cent. are in favour and 47 per cent. against. The Opposition must take note of what is being said, because the reason why they are condemned forever to opposition is that they do not reflect the opinions of the great proportion of voters.
§ Mr. Howell
I shall give way in a minute. The hon. Gentleman must be patient. The point that I want to make before I give way is that 53 per cent. of union members support an identity card scheme.
§ Mr. Skinner
It is quite conceivable that one of the reasons why there is a difference of opinion in the country and among political parties and why even the "don't knows" are concerned, is that people are worried about the photograph that would be needed for identity cards. Some people might think that others would submit their sons' photographs for their identity cards. In the latest issue of "Dod's Parliamentary Companion", it seems to me as if the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) has sent in his lad's photograph. If that is the case, no wonder there is confusion.
§ Mr. Howell
In a few years' the hon. Gentleman may look as young as I do. But what a frivolous remark.
As I have said, the public at large support the Bill. Moreover, we are approaching 1992, when we shall have to do something about this matter. We are committed to the EEC and we shall remain in the EEC, and we know that the intention is to do away with passport control within the EEC. When that happens, it is not conceivable that other members of the EEC will operate an open-door system without any control, as we do for the Republic of Ireland, because that would open up the whole of the EEC and no one would know who was in the country and who was not.
Let me describe what the Bill is designed to do. It is intended that every person ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom shall have a numbered identity card and that there will be a register of all the persons who ordinarily live in this country. That is a necessary and important measure.
Clause 1(1) sets 12 years as the age at which a person must possess an identity card. Some people will think that the age limit is too low, and I am prepared to be flexible on that point, although to start with I was advised that it should be 10 because that is the age at which young persons are held responsible for their actions before the courts. Under the wartime provisions people were registered at birth and parents were responsible for children's identity cards until they reached the age of 16. The age of 16 is obviously too high today; we have all witnessed awful scenes in which very young children have thrown petrol bombs in Northern Ireland.
At the age of 12, young people generally go to secondary school and are capable of looking after bus passes and rail passes. The other day someone telephoned the Jimmy Young show to say that it would be a positive advantage for children to have a form of identification as at present many of them have none, while the rest of the population carry large numbers of cards.
The fine for failure to possess an identity card will be a maximum of £400—level 3.
To those who think that the Bill would give the police extra power, I want to make it abundantly clear that that is not what is intended. Clause 1(4) says:A constable, if he has reasonable grounds for doing so, may require any person who is in a public place to produce his identity card for examination so as to enable the constable to ascertain its validity.That leaves the law as it is. The sus laws passed in 1824 were abolished by this Government in 1981; all Labour Governments kept them in place. Under the Bill, the law will remain the same—
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, for a long time, the sus laws caused no problem but that towards the end their excessive use brought the police into a lot of disrepute in some areas? It was a very enlightened step by the Government to get rid of them, and the police have made no representations to the effect that the loss of the sus laws has caused them problems.
§ Mr. Howell
That is the very point that I am making. Under the Bill, that improvement in the law, for which the Government can take credit, will remain. The law will be exactly as it was before. The police will have no right to ask to see an identity card unless suspicious circumstances surround the person.
§ Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in general, the police favour such a Bill? Will he repeat to the House the figures that he cited at the beginning of his speech, which show that public opinion is overwhelmingly in favour of identity cards of the kind he has described? That gives the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) his answer.
§ Mr. Howell
I am grateful for those remarks. The Police Federation is firmly in favour of this measure and has been firmly in favour of identity cards for a considerable length of time. I am sure that we would find the vast majority of members of the Association of Chief Police Officers in favour if we knew that body's views fully, although the issue has been fudged and somewhat clouded, perhaps because the Bill is before the House.
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)
I do not follow my hon. Friend's reasoning. He says that the law will not be changed, but clearly it will. At the moment, we have no sus laws and a police officer may not stop a pedestrian in a public place and demand his name and address. The Bill would introduce such a provision and reasonable grounds would include the constable wishing to ascertain the validity of the card.
§ Mr. Howell
I realise that it would have been better to include the words, "to ascertain the identity of the person" rather than the words in the Bill. I accept what my hon. Friend says on that point. But he is completely wrong that the Bill will alter the law, except by requiring a person to possess an identity card. It is intended that there will be no change whatever in the power of the police to stop a person who is not considered to have done something unlawful or to stop a person who is considered to be about to do something unlawful. My Bill may not be drafted perfectly; it is difficult to draft a Private Member's Bill perfectly. I am prepared to accept any amendment that will make matters clearer, but I repeat that the intention is not to give any extra powers to the police.
§ Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)
I am listening to my hon. Friend's explanation with interest. Does he agree that, no matter how the Bill is redrafted, the inescapable fact remains that it will be creating an entirely new criminal offence?
§ Mr. Howell
I accept that. I believe that we need an identification system and that we need a register of persons ordinarily living—that is, permanently living—in this country, and that everybody else in the country should carry a passport. That is the order of the day in practically every other country of the world. Why should we believe we are so different?
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
Will my hon. Friend please not be too contrite about any minor imperfections in the drafting of his Bill? It is not unknown for Governments, with all the vast resources at their disposal, not to get the drafting of Bills—even Bills presented from the Treasury Bench—absolutely perfect. Some of my hon. Friends believe that the Official Secrets Bill, for example, is not in every respect a model of parliamentary drafting.
§ Mr. Howell
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I would like to draw the House's attention to clause 1(5).
§ Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)
It is to my hon. Friend's credit that he has given way so often. As a former police 1269 officer in the west end of London, who has used the sus laws many times, I can say that the objection to them was that people could be convicted of not even attempting crime, but of merely being a suspected person. Nothing in this Bill creates that sort of offence.
§ Mr. Howell
The sus laws are out and this Bill will not bring them back. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments.
It will not be an offence to be without the card on one's person when one is stopped, but one must possess a card. The law will be the same as that applied to the production of driving licences. A person will have seven days to produce his identity card to his nominated police station. If he cannot produce it, however, he will have committed an offence, which will be provided for in this Bill.
§ Mr. Howell
Will the hon. Gentleman let me finish?
Clause 2(1 )(c) says that we are instructing the Government to produce numbered identity cards. The card will include the name, sex, date of birth, residence, photograph and signature of its holder. I have been assured that cards with photographs and signatures are as safe as any card can be against wrongful use.
Those are the main points about the Bill. The remainder are concerned with forgery and false applications, which are quite obvious.
§ Mr. Gow
Will my hon. Friend accept my congratulations—and I am sure those of my hon. Friends—on the provisions of clause 6, which rightly, but unusually, extends to Northern Ireland? I congratulate my hon. Friend on that, because the more we can legislate for the kingdom as a whole, the better we shall secure the acceptance of Northern Ireland as part of this kingdom. Has my hon. Friend had any discussions either with the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary or any other of its officers to discover whether this Bill would be welcomed in the Province?
§ Mr. Howell
I have not had any consultations with police officers in Northern Ireland, but I too believe that it is important that the Bill should cover the whole of the United Kingdom. This is the first time that such a Bill has been proposed in the House in 50 years, although our former colleague the right hon. Enoch Powell suggested that there should be an identity card for Northern Ireland alone. It is important that this Bill, and all other Bills, should cover the whole of the United Kingdom, because we could then save valuable time.
An identity card would be a tremendous asset to every law-abiding person and it would be something of a hindrance—I make no apologies for this—to the criminal. If we are to restore a peace-loving country and have law and order, where people are not afraid to walk the streets, something must be done.
I received a letter from a gentleman of 93 years. He told me that he had been in some of the heaviest fighting in two 1270 world wars and he regretted the fact that he was now afraid to go out at night. That is a terrible indictment of our society.
§ Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)
I have been following my hon. Friend's argument carefully. Can he tell us approximately how many cards would need to be issued, the cost of so doing and how the cost would be met? Many people will be concerned to know whether they will be paying for them or whether the cost would fall on the taxpayer.
§ Mr. Howell
I shall come to the main point about the overall cost, but the intention is that initially the card should be issued by the Government free of charge to every citizen over 12 years. I have not worked it out, but there would probably be 45 million cards. However, if one lost one's card—as happens when one loses one's credit card—a fee would be charged for a replacement.
I shall now cite the advantages of an identity card system. It would save police time. It is ridiculous that the police must ask all the questions that would be contained on an identity card—perhaps out in the cold and rain— when a parking offence or a speeding offence has been committed. They must write it all out in longhand, just as they did in Queen Victoria's day. We can imagine what would happen if every time we made a bank transaction, instead of using a credit card, we had to go to the counter and watch the cashier writing in longhand all our details. The absurdity of that system is obvious.
Another advantage would be that it would help to detect crime, because many people would volunteer to show their cards. If there was a rumpus in a group of young people, there would be one or two ringleaders, but the more lawful people would be ready to show their cards and identify themselves. It would be a great deterrent to young people setting out on a course of crime for the first time.
Let us imagine, for example, the case of a youth who had decided that the time had come to snatch a handbag. The first thing that he would do before he set out— probably terrified himself, but being egged on by his mates—would be to empty his pockets so that he carried no form of identity.
§ Mr. Howell
I am afraid I did not catch that.
I believe that that would be a deterrent, and some young people would never start out on a course of crime.
It would be of immense assistance in detecting social security fraud as well as other frauds. Our present system is archaic. We all have—if we are drivers—five sets of numbers. We have a national insurance number, a National Health Service number, a passport number and a driving licence number. As Members of this House, we must carry identification to enter this Chamber. Those cards to not deprive us of our freedom in any way.
An identity card would help the fight against drugs and against illegal immigrants. I believe that if the Bill had been in operation, the gentleman from Sri Lanka, Mr. Mendis, who was our uninvited guest for 13 years and who cost us a great deal of money, would not have been allowed to stay here for so long.
1271 The card would also help us to deal with the even more serious problem of terrorism. In recent months, we have had examples of such terrorist attacks, especially the awful Lockerbie disaster. I do not intend to talk about that disaster, but I am concerned about the two journalists who posed as cleaners to get on to the aircraft at Heathrow. That was most worrying. I believe that the identity card system would be a tremendous help in finding out who has access to such sensitive sites as airports.
The identity card system would be a much more practical and sensible approach to the problem of football hooliganism than that outlined in the Football Spectators Bill. I believe that some Ministers are not altogether happy about that Bill. An awful lot of parliamentary time and aggro will be expended before that Bill reaches the statute book. The identity card system will be 100 per cent. effective against under-age drinking. Although I have not spelt it out in the Bill, there will be one coloured card for everyone under 18 and a different coloured card for everyone over 18. Therefore publicans and club owners would be able to identify under-age drinkers immediately and in a much more effective way than at present.
§ Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)
My hon. Friend says that he is concerned that two journalists and others had had access to London Airport and access to aircraft. He said that an identity card scheme would help to overcome such problems. I do not understand how. Is he saying that the information on such cards should be backed up by a lot of information held in some data bank? I do not see how an identity card would help without that other provision.
§ Mr. Howell
I am sure that the card would help employers to know more about the people they are employing. The fact that we would have a register of all persons "ordinarily" residing in this country would be an immense help.
An even greater problem than terrorism is the increased fear in which many of our citizens live. Crime has increased sevenfold. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people are living in fear. One of the most shaming things for this House and the country was the recent incident that occurred in Camden when a lady was burnt to death in her council flat because firemen were unable to get through the steel door that barricaded her home—the rest of the flat was also barricaded. That lady had lived in awful fear because we have been unable properly to enforce law and order. Instead of the Englishman's home being his castle, that home had become a prison and, eventually, a hell. We should think just as much about crime as we do about even more dramatic events such as terrorist attacks.
I have had little experience of inner cities, but I canvassed Bermondsey during the by-election there a few years ago. There I encountered the fear in which some people live in some of our housing estates. I did not feel comfortable all the time I was there. I believe that we must take this matter seriously because the time has come for positive action.
I believe that the Home Office has done some work on this card—I am delighted that it is thinking seriously about some sort of identity system. That is good news. It has calculated that such a system would cost about £350 million. I have no means of knowing, and I accept what the Home Office says. I believe that it would be the biggest bargain that we have ever had. One need only consider 1272 how much we are losing through social security fraud and all sorts of other fraud, such as tax evasion. Money is also lost through fraud because of the inefficient operation of other computers connected with finance. A national insurance card is issued to anybody over 16 which has a name and number on it—those of us who are more than 16 years old also have such a card on request. We can have three replacements before any questions are asked, and if that is not an open invitation to defraud, I do not know what is.
§ Mr. Cryer
As the hon. Gentleman is so keen on this matter, I wonder whether he can tell us whether Lloyd's, of which he is a member, and other financial institutions in the City of London have introduced such cards to stop the fraud that he has talked about? He knows that the City has been rocked by fraud and scandal month after month. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and his cronies would like to set an example for the nation. Have they done so?
§ Mr. Howell
I am here to advocate a Bill that I hope will help to stop fraud and tax evasion generally. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would applaud my efforts.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department has said that a voluntary system might be best, but how do we legislate for such a system? What possible sense could there be in it? My researchers and I contacted the French embassy to find out about the French system. Everyone from the ambassador downwards insisted that there was a compulsory system in France, but we eventually persuaded them that the system was voluntary. Everyone knows that the French identity card system is far more rigid than anything I am proposing. I think that it is ridiculous to argue that a voluntary card might be all right, but not a statutory one. The possession of a card would not take any rights away from law-abiding people. It would simply make things slightly more difficult for the rest.
In conclusion, the Bill would be the first really positive step to galvanise the whole nation into joining in a major attack on crime. Until we are all involved with reducing crime, it will never be reduced. The Bill would give tremendous hope to those who live in fear. It would improve our national security. Above all, if the Bill were passed, it would provide a great psychological uplift and the country would feel that it was doing everything in its power to help to improve the position. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) on introducing his Bill. It will be extremely useful if the House has a thorough debate on the idea of identity cards because a lot of people feel—perhaps glibly—that they would solve many of the problems to which the hon. Gentleman referred. However, I believe that once people start to consider the full implications of the scheme, they will realise that such identity cards would do nothing to solve crime. Although they might—perhaps for only a brief time—reassure one or two people that it is safer to go out on the streets, once people realised what was involved they would lose that reassurance. Although the debate is 1273 useful fully to inform the House and the country, I very much hope that the Bill will be defeated when we come to vote on its Second Reading.
§ Mr. Cryer
Does my hon. Friend accept that the opinion polls that have been referred to would change radically after the first few cases of 12-year-old children being prosecuted because they had lost their card or because some other person has defaced it and they could not prove that they were not in breach of the legislation? The measure would potentially criminalise all children above the age of 12.
§ Mr. Bennett
I accept my hon. Friend's point, but opinion polls would change even more quickly once people had to complete the application forms for the cards.
Identity cards would be a nuisance to the vast majority of the public. As we have already heard, they would be expensive and a major invasion of privacy. The cards would have those three problems and, I suggest, no benefits. They would increase crime rather than reduce it. They would lead to increased alienation between the police and certain sections of the community, probably young people and people with dark skins.
The cards have the potential for a great deal of increased state control over the individual. The areas that the hon. Member for Norfolk, North mentioned as being nice ways of reducing crime, would lead to greater state control over individuals. The House should think carefully about that.
I shall deal briefly with the question of nuisance. We must accept that we all have a portfolio of identity cards at present. I checked last night and I have a trade union card, a card to get into Brinnington Labour club, a Labour party membership card, a savings book, a cheque book, a House of Commons pass, a National Trust card, a kidney donor card, an AA card, a driving licence, a Co-op book, a video shop card and a library ticket. I suspect that many hon. Members may have more cards than I do and that many people will have fewer.
The attraction of all the existing cards is that we have total choice about when we present the cards and about the services that we wish to get from them. If we happen to lose one of them, it is usually possible to use one of the others to establish one's identity—
§ Mrs. Maureen Hicks (Wolverhampton, North-East)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we have no choice when it comes to using our identity cards to gain access to the Palace of Westminster and that that is a compulsory card? I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has ever refused to enter this House because he had to use an identity card.
§ Mr. Bennett
I do not wish to get drawn into that. I do not think that it is a compulsory card—I believe that it is voluntary. I have seen many hon. Members enter the building without displaying their card. That makes it a little awkward on occasions for the policemen. It may be a little below the dignity of some hon. Members to be asked for their card. They assume that because they are on 1274 national television, they are well known and do not have to produce a card. As it is difficult to draw the line between someone who is readily recognised and somebody else who is not, there are often embarrassments about producing the card.
§ Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman's experience has been like mine. Although I do not claim in any way to be as instantly recognisable as many hon. Members, I have never once in my entire period of membership of this House—since 1983—been asked to show my card. The Bill claims that the possession of identity cards will aid the police and reduce crime, but the only possible way in which that could work would be if cards were asked for of virtually everybody on virtually every occasion. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is the only way that the cards that we carry would be of tremendous value to security.
§ Mr. Bennett
Yes, I accept that. I used to have rooms at Abbey gardens, and when I had to run across to vote, no policeman on the door ever stopped me to ask me to show my identity card to get in. I admit that I have lost my parliamentary identity card twice. On one occasion, I was changing my jacket and put the card down on the mantelpiece. It slipped between the wall and the fireplace. I had no intention of removing the fireplace to get it back so I simply reported its loss and got a replacement. On the other occasion, I was driving into the car park and can remember having laid the pass on the dashboard. I did not know where it had gone. So again, I simply asked for a replacement card. About a month later the other card reappeared from the bottom of the dashboard having slipped down.
There is no real problem in losing those identity cards because they are easy to replace. A problem with the system is that if the cards are easy to replace, there will be little inconvenience to anybody, but if identity cards are difficult to replace, they will be a considerable nuisance.
On one occasion my credit card was damaged by the machine that it went through in a shop. There was some inconvenience in getting it replaced. I have also managed to damage my driving licence because of a leaking biro in my pocket. I do not think that I am particularly incompetent, but I challenge any hon. Member who votes for the Bill to be absolutely certain that he or she has never lost any card and had to have it replaced. If they can demonstrate that, on occasions, they, too, lose identity cards of one sort or another, they must recognise the problems that some people will experience if a national scheme is introduced.
Another problem is that some individuals like to change their appearance from time to time. I went through quite a difficult period when I had a passport with a photograph of me without my beard. My passport used to be scrutinised carefully, with the immigration officials looking at me and at the picture in the passport for quite a long time. Having looked at my employment, however, they would usually quickly let me pass. However, I am certain that many people will, from time to time, want to shave off a beard, grow a beard, throw away a toupee or want to change their hair colour from dark to blond. Obviously, it does not help if the photograph on one's identity card presents a very different image. Simple things like wearing or not wearing glasses can produce 1275 considerable problems. I do not think most people would feel that they ought to have their card changed every time there was a detail change, small or substantial.
So far as I can see, the problem about cards is that if it is a cumbersome process to replace them they become a nuisance to individuals. On the other hand, if it is an easy process they increase the opportunity for fraud and for misuse. Let me put a question to the hon. Gentleman who is promoting the Bill. What would happen if one of my constituents came down from Manchester to work in London for three or four weeks and, fairly early on, had his card stolen? Would he have to return home to get the documents necessary for replacement, or could he be issued with a temporary card here? I suggest that it would be wholly unreasonable to expect someone to return home to get the documents necessary for replacement.
§ Mr. Skinner
I think it was established during the course of the speech of hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill that there was going to be so much detail on the card that it would not be a card at all, but a Filofax, to be printed perhaps, by Rupert Mudoch and his friends.
§ Mr. Bennett
I am not sure whether it would be a Filofax, but one of the frightening things is that, while it might be a very small card, there might be a whole lot of computer-encoded information on the magnetic tape. In other words, although the card would not tell my hon. Friend an awful lot, it might well tell other people a lot of things—perhaps things that he did not know but that were convenient for other people to put on his card, identifying him as someone who should perhaps be treated very carefully by authority because he was likely to make a fuss.
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett
Did the hon. Gentleman notice, as I did, during my hon. Friend's speech, how the purpose of this pass, or this internal passport, or whatever it is to be called, widened? It started off that a police officer was the only person required to see it. Then we got to the DHSS and a whole range of other people who are presumably going to be able to see it. A whole range of information will be on this card in one form or another.
§ Mr. Bennett
Yes, I can imagine all sorts of implications as to who should see it. Certainly there ought to be arrangements by which any encoded information on a card could be checked by the individual.
§ Mr. Bennett
Obviously the hon. Gentleman is aware of the expense involved in that. All I want to say at this point is that the more information you put in, the more safeguards you provide, and the more you attempt to prevent people from misusing the cards, the greater will be the expense for the state and for the individuals.
There is also a major issue about privacy. How much information will go on the card? It is already accepted that details of appearance, national insurance number, address, car—if one owned a car—driving licence information, next of kin, blood group and so on would all seem to be sensible items of information to include. But ought a criminal record be included? Obviously, those concerned about cracking down on crime might consider that to be useful information. Where would we stop?
§ Mr. Cohen
That is a very good point. Has my hon. Friend considered another item of information that might 1276 be included is a person's poll tax number? Certainly, the Government are trying, under this poll tax, to take a lot of privacy away from people, and the poll tax officer, with all his powers, might be able to confiscate a person's identity card to stop him moving around the country, and might thus create all sorts of problems for individuals. Has my hon. Friend considered that point?
§ Mr. Bennett
I have not considered the implications of the poll tax for this Bill, but perhaps later on my hon. Friend will be able to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
§ Mr. Bennett
No, I want to make a little bit of progress. It may be said that the points I made just now about what it is reasonable to include are all right—for instance, criminal convictions, if there have been any—but what about police suspicion about an individual? Ought that to be included? What about questions concerning an individual's health? It might be very helpful if various pieces of health information were encoded. But all of this starts to erode the rights of the individual.
§ Mr. Ralph Howell
The hon. Gentleman has reminded me of a little part of my speech that I had forgotten to include. This card, if it were framed as I have suggested, would have the information that I have spelt out, which would be readable by the individual carrying it. There could be a panel where information, such as blood group or allergies or next of kin, could be included voluntarily. But I am not advocating a card that would have information that was not readable by the carrier.
§ Mr. Bennett
I thank the hon. Gentleman. The trouble is that once an identity card system has been introduced, the pressure to put on all sorts of extra things, and to make all sorts of information available, will grow steadily. It will always be slightly more convenient for Governments to have information included than to resist having it included.
I want to pose this question: to what extent does an individual have a right to change his identity? The tendency is for most people to assume that it is only criminals who want to change their identity, but I do not accept that. There are occasions on which people may have very good reasons for wanting to change their identity. At the moment anyone trying to do so can find it a very difficult process, but I think people have the right to do so. Let me give two examples.
First, a constituent of mine came to me very distressed that, over the years, she had suffered a considerable amount of violence from her ex-husband. Almost every time he had a little to drink he would turn up at her house and be abusive. She got a court injunction, but it was not all that easy to enforce. In the end, she moved to the other end of the constituency. She changed her name, and for three years she managed to live at her new address with a totally new identity and without suffering any harassment or difficult. She was extremely relieved.
Unfortunately, her ex-husband was so persistent that, after three years, he managed to trick one of the very few officials who knew where she had moved into giviig away the district. As a result, she found that he was going round that district regularly at the weekends asking if anyone knew where she lived. Fortunately, he did not know that she had changed her name, and so she was aware that he was looking for her before he had a chance to find her.
1277 What she was extremely upset about was the fact that some official had passed on information about where she was living.
Under this Bill would it be easy for someone to change his identity so that there could be a different name on the identity card? It seems to me that it was perfectly reasonable for the lady I have cited to want to change her identity. It was not a criminal thing at all; indeed, she was actually trying to avoid crime.
The other case I have in mind concerns a lad of about 13, who had been in a great deal of trouble in his local community. He had never been convicted of any crime, but the police had certainly come to the conclusion that he was one of the ringleaders in a lot of trouble on the estate. The community policeman very sensibly said to his father, "If this lad stays here, sooner or later he is going to be in the courts and in serious trouble. I suggest that you persuade him to go and live somewhere else. He might get a fresh start." The lad moved to live with his married sister and he got into no more trouble at all. He grew up and came to me some years later about a different problem, and he mentioned this to me. When he moved and changed his Christian name information held by the police in Stockport passed to police in Tameside, and so he was able to start with a clean sheet. There are lots of teenagers who get a certain reputation in a particular neighbourhood and, perhaps rightly, they are picked on by the police. The big advantage to these young people is that they can change their identity. I could give other examples, but I believe that it is reasonable for someone to be able to change his identity for perfectly legal reasons.
The legislation will certainly increase crime.
§ Mr. Cohen
My hon. Friend made excellent points about people who legitimately want to change their names. Is he also aware that people might, quite legitimately, want to change their name and identity as a matter of personal choice because they do not like their name? I am aware of a former Minister whose brother did not like the name of his daughter.
§ Mr. Cohen
No, it was Cohen actually. I think it is an excellent name, but the family did not like it, so they changed it—quite rightly, because that was their choice. We would surely not want to get people into trouble with their identity cards because they wanted to change their name for that reason.
§ Mr. Bennett
I accept that problem. Unfortunately one sometimes gets saddled with a name that suddenly becomes identified with someone who is daily hitting the headlines for criminal reasons. If one has that name, it can cause problems.
Mr. Ralph Ho well
What, specifically, does the Bill contain to stop a person changing his name, as he can now?
§ Mr. Bennett
If the identity card carries a person's name and he changes his name so that he is commonly known by a different name, it is essential for him to change his identity card. If it is easy to change the identity card, people with criminal reasons for wanting to change their 1278 name will take advantage of that. The number on the identity card then becomes important and starts to count—not the name. If the number counts, the information held against it can cause problems.
If it is easy for people to change their identity, it becomes difficult to make the system stick. If it is made difficult to change identity, that will cause problems for some people who have every right to change their identity.
The Bill will increase crime because, quite clearly, stealing and forging identity cards for various purposes will hold attractions for some people. The measure will not stop terrorist activity and other serious crime. We know that terrorist groups can forge fairly complicated documents, such as passports, with considerable success. It will not be difficult for such people to produce forged identity cards and get round the legislation.
§ Mr. Bennett
I do not think that that is very relevant. If people can get round the complicated problems of the forgery and illegal use of passports, a number of criminals will, fairly quickly, turn their minds to forging and reproducing identity cards. We are offering some entrepreneurial criminal the opportunity to set up in a new avenue of crime—the production of illegal identity cards.
§ Mr. Bennett
I am conscious that I have been speaking for a long time but I want to complete my arguments.
The Bill will not solve crime, but increase it. It will increase alienation, too. If the identity cards are to be effective, people will have to ask to see them. I suspect that if a policeman sees a certain category of people he will be circumspect about asking to see their identity cards. Other groups of people, particularly youngsters and those from ethnic minorities, are likely to feel—even if it is not true—that they are being stopped much more frequently than others.
I could make much of the issue of state control. I was alarmed at the way in which Kent miners were, in my view, illegally stopped when going to picket in the north of England. I have also been concerned about the way in which people going to the summer solstice at Stonehenge have been stopped. If identity cards are introduced, police will be more likely to exercise that sort of state control.
I shall mention one or two specific problems: first, the matter of whether the Bill will solve under-age drinking. I do not think that it will. In my experience, it is a fair challenge to many youngsters to try to get round the present drinking laws and they will simply tackle getting round the identity card with the same enthusiasm.
In many pubs, at least in the north of England, youngsters have taken to carrying photocopies of birth certificates. The up-to-date landlord knows that photocopies of birth certificates are useless. Youngsters have developed two simple tricks. First, they copy a birth certificate, put a bit of Tippex on and then re-copy it. In that way they can changed their age by one or two years. The second common practice is to photocopy the birth certificate of an elder brother or sister. If identity cards are 1279 introduced some under-age drinkers will use the identity card of someone else in the family who looks reasonably like them.
Also, publicans meet problems because they often face groups of drinkers, some of whom are under age and some over age, and they are not sure who is drinking what. The hon. Member for Norfolk, North said that there would be a card of one colour for those under 18 and a different coloured card for those over 18. If someone ends up having to show the card as he puts the glass to his mouth, that will not solve the problem.
The Bill will certainly not solve the problem of football crowds. Some newspapers said that it would solve the problem of people who travel from door to door. However, I suggest that it would be risky for anyone to allow someone into his house merely because he showed a national identity card. If he wants safety, he must make sure that the card is one issued by a legitimate organisation such as the gas or electricity board. It would be dangerous for anyone to be lulled into allowing someone in simply because they produced a national identity card. The Bill would have no impact on terrorists and in some cases might even produce false security. The fine imposed on somebody for not having an identity card could cause considerable hardship.
How much has the hon. Member for Norfolk, North looked at groups of people who already carry identity cards? He should spend some time considering university campuses, on many of which identity cards of some sort are already issued. Most universities and colleges have a problem because they contain certain facilities that students are entitled to use and others that they are not. One hall of residence might provide meals and another might be self-catering. There may be many attractive facilities on university campuses that people outside might like to use.
I have talked to many students who have told me about many dodges to get round student identity cards, and to many people who administer the cards. They all admit that it is a nightmare trying to keep ahead of all the dodges. Perhaps students are particularly enterprising, but I suspect that the sort of problems involving identity cards that crop up in most universities and college campuses would also crop up among the general public.
Within a short time of the cards being introduced they will be totally discredited and all we shall have achieved is to spend a great deal of money to no effect. I hope that the House will defeat the measure when it comes to the vote because it will prove an expensive nuisance and an invasion of privacy. It will increase crime and alienate many people from the police and law enforcement. It has much potential for creating a big brother state to control us all.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. It will be evident to the House that there is a great deal of interest in the Bill, so I appeal for shorter speeches.
§ Sir Rhodes Boyson (Brent, North)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) on introducing the Bill. It will be the subject of discussion not only today but, I hope, when it goes to Committee and 1280 subsequently. Due to the attitude of the Home Office to a voluntary card system, this will be the first of many debates on the matter.
I listened carefully to the speech by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). The Bill is not ideal, but no Bill—even a Government one—ever is. We can improve the Bill in Committee and it will be the start perhaps not of a march but of a movement towards compulsory identity cards within a short time. Last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) introduced a ten-minute Bill, which was defeated by 172 votes to 114. The payroll vote, as some people call it, was not used. That shows that the majority of Conservative Members are in favour of identity cards.
European integration and 1992, whatever our views on those things, have been mentioned. Only Ireland, the Netherlands and Switzerland do not have compulsory or voluntary identity cards. A card would bring us more into line with Europe, which has easier frontier controls and tighter internal controls. We have tight frontier controls but much slacker internal controls.
The card would do many things. First, it will assist in easier identification. We have a massive crime wave, especially of violent crime, and many people live in terror. I shall talk about that later. In introducing the Bill, my hon. Friend was right to speak about fear and violent crime. The card will help in that respect, especially if it has a photograph and a signature. Later I shall say how I believe the addition of fingerprints would help in other ways. A photograph and a signature would help to identify people who have terrorist or violent tendencies. As my hon. Friend also said, it would reduce credit fraud, which is estimated to cost £20 million to £25 million a year. Those who behave properly always suffer because of fraud, and I am old fashioned enough to be on the side of those who behave properly, and on that basis I favour the Bill.
There are also problems with social security fraud. The genuine social security recipient suffers when other people exploit the system. In my view, some social security fraud can be as high as 20 or 30 per cent., and that means that money is not going to people whose families desperately need it.
An identity card would also help in accident identification. I was told by somebody in the Strangers' Dining Room last week that American bodies in the Lockerbie air disaster were identified using fingerprints. One family suffered in London because they did not have fingerprints of their son who had been killed in the crash. The police and investigators had to go round the family's house and dust everywhere until they found the son's fingerprints. That is the first time that I have heard of such a case. Fingerprints can help better than anything to determine identity.
A person's blood group should be on the card. If somebody is involved in a traffic accident and is bleeding to death, it is necessary to know the blood group immediately. The card would also help to control illegal immigration, and we know that genuine immigrants suffer because of the illegal ones. The card would help to control under-age drinking. My hon. Friend has suggested different coloured cards for those under 18. Licensed victuallers have sent out 500,000 cards for completion and only 13,000 have been returned. Hon. Members will agree that we have a responsibility to keep an eye on what is going on in the public houses in our constituencies, and they know that it is difficult to determine whether a person.
1281 is 18. People who are over 18 sometimes look younger and people who are under 18 sometimes look well above that age. That makes it difficult for licensees to comply with the law.
In Committee we could consider the use of the card to control truancy. It is estimated that in some London schools truancy in the fifth year can be as high as 70 per cent., and in ILEA there have been estimates that the average for the whole of London is 45 to 50 per cent. The card would identify children who are getting into wayward ways instead of being in school under some sort of discipline. There is no doubt that if we do not get things right in schools in the fifth year, we shall have major criminals later. The boredom of that fifth year could lead pupils to break the law and turn to ways of gaining money illegally.
I shall listen to all that is said in the debate because there will be continuous discussion on this topic until the matter is settled. The poll tax has been mentioned. In that context, identity cards would help to maintain electoral registers. In some constituencies those registers are appalling. I believe that they are worse than they have been for 100 years. What we now call our constituency agents were originally appointed to check the electoral registers, and before long they will have to return to that job, especially in marginal seats. Presumably all seats are marginal—even yours, Mr. Deputy Speaker, under certain conditions, though we would never wish that upon you. If I were in what is called a marginal seat I would be seriously worried about the state of the registers.
All the problems that I have mentioned can be eased by information placed on a card for everybody to see. We have heard about the possibility of secret information being put on the card. There will be a great divide there, even among supporters of a compulsory card system. Should the card carry only basic factual information or should it carry other information on magnetic tape? Instead of a kidney donor card, people might want to put on the identity card that they are willing to donate their organs in the case of sudden death. It is difficult to put all that information on the card unless magnetic tape is used, and that will need to be discussed. I have not made up my mind about that, but I am suspicious of it and it is not intended as the Bill stands. I would put more on the identity card than my hon. Friend suggests in his Bill.
What rational person could oppose the Bill? It will be opposed by many Opposition Members. I find it astonishing that Members of the Labour party, many of whom I admire, should oppose compulsory identity cards. The old philosophy of Socialism was to take from the person with ability and give to the person with needs. That requires information—more information than Conservative philosophy requires. The Opposition would need to know who people are, their income and everything else. It is not my job to help the Labour party, and I draw attention to the fact that in Brondesbury, in Brent, the Labour party lost a seat yesterday. I am sorry to upset Opposition Members, but they may have lost that seat because they are losing touch with their people.
§ Mr. John Patten
I apologise for interrupting my right hon. Friend in full flow, but I am curious to know who defeated the Labour party candidate in Brondesbury.
§ Sir Rhodes Boyson
I am sure that the Minister would like to know the party more than the name, but I can give him both. I will give him additional information, just as additional information can be put on identity cards. The party that won by nearly 400 votes and took the seat from the Labour party was the Conservative party, of which I and my right hon. and hon. Friends are proud to be members. The Liberal party came second and the Labour party, which has fallen on evil days—I am trying to help it to return to the purity of its early beliefs—came third, just ahead of the Green party.
§ Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, particularly as we pair with each other—
§ Mr. Sedgemore
As the right hon. Gentleman is so worried about what is going on in the Labour party, may I report that I have just returned from Pontypridd and everything there is super, smashing, stupendous, wonderful.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. This shows clearly that one temptation leads to another. Let us now get back to the Bill.
§ Sir Rhodes Boyson
I do not want to be led astray by the hon. Gentleman. I wish to help him, but I must get back to the Bill. I have some other good thoughts which I can offer the Labour party on another occasion.
Some people oppose the measure on libertarian grounds. My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) may do so. But what liberty? The liberty that I am concerned about in my constituency is the liberty to travel safely on the Northern Line after 9 pm, to visit tower blocks and for the people inside them to leave them in safety, and to walk the streets in safety. That liberty is under threat in our society.
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett
My right hon. Friend makes the same point as my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell). No hon. Member who supports the Bill has yet told us how identity cards will help to improve freedom and individual liberty by supporting law and order. There is certainly no evidence of that from 1952.
§ Sir Rhodes Boyson
My hon. Friend is probably more aware of what happened in 1952 than I am. Perhaps he will enlighten me as to what happened then. The fact that everybody will have to carry an identity card with their name on it will in itself deter. Deterrence is much better than punishment. I offer that to my hon. Friend as a title for a speech.
I will explain why I feel so strongly on this issue. As recently as 1 February the headlines in the Evening Standard were:Women in Fear on City Trains.That is why the Guardian Angels have come on to the Tube. Vigilantes move in when security disappears. People give the Government the right to provide law and order in 1283 society, but once that breaks down they will take their defence into their own hands, and rightly so. It is an old political philosophy and we are near it. There is a strange coincidence in the arrival of the Guardian Angels and the number of police that I have seen on the Tube in central London. In the past fortnight I have seen six, whereas in the past year I have seen none, so the Guardian Angels have already done something for law and order. 1 have never met any of them and I have no designs on becoming one, although I am a guardian angel to my constituency.
§ Mr. Bennett
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain how a card will solve the problem? Does he expect a mugger to stop and show his identity card?
§ Sir Rhodes Boyson
I have tried previously to explain this to the hon. Gentleman. I have a high regard for his intelligence, and he, too, is a northerner. I always find his speeches fascinating and interesting in every way. I pay him every tribute, although it may damage him in his constituency.
The fact that people know that they carry a card which identifies them will deter. My research suggests that 10.14 per cent. will never go on the streets again once they have a card. That is a major statistic. It is a personal one, as nobody has done the research but myself, but I have no doubt that that would be the case.
On 12 January the Evening Standard said that more than one third of women in one area of Tower Hamlets are now carrying weapons for self-defence, as are many men. I will tell the House of three incidents in Brent. An 81-year-old woman returning from the sales in January this year was mugged, left with two broken limbs and died. A disabled spastic 23-year-old with limited use of his legs had his special bicycle broken for the third time while he and his father were paying their weekly visit to the grave of his mother. On Christmas eve, an 83-year-old woman was kicked and punched and had her £15 taken from her when she visited her husband's grave, as she always has done on the eve of Christmas. Even her posy of flowers was taken.
Those are just three incidents, but they bring horror to everyone living round about. If we ignore this great concern, we shall ignore something that is strongly felt, certainly in inner-city areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North has already referred to the mother and daughter who died in Camden because they had literally made their home into a castle. Two people in Stockwell died because of the defences built into their home to stop other people getting in.
§ Mr. Cohen
Such cases are horrendous and appalling, but I cannot see how an identity card would make any difference because criminals would not carry an identity card. Identity cards could make the position worse. A criminal could steal an identity card and gain access to peoples homes on false pretences. Those cases would be made more rather than less likely.
§ Sir Rhodes Boyson
The hon. Gentleman talks about people changing their identity. Both he and I have done it in a hairy sense in our lives from time to time. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) is also 1284 part of the secret hairy club in the House of Commons. A criminal would have to be clever to steal a card with a photograph which looks exactly like him. He would have to search for a long time and that would keep him out of mischief for many years. Obviously, there would be a line across the photograph to authenticate it. Perhaps that would be the answer. A criminal would have to spend his whole life going round the country. By the age of 65 he would have a free ticket to do that, and perhaps only then would he find somebody with an identical photograph. The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point.
What do the people at the bottom of the pile think about this? There is no point asking people who are driven around and live in salubrious areas. We need to ask what the grass roots think. I understand that a survey on truancy in schools is being carried out by a member of the noble House. I do not mean noble House in the Chinese sense, but the House that approximates to ours. If that survey asks not class teachers but headteachers what is happening, it may as well be burnt. Headteachers hoping for promotion will never say that there is trouble in their school until the day after they retire. We must ask the classroom teachers.
It is the same with the police. It is no use asking the chief constables. We must ask the constables on the beat in downtown areas. The 120,000 members of the Police Federation overwhelmingly want identity cards. Like me, they believe that this will help. Indeed, the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) may ultimately come to believe that himself. We should also ask women. The Townswomen's Guild passed a resolution at the last general meeting for identity cards to be introduced to combat increasing problems of law and order. Mrs. Jean Ellerton, the national chairman, said:We had to have identity cards during the War because of the danger of Fifth columnists. The malaise of violence in our society is like a Fifth column, another enemy within the state.Old-age pensioners suffer more than anybody from the fear of going out as they lose the ability to defend themselves. Mrs. Dorothy Rhodes-that is a good name and I shall repeat it in case any hon. Members missed it—[Interruption.] I will speak to the hon. Gentleman privately. I must not interrupt: my speech because of his sedentary remarks. I will save the time of the House by telling him afterwards if there is any relationship. Last year, Mrs. Dorothy Rhodes, president of the Conference of Old Age Pensioners, said:Crime for the elderly is a very great fear. Fear is a killer. and imprisons pensioners in their homes, and something must be done to make them feel safer.All of us carry credit cards—indeed, some people carry them like medals that they have won in the war. The wife of one self-employed building contractor told me that those contractors have to carry cards containing a photograph, signature and national insurance number. Those cards are issued by the Government and have to be renewed every three years, having been signed by two inspectors. I know that I must not go into the issue of which of us change our appearance or whether we may lose our identity, but if one of those contractors grows a beard or his whiskers fall out because he sits up too smartly in bed he has to get another card signed by two inspectors. The regulations covering those people are tight.
1285 If that is done to ensure that we are not exploited for our money, surely something must be done to ensure that we are not exploited by crime.
My case is not based on the idea that secret information may be held on an identity card. Throughout Britain there is a great fear of sudden violence being inflicted on people going about their business. That fear is felt especially in inner-city and downtown areas. The legislation is one attempt to help. Right hon. and hon. Members who oppose the Bill, as is their right—I recognise the integrity of their views—must propose alternative legislation to lessen people's fear. The opponents of the Bill have asked us what it will do. I wait for any of them to tell me what magic formula they can produce to bring safety to the people who come to my constituency surgery about the problems on the Chalkhill estate and in other areas.
I welcome the Bill because it offers the beginning of a debate on safety and on law and order in inner cities. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have experienced the problems. We believe that identity cards will assist considerably, and I welcome the beginning of a debate that will continue for several months.
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)
I oppose the Bill on grounds of principle and utility. I do not believe that my hon. Friends who support it have looked into the background to the previous two national registration schemes as closely as they might have done and seen the problems then.
It surprises me that Conservative Members—we are united in our philosophy—who opposed and scrapped national registration in 1952 and who belong to a party which had a bonfire of controls and wanted to set the people free, should lead the campaign to bring back such restrictions. National identity cards are a profoundly unBritish idea which would lead to increased power of the state over the citizen. We must start from that position and ask ourselves whether what is suggested in the Bill is likely to improve law and order. If it is, is the price that we will pay in individual freedom worth paying? If it is not, should we have the Bill?
The history of national registration started, not in the second world war, as my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) said, but in 1915 during the first world war.
§ Mr. Bennett
I should like to progress a little into the history of national registration.
Compulsory registration for people between 15 and 65 was introduced in 1915 and affected some 25 million people. The legislation made it clear that it would lapse as soon as the war ended, and it did. During the second world war, similar legislation was given a Second Reading in one hour and 18 minutes on 4 September 1939, and 46 million people came under the subsequent regulations. The legislation remained in place until 1952, when a Conservative Government, freshly elected to office, scrapped national registration and the national identity card as one of their first actions.
One can get a flavour of the period from reading the debates on the issue in 1945, 1947 and 1950, when 1286 Conservative Members repeatedly tried to pass Bills to scrap national identity cards. Aneurin Bevan, the Minister of Health, said:The National Register also renders valuable services to the Ministry of Food and the Board of Trade in connection with rationing of food and clothing, and to the Ministry of Labour in connection with the administration of National Service (Armed Forces) Act, 1939, and the Registration of Employment Order, 1941. Considerable use will also be made of the National Register for the purpose of bringing into operation the new scheme of children's allowances. The register has also proved valuable in re-uniting families which had been separated owing to evacuation and other incidents for the purpose of tracing individuals whose claims under the War Damage Act, 1941, have not been satisfied owing to their whereabouts being unknown, and in various other ways of benefit to the individual concerned."—[0fficial Report, 6 December 1945; Vol. 416, c. 2497-8.]One can almost smell snoek and spam in that justification. I especially like the reference to using the card after the warin various other ways of benefit to the individual concerned.Not one of the reasons why we had national identity cards during and after the war is now valid. I cannot believe that we wish to set up a bureaucracy of the size expected and made necessary under the Bill merely to ensure that some people feel free from fear. They would be no less likely to be attacked.
§ Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe)
My hon. Friend has given a fascinating history from 1915 to 1952. Would he like to continue that history into the next 37 years, with the serious social and economic problems created by the crime wave? Of course that did not just happen in this country. The Bill must relate to the history of the past 37 years, not to the history of the years between 1915 and 1952.
§ Mr. Bennett
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I shall return to the issue of the card's utility and the grounds on which I feel that it will not do any good in improving law and order. The evidence of the crime wave, which continued after the war, shows that national identity cards did nothing to prevent crime. There is no evidence from other countries that it did.
§ Mr. Ralph Howell
How can my hon. Friend say that, because the cards were abolished in 1952, no good could have been done? My hon. Friend cannot prove that. We do not know whether the crime rate would have been as great as it is now had we continued to have those cards. Will my hon. Friend address himself to what he would do to stop the increase in crime—or does he feel that it is at an acceptable level?
§ Mr. Bennett
My hon. Friend says that the fact that the crime rate continued to rise during the second world war and in the 1950s and 1960s is not evidence that national identity cards did not work. I cannot see from the figures that those cards had any effect on the crime rate in those years, because it continued to rise. All the evidence from countries with national ID cards shows no diminution in crime.
I should be happy on another occasion to debate with my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North the nature of crime and law and order. There is a plethora of measures that we might take, and which the Government have already taken to combat crime. I do not think that the national ID card had any effect on law and order. The bureaucracy involved and the cost of the measure are out of all proportion to the effects of the card on crime.
§ Mr. Waller
Was it not significant that our right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) said that he would wait with interest to hear about some magic scheme from those who oppose the national identity card? Does that not reveal that the Bill's proponents see this is a magic scheme which will in some way solve all the law and order problems about which so many people are worried?
§ Mr. Bennett
My hon. Friend is right. That is why hon. Members who oppose the Bill have questioned the Bill's proponents about how they envisage old ladies living in council blocks in Camden being made more free and safe because they have to have a national identity card. For a start, we know that the first thing that criminals will do is to find a way around it. We will have a black market in identity cards. It is important to detect the criminal. We can carry all the cards we like in our pockets, but, if we cannot catch the criminal, it will not make any difference. Detection is all important.
§ Mr. Bennett
I shall not give way at this point. I wish to continue my remarks.
I shall examine the principles underlying the Bill and where we should start. I start on the presumption that the state does not have the right to force the citizen to register his or her movements and that the citizen has the right to privacy.
It is up to the proposer and supporters of the Bill to come forward with such compelling and overwhelming reasons why the basic, long-held and cherished liberties of the individual and of English and Scottish law should be removed. The state—that is, the legal embodiment of society in the form of the Executive, the legislature and the judiciary—must be seen as a system of restraints on the activities of the individual, justifiable only insofar as it protects his or her freedoms and rights. The law should aim to provide a system of restraints which, although limiting freedom in some respects, maximises overall freedom. John Stuart Mill, who was not a Conservative but a classical liberal, in "On Liberty" in 1859, wrote:The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection.Later, I shall deal with how the Bill measures up to the principles of liberty and how effective it will be in practice in achieving what its proposer has claimed. Would its overwhelming utility justify an increase in the power of the state? From what I have heard from him, I do not believe that my hon. Friend has made out that case.
It is worth reminding ourselves of the reasons the Conservative party fought so hard to abolish the wartime identity card. W. S. Morrison, who was later a Speaker in the House, in the debate on the Emergency Laws (Transitional Provisions) Bill 1947-that has a nice period flavour about it—said:On general principle, and without going into the overriding temporary necessities, the idea should be that a free-born member of the community is entitled to go without let or hindrance in his own realm. He should not be under the necessity of proving his identity or of producing a document to vouch that he is an ordinary British citizen.He concluded:We should do as much as we can to simplify life, and restore it to its ancient freedom, and absence of formality. We should restore to the citizen the dignity of his rights and 1288 privileges, without the necessity for the production of a piece of paper to prove who he is."—[Official Report, 20 November 1947, Vol. 444, c. 1429-31.]That was the view of the Conservative party after the war, when the national emergency and the reason for having identity cards had gone. In 1950, Chuter Ede, the then Labour Home Secretary declared:The National Register and the identity card are something alien to the English way of life and I hope also to the Scottish way of life".—[Official Report, Standing Commitee A, 27 June 1950; c. 55.]My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary brought the argument up to date in his speech to the Conservative political centre conference last week, when he said:I am sceptical of the State pushing too far in seeking to restrict individual liberty. There have been calls to ban completely the private ownership of firearms, or to legislate against amusement arcades in the hope that this will somehow induce financial responsibility amongst teenagers. The la test fashionable medicine for our social ills is the compulsory identity card. There are some arguments in favour of it, though its usefulness would depend on what sort of information was included. The more information you include, of course, the greater the dangers of error, abuse and excessive State power.Having discussed the underlying principles, I will refer to the Bill and examine what is proposed. The 57 per cent. of the population who my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North said were in favour of the Bill will get the greatest shock. I suspect that this will lead the majority to revise their opinions about the usefulness of the Bill.
The Bill proposes that everybody aged 12 years or over ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom shall be in possession of a valid identity card.
The Bill applies to first-year pupils in secondary schools. They will be required to possess and carry an identity card and be subject to the criminal law if they do not do so. Also, 48 million people, if they are not in possession of a valid identity card, will find themselvesguilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3"—that is, £400—on the standard scale.That is in clause 1(3). Clause 1(4) states:A constable, if he has reasonable grounds for doing so, may require any person who is in a public place to produce his identity card for examination so as to enable the constable to ascertain its validity.No sign is given of what constitutes reasonable grounds. The proposer of the Bill has failed to give any guidance on that point. There is no schedule listing the grounds that might constitute reasonable grounds. Are we to await case law or internal police or Home Office memoranda? It is difficult to think of any ground that could not be made reasonable under the clauses of the Bill.
§ Mr. Ralph Howell
I explained that the intention behind the Bill as drafted, whether or not it is properly drafted, is that the law will remain the same as it is now. If he has reasonable cause to do, a constable may ask any person to identify himself. That is an easier means of identifying oneself than at present.
§ Mr. Bennett
I do not agree with my hon. Friend; I challenged him on that point earlier.
I now refer to present police powers. The Bill will increase such powers, which we got rid of in 1982 when we abolished the sus laws. One has only to look at the way in which some high-profile chief constables use the road traffic Acts to operate in effect, random breath tests. 'The constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, 1289 North is a classic example. Between 19 December 1988 and 1 January this year. Norfolk police administered 2,872 breath tests on "reasonable grounds", and achieved a success rate of 1-1 per cent. Having tested 2,872 people, they caught 33 drivers.
§ Mr. Pawsey
What about the deterrent effect? People know that checks are taking place. That reduces the amount of drinking. That is an important point which my hon. Friend should take into account.
§ Mr. Bennett
If my hon. Friend compares the accident figures for Norfolk with those of Northumbria, where there is a 65 per cent. success rate in apprehending drunken drivers, he will see that there is no difference in the accident rate in counties in which the police breath-test thousands of innocent people and in those where they test people who they have reasonable grounds for believing are committing an offence of some sort. We must be careful how we extend police powers when we already see high-profile chief constables who want to make a name for themselves already using the law to its maximum, and sometimes appearing to go beyond their powers.
The police in Norfolk managed to get it wrong in 98.9 per cent. of cases over Christmas. What confidence can my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North have that they will not operate similar swoops on pedestrians doing their Christmas shopping in Norwich to check the validity of their identity cards?
§ Mr. Bennett
We have seen chief constables going over the top in setting up road blocks around the country and breathalysing people. Clearly, with the 98.9 per cent. failure rate, they are not doing so on reasonable grounds. I do not have my hon. Friend's confidence that, if the Bill is enacted, chief constables will not use the powers in the Bill for all sorts of things, such as swoops on supposed burglars. We already see it in car stops, and we can see it being done to pedestrians.
§ Sir Rhodes Boyson
Breath tests are presumably to stop drunken drivers. My hon. Friend drew a parallel with Christmas shoppers and said that the police will stop them. Presumably Christmas shoppers will not knock people over because they are drunk; if they do, behaviour in his part of the country must be very strange.
§ Mr. Bennett
My right hon. Friend misses the point. Norfolk police, who have the worst breath test success rate, are stopping thousands of innocent people. Northumbria police are managing to stop more drunken drivers, despite having breath-tested only just over 200 people. If Norfolk police did their job more effectively, they might catch more people. The breath test figures show how different police forces use their powers.
§ Mr. Ralph Howell
My hon. Friend's figures are nonsensical. He has not mentioned the success of Norfolk police in reducing accidents over Christmas.
§ Mr. Bennett
I have read the accident figures and there is no truth in what my hon. Friend says. The accident rate in Norfolk is no better than the rest of the country. I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport 1290 a question about the figures specifically to ascertain what they showed. Clearly the methods of the Norfolk police are not a deterrent.
The powers of chief officers and police constables are being abused by some for high profile purposes. Whether they are effective is another matter, but I fear that under this Bill the same abuses will occur.
What will happen if Mrs. Bloggins does not have her card when a constable wishes to ascertain its validity? What questions will he ask to ascertain its validity? Will he ask, "Is this your photograph, Mrs. Bloggins? Were you really born in 1941? Are you sure that you still live at this address?" If Mrs. Bloggins does not have her card when a constable stops her, under clause 1(5) she will be not only guilty of an offence but a constable in uniform may arrest without warrant if he reasonably suspects that she has committed an offence under clause 1(3). I remind the House that clause 1(3) forces Mrs. Bloggins to carry her card.
Supporters of the Bill may argue that I am being unfair to Mrs. Bloggins and that she has a get-out in clause 1(5) should she be foolish enough to forget her card. Clause 1(5) says:Provided that if within seven days after the production of his identity card was so required a person produces the identity card at such police station as may have been specified by him at the time its production was required, he shall not be convicted of an offence under this subsection."Hold on," says Mrs. Bloggins, who is a qualified lawyer and unlike her friend, Mrs. Sniggins, has followed the Bill through its meandering subsections. "What about clause 1(3), which makes it an offence not to be in possession of a card? Is that not still an offence, even if I have been relieved of my criminality in not producing it for a constable under clause 1(4) if I go to the police station within seven days?"
We are putting thousands of people at risk. For the technicality of possessing an identity card, we shall be making them into criminals and liable to fines of ?400 and the option, under certain subsections of the Bill, to up to six months' imprisonment.
§ Mr. Whitney
My hon. Friend is painting a harrowing picture of the harassment and persecution of Mrs. Bloggins under clause 1(4) and other subsections of the Bill. My hon. Friend fears that Mrs. Bloggins would be harassed, but has he any evidence that in France Mme. Leblanc has been similarly harassed? I suggest that there is no evidence of that.
§ Mr. Bennett
It is not compulsory to carry an identity card in France. A person merely has to give an officer his identity. Many abuses occur in France—the French police are not noted for their gentleness. If my hon. Friend thinks that the French police deal with the French public courteously and tactfully and demand their identity cards with complete correctness, he has another think coming.
§ Mrs. Maureen Hicks
My hon. Friend is making grave accusations about the police. Is he saying that the police will stop Mrs. Bloggins irrespective of whether they genuinely believe that she may have committed a criminal act?
§ Mr. Bennett
My hon. Friend has obviously led a sheltered life. I have been stopped when driving my car on a number of occasions-I cannot claim to be such a fine, upstanding member of the community as my hon. Friend 1291 the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) or my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson). The police operate road blocks to stop motorists and say, "Is this your motor vehicle? May we have a look at your tax? Would you mind getting out of the car, sir, and may we look in the boot?" They do not have reasonable grounds when they stop the motorist, but they will be prepared to justify afterwards their "reasonable grounds" for stopping him.
§ Mr. Bennett
I do not object to occasional road blocks to try to track down burglars. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) is implying that road blocks do not take place. My hon. Friend must live in a different world from the rest of us, who experience this from time to time.
It is right that the police should have certain powers, but Parliament and the public should ensure that they do not overuse them or use them in a way that Parliament did not intend. Anyone who believes that, from time to time, individual officers do not abuse their powers and that officers do not go over the top is kidding himself. We must be careful to ensure that we do not give opportunities to the bullying policeman to use powers on members of the public for no good reason.
What bureaucracy will be needed to implement the provisions in respect of cards on Mrs. Bloggins and the rest of our constituents? Clause 2 says that the Home Secretary will make arrangements for the preparation and issue of the necessary forms and instructions to comply with them. I hope that he does not employ the author of the explanatory notes for income tax forms. He is instructed to issue cards, to give out new ones on production of a fee for lost cards and will prescribe the particulars to be put on the cards. Mrs. Bloggins's age will appear on the card. Do my hon. Friends remember the problems with people's ages appearing on drivers' licences? The Bill will make it compulsory for people to show their age on an identity card.
§ Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)
The poll tax legislation comes into operation in Scotland this year. Everyone who fills in the poll tax form will, unlike the position in England, be required to give their date of birth. That has caused concern and trouble to the Scottish authorities. No one can understand why it is necessary, and not only women but men have objected strongly to having to give their date of birth.
§ Mr. Bennett
I take the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. The community charge information will be private and will not be published under the identity card system, people's ages will be public knowledge. Great care has been taken to disguise people's ages on their driving licences.
Some of my hon. Friends are suggesting that the community charge information should be on the identity card. The Government have given specific promises that that will not happen. Information given about the community charge will be privileged and kept confidential. To place that information on an identity card would be a breach of the undertakings that have been given. 1292 The Home Secretary will prescribe the material to be used in the fabrication of the cards and will give information for dealing with cards of deceased people.
An enormous state bureaucracy will have to be set up to administer the scheme, presumably involving local offices. Some 48 million people will be required to register initially. In an answer to a question that I tabled, my hon. Friend he Minister of State, Home Office said that it would cost £350 million to set up the system. Quite a few district hospitals could be bought with that money. It is further estimated that it will cost between £50 million and £100 million to run.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us how many policemen on the beat we would get for that sort of money? Many Labour Members have been pressing the Home Office that in areas such as Greater Manchester there should be more policemen. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that more patrolling policemen would be better than having identity cards?
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett
Working on the basis that one police officer costs about £20,000,50 police officers would cost about £1 million. The hon. Gentleman can work out how many police officers ?350 million would buy.
Some hon. Members may claim that the Home Office has inflated the figures. Let us look at the costs and staff of the National Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre and the Passport Office. Neither registers as many names and addresses as would be required under national identity card registration. The annual running costs of the DVLC, with 6.6 million valid licences issued in the last year for which we have figures, was £21 million and there were 915 staff. The total number of licences issued is 27 million, which is over 20 million fewer than would be necessary under the Bill. The number of passports issued is 2,418,000 and there were 2,100,000 visitors passports. The cost for that was £42.9 million. The number of staff in post is 770 and the establishment is 923. One can see that the Home Office figures are not far out on the Bill. We are considering £350 million to establish the system and £50 million to £100 million to keep it running.
§ Mr. John Patten
Is my hon. Friend aware that t he Home Office's calculation of the total cost of approximately £350 million for a compulsory registration scheme is based on comparative costs drawn from the Passport Office, where about £7.50 per passport unit is generally the cost?
§ Mr. Bennett
I had noticed a similarity in the figures when I was looking at the passport figures and I am glad that my hon. Friend can bear out that assumption.
Clause 2 requires the citizen to notify changes of address. The average person moves every seven years and 10 per cent. of the population have been in their present home for less than a year-that is 4.8 million people. A further 6.7 million people have been at their present address for between 12 and 36 months and another 5.7 million, or 12 per cent. of the population, have been at their present address for between three and five years. If one adds the number of new cards that would halve to be issued on change of name, and if we assume a 2 per cent. loss rate, which is lower than that experienced by the clearing banks, one can see that there would be almost another 1 million cards that would have to be issued.
1293 One can see the enormity of the Bill. We are considering the issue of 6 million or 7 million cards a year. An enormous bureaucracy would be required and there would be great inconvenience to the average British citizen. Nor would the Bill achieve the aims and utility that it proclaims. Far from assisting with law and order, it would positively hinder it by creating new offences and police powers. It would clog up the courts at great cost and low benefit. It would divert scarce police resources for the enforcement of the regulations. With a loss rate of 2 per cent., there will be almost 1 million cards floating ownerless and many of them will find their way on to the black market, as the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) said. As surely as night follows day, such a market will rapidly be established by the criminal fraternity. Does anyone seriously believe that those who wish, for whatever purpose, to possess fraudulent cards will not be able to do so? The evidence of war-time and post-war Britain suggests that they will be able to possess them. In a Britain of national registration, conscription and rationing of food and clothes, 20,000 deserters remained undetected for years. They lived without difficulty, presumably with black market documents.
The evidence of other countries suggests that identity cards have no effect on law and order. The police have never expressed any difficulty in discovering the identity of individuals whom they have stopped. The evidence is that police officers have no difficulty in discovering the identity of people whom they stop by one means or another. The idea that we have to set up a system costing £350 million and £50 million to £100 million a year to run and a state bureaucracy employing 4,000 or 5,000 people with local offices everywhere, with great inconvenience, merely so that police officers may find it slightly easier to find out who the person is they have stopped is extraordinary.
The implications of the Bill are worrying. It will unnecessarily increase police powers. At present, a police officer can only stop and require a member of the public to give his name and address if the officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that that person is committing or has committed a criminal offence. A police officer can require the driver of a motor vehicle to stop under the Road Traffic Act 1972 or, in the case of an individual arriving at a port, under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984. Police officers are not entitled to go up to a member of the public and to ask for his identity without having reasonable grounds. The Bill will give police officers the right to stop a member of the public to check whether his identity card is valid. That would be a new offence and a new right will be given to the police. Whatever my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North may say, we would be giving the police a new right.
In the Willcock case, Lord Chief Justice Goddard said:From what we have been told by Counsel for the respondent, it is obvious that the police now, as a matter of routine, demand the production of national registration identity cards whenever they stop or interrogate a motorist for whatever cause".He went on to point out the damage that such laws do to police-public relations—a point that must be borne in mind when my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North talks about public opinion polls and the public reaction. Lord Goddard also said:To use Acts of Parliament passed for particular purposes during the war, in times when the war has passed, except that 1294 technically a state of war exists, tends to turn law-abiding citizens into lawbreakers which is a most undesirable state of affairs. Further, in this country, we have always prided ourselves on the good feeling that exists between the police and the public and such action tends to make people resentful of the acts of the police and inclines them to obstruct the police instead of to assist them.We should not go down that road of creating more offences and more reasons why the police will challenge the public and the public will challenge the police.
According to The Independent of 23 January, that view is now shared by most chief police officers. The powers in the Bill to stop an individual in a public place take us back to the sus laws of 1824, which were repealed some years ago as a result of their misuse by a small minority of police officers. Do we want to turn the clock back?
Another major implication of the Bill to which I referred in passing earlier is the attack on the right of the individual to privacy. Privacy, as J. W. Eaton has observed, is one of the personal attributes that most people cherish. Why should British citizens be forced, as citizens, to register with the state and to carry a card containing personal details that they must show to a police officer on demand? It will not stop at police officers. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North admitted as much, as have other hon. Members. Police officers will be the first. Soon it will be traffic wardens and then 101 council officials and other people who have the right to statutory entry to our homes. The information will be passed on to them. I do not believe that people will want to see such officials being given the right to see a national identity card on demand.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) who is a sponsor of the Bill said in the debate on his ten minute Bill on 21 June 1988:Clearly the Revenue and the DHSS will be able to assist on its—the identity card's—production to help eliminate fraud … it will be up to the holder to decide whether he shows the card to private individuals. If he does not, the person asking to see it will be able to draw his own conclusions in the absence of a reasonable explanation."—[Official Report, 21 June 1988; Vol. 135, c. 976.]That underlines the nonsense of those who argue for a voluntary system. How long before the attitude of mind, "What have you got to hide?" takes hold? The individual will find it impossible to be served in shops or to carry on normal business. Does the fact that a date of birth or residence of an individual is nobody's business count as a reasonable explanation?
The Data Protection Act 1984 was passed to protect the rights of an individual whose personal details are on computer. It was passed because of the increasing practice of recording personal data on computer. The Act says that such data cannot be used by unauthorised persons or be transferred between computers. In a letter today, the registrar has warned hon. Members of the serious consequences of the Bill. The Lindop committee on data protection described the use of a universal personal identity system and reported:It would … present a considerable threat to the privacy and perhaps the freedom of the private citizen.It is recommended that UPI should not come in unless there has been special legislation and a committee to examine its purposes.
Finally—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] My hon. Friends may cheer, but I have spoken for less long than my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North and others. The Bill needs to have a reasoned case put against it on 1295 grounds of principle and utility. If my hon. Friends want to examine the utility of the Bill they may do so; I propose to do the same. [HoN. MEMBERS: "When?"] If my hon. Friends had been listening, they would have heard me.
The Bill, with its machine-readable, computer-coded cards and national register would place in the hands of a Government less benevolent than this Government-or even a Government who thought that they were motivated by benevolence—the power to control the basic rights of the individual. The fact that that is unlikely to happen in the United Kingdom is no reason to provide Governments with such an opportunity.
Edmund Burke declared:To innovate is not to reform.Civil liberties are easy to remove but difficult to restore. The Bill is wrong in principle and would be dangerous in practice. It would create a large bureaucracy at an enormous cost to the taxpayer, increase the power of the state to no good purpose, invade the privacy of the individual and create a new criminal offence. It is a thoroughly illiberal and unnecessary Bill and I urge the House to vote against it.
§ Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe)
I am grateful for this opportunity to join others in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) on introducing this important Bill. In an ideal world very few of us—certainly not those of us who regards ourselves as free-born Britons—would tolerate for a moment the idea of identity cards. I therefore have the greatest sympathy with the starting point of the opponents of the Bill. Sadly, however, we do not live in an ideal world. We cannot merely argue that unfortunate foreigners are plagued with identity cards and officious bureaucrats. My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) mentioned the French police, for example. Today's world is very different from the world that we lived in in 1952, when the Conservatives were proud to have a bonfire of controls. Among the things that we got rid of was the wartime national identity card. We need to take account of the changes that have taken place in society and in attitudes. There is no doubt that the views expressed in today's opinion poll in The Times are widely felt. Any of us who regularly speak to our constituents realise that.
First, there is deep concern about crime. None of the supporters of my hon. Friend's Bill can prove that it would result in a significant improvement, but it must be resonable to presume that it would be a major step in the right direction. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) suggested, the deterrent effect must be of great importance in the fight against crime. The Police Federation supports the measure, and I understand that it has now been joined by the Association of Chief Police Officers, which has moved from opposition—or at least, serious doubt—to a position of support for the principle of a national identity card. There is an overwhelming case for taking action that would help in the struggle against crime. My hon. Friends are right that the Government have taken other measures in the fight against crime, but we must recognise that not only in this society but in all western societies crime is increasing, and we must do something about it. We must not ignore the promise that the Bill offers in that regard.
I shall not dwell on terrorism, because I know that many other hon. Members wish to speak and the point has 1296 already been made by my hon. Friends. In addition, there is the fight against drugs. The case for the Bill in the fight against crime, terrorism and drugs seems overwhelming.
I fully appreciate, and am sensitive to, the civil liberties arguments against the Bill. But nowadays we all carry numerous cards and means of identification and they are of benefit to us. Such means of identification would also be of benefit to young people if they had them. Whereas in 1952 we were not accustomed to documentation, we are now completely accustomed to it. No serious, law-abiding person regards it as an infringement of his liberties or a curtailment of his civil rights; he regards it as a benefit and a help, and that is what a national identity card will certainly be.
I entirely understand the sensitivity about police action. As with most things in life it is a question of striking a balance. We do not live in an ideal world, anti some compromises have to be made. We must therefore accept a commitment to carry an identity card with the necessary conditions and potential sanctions available should we refuse to do so.
In the application of my hon. Friend's Bill—or a close approximation to it—absolute safeguards would be essential. The police must certainly not be allowed the powers that have been referred to. We cannot have Mrs. Bloggins being bullied by an officer of the law to produce her identity card or else. It would be up to the courts to establish a body of case law, and only with the greatest care would an officer of the law, with "reasonable cause" in the terms of the Bill, require a citizen to show his identity card.
There are many other advantages to my hon. Friend's proposals. I emphasise the importance of identity cards as we move towards a single market in 1992. This country has enough problems and difficulties in moving towards a single effective European market, such as VAT and all the other issues of which we are well aware. We do not need to construct or leave in place yet one more obstacle, particularly since, if that obstacle were removed, all the other benefits to which I have referred would accrue. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is at best agnostic on the questions of the national identity card, has said that while the rest of Europe can have open frontiers we must retain frontier control because of terrorism, crime and drugs. That is a nonsensical approach. The cause of law and order and the smooth working of the single market in 1992 with all the economic and political benefits that that will bring must be advanced by the implementation of the Bill.
It is worth emphasising, too, the importance of a national identity card scheme for immigration arrangements. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North, pointed out, we have hitherto worked with a system of high external barriers and virtually no control inside the country. That has created a panoply of entry clearance officers and the immigration appeals system that is painfully familiar to the Home Office. Hon. Members on both sides of the House with large ethnic minority communities in their constituencies are also painfully aware of those arrangements.
I accept that recent changes in immigration practice have improved matters but I am still deeply unhappy about the present state of affairs. When the nephew or aunt of a member of one of our ethnic minority communities wants to come to this country for a genuine three-week holiday, phenomenal problems are often 1297 caused simply because we know that, once under net, a person may be in the country for good. If we had an identity card, that problem would be removed. I can say with deep knowledge of my own ethnic minority community that those who are well established here—and, fortunately, more and more members of the ethnic minority communities are firmly and happily established nowadays—realise the benefits of an identity card system, whereas before they did not.
My experience—indeed my knowledge—is that one of the reasons why officials of the Home Office have had for decades a deep seated resistance to an identity card scheme has stemmed from fear of the reactions of ethnic minorities. That fear is no longer justified, and identity cards would be a positive benefit for ethnic minorities. The Government fear, however, that they would be accused of being authoritarian, which critics from the Opposition would be quick to latch on to. I believe that the Government should show courage and not be frightened of being called authoritarian. This scheme is a move in the right direction and will improve our fight against crime.
If I had had any doubts about my hon. Friend's proposals when I came here this morning the pathetic arguments against his proposal would have convinced me that he is right and his critics are wrong. We have heard objections on financial grounds, the difficulties for people wishing to change their name, and allegations that the documents could be forged. Such points cannot stand up to scrutiny. Those were demonstrations of the principle that hard cases make bad laws. They confirm that my hon. Friend's proposal is right. I would be prepared to consider a properly promoted voluntary identity card scheme if a compulsory scheme was too much to swallow. It would remove the Government from their problems with regard to the national football identity scheme.
I have pleasure in supporting my hon. Friend's Bill.
§ 12.2 pm
§ Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)
I can remember the time when it was fashionable to say that we should not introduce so much legislation. We met 35 weeks a year, five days a week, and we were churning out enormous quantities of legislation, and it had to be halted. That was the view which was strongly held by Conservative Members. I must admit, however, that in recent parliaments that appears to have been forgotten, because we are churning out more and more legislation, even under a Government whose party has complained about the amount of restrictions continually being placed on individuals and on companies. We have a duty to look carefully at any proposals for new laws and new restrictions.
Although this Bill has only three pages and six clauses, it requires positive action by every citizen over the age of 12 years. We have heard that 48 million people will be required to do something positive if this small Bill becomes an Act. That is different from most other laws. Sadly, the poll tax legislation requires action, but not, perhaps, by so many people, because the responsible person in a household would complete the form. Before we embark on such a course, we must be satisfied that some benefits will flow from it.
1298 I have listened carefully to discover the arguments in favour of a national identity card scheme. Most hon. Members who support the Bill rest their arguments on crime prevention. They claim that this scheme will help to prevent crime, about which we are all concerned. I cannot believe that. The right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) gave some examples of what has occurred recently in his constituency. Of couse, we were appalled by them, and most of us, even representing constituencies a bit further away from the centre of London, can cite similar examples. We are concerned that elderly ladies are mugged in underpassess, for example, and we want to do something positive about that.
Looking at it with sympathetic eyes., I could not understand what difference identity cards would make in the fight against crime. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) asked if we could expect a mugger to show his identity card. Of course, we could not. Before we can do that, we must catch the mugger. he will not stand around waiting to be asked for his identity card. Indeed, if we caught him, we would not need to ask for his card. He would be taken into custody right away.
§ Mr. Lamond
That is a point, but it is not one that is important in my argument. If I believed for one moment that it would make some difference of reasonable significance to the level of crime, I would accept the hon. Gentleman's proposal. I do not believe, however, that it will help at all.
The right hon. Member for Brent, North said that those who do not believe that this measure would reduce crime had to put forward some alternative "magical" solution. There is no magical solution-certainly this is not one. I believe, however, that there is a straightforward solution. I do not want to go into it at length, but I support the view of those in my constituency and in Greater Manchester—including the police authority, which has written to me asking for my help in persuading the Home Secretary—that an increase in police officers, so that officers will be available to go out on the beat, would be a solution. There has been an increase in the numbers, and I am grateful for that.
§ Mr. Lamond
I understand that the Home Secretary ilas tried to help, but that help was not sufficient. It never is. It is, however, a step in the right direction. That is the proper way to stop the crimes of which we have heard, and the sort of crimes that have caused so much anxiety in my constituency and surrounding areas that several newspapers used my correspondence with the Home Secretary as a basis for their articles. People strongly believe that more policemen on the beat—being seen in the community—would be a deterrent to crime. I do not accept that 48 million of us carrying identity cards would help to prevent crime.
It was said that we had identity cards during the war. It was said that they were to prevent fifth columnists. It 1299 would have been interesting to see how effective this scheme was. Presumably a fifth columnist was someone who came into the country secretly in a submarine in the north of Scotland. If he was ever stopped, the fact that he did not have an identity card would immediately reveal him as a fifth columnist. To suggest that any enemies—in this case Germany—would land spies on our shores fully equipped for their activities, but would forget to give them identity cards is nonsense. It is also nonsense to say that if we had identity cards crime would be reduced. One might as well tie that to the fact that, now many years later, when rationing ended, there was an enormous crime wave. One could argue that if he had kept rationing on until today that crime wave might not have occurred. There is no sensible connection between identity cards and a reduction in crime. I do not believe that it would have any effect on the crime rate. If I thought it would I would be more inclined to listen to the argument.
It has also been suggested that the ethnic minorities and the immigrant population will be helped by the introduction of an identity card. In common with the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) I have a large immigrant community in my constituency—more than 9,000. That community encounter problems over bringing spouses to this country, but the main problem arises when relatives want to visit.
If somebody came and stayed on in the community, how would an identity card help? Let us suppose the police visited one of the areas of my constituency which is largely made up of immigrants and swept through the whole area asking to see identity cards. If the police stopped somebody in the street at random and asked for that person's identity card, and that person—providing that he managed to get the point across—said that he had left it at home, what then? He would have seven days to produce it. He would go off and that would be the last that the police would see of him. That is what happens. I confess that someone came to my constituency after I had persuaded the Home Office to let him in. Within the week the police were in touch with me because that man had been picked up working. I do not want to give away any secrets, but presumbably he got all the papers he needed to obtain a job. If people can do that, they would certainly get an identity card without much trouble.
I do not see any practical purpose in supporting the Bill as it will put tremendous pressure on the population. One can imagine trying to get 48 million people to understand exactly what is required. There would be problems when people changed their name, although I accept that that happens only occasionally. But consider all the hassle involved when people change their address, which happens far more frequently. A study of the poll tax legislation and what is required of people when they change their address illustrates the magnitude of the problem. All of that hassle would be gone through for no purpose or benefit, and for that reason I shall vote against the Bill.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)
1 believe that, following the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond), it would be helpful if I outlined the Government's views on this matter.
So far this has been an excellent debate and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, 1300 North (Mr. Howell) not only on his success in the ballot and on the eloquence with which he commended his Bill to the House, but on the topicality of the subject, which is much due to my hon. Friend's efforts in recent weeks. There has been a great deal of interest recently in the House and elsewhere—one only need look at this morning's press—about the idea of a national identity card. My hon. Friend has given the House a welcome opportunity to debate this issue and we are grateful.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I have had this matter under review for a number of months. Many people have firm views on this subject, as we have heard during the course of the debate. We have received and are continuing to receive many representations on this issue. When considering those representations we should start afresh and we should not have any preconceived notions. We need to examine the merits, the advantages and disadvantages of the scheme, with, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) said, the clarity of a balance sheet. My right hon. Friend gave an excellent and fascinating speech.
There are many elements, for and against, that must be weighed up carefully. In looking at any proposal for a compulsory system of identity cards, there are sonic general considerations—general considerations is a more pragmatic phrase to use than general principles—to which we must pay regard. On the one hand, in the balance of consideration there are the possible benefits to the state through enhanced security and immigration policy, arid enhanced anti-crime activities by the police and society. There could also be benefits to the private citizen, who could acquire a convenient and certain means of easily proving his or her identity for a range of purposes—not just those restricted to police activity on the streets. We must balance those considerations against the disadvantages, such as the cost. We must judge whether it is good value for money to spend upwards of £350 million to set up such a scheme and upwards of £100 million to administer it. Given the problems that the police face we must also consider the additional burden on them caused by enforcing this scheme, as my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North is seeking to introduce a new criminal law.
There is also the possible negative reaction from some members of society to having such obligations imposed upon them. We must balance individual liberties with the needs of the state.
The proposals outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North must be judged by the considerations I have outlined. I shall attempt to weigh up those considerations when I answer his speech and the other speeches made in favour of the Bill. I note that all those speeches have been made by my right hon. and hon. Friends, but such a speech may come from the Opposition Benches later. Heaven only knows, perhaps the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) will stand up and tell us that it is Labour party policy to be in favour of compulsory identity cards. I hope that he catches your eye shortly, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Although I shall consider the details of the merits and problems of a compulsory scheme, the first aspect to which I want to refer and to which a number of right hon. and hon. Friends have already referred, is the practice in other European countries. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North gave us an account of his telephone conversation with the French embassy and apparently 1301 embassy officials thought that the practice in their country was to have a compulsory scheme. I am told that my hon. Friend was given inaccurate advice, and I am not sure to which officials he spoke. There is certainly a school of thought on this issue that asserts that an identity card scheme must be a good thing for this country because so many of our European neighbours have such a scheme.
Identity cards are compulsory in the following countries; Belgium, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg and Spain. There are voluntary schemes in Austria and France—to which my hon. Friend has alluded. In France, the voluntary scheme is, de facto, a compulsory scheme in many circumstances. There is also a voluntary scheme in Italy where the identity cards are hand-written, and in Portugal. Denmark, the Republic of Ireland, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands have no identity card system. There is, however, a lively parliamentary debate currently taking place in the Netherlands about whether to have such a scheme.
Outside Europe, the same is certainly true of Australia, where the issue of whether to have identity cards to help with revenue fraud led to vigorous debates and the eventual withdrawal of a Bill by the Government when it fell in the Senate. There are no identity cards in New Zealand, Canada or the United States of America. Although there are compulsory schemes in Europe, they are not the norm.
§ Mr. Ralph Howell
Is my hon. Friend aware that Denmark has a national register of all residents and that there are identity cards in Sweden—I have seen them—on which it is possible to have a credit card number included voluntarily? When the Minister says that identity cards are not the norm, I must advise him that far more countries in the EEC have a card of some description than do not. Only Holland, Britain and the Republic of Ireland do not.
§ Mr. Patten
I was referring to the fact that compulsory schemes were not the norm in western Europe. I was recording those countries that do and those that do not have voluntary or compulsory schemes—I hope for the advantage of the House—so that we can have the facts before us.
I should like to make two general points to those who urge us to follow the idea of compulsory schemes, such as exist in some European countries, like Belgium and West Germany. First, I am aware of no evidence to suggest that identity cards have been of substantial benefit in tackling crime. That surprises me but I must report it to the House because, needless to say, it was something that we wanted to go into.
Secondly, there is the matter of geography. As we can all appreciate, immigration control at the point of entry presents particular problems to countries with land frontiers. In such countries there is a clear argument for the maintenance of some form of fairly vigorous internal control, in which I freely admit that an identity card system could play an important part. It may be different for us as we have only one land boundary with a foreign state—between the Province and Republic of Ireland.
During the debate much has been made of the benefits that might flow from the introduction of compulsory identity cards. We have heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North and others that enabling the 1302 police to establish people's identity quickly and accurately with such a system would be a useful weapon in the battle against crime in everything from terrorism to mugging.
I shall deal with each of those arguments in detail later but shall now give a list of the major arguments that have been put forward so far—
§ Mr. Whitney
Well, before he does so, will my hon. Friend comment on the European angle of this issue, which a number of us have raised? It must be faced by the Government because they will run into real trouble in 1992 in a number of areas and this would be an unnecessary trouble. My hon. Friend seems to make much of the fact that not all the identity card schemes in European Community countries are compulsory, but the fact is—if he does not know this, his officials should tell him—that the voluntary schemes in, for example, France, are universal in effect. One could almost say that no Frenchman would be seen dead without his identity card. Therefore, my hon. Friend's point is without validity. The reality is that continental European Community countries have identity cards and that has enabled them to move towards open frontiers. If we cannot move towards open frontiers, there will be serious implications for us. Will my hon. Friend comment on that aspect of this issue?
§ Mr. Patten
I welcome the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney). The fact that the voluntary scheme in France is de facto compulsory is something that I specifically stated a few moments ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North. There will indeed be continuing problems—some still to be resolved—about what we shall do at our own frontier ports after 1992. There is an argument about proper freedom of movement within the Community, but there is also the equally proper argument about the fact that a sea barrier, a land port or an airport is a good place at which to try to operate against illegal immigrants and terrorists. My right hon. Friend has considerable problems still to resolve in connection with the European Community on that point.
§ Mrs. Gorman
Does my hon. Friend know whether, in countries with compulsory cards, there has been a marked reduction in crime, drug abuse or illegal immigration and all the other things that we are given to understand are the reasons that the cards would be a good idea in this country? Does my hon. Friend really think that emulating France—renowned for its bureaucratic structures from Napoleon onwards—would be good for us?
§ Mr. Patten
I rather like France so I shall not comment—[Interruption.] No, that is not a statement of Home Office policy, it is a personal statement to the House of Commons. I shall not follow my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) down the road of Anglo-French relations and am unable to answer her question about whether the introduction of identity cards 1303 —compulsory or voluntary—in a number of European countries has had an effect on either immigration or drug issues. I did mention crime earlier in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North. Much to my surprise, I found no evidence that identity cards had reduced crime levels. I would, prima facie, have expected to find some evidence of that, but we have not found it so far. I must report that fact to the House.
Turning from Europe to the United Kingdom it is also claimed that compulsory cards would curb under-age drinking because licensees could demand to see cards in cases of doubt. It is also claimed that they would help to prevent social security fraud and it has been suggested that an identity card would help us in travelling at least within the European Community as it could be used as a travel document.
However, we must consider how useful identity cards would be in achieving the sorts of things that would be expected of them. It would doubtless be quite possible to devise a card that could be used as a travel document. If such a card were to be available to all British residents, and not only to those eligible for a British passport—that is an important point—it would need to state the bearer's nationality or at least his immigration status. It would certainly have to be issued on more or less the same checks and evidence as are required for a passport. The idea of using an identity card as a travel document is interesting. Indeed, the Select Committee on Home Affairs has recommended that a page from the new Euro-passport could be put to that end.
Such a document could also be used as proof that its holder is old enough to drink in a pub, probably more accurately than the apparently forged birth certificates to which the hon. Minister for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) referred as being a problem that is rife in public houses in his constituency. I do not think—and I have taken advice from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security—that it would be much use in trying to prevent social security fraud, because false claims are generally based not on identity but on misrepresentation by individuals working and signing and claiming at the same time.
§ Mr. Patten
Not always, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe, with his experience of these matters, quite correctly observes. [Laughter.] For the avoidance of doubt, as Mr. Speaker would say, I was referring to my hon. Friend's distinguished past ministerial career rather than anything else. My hon. Friend is very quick this morning.
§ Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)
My hon. Friend has just mentioned that he has been advised by our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security that identity cards would not be helpful in this respect. But surely when people are asked to act for others in claiming benefit they are required to provide proof of identity. In this respect, a card would be extremely helpful.
§ Mr. Patten
That is a good point, if I may say so. Pensioners suffer in the same way. When they want to make use of other benefits, such as bus travel vouchers, they are asked to produce evidence that they are in receipt of the state pension. They do not always like to carry their pension books with them—understandably, I think.
§ Mr. Stern
It is indeed.I do not know whether my hon.Friend has had reason recently to go to a post office sorting office to collect a letter that has been impossible to deliver. If he were to do that, he would find a list of about 20 documents, any of which is acceptable as proof of identity. I accept that an identity card could be used, but there is no need for one.
§ Mr. Patten
Different organisations tend to have different criteria. That can have its own problems.
I think the most important consideration for a compulsory system funded by the state is whether such a system would help the state, help the police, help society, to deal with crime. Whilst my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North and others quite rightly pointed to the crime problem facing all west European countries, the good news is that in the last 12 months the crime rate overall in this country has begun to fall. That is because 95 per cent, of all crime is related to property, and property crime, thanks to the efforts of so many active citizens in this country in supporting the police, is going down fast. However, violent crime, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North has pointed out, has continued to increase. I think it is correct to say, for the record, that crime is going down, and not up, and long may that trend continue.
§ Mr. Ralph Howell
The fact is that crime has been increasing year by year. The latest figures are for 1987, and they are higher than those for 1986. Although my hon. Friend is correct in saying that there has been some reduction in such crimes as burglary and theft, the fact is that violent crime is still increasing. A lot of crime is not reported, simply because the detection rate in the case of burglary and so on is so low. Those people are demoralised and are disinclined even to report incidents.
The Home Office is making a very serious mistake if it believes that crime is declining. As I have said, violent crime is increasing, though other types of crime are declining. That is not a very desirable situation, and I must ask my hon. Friend what the Home Office intends to do to solve the problem. I would put the question even if crime were not rising at such an unacceptable rate.
§ Mr. Patten
I must not get drawn into too wide a discussion lest I fall foul of your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would say only two things in response to my hon. Friend. Clear-up rates for violent crime are very high. Ninety-six out of every 100 people suspected of homicide are, in fact, found. In the case of crimes such as robbery and rape, the rate is between 70 per cent, and 75 per cent.
My hon. Friend puts forward an important point about possible under-reporting of the true amount of crime. I think we shall have to rest our argument until we have the results of the British crime survey, which attempts to go into these issues in great detail. We shall have those results within the next three or four months.
I shall now try, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to make a bit more progress in looking at the importance of compulsory schemes in dealing with crime, and whether we think it a good idea to introduce them.
1305 I am not aware of any evidence that the abolition of identity cards in 1952—my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) took us through the history of that—made the work of the police more difficult. Historically, there is no clear evidence that the crime rate increased, either. One might expect some empirical evidence of that, but it is not shown by the statistics of the time. That may be because, as experience suggests, the main task of the police lies in apprehending criminals, not identifying them once they are apprehended. This is an important issue and one that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North was quite right to raise.
It was for this reason that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary wrote to the Association of Chief Police Officers towards the end of last year to seek an up-to-date opinion. Its view was that, although a compulsory scheme would have some advantages for the police, there would also be disadvantages. There would only be a real advantage if people were required not merely to present identity cards but to carry them at all times and produce them on request.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
If chief constables were given a choice between a national identity scheme and all the cost that that would involve, and extra policemen, I can almost guarantee that they would settle for the money being spent on extra policemen.
§ Mr. Patten
We did not put that question to the association and I am not sure that all chief constables always have the same attitude to every issue.
It may be argued that if the introduction of identity cards is of any use at all, however marginal, we should introduce them because of the problems of crime. However, that would be to ignore some cogent contrary arguments.
We must not forget that we are talking not about the introduction of an identity card scheme but the reintroduction of a scheme that lapsed well within living memory. The national registration system adopted on the outbreak of war in 1939—as my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke said—included a requirement that an identity card should be carried and produced to a police officer on demand. The system survived the war, but, in time, the power of the police to demand that citizens should show their identity cards came to be resented very strongly. The resentment of one citizen led to the celebrated case of Willcock v. Muckle, in which the divisional court strongly criticised the police for demanding to see cards purely as a matter of routine. My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke referred to what Lord Chief Justice Goddard said on that occasion. Not long afterwards, identity cards were abolished.
It is true that many people, including some who have written to the Home Office, take the view that as respectable citizens they would be quite content to carry identity cards. It is entirely reasonable to say that, but it is illogical to attempt to move from that to the idea that only those with something to hide will object.
If I were a criminal with half my wits about me, going out bent on crime in the evenings, I would make certain that I had my identity card with me. If I were stopped, I could then prove my identity and move on, apparently lawfully, down the street to carry out illegal pursuits.
1306 As at least one of my hon. Friends has shown today, it is likely that some people who value their liberty as British citizens to move unimpeded throughout the United Kingdom would resent the imposition of compulsory cards. Others, including members of ethnic minorities and young people, might feel that if they were asked to produce an identity card on demand the state would look at them with unwarranted suspicion. I am sure that the police service would not gratuitously seek—as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North thinks and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North feels—to require the production of identity cards. However, it would not be surprising if the fact that they were around fanned the flames of suspicion—often unnecessarily—that that would happen. That could have a rather corrosive effect on relations between police and some sections of the community, however wrongly based the fears were.
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
Would the Minister not agree that some years ago research that was highlighted in the debates leading to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 showed that the law of sus, the casual stopping of people which happened several hundred thousand if not a million times a year, caused great resentment against the police? Would that not occur again if we had national identity cards and police stopping people and asking questions?
§ Mr. Patten
The hon. Gentleman is correct. That research showed that there was resentment.
We have gone as far as we need to go with the cost argument. I have laid the costs of the compulsory scheme in front of the House. Many people would think that those costs produce uncertain benefits and their uncertainty means that the scheme would face vigorous and sincere opposition. Some Members have spoken about a poll produced by Public Attitude Surveys Research. I hope that the people interviewed in the poll mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North and who are recorded as being in favour of a compulsory scheme, will reflect on those uncertain benefits.
A survey published today by Public Attitudes Surveys Research shows that some groups would resent having to carry identity cards. The survey showed that groups among whom the opponents of national identity cards outnumber supporters areethnic minorities, people in Scotland and inner London, readers of the Guardian and, to a less marked degree, readers of the Independent.Many of my hon. Friends would regard the last two facts as a clinching reason for voting in favour of the Bill. It is significant that the survey says:Among those interviewed from an Asian or Afro-Caribbean background, 65 per cent rejected the idea of a card.That shows the difficulties and it would be foolish not to recognise them.
§ Mr. Atkinson
The Minister has said that cost is one of the reasons for not introducing an identity card scheme. What thought has been given to inviting those who already issue plastic cards, principally the banks, to discuss whether the kind of information in the Bill could be included on those cards together with the bank's own information? That could be done at no cost to the state.
§ Mr. Patten
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have given considerable thought to that matter and I shall come to it later when I look at the pros and cons of voluntary identity cards.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
My hon. Friend spoke about the police view and said that the Association of Chief Police Officers has said that cards would be advantageous only if they were carried all the time. What is the Government's view of the possibility of carrying cards all the time as I understand that that is not proposed in the Bill? Under the terms of the Bill a citizen would be required to produce his card within seven days, as he is required to do in, for example, the case of a driving licence.
§ Mr. Patten
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. The Asssociation of Chief Police Officers said that it would only be helpful in the battle against crime if people had to carry compulsory identity cards all the time and were obliged to produce them. The association did not think that a system that allows someone to say, "I will produce it later at the station, guv", would help the police in the battle against crime.
I shall now deal with representations that we received about a voluntary scheme. That may assist my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson). The basis of a voluntary scheme would be an official identity card that would be issued on request. Since there would be no obligation to carry one, there could be no plausible objections to it on civil liberty grounds. The civil liberty argument, which I respect, is against being compelled to carry a card. On the other hand, there can be no such argument against the freedom to carry such a card if one wants to.
I have pointed out that a compulsory system would cost the taxpayer a lot of money. The viability of a voluntary scheme would depend on whether it is attractive enough to be self-financing and for financial institutions to put their money there. We would not want to run such a scheme with a substantial Government subsidy.
While a voluntary scheme is unlikely to have much to offer in the way of improved efforts against crime, for immigration control or even as a travel document it may bring some benefits to the private citizen. I have already mentioned that a compulsory identity card could be used in a suitable format as a travel document. A card introduced under a voluntary system could serve the same purpose and in principle replace the British visitor's passport, as the Home Affairs Select Committee suggested.
Then there is the matter of under-age drinking. The Licensing Act 1988 tightened control by making it a strict liability offence to serve people under 18. I am pleased to report that, as a result, many more publicans are demanding proof of identity. Both the Home Secretary and I welcome local voluntary card schemes which have been developed under the aegis of the National Licensed Victuallers Association, theMorning Advertiser and the National Association of Licensed House Managers. These schemes seem to be working well.
It has also been suggested that an identity card scheme, whether compulsory or voluntary, could help in banking and retail transactions. That may have been behind the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East. That must be a matter for the commercial judgment of the banks and retailers involved. It is for them to decide what value any national voluntary 1308 scheme would have for the reduction of fraud. As yet they have made no representations to this effect, although I know that stamping out fraud is much in the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North and my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North.
§ Mr. Waller
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is interesting that credit card companies have rejected the idea of including a photograph on credit cards because of the difficulties involved? Does that not also show that the concept of having a photograph in a national identity card scheme will also involve difficulties, such as those mentioned earlier in the debate?
§ Mr. Patten
My hon. Friend is on to a good point. There may come a time when with the present rate of growth of credit card fraud it is no longer a business expense which businesses can bear. They may want to think about photographs. Hitherto they have rejected the idea of photographs on credit cards.
§ Mr. Bermingham
Does the Minister agree that to have an identity card which contains the photograph, residence, signature and everything would facilitate fraud? Bearing in mind that people age, the card could be used even more effectively in a fraudulent transaction.
§ Mr. Patten
That is an open question. I see the hon. Gentleman's point, but a tightly run scheme, which would be extremely expensive, could help. It is a matter of judgment. That is a reason why I welcome today's debate.
A voluntary scheme would not be successful and self-financing unless a substantial number of members of the public would find the cards sufficiently useful to be worth paying for. The key question—this is central to the whole issue of voluntary cards—is whether there are many situations in which people have problems proving their identity and would be saved difficulties or delays if they bought officially issued identity cards. The answer to that question resides in what is on the card.
Another question is what information could in practical terms be recorded on the card, as the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish pointed out. In that respect, modern technology issues a wide and ever increasing range of technological options. There are not just strips on the backs of cards; there are now smart cards—rather a good name, generally, for the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). The hon. Gentleman is not in his place, but I hope that someone will draw that remark to his attention. Smart cards contain silicon chips, which can record an enormous amount of information. We need to take account of the opportunities without allowing what can be done to take precedence over what should be done. Whatever else happens, we should not allow any of the debate about identity cards to be driven by the availability of technology, because important matters of principle must be considered.
§ Mr. Shersby
My hon. Friend has referred to the existence of smart cards. Does he agree that they are the ideal cards for those people who voluntarily wish to carry cards containing details of their medical history and so on which can be made available in an emergency? This kind of card will appeal to many people who are interested in the idea of an identity card for that purpose.
§ Mr. Patten
I suspect that, in years to come, whatever happens to the debate about identity cards, some 1309 commercial companies will decide to offer to the public a smart card which can record all sorts of information on a voluntary, opt-in basis. My hon. Friend is right again.
I have said that the Government consider that the costs and penalties attached to a compulsory scheme outweigh its benefits. It would, however professionally and impartially administered, carry risks for police relationships with the public that they serve, and we must consider that point. It would be very expensive and the state would have to pay for it. The Government are not persuaded that a compulsory scheme should be introduced.
A voluntary scheme is another matter. Certainly, the less complete its coverage, the less useful it would be to the state. On the other hand, it might have some benefits to the public and, therefore, might well become self-financing. But, as Mr. Speaker says in this place, for the avoidance of doubt I had better make it clear that only a self-financing scheme would be of any interest to the Government at the moment. AsThe Times said in today's leader,a voluntary scheme is at least worth more intensive Home Office study and public debate.Today's Second Reading provides a good opportunity for that debate to begin.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I would like to consider further the pros and cons of a voluntary identity card scheme—all the points which have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North and others during the extremely interesting debate held so far. We should like to report back to the House in due course.
§ Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)
This has been a useful opportunity to debate the issue of national identity cards. We should be grateful to the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) for having given us that opportunity, if for nothing else.
The debate has not really started, although there has been growing interest in identity cards over the past couple of years, for two obvious reasons. First, with 1992 and the advent of the single European market, the concept of a Europe without frontiers has obviously been of interest. We have been told emphatically by the Home Secretary, however, that—whatever else happens—the United Kingdom will maintain its frontier controls, so the attraction of national identity cards in this country is obviously diminished.
The second argument seems to have taxed hon. Members' minds this morning. Crime has undoubtedly grown. In some ways, it is an indictment of the Government that so much criticism has come from their own Back Benchers about the fact that crime has been increasing. We have heard much today from the something-must-be-done brigade. Having listened to the contributions of many hon. Members, it seems to me that the idea that something must be done has led them to endorse this scheme.
I accept that the hon. Member for Norfolk, North is against crime. So is everybody else—I have yet to hear anyone say that they are in favour of it—but it is surely wrong to suggest that the national identity card scheme proposed in this Bill in particular is an aspirin that will solve the problem of rising crime. It is interesting that the Minister should say that in most countries in which national identity cards have been compulsorily introduced 1310 the crime rate has not diminished. That seems to kill the arguments of those who advocate the scheme today. I cannot understand that there could be any doubt about that. We should ask not what identity cards will do because the great problem is detection. Police officers will tell hon. Members that their big difficulty is not knowing whom they have caught, but catching somebody in the first place.
§ Mrs. Gorman
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the police audit report that has recently been produced? It states that only 10 per cent, of our police are actually engaged in chasing and catching criminals, and that 30 to 40 per cent, are in motor cars driving around the streets. It is an extraordinary document and well worth reading.
§ Mr. Darling
I am not sure that the pattern is the same in every police force. Some chief constables, such as the one in my area, have taken substantial steps to put more officers on the beat and have fewer officers engaged in tasks that are not particularly productive.
Identity cards, whether compulsory or voluntary, will not assist the free movement of people in Europe or the detection of those suspected of having committed offences. We must look at the merits of the proposed scheme.
These days, there is a curious fascination with plastic cards. Much information can be put on a little card. As we have heard, to introduce a compulsory or voluntary identity scheme would be to open a door that would not be capable of being closed. The right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson), as his contribution wore on, added more and more to the list of what might be added to a little plastic card. Those who support the introduction of such a card would reduce every man, woman and child in this country to a number to be programmed at will. The idea that every individual would have his or her life story on a little metal strip on a little plastic card is objectionable. The universal personal indicator—that is what some people call such numbers—on a card could include an individual's medical history, work progress, financial status, what he did, where he did it, and where he was stopped. All that information could be revealed by passing a card through a computer terminal. That is a great step, and I should be reluctant to take it.
§ Mr. Pawsey
Despite what the hon. Gentleman said, the figures show that 57 per cent, of the population are in favour of the card. How does he reconcile that with the card that he is outlining?
§ Mr. Darling
I shall refer to that point in due course. As I said, the debate has only just started. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, when the Government introduced their proposals for the poll tax in England and Wales, the majority of people thought that they were a good thing. When they found out what they are about, the majority thought that they were a bad thing. As the debate on identity cards proceeds, more and more people will come to the view that their disadvantages will outweigh any advantages.
§ Mr. Ralph Howell
Why does the hon. Gentleman suggest that it must be a plastic card? Nothing in the Bill states that it is to be a plastic card. I have been at pains to explain that everything on the card should be readable by the person who holds it. If there is a space on the card for voluntary information, it would be filled in at the request of the holder.
§ Mr. Darling
The hon. Gentleman suggested that the card should be capable of being read. I am sorry that I misrepresented him. If the right hon. Member for Brent, North has his way, it will be a formidable card as more and more information is added. If the card is capable of being read and, therefore, the information is typed on to it or put on in some other way, the risks of fraud will be greater. The hon. Gentleman might like to visit the immigration and nationality department at Harmondsworth, which deals with cards that are suspected of having been in the hands of somebody who had committed fraud. I visited it earlier this week and saw six French identity cards, only one of which was genuine. The rest were clever forgeries, but it had taken a number of scientists a long time to establish that. The more one relies on traditional methods, the greater the risk of fraud.
Once one opens the door, it is easy to understand how abuses set in. At the press of a button, someone in Government can programme the card to be acceptable or unacceptable in any given circumstances. Doors can be opened and closed. We all know that if one presents an Access card to a garage it can be checked before credit is given. It does not take a great mind to realise that the same could happen with an identity card if it were decided that access should be denied to a certain category of people.
In Malaysia some years ago cards were colour-coded blue for nationals, brown for convicts and other colours for those who had offended against the political beliefs of the Government. It is not difficult to appreciate that the technology exists to programme cards in that way. I am not suggesting for one moment that that is what the hon. Member for Norfolk, North wants, but the imagination of one or two of his Back Bench colleagues might run riot at the possibilities open to them.
What is the problem with crime? Is it identification or detection? The police tell us that it is detection, so national identity cards will not assist.
The Bill proposes a compulsory scheme. I understand that the Government are not prepared to rule out a voluntary one, but both have their difficulties. There is a world of difference between choosing to carry bankers' cards or identity cards to get into libraries and the introduction of a compulsory identity card scheme. The difference is that we choose to carry those other cards. When one considers a voluntary scheme, one must bear in mind the example of bankers' cards. There is no legal requirement that one must present a bankers' card when cashing a cheque, but it might as well be compulsory because as far as I know, with the exception of the post office in the House, no-one will accept a cheque without a bankers' card.
If a voluntary scheme were acceptable, it would have to have all the panoply, complications and expense of a compulsory scheme or it would not work. No one would accept a national identity card unless there were confidence in the scheme.
Those in favour of the scheme say that people could be easily identified. That assumes that the police will stop people and ask them to produce identity cards. The police say that the scheme would work only if they were allowed to do just that.
§ Mr. Bermingham
Does my hon. Friend agree that clause 1(3) is rather silly? Suppose my hon. Friend visited the seaside to go swimming on a warm summer's day. Would he be expected to carry his identity card as he goes 1312 fom the car to the seashore? Perhaps his wife would be expected to carry her card. That is the sort of silliness that appears in the Bill.
§ Mr. Darling
That is a problem. If I were minded to swim in the river Forth, I might want to carry a card as I might not be confident of emerging from it because of the chill of the water and the pollution. Someone might nip out to buy a Sunday newspaper and be confronted by a constable asking for an identity card. That person will have to visit the police station within seven days to produce it, which is objectionable and will not lead to good relations.'
It is instructive to consider the case of Wilcockv. Muckle. A motorist was stopped because he was suspected of speeding and asked to produce his driving licence. He was asked also to produce his identity card. He refused because he considered that the police did not need it and knew who he was. The constable wanted to see it because he had been used to asking for it. That is precisely the situation that I foresee arising if the identity card system is to work. The police say that if it is to work they will have to do just that.
The cases most commonly cited by the hon. Member for Norfolk, North and by the right hon. Member for Brent, North are those in which a group of young people gathers in the street and causes bother. The difficulty there is getting hold of the individuals concerned, not of finding out who they are. Most of us who have experience of such matters know that although a person detained on the street may initially refuse to say who he is, during discussions in the police car on the way to the police station he will generally come to the conclusion that it is better to say who he is. The police still detain him to check up because although they have the person's name, they want to be sure who he is.
The right hon. Member for Brent, North gave several harrowing examples of people who were the victims of terrible attacks, but he should ask in how many cases attackers have been detected and brought to justice. Speaking as a Member of Parliament in whose constituency 25 per cent, of the population are pensioners, the problem is not a question of identity. The most common problem is that somebody comes to the door and shows a card of some sort to the pensioner. The pensioner admits the person and is then robbed. The police never find the people concerned unless they stumble across them in some other circumstances because they do not know where to start looking. As the Minister has said, the assailants will carry identity cards because they know that if they are stopped they will get into trouble if they do not have them, but they will never leave their identity cards at the scene of the crime to assist in detection.
The Association of Chief Police Officers, whose members should know about this issue, readily recognises that there are pros and cons and that the case is not proven. The association said to the Home Secretary that if he wanted such a scheme he would have to make the case for having it. The example has been given of the sus laws and the difficulties and ill-feeling that can be caused. Public support is important.
Several hon. Members referred to a poll today. The debate has only just started, so it is not surprising that many people, when asked whether they would like identity cards, can see the advantages because they think about their own bank cards. It is interesting to note that there 1313 were two groups of people in which the majority were against identity cards. One group was the ethnic minority population. That is not surprising as a great deal of evidence shows that they are the victims of being stopped, searched and questioned by police far more than other people. Their experience has led them to believe that with identity cards the problem would continue and might become worse.
The second group is one that I know something about—people living in Scotland. The reason why they are against identity cards is simple. Because of the controversy about the poll tax, most people in Scotland are very much aware that the Government have attached to us all an individual identifying number. They are aware of the arguments, whether practical or relative to civil liberties. Because Scotland has been used as a laboratory for the Government's poll tax plans, public awareness there is far greater than it is in other parts of the country. But just as awareness of poll tax problems is growing in England and Wales, so, when the debate gets under way—if it ever does—on identity cards, public perceptions will change. If Scottish opinion is anything to go by, I hope that opinions will change in other parts of the country and will result in a change of Government in this country.
The case is not proved in respect of 1992. When speaking to immigration and nationality officers earlier this week, they told me that they preferred frontier controls because the alternative would be to go into areas demanding to see identity cards and that would cause difficulties, which we would wish to discourage. Another question to be considered is the status of the information on the cards. The Home Secretary is even now having discussions with his opposite numbers throughout Europe with a view to including common information on immigration and nationality statistics. I can imagine a situation in the future when an immigration officer in Greece might consider that somebody is not to be admitted to Greece and that refusal might be good for the rest of Europe, even though if the person presented himself for whatever reason in the United Kingdom a different decision might have been taken.
There are all sorts of different standards of information, and different prejudices and criteria are applied. While I was at Harmondsworth, I was shown a computer containing more than 3,000 names of people who had had some sort of adverse comment made on them by immigration officials. They are not people who have wrongly applied to come into this country or who have wrongly been refused; they are people who have merely come to an immigration official's attention. Hon. Members can imagine the sort of difficulties that we would have if we were dealing with 45 million people—and potentially 200 million people throughout the EEC.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
Is my hon. Friend aware that the use of that information is a serious matter and that immigration officials have recourse to that computer? They can use it against individuals seeking to enter this country merely because an adverse comment has been made on an earlier visit although nothing illegal has been contemplated or done.
§ Mr. Darling
I can do better than that. When I visited terminal 3 at Heathrow the name of someone seeking to 1314 enter the country appeared on the computer screen. An officer kindly showed me how to key in the right information. The officials thought that there might be an inconsistency. I did not stay very long in that department. As I was leaving Heathrow so, too, was the gentleman, so it could not have been a permanent problem. He was admitted as a visitor, I understand. That illustrates the difficulties that are likely to arise when one is dealing with prejudice, or with the interpretation of a given set of facts by an individual who has the power to put information on to a computer. If that information can then be transmitted in connection with a compulsory identity card scheme further difficulties are likely.
Hon. Members have referred to terrorists and drug traffickers. Does the House seriously imagine that someone seeking to bring heroin or cocaine into the country or intending to blow up property or individuals would make the mistake of coming here without identification? Such people will have identity cards, and good ones at that. The cards might not belong to them but they will pass muster at most ports of entry and will be acceptable to a police officer seeking to ascertain whether an individual is who he says he is. In any case, under the Bill—even if the terrorist or drug trafficker does not have an identity card he can say, "If you bear with me, I will come back in seven days with one." Seven days later he will either have obtained an identity card or, more likely, have disappeared.
There is a risk of forgery and a flourishing black market. What price a little card that can tell the whole story of a person's life? I am sure that the Economic League and similar agencies would love to get hold of such information.
The scheme would create a vast bureaucracy—an industry of identity. The passport office is struggling to do its job, but there were delays last year and more delays are predicted this year. We know of the formidable problems at Lunar house, which deals with a comparatively small number of people. Apparently it will be 1990 before Lunar house clears the backlog of mail that it had accumulated 18 months ago.
§ Mr. Bermingham
Bearing in mind the fact that computer hacking has become a prevalent crime, my hon. Friend can imagine the type of information that fraudsters could extract from such records. That is a serious point.
§ Mr. Darling
My hon. Friend is right. It came as a shock to many of us to hear that even the Ministry of Defence computers had been penetrated on two occasions. Although the Minister of State told me that it was low-grade information and that security was not threatened, it was nevertheless information on a Ministry of Defence file. A computer containing information on 40 million people—goodness knows how much information on each—would be a paradise for hackers and for anyone who could get the information legally or illegally. What would happen if the system were privatised? Knowing the present Government, if it could be privatised it would be privatised. The temptation to sell or make available the information would be formidable. We must bear in mind that the police computer is also vulnerable and open to unauthorised use.
It is common knowledge that private investigators, many of whom are former policemen, can speak to their ex-colleagues on the old-boy network and discover 1315 information that ought not to be revealed. That is happening day in and day out, throughout the country. The police national computer will be a mere abacus compared with the computer required to administer the national identity card scheme.
The Minister has mentioned the experience of other countries, but I believe that it is sufficient to say that the evidence is that most other countries do not have a compulsory identity card scheme. A minority have some sort of identification scheme, but in most cases it is voluntary.
Perhaps enough has been said about this. The Bill has sufficient flaws to condemn it as it stands without going into the wider issues that it raises. For instance, on the one hand it makes it an offence for somebody not to be in possession of a valid identity card, but on the other there is a saving provision that one has seven days to produce it. I understand why there is that provision, but it appears to defeat what the sponsors of the Bill say that it is intended to tackle. For that reason alone, I believe that the Bill should not receive a Second Reading.
This is not a time of war or rationing. The scheme appears to be another example of interference in our right to choose to be private and not to be interfered with by the state. The supporters of the Bill have failed to prove their case. The disadvantages far outweigh any advantages. Indeed, it is difficult to see what the advantages might be. The supporters of the Bill have not tackled the question of crime detection. On that matter, I can do no better than to endorse the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), who said that if £350 million were available to set up this scheme the money would be better spent employing police officers to go out on the streets and tackle some of the problems which have understandably been raised by hon. Members. The Bill is further evidence that some Conservative Members have a latent fear of the people of this country and that they would like further to extend controls on what those people do and where they go.
The Bill fails on its merits. I fear that it is a grand and useless gesture. For that reason, I urge hon. Members to vote against it, if it comes to a Division.
§ Mr. David Evans (Welwyn, Hatfield)
I congratulate the Minister on his balanced summing-up of the matter so far. Important and necessary changes can often be made in short Bills. The most significant arguments can often be most effective when put as concisely as possible. Contrary to some of my hon. Friends, I shall keep my speech short and to the point.
I believe that the arguments in favour of this Bill are compelling and can be simply put. Today, in virtually every sphere of our activity, we are required to produce some evidence of identity. As car drivers, for example, we can be required to produce our driver's licences. To obtain a passport—itself an international identity card—we must produce our birth certificates. To gain benefits, to collect parcels from the post office, or to cash cheques via a third party, we are expected to provide some form of identity. There are excellent reasons why proof of age should be presented, for example, by young people drinking in public houses or by youngsters attempting to buy cigarettes. It should not be left to landlords or shopkeepers to guess customers' ages. That is imposing on them an unnecessary 1316 burden. Many young people who are old enough to drink in a public house probably already carry some proof of age, so they would welcome this opportunity.
The need to carry some form of indentification has already been demonstrated. Most people already carry some form identity. I wonder how many hon. Members are carrying some form of identification—perhaps a driver's licence, a printed name card, a cheque guarantee card, a credit card or a kidney donor card. We require servants of the House to carry a House of Commons identity pass.
A requirement that each citizen should carry a national identity card would not be a dramatic shift from the present position. The right to privacy, which critics of the Bill regard as a basic right, is given up the moment that citizens become active members of society. I believe that the introduction of a national identity card scheme would be welcomed by most citizens. A telephone poll by TV-am last week showed that 69 per cent, would be in favour of the scheme. Nearly every newspaper has had a poll on national identity cards in the last day or two and it was found that the average number in favour has been 57 per cent.
Such a card would be extremely convenient. I have noted the arguments against having a smart card, but several cards are unnecessary. The information required could be on one bar code on a single card. The cost of issuing and maintaining that card would be offset by the savings derived from not having to issue so many other official forms and documents. I understand that £350 million has been quoted as the likely cost of issuing such a card. I believe that £7 per person is a cheap price to pay for the sense of security given to those who wish to go out at night who will then feel that they are properly protected against those seeking to make their lives thoroughly miserable.
§ Mrs. Gorman
Does my hon. Friend truly believe that people walking the streets with identity cards will no longer engage in mugging? Does he truly believe that such cards will stop such criminal behaviour?
§ Mr. Evans
No, I shall not.
I believe that we could have a commercially sponsored identity card and I do not see why it should cost the Government anything.
The Football Spectators Bill has nothing to do with a national identity card and there are fundamental reasons why the two are incompatible. On timing, there are no firm Government proposals for a national identity card and, first, important questions of principle need to be resolved . Football hooliganism, however, already exists and we must deal with it now. A national identity card is different from a football club membership card. A national identity card would be issued by a Government Department or an agency. Its purpose is to prove the carrier's identity, not to grant him admission to a football ground. A football membership card, unlike an identity card, can be withdrawn. A national identity card would not remove the need for most of the provisions contained in the Football 1317 Spectators Bill. We would still need equipment to check membership cards, procedures for withholding or withdrawing such cards and for licensing the grounds. The commercial opportunities of the national membership scheme, for example the marketing of football membership lists, would not be available with the national identity card. A national identity card would not separate the bully, the coward or the criminal from the football fan but without a membership card, one would not be a football supporter. The criminal understands that.
The carrying of a national identity card would contribute to a more law-abiding society. We would find out how many illegal immigrants there are in the country. Almost immediately one would stop the thousands— contrary to what the Minister said—of people who draw social security benefits illegally. Publicans would be able to verify the age of drinkers and shopkeepers verify the age of cigarette buyers. The police would be able to check the identity of those they reasonably believe may have committed or are about to commit an offence. The carrying of such cards would also save lives as people could be asked whether they wanted their donor number placed on it.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that people's political views should be added to their cards, together with information about their relationships, their friends and their marital status?
§ Mr. Evans
No, I shall not give way.
As the Association of Chief Police Officers has recognised, a voluntary scheme would have too few advantages to make it worthwhile. This is an important, clear and necessary Bill and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) on introducing it. I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
There are two ways of approaching this issue. One is the serious and philosophical side of whether identification cards are important. The other way—
§ Mr. Corbyn
The other way is to approach it like the hon. Member for Welwyn, Hatfield (Mr. Evans) did.
§ Mr. Bermingham
Yes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has just said, the other way is to approach it from the attitude of the previous speaker, the hon. Member for Welwyn, Hatfield (Mr. Evans), who looked at the practicalities of this issue. I propose to look at both aspects.
1318 I shall turn first to the philosophical side. We are supposed to live in a democracy and in freedom. We are supposed to have the right to choose. However, where people feel that the state knows best and that nanny knows all the answers—whether we approach this from the Left or the Right—the history of this century provides two ghastly examples of the results. There is the Stalinist approach, that the state must know everything about every human being, or the Fascist approach of Hitler, that the state must know every single thing about every human being. Extremist Left and Right always seem to meet at that point philosophically. The circle is squared at the point at which it is decided that there must be a national identification system so that every citizen is registered. Everything would be recorded: where one lives; where one went to school; who one's mother and father were; where one went to university; where one has worked and one's record of work. All would be recorded on the state's computers. Of course, in the past, there were no computers so the information was kept on files, but it would be on computer now.
That Orwellian sense—that 1984 concept—where the human being is not an individual but part of the machinery of state, to be ordered, checked and spied upon—is, in a philosophical sense, what identification cards are all about. I am sure that no hon. Member would agree with that sort of philosophical approach to members of society. Whether we are on the Left or the Right of the political spectrum, I am sure that none of us want that Orwellian concept of the ultimate state control. It is anathema to all of us. Therefore, if one approaches the Bill on that philosophical level, one says no to it because it would be one more step down that road. In this day and age we must be careful that we do not go down that road, because in a world of computers and electronic recording, it is all too easy for information to build up slowly and for the Orwellian concept of lack of freedom to develop. We must guard against that at every touch and turn.
I do not want to delay the House for long, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I know that many hon. Members wish to speak. I shall turn now to the purely practical side of this issue. The more I listened to the hon. Member for Welwyn, Hatfield, the sadder I became because every reason that he gave for a card was totally impractical. Am I to understand that a card would stop the mugger in his tracks? Would he approach his intended victim, card in hand, saying, "Gosh, it's me. Here's my identification card number."? Of course not. Would a card stop a thief breaking into a house and would it somehow make him leave his number behind to aid his identification? Of course not. The only thing that a thief would use his plastic card for would be to open one's Yale lock. The card would be efficient in that respect—that is, if he had the card with him. As has already been said, the position would be similar to that for driving licences—one would have seven days to produce it.
If someone is going out to be a naughty boy in the dark of the night the last thing on earth that he would do would be to put his card in his pocket. He would not put anything in his pocket that could identify him, because if he were to leave a jacket or any piece of clothing behind, that is the sort of thing that the police would be likely to find.
Let us be realistic. Will the card stop fraud? I intervened earlier—it may have appeared amusingly—to suggest that the photograph on the card would be the easiest way to increase fraud. No matter how much we do not like it, 1319 nature has a cruel trick it plays on all of us: we get older, and as we get older we may begin to look uglier, or more beautiful, depending on how age takes us. Certainly we change, and, as the French have found, for the purposes of forgery, changing photographs is really quite easy. Of course, a forged card could be created in no time at all. All the details suggested for the card, such as address, sex and date of birth, would make it very easy to go to a bank and pretend to be somebody else. An ordinary photograph could quite easily be made to look like an identity card photograph of somebody else. This would facilitate fraud, not hinder it.
On the question of photographs, consider the purely practical side. As we age, we will naturally want to have our photographs changed. For example, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have you ever looked at a passport—not your personal passport, but somebody else's? The number of people who deny that the photographs in their passports are good photographs of themselves—the passports having been issued perhaps 10 years ago—is enormous. We all change with the passage of time.
As someone who many years ago served on the Committee that dealt with the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, I know, from the very detailed investigations that were carried out, the response of citizens to stop-and-search proposals. It was found that across the Metropolitan area there were, I think, one million stop-and-search cases in one year. Intense resentment built up amongst the younger community against the police force—something that was totally counter-productive. One can just imagine how many people are going to be asked for identity cards and be told to turn up in seven days. Think of the enormous waste of police time. Are we going to get little slips like the ones that are issued when driving documents have to be produced? Just think of the cost in terms of manpower.
What would happen if one were to lose one's means of identification? Again, think of the cost. What would happen if one changed one's address, or if one changed one's looks? There are people in this world who change the colour of their hair artificially. All of that would mean that cards would come and cards would go.
The more one reads this Bill—the more one looks at the practical side—the more one realises how costly the scheme would be, and the less useful it appears. I cannot see a single valid reason for the introduction of these cards. If a publican wants to know somebody's age, let him ask that person. The same thing applies to a shopkeeper. If a police officer wants to know somebody's address, let him ask that person. That does not take very much time. We do not need £350 million of expenditure. Above all else, we do not need to start going further down that philosophical road to the point where the citizen ceases to matter and only the state counts.
§ Mrs. Maureen Hicks (Wolverhampton, North-East)
I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) on his chosen subject. Though I do not think he is here at the moment, may I say that this is an important private Member's Bill. He has provided us with an opportunity to debate an important and topical issue and, in so doing, has shown the country that he recognises the widespread feeling in support of his measure. He has also obviously given the Government 1320 great encouragement to look rather more closely at the subject than they may have done so far. I have to express slight disappointment that we have had to resort to a private Member's Bill because of the reluctance of the Government to introduce legislation of their own. I am quite sure that, in time, they will amend that situation.
This is a controversial subject, and one of increasing national interest, but regrettably today we have heard evidence of an awful lot of negative thinking on the subject. In advocating the need for a national identity card, I am not acting out of some deep-rooted desire to play at being big brother—or even big sister—as those opposed to this Bill may try to imply. It is quite simply a practical response to the constant need in modern society to identify ourselves for whatever purposes.
I listened with interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), who presented a fictitious scenario involving a Mrs. Bloggins. I could not help thinking that I could see nothing in his argument. I cannot, for the life of me, see how a request that I carry a card stating my name, address, and what I look like, is in any way whatsoever a restriction of my individual liberty.
Judging from the numerous representations that I have received from my constituents who live with the daily stresses and strains of inner-city life they see no restriction either. They say, shrugging their shoulders, "An identity card for us—so what's the big deal?" Such is the attitude of normal, peace-loving and law-abiding citizens, the 57 per cent, of whom The Times leader writer speaks todeiy. They recognise that identifying ourselves in 1989 has become a way of life which most of us accept without question.
We live in a sea of identity cards and can do increasingly little in society without using some form of identification. I used to think that it was only Americans who suffered from that problem, but we have followed suit. Our wallets and purses are positively bulging with little cards, but no one queries that. However, simply suggesting one more little universal card has all the freedom fighters up in arms—that is madness.
The point has been made several times this morning that from morning until night we can do virtually nothing without a card. I cannot drive my car to work unless I have a compulsory driving licence. I cannot fill it with petrol unless I have a cheque card to cover the cheque. I cannot—along with 10,000 other employees—enter the Palace of Westminster unless I have a photo-identity pass. I cannot go to the doctor without a medical card. I cannot even pay for a dress—hon. Gentlemen cannot pay for a suit—that costs more than £50 unless I have two forms of identification.
§ Mrs. Hicks
I shall not give way to my hon. Friend, who had an opportunity earlier to make her point. We are short of time.
The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn)—who is no longer here—and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) said that they would object to carrying identity cards. However, it is interesting that they do not object to carrying the card they need to get into Parliament. We are in danger of creating double standards. By adding one simple universal card to our wallets, we could eliminate the need for many of the rest. Some may jump up and down and argue that the card will 1321 be an invasion of our privacy and will restrict us. However, today, the restrictions are already in place—whether out of choice or necessity.
Across the water, where many of us take our holidays, I am sure that we would agree that we have never been conscious of any dictatorial regime. As we move towards 1992, which is less than three years away, and we pride ourselves on removing barriers and encouraging greater freedom of movement—that could lead to drug-running and terrorism—we find ourselves in the United Kingdom in a distinct minority.
We are one of only four of the 12 member countries of the EC who have no official identity scheme. That makes a mockery of what the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said when we discussed this matter in connection with a ten-minute Bill last year. He suggested that:The introduction of identity cards is a wholly undesirable practice, far more associated with dictatorships than with democracies."—[Official Report, 21 June 1988; Vol. 135, c. 977.]Does the hon. Gentleman know something about Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Spain, West Germany, France, Italy and Portugal that we do not? I suggest not.
In recognising that five of the European schemes are compulsory and three voluntary, I am mindful of the Home Secretary's consideration of a voluntary scheme. But I regret that, for once—I hope that the Minister will convey this message to him—I cannot agree with my right hon. Friend's sentiments. If the national identity card scheme is to work successfully, it must be comprehensive. The very people who need to be identified are the ones who would choose not to participate in the scheme. Those of us who have been teachers know that that is a little bit like the voluntary open evening at school. Parents of good children tend to come but parents of naughty children, the ones who need to be seen, do not turn up. Does any hon. Member genuinely believe that the lady in Brent who this week was given £20,000 of taxpayers' money by Brent council to open a burger bar would have applied for a voluntary identity card knowing for 13 years that she had been an illegal immigrant? I am sure that she would not.
§ Mrs. Hicks
People who have most to hide would not apply for a voluntary card. If we do not act now in favour of a universal approach we shall be in great danger of having piecemeal legislation to control football hooligans, under-age drinkers, under-age users of gaming machines and goodness knows who else. Costly separate schemes could in time be rendered completely useless by one comprehensive national scheme.
Already in the west midlands publicans have had to take the law into their own hands, and on 6 March 200 pubs in Brierley Hill, Stourbridge, Halesowen and, soon, Wombourn, near my constituency, will have a scheme to identify under-age drinkers. Both the police and the licensees say that the scheme will save aggravation. I can see it snowballing. In an emotive debate such as this there is a danger that those who oppose the Bill will engage in scaremongering. We have had some of that in the debate and it is done to try to sensationalise the powers of the 1322 police and to make them sound like our natural enemy. People use phrases like "police state" to try to put the fear of God into us all.
The case for ID cards should be kept in perspective. It is interesting to talk to people who have held identity cards and who speak from first-hand experience of their days in the war. Recently, one of my constituents spoke to 40 such people at the annual general meeting of the Stafford branch of the Dunkirk veterans' association. They all agreed that they would love to see a compulsory identity card scheme. Many of them said that they would feel safer carrying cards and thought that the only people to complain would be those who had something to hide. It is interesting to note that some of those veterans still carry their wartime identity cards. They do so, because, they say, if anything happened to them they could be easily identified. That was an interesting remark in view of the recent tragic spate of transport tragedies. Much time and heartbreak could be avoided if, as a result of carrying a universal card, every victim could rapidly be identified and the next of kin notified. I would go further and suggest that cards should contain not the metal strips that the scaremongers talk about, but details of blood group and indications of a willingness to donate organs.
The flag-waving civil liberties fraternity is not truly representative of the interests of the majority. The Opposition will probably vote against the Bill. I should like to see more interest by the Opposition, and I say to those who oppose the Bill that they should not let their suspicions misguide their appraisal of the benefits of such a scheme. Civil liberties groups tend to look with great suspicion on the subject of identity and see it as somewhat sinister, with cloak and dagger overtones, as if everyone is out to trap them. They talk of restricting the rights of the individual, but it is precisely because I want to protect the rights of the majority of my constituents who want to live in peace and harmony that I support the Bill.
The carrying of a small innocuous card will help us all to prevent crime and terrorism. At the same time it will convey practical everyday benefits and the majority of law-abiding citizens will have no objection to that. They would believe that we as Members of Parliament were acting responsibly in representing their best interests, and they would applaud our initiative.
§ Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) on introducing the Bill and stimulating debate on a subject which is of intense public interest. The proposal certainly has a sizeable majority of public support.
I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Hicks) has said. Those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear from the proposal. I find nothing to quarrel with in the first two subsections of clause 1. That identity cards should be issued does not seem offensive. We already have a national medical card, a national insurance card and several other documents such as a birth certificate. One more in the form of an identity card does not seem offensive. However, there I part company with some of my hon. Friend's proposals.
In recent months we on the Home Affairs Select Committee have had the opportunity to talk to many police officers of varying ranks, not only chief constables, but senior police officers and constables on the beat. I can 1323 speak only for myself, but it is my impression that, while the police generaly see advantages in a national identity card scheme—there are advantages—many draw the line at the sort of proposals—almost stop-and-seach proposals—that my hon. Friend suggests. There is a grave fear that the imposition of this request may lead back to the bad old days when the police undoubtedly lost the genuine support of the public, which they need to do a difficult and dangerous job. They were simply carrying out the duty that we in this House had imposed on them. That would be sad and we need to think carefully before we return to those days. There is a considerable case to be made for a facilitating document.
It has already been said several times that everybody in this House carries an identity card. When I was working for the BBC I carried my identity card. Members of the written press carry National Union of Journalists members' cards. In a written reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement made it clear that not only all members of the armed forces but all civilians working within armed forces' bases carry identity cards. Many people working in private industry carry indentity cards. Indeed, to get into a Labour party conference one must have an identity card.
We are now talking about introducing identity cards for entry into football grounds. Pubs are introducing identity cards to identify, not under-age but over-age drinkers. We frequently need an identity card for the Departments of Health and of Social Security, and some form of identity is needed to acquire a student travel card. Before long we shall need some form of identity card to travel even within the European Community.
In its fifth report the Home Affairs Select Committee addresses the subject of the British visitor's passport and I should like to place on record what we said.We continue to have grave doubts as to the security of the British Visitor's Passport. Despite the new precautions against forgery mentioned by Home Office officials, the BVP is widely regarded as a low-grade identity document. In the United Kingdom, it is not recognised as proof of identity by the Department of Social Security, for instance, and overseas it is regarded with disfavour by the immigration services of many countries, not least in the European Community. Although it may not be practical to withdraw or replace the BVP at present, due to its obvious convenience at a time when standard passports cannot be obtained without some delay, we recommend that the Home Office give urgent consideration to the withdrawal of the British Visitor's Passport as soon as the computerisation programme, which will allow for a five-day service for issuing standard passports, is fully operational.The Select Committee continued:We further recommend that consideration be given to the issue of the back page of the new United Kingdom passport as a voluntary identification document to facilitate travel within the European Community. Such a document might also serve to replace the growing number of cards now being issued by football clubs, public houses and other private establishments for the purpose of identification.The Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler), asked:Would it not be better, both in the interests of the travelling public, in the wider interests of the country as a whole, to have a travel document that was universally well regarded and paid for in any event by the consumer who purchases that document and one in which we could all have confidence?
The deputy secretary responsible for immigration and nationality, Mr. Hyde, said: 1324Yes; those arguments are powerful.The Home Affairs Select Committee was driving at this: the back page of the new European passport, which will be issued to every Common Market resident, carries all the information that is necessary for all the purposes that we have discussed—a photograph, signature and means of identification. It already exists and it would be possible, if it were used on a voluntary basis, to issue it immediately.
The European passport is machine-readable. It has two strips on the bottom. It may interest hon. Members to know something that I found out some five years ago when I first started to take an interest in this subject. The European passport's machine-readability and design are dictated not by the British Government, Common Market countries or the United Nations but by the International Air Transport Association. I cannot believe that it would not be possible to prevail on that organisation to add a third strip to contain additional information. I do not share the view of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) who, in his doomsday scenario, took fright at the possibilities of such a card being used on a smart card basis voluntarily to carry medical information and any other information including, if one wished, details of membership of a football club.
I see a compelling argument for the use and issue of one officially recognised card, whether purchased voluntarily, like a British visitors passport, or issued universally, like a medical card, and free. I believe, as does the Home Affairs Select Committee, that there is a strong case for one national, approved card rather than a plethora of easily forgeable, semi-official cards.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) on introducing the Bill and on including Northern Ireland from the outset. The absence of a national identity card provides some anonymity for individuals with criminal intent, giving them the freedom to traverse the country at will with little likelihood of ever being challenged and to engage in robbery and serious terrorism, as occurs in Northern Ireland. I believe that a compulsory scheme is the best way forward and that the requirement to carry a national identity card will, perhaps for the first time, create another risk for those evil-doers operating outside their home territory, where they are recognised and known.I believe that it can greatly help our police and security forces and I must agree that additional policing would be helpful.
The Bill poses no threat to law-abiding citizens in this country. Since I publicly voiced my support for the identity card scheme, I have not received one objection from more than 60,000 constituents, all of whom are eligible to contact me as their Member of Parliament. From that I assume that the support in the mainland press will also be forthcoming in Northern Ireland. Many of my colleagues from Northern Ireland constituencies have other commitments today and greatly regret being unalble to be present to lend their support. The requirement for a national identity card could instil in our young people a greater respect for citizenship and a recognition of the responsibility that goes with it.
Hon. Members have commented on the attitude of ethnic minority groups. Those who have allegedly been harrassed by the police in the past would be protected by the production of a national identity card. National 1325 identity cards would also put another obstacle in the way of illegal immigrants, and I welcome that. I recently spent considerable time endeavouring to get extended permission for an overseas visitor to remain in Northern Ireland. I endeavoured to arrange appropriate educational courses and so on for that visitor. Much to my annoyance, that person jumped ship or took the boat one morning from Larne to Stranraer and disappeared somewhere in London. The absence of national identity cards makes life easier for the countless thousands of illegal immigrants.
National identity cards might assist in controlling the great incidence of social security fraud in Northern Ireland. I do not accept the massive unemployment figures that are published even in Government documents. No Government officials or anyone remotely connected with Government will investigate at first hand what is happening in many parts of Northern Ireland.
I have reported allegations of people doing the double. They travel 50 miles to work in my constituency. They are unemployed when they register. If there just happened to be the need to produce a national identity card, it would be quite possible that a check would be made. Those who are doing the double and benefiting from state benefits which should rightly go to the disabled, to young widows and to pensioners, would think twice about the risks in what they are doing. At present, the absence of national identity cards enables them to move freely and to do what they like, with little risk of being picked up and challenged.
§ Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock)
I have heard rumours in my constituency about council workmen removing from empty council houses polling cards belonging to people who have died or moved a long way away and impersonating them at the polls. I believe that this has been a long-standing problem in Ulster. Can the hon. Gentleman say how identity cards will help to solve the problem of the dead voting?
§ Mr. Beggs
The Government have attempted to overcome those problems. Abuse of polling cards is not so bad as it was in the past, but many citizens do not have either of the documents required for voting. Some pensioners have their pensions paid directly into their bank accounts and do not have a pension book to present when they vote. The Bill would be one way of ensuring democracy and preventing abuse. My hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) experienced the problem of impersonation and at considerable personal expense was involved in a court action. If national identity cards had been in operation, the problem would never have arisen. For that reason, I would welcome an identity card system in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I appeal for very brief speeches. More than one hon. Member wishes to speak.
§ 2.1 pm
§ Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) on his speech. He spoke with the sincerity to which the House is becoming accustomed. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) on his good fortune and choice of Bill. There is growing concern about violence in our towns and cities. This Bill will provide positive assistance in reducing crime.
1326 The idea of identity cards is not new. Significantly, my right hon. and hon. Friends have caused a measure to be introduced in the other place requiring one group—football supporters—to carry clear means of identification and to be members of a membership scheme before gaining entry into football grounds. The principle of requiring identity cards to be carried is already accepted by the Government. This Bill seems somewhat fairer than the one being proposed in the other place because it is not discriminatory. It does not seek to legislate against just one section of the community. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) reminded the House that self-employed building workers have to carry identity cards bearing the signatures of no fewer than two inspectors. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) said that the population had become more accustomed to carrying means of identification.
Many benefits spring from the Bill. It would save police time in identifying suspects and people in custody. It would be a positive crime prevention measure. It would help to remove the scourge of under-age drinkers from pubs and clubs and would assist the identification of those involved in road traffic accidents. Above all, it would be a disincentive to crime because the culprits would no longer have the possibility or illusion of being anonymous. Impersonation such as that which occurred at Heathrow by two journalists could no longer take place.
Another point that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North made in his excellent speech is that identity cards would also result in the reduction of credit and cheque card crime. There is a distinct possibility that identification cards will, in any case, be required by 1992, for it is inevitable that as the Single European Act comes into force it will require the dismantling of all frontier barriers in the Community. When that happens, some form of identification will undoubtedly be required.
My hon. Friend the Minister made several international comparisons, which I should like to pursue. I was delighted to hear him make those points and they were extremely helpful to the House. If I may elaborate, all Danish citizens are provided with an identification card and much the same principle applies in Germany. As my hon. Friend rightly said, it is not necessary for German citizens to carry identification, but the police have the power to request proof of identity and address and maintain the power of arrest if proof is not readily available. As my hon. Friend said, in France it has long been customary for every citizen to carry identity papers and the police have the right to demand proof of identity from any person reasonably suspected of being about to commit or having committed a crime. If the person concerned cannot produce appropriate identification, arrest will follow and the citizen then has four hours to prove identity. That is clearly a strong inducement to carry the identification papers required, and that is why I support my hon. Friend the Minister when he talks about a voluntary scheme. It is, perhaps, not an ideal answer but a route that could be explored. I know that he is actively considering that idea and I congratulate him on the breadth of his vision in this case, as in so many others.
§ Mr. Pawsey
No, because time is pressing.
1327 Identity cards would also assist in the control of international crime because they would make it harder for people to enter illegally or to remain in a particular country. They would also reduce and control illegal cross-border activities, which is a point that the hon. Member for Antrim, East made, and they would help to curb the activities of terrorists and drug-traffickers.
I appreciate that time is rattling on, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I want to make the point that the principal objection to ID cards is, understandably, likely to come from those involved in law-breaking. To repeat the point that other hon. Members have made, honest citizens have nothing to fear and will have a great deal to gain because identification cards will assist in reducing the current level of crime and will have the effect of making it safer for law-abiding citizens to go about their lawful business. I find it significant, though not surprising, that 57 per cent. of people in a survey published today said that they were in favour of the Bill and only 37 per cent. were against it. I also find it significant that the Labour party, as ever, is split down the middle with 47 per cent. in favour and 47 per cent. against.
The Bill has much to commend it and will be of positive assistance to the policed in combating crime. Law and order is, arguably, the single most important issue facing society at this time. There is a widespread view, which my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North expressed, that our streets are no longer so safe as they used to be. That point was underlined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North, who mentioned the growth of vigilantes. Vigilantes flourish when the existing forces of law enforcement are seen to be inadequate to protect the ordinary citizen. The recent formation of vigilante groups on the London Underground underlines that point. It is difficult to avoid the view that as the incidence of violent crime increases the ordinary citizen may feel entitled to take such steps as he thinks necessary to secure his own and his family's safety. I am worried about where that route will lead because eventually it leads to anarchy. People will undoubtedly take the law into their own hands if they believe that the state is no longer able to protect them fully. I do not argue that identity cards will banish crime overnight—they will not—but as my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North, said, they represent a further weapon in the armoury of law enforcement. In my view. they will be widely welcomed as a genuine attempt to uphold the law.
My hon. Friend's Bill has much to commend it but if for any reason it falls I hope that the Home Office will introduce a similar measure, albeit using a voluntary rather than a compulsory sanction. I would regard that as second best, but it would nevertheless represent a considerable step forward and would show the people of this country that the Government are determined to get to grips with crime. A clear signal would be sent out and I believe that that would be right. Having said that, I wish my hon. Friend all good luck, and I hope that he will be successful today.
§ Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) on initiating a debate on this important subject by introducing the Bill.
1328 I shall not dwell on the question of violent crime, which was handled so well by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson). Instead, I shall concentrate on the important question of unique numbering for all our citizens. We start off in life by being registered by the registrar and with that registration goes the reference number on our birth certificate. When we are cared for or overseen by the social services department of a county council, or by the National Health Service, another number is applied to us. When our performance at school is monitored through the new school profiling system, yet another number is applied.
All the reference numbers are different. The reference number applied to us by the Inland Revenue for tax purposes refers to our principal place of employment if we fall within the PAYE arrangement, or to the source of our pension or widow's pension. The Department of Social Security keeps separate reference numbers in a computer along with a vast amount of detail which could, I suppose, be construed as an infringement of civil liberties. Borough and district councils give us yet another number for housing benefit purposes.
The existence of all these reference numbers leaves the door wide open for fraud and there is nothing more corrosive to our constituents' morale than to hear of the fraud and social security fiddling that goes on as a result. The potential to make money out of the non-standardisation of records exists not only in the state sector but in respect of our credit institutions. Our great mass of credit sources—banks, finance houses, stores and card issuers—have no standardisation of reference numbers. That, too, allows fraud, and means that there is no way that the institutions can cross-reference. One problem that would be solved by the introduction of an identity card is the problem not of impersonation but the various institutions' lack of knowledge of the facts in respect of their clients' other sources of funds.
The card should carry no more than an individual's name, address, reference number and photograph. There is no need for a smart card providing large amounts of the 1984-style information about which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) was so worried, and the card would not be an infringement of human rights.
The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—who is chatting happily—could no doubt get out of his top pocket the House of Commons identity card which he carries at all times, as do I. That contains his photograph and his name, which is no great innovation. Every hon. Member is no doubt carrying a credit card, a charge card—
§ Mr. Arnold
—and a driving licence, all of which identify. In fact, the hon. Gentleman's driving licence would even give away his date of birth.
A further advantage of the identity card, which would have a magnetic strip recording the facts to which I referred earlier, would be that we could get rid of the Football Spectators Bill. Every citizen would have a card with a unique reference number and the clubs, either separately or together, could keep a note of the reference numbers of those whom they wish to bar. The visiting spectator would put his card through the reader and, if it was the card of someone whom the club did not want, that person would not gain admission. We could easily dispose of all the present traumas surrounding that Bill.
1329 An identity card would also assist the victims of accidents. It would reveal an individual's blood group, whether or not he wished to give away his organs in the case of death, and whether he had medical conditions which required specific treatment. All that information could be rapidly identified by the emergency services after consulting by radio the already existing database of medical records.
The Home Office has apparently established that it would cost—350 million to set up this identity card scheme and a further £100 million to run it. I would argue that it would not cost anything like so much for the minimum of data that I propose. Such figures, I believe, are more typical of the response of civil servants who are always too ready to drive a Rolls-Royce at every opportunity.
Those who gain from the current situation are those involved in frauds and other crimes. Those who would gain from identity cards would be the law-abiding public, who have given their verdict through the poll already mentioned which showed 57 per cent. in favour. If we had such cards, the losers would be the fiddlers, the fraudsters and other criminals.
§ Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)
Hon. Members have been naturally concerned throughout this debate about the level of crime in our community. What I believe is a great mistake, however, is to go on from there and to think that there is some kind of magic solution. The debate on this proposal represents an attempt to find a magic solution to a problem. I believe that there is no magic solution.
This scheme, which, of course, relates to a compulsory card, would be costly to implement and would require enormous bureaucracy to establish and, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, there is a potential for damage to police public relations. It is up to the Bill's supporters to show conclusively that identity cards would have such a beneficial effect that it would be worth incurring the cost and administrative burden needed to implement them. That has not been demonstrated in this debate.
No supporter of the Bill has put under proper scrutiny the advantages to be gained from the introduction of identity cards. A number of hon. Members have said that intending offenders would be deterred because of the fear of being identified. Of course that must be nonsense. What would deter them would be the fear of being caught and punished. There has been no evidence that the police regard identity as a major problem in combating crime.
Considerable reference has been made by hon. Members to public opinion, and the fact that it appears to show that the majority of people are in favour of such a measure. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) had said that there had been an absence of protest, I would contend that there has also been an absence of support. The fact is that, apart from the editorial columns of a number of newspapers, this has not yet become a public debate. There is little doubt that, as the debate developed, a great deal of opposition would emerge. If the Bill ever came into effect no doubt there would be enormous opposition when cases came before the courts involving children, perhaps vagrants, because 1330 they were carrying no card. Vagrants have no money so therefore the deterrent effect of a fine would mean nothing to them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North said that people already carry a number of identifying documents that may be referred to by number. He seems to suggest that another card would do no harm. It would only do any good, however, if it were linked to some kind of data base which would hold a great deal more information about the card holder, or if the card contained a great deal of computer-encoded information, perhaps in the form of a smart card, which has already been mentioned today. I believe that issues of civil liberty would arise if the same number appeared on several documents. If the document relating to the community charge carried the same number as the document relating to the Department of Social Security, the Inland Revenue and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre, such problems would occur.
It has also been suggested that the good citizen has nothing to fear. That was also said when such a measure came before the United States Congress. The idea that the good citizen has nothing to fear begs all sorts of questions. It was that suggestion that killed off the possibility of such legislation in the United States. In a libertarian society, I hope that we would all believe that that notion—the idea that the good citizen is somebody who would support the Bill, law and order and all the rest, and would have nothing to fear and would therefore apply for the card—is a dangerous proposition. I hope that we will firmly reject that.
Identity cards were introduced when we were at war and no doubt the autocratic punishments that then existed were suitable for that time. They are not suitable in peacetime, nor are they suitable to a country that values freedom.
I am not suggesting that such a measure should be opposed on the grounds of civil liberties at all costs. If the advantages for its introduction were so great, I would be prepared to weigh them up—
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 48, Noes 37.1331
|Division No. 90]||[2.22 pm|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Hannam, John|
|Atkinson, David||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney|
|Beggs, Roy||Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)|
|Bellingham, Henry||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Janman, Tim|
|Bowis, John||Jessel, Toby|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Kennedy, Charles|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Marlow, Tony|
|Butler, Chris||Mills, lain|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Mitchell, Sir David|
|Dunn, Bob||Moate, Roger|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Rathbone, Tim|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||Shelton, Sir William (Streatham)|
|Fox, Sir Marcus|
|Gale, Roger||Sims, Roger|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Stevens, Lewis|
|Gow, Ian||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Thorne, Neil|
|Greenway, John (Ryedale)||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')||Tracey, Richard|
|Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Walters, Sir Dennis||Sir Rhodes Boyson and|
|Whitney, Ray||Mr. James Pawsey.|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Livsey, Richard|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Meale, Alan|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Mullin, Chris|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)||Porter, Barry (Wirral S)|
|Carrington, Matthew||Richardson, Jo|
|Cohen, Harry||Ruddock, Joan|
|Corbett, Robin||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Cox, Tom||Skinner, Dennis|
|Cryer, Bob||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Darling, Alistair||Stern, Michael|
|Dixon, Don||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Fraser, John||Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)|
|Godman, Dr Norman A.||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Wray, Jimmy|
|Heffer, Eric S.|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn)||Mr. Andrew F. Bennett and|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Mr. Gary Waller.|
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Since fewer than 100 Members voted in the majority the Question is not decided in the affirmative.
§ It being after half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed on Friday 21 April.