HC Deb 24 February 1998 vol 307 cc188-9 4.23 pm
Mr. David Amess (Southend, West)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for a system of voluntary personal security cards; and for connected purposes. There is a view that ten-minute Bills are a waste of time. Unsurprisingly, I do not believe that to be the case. An Act of Parliament stands in my name to protect horses, ponies and donkeys from cruel tethering. A statue of Raoul Wallenberg stands outside the main synagogue in London as a result of a ten-minute Bill. Although there appear to be one or two objections to my efforts to reform the quarantine laws, I am confident that after Cruft's we will see no more objections to that Bill, which will be another measure on the statute book.

On 12 May 1993, I introduced a Bill that was similar to the Bill that I am seeking leave to introduce today. I am also vain enough to say that, because of that Bill, two years later, the then Home Secretary introduced a rather modest rearrangement of driving licences and a further opportunity for people to use identification cards for free movement within the European Union.

On 1 May 1997, a new Government were elected. I am sure that Conservative Members are carefully noting that—although they are not giving us any credit—that Government seem to be adopting some of the measures that the previous Government had well in hand. Only two weeks ago, I noticed an article in which they talked up the very issue of voluntary identity cards. Therefore, I very much hope that, on coming Fridays, Ministers will have no objection to the Bill making progress.

On 22 August 1996, the previous Government announced that, in principle, they agreed with a voluntary identity card scheme. That announcement coincided with a report from the Home Affairs Select Committee, which agreed with proposals to introduce voluntary identification cards.

Although none of the arguments for introducing identification cards is original—the House has heard them all before—I am still somewhat frustrated by the fact that we have not legislated on the matter. There are two specific issues: the advantages of and arguments against identity cards, and whether cards would be voluntary or compulsory.

Given the weight of gentlemen's wallets and ladies' purses, I should have thought that it was entirely logical to use a smartcard as an identity card. The words, "I'll have to see some ID," are familiar to anyone whose cheque book or cheque card has been stolen and who is trying to get money out of a bank account. They are familiar also to students and pensioners applying for a rail card. Everyone accepts that there are times when, in return for a service or benefit, we may have to provide proof that we are who we say we are. Examples include showing a driver's licence; guaranteeing a cheque; proving one's age, or right to be in this country or to claim benefits; proving one's identity to gain access to medical records; and dealing with tax affairs. The list is endless. A voluntary identity card would be of enormous value to most sensible people.

A voluntary identification card would be particularly effective in combating, for example, under-age drinking in licensed premises or under-age purchase of alcohol and tobacco from retail outlets. We should never forget that, sadly, the peak offending age is 15. I am reliably informed that four out of five teenagers support introducing identity cards. I suspect that that support comes largely from their frustration at waiting in queues to enter discotheques.

Introducing identity cards would also end the problem of bogus official callers, and help in tackling social security fraud and similar crimes.

The law-abiding people of our country have absolutely nothing to fear from a voluntary identity card scheme. Moreover, the police would be greatly helped in performing their duties, whether in dealing with terrorism or dealing with immigration or motoring offences. I know that the police would support such a scheme.

I know that some people—including some hon. Members—believe that it would be an absolute waste of time to have a voluntary card, but I do not agree. Some people oppose the cards on the grounds of civil liberties, and I know that the police are reluctant to have a special power to require an individual to produce a card on demand, but I believe that, given the convenience of a card, voluntary ownership would soon become widespread. Indeed, it would eventually become a nuisance not to have a card.

We certainly have the technology to produce such a smartcard at relatively little expense. The Select Committee on Home Affairs was convinced that the technology was available to develop the cards, and to give the necessary protection in terms of confidentiality, with the capacity to contain the information required to make the card effective.

Many other countries have such cards. Of the 15 European states, 12 have some sort of identity card scheme. Seven countries have compulsory card schemes. Austria, Finland, France, the Netherlands and Sweden have voluntary schemes which have been hugely successful. Britain, along with the Irish Republic and Denmark, is the only European Union country not to have an identity card system. Outside the European Union, voluntary card systems operate in Iceland and Switzerland.

It is bizarre that, when one is born, one has to have a birth certificate and, when one dies, one has to have a death certificate, but the bit in between—one's life—is somehow clouded in a haze. I hope that the House will agree—I know that the country does—that an identity card system such as that which I have briefly outlined would register the fact that we have lived. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Amess, Mr. David Atkinson, Mr. Ian Bruce, Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Mr. Nigel Evans, Mr. Michael Fabricant, Mr. Nick Hawkins, Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith, Rev. Martin Smyth, Mr. Richard Spring, Miss Ann Widdecombe and Mrs. Ann Winterton.

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