§ 4.5 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING rose to move to resolve, That in present conditions the use of identity cards is unnecessary and oppressive and should be discontinued without delay. The noble Marquess said: My Lords, this Motion is the fulfilment of an assurance which I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, when his answer to a Question of mine on this subject some three weeks ago produced such a cascade of supplementaries as to indicate that your Lordships would desire ampler discussion of the subject than was possible in the then circumstances. In my Motion, I have described identity cards as being, under present conditions, oppressive and unnecessary. The Government, on the other hand, take the view that they fulfil a valuable purpose and that there is no prospect in any foreseeable future of their being withdrawn from us. It is true to say that, in his reply to various inquiries on the same subject, the Prime Minister has recently somewhat narrowed the period to the "immediate future." But I think the two statements are really not inconsistent because, so far as the present Government are concerned, there is no material difference between the "immediate" and the "foreseeable" future.
When I asked my Question, I invited the noble Lord who was replying to state the reasons for which he considered that the system of identity cards should be retained. It is perhaps of value to your Lordships and fair to the noble Lord that I should read the terms of his answer at this stage. The reasons he gave were that
Identity cards are an essential part of the national registration system, which continues to render valuable service in connection with National Service, security, food rationing, the National Health Service and the administration of other services, such as family allowances and post-war credits. The possession of an identity card as a simple means of establishing identity is of benefit to the individual in various ways. It enables him to obtain a new ration book and to withdraw money from the Post Office Savings Bank with the minimum of formality; it simplifies the process of obtaining a passport; it makes it unnecessary to produce a birth certificate in support of a claim for the payment of post-war credits; and it avoids difficulty in establishing identity when applying for dental or other treatment or to be placed on a doctor's list.
I will deal in due course with those reasons so advanced, but I should prefer to begin by stating what are our objections to the continuance of the system. It may be that the first objection is, to a large extent, psychological, but it is not for that reason any the less formidable. There was a time, now long past and almost forgotten, when we were able to travel to nearly every country of Europe without a passport. It would, indeed, be a welcome sign that the world was recovering its sanity and stability and reasserting its desire for free circulation if passports could again be dispensed with. But the fact that nowadays we have to have a passport for external use seems to us no reason why we should have to have one for internal use as well.
I read recently in an article in the Sunday Press (with every word of which, as it happens, I agreed), that identity cards were to many people a symbol of regimentation. I believe that to be absolutely true. It is not in the slightest degree accurate to say that only malefactors resent them. Criminals have their own way of solving, that problem, and it is perfectly obvious that nowadays there is a flourishing home industry in what may be called "identity cardsharping." But many people feel that the enforced possession of an identity card is an intrusion upon their private lives and marks them out as mere planning fodder for a card-index State. I do not expect most noble Lords opposite to understand that point of view. If they did, they would not be the Socialists that in varying degrees they are. But at the same time I would beg them to realise that that reaction, however irrational, obstructive, or antediluvian it may seem to them, is nevertheless widespread,
deep-seated and most profoundly genuine, as I have reason to testify, apart from any other source of information, from the letters which have reached me from persons of many different types all over the country since this Motion appeared upon the Order Paper. I would commend to noble Lords opposite some words which were spoken by a supporter of their own Party, when, in September, 1939, the Bill which authorised the introduction of identity cards was being considered in another place. He said:
One thing that we do respect in this country is our freedom from being challenged on every occasion to produce something to prove that we are certain persons.
Later, a little more than a year ago, the Home Secretary himself showed a glimmer of regeneration when he remarked to a Committee in another place:
The National Register and the identity card are something alien to the English way of life.
§ My Lords, the Socialist Party to-day, at any rate in another place, does not appear either to produce or to encourage expressions of support for personal freedom. The toiling masses of Socialist Back Benchers have dutifully learned the lesson that "the gentleman in Whitehall knows best." But, happily, there are many millions of people in this country —old-fashioned and simple-minded, if you will—who doubt the omniscience and dread the omnipotence of Whitehall, who are not yet convinced that it is grand to be planned, and who continue to prefer to be individuals rather than numerals.
Apart altogether from the psychological angle, there is a constitutional angle to this matter which is of the greatest importance, for the question has to be carefully weighed whether it is justifiable on any ground of expediency or convenience to continue in indefinite operation, without further reference to Parliament, powers which were conferred only to meet the particular emergency of the outbreak of war with Germany, and were approved by Parliament only for that purpose. When the National Registration Bill was before another place on September 4, 1939, my noble friend Lord Clydesmuir, then Mr. Colville and Secretary of State for Scotland, in winding up the debate, in which it is right to say that some uneasiness
and even opposition were expressed, used these words:
The Government did not bring forward the measure without having fully realised that the natural reaction of people in this country against the filling-up of Perms and the answering of questions is a creep and sincere one. But, having in mind the knowledge that we are facing a trial which will require all our forces arid all our strength of man and woman power in the work of Defence, we are satisfied that we must have this Bill.
I hope that the noble Lord who replies for the Government will not endeavour to ride off on the word "Defence" in that quotation, for it is abundantly clear that what my noble friend was there referring to was the imminent danger of a German onslaught upon this country and the need to mobilise all our forces to resist it. I observe that the imminence of attack from Germany was not advanced by the noble Lord in his answer to my Question as one of the reasons for the retention of these documents.
The National Registration Act contains this clause as to the time and the method of its termination:
This Act shall continue in force until such date as His Majesty may by Order-in-Council declare to be the date on which the emergency that was the occasion of the passing of this Act came to an end, and shall then expire.
My Lords, that is perfectly plain. Identity cards can be issued only under the authority of the National Registration Act, 1939. That Act has to come to an end when it is declared by Order-in-Council that the emergency which occasioned it has come to an end, and it shall then expire. No such Order-in-Council has yet been issued, and we are now blithely assured that the issue of any such order is not in contemplation in the for-seeable future. The Courts (Emergency Powers) Act, which was, passed at very much the same time, contains an identical clause as to the time and method of its termination, and it was terminated on October 9 last year by the issue, without any very superhuman convulsion, of the Courts (Emergency Powers) (End of Emergency) Order.
We are therefore confronted with the fantastic situation that powers in regard to which the Government have no further use can be regarded as at an end, whereas powers which the Government choose to preserve have to be regarded as still in force. And yet the emergency in both
cases is the same emergency, and we might surely have been excused for thinking it one and indivisible. Whatever emergency fate or folly may have conjured up at the moment for our chastening, one thing is incontestable—it is not the emergency which occasioned the passing of the National Registration Act in 1939. That Act was, as I have said, to be brought to an end by Order-in-Council when the emergency terminated, and one might well have imagined that the carrying out of that statutory suicide pact was inescapable. Nevertheless, simply for administrative convenience the Government continue to reprieve the victims. It is worth bearing in mind that there was a National Registration Act in the 1914-18 War and that that Act contained the terse and peremptory clause as to its termination that it should continue in force
during the continuance of the present war and no longer.
With the official termination of that war on August 31, 1921, after the prolonged peace negotiations, that National Registration Act ceased upon the midnight, without pain to itself or grief to anyone else. And with it there perished all those of its fellows which had not, by Statute and after full Parliamentary debate, been given a new lease of life by the War Emergency Laws (Continuance) Act of 1920.
§ Let us come to 1939, and remember that before there was ever a system of national registration in existence there had been passed through Parliament the Military Training Act and the National Service (Armed Forces) Act of that year, and by those Acts there was cast upon people liable to service under them the obligation to register in the manner prescribed by the Act. So far as I know, that duty was generally and faithfully performed. There were no identity cards to be handed around. Yet the noble Lord now, in his original Answer to my Question, puts National Service in the forefront of the battle to preserve identity cards to-day, twelve years after their original issue. "Security" he tells us. Perhaps the less said about that, the better. But it is worth remarking in passing that there are still some 10,000 deserters at large, though I continue to think they ought long ago to have been re-admitted to society. The absence of an identity 1340 card does not seem to have led either to their starvation or to their arrest. Rationing, a matter upon which the devotees of the identity card always rely so vigorously, I propose to leave to the practical experience of my noble friend Lord Llewellin, as a former Minister of Food, pausing only to say this: that under the National Registration Act of the First World War there were no identity cards at all, and there was rationing at least of sugar, butter and meat. So it does not seem to be a wholly impossible administrative feat to conduct a rationing system without the affliction of identity cards.
§ As to passports, I have yet to learn that the fact that we possess an identity card absolves us from the necessity, when applying for a new passport, of filling up a long and complicated form and getting it countersigned by a member of one of those classes of society whom the official mind regards as more respectable than ourselves. As to applications for renewal of passport, no identity card is ever asked for. In regard to Post Office Savings Bank facilities, I am told that not so long ago no criminal assize was complete without several cases of fraud upon the Post Office Savings Bank, and that it was the general experience that a person perpetrating those frauds perpetrated them, not on one occasion, but on probably twenty or thirty occasions. It was a perfectly systematic procedure. Unless the regulations were being consistently ignored, on every one of those twenty or thirty occasions that person would have been under a duty to produce his identity card at the Post Office. And no doubt he did produce an identity card, but it was either forged or else stolen from the unhappy depositor from whom he had also stolen the book which he used for the purpose of perpetrating the fraud. I cannot say that the Post Office Savings Bank seems to me to afford the happiest illustration of the efficacy of the system of identity cards.
§ Then National Insurance: I have looked at my own handsome National Insurance card, and I observe that there is upon the face of it no mention of any kind of my identity card number. There appears to be no connection between the indexing of the two. The National Insurance card, on the other hand, exhibits, amid a cabalistic combination of letters, a number which I hope conveys 1341 something to the Ministry of Labour: but it is not try identity card number. As to the National Health card, it is quite true that that does bear upon its face the identity card number. But what is the position in regard to the National Health Service and the identity card? We were all under the belief that the National Health Service was something which had now become part of the permanent way of life of this country—and rightly so. On the other hand, we are informed that identity cards are a merely passing pt lance, and that either in the immediate future or at some period in the foreseeable future they will be dispensed with. If identity cards are essential to the administration of the National Health Service, how are we ever again in this world going to dispense with the system of identity cards? What is the good of talking to us about the immediate future or the foreseeable future, when, if we must have them for that purpose, we have got to have them for ever? Is the noble Lord prepared to say that if in 1946, when the National Health Act was introduced, there had not been upon the Statute Book an Act authorising the issue of identity cards, this or any other Government would have come to this or any other Parliament and asked for the introduction by Statute of a system of identity cards? The fact is that all these assorted reasons are mere pretexts to cover up the invincible attachment of the official mind to the maxim that there is safety in numbers.
To justify my belief that the whole system of identity, cards has by now become largely a senseless survival, I would ask leave to read a Letter I received from a personal friend of my own but, nevertheless, a respectable and responsible professional man. He writes as follows:
Last year, I took my ration book and that of my wife (with her identity card) to get the new books. When asked by the official for my identity card I had to admit that I had lost it. I was told that I would not get a new ration book without it.
No, the old ration book was no criterion—I might have bought it: nor would my passport serve, even though it had got my photograph in it.
Did I realise that there were 20,000 deserters at large? No, he did not think that I looked like one. Oh! of course, I could get a new identity card—in the next street. So there I went, to be met by a pleasant, elderly worn in who would certainly give me a new identity card, if I would give her my name and addres No! that was all they
needed—no proof of my identity was necessary —only my name and address.
The letter ends with the colloquial question which I am tempted to re-echo:
Can you heat it?
§ There is one other serious aspect of this matter; the danger of powers which are conferred for a particular period, and for a particular purpose, being misused when that period is prolonged and that purpose extended. We have only to remember the recent instance where even the Metropolitan Police came under censure from an august quarter for having sought to establish by means of identity cards a kind of private card-index of previous offences by motorists. As the result of that august censure, that system has been suppressed by the Commissioner of Police. I am told that a circular has recently been issued by the Ministry of Health requiring medical practitioners to forward nominal rolls of their patients with identity card numbers of each attached, for the purpose of establishing a central register of persons under the National Health Act. Of course, I have no doubt the general practitioner will welcome some method of employing his leisure to a useful purpose, but in my view that is a complete and flagrant distortion of the real purpose of identity cards. If the Government want to keep the system in being, in case it should be required again in the unhappy event of another outbreak of war, they can easily introduce a Bill to amend the termination clause of the existing Act by providing that its operation shall be forthwith suspended, and that is can be brought into play again by means of an Order in Council if the necessity arises. In the interval, it can repose happily in the Downing Street "deep-freeze," until such time as it is wanted again for the sole legitimate purpose for which it ever ought to exist.
§ Let the Government remember that most of us know, if not what we are, at least who we are, without documentary proof. Let them also remember that if the Government wish to know who we are, they have open to them every method which was at the disposal of any Government of this country for that purpose up to 1939. If that is net satisfactory, then let them at least have the decency to come to Parliament and say to Parliament that they require a renewal of these 1343 powers after fresh investigation of their need—if they like, with photographs and fingerprints attached for good measure. For it is certain that the powers which they now persist in misusing are not only obnoxious and oppressive but obsolete as well. Above all, let the Government not forget that administrative convenience can be purchased at too high a price in personal freedom and public propriety. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That in present conditions the use of identity cards is unnecessary and oppressive, and should be discontinued without delay.—(The Marquess of Reading.)
§ 4.33 p.m.
My Lords, I rise to support in principle, if with a little reservation at this stage of the debate, the Resolution of the noble Marquess, Lord Reading. I must admit that I support it rather more in the spirit of doctrinaire Liberalism, symptoms of which, I am delighted to note, have not yet completely faded from the noble Marquess's political complexion, than in any real hope that His Majesty's Government may have the courage at this moment to strike off from the ordinary man and woman a shackle which, in effect, is little more than a convenience of regimentation or an illustration of the affinity between the Tory feudalism of the Middle Ages and the Socialist card-indexing of to-day.
In the last hundred years, we have established in this country a form of morality by which we have discovered that it is good and proper and profitable to let ordinary people, of all social classes, exercise their free will to the benefit, not only of themselves but also of their neighbours. The experiment has been magnificently successful, and had it not been for the unfortunate intervention of two world wars, with their inevitable restrictions upon the individual and their miserable engendering of mistrust and self-seeking in all walks of life, we should now be much nearer to that Utopia which in the early years of this century seemed to be almost attainable. The struggle towards individual freedom was hard, and it is to me a source of continual and profound regret that the radical forces which struck against over-privilege and the misuse of prosperity should unfortunately have given birth to an element of dis- 1344 torted and cripple-minded jealousy of all privilege—spiritual, intellectual and material—and of all prosperity except communal prosperity.
It is largely in this spirit of mutual distrust that we are to-day hampered, right and left, by restrictions and restraints on what ought to be an open and free way of life. I suggest that all political Parties have fallen into the error of legislating for what is the worst in us, instead of for what is the best in us. We protect ourselves against the dishonest opportunist, when we should open our hearts—and open our regulations as well—so that, even if we are momentarily exploited by the unscrupulous, we shall in the long run achieve an hundredfold the blessings of mutual reliance and the confidence that one's neighbour, as well as oneself, is trying to build up a freedom based upon the will to be more and more a reliable and self-contained individual.
I am not impeded by any sense of false modesty in claiming that it was, in fact, the Liberal Party which in the past led the fight for equalisation of the liberties and rights of the people, particularly of this country. Any student of political history knows that then, as now, the Liberal aim has been not to monopolise freedom, not to average it out over the masses, but to upgrade freedom everywhere and at all times. This is neither the time nor the place for a Party political speech, but since so many definitions have been given of what is a Conservative, a Socialist, or a Liberal, may I be permitted to essay just one more definition of a Liberal? I would say that a Liberal is, among other things, one who believes that any British citizen can be a Socialist, or even a Conservative, without necessarily being either civically disloyal or mentally certifiable. I suggest that neither of the other Parties can claim that. With that tribute to my noble friend on the Conservative Benches, Lord Reading, I would add that, in giving my general support to his Resolution—although I am agog to hear from the Government Benches exactly why his Resolution is probably considered to be fantastic—I must express my personal regret that my appearance on these Benches was so closely followed by his, presumably quite coincidental, disappearance to more populous and certainly more illiberal climes.
1345 I have great sympathy with the noble Marquess's Resolution to-day, and also with the sensations of frustration, of claustrophobia, and even of imprisonment, which he doubtless feels in the matter of identity cards. Speaking, as I am, of his imprisonment, and of my loss in not having hair more of his companionship on these Benches, perhaps he will forgive me if I quote four rather remarkable lines from a poem, with which he is doubtless acquainted, known as The Ballad of Reading Gaol, where it is written:Like two doomed ships that pass in storm We had crossed each other's way: But we made no sign, we said no word, We had no word to say.To return to more serious vein, the issue before your Lordships' House this afternoon is, in a sense, one of comparative unimportance, for it is only a detail which we are discussing. But as a detail it is of considerable significance, for not only does it exemplify one of the most peremptory forms of detraction from individuality, but at the same time it labels all of us with a number and a tag, giving us basically the feeling that each one of us is potentially as bad and as untrustworthy as any unapprehended rogue. This is, indeed, a sorry position. Here, my Lords, is a great opportunity for His Majesty's Government to take a risk, if they can possibly do so—to take a generous, sweeping and magnanimous risk—by abolishing this most despicable stigma, as a token that better and more free times are not merely coming in some undefined future, but that, with a little official effort, they can be anticipated almost immediately.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I listened carefully to the polemical speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, to discover the real objections which he feels to these national identity cards. I must confess that at the end of his speech I was just as puzzled as I was at the beginning. But I can assure the noble Marquess that I enjoyed his speech enormously: the catherine-wheels went round; the jumping crackers jumped; and the rockets rocketed, in the way that we have grown to expect when the noble Marquess addresses us with one of his delightful speeches. However, I do not think we ought to conceal from ourselves that, in spite of these fireworks, the noble Marquess did not produce a single argu- 1346 ment as to any real danger that was caused by the existence of these national identity cards. It was interesting to observe that he put in the forefront of his speech the fact that it was a psychological difficulty. He admitted that the psychological difficulty might be completely irrational, but, nevertheless, he felt that, because some people did not like these national identity cards, they should he abolished.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
If I may interrupt the noble Lord, I did not admit that it was irrational. What I said was that noble Lords opposite might think it was irrational. That is quite a different thing.
§ LORD CHORLEY
The noble Marquess did not produce any arguments to defeat this irrationality. The mere fact that a number of people feel psychologically about something is no proof whatever that it is not a useful thing. I agree that one's instinctive reaction is to dislike anything new—anything in the shape of a national identity card of this kind. But when one tries to think it out on the basis of an attack on civil liberties, which is what I understood was behind the arguments of the noble Marquess, there is really no question at all of civil liberty being involved. The noble Lord who has just addressed us, who was obviously anxious to support the noble Marquess if he could find some grounds on which to do it, said that really it was as a doctrinaire Liberal that he was taking sides with the noble Marquess, and that there was nothing very much in this at all.
What harm does it in fact do to any individual to have to carry about a national identity card? If by chance he forgets it—as in the case of a driving licence, or any other of these documents which one sometimes leaves at home—the police will always be quite reasonable about it, and will give him a few days in which to find and produce it. Or if he has lost it, ire can get it replaced. Surely, all matters of this kind have to be judged in a common-sense way: Where is the harm to the individual? Where is the benefit to the community? I suggest that the noble Marquess has not produced any real argument to show that there is harm to any individual in being asked to carry about an identity card in this way. On 1347 the other hand, there are obviously considerable advantages to the community in all sorts of administrative ways, and in ways that go beyond administration. The noble Marquess likes to pooh-pooh these administrative advantages. It is always possible, especially if one is fortunate enough to possess the noble Marquess's pretty turn of wit, to poke fun at this and that Department. But the Government officials, whom the noble Marquess continually likes to represent as petty tyrants and obscurantists, and that sort of thing, know a great deal more as to where the administrative advantages lie than does the noble Marquess. When one Department after another indicates that there are substantial administrative advantages in keeping these identity cards, I am afraid that I am much more ready to accept their view of the matter than that of the noble Marquess.
I do not propose to go over these particular points of advantage in detail. I will only remind your Lordships that we are already involved in a cold war, and it must be of the greatest advantage to the security services to have these identity cards. I agree with the noble Marquess that it would be better if the duty of the citizen to carry an identity card were established by a new Act of Parliament, one specifically directed to that particular matter, and not maintained under a wartime Statute. But that it very largely a technical problem. I find it difficult to believe that noble Lords opposite who, in the years before the war, were busily engaged on putting on the Statute Book Statutes like the Incitement to Disaffection Act, 1934, and the Trade Union Act, 1927 (as I am reminded by my noble friend), which were serious infringements of civil liberties, are really so concerned as they make out over this rather trumpery question. I am not so sure that they have not got their eyes on a possible General Election before very long, and are not trying to make political capital out of this comparatively small matter. If, now or at any other time, the noble Marquess can produce any substantial reasons to show that some genuine disability and harm are involved to individual citizens in having to carry identity cards, then I shall be very glad to join up with him. 1348 So far, he has completely failed to convince me that there is any such disability or harm.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, if the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, has failed to convince the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, that there is any sound objection against these identity cards, I think I speak for one or two noble Lords sitting on these Benches when I tell Lord Chorley that so far he has failed to convince any of us here why the identity card should be retained. If I may say so with respect, the arguments put forward by him were quite remarkable. If I understood my noble friend Lord Reading correctly, what we are asking for this afternoon is a justification from His Majesty's Govternment for the continuation of these identity cards. I thought that the noble Marquess, Lord Reading—in a speech in which, if I may say so with respect, he excelled his already very high reputation in this House—put forward several perfectly clear points. He mentioned the question of deserters. I was particularly interested to hear him mention that point, because I have myself in your Lordships' House over the last three years regularly asked His Majesty's Government Questions concerning deserters. I have asked how it is that these deserters—some 10,000 I think—manage to exist without identity cards, and I have said no fewer than three times that I thought that that was a good case for doing away with those cards. I have been told on more than one occasion by His Majesty's Government that it is necessary to retain them in order that more deserters may be apprehended. I cannot believe that the figures are going down. I cannot believe that many deserters have been apprehended.
When the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, replied to my supplementary question to the Question of the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, last week, he remarked that merely because 10,000 people—a very small proportion, he said—in the country get along well without them was no grounds for doing away with them. Surely, that is an entirely fallacious argument. If only one hundred can get away with it, it seems that the system has something inherently wrong in it.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
If the noble Lord desires to quote me, will he please quote 1349 me accurately? I did not say what he attributed to me.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
All I said, without the qualifications attached by the noble Lord, was that 10,000 compared with millions was a very small figure. There were no trimmings to it.
§ LORD MANCROFT
Then I apologise to the noble Lord for misquoting him. I will now add the trimmings. It is a very small figure. I would not care if it were one hundred. If one hundred can get along well without identity cards, I should have thought that it was pretty good proof that an identity card is not a necessity for the average man or woman in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, suggested that there might be some objection on the grounds that these cards were something new. But they are not new, and during the war nobody objected because we could see their purpose. In Malaya, the whole community must now carry identity cards, and everyone can see their purpose. We cannot see their purpose here, and that is what we are asking His Majesty's Government to tell us. I must confess that I do not find the possession of an identity card a nuisance to me personally. I do not have to collect my own ration book—that is done for me. I have only once since I have had an identity card ever been asked for it by an official, and he promptly lost it. Therefore, I have no great personal grievance. It is interesting to note that two or three days after the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, put this Motion on tile Order Paper, there appeared a report in the Press—the Daily Mail, I think, to be exact—to the effect that a clergyman had refused to baptise a child who had not an identity card. That child's parents applied for an identity card at the necessary office, and they were refused because the child had not been baptised. If such a ludicrous state of affairs is going to exist, I should have thought that it was a good example of the unnecessary continuation of these documents.
I should like to ask how much manpower and how many man-hours are wasted over the issuing, the checking, the 1350 losing, the going back home to collect and bringing back to find the office shut, and all the other paraphernalia. When I look at my identity card, the chief thing that strikes me about it is that it is not an identity card at all. Your passport is, and your passport asks somebody to give you aid if you are in trouble. None of us regards his identity card as asking anybody to give him aid. These cards merely cause us nuisance and inconvenience. I read in the paper yesterday that it has been decided in another place that a passport is not one's own possession—it belongs to His Majesty's Government. Who owns one's identity card? The late Foreign Secretary, Mr. Ernest Bevin, in his blunt and sensible way, once remarked that his foreign policy was to be able to go down to Victoria Station and buy a ticket to any place he liked and to go there without a passport. If Mr. Ernest Bevin were alive to-day, I believe he could not legally take a three penny bus ticket to Piccadilly Circus without having on him his identity card. It is a ludicrous situalion.
The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, talked about administrative convenience. That is what is really at the back of most of the objections levelled against this system by noble Lords on this side. It is the feeling that this is for the convenience of "the gentleman in Whitehall" and not for the convenience of the man in the street. If there were no identity cards, I am certain that somebody would in due course improperly obtain possession of a ration book. I cannot feel that a few ration books, improperly obtained, would outweigh all this paraphernalia for which so far we have been given no justification. In conclusion, I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who is to reply, to convince the House that these cards are not retained purely for the benefit of the administrator, but are maintained for the benefit of those who are administrated.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ LORD CALVERLEY
My Lords, the operative word in this Resolution is the word "oppressive," and we might as well get back to it and ask if we are being oppressed. In listening to the really brilliant speech of the noble Marquess, I almost thought I was being oppressed and that it was about time I struck out for 1351 liberty. I hope that the Liberal Party are sufficiently grateful to the noble Marquess for bringing this question before the House. About three or four years ago the noble Marquess made an equally brilliant speech at a Liberal Summer School, I think at Oxford. I have met a fair number of Liberals in my circle of friends and they were full of admiration for the noble Marquess. If he will allow me to say so, and if I may be permitted to use a colloquialism, they said that he was a "star turn," and the "top of the bill." He certainly almost dazzled us by his eloquence, and almost persuaded us that we were in danger of getting back to the state of being an oppressed nation
I suppose I am about the only member of your Lordships' House who is personally acquainted with the man who was the cause of this question coming into prominence, either in this House or in the Press —or, indeed, anywhere else. He was a neighbour of mine; he lived very close to me; he was an urban district Councillor, subsequently becoming chairman of the council and thus a magistrate, having to swear a solemn oath to administer the law without fear or favour. In his own community he, like myself, had never been asked for his identity card. I doubt whether there are many members of your Lordships' House who have ever been asked for theirs. When this man came to London he, like many others, was lost in a crowd, and on a certain occasion he was asked for his identity card. Like myself and many others, he had never read the instructions on the back of the card, and therefore did not know that he was liable to be asked for it by a policeman in uniform or by a member of His Majesty's Forces—I suppose a military policeman. I must say I did not realise that; and I did not feel oppressed. I am certain that there are 45,500,000 people in this country who do not feel oppressed.
I think that my friend, who now lives in London, performed a public duty—though like most Yorkshire men he was perhaps a little mulish in his method of refusing to accede to the request for his identity card. Had I been asked for mine. I should have had to say "I am sorry: I have not got it." My friend was asked whether he would produce the card at some convenient police station—this was 1352 in accordance with the law passed by a Conservative Government. Again he refused, and a police officer, very courteously, took the trouble to go to his house and ask him for it. Again he refused; and so my former neighbour became one of sixty-one persons in the country to be prosecuted for refusing to produce his identity card. Of these sixty-one throughout the British Isles, there are three in the Metropolitan area, and my friend is one of them. At first my friend wanted to be a martyr, and then he found he was going to be a hero. It is a delight to many to know that money to pay his fine has been flowing in abundantly. I believe that in the National Liberal Club they were able to have a "real good do" in entertaining my friend. I suggested that they should commission Sir Alfred Munnings to paint a portrait of him sitting on a horse. I come back to the operative word, "oppressed." I have tried to point out that I myself do not feel oppressed and I am certain that there are very few who do. I believe that the Court of Appeal performed a public service in requesting the attendance of the Attorney-General and other distinguished lawyers to go into the matter. As a result, it was confirmed that this Conservative Act of Parliament is still the law. I believe that the fine was 4s. in the first instance. The second time it may be a little more; but, as I have said, money is still flowing in freely.
Now as to the uses of the identity card. Are there any uses? The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has referred to the case of deserters. I had some experience of this matter between the years 1940 and 1949. I think it was the noble Marquess who asked whether these people starve. I can tell him that they do not starve. I know of one case, in which I was requested to go to a certain house, where I found that the husband and father had been there in hiding for weeks; his wife, at her wits' end, said in her homely way: "He eats us out of house and home." There are many cases like that within my personal experience. That wife told me that she was obliged, in her own interests, to go to the police and ask them to take her husband. I refused to say anything, since she had spoken to me in confidence. I was, I suppose, conniving at a felony—but I am afraid that I do not very much care. And I repeat that I do not feel oppressed or depressed.
1353 But there are new uses for the identity card. In the north of England we have what are called "Wakes Weeks." Thanks to the Labour Party's implementing its programme, there are nearly 20,000,000 people who can go on holiday once a year with pay. These people are able to collect the money from their firms, even when they have left their employment, by producing their identity cards. Even if they have changed their jobs—and let me emphasise that they are not being directed to other jobs—they can go to the firm whose empty they have left to collect the money. They are asked to bring their identity card, merely because that is a convenient method. They are not asked to bring a birth certificate, or anything else, for the purpose of collecting their money. That seems to me to be a very simple way, and it is done without the interference of any oppressive bureaucrats from Whitehall. It is a simple and straightforward way, free of red tape, for these people to pick up the money due to them after they have left the employment of a particular firm. The identity card has been the foundation of the method by which we collect our ration cards. I confess that I see my identity card only once a year, when I go for my ration cards, but it is a convenient way of doing it. Again, I do not feel particularly depressed about it.
The identity card now has only minor uses—I grant that to the other side—compared with the major uses that it had when war broke out in 1939; but the trouble now is that we have infected the United States of America with them. They now hive identity cards, only they do not give them to babies. There, a person has to be eighteen years of age before he has an identity card. One reason for introducing them there was so that they could indulge in wider "witch-hunting." So far as we ourselves are concerned, there are still uses for the identity card, but that does not mean to say that I have Any love for restrictions. I do not particularly care for red tape or anything of that kind—I do not know much about it. There is another phase of our communal life which I do not like, and that is the irresponsible liberty (which I call licence) which some people take to excess. I try to remember on occasion what I used to read as a devotee of Thomas Carlyle. I believe that somewhere he said this: that you can 1354 enjoy true and wide liberty only if you learn to practise restraint upon yourselves. Unless you do that, you cannot get true freedom. I personally am grateful to the noble Marquess for introducing this Resolution. I have no doubt that he, like the Court of Appeal, has performed a public service, because in the provinces we have never realised that we were going to be bothered about our identity cards, and in the Metropolitan districts it seems that very few such cases arise. There have been only three. Perhaps the noble Marquess might care to put down a Question on the subject. I have done a bit of research in preparing my endeavour to counter the speech of the noble Marquess, but I feel that I have failed. My final words are these: that, if His Majesty's Government can abolish this Conservative regulation, and even annul the whole Act, there will be nobody more inclined than myself to sing the Magnificat.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ LORD GODDARD
My Lords, you probably would not expect me to take any general part in this debate, especially as this matter arises after a decision of the Court in which I was concerned, but, after hearing the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, I desire, at any rate, to say this: that I understand that the objection to national registration cards is that the Act is being used for a purpose for which it was never intended to be used. It was passed as a security Act; it is being used for general administrative purposes. It was passed as a temporary Act, and it is being retained as a permanent Act. As I ventured to say at the conclusion of my judgment in the case of which your Lordships know, if the police (and, I would add, the Departments) want further powers, let them come to Parliament and ask for them; but do not use an Act which was passed as a security Act for general administrative purposes.
I do not wish to say anything more about the general subject of the debate, but I should like to say this. The noble Marquess mentioned the fact that Post Office crimes do not seem to be stopped by these identity cards. I can support the noble Marquess's statement in a remarkable degree. When I became Lord Chief Justice in 1946, there was no offence more common at the 1355 Assizes than the offence of getting £3 on demand from the Post Office. I was told that the Post Office were losing many thousands of pounds a year (I was told at one time about £200,000 a year) by frauds on the Post Office Savings Bank. Every person who makes use of that facility of producing his Savings Bank book and asking for £3 on demand, has also to produce his identity card. So far as I can make out, the identity card offered no protection at all. Why, I cannot tell you, but it did not. Over and over again we had people before us who, before they were caught, had committed this offence fifty or sixty, and in one case I remember, eighty-four, times. These men had gone to the Post Office and produced a book, probably forging the book as well by increasing the figures in it, so that instead of no balance appearing on the credit side there appeared £100 or something like that. They produced the book, showing an identity card, and getting away with the money. So far as I know, although I cannot dogmatise about it, in the great majority of cases the identity card formed no part of the reason for a man being arrested. He was generally caught because at long last some young woman in the Post Office took the trouble to compare the signature on the withdrawal request form with the signature in the Post Office Savings book. The identity card contributed nothing at all to the arrest.
Another case that was brought to my notice the other day was that of a man who had lost his identity card and went to the appropriate office (I think it was the food office) to get a new one. Having obtained a new one without any trouble, he said he wanted to change his name. He was told: "You should go through that door to do that." He went through the door, and apparently changed his name. The identity number remained the same, but whether he changed his identity as well as his name I do not know. I leave that to the philosopher. For these reasons, I support the Resolution of the noble Marquess, because it seems to me that, if the many useful purposes which it is said the identity card fulfils are necessary, the Departments concerned ought to ask Parliament to give them the necessary powers. They ought not to use 1356 a security Act for merely administrative purposes.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ LORD WINSTER
My Lords, from a personal point of view, I am perfectly prepared to put up with any restraint or any inconvenience if I can be convinced that some useful purpose is served for the State; but I am not at all convinced that it is so in the case of identity cards. I confess that I dislike the whole idea of identity cards. I think there is something un-English about them. They are rather in keeping with certain authoritarian and totalitarian tendencies which we notice to-day. It is no use telling us that such tendencies do not exist, because one very distinguished Socialist has gone on record as saying that there are good things in the Russian system which we might with advantage borrow here. Another highly intellectual Socialist, if I recollect aright, advocated that, when the Labour Government came to be formed, their first act should be to pass an enabling Bill, and that Parliament should then adjourn leaving a "Star Chamber" Government to make the laws and conduct the business of the country. When, indeed, a Government was formed in 1945, a Minister—and, of all Ministers, a Law Officer of the Crown—said:We are the masters now.Those are not tendencies which I like. I know of nothing in the Russian system which I wish to see adopted in this country. I wish Parliament, and not the Government unassisted by Parliament, to continue to make the laws of the country; and I wish Ministers to remember that they are servants of the Crown and of the country, and not anybody's "masters."
There is only one point with which I wish to deal because time is running on. That is a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, who, if I heard him aright, said that the individual suffers no inconvenience through having to carry an identity card. It is perfectly true that one suffers not the slightest inconvenience from carrying it about. But surely it is completely erroneous to suppose that the possibility of inconvenience settles the question of whether or not there is an interference with the liberty of the subject. In that connection, if I may be allowed to do so. I venture to quote an experience of my own, not connected with an identity card. One of our chief constables sent 1357 an officer to my house, and he took away a piece of my property. I was given no notice that this was to be done; I was not given notice that it had been done. I found it cut only by accident. I suffered no inconvenience of any sort from that action. If the chief constable had written and asked me for that piece of property I should have been delighted to give it to him, or to place it in his keeping, or do anything that he liked to suggest. I suffered no personal inconvenience at all, but I took the view that this was a grave incursion upon the liberty of the subject. I wrote to the Home Secretary about it, and I regret to say that I received no assistance from hint in the matter. But at the same time I took the precaution to write to my lawyers, who did extract from the chief constable a slightly inadequate and ungracious apology—but at any rate it was an apology—for having done what he did.
I quote that incident only to show that the question of inconvenience is not bound up with that of liberty. I think that what that chief constable did was a grave attack upon the liberty of the individual, although, as I say, this particular individual suffered no inconvenience whatsoever from his action. But I feel that it is such things as the use of identity cards and other modern methods and tendencies which encourage officials to act in this way, whereas of their own nature, in the old days, they were always courteous and would never have dreamt of doing what that chief constable did. Again, I cannot help thinking of the great number of Government Departments which are now entitled to send officials into one's home, without giving any notice whatsoever, and with no warrant. Therefore I feel that, though it may be not a matter of the first order of importance, and although one may not suffer much inconvenience from it, this question of identity cards, and so on, does want watching very carefully indeed. In spite of what I feel about what at first hearing one would say was the completely devastating speech of the noble Marquess, at the moment I keep an open mind in this matter. But what I hope to heat from the noble Lord who is replying on behalf of the Government is first of all, what actual benefit to the State is promoted by the identity card. Secondly, I should like to hear what 1358 specific evil would result to the State and to the community if identity cards were abolished. When I Lear the answers to those questions, if indeed I am fortunate enough to hear them, then I shall be able to make up my mind.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ LORD AMWELL
My Lords, I should like to draw the attention of the House to the terms of the Resolution itself— namely:That in present conditions the use of identity cards is unnecesary and oppressive, and should be discontinued without delay.If it were not for the last phrase in that sentence, I should feel very much inclined to vote for the Resolution, but I cannot feel that to discontinue the use of identity cards without delay a practical proposition. Therefore I shall go into the Lobby this time in favour of my own Party. I feel that your Lordships' House is a Chamber where, upon occasion, we can discuss in an impartial manner, dispassionately and without Party spleen or even Party discipline, questions that involve fundamental considerations. I feel that I should express my own view, which is against that of the Government upon this particular Resolution. I do not think this is a matter of major importance at the present moment, and certainly, as I say, it may not be practicable at this time to discontinue "without delay" the use of identity cards. But when I hear my noble friend Lord Chorley, and others, talk at large about the administrative efficiency of identity cards, and things of that character, I cannot help recalling that that is just the type of argument which was used in Germany and France as a justification for many of the enormities of the concentration camp: that it was administratively necessary, and that administrative efficiency was more important than the liberty of the subject.
My Lords, it is not at all a question of administrative efficiency. One of those imponderable questions that lie behind the objection which I and others might advance to the continued use of identity cards at the present time is the question of human liberty. We have had at least two generations brought up and trained in complete ignorance of these things. I am appalled at times to find how many members of the new generations really think that you are speaking a foreign language if you talk to them in terms that were understood in my early 1359 days. John Stuart Mill is out of date, and the great leaders of human freedom are assumed to be not practical persons. It is said that we live in a machine and a practical age and, therefore, that the final test is one of administrative efficiency. I do not believe that. It is like the question of full employment. Everyone knows that if there had not been two wars there would not be full employment to-day, and that if you wanted full employment in normal times the best place to find it would be in Dartmoor.
The most efficient instrument existing to-day is, I suppose, a battleship. It is highly efficient because, if you do not do as you are told, and resort to back, answers, you are put in chains. In other words, it is impossible to have 100 per cent. efficiency and 100 per cent. human liberty at one and the same time. You have to make your choice between how much efficiency you want and how much liberty you want. I am afraid that I tend towards liberty, rather than towards efficiency. Within the compass of liberty, I want to be as efficient as possible, and I want as streamlined a basis as I can secure; but I do not want a chromium-plated, streamlined land of human slavery. I agree with Lord Winster that there are many tendencies in that direction at the present time. Like the Irishman in relation to the Government, "I am agin it." I shall vote against this Resolution only in so far as I think it is wrongly worded.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, I think we were all impressed with the speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down. After all his long service to his Party, he was, despite his decision to vote with them in the Lobby if this Motion should come to a vote, against them in this matter. On a question such as that raised in the Resolution, I think it is well to look back to the beginnings, and I have taken the trouble to look up the Reports of the debates in this House and also in another place, where I happened to be at the time when the National Registration Bill was going through Parliament. In this House, the late Duke of Devonshire, who was then a member of the Government, explained the primary reason for the scheme of national registration and identity cards in this way. He said: 1360Perhaps it is not generally realised that the only population statistics available now are those of the last census which took place in 1931.He was speaking in 1939.The object of this Bill is to substitute for those out-of-date figures complete and up-to-date population statistics.If that was the main reason then, it cannot be the main reason to-day, because only a month or two ago a new census was taken in this country.
Another reason which is sometimes put forward for retaining these identity cards—and it is the one with which I am primarily concerned to-day—is that a system of food rationing cannot be operated without such cards. The noble Lord, Lord Calverley, said: "I see my identity card only once a year, when I go for a new ration book." And, indeed, that is the only time when most citizens of this country use their identity cards. Now—as the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, has reminded us—we had rationing in the First World War, and it was carried on without any identity cards at all. When the National Registration Bill was going through the House of Commons on September 4, 1939, Mr. Lees-Smith, whom many of us remember as a Member of that House, asked Mr. Walter Elliot, who was then Minister of Health, whether the delay in getting out identity cards—because there had to be some delay—would postpone any rationing which might be necessary. Mr. Walter Elliot replied:I can give this assurance now. If necessary, part rationing can take place before the date when the Register is completed.So let us all recognise that it was not in the minds of any of His Majesty's Ministers at that time that the National Registration Act was necessary before rationing could take place, and that that assurance was given to Mr. Lees-Smith in the House of Commons. Indeed, it is within my own knowledge that the food defence plans department which was working at the Board of Trade on the food rationing schemes before the war, had no idea of using identity cards in order to bring food rationing into operation. So I hope that the noble Lord who is going to reply to-day will not say that that is a reason for continuing these identity cards. Frankly, it is not, and it never has been.
1361 One noble Lord—I think it was the noble Marquess, Lord Reading—read to us to-day a letter from someone who lost his identity card. I lost my own identity card some time ago, and it was quite a delightful experience getting a new one. A most charming young lady dealt with my application. It is true that I had to fill in a form, but it was not such an elaborate form as one usually has to complete. It is also true that I had to pay a small amount to cover the costs of the Department in providing me with the new identity card. But nothing else was required at all, and in due course my new identity card came along. I am now told that I am liable to quite a heavy penalty if I should find my old one and fail to return it. Of course, someone else may have it—I do not know. But what I have described is all that happened. It was then very near the time for the issue of new ration books. Whether it was on account of the fact that I am a member of your Lordships' House, or, perhaps, because I happen to be an ex-Minister of Food, I cannot say, but at any rate, a new ration book was issued to me without an identity card being produced, on my undertaking that as soon as I received the new card I would produce it at the food office. At any rate, it is certainly not essential to have an identity card for any food rationing purposes.
I was surprised at the inquiry made by Lord Chorley. He asked: "Is any real danger caused by the presence of these identity cards?" Surely, that is not the question. The question is: Is there any good purpose served by having to have identity cards? Frankly, I do not agree that there is. The identity card, when used to withdraw money from the Post Office, is, I believe, a danger rather than an asset. The woman or the man behind the counter tends merely to compare the name on the book with the name on the identity card and, having done that, possibly forgets the far more important matter which is to compare the signature on the withdrawal form with the signature on the Post Office Savings book. That is the important thing for the officer to do. If the officer has something else to do, besides comparing the signature on the notice and that on the Savings Book, it is not unlikely that he or she will forget the more important process before paying out the money. Therefore, in 1362 order to help to present fraud, I would prohibit identity cards being produced when money is drawn from the Post Office Savings Bank, for, as I suggest, the result would be that the officers would then be able to concentrate on their important function of comparing the two. signatures—which, after all, is the only real check.
I do not see why we go on making people, in theory, carry these identity cards about. Before the war, we had freedom to go about without an identity card, and we ought to have that freedom now. If the noble Lord has the figure with him, I should like to hear some facts on the practical side. For instance, how many people are concerned with the issuing of these identity cards, with the replacing of lost ones, with the filling up of new ones and, generally, with the whole paraphernalia that is necessary for our 48,000,000 people—or whatever the population is? The Chancellor of the Exchequer is looking around for sources of saving or of new revenue. I am told that there was some reference to it in your Lordships' House yesterday, when, unfortunately, I was unable to be present. It was mentioned that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is raiding part of the B.B.C. funds in order to get a little more money for the Exchequer. Would it not be a good thing sometimes for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to look around to see where he could save a little? Here is something on which he could save both money and paper, which is a material in short supply. He may not save a great quantity of paper, but when the Government are asking other people to save, and to economise in the use of man-power and materials, I believe the Government should occasionally give a lead.
Determined Ministers could overrule all the alleged administrative advantages which are said to accrue from the use of identity cards. These have obviously failed in the case of deserters. These men have not been found because they lacked identity cards. They seem to be fed like other people, in spite of their lack of identity cards. I do not see that identity cards arc of any advantage whatsoever from the security point of view. The person who is a menace to this country will be the one person who has his identity card absolutely in order. It 1363 is the ordinary people, like ourselves, who may be found without identity cards or who have lost them. I ask the Government to say that they will cease as soon as possible the stupidity of insisting on identity cards, and so save a certain amount of money, man-power and materials, and restore to us one of the freedoms we formerly had.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, perhaps I had better start what I hope will be a practical speech by again reminding your Lordships of the view of the Government upon this matter. If I fail to do that, then I am afraid it will be impossible to meet many of the statements made to-day about the Government, about the Administration, and about the administrative requirements of Ministries. The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, put a Question to me on July 4. It was:To ask His Majesty's Government whether they will now abolish the use of identity cards…The reply which I gave on behalf of the Government was as follows:The Government could not at once do away with identity cards. I would, however, draw the attention of your Lordships to a statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place last week. In that statement he said: The emergency legislation still in force is already kept under review, so that powers which are no longer required may be relinquished without delay.'I hope it will be felt on the other side, from the varied views expressed this afternoon by my noble friends behind me, that the Government were not too far away from their views. The Government have the emergency legislationunder review, so that powers which are no longer required may be relinquished without delay.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, is the noble Lord going to read the supplementary question and answer?
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I will read the supplementary question, but I am afraid the noble Marquess has not read it. The supplementary question of the noble Marquess was as follows:May I take it, from the second part of the noble Lord's answer, that there is no prospect, in the foreseeable future, of these objects being removed from circulation?1364 The first quotation I made was from the first part of the noble Marquess's Question, and the reply I gave was in reply to the first part of the Question, while the noble Marquess's supplementary was in reference to the second part of my reply.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, the whole point of my supplementary, in view of the extremely vague terms used by the noble Lord as regards time, was to see whether there was any prospect "in the foreseeable future." To that the noble Lord assented.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, the noble Marquess did not put his questionin that form. The noble Marquess's question is quite clear and distinct in the OFFICIAL REPORT in col. 576:May I take it from the second part of the noble Lord's answer that there is no prospect, in the foreseeable future, of these objects being removed from circulation?My reply had reference to the second part of my original reply.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, does the noble Lord really say that when I used the expression "these objects being removed from circulation" he did not understand that I was referring to the withdrawal of identity cards?
§ LORD SHEPHERD
The noble Marquess said, quite expressly, in his supplementary, that his reference was to the second part of my answer, and I concluded that the objects mentioned were concerned therewith.
The noble Marquess quoted a reference to a speech made by my right honourable friend Mr. Chuter Ede, contained in a letter by Mr. Attlee to Mr. Clement Davies of July 4:It is quite true"—said the Prime Minister—that the Home Secretary said that he was one of those who hoped that national registration and the identity card would be temporary, but he also made it quite clear that he did not contemplate that the Minister of Health could bring in a Bill to abolish them in the near future.So it would seem that the Home Secretary, who has been quoted by the noble Marquess, thinks on lines similar to those of the Prime Minister, and to the answer which I myself gave to the noble Marquess's Question.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again, but he is getting what I said so wrong that I mutt intervene. The sentence I quoted from Mr. Chuter Ede was not on the administrative but on the psychological aspect of this matter. What I said was that Mr. Chuter Ede had sustained what was said in the original discussion, but that, at a later date, he said the retention of the identity card was alien to the British way of life—he said nothing at all about what the noble Lord is now quoting.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
The noble Marquess quoted Mr. Chuter Ede for the purpose of compelling the Government to withdraw identity cards. What I am trying to do is to give, from the Prime Minister's letter, an indication that, although Mr. Chuter Ede hoped we would not continue with identity cards for a long time, Mr. Chuter Ede did not at that time give any indication that there would be a speedy withdrawal.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
No. But I want to point out that what Mr. Chuter Ede has said dues not distinguish him from the Prime Minister.
Now may I come to the Resolution itself, to which I propose to devote most of my somewhat short speech? Incidentally I may pick out one or two points that have been made by noble Lords, but I hope that, in making my speech in my own way, I shall be able to cover most of the points that have been raised. The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, has moved to resolve,That in present conditions the use of identity cards is unnecessary and oppressive, and should be discontinued without delay.I want to take up the first point—"in present conditions." I have listened most carefully to-day for a description of the "present conditions" mentioned in the Resolution, and all I can recall is that prior to the war we passed some emergency legislation; that the emergency has now passed; that the war against Germany is Jeclared to be over; and that therefore the way is free. I do not think that is an unfair way of describing the conditions as foreshadowed in the Resolution. All I can say to your Lord 1366 ships is that the conditions which we have in view, which compel the Government to retain these cards, are very different indeed.
May I be permitted briefly to go through them? We have become committed to the Brussels Treaty; we have become committed to the Council of Europe; we have become committed to the Atlantic Treaty; and we now have in the making a European army, a European navy and a European air force. Each one of these Treaties and activities has placed upon the Government of the country, and its people, not merely great responsibilities, but very grave duties indeed. We are faced with deliberate attempts to prevent the conclusion of treaties both with the Germans and with the Austrians. Our soldiers are standing on lines adjacent to those of other Powers, and those treaties still need to be made. The avoidance of treaty decisions with the other countries of Eastern Europe has led to a great increase of armaments in those countries. Now we find an Iron Curtain surrounding the countries which have become subservient to dictatorship, and introducing into the countries that are still free fifth columns of all kinds. The conditions in which we are now living are not those of peace; they are not those of demobilisation. The conditions in which we are now living, and in which we make our preparations, are not in readiness for a disarmament conference. When noble Lords remember those things, they will recall many debates in your Lordships' House pressing the Government to be quicker and ever quicker, because, it was said, time was the essence of the thing. We are living, in my opinion, in a time of great emergency; we are living in dangerous times. When we consider the identity card and, what is more important still, national registration, we must link the two with those conditions.
I want to bring home to noble Lords who have complained about the identity card one of the principal reasons which have compelled the Government to retain it. We have built up, and are now in the course of developing, a greatly increased Army, Navy and Air Force and we are building up those forces on the basis of compulsory service. To enable that service to be successful, it is essential that there should be a National Register, so 1367 that recruitment into the Forces shall be properly checked. Not a single noble Lord to-day has expressed any view about the National Register; and not a single noble Lord has suggested that the National Register should be abolished. The noble Lord who has come nearest to it is the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, who suggested that maybe we could have an Act by which it could be put into abeyance for the time being, but could be brought out if necessary. But the National Register, if it is to be of use, cannot be put into cold storage. A National Register, if it is to be of assistance, must be kept up to date from week to week, or even from day to day. If the National Register is not kept up to date in that way, then in a case of emergency it will not be of the slightest use.
Reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, to the fact that, when the measure providing for a National Register and identity cards was first introduced, the noble Duke, the Duke of Devonshire, stated that it was required because it was a long time since there had been a census. According to Lord Llewellin, as we have had a recent census (if I may say so, inferentially) probably there is no reason why we should continue with the National Register. I will not press the noble Lord to reply to that, because I should like him to think about it before he expresses an opinion. But noble Lords ought to understand that a census of the population, which on a given day gives the full facts on that day, ceases to give the facts fully on the next day and every day that follows. If, for instance, there was living with the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, a young man of twenty-three or twenty-four years of age, who registered for the census on the appropriate day, his name and particulars would remain registered as at the noble Lord's house. But if, on the following day, the young man transferred from Lord Llewellin's house to my house, then, so far as the census is concerned, there would be no recognition of the fact at all. The National Register is a document of a different character.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
Perhaps the noble Lord will tell us how the possession in the young man's pocket of an identity card would help.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
I am coming to that; I do not want to avoid it, because I want to be quite frank. The census, as I have said, would be silent, and for all national purposes it would cease to be worth-while in respect of that young man. But under the National Register, when Lord Llewellin's young man comes to me, he will require a food card for my address. He will take his old ration book to the food office in my district; he will take with him his identity card, and not only will alterations be made at the food office issuing the new ration card, but the change of his address and so on, are despatched immediately to the National Register. Therefore, the presence of that young man in my house is added very speedily into the National Register; and, so far as that young man is concerned, the National Register remains effective. I am not quoting any Minister, and I am not quoting any bureaucrat. I am quoting the Registrar-General for England and, Wales. He assures me that if the identity card were done away with, which would prevent the information on the identity card being given to the food office, that would mean that there would be no further transfers to him in respect of his Register, and, consequently, unless other efforts were made to keep the Register up to date, it would die.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
How does the noble Lord make that contention—because in front of all our ration books is our national registration number, without the identity card at all?
§ LORD SHEPHERD
We have had several references to-day to the illicit sale of ration books. It has been suggested that they can be forged. There is a safeguard, for the mere handing over of a ration book to the food office is insufficient. Together with the ration book which is being returned, the food office must have the identity card as well, because it is the identity card which contains the particulars and also the signature of the person concerned. That is the Registrar-General's assurance. He says that if this Register were to be placed into cold storage it would die, and if later an emergency arose in the sense that it did formerly, and we wanted a new Register, it would take about twelve months before it could be compiled. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has given an example—or at least I think it was he— 1369 when he said that in so far as food rationing began when he was at the Ministry, the food ration cards could be issued before the National Register became effective. Therefore, the real importance of this issue is that the identity card is a means by which a great public function is performed—namely, that of keeping the National Register in being so that it may be effective for all national purposes which depend upon it.
A question was put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Winster. I see that he has gone, but his point was of interest, and perhaps I may be forgiven for mentioning it. He wanted to know what effect the continuance of the identity cards would have upon the Forces what would hap? pen if no Register existed. I have been given one or two particulars about this which meet the case. Your Lordships know that under the military service arrangements calling up is done by means of Proclamation. Those who are public spirited, loyal and enthusiastic, come readily to the call. But it is a known fact that a substantial number of men hesitate and do not obey the call of the Proclamation. The military authorities have access to the National Register, and steps are then taken to bring in those who have been lagging. I am assured that during the last two or three years the number of men who have been brought into the Forces by means of the National Register itself is of the order of 10,000. That is a pretty considerable number, but there must be added to that an unknown number of those who, because of these circumstances, brought about by the check, feel compelled to obey the summons, ever though they do not do so willingly. I am even assured that the effect of the National Register during the last war period meant that 500,000 women were brought into National Service of cue kind or another who would have escaped National Service if it had depended on a purely voluntary call.
I should like to say one word about the effect of the National Register on the Health Services, because the noble Marquess, in opening his speech, expressed the view that the Health Services could get on quite well without such a Register. Your Lordships will remember that the noble Marquess also mentioned that the Minister of Health recently caused a circular to be sent round to 1370 doctors asking for returns. I am assured by the Minister of Health that if it were not for the National Register he would be compelled to compile a register of his own. The index which he now uses is taken from the National Register, and for that reason it is of great service to him. The particular purpose for which it is new being used is one of importance in view of the recent Motion of the noble Marquess about the cost of the Hospital Services and the like. The National Register, having supplied the central index for the Minister of Health, is now being used to prevent duplicate appointments to doctors' lists. If there were no Register and no registered number, it would be possible for a man in the locality to be registered with a number of doctors. If that were the case and it were allowed to continue, a number of doctors would be drawing a capitation fee in respect of the same man. But as the appointment of a doctor bears the registered number of the person making the appointment, by that means duplications in the localities can be eliminated. The Minister, hoping to carry out some of the views expressed by your Lordships in past debates, is trying to scale down the costs and is using the National Register for that purpose. He is not depriving doctors of their rights, but is preventing the Exchequer from having to pay more than is properly due in capitation fees.
The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, spoke of a baby who could not have an identity card until it had been baptised. What the writer in the Daily Mail said was:The vicar refused to christen the child until its identity card had been produced. The parents contended that it could not have a card until it had a name.Actually, a baby can have an identity card as soon as its birth has been registered, and its birth can be registered before it has been christened. Those are the facts about the case which appeared in the Daily Mail. There have been other cases of that kind in recent correspondence, and it is a matter of great regret to me that newspapers, and sometimes men of eminence, repeat things which they believe have happened or which someone has told them have happened and even give public expression to them without producing the slightest evidence.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
In these matters we would wish that noble Lords would avoid quoting some of these cases which have appeared in the Press without them-selves having tested the truth of them.
I want to say a word about food rationing before I conclude. It has been said that the National Register, and the identity cards and the measure under which they are used, ought not to be used for purposes other than those previously intended. Food rationing remains with us from the last war, and I think it can be fairly assumed that because of the continuance of food rationing—which the Party opposite do not propose to disturb—it should, perfectly legitimately, have some relation to the National Register. The National Register should definitely be used for the purpose of keeping food rationing in order. Both Parties believe in food rationing because of the food shortage. Both believe in food rationing because they believe in fair shares; and both, therefore, will be interested in seeing that, if it can possibly be avoided, no one shall have two ration books. The regulations under which food rationing takes place, by insisting on the use of the identity card, are that people cannot have a food rationing book except in the area in which they are registered for national purposes. It therefore means that if they try in that area to secure two or three or four ration books, their attempts will be discovered and action can be taken against them. To-day the food office is using the National Register, not for the purpose of cheating people out of their rights, but for the purpose of avoiding an increase in the taxpayers' burden and also for the purpose of avoiding unfair practices. In view of what I have said with regard to food rationing, to National Service and to the National Register, I hope that the House will take the view that the Government, in saying that they are going for the time being to stick to the National Register and the identity card, are nevertheless watching the circumstances as they change and will get rid of emergency legislation when the opportunity presents itself.
§ 6.15 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, the noble Lord has just delivered himself of an interesting and informative speech in so far as it has given for the retention of the identity card almost entirely different reasons from those he gave 1372 some three weeks ago. But we are always willing to learn. It interested to hear Lord Chorley dismiss this Motion and the whole question of the identity card as "trumpery"—a view which seemed to gain some support from the Front Bench before him. As I said in opening this debate, I can understand their regarding it as "trumpery." But if it be so "trumpery," I wonder why the noble Lord began his speech in reply on behalf of the Government with a review of our foreign treaty obligations, some general observations on our defence programme, and a few other not altogether trumpery matters of that kind, which for some reason he seemed to think were brought into the purview of this debate on identity cards. During the rest of his speech he made a great point of the necessity to retain identity cards, otherwise there would have to be special provisions for a National Health register. I have a vague recollection that there was in this country some form of National Insurance, including National Health Insurance, as long ago as the year 1910, and that it has existed ever since; and between 1910 and 1939 no one seemed to have insuperable difficulty in tracing the people whom they wanted, or in being satisfied that the person whose case they were considering was, in fact, the person he claimed to be.
The noble Lord, from the beginning to the end of his speech, made no reference to the two points which I endeavoured—apparently unsuccessfully—to bring home to him in my opening remarks. The first point was that these powers were being used for an entirely different purpose from those for which they had been intended by Parliament and for which they had been approved by the country. The second—which, indeed, he admitted in almost every sentence of his speech—was that these powers were being used for administrative convenience.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
Will the noble Lord permit me to interrupt? That is a complete exaggeration of what I said. What I said was that the Minister of Health was using not the identity card but the National Register for administrative purposes. I said that the same thing was being done by the Food Ministry. I indicated that the identity card was being used for the purpose of securing the information, and I hope the noble Marquess will realise that that is a matter of very great importance indeed.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
What I do realise is that the noble Lord does not appear to know the difference between the National Register and an identity card.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
Yes, really. The third point I was entitled to make was that if the Government required these exceptional powers—granted during an emergency—for the purpose of their administrative convenience, they ought to come to Parliament and ask for them.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
Would the noble Marquess give way again? If those are his views, why are they not in the Motion, instead of the proposals which do appear there?
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Resolution agreed to accordingly.