18 Lord Desai debates involving the Home Office

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (CB)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I am not a lawyer; I am an economist. When the most reverend Primate raised this question on 9 December last year, I spoke on this matter. It is not that there is any problem with Amendment 4; I accept it entirely. A sense of this issue is in Amendment 1: the Bill should not have been called an illegal immigrants Bill. It should have been called an economic migrants Bill, because the whole idea, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Horam, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, is that we cannot distinguish between economic migrants and genuine refugees. In trying to make that distinction when somebody arrives on our shores, having paid some smugglers, we have to undertake a lot of expense, and it takes a lot of time before we can decide that so-and-so is not a refugee, because not everybody who arrives is a genuine refugee. It would help if we could separately define economic migrants and refugees.

Being an economist, I think unlimited migration is good. Let me put it this way: I do not want to exclude economic migrants, because I think they are very useful people. They have talents and are willing to risk smugglers, small boats and their lives to arrive here, so they genuinely want to come here, work hard and make a fortune—that is very good. We need people like that.

For the purposes of the law and popular sentiment, it would be helpful if we started with a distinction between economic migrants and genuine refugees. I can see why it may be a very difficult thing to do, but if you could make the distinction then we could live with Amendment 4 very happily, and in Amendment 1 we could define precisely how our courts can quickly define economic migrants. Then we should charge them money to come here—I do not see any problem with that. We have visas, and green or red cards—whatever it is—and if you are willing to pay the smuggler, why not pay us? Rather than lose money, we should have our own boat services across the channel and say, “Please come, get into our boats and pay us the money you were going to pay the smugglers”. We are losing money and not solving the problem. I know this is shocking, but these things happen.

Let us decide who is an economic migrant and who is a refugee. If we can make that distinction logically and clearly, a lot of our problems will be solved.

UK Asylum and Refugee Policy

Lord Desai Excerpts
Friday 9th December 2022

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, it is genuinely a pleasure to follow the noble Lord because I have always listened to him and, while I have never agreed with him, he studies the problem thoroughly and I like that. I respect what he said and, in some cases, I want to follow him.

I am not a Christian and not only am I an atheist, it is much worse: I am an economist. The question I want to ask is: who gains from this policy that we have? We are definitely losing. There is no doubt that everybody knows that the UK, as a country, is losing its reputation and losing money, so who gains? It is the gangsters. As an economist, I ask myself: why is there clearly profit to be made from smuggling people here? Because there is a demand for coming to the UK and people are willing to pay a hefty price for what the gangsters charge. Why can we not have that money? Why do we not say this? “Okay, no problems, come to us. We may not accommodate you but we will not throw you out yet, and we will give you a temporary pass, perhaps for one or two years. Give the £2,000 you were going to spend to us, not to the gangsters.”

I say that because it is clear that the legal routes which people use for coming here are so porous that people have figured out how to game the law, so the law is clearly inadequate. We might appoint a royal commission to find out whether we can improve on that law, but the law is certainly not working. I welcome people who want to come here for genuine economic reasons; I think they are the only people who genuinely want to come here. Obviously, they may be pretending to be asylum seekers or refugees, or that they are stateless or being persecuted. The law is such that we have to have hearings to find out whether that is right. Some will obviously have lost their passports because they are not stupid; they know how to game the system.

We are being gamed by people who are perfectly capable of paying money to the crooks to come here, while we ourselves are losing money because we have to spend a lot of it accommodating these people. In some cases, as others have said, it takes months and years. As the right reverend Prelate also said, we do not allow them to work—and we should. Why are we losing money each week by our inefficiency in not being able to solve this problem?

The solution is very simple. They are going to stay here anyway, illegally, so why do we not allow them to stay legally and get the money ourselves? I have always wondered, I am sorry to say, whether there is a kind of perverse reputation to be made in politics. I hope I am wrong about there being a political career to be made by being hostile—by saying, “Oh, these immigrants are illegal and dirty”, and so on. But they are just people who have figured out that staying in the UK is a better bet than staying anywhere else. We should be flattered. We should tell them, “Okay, come here if you want to, but pay a price for that because you’re going to benefit from it and that will cost us something”.

In a sense, as many people have said, we need to rethink the whole question of immigration. First, we ought to clear up our statistics because, while everybody talks about there being so many crossings and so on, the bulk of the people who come here do so legally. They come regularly and there is no problem.

The headlines are about these boat people. We ought to seriously compete with the gangsters and offer a facility. We may set up an office in Calais, Tirana or wherever, and say to people, “There’s no problem, just come”. We will run the boats ourselves and nationalise the gangsters’ business. We should stop being absurd about this; we need some clarity. Without worrying about our reputation with the right-wing press, or whatever it is, we should say, “Who gains from what we do?” We are not controlling our borders; we are just losing money and our reputation. We are being made to look like fools. Stop being foolish; stop losing money; stop losing our reputation. Play the game better than they can.

Net Migration

Lord Desai Excerpts
Tuesday 29th November 2022

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government do not agree that the answer is identity cards.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, should we not recognise that the people who pay thousands of pounds to people to carry them across the channel actually want to come here? They find coming here beneficial, and the economy finds it beneficial when they come. Why do we not have a system in which we distinguish between refugees and economic migrants and welcome economic migrants as a very good thing?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Lord for that question. We have indeed such a system. The points-based immigration system is designed to entice to the UK those workers who wish to come who are qualified by reason of the scheme. The asylum system exists to assist those who are claiming asylum or other protection.

50th Anniversary of the Expulsion of Asians from Uganda

Lord Desai Excerpts
Thursday 27th October 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Popat, who is a friend, for introducing this debate. I did not speak in any earlier debate; I waited until the 50th anniversary because I knew something good would have happened by then, and it has. Let me say a few things which I do not think anybody else has said. I am not from Uganda; I came as a refugee earlier, but I had a job.

One thing that I noticed in the corner shops that the Patels had started was the extent to which the women were active the active people in the shop. The men would go out and buy goods from the wholesale market. They would do it all in silence, and the women picked up the local lingo. They became experts at knowing who was who and establishing close relations with them. We have to acknowledge the contributions of the Ugandan women, who made their families more a part of the community than people have been aware of.

Secondly, I want to talk about the paradox of imperialism. Most people do not like imperialism, but a fact of it was that all the subjects across the world were regarded as subjects of the Empire. Soon after the East India Company gave up to the British Government and Queen Victoria became Empress, she made a declaration in India. It is a unique document, which said that she would treat all her subjects as equal, regardless of religion or race. This is the first ever human rights document, before human rights documents became popular.

It was that element which, in a sense, meant being part of the British colonial Empire once upon a time—holding a British passport. Obviously, the Government could have disowned that passport, and I am sure there were people at that time who wanted to do that, but the Government acknowledged that it was their obligation to honour that imperial obligation. That is why everybody who was part of the Empire was able to come here as of right, and that is very important.

India had become independent long before I came here, but when I did, I was surprised that I could vote in elections. I was not an alien; I was a member of the Commonwealth. I did not have a British passport then, but I could do it. I joined the Labour Party and I really thought I could become Prime Minister before I became a citizen. Unfortunately, I failed. I think the Ugandans were much smarter, because they got the job.

I said in the debate on the migration Bill that immigration is a success story in this country. It is an outstanding success story, and we must always say that first. I remember holding a tutorial against the speech of Enoch Powell and getting threatened as a consequence by the National Front, which said that it would see to it that I got out of the country. Fortunately, it failed. There was a very different atmosphere at that time in the 1960s.

From the 1970s on, the Government—a Conservative Government, I have to say—confidently achieved the impossible and made immigration a respectable part of our tradition. I also have to say one thing about Prime Minister David Cameron. He saw to it that there were very promising, aspiring people from the immigrant community whom his party could recruit, and look at what has happened. They come here and take away all the jobs.

Nationality and Borders Bill

Lord Desai Excerpts
Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, who has done so much in this cause. There is nothing good that one can say about this Bill: let me say that to begin with. I will make two points, first on the idea that British citizenship is very valuable, if not a gift, or whatever it is. What people forget is that, throughout the period of the British Empire, people from around the world gave their lives for the protection of the empire, especially in the First and Second World Wars. They came from all over the world to defend this country and this territory, and it is shameful to forget that they did that—completely shameful.

The people of Hong Kong, the Gurkhas and the people who came on “Windrush” did not come here because they did not know about this country. They and their ancestors had given their blood for this country. It is shameful now to pretend that we are a great island and we are not going to have anything to do with anybody else who is not here.

That said, the Glasgow meeting of COP 26 had one clear message: there is going to be a lot of global warming and climate change, and a lot of island people are going to seek asylum all over the world. They will come here, have no doubt about it. This is a country that people want to come to because it is a good country—that is why I am here. We have to prepare ourselves to welcome them and not reject them. They may or may not come with papers, but they will come because there is a real climate emergency. These people more or less gave notice at Glasgow that the decision made especially on coal will exacerbate their problems. That is being said now, so we should not be surprised if these people come. Some of them were part of the British Empire previously.

One thing—I would not say it is a hopeful sign—the Government could do to improve the Bill a little is to do offshore processing somewhere under the control of the British Government. I do not know how to do it because I am not a very practical person, but they could park a huge warship, for example, in the channel, on which people could be processed, so that the traffic can be intercepted in the channel. Something could be done—like Radio Caroline, or whatever—to stop people in the channel, process them and then decide whether they have a case.

Something has to be done. We do not want lots of people drowning because we cannot sort out our system. We cannot let people die because we are inefficient. Do not blame the situation on the people who run the business of getting migrants—I am sorry but that is how the market works. We really ought to do something to save those people. Some form of offshore processing would be very helpful.

Migrants

Lord Desai Excerpts
Thursday 25th November 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, here is a puzzle. Around 56 years ago, I came here, not in a boat, and not as a refugee. I had a job and a labour permit to be here. There has been nothing but constant complaints about immigration since—Powell and all that sort of stuff—but at the same time I have seen domestic political and social life transformed by the presence of immigrants. Look at the Cabinet, for heaven’s sake. Which other European country has a Cabinet with such a Chancellor, Home Secretary, Business Secretary and so on? We have a serious prospect—not that I wish it because I love the Prime Minister, as does everybody else—of the next prime ministerial contest being between three or four immigrants, and nobody will bat an eyelid, yet we had a Conservative Member of Parliament complaining about grinning pickaninnies not all that long ago.

Immigration is a success story. Perhaps we have to go on complaining because otherwise we cannot tolerate it, but it is a success story. The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, said that the better off come here, and thank God for that. How else would we have got the lovely Chancellor we have? We would not have got him had it not been the better-off Ugandan Asians who came here. Seriously, there are positive aspects to what we have done. It is an achievement of British political life that we have a successful, diversified community, which we did not have before.

As many noble Lords have said, it is not over yet. We are still president of COP 26 and, as some noble Lords have said, we made commitments and accepted a solution to the coal question that will sink islands into the sea and create more refugees over the next 10 years. This is not a local British problem; this is a global problem. People from low-lying countries are going to migrate to safer countries, and we have to have a global approach to the solution, not just a European one.

One of the things that we should do as part of our presidency of COP, and generally as “global Britain”, is to start a global solution process to co-operate, not just here but across countries. Obviously, people from poor countries want to come to rich countries. What else would they do? It is rational, economic behaviour; of course they do not want to go to another poor country and the other poor country will not want them. We have to take a positive attitude towards this issue, because we have taken a negative one and it has gone on. Let us take a positive attitude; let us share responsibility with NATO countries—or whichever countries they are—for the immigrants.

For example, the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, cited Albanians and others. One-third of Europe’s population migrated to the United States in the 19th century. The United States is what it is today because one-third migrated. We have to change our minds as to what the positive role of immigration is. The costs are borne by the immigrant and the benefits accrue to the country receiving them. I will just say: take it positively, treat it as a global problem and share the costs.

There is one more thing. If you do not want people to drown in the channel, say that they can be admitted only if they come on a train. It is very simple. At the station—in Victoria, or wherever it is—we would have a proper process by which they could be looked at and their identity examined. That would make it very safe. Avoid the channel and take the Eurotunnel.

Islam: Tenets

Lord Desai Excerpts
Thursday 7th December 2017

(6 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Patten, who has always been a thoughtful Member of your Lordships’ House. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, on introducing this topic. We have sat next to each other for many years and of course we have often disagreed, but the thing about the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is that everyone thinks he is wrong, but he wins in the end—as he did with Brexit—so we have to listen to him carefully. Let us hope he does not this time, but that is another issue.

Ever since 9/11, I have taken the view that Islam will be used by the terrorists for what they do, but it is not an Islamic problem; it is a political movement which I and others have called Islamism. Islamism has a very tenuous connection with the religion and its religious texts. I do not read Arabic, so I will not comment on whether abrogation is a good or a bad thing, but I will say this: if we are to understand what is happening by way of jihadist terrorism, we have to understand that it is first of all a civil war within Islam. A lot of damage is done by the Islamic terrorists to fellow Muslims. Indeed, ever since 1973, which was the third and last defeat of the Arab nations to abolish Israel, it has been clear that the modernist, socialist alternative in the Arab world had lost credibility. The Middle East went back to religion; it thought that the only answer was to go back to religion to find a solace or a solution.

Ever since then, we have had this schism in the Islamic world, in which those who want a purer, more fanatical regime—Wahhabism or Salafism—have wanted to subvert Muslim majority societies and replace whoever rules them with a harder version of sharia law and enforcement of religious morality and so on. The human cost to Muslim societies has been much, much bigger than we can calculate compared with what has happened to our societies. Since 1973—nearly 44 years ago—the Middle East has been in a continuous war-like situation. I will not cite all the cases, but in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, in Nigeria and Sudan in Africa and in Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt in north Africa, there have been continuous war-like situations. It is entirely an internal civil war.

One reason why I believe this civil war has been carrying on—I wrote about this in a book about 10 years ago—is that we have not solved the vacuum created by the disappearance of the Ottoman Empire in 1921. I have recently also written about how we can think of the last 100 years’ history as solving the problem caused by the First World War. Each empire that disappeared—such as the Romanov or the Hohenzollern empires—caused problems that had to be solved in the rest of the century. The Romanov problem was solved finally in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed. The Hohenzollern gave us lots of problems but those problems were tackled by the end of the Second World War. The Ottoman Empire disappeared in, as you choose, 1918 or 1921, or whenever it was. We have not resolved that problem. We drew up the arbitrary Sykes-Picot line and created countries but we have not resolved the vacuum that that left.

I take up a technical issue with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, concerning the caliphate. As noble Lords know, a continuous caliph was established soon after the Prophet died. The caliph was a spiritual leader and, very often, the ruling emperor in the Islamic world. Muslims used to offer prayers to the caliph at Friday prayers until the last caliph disappeared. In India, there was a movement called the Khilafat movement because it was suspected that the British might either abolish the caliphate or replace it with one of their own infidel appointees. As it happened, Kemal Atatürk abolished the caliphate. However, its abolition has created a huge vacuum which we ought to take very seriously. It is as if the papacy had been abolished while the Catholic Church had been kept. We cannot imagine that but that is precisely what the effect is. After 1921, for the first time in the 1,200-year history of Islam, there was no caliph. That psychological shock has not been taken on board. If I were to suggest a policy that we ought to follow, it would insist on there being a caliph approved by the entire Sunni community, not some upstart like Baghdadi who made himself a caliph with absolutely no qualification or pedigree. There are rules regarding who can become a caliph. We have missed a trick here. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire has not been resolved and we have not understood the politics involved here.

Security in the UK

Lord Desai Excerpts
Monday 10th July 2017

(6 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord because we entered this House together some 26 years ago. I shall touch in my speech on some of the things he has said. I should start by saying that I have absolutely no practical knowledge of anything that anyone can think of, but I am a social scientist. In the wake of 7/7 I wrote a book about terrorism called Rethinking Islamism and I shall draw upon it in my contribution.

The central question that we have to ask, because it is one that goes on reverberating, is this. What is it that makes people who are born and bred in Britain become jihadists? The definition of extremism is where someone does not agree with fundamental British values. We have to remember two things. The first is that the way we see our history is not the way the world sees our history. The world has a different perspective on British history from us. I have had the good fortune to come from a former colony and to have settled here for many years, so I know both sides of the reading of history.

How many of us know that two years from now will be the centenary of Jallianwala Bagh? I would bet that very few people here know what Jallianwala Bagh is, but it means a lot in India. Unarmed people were fired on with machine guns by soldiers led by a British Army officer. That does not matter to us, but you could easily turn—I am deliberately using a non-Muslim example here—a Hindu boy, born and bred in this country, into a sort of terrorist by telling him, “The time has come to wreak revenge for this enmity of 100 years ago”. That is exactly what is going on in Islamism.

In his speech the noble Lord, Lord King, contrasted the Irish question with current terrorism. He said that in the Irish question we knew the nationalists and the unionists, and that religion was never the issue: it was about politics and history. The Reverend Doctor Ian Paisley was a scholar who wrote many books about theology. We did not worry about any of his books; we worried about the fact that he was a politician. Difficult though it is, we need to forget that it is a religious problem.

The problem is that the way Muslims see the history of the last 100 years is very different from the way we read it. The other day in our Chamber we debated the Balfour Declaration. Be prepared for a huge terrorist attack on the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, because it is not thought to be as good a thing by most of the Muslim population as it is by most of us. We have to face these things.

One hundred years ago the Ottoman Empire was breaking up and we had the Sykes-Picot agreement, which divided up the Ottoman Empire even before it was defeated. Places such as Syria and Iraq and various countries were created. Later on they were assigned after the war to either Britain or France. We have forgotten that history, but they remember it. They have not been reconciled with what happened to the Ottoman Empire at the hands of the British and the French. I have read a lot about this.

As the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, pointed out, Islamism and terrorism are not new. A lot of Islamism was a war within Islamic countries, one faction against another, but then it became globalised and turned against us. After the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, America subsidised the Taliban, which later became al-Qaeda. They defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan by making them religious fanatics and telling them, “This is your jihad. Throw out the Soviets from Afghanistan”. That al-Qaeda may now have become ISIS.

ISIS may have disappeared, but it will become something else because the central complaint and grievance of the Muslim population of the Middle East has not been solved—I do not think it can be. The fact that one of the longest-lasting empires disappeared—an empire that lasted 700 years and which took its origin directly from the Prophet—means that the caliphate disappeared. That is why when ISIS was set up the dream was to have a caliphate again. Of course, now the caliphate is gone. It is very hard for us to understand why this caliphate is so important, but it would be like having the Catholic Church without the Pope. In that situation, there would be Catholics who would want to have a Pope back. That is why there is a big desire in the Muslim world to have a caliphate back.

This is a complex story through which many boys and girls are being converted. Yes, they are old stories; maybe they are wrongly read and maybe they are a wrong reading of history, but read what Osama bin Laden wrote. If you do not want to read his original, read my account of what he wrote in my book. Systematically, the idea is that this is a war that has been going on since the Crusades. The last phase was in the early 20th century, when the Ottoman Empire was broken up, and this is where we are now.

The borders of Syria and Iraq are all completely imagined. These lines were drawn on a map in the Foreign Office and later implemented. These injustices of history we of course cannot now correct, but I urge that whoever is working on Prevent should know something about this history. We need to know our history as other people see us, because if we do not see it that way we will never understand why they go against us. They do so because they no longer believe our pretensions that we were just, liberal and kind, and that we helped them come out of savagery or whatever it is. It is not even about Wahhabism, because that is a war of Muslims against other Muslims. It is the idea that there was this ugly battle at the end of which the Muslims lost decisively when the Ottoman Empire disappeared, and they want to resume the battle.

We have to treat this terrorism as a more or less long-run fact; it will not go away. We have not even begun to understand where these things come from. They are certainly are not going to go away. We should be able to educate ourselves a bit better and understand what drives the other side. If we understand that, we will be able to be more self-critical and not just assume that such attacks are unjustified. That is not the way that other people read this history.

In the past few months, at least since Donald Trump was elected, people have been worried about the future of the liberal order and about its collapse and so on, but those who have praised the liberal order have been very uncritical as to why it is so good. It does not seem so good to the rest of the world. It may seem very good to the north Atlantic region, but the rest of the world does not think that it is great. We have to be more self-critical; at least, we have be more self-educated, so as to understand what drives our children, born and bred here, to accept this other version of history.

That is all I can say; I do not really think that much more than that will be useful. A knowledge of the history of the past 100 years, especially that of Islamism—

Lord King of Bridgwater Portrait Lord King of Bridgwater
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In analysing the history of the events we are facing at the moment, the noble Lord seems to pay no attention to the involvement of the Sunni-Shia conflict. Following the invasion of Iraq and the deposition of Saddam Hussein, the Shia took their opportunity to settle a lot of old scores. There seems to be considerable evidence that the origins of ISIS were the remains of Saddam’s Sunni army. That showed when they managed to acquire a lot of the Iraqi army’s American-gifted equipment, and had the skill to operate it extremely efficiently. ISIS started not in an attack against the United Kingdom or the United States, but in a determination to take over Iraq and as much of Syria as it could and to establish a Sunni supremacy. Is that not an analysis of the history which is well worth remembering?

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai
- Hansard - -

I thank the noble Lord for that. I had not even come to the 21st century, but I quite agree. It is true is that there are battles within Islam, between Sunni and Shia, that have been going on for quite a while, and that is part of the Qatar-Saudi Arabia battle right now. The noble Lord is also quite right about the way ISIS was set up. However, the story starts much before ISIS. It starts with the Muslim Brotherhood and afterwards with what happened to clean out the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, as the noble Lord no doubt knows, where jihadists were created and financed by us to remove the Soviets—they were given lots of drugs, arms and so on. Through that came Osama bin Laden. These attacks have been going on since the early 1990s—let us remember the first frustrated attack on the World Trade Center, then on the USS “Cole” and then on the American embassy in Kenya. They were even before we got to 9/11. I agree with the Sunni-Shia commentary, but we need to make ourselves aware of this complex history. At least, those fighting radicalisation should be aware of the broad perspective that the young, radicalised man or woman has when they want to go off and throw a bomb at us.

Identity Documentation

Lord Desai Excerpts
Thursday 14th January 2016

(8 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours for introducing this debate. I always thought that it was a great pity that the last attempt by the Labour Government to have identity cards was abandoned on the grounds of research by, I am ashamed to say, the LSE that it would be too expensive. As noble Lords know, India has just instituted an almost universal identity card system called Aadhaar, which 900 million people have already got.

The Aadhaar card has been extremely useful for transactions with banks, claiming subsidies and accessing the welfare state, especially for very poor people who normally do not have proof of identity. The fact that they have very easily provable identity—I think because of the biometric data—has not only liberated a lot of people but reduced costs across both private and public transactions. If we are going to have this, could we ask the Indians to do it for us? They would probably do it for one-tenth of the price of anyone else and they are very good at it.

Let us not demand too much of such a card. First, having a universal identity card in everyone’s possession shows universality of membership of a community. It is very important that we are all part of the same community. Secondly, in relation to what the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said, everything about me is known. It is not possible for me to have my individuality hidden and under just my control. As many noble Lords have pointed out, Walmart and Google know it. Recently I was writing a book and I was told that my book had to be more interesting because someone reading a book on a Kindle reads only four paragraphs at a time. Therefore, every fifth paragraph has to be exciting. Any time I use a phone or a Kindle, or do anything, somebody has mapped me. So I am not a free citizen.

We need first of all to make quite sure that our different numbers—our national health number, our national insurance number and so on—are co-ordinated. If we are to use a driver’s licence, people like me who do not drive will have to get one. We need some form of identity with a photograph and biometric identity information. It should be universal, and be able to be used for all bank transactions and any purchases, including bus travel and so on. If we do that, the saving in transaction costs would be enormous. The World Bank has admitted that just having these cards is saving India $1 billion per year, which is a great saving.

There will be terrorism anyway. In terms of separating people, those who have identity cards might be easier to map and those who do not have them definitely can be treated as suspects. The use of ID cards will not get rid of terrorism but it will ease our lives in many other ways, which is why we should do it.

Lord Oates Portrait Lord Oates (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am pleased to speak in this debate. If ever I wondered about the need for a Liberal party, I do not wonder after hearing the comments today. I was proud to be part of the coalition Government in 2010 who repealed the Identity Cards Act 2006 and who ordered the destruction of the national identity database. I am also proud that my party has been consistent throughout its history in opposing national identity card schemes. Indeed, it was the only party that opposed from the outset the Labour Government’s attempts to impose identity cards in 2004. I am also pleased to follow my noble friend Lord Scriven in opposing the suggestion again today.

There are many reasons, both of principle and practicality, why a national identity card scheme is a very bad idea. The most important issue of principle is that it would fundamentally alter the relationship between the state and its citizens. It violates the fundamental traditions of Britain that have kept our liberties safe.

We need to be really clear about what a national ID card system, with a national ID card database, actually means. For the first time in our peacetime history, the state would have the power to demand information from every person in the land, not in order for them to travel or gain an internationally recognised travel document—a passport—or to prove that they have complied with the driving test, or even to gain access to a public service, but simply because they exist. For the first time in peacetime, every person in this country would be compelled to attend a designated place, to be fingerprinted and to have their biometric data taken from them. On every occasion that a citizen moved house the state would have the right to know. More than that, every citizen would be under a duty to inform the state, and a penalty of severe fines, if they moved their premises.

An ID scheme is being discussed here as if it is just some administrative system. It is a fundamental departure from the way we operate in this country. I can think of no other common-law country in the world that operates a national identity scheme—none. Indeed, we have heard comments from noble Lords telling us how popular a national identity system would be. I wonder about that, because there are two common-law countries that thought about introducing such a system: Australia and New Zealand. They backtracked pretty rapidly because as soon as the public actually knew what it meant they changed their views on it rather quickly. Indeed, I can think of no other democracy in the world that operates a national ID scheme that does not offer its citizens the protection of a written constitution and a Bill of Rights.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai
- Hansard - -

Does the noble Lord not think that India is a democracy? Does it not have a written constitution? It has an identity card: 900 million people have such cards.

Lord Oates Portrait Lord Oates
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I absolutely believe in a written constitution.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai
- Hansard - -

But does the noble Lord not believe that India is a democracy? He said that no democracy has it, but India is a democracy.

Lord Oates Portrait Lord Oates
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

India has a written constitution. I said that no democracy in the world operates a national identity system that does not have and does not afford its citizens the protection of a written constitution, which India does, and a Bill of Rights, which India also does. The noble Lord makes my point rather clearly.

I will rapidly wind up my comments, but I want to address a couple of specific things. The noble Lord, Lord Blair, told the House about circumstances in which the police and the security services did not, and still do not, have information about who somebody actually is. He also said that the police would not need to stop people and demand papers from them, but in those circumstances it is not clear to me how he could be absolutely sure that the people he refers to would have had documents. If the police are not checking for them, it would certainly be possible for people to avoid that.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, had a lot of faith in biometric data, but as we have heard evidenced, 10% of French biometric passports have been found to be forged. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, spoke about illegal workers and tax evasion, but as we know, places such as Italy, France and other countries with ID cards still have to deal with those problems.

A national identity card system would not protect us from terrorism, or stop illegal immigration or illegal workers. But above all, it would violate the fundamental principle that, in this country, it is the state that accounts to the people; it is not the people who have to account to the state.

Economic Case for HS2 (Economic Affairs Committee Report)

Lord Desai Excerpts
Wednesday 16th September 2015

(8 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I come into this debate very much as an amateur. My noble friend Lord Hollick said that I should read the report and maybe speak on it. I would say immediately that I am very much for HS2 and HS3, and I agree with my noble friend Lord Prescott that delay is not a good idea. As soon as we can build HS3 or HS2, wherever we can build it, we ought to get on with it.

Cost-benefit analysis seems to be the major ground of debate in this report. In my career as an economist, I do not think I have ever seen a cost-benefit analysis where you could not say, “No, we could do a better job: we should have more and better estimates and surveys”, and so on. The way I read the report, it says, “Yes, get some better numbers”, but it does not say that we should not do this. But maybe I have misread the report. My view is that HS2 is still a good idea, and that HS3 is an even better idea, and that we need to make the decision using animal spirits rather than detailed calculation.

Let me give one example. The classic study of cost-benefit analysis for transport economics was the Foster and Beesley paper which led to the Victoria line. It was published in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society way back in 1964. It totally underestimated the complete impact of the Victoria line on the London economy. Islington would have been impossible without the Victoria line, and the prosperity of that bit of north London is very much because of it. The calculation was entirely about time saved in commuting. Here, the argument is that the time saved in commuting is not sufficient to justify the position but, as my noble friend Lord Adonis said, there are other benefits that we have to take on board. Those other benefits may also require some additional costs, but that kind of calculation does not seem to have been made or examined by anyone. It would be very important for the Government, when they give a better reply to the report than they have already given, to be able to make a much better case for the HS2 and HS3 lines based on the total benefit of constructing them, not merely on the time saved by businessmen because they will get to London x minutes faster.

What we need, not just now but for future big investment decisions, is a different slide rule—a different kind of calculation that considers the narrow costs and benefits of the particular project but then also calculates what I would call the other externalities that result from these sorts of investments. The character of large investments, most of whose good effects are larger than the narrow effects of the investment as such, is very often undercalculated. People should not forget that some of the extra business and revenue generated will come back as tax revenues for the Government, not just from the businessmen travelling but from the overall impact on property prices, businesses built, jobs created and so on. The Government need to examine this, perhaps within a new “Office of Animal Spirits”, as I will call it, which would do these sorts of calculations for large investments.

It is quite clear, when you travel in France or Germany, that since the 1970s we have not had the sufficiently large level of investment in our transport system that other countries have had. I do not know whether they went into detailed calculations and debates about cost-benefit analyses, but they made those decisions and have benefited from them. It is about time that we made some big investment decisions and implemented them as soon as possible. I hope that the Minister will tell the various Conservative MPs along the route that they should stop complaining about HS2 going through their constituencies and just enjoy the benefits that it will bring to those constituencies when it is done. The sooner that we get on with this, the better.