Transcript of presentation by the Prime Minister David Cameron, then Shadow Leader of the Commons and a backbench member of the Home Affairs Committee that had reviewed the Identity Cards Bill, speaking at an event held at LSE on Identity Cards in 2004.
David Cameron: “I sit on the Home Affairs Select Committee. When you sit on the Select Committee, you’re meant to leave your prejudices and your party affiliation at the door, and approach the subject with an open mind. And an ID card is a huge subject, there’s a big debate there, and I think we’re all trying to do that. But I have to say that I find it extremely difficult. I’ve always been a sceptic about ID cards and everything I’ve heard so far in our inquiry has further convinced me that that’s the right way to be. You’ve probably heard all the arguments [against ID cards] by now. I just want to make 3 or 4 points.
I think the first is, if you start with philosophical concerns, that ID cards change the relationship between the citizen and the state. That instead of the state being the servant to the citizen, it suddenly becomes the master.
When you start with that, what disturbs me when you actually look at the draft Bill is – this is what we did yesterday; we had a presentation from the Home Office Bill team – if you look at some of the detail, it is very striking.… [Makes a joke about how the Home Office team’s technology didn’t work at the presentation and then reads from the draft Bill very quickly]
Suddenly you realize some of the philosophical worries about the changing relationship between the citizen and the state are very, very real…
My second point is, from the evidence that we’ve had on the Committee so far from those in favour of ID cards… it seems the argument keeps changing. Now, they start off with the terrorism argument, and when you ask about why it will make a difference on terrorism, and they’ll shift slightly to an immigration argument, and then you ask why we can’t have changes to border operations, or whatever, and they’ll shift the argument into crime or somewhere else. And so far, no general argument… has been produced… The evidence given by the Home Secretary and Des Browne, the Immigration Minister, is worth reading because it is so flimsy.
The third point I wanted to make is, on the Select Committee, we’ve heard two opposing arguments so far which have confirmed my scepticism. The first was series of presentations we had from some technical experts about the proposal the government has for the National [Identity] Register… The more [information] you want to put into this register, and the more you want have different bodies to rely on it… the Health Service, Education, Immigration… the more that makes the ID card “useful”. But the more you do that, the more you are in danger of putting all your eggs in one basket. Any breakdown in this register will mean that a whole series of services will collapse and your access to those services will collapse. I thought that was an interesting argument…
The other argument is the technology arguments and the cost arguments... As yet, we haven’t heard any convincing arguments to make us believe that they [the Home Office] would [be able to run the programme].
Two last points. I think that the most interesting exchange we had with the Home Secretary was about how this would actually work… When some of the police said, the ID card really would make a difference in terms of combating crime and terrorism, I think we’ve got to probe a bit further and ask why do they believe that. If it was… compulsory to carry your card everywhere you went – that you had to produce it upon request from a police officer who didn’t have to have any excuse to ask you – it’s a horrible vision -- but one could understand the ID cards having a real potency and a power. But it’s a horrible vision. And as that is not what is going to happen, it’s hard to see how ID cards would actually make a difference.
Because if I am doing absolutely nothing wrong, walking along the street, as I understand it the police are not going to be able to ask me to produce an ID card. And even if they did, it’s not going to be compulsory to carry it, and so I could say that ‘I left it at home officer’ and they will never see me again. So I don’t quite understand, and no one has been able to answer this satisfactorily, how it is that ID cards are going to make such a difference.
My final point is this. I felt, listening to the Home Office, ministers, and others proposing an ID card, that it has become part of the excuse culture. We’ve got a problem in terms of our asylum policy, we’ve got a problem in terms of violent crime, we’ve got a problem in terms of benefit fraud. Here’s this one catch-all solution, which as I’ve said when you really look at it, it’s really not a catch-all solution, … and that only makes me more sceptical...
I do have this feeling that ever since ID cards were abolished in the 1950s, every incoming Home Secretary has been advised by officials about this wonderful idea. And somehow Blunkett seems to be the first one to accept it. Interestingly, yesterday, in our presentations with the Home Office officials, the paper versions of the presentations had all sorts of pictures and logos of what the old ID card used to look like, as if somehow this was going to persuade us.
I remain a hearty sceptic. I look forward to the rest of the investigation. I’ll do my best to keep my mind open, but I fear it’s closing all the time”.