Prime Minister's Questions yesterday showed how little Tony Blair is willing to debate the real detail of his Identity Cards Bill, which is due to complete it's main rubber stamping session in the Commons today, in under 4 hours of so called "debate". Many of the key details of the Government's plans are still secret, and Members of Parliament (with only a couple of honourable exeptions) have been lax in their scrutiny of the details of this Bill.
The public admission this week that Tony Blair is a technophobe makes one wonder just who has brainwashed him into making such extravagent claims about biometric technology, which not even the people selling the technology dare to make, for fear of ridicule and lost sales.
Prime Minister's Questions, Wednesday 9th February 2005:
"Ross Cranston: I want to ask my right hon. Friend about identity cards. All the evidence on the doorstep and on the phone in Dudley, North is that more than 80 per cent. of people support ID cards. Obviously, they do not want a "Show me your papers, please" society, and that is not what is being proposed. The one issue raised with me is cost, in particular to the less well-off. May I ask for an assurance that the cost of ID cards will not be disproportionate for the less well-off?
The Prime Minister: The point that my hon. and learned Friend makes is right. It is important to realise that the cost of going to biometric passports, which we should do because other parts of the world are doing so, will be about £70. The additional cost of the ID card is only about £15. That is why it represents a sensible way of proceeding. In our view, identity cards, with the new technology that is available, are necessary in the fight against illegal immigration, organised crime and terrorism, and in order to protect our services. Their introduction is the right thing to do and I hope that, rather than facing both ways, all the Opposition parties will support us on that proposition tomorrow."
This statement hides the fact that the UK Government could veto the plans for international biometric passports if it wanted to, and that the International Civil Aviation Organisation is only introducing such standards under pressure from the UK Government and the USA in the first place. The Labour government is therefore engaged in a "bait and switch" public relations trick on the topic of biometric passports.
It will indeed be interesting to see if the Conservative party show any concern for civil liberties and opposition to this expensive increase in bureacracy. We shall certainly remember those MPs who vote for this Bill, and hope that the electorate punishes them at the next election.
Those who vote for this Bill deserve a place in history, in the Hall of Shame of those, who are pushing our society towards a police state, and who are letting the terrorists win, by destroying our fundamental liberties and freedoms.
"Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West) (LD): The Prime Minister asserted again a few moments ago that he saw identity cards as essential in the fight against terrorism, but given that identity cards did not prevent the Madrid bombings; that the 9/11 bombers travelled under their own identities; that they will not be compulsory in this country for 10 years; and that visitors to this country will not require them, how will they make such a difference to the fight against terrorism?
The Prime Minister: The reason why this measure is supported not only by the Government but by the police and the security services is that people believe that, particularly when we have biometric passports and the biometric technology available, we can construct an identity card that gives us the best possible protection against crime and terrorism. No system will prevent all crime and all terrorism: the question is whether it actually enhances the security of our country. When this technology is available, and when we are going to apply it in any event to visas and passports, it seems to me to make sense to use it to give us an identity card and bring us in line, frankly, with best practice around the world.
Mr. Kennedy: But the Prime Minister must recognise that 10 million people in this country, many of them pensioners, do not possess a passport and do not have the intention or the need to get one in future. Under his proposals, those 10 million will be required to travel distances to centres to have the tests carried out, and then to pay for the privilege. That is a further reason why we will oppose identity cards tomorrow, as we have before—unlike some others.
The Prime Minister: It is for that very reason that we have said that the Identity Cards Bill is enabling legislation. We have always made it clear, under pressure from all quarters in the House, that before there is a final move to compulsion, there will be a rigorous evaluation and a chance for this House to debate it again, but the Bill allows us to get this project under way. I believe that many people now recognise, particularly, as I say, with the possibilities of the new technology, that we can genuinely make a difference to our own security, to the fight against crime, and to the protection of our public services. In the world in which we live, where there are people who will cross borders to a far greater degree than ever before, and organised crime and terrorism are far more sophisticated than ever before, I do not think it is wrong or a breach of anyone's civil liberties to say that we should have an identity card. Most people carry some form of identification anyway. I think it is long overdue, and we should get on and do it."
Tony Blair also conveniently does not mention that his Home Secretary Charles Clarke claimed during the 2nd Reading of the Bill, that anyone who votes for the Bill, should be under no illusion but that they are voting for compulsion, sooner or later.
The "full debate" on compulsion could last as little as 40 minutes in the House of Commons, with no time for meaningful debate or amendments.
Today's Report and Third Reading debate (all 4 hours of it) will probably include some Government amendments of the astonishing clause 31 Tampering with the Register etc.,
but none that address the anomoly of
(b) where it makes it more difficult or impossible for such information to be retrieved in a legible form from a computer on which it is stored by the Secretary of State, or contributes to making that more difficult or impossible."
i.e. up to 10 years in prison and or a fine for going on strike or making any kind of IT error or mistake on any IT system
which is part off , or even just connected to, the National Identity Register.
It is simply not good enough to claim that the legislation would not be used in such a way, if that is not the intention, it should not appear in the Bill.
We are astonished that no Trades Union sponsored MPs, even if they support the principle of ID cards, have picked up on this fundamental attack on workers rights.