Vaccine Passports Debate

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Department: HM Treasury

Vaccine Passports

Alistair Carmichael Excerpts
Monday 15th March 2021

(10 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
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Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD) [V]
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David.

I add my voice to those in this debate who have spoken about the importance of us all encouraging our fellow citizens to take up their vaccination. On Wednesday morning, I shall be joining the queues in the Pickaquoy Centre in Kirkwall to have my vaccination, and I very much look forward to the extra freedoms that that may allow me.

However, it is worth remembering that one year ago we all, as a country, surrendered a significant number of important freedoms to the Government. It was a necessary thing to do at the time, because we were facing something where we did not really know how it would pan out. One year on, though, we know an awful lot better how we must deal with this pandemic. We see the great increase in the numbers of our fellow citizens getting vaccinated, and I suggest that the Government’s efforts should be focused on returning our liberties rather than tightening them further. That is why I oppose the idea of a vaccine passport.

I think the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar) and I are the only people on the call list for this debate who were in the House when the Labour party, then in government, passed the Identity Cards Act 2006. I will just remind the House why many of us opposed that particular measure. It was not just the idea of having to carry an identity card; it was because along with that identity card there came the need for a register and a database. It was the considerations of the cost of those, and the security implications of the Government’s holding so much data, that led many of us to oppose the Act, and I would say that, 15 years later, nothing has changed.

Of course, for some occupations it will be sensible for employers or others to ask for evidence of vaccination, but that is a very different proposition from the one being put to us today. To call it a passport is a good analogy. Let us consider this: in theory, we only need our passport if we are going to travel abroad, but in practice, I can tell the House that I have often had to argue that it is not necessary for me to produce my passport to get on a plane at Heathrow to go to Aberdeen.

We are required to produce passports for a whole range of things these days. They are not only needed to travel abroad; a passport needs to be produced to open a bank account or instruct a new solicitor. Once we have said that it is okay to have a passport for covid, where will that argument go when the threat of covid has receded? If it was okay for covid, why not require people to produce a passport for HIV, for example? What we have before us today is the very thin end of a thick and dangerous wedge.

The concept of a vaccine passport is not just a matter of administrative convenience; it is a first step in a major redefinition of the relationship between the citizen and the state, which we should not take so lightly. When freedoms are given up, the state rarely rushes to return them. Remember how it was the last time we had identity cards. It was only going to be for the duration of the second world war, but seven years after the end of that war, it required a citizen to take the Government to court to end it. That is why this matters.