In response to a pig at the despatch box

April 11th, 2006

The Government began the whole sorry process by saying that the Bill would be valuable in the fight against terrorism; yet, to be fair to the Home SecretaryI am occasionally fair to himon 8 July he said that identity cards would not have prevented the tube attacks on 7 July. We know that 9/11 would not have been prevented by identity cards. The people who committed those crimes had pilots’ licences and passports. Those who committed the crimes on 7 July were perfectly happy to be filmed by the railway station closed circuit television. The problem was not hiding their identity, but hiding their intention[Interruption.] I am glad to see that Members on the Treasury Bench find the subject so tremendously funny.

When the Government lost their first argument they said, “Oh, perhaps we’ll try benefit fraud”. However, we know that benefit fraud will not be dealt with by the possession of identity cards or by the information in the national identity register. Then they said, “Well, let’s try immigration, that’s bound to help”. The Home Secretary is trying that again this evening, but the problem is that one does not have to register on the national identity register or hold an identity card if one is in the country for less than three months. When a person enters the country as a tourist, how are the Government to know that they have not remained beyond the permitted time?

There is the problem of the free travel area between the UK and the Irish Republic and the free travel area in the European Union. What will that do? Far from preventing immigration illegalities, it will exacerbate ethnic problems and cultural division in the UK. Do the Government want to give a free hand to the British National party? Anybody who thinks that is a good idea should vote for this sordid Government this evening.

The Government then said, and the Home Secretary repeated this evening, that the measure would deal with identity fraud. When the Bill began its passage in the summer, identity fraud cost the economy 50 million, but during the summer months the cost rose to 1.5 billion. I do not know why, and the Government have produced no evidence to support that fact. Indeed, we are having a Third Reading by assertion with an absence of proof. We cannot have legislation that is created in this form or pushed through in such a way, and we cannot tolerate a Government who have absolutely no understanding of the constitution of this country.

The Government moved on to say that the scheme would prevent other forms of serious crime. As the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) pointed out on Second Reading, no serious criminal will be too bothered about whether he is required to register for, or have, an identity card. The money would be far better spent on police officers, gaining intelligence about the activities of criminals and producing a proper border control police.

The Government have blustered and demanded that we agree with all their assertions, despite the lack of evidence to prove them. Eventually, they have ended up saying that it would be more convenient for us all if we had identity cards and information was stored away on the national identity register. If the Government want to see the population of this country wandering around with a form of barcode across our foreheads, or with a mark to allow us to come out of our houses, they are not the sort of Government whom this country needs. We should certainly not be promoting such a society.

The Bill is obscene and absurd and it will do nothing but damage the country’s interests as a whole. It will do nothing to advance the causes that we all share: defeating terrorism; doing away with benefit fraud; and tightening up our immigration rules, which the Government have randomly let fall apart. Of course we want to deal with identity fraud and serious crime, but the Bill will not do that in its present form and would not have done that in its first form. It is a ridiculous and stupid Bill.

What will the scheme cost the citizen? All of us over the age of 16 will have to pay not only the 30 cost of buying the wretched card, but the travel costs of getting from the outer isles to the Glasgow centre at which one will be processed, as though one were in some gulag, or from rural parts of the country to other cities.

What will the scheme cost the country as a whole? We all know that the cost will be somewhere between 8 billion and 19 billion, but the Government say that the cost of a card will be only 30. The whole thing is utterly absurd, and the more one examines what the Secretary of State has to say, the more absurd it becomes and the more absurd the Government are.

Let us step aside from the practical arguments against the Bill and consider a matter of principle: the relationship between the citizen and state, about which the Government care little and know nothing. They have forgotten about constitutional historyif they knew anything about itand the proper relationship between the Government, Parliament and the judiciary. All that is swept aside with great windy bluster from the Home Secretary and his junior Ministers. It is time for Parliament to stand up for what it is supposed to and to defend the liberties of the citizen, not to kowtow to this appalling Government and go down on bended knee and grovel as they pass more and more appalling legislation to destroy the rights of the citizen. It is no good for the Government to say that this is all exaggerationjust look at what they have done already and what they intend to do through this Bill and other legislation to eat into the liberties of the citizen.

This is a bad Bill from a sad Government. It is legislation by statutory instrument. The Government are providing 61 separate powers to enable the Home Secretary or his successor to produce secondary legislation. The Bill contains very little detail. It increases the penalty for misbehaviour. One could easily be fined up to 2,500 for what the Government politely call a “civil penalty”, and if one does not pay that, off one goes to prison.

The Bill amounts to little more than a denial of democracy. The House should be ashamed of it, and I trust that all people of honour in the House will increase the Government’s embarrassment by reducing their majority to way below 32indeed, we should kill this Bill. […]

When the history of all this is written, it will not be possible to say that no one was warned, and that no one spoke up and stood up to be counted.

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