HC Deb 06 March 1991 vol 187 cc319-42

'The Secretary of State may make regulations—

  1. (a) requiring all persons ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland to possess an identity card;
  2. (b) requiring such an identity card to contain a photograph; and otherwise prescribing the format and content of an identity card;
  3. (c) prescribing the circumstances in which passports may function as identity cards and providing for the issue of identity cards to visitors to Northern Ireland not carrying a passport;
  4. (d) specifying the circumstances in which a person may be required to produce an identity card; and
  5. (e) specifying penalties for failing to produce an identity card.'.—[Mr. Trimble.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause would empower the Secretary of State to make regulations that provide for identity cards in Northern Ireland. It is deliberately drafted in a permissive form to give the Secretary of State leeway in introducing such a system. That is not to undermine or devalue the need for identity cards. Given the situation in Northern Ireland, there is clearly a need for a system of identity cards to enable everyone moving within its jurisdiction to be identified.

One of the major tools used by the security forces when trying to contain terrorism is the widespread operation of vehicle control points, road blocks, and road checks. Earlier this week, the Secretary of State himself, while commenting on the regrettable series of incidents of the past few days, referred to an increase in the number of vehicle control points in the hope that that would inhibit the movement of terrorists and their ability to carry out ghastly acts.

It is essential that those who man VCPs are able to identify people who pass through them, and an identity card system is necessary for that purpose. In Committee, the Minister of State commented: on the face of it, we can see how a common identity card could be of help. It might help security forces who come to the Province for a relatively limited time and then leave, and do not have the benefit of developing detailed knowledge of the people in whose areas they serve, as does the Royal Ulster Constabulary. There might be therefore a certain security advantage in that regard."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 31 January 1991; c. 326–7.] I welcome those comments, but the Minister was taking far too limited an approach. Not just Army personnel serving in the Province for a short time require the help given by identity cards; members of the RUC need it. RUC officers may come to know all the people in rural areas with small populations but they cannot know everyone in areas with a population of tens of thousands. It would be impossible for RUC members to know everyone in such areas, let alone all the suspected terrorists. The Minister's remarks point to the need for identity cards to help all the security forces.

Identity cards should be linked to some form of computer databank from which other security intelligence would be available, so by cross-referencing the card, the security forces and others would have available a wide range of information about suspects. To a certain extent, that happens at present. Northern Ireland Members of Parliament are familiar with the extent to which it happens. We have documents which are used for identity purposes. I have in my hand a Northern Ireland driving licence; I referred to it in Committee. Unlike licences in England and Wales, it carries a photograph and is produced in plastic.

Car licence plate numbers are held on a central computer. We know that there is a certain amount of tagging of such numbers. At vehicle checkpoints one regularly sees a member of the security forces reading car registration numbers into a microphone. The general understanding is that that information is transmitted to a central point and checked on the records to find out whether there are any tags in the computer for the registration numbers concerned. The security forces can then decide whether to pull in a car and its occupants for closer examination.

The system that I am arguing for exists to a certain extent already through driving licences and car number plates, but that is a partial, rather than an effective, system.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Should it not also be underscored that this House, in its wisdom, has decided that people must carry an identity card of some type when they vote, and have listed the only identity cards that are accepted on such an occasion?

Mr. Trimble

I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. He is perfectly correct, and the fact that the House decided that evidence of identity should be produced for one function underscores the need for it. The hon. Member will know that the multiplicity of documents available to prove identity for voting purposes is a weakness of the system. A coincidental benefit of new clause 1A is that it would provide for a single, common identity card which could be used instead of all those other documents. That is an incidental benefit, but I am afraid that, in Committee, the Minister was confused into thinking that it was one of the main planks of the proposal. We are arguing for an identity card system to help the security forces, so we need a comprehensive system.

Some people have reservations about identity cards. When one mentions computer records and other information being held centrally they get even more upset. They think that the existence of such information will undermine civil rights or infringe their human liberties in some way. Like some other hon. Members, I find it difficult to see any merit in that argument. There is nothing unusual about identity cards. Indeed, we are all wearing one. If one looks around the House, one can see several hon. Members who are clearly wearing the required identity card. Hon. Members obviously do not find that the personal use of an identity card is an infringement of their civil liberties because when the requirement to wear one was extended to Members of Parliament it was accepted without murmur or complaint.

Coincidentally, this week's edition of the magazine of the Police Federation of England and Wales, which is supplied to all hon. Members on a complimentary basis, includes an article on identity cards which describes the situation in other European countries. It says: Spain: A compulsory system comes into force from the age of 14 onwards. Germany: Identity cards are required from the age of 16. In some other countries, such as France and Italy, cards are voluntary, but the federation understands that they are used on almost all occasions.

The article also refers to the seventh report of the Home Affairs Select Committee, published last July, which recommended the introduction of a common identity card system and discussed the arrangements in Europe. There is a slight conflict between the report and the article about Denmark, but we need not go into that. One states that identity cards are compulsory there and the other says that they are not.

I refer to European practice because I want to emphasise that identity cards are known and are used on a wide scale in Europe and do not cause any problems for civil liberties or infringe human rights. I feel that that objection has no merit.

In Committee, one practical objection to identity cards was mentioned. Persons from the Republic of Ireland come across the border to a number of towns to do their shopping. We would not want to discourage that. Such people might not have identity documents with them. That is an anomaly, which should perhaps be considered more comprehensively. It is anomalous that the United Kingdom still refuses to recognise the independence of the Republic of Ireland in some respects. The anomaly flows from legislation of 1949, in which this Parliament said that it would not recognise the Irish Republic as a foreign country. In some respects that is not a privilege which is being extended to citizens of the Irish Republic, but a subtle refusal to——

Mr. William Ross

It is an insult.

Mr. Trimble

Yes, as my colleague says, it is, in a sense, an insult because it refuses to recognise their independence.

Common travel arrangements, which may have been convenient in other respects, flow from that anomaly. To some extent, there is a strong argument—we dealt with it here on Monday night—for extending proper passport controls and the sort of regime that applies to other countries to the frontier in Ireland. That argument should be studied, rather than allow the present anomaly to persist.

I realise that the Bill may not be the appropriate vehicle to tackle the common travel area in the British Isles. Moreover, with 1992 just around the corner, it may be inappropriate to refer to passports, or to give instructions to increase their number, because if there is to be free travel throughout the European Community post-1992, we may not want to increase passport arrangements.

The new clause would enable identity cards to be issued to visitors to Northern Ireland, although the regulations that we suggest could also provide for passports as identity cards. Both could be used which should keep the inconvenience caused by the proposal to a minimum.

This may be a temporary provision—much less temporary than the provision that we discussed on Monday—because post-1992 it is probable that there will be a common European standard on the use of identity cards. If there is to be a common travel area in the entire Community and no passport controls at borders, some other form of identification will be required. It is likely that common identity cards will be introduced as a European requirement to deal with the security implications post-1992. If that is the case, the new clause would he temporary because it covers us only for the period between now and the common regime likely to be introduced through the European Community. However, that is like looking into a crystal ball.

The new clause would enable the Secretary of State to make regulations for identity cards, which we believe are necessary. To a certain extent, such provision exists, but it must be put on a better comprehensive footing so that we have a common identity card which is used throughout Northern Ireland.

Mr. Stanbrook

I support the new clause, which has been ably and convincingly proposed. The wording is admirable, as it does not place an obligation on the Government, but would enable the Secretary of State to nudge his Cabinet colleagues and to say that the time has come when we should introduce identity cards in the country as a whole.

The discussion about whether we should follow the lead given by other members of the European Community and introduce compulsory national identity cards has reached a stage at which the arguments for and against are fairly evenly divided. The argument in favour has strengthened. Originally, it was suggested that, apart from its convenience for law enforcement and other purposes, the system would assist immigration control. Subsequently, the question of terrorism has arisen.

The argument for compulsory introduction of identity cards in the United Kingdom as a whole has now been largely accepted. A fortiori, we should surely introduce them in Northern Ireland, where the problems of the security authorities are so much greater and terrorism is a constant threat. The public there need to be reassured that the Government are doing everything possible to defeat terrorism and restore law and order. Because I am sure that the Government are indeed determined to do everything possible, I hope that they will accept the new clause and pass the necessary enabling legislation.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

For two reasons, I am surprised at the new clause and its source. First, I gather that the same proposal was made in Committee, but was defeated. Secondly, the new clause would make Northern Irish people second-class citizens, as only they would be required to carry identity cards: Englishmen, Scotsmen, Welshmen and citizens of the Republic would not be subject to the same requirement. Usually, my hon. Friends want Northern Irish people to be treated in the same way as everyone else.

The new clause has been described as permissive rather than mandatory. I do not trust Secretaries of State with permissive legislation. With the best will in the world, they are inclined to use whatever powers they have, often—although perhaps not under the present regime—unwisely, hastily and without due consideration. I think that legislation should always be mandatory, especially when it deals with the rights of the individual and with restrictions on freedom of movement.

Currently, anyone who ventures abroad without some form of identification to present on demand at the legitimate and numerous vehicle check points on every road and byway is acting very foolishly. Nearly everyone, apart from very young people, has identification of some kind. The mind boggles at the idea that identity cards will carry some special mark meaning, "I am not a terrorist" or, indeed, "I am a terrorist", or, "I am a suspected terrorist"; unless we bear in mind the earlier suggestion that the card be linked to a data bank where the holder might be placed, unknown to him, in one of those categories. He would then have no chance to defend himself.

Mr. Harry Barnes

It would be possible to ensure, without the need for a data bank, that different categories were included on the cards. When a card is taken away from someone who is being investigated, the information can be added without anyone knowing. That would have applied to the "smart cards" that were proposed for football fans.

Mr. McGrady

That is true. Anyone who has had the misfortune to buy a secondhand car that, unknown to him, has been tagged will find himself the subject of intense interrogation at vehicle checkpoints. Identity cards cannot further the information that is available to the security forces at vehicle checkpoints. As Northern Ireland Members know, security intelligence in Northern Ireland is extraordinarily intense. I am certain that I could not move a couple of miles from my home without my movements being known and my category well understood at any vehicle checkpoint.

The practicalities make my argument even stronger. Some of the new clause is very vague. It refers to the penalties incurred by those without identity cards. What administrative nightmare will be created, and what new judicial processes will evolve to bring to book those who have forgotten their cards? At what age, for example, will young people be required to produce them? Will it be 18 —the age at which they can vote—or 17, 16, 15, 14, 12 or even 10? Young people need to be free to go about their daily business, whether it be school or leisure. Unless everyone is tagged from the cradle to the grave, the position will become nonsensical. I do not think that even those who tabled the new clause would argue that young people, who are constantly subject to military searches —both personally and when in vehicles with others—should have to carry identity cards to school with them.

Mr. William Ross

Secondary schoolchildren carry bus passes with photographs.

Mr. McGrady

That proves my point. All of us already possess some form of identification.

The new clause involves another administrative nonsense. There is currently a big drive to bring more tourists into Northern Ireland. As soon as they reach either the land border or the sea border—perhaps it is the border with the English channel—tourists must apply for and obtain an identity card. A traveller from the Republic of Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, the continent, America or anywhere else—intending, perhaps, to do some shopping—must obtain such a card. God knows the problems that hon. Members experience when travelling to and from Belfast under the present security arrangements will be nothing compared with the problems that will arise when a whole queue of people travelling to Belfast with British Airways or British Midland must produce not only passports but identity cards. The poor old sod who has forgotten his card, or does not even know that he should have one, will hold up the whole plane load.

The new clause is unnecessary, because of the plethora of identification that people already hold. More important, however, it takes yet another bite out of personal liberty and freedom. I am talking not merely about the identity card itself, but about the motivation behind its introduction. Information will be in data banks that the individuals concerned will never know about.

6 pm

Rev. William McCrea

I listened with care to some of the spurious arguments advanced by the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady). He showed that he has not read new clause 1A, which was moved by the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble).

The hon. Member for South Down was surprised that the hon. Member for Upper Bann should have tabled new clause 1A. Surely it is right and proper that we should debate it. The hon. Gentleman did nothing wrong in tabling the new clause, or it would not have been accepted.

The hon. Member for South Down made an interesting point about second-class citizens. He made the strongest integrationist speech that I have heard from a member of the SDLP. People outside will note carefully that the SDLP is concerned to ensure equal status.

Mr. McGrady

The hon. Gentleman did not listen to my speech. I said that it was an unusual argument for an Ulster Unionist Member to advance.

Rev. William McCrea

I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and we shall read his speech tomorrow.

Mr. Mallon

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that there is an integrationist wing in the SDLP.

Rev. William McCrea

This is probably the first time that we have heard of it. Perhaps the cuckoo is coming out of the nest, or perhaps there is a major policy split in the SDLP.

My hon. Friends, and I am sure other hon. Members, were surprised when the hon. Member for South Down said that he was worried about people in the Province becoming second-class citizens. SDLP Members were happy to force on the people of Northern Ireland the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which does not apply in any other part of the United Kingdom and which makes the people of Northern Ireland second-class citizens. That was a weak part of the hon. Gentleman's argument against identity cards.

I support the new clause. In Committee, some hon. Members took exception to it on the ground that it would infringe civil liberties and civil rights. That was going over the top. Hon. Members carry an identity card.

Mr. Mallon

Where is the hon. Gentleman's identity card?

Rev. William McCrea

The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh was happy to wear his for each Committee sitting, and he is happy to be wearing it again today.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is not it a rule of the House that hon. Members need not wear their card in the Chamber?

Rev. William McCrea

I agree with my hon. Friend. I am sure that Opposition Members are still learning the etiquette of the House.

If identity cards infringe civil liberties, why is the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh wearing his? There must be another reason for the opposition to the new clause.

How can the Government justify refusing to accept the new clause when they were happy to introduce identity cards for football fans? If cards would have stopped hooliganism and protected fans at football matches, why would not they ensure the safety of the people of the Province? People are required to wear identify cards for less important functions than the safety of the nation.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is my hon. Friend aware that since the introduction of identity cards at Luton football club not one arrest has been made?

Mr. Harry Barnes

Luton has no support.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Its takings have increased from £1 million to £5 million, and it has had record attendances. It has not, whether the House likes it or not, had one arrest at its ground. That shows that identity cards work.

Rev. William McCrea

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. If the Government were happy to accept identity cards for football, why will not they accept them to ensure the safety of people in the United Kingdom, especially in Northern Ireland?

In Committee, some hon. Members said that they would accept a national identity card. Conservative Members were happy to accept that proposal, and suggested to the Minister that the Government should act to implement a scheme.

In 1992, there will be a European identity card. Will Opposition Members object to that as an infringement of civil liberties that makes people in the Province second-class citizens? They will happily accept that card. It will be interesting to see how a distinction is made between Community countries. The citizens of Northern Ireland will probably have to wear an identification card that will show a Union Jack, which will be rather hard for some to swallow.

It was strange—I shall not say hypocritical—that the Government were happy to introduce legislation that made people wear identity cards when exercising the greatest civil and democratic right—the right to vote. No citizen in Northern Ireland is allowed to vote without having identification. Strangely, SDLP Members do not object to that identification card, which can allow or deny a person the right to vote. Even if someone's name is recorded on the electoral register, he will not be allowed to exercise his right to vote without an identity card.

Rev. Ian Paisley

A presiding officer may know someone and may be able to take an oath to say that it is that person, but he is not allowed to give him a ballot paper without an identification card.

Rev. William McCrea


Mr. McGrady

Surely, Madam Deputy Speaker—I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker—the hon. Gentleman has made the point that I was making: the people of Northern Ireland can already prove their identity and the new clause is not necessary.

Rev. William McCrea

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments—at least in respect of the legislation, but not in terms of the person sitting in the Chair.

I am arguing for something that would do away with the load of regulations in favour of only one identity card, which could be easily carried. One of the problems that all our constituents face when they go to vote is that they think that they have the proper identification with them, but are told that it is out of date or that what they are carrying is not one of the accepted identity cards. That is a fact; that is what is happening, as hon. Members of all parties in Northern Ireland know. A common identity card would resolve that problem. Instead of the evidence disproving my case, it actually proves that a common identity card is necessary and would be of great assistance to our people both in the exercise of their franchise and for the safety of the community as a whole.

The hon. Member for South Down made great play of the fact that the provisions might affect visitors at a time when we need tourists. The hon. Gentleman might have found it helpful to read the new clause. Perhaps it would be a good thing if he were to read it now because paragraph (a) states: requiring all persons ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland to possess an identity card". He would also find that paragraph (c) covers another aspect of this matter: prescribing the circumstances in which passports may function as identity cards". A visitor need not apply for a special identity card, because his or her passport will be accepted as an identity card. Therefore, the legislation will not in any way stop citizens entering Northern Ireland as tourists.

Mr. McGrady

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that an Englishman must bring his passport when visiting Northern Ireland?

Rev. William McCrea

What we have been suggesting is a national identity card——

Mr. Harry Barnes

That is not in the legislation.

Rev. William McCrea

That is correct; that is not in the legislation, because we are dealing with Northern Ireland provisions. However, we are suggesting that it should be a provision of our legislation, and that it should be extended so that a person from England, Scotland or Wales would also have an identity card. Indeed, they will have one in the future. Although some hon. Members may find the idea of an identity card absurd, that is what we shall have in 1992 whether they like it or not.

Mr. Mallon

Is it not a fact that we are discussing emergency legislation? If those responsible for security expressed the need for such an identity card, does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the Government would introduce it? I am sure that he will share my healthy scepticism of the way in which Governments treat the susceptibilities of people in the north of Ireland. I repeat that, if there were a security need for such a card, one would have been introduced long ago by the Government. The Secretary of State rightly drew attention to the marvellous phrase about the curate's egg. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in many ways, this is a bit of a parson's nose?

Rev. William McCrea

Without continuing those clerical references, I suggest that, even if the Government proposed such provisions, the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) would oppose them. He does not want this legislation or anything that clearly identifies an individual. Why should we run away from that when we are happy to have identification cards in this House?

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is it not a fact that the police have come out in favour of identity cards over and over again? It is totally false for the authorities to say that nobody in security wants identity cards, when the law officers and those who execute the law have made such calls. I have heard police officers on our own television saying that it would be a good thing if they could immediately eliminate the people whom they do not need to cross-examine once a bomb has gone off because they know their identities and know that they are no longer needed in connection with the case.

Rev. William McCrea

I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful intervention. Now that it is known that the provisions are supported by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, I am sure that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh will be ready to support and vote for them in the Lobby, given that that was the basis of his argument a few moments ago.

It is true that the security forces have requested, and still desire, such identity cards. It would do the community of Northern Ireland a service if the House were to pass the new clause.

6.15 pm
Mr. William Ross

The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) said that my hon. Friends and I always want to be treated the same as the rest of the United Kingdom. In case he thought that we were slipping away from that principle, may I reassure him that we do indeed want to be treated exactly the same as the rest of the United Kingdom. What is good enough for Members of this House should be good enough for the people of Northern Ireland. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind whenever he tries to poke fun at us because anything that we say is soundly based on the principle of the Union and its maintenance.

Members of this House now wear an identity card and, as far as any of us is aware, we all do so without a word of protest. My wife says that I look pretty good on my identity card—I am not sure that anyone else would agree —despite the colour, which some of us do not really like. We wear the identity card for a simple reason—it is part of the defence of the House, its Members and staff against the actions of the same terrorist violence from which we suffer in Northern Ireland. If the authorities of the House, the Government, and the leaders of the major parties in the House have all decided that the card is necessary for the defence of Members and the House, and we have agreed, I believe that there is now an excellent precedent for saying that identity card provisions could be applied more generally throughout the United Kingdom.

Mr. Harry Barnes

If the hon. Gentleman is basing his argument on the precedent of the cards that we are all wearing around our necks at the moment, does that mean that the people of Northern Ireland will have to clip on their cards or wear chains so that the identity card itself can be generally seen when the wearer is travelling around?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman sometimes makes a show of being ridiculous, and he is trying——

Mr. Barnes

It is a ridiculous card.

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman may say that it is a ridiculous card, but it is his photograph on it. As I have said, my wife likes my photograph on the card —I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman's wife will like his.

The card is considered necessary in the House. We would not have to wear the card around our necks in Northern Ireland. We wear these cards around our necks in the House for the sheer convenience of the guardians of the House and its Members, and for our own protection. People would not be expected to wear an identity card on their collar or around their necks in Northern Ireland.

An identity card would be useful in all sorts of ways. One way that has not yet been mentioned relates to those who use plastic money in shops. Because of the rates of interest, people may not be anxious to use their credit cards in the future, but we should remember that it would be useful to shopkeepers if purchasers showed not only their credit card, but also an identity card bearing their photograph. There would then be no doubt about identity. Of course, I am assuming that the photographs would be better than those that usually appear on passports.

As the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster pointed out, the provision would be useful, in that a single mode of identification could be used by everyone. It would have the advantage of bearing the photograph of the individual. Most of the documents which are used for identification when casting a ballot do not have a photograph. The identification document which we propose would be extremely useful. It would enable a citizen to go about his normal business with minimum inconvenience, because he would have a simple, straightforward means of identification. I have no objection to wearing identification in the House, given the current position. I would have no objection to carrying it and producing it on demand in Northern Ireland, any more than I object to producing my driving licence or my firearms certificate, which also bear my photograph.

People could be made to carry identification if there were a small on-the-spot fine. If we make a hullabaloo about it, involving court proceedings and a huge fine, people would resist it and would become heroes for refusing to pay. If there were an on-the-spot fine of £1, £2 or £3 every time a person did not produce the identification, everyone would soon catch on. It is a matter of attrition, because only the wicked would refuse to produce identification.

As to personal freedom, I objected to the legislation on the compulsory wearing of seat belts, but I wear one now, as a law-abiding citizen. I suspect that most people would take the same attitude to the use of an identity card. Personal freedom is damaged far more by terrorist action. Our civil rights are injured far more by the activities of the IRA and other terrorist organisations than they would be by the carrying of a positive means of identification. The format would be a matter for discussion, but the introduction of an identity card would be one of the most useful things that the Government could do for the convenience of citizens of Northern Ireland.

As has already been pointed out, after 1992 we may be forced to produce an identity card for the entire United Kingdom. If so, I suspect that the civil rights, personal freedom and all the other objections which have been bandied about, not only today but on every other occasion when the matter has been debated, will vanish like a morning mist. There will not be a cheep, especially from those who are in favour of the Common Market.

The objections to the new clause are spurious. There is no good reason, apart from Government cowardice, for opposing such a provision. It should have been done long ago. It should be brought into operation without further delay, because there is no good reason for delay.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I do not propose to prolong the debate, since I spoke on the subject on Monday. May I inform the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) that I dealt with it in the context of the entire United Kingdom? We are asking that it should apply not only to Northern Ireland but throughout the United Kingdom. We are not as brainless as the hon. Gentleman may think. There are some brains north of Newcastle as well as south of it. I should point out to him that the Bill before the House relates only to Northern Ireland.

Why do Northern Ireland Ministers not want to take up the proposal? Has it to go before the Anglo-Irish Conference? Has the Secretary of State to persuade Mr. Collins that it would be a good idea? Has he to exercise his great talents of persuasion and to use all possible pressure to get agreement? We know what happened with conscription in Ireland when we were at war. Pressure from the south kept conscription from the north. Let me put it on record that, nevertheless, there were many volunteers from the south and the north in both world wars. We remember the nationalist community from the south who fought so bravely at the battle of the Somme in world war 1.

Mr. Peter Robinson

Might not it mean that Mr. Collins would have to bring his passport when coming to see the Secretary of State, because he would not have an identity card?

Rev. Ian Paisley

Northern Ireland Ministers were glad to put the passport of the Irish Republic on a level with the passport of Her Majesty's Dominions as a means of identification for voting, so no doubt they would have no twinge of conscience about accepting anything, including even a pass to a bar in Dublin. An on-the-spot fine might change the Secretary of State's mind: he might decide to get payment from Mr. Collins for not having a pass.

Police officers on both sides of the water have often spoken to me about the importance of eliminating people on whom they do not need to waste time when there has been terrorist activity. The way to do so is to have proper, on-the-spot identification.

I had a letter from the Secretary of State the other day telling me that he intends to bring in an additional means of identification. The Government are going to add yet again to the list of acceptable identification documents. I suggest that he abolishes all those means of identification and introduces one identity card to do the job at election time.

Mr. Forsythe

I am amazed at the great reluctance of hon. Members representing the major parties to countenance an identification document. Points have been made about the number of identification documents which we have and it has been said that we do not need an identity card. I think that makes the case. When we consider the number of items that a person could have, I cannot see any reason for not having an official identification document.

There is a passport, a driver's licence, a national insurance number, a student's pass, a House of Commons pass, a Visa card, an Access card, an American Express card and bank cards. If we have to travel on public transport, our names are put on tickets on planes, on boats and on rail. Hon. Members are proud to display their photograph and their party affiliation on election literature and posters. When a person is employed, he may have a clock number, a pay number and even a VAT number. When the major parties hold conferences, delegates have conference passes. Even people playing football have numbers on their backs for identification, as do rugby players. I understand that cricketers may have to put their names on their cricket kit.

I was disturbed to learn recently that if someone applies for a telephone, British Telecom will approach credit companies for information about the person. If the applicant has had difficulty with credit in the past, British Telecom will make that person pay a deposit for the telephone. In all, we have an amazing number of means of identification.

I am surprised that there are those in the United Kingdom who are afraid to identify themselves and are not proud to take their pass out of their pocket and hand it to whoever asks for it. They wish to hide their identity. I am afraid that most of those people fear that in certain circumstances such identification would be a disadvantage to them.

6.30 pm
Mr. David Evans (Welwyn Hatfield)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that with modern technology all the identifications that he has described can be put on one identity card?

Mr. Forsythe

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman pointed that out. That could be a case for introducing a single identification card to cover all those matters. I agree that perhaps such a measure should extend to the whole of the United Kingdom rather than apply only to Northern Ireland.

Of course, such identification cards are very handy for elections in Northern Ireland. I wonder how the major parties would react if there were a close result in an election or by-election—[Interruption.] No, I am not prophesying. If identification documents were required and perhaps 500 people were not eligible to vote because they had no identification document, that might make people think differently as regards the position in Northern Ireland.

In wartime, identification documents had to be obtained. We feel that we are in a war situation in Northern Ireland and see no reason why we should not have identification documents.

Mr. Harry Barnes

The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) was incorrect on only one point—his point about what occurred in Committee. A motion similar to the one before the House now was dealt with in Committee and was withdrawn. Had it not been withdrawn, we should not be debating a similar motion now. The new clause is slightly different from the proposal in Committee because a flaw in the previous proposal in respect of what would happen to people who had come from outside Northern Ireland has been covered by a provision allowing passports to be used as identification. The new clause is more consistent than the previous proposal, but it is no more correct.

The last place in the United Kingdom and perhaps in the world where identity cards should be introduced is Northern Ireland. That is partly for the reasons stressed by those who want to introduce them—that when incidents take place, the police can get hold of information quickly. Identity cards would be a godsend to terrorist organisations. Identity cards could be inspected by terrorist organisations and fed into their databanks and computers. We have just discussed a measure on how we could confiscate the vast funds that terrorist organisations hold. Undoubtedly, they have great strength of organisation, and their organisation would be further strengthened by introducing identity cards which people would be expected to carry with them all the time.

Enough problems are already caused by terrorists getting hold of identification documents. People might choose to go about without identification, not simply to avoid the security forces but to avoid being tackled by terrorists and their friends. Furthermore, the technology referred to by the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) which allows cards and smart cards to bear all sorts of information seems terribly dangerous. Such cards can be impregnated with invisible information which can be read only by those who have the proper machinery. Not only the security forces may have such machinery. In any case, there may be worries about the security forces and the police having access to such information. Terrorist organisations may get hold of the machinery and add all types of information, including basic information about whether they judge the person to be a Protestant or a Catholic, which they could use on future occasions.

Mr. William Ross

Will the hon. Gentleman look at the first line of the new clause, which says, The Secretary of State may make regulations"? Surely such regulations would be subject to scrutiny in the House and surely the House would lay down the information which could be put on the card. If the hon. Gentleman does not believe that the officials who would create the cards would carry out the instructions given to them, how would he deal with such people?

Mr. Barnes

If officials were given cards which could be impregnated with information other than that which they had been requested to put on it and the House made regulations which prohibited them from doing so, an extra problem would be created in respect of the acceptability of the cards in Northern Ireland. Vast elements of the population may come to believe that the cards would be misused even though the regulations prohibited it. If it is possible to impregnate the cards with various information, the IRA and Protestant paramilitary organisations would hardly be put off by regulations passed by the House.

There are further serious reasons to be added to the points made by the hon. Member for South Down about why the measure is incorrect and will be counterproductive. It is a dangerous measure and that is why the House should vote against it.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

You may know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that, except for some minor alterations, the new clause was debated at some length in Standing Committee. We have had a longer debate this evening, with one or two new players. Unfortunately, contrary to the idea of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe), they did not have numbers on their backs, so we found it difficult at times to identify them. With the exception of the idea of soccer numbers and, I presume, rugby numbers and perhaps even innovations for cricket teams—about which the Secretary of State may tell us in a future debate—no new arguments have been made in the debate.

Mr. William Ross

Yes, they have.

Mr. Marshall

No new argument ever comes from the mouth of the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross). No new arguments have been made in the debate.

There is an argument for identity cards. I do not agree with them but I admit that there is an argument. There is a genuine debate about identity cards, not only in the United Kingdom but throughout Europe. That may be a factor which we shall have to face post-1992.

The only justification for introducing such a scheme into the Province and not into the remainder of the United Kingdom is that it would improve security and enhance the position of the security forces vis-à-vis terror groups in the Province. All the information that I have received, and certainly the view advanced on behalf of the Government by the Minister of State in Committee, runs counter to that argument. The information from the mouth of the Minister of State is that that is not a requirement of the scheme.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the cards which we wear in the House of Commons are a waste of time? Would he wish us not to carry them?

Mr. Marshall

That is a red herring. You will notice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I do not wear my identification card in the Chamber. If right hon. and hon. Members see me around the building, they will know that I do not wear it then either. I take the view, rightly or wrongly, that as an elected Member of this place who represents the people who send me here the security forces have a duty and responsibility to recognise me and all the other elected Members. For that reason, I reject the argument of the hon. Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson), who has only just entered the Chamber, and similar arguments that were made by Ulster Unionist Members.

Rev. Ian Paisley

If the hon. Gentleman were stopped and asked to produce his identity card, would he do so?

Mr. Marshall

If I am stopped and asked for identification—not in this place, because as an elected Member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, I am supposed to be known to the security people—[Interruption.] That is true, but it is a different argument.

If I were stopped by the police, on suspicion that I had committed an offence, and were asked to produce identification—not on the spot, but at a place of my choosing, in agreement with the police—I should do so. But that point is totally different from the one concerning the general introduction of identity cards in the Province of Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), in his interpretation of the Minister's response in Committee to his amendment, sought to mislead the House to some extent. I shall quote what the Minister said in the Standing Committee on Thursday 31 January. He will forgive me for quoting him. On the other hand, perhaps he is pleased, as I may be saving him the problem of quoting himself. On that occasion he said: If his argument"— the argument of the hon. Member for Upper Bann— was for security, on the face of it we can see how a common identity card could be of help. It might help security forces who come to the Province for a relatively limited time and then leave, and do not have the benefit of developing detailed knowledge of the people in whose areas they serve, as does the Royal Ulster Constabulary. There might, therefore, be a certain security advantage in that regard. Those are the words that were quoted by the hon. Member for Upper Bann. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Minister used the conditional tense throughout that part of his statement. But he went on to say: However,"— note the change— I am not aware that the security forces or the police have major difficulty identifying people. Indeed, I know from our debates that at least some in the community think that the ability of the police and security forces to determine people's identity is over-extensive, almost to the point, of being intrusive. So the argument that a security lacuna needs to be filled does not convince me."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 31 January 1991; c. 326–27.] Hon. Members, especially Conservative Members, should bear that in mind when this new clause is put to the vote. In the Government's view, identity cards in the Province alone would not affect the security situation a great deal. I think that I am right to say that the hon. Member for Upper Bann misled the House a little when he prayed in aid the remarks of the Minister of State: In fact, the Minister of State was using a slightly different, and stronger, argument to refute the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman.

6.45 pm

In another debate, the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) argued that identity cards should be supported if it were thought that they would provide extra security assurance. Like the Government, I believe that identity cards would not provide additional assurance against acts of violence, or enhance the position of the security forces in the Province. In Committee, the Minister could not think of any overriding security need to justify the introduction of such cards—and I am sure that his officials were putting their minds seriously to the subject. The argument stands or falls on the basis of the security question alone. For that reason, if for no other, I oppose this new clause.

The Minister also mentioned reasons of convenience. The hon. Member for Upper Bann has sought to rectify the fault in the new clause by introducing paragraph (c), but the basic argument still applies. The Province has many visitors, not just from overseas and from the Republic, but also from the remainder of the United Kingdom. I travel to Northern Ireland fairly frequently, though not as often as some of my hon. Friends think I should. If I had to produce my passport or an identity card —a card for which I had had to be photographed—or were further inconvenienced in what can already be a very trying journey, even I might find that a deterrent. Such an additional restriction, as well as deterring visitors and tourists from the remainder of the United Kingdom, could well have a detrimental influence on business people travelling to the Province. I refer to business men not just from abroad but also from the remainder of the United Kingdom. Surely it is such people that the Province is most anxious to attract, on the ground that inward investment and jobs are so important. The convenience argument is as strong now as it was when the Minister of State used it in Committee on 31 January.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Marshall

The hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr.Beggs) has just walked into the House. I gave way to another hon. Member who had only just entered the Chamber, and I do not intend to repeat the practice this evening.

Mr. Beggs

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has quite rightly observed that I have not been present for the entire debate. There is a good reason for that. The hon. Gentleman suggested that my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) had attempted to mislead the House. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman himself would not want to mislead the House by suggesting that travel to Northern Ireland is always a trying experience. Perhaps he will admit that he could travel more than 100 miles in Northern Ireland without being stopped by a member of the security forces.

Mr. Marshall

When I talked about travel I was not referring to travel within the Province. I suppose that I really ought not to reply to the hon. Gentleman's point, as it is really a matter for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, as the point of order was really directed at me in the form of a question—[Interruption.] That is a lesson that I never fail to learn in debates with Ulster Unionist Members, including the hon. Member for Antrim, East, with whom I have spent some happy hours in the Province. Travel within Northern Ireland has never presented me with any problem. If that is the assurance that the hon. Gentleman wants, I am happy to give it. However, as he must know, the journey from Great Britain to Northern Ireland is sometimes trying. That is what I was referring to.

I want, finally, to repeat something that I said in Committee. As the Minister will know, in Committee my speech on this matter was very short. My party and I find it ironic that the new clause should be introduced by a political party that believes in selective internment on the ground that the terrorists are already well known to the security forces. If that proposition is correct—it is put continuously by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber—and the people are already known to the security forces, why would identification cards make their job any easier?

Rev. Ian Paisley

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of the hon. Gentleman's earlier remarks, will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, give a ruling on whether hon. Members are required to produce their identity cards outside the House?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

I am not an authority on those matters, but my understanding is that hon. Members are not required to wear their identity cards in the Chamber, which is a matter for the discretion of the individual. My responsibility does not go beyond the Chamber, but I understand that hon. Members are required to wear their identity cards in the Palace of Westminster and advised not to wear them outside it. I am speaking on matters for which I have no authority outside the Chamber, but I think that that is the general position.

Mr. Marshall

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not seeking to involve you in a squabble that does not concern you as it does not relate to order in the Chamber, but the red herring was introduced by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). My understanding is that the letter from the Serjeant at Arms contained a request, not an order.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If that is so, why are hon. Members stopped by the security officers and the police and asked to produce identity cards? [HON. MEMBERS: "They are not."] They have been. I came to the House the other day without my identity card, I was stopped at the door of the House and asked where my identity card was. I said that it was in Belfast. I was asked to produce my identity card and I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to consult Mr. Speaker because I think that the occupant of the Chair should be able to give us a proper ruling so that we know the facts. The majority of hon. Members believe that they have to produce identity cards and if they are wrong, they had better know the truth. We are informed that, outside the precincts of the Palace of Westminster, we are expected to wear our identity cards and produce them on request.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

My understanding is that hon. Members are not obliged to wear their identity cards in the Chamber, but are expected to wear them in the precincts of the Palace of Westminster outside the Chamber, and are advised not to wear them outside the Palace because they may make themselves vulnerable. The precise obligation on hon. Members outside the Chamber, but within the precincts, is a matter dealt with in the guidance issued by the Serjeant at Arms. It is right that the security authorities of the House should have the power to challenge an hon. Member about whose identity they may have doubts, so that the identity is put beyond doubt.

As I understand it, no hon. Member has been refused admission to the precincts of the Palace of Westminster because he or she was not, at the time, wearing his or her identity card. Identities are challenged, but once they have been established the hon. Members are admitted. It would be unwise for me to seek to go beyond that. I have given as comprehensive a reply as I can and I hope that we can now get back to new clause 1A.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I want to make it perfectly clear that the police officer who challenged me knew me and did not try to stop me, but asked for my identity card.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I would have been astonished if any of our security staff did not recognise the hon. Gentleman on sight. I hope that the hon. Gentleman appreciates the vigilance of the security forces on that occasion.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Dr. Brian Mawhinney)

At the beginning of our proceedings, the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) encouraged all of us to be concise and not to waffle. I shall seek to follow the sterling example of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in this and other speeches that I have to make during the evening, being careful at the same time to answer the arguments of the individual debates. In that context, it may be helpful if I start by clarifying one or two issues, so that I do not have to come back to them as I review this interesting debate.

First, this is emergency legislation as it relates to Northern Ireland, and is not United Kingdom legislation. There may be arguments on both sides of the fence for an identity card scheme in the United Kingdom, but, as I made clear in Committee, that is not what the legislation is about, and neither I nor the Northern Ireland Office have responsibility for such a scheme in the United Kingdom. Therefore, I hope that the House, like the Committee, will not allow me to become sidetracked by that argument.

My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) has consistently supported the introduction of an identification scheme throughout the United Kingdom, for which I pay tribute to him and do not argue with him, but that does not relate to this debate. I recognise the legitimacy of the point made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who spoke on Monday about an identity card system in the United Kingdom. That was perfectly legitimate. As the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) said, there is an argument relating to such a scheme on a United Kingdom basis, although he does not support it, but it does not relate to the Bill, so I do not wish to get involved in that argument tonight. Exactly the same argument applies to the issue of 1992. There may be discussions about having identity cards after 1992, but that is not a matter for the Northern Ireland Office or for me, and I do not want to include it in my reply.

Secondly, this is emergency legislation, so if identification cards were to be introduced under it, it would have to be—as the hon. Member for Leicester, South said—for an overwhelming or compelling security reason, not for administrative convenience or any other reason. I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea). There is an argument that, on purely administrative grounds, one form of identification is better than six or seven. Another argument to be made is that six or seven forms of identification provide a degree of convenience. But those are not the issues before the House in relation to the new clause. This is emergency legislation, so security should be paramount.

As the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) said, we debated this matter in Committee. The original clause was withdrawn and was reproduced as clause 1. I suspect that, following the debate in Committee, new clause 1A was added to address the issue.

Mr. Trimble

indicated assent.

Dr. Mawhinney

I see that the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) nods in agreement. I do not believe that he sought to mislead the Committee, although I understand why the hon. Member for Leicester, South said so. The hon. Member for Upper Bann quoted what I said in Committee to support his argument, but in Committee he made it clear that he is much too good a lawyer not to expect other hon. Members to quote different parts of my speeches in Committee to counter his argument. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Leicester, South for doing so and for saving me the trouble.

I repeat what I said in Committee: the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the armed forces already have considerable powers to examine and establish people's identities. There is no evidence that the RUC experience any major problems in establishing people's identities. This point was made in Committee by the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), and it remains as true now as it was then.

I am told that it would be technically feasible to produce an identity card and even one that would be difficult to forge, although there would be no guarantee that it would be impossible to forge. However, even if such a card were produced, all it would show was that it had been issued by the appropriate authority. It would not necessarily identify the individual who was holding it. It would not prove, for example, that the card had not been fraudulently applied for, or that the information on it was accurate. Accordingly, a sophisticated screening system would be necessary to prevent fraudulent applications.

7 pm

Given the scope for abuse with postal applications, a system of personal applications would probably be necessary. The population at which an identity card system would be particularly targeted—terrorists and their supporters—represents considerably less than 1 per cent. of the total population. Whether certain persons fall into this category would not be known to the issuing authority, and, given that consideration, the RUC would probably be the most appropriate issuing authority. However, this would present major resource difficulties for the RUC, and there would also be security reasons for not allowing too much public access to police buildings.

When the hon. Member for South Down raised some of the practical difficulties, most people could identify with them, whether or not they found them compelling. However, there are even more fundamental difficulties associated with such a scheme in the context of Northern Ireland that the House must bear in mind.

A number of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the argument have asked what would happen to those wishing to come to Northern Ireland who were not normally resident in the Province. The hon. Member for Upper Bann has tried to solve that problem, but the new clause does not answer some of the fundamental difficulties associated with it.

It is all very well saying that people from the Republic or from Great Britain could get an identity card before coming, but where would they get it, from whom and on the basis of what information? How would that information be checked so that we could be sure that it was accurate?

There are serious problems at the heart of the issue. If that of dealing with people living outside Northern Ireland is put in the context of the United Kingdom, as it might be, some of the difficulties would be lessened, as they would be if it were put in the EC context, but that is not the issue before the House. We are dealing with these two clauses, which relate just to Northern Ireland.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the argument that such a scheme is likely to be a deterrent not only to visitors but to those who have an investment commitment to the Province. Ministers and hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies spend a lot of time out and about around the world singing the praises of Northern Ireland—its beauty, its hospitality, the generosity of its people to visitors and the advantage of investing there for the creation of jobs. It does not make sense then to introduce regulations which have no compelling security argument behind them but which would be detrimental to that process.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Upper Bann for his consistency. He said in Committee that he was not impressed by the civil libertarian argument against identity cards, and he repeated that this evening. Nevertheless, such arguments exist, and they are compelling for some people.

Rev. William McCrea

When the Minister says that there is no security argument for such a system, is he speaking with the authority of the Police Federation or in his capacity as the responsible Minister?

Dr. Mawhinney

The hon. Member must have seen me turn to address the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) to answer that point. I accept what the hon. Gentleman said about hearing police officers on television or personally saying that they are in favour of such a system. I do not question what he has told the House. He will want to know that the RUC were consulted on this subject, at senior level, during a major security review in 1988 and they said that they were not in favour of an identification card scheme—for two reasons. First, they did not believe that such a system was necessary; secondly, they said that there would be formidable problems in administering an effective scheme. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman's point. That is the best and most up-to-date information that I have.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Was that information given by the present Chief Constable or the former Chief Constable, Sir John Hermon, who was always against identity cards?

Dr. Mawhinney

The advice was given in 1988; the hon. Gentleman will be able to work out the answer to his question from that information.

We have had a good debate and aired important issues that the House should consider. However, I am not convinced that the uncertain advantages of a compulsory identity card system outweigh the practical difficulties and penalties associated with it, or that the security arguments are compelling in the Northern Ireland context. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Member for Upper Bann will follow the good precedent that he set in Committee and not push the new clause to a vote. If he does so, I must ask the House to resist it.

Mr. Trimble

As the Minister said, we have had a good debate. It was much longer than the debate we had in Committee, and a wider range of views have been expressed. One of the advantages of the debate is that we have now had a longer and more considered response from the Opposition. In Committee, the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) limited himself to two interventions.

I am sure that the hon. Member will understand when I say that I must take exception to his suggestion that I intended to, or did, mislead the House. No one could reasonably hold that view. I quoted precisely the words that the Minister used in Committee. The limited and tentative nature of his support for an identity card system was clear from the words that he used and, after quoting those words, I went on to disagree with them in some respects. No one could have been misled then, but if they were, I hope that I have made it clear now.

The burden of the observations of the hon. Member for Leicester, South and the Minister was that the security forces do not want an identity card system. I am not privy to the advice given by some senior officers in the RUC in 1988 but, like the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), I have often heard members of the security forces refer to this system. I believe that the Northern Ireland Police Federation, like the Police Federation of England and Wales, as evidenced by the article that was coincidentally published this week, is in favour of it.

It is a constant wonder to those of us who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland how advice from senior levels of the RUC so often seems to contradict our experience and what we hear at almost all other levels of the RUC from those people to whom we speak when we come across them. Those views never seem to be expressed by people speaking to us. We could all benefit from such experiences.

The Minister of State said that this was a debate on Northern Ireland emergency provisions, not a debate on the United Kingdom or Europe. He was right to say that, strictly, some of these matters are not relevant, but such a narrow approach is not altogether realistic. Issues overlap, and form part of the background. I appreciate that there would be difficulties in operating this scheme on a purely Northern Ireland basis, but I am convinced that, even on that limited basis, there would be advantages, and that we must explore these matters further.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) was worried about tampering with identity cards, and he referred to smart cards. Last year, the Home Affairs Select Committee argued in its seventh report for smart cards. I hope that the hon. Gentleman noticed that I did not argue for them. Cards could be tampered with. The system could be broken into and be open to abuse. I am not an expert and am prepared to be guided by those who are experts in this matter, but it may be safer to have a simpler card that relates to information held in security force data banks.

The new clause does not attempt to deal with all the points of detail. It is an authorising, empowering provision, which leaves it open to the Secretary of State to make regulations. We would expect regulations to deal with many of the points made in the debate, particularly some of the Minister's.

Several hon. Members referred to the difficulties that would arise for visitors, and I agree that they would arise. I do not think that they can be avoided if security measures are to be taken. Significant numbers of people move back and forth between Northern Ireland and other places. At certain times of the year when thousands of people travel, hon. Members are occasionally caught up in huge queues at Heathrow, but the people involved travel year in and year out; they would need to get an identity card only once, or they could use other identity documents, if that were provided for by regulations. The problems could be overcome.

The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) raised some interesting points which got him into some difficulty with hon. Members, especially when he said that it was strange that such an argument should come from our Benches, because it suggested that we wanted to create second-class citizens. He was not being integrationist; he was using the words ironically. I am sure that he appreciates the danger of irony because it often backfires; he will learn from that experience.

The hon. Member for South Down asked about the age from which people would carry identity cards. I am not old enough to remember it personally, but I believe that identity cards were carried by the entire population during the war. That answers his point.

The hon. Gentleman asked what the penalties would be. They would be a matter for the regulations. We have referred in previous debates to European precedents. In France, citizens are arrested if they cannot produce an identity card and are given four hours to find it. In Spain, people are given time to produce their card on request. Similar arrangements exist in Germany. A range of procedures could be followed, but I suspect that the suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) would be the simplest procedure.

The hon. Member for South Down complained about my suggestion that the identity cards could be used in connection with information held in security force data banks and was worried about what that might lead to. This week, an article inPolice states: In Denmark … they record data from the cards onto computers. This information includes health service numbers, criminal records and even the number of a library ticket. That procedure does not seem to have worried the Danes. We should bear that information in mind when objections are made on a civil liberties or human rights basis.

The hon. Member for South Down referred to a practice which I mentioned earlier, whereby identity cards are logged on security force computers and tagged by reference to their owners' perceived activities. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the difficulties that people face when buying second-hand cars. He will realise that an identity card system would remove those difficulties, because the information would be tagged by reference to the identity card rather than the vehicle. I trust that there will not be a market in second-hand identity cards.

7.15 pm
Mr. McGrady

The hon. Member obviously did not pick up my point correctly. I said that, as many members of the security forces are on short-term duties in Northern Ireland, presentation of an identity card by, for example, me would assist them in determining whether I was a terrorist or suspected terrorist. That could happen only if that card were accompanied by computerised data about which I knew nothing but which showed whether I was such a person. If that information is not attached, the card is just a piece of plastic which is entirely useless for security purposes.

Mr. Trimble

That is what I said in introducing the new clause—that there should be a link between an identity card and a computer database. That system exists. The hon. Gentleman talked earlier about the difficulties that some card owners would face. My point is that they would not get into difficulties if there were an identity card system.

Mr. McGrady

I would not know what information was held about me.

Mr. Trimble

The hon. Gentleman has repeated his concern about not knowing what data were held on him. I do not know what data are held on me.

Mr. McGrady

The hon. Member should know.

Mr. Trimble

People in Northern Ireland do not know what data are held on them. I am not sure that we should know. I am not sure that I want to know. By a roundabout route, I once discovered information held on security force files about me that was utterly wrong, but I thought that it was quite a joke. That would make an interesting story which I will not repeat. Anyone who wants to find out the whole story can see me outside.

Mr. McGrady

On a point of information, let me explain what has happened in other circumstances. Some of my constituents have lost their jobs because of incorrect data held by the security forces. On only one occasion was I successful in getting an accusation rebutted and the person involved restored to his job. One has no control over the data. If that is acceptable to the hon. Member, democracy is down the drain.

Mr. Trimble

We could pursue that matter at some length. There are several unknowns. One cannot assume that the information is always incorrect. We appreciate that there is a serious risk in Northern Ireland and that serious measures must be taken in response, just as they have been and will continue to be taken. Occasionally, inconveniences fall on innocent people. We expect people in the community to support the need for these measures and to accept inconveniences where they arise. That is necessary and it applies in respect of identity cards as well.

I was encouraged by some support during the debate, particularly by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), who expressed his support, just as he did in Committee, although he supported cards on a United Kingdom basis. Perhaps such a system will end the anomalies that may arise by operating on a Northern Ireland basis only.

The hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) also supported an identity card system, although on a United Kingdom basis. I can think of no better way of concluding than by quoting the hon. Gentleman's exact words, and I hope that I do not mislead the House by doing so. The hon. Member said: I see no reason why an identity card should not be used throughout the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. I firmly believe that the only people who would object are cranks and those who are up to no good—the latter are the very people we want to trace quickly and bring to justice". —[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 31 January 1991; c. 325.] That sums up the matter in a nutshell.

In view of the wide-ranging discussion we have had on this matter, my hon. Friends and I are confident that this cause will continue to progress. We believe that there is significant support for an identity card system, and we are encouraged that we are winning the argument on this matter. Consequently, I do not intend to press the motion to a Division but will seek to withdraw it, as I did in Committee. I am sorry if I have disappointed hon. Members who sought otherwise.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Hon. Members


Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The House proceeded to a Division; but no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Ayes, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER declared that the Noes had it.

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