HC Deb 21 July 1988 vol 137 cc1276-7
6. Mr. Ian Bruce

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if, in the light of calls for membership cards for football supporters, he will re-examine the introduction of national identity cards to aid the fight against disorderly and lawless behaviour.

Mr. Hurd

Membership cards for football supporters is a separate question from the issue of compulsory identity cards for everyone. We remain to be persuaded that there is a sufficiently strong case for the introduction of universal compulsory identity cards.

Mr. Bruce

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but I am somewhat disappointed, since we have read in our newspapers that such a study is going on. Surely my right hon. Friend must agree that as we already must have various identity cards the principle has been accepted in many situations. Certainly the police in Dorset would be happy to see national identity cards as an additional aid to fighting crime. Such cards would help those football clubs that are introducing membership cards to do so correctly. They would also help a great deal in registering everybody for the community charge and in all sorts of ways, such as fighting benefit and other kinds of fraud.

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend raises a number of points. A national identity card system would not be much use to football clubs. They are being asked to produce a selective scheme, whereas the national identity card would be universal. That means that they will want to keep out of their scheme people who would, under my hon. Friend's idea, have a national identity card. That illustrates the point. My hon. Friend has been reading the newspapers, as I have also, and what is said about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's supposed activities is simple make-believe. It is true that I have asked the police for an up-to-date and considered assessment. Their established view has been that they do not think that a system of compulsory national identity cards, with associated powers for the police, would help them. They have thought that the disadvantages would outweigh the advantages. In view of the renewed interest in the House and elsewhere in the subject, I have asked them for their considered and updated view.

Mr. Benn

Has the Home Secretary considered the moral issues that are raised by the fact that the Government are contemplating a police computer dossier on every citizen in the country, while the Home Secretary is presenting a White Paper on official secrets that would deny to the electors knowledge about what the Government are doing? The proposed legislation will be of the kind that has concealed from public attention crimes committed by people such as Peter Wright, who describes in detail in his book crimes committed by the security service against the liberties of the subject. How does that fit in with the glorious revolution, which is supposed to have safeguarded our political liberties?

Mr. Hurd

Surely that is the right hon. Gentleman's speech for tomorrow. I do not think that it arises from this question.

Sir Peter Hordern

Will my right hon. Friend consider the issue of identity cards, not only in relation to lawless behaviour, but to enable those who have the right to seek supplementary benefit and social security to do so easily and conveniently when the new computer system comes into use? Is it not time that we thought about the issue of identity cards to do away with the degrading conditions that exist in so many social security offices?

Mr. Hurd

It is perfectly reasonable that that idea should be thought about. I foresee a continued growth of cards such as the one that my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce) showed the House just now, which he carries as a matter of convenience to identify himself for specific purposes. I think that such cards will increase. There is a very substantial difference, however, between those cards, which I believe will increase and which are useful, and a scheme by which everyone in the country would be compelled to have a national indentity card and in which the police had powers to compel people to produce those cards.

Mr. Hattersley

I welcome the Home Secretary's first answer. Like him, I believe that a system of compulsory national identity cards would not make up in its contribution to a reduction in crime what we would lose in civil liberties.

The Home Secretary's second answer concerned the police feasibility study. I urge him to follow his instinct on the matter, which is to use if for his speech at the Tory party conference and then to forget about it.

Mr. Hurd

I believe that the police view is important, but it is not necessarily decisive. The matter is for Parliament to decide, of course. However, I think that it is important to discover whether the established police view, which is the one I described and with which the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) as a former Home Secretary is familiar, is still maintained.

Mr. John Browne

Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the greatest protections afforded to the terrorist, the hooligan, the illegal immigrant and even the under-age drinker is anonymity? In an age when credit cards are commonplace, will my right hon. Friend agree to consider the matter in depth? People should be issued with identity cards, although they need not necessarily carry them. They should, however, be available.

Mr. Hurd

I do not really believe that the determined terrorist with whom we have to deal would be especially detected or deterred by a system of national identity cards that did not require him to carry any such document.