The DUP and the SDLP both voted solidly against the Government in last night’s Commons vote on the Identity Cards Bill. Lady Sylvia Hermon was the only Northern Ireland MP to contribute to the Government’s reduced majority of 31.
During the debate, there were a number of mentions of the bill’s implications for the Common Travel Area between Britain and Ireland. I have set out one of them below, in which the Home Secretary signally fails to answer the salient question raised by Andrew MacKinlay.
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I thank the right hon. Gentleman [the Home Secretary] for the letter that he sent to our party on this issue, which we have found helpful. But will he confirm to this House that none of the data that we are discussing can be dispensed outside this United Kingdom? The Taoiseach has made it clear that the Irish Government are going to go for this and reference has been made to some form of cross-border arrangement. That would be very serious indeed, when the members of the security forces and others walk with the threat of the IRA on them. They would not need to gather news about threats; they would get it if Government data were available. I would like an assurance on that from the Home Secretary.
Mr. Clarke: I am happy to give that assurance. As I said in a letter to the hon. Gentleman’s colleague, the Identity Cards Bill does not allow information to be provided from the national identity register to any foreign Government. That is the position—full stop. That is the state of affairs that applies, so I can give the firm assurance that the hon. Gentleman seeks.
David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): In that case, can the Home Secretary explain to the House how the common travel arrangements will work without any exchange of data between the two Governments?
Mr. Clarke: I can certainly explain that I have had informal discussions with Ministers of the Irish Government on this matter. The right hon. Gentleman is right that issues need to be discussed to achieve it. [Interruption.] I hear the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) shouting, "Why have we not done it already?" from a sedentary position. It is for this House and this country to decide how to proceed with the Bill, but how developments would take place in respect of the joint travel area is a matter not only for us, but for the Irish Government. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) asked for assurances, which I have given him, because it is certainly the case that we would not release data from our databases to the Irish Government. That is the case—pure and simple.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): May I take the Home Secretary to the day on which the scheme becomes compulsory? People from the United States, France and Mongolia will possess passports and related documents that entitle them to be in the UK, whereas my right hon. Friend and I will have identity cards. However, people who commute from Donegal to Derry or Doncaster, or from Dublin or Cork to London each week for working Monday to Friday will not possess and cannot be required to possess the identity card. Justice Minister McDowell may be pursuing biometrics for the European passport, but I am told that there is no way on God’s earth that the Irish Republic Parliament will introduce compulsory identity card systems—not now and not in a decade. How, then, will it work?
Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend, with all due respect, misunderstands my point. The joint travel area system works now in a variety of different ways to ensure that the data are used in a proper way. The establishment in the UK of an identity card, which is an important element in the whole process, will help that system work even better. Full stop. That is all that needs to be said about it.