HC Deb 06 June 1996 vol 278 cc707-9
7. Mr. Dunn

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress has been made on his evaluation of the introduction of identity cards. [30267]

Mr. Howard

We are making good progress in our assessment of the responses received to the Green Paper on identity cards. I hope to be able to announce our final decision shortly.

Mr. Dunn

Although my right hon. and learned Friend is awaiting a report from the Select Committee on Home Affairs on the matter, does he agree that one use of a national identity card would be to provide proof of identity by those about to vote in elections? An ID card would prevent wide-scale abuse and impersonation, which is taking place in national and local elections.

Mr. Howard

There is almost no limit to the number of uses that might be made of an identity card. We evaluated many of them in the consultation document that we issued. I know that my hon. Friend is sympathetic to the view that we should await the report of the Home Affairs Committee. I hope to be able to announce our proposals shortly thereafter.

Mr. Beggs

Will the Home Secretary give an assurance that, in the event of an identity card being introduced, it will apply throughout the United Kingdom? Will he take account of the widespread forgery of documents that facilitate personation in elections in certain areas of Northern Ireland? That could be overcome by a single document and enable a greater number of people who have been disfranchised due to arriving to vote with only one part of a driving licence, an out-of-date passport, or whatever, to be entitled to exercise their vote? I exhort him to give that assurance today.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman will know that whether our proposals extend in due course to Northern Ireland is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I shall ensure that the views that the hon. Gentleman has expressed with characteristic forcefulness are drawn to my right hon. and learned Friend's attention.

Mr. Budgen

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the smartcard, which is required from people who are applying for payment under social security rules, is a form of voluntary identity card? Could not that smartcard principle be applied to a host of other circumstances in which the citizen comes into contact with the agencies of the state?

Mr. Howard

That is indeed a possibility. My hon. Friend has identified one way in which identity cards might develop. The smartcard technology might not be available for general-purpose use for some time, but we shall clearly bear it in mind.

Mr. Straw

Crime has doubled in the past 17 years, which represents the worst record of any British Government since the war, and the worst record among the Governments of 16 western countries surveyed by the Home Office. Against that background, we can all understand the synthetic hysteria that we have heard from the Government Dispatch Box this afternoon. On 1 April last year, the Prime Minister, opening the Conservative party's local election campaign, said that compulsory identity cards would deter crime and make it more likely that we will catch criminals". May we now have a categorical undertaking from the Home Secretary that that remains the Government's policy?

Mr. Howard

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman talks about synthetic hysteria, because he is an expert in the real thing. The shadow Chief Whip says that his proposals for a curfew are unworkable, the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) says that they are ridiculous, and the Association of Chief Police Officers' spokesman says that they would give rise to huge practical difficulties. The only curfew that the Labour party is ever likely to impose is a curfew on the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) himself. It all goes to show that the Labour party cannot be trusted on crime. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] The hon. Gentleman began his question by talking about crime, so I am answering about crime.

As for identity cards, the hon. Gentleman will know that we have always made it plain that we are considering the range of identity card proposals, voluntary and compulsory, and we shall make our decision known in due course.

Madam Speaker

Order. Perhaps I might at this juncture refer the Secretary of State to answers that I gave yesterday to points of order concerning the answering of questions. They are recorded in column 609 of yesterday's Hansard.