Oates and Scriven show why Britain needs the Liberal Democrats

Jonny Oates on ID cards
The Palace of Westminster is quite disorientating. There’s an escalator that goes from the bright modern Portcullis House into Westminster that I always call the Time Machine because it really feels like you go back 300 years in 30 feet. This afternoon, if you’d wandered into the House of Lords, you might be forgiven for thinking you’d gone to sleep and woken up in 2005, because here were Labour and Tory peers trying to bring back ID cards. And just like 2005 (who remembers Police, not Plastic), it was Liberal Democrat peers cutting their way throughout the authoritarian smog like Mr Muscle on a greasy kitchen worktop.

The Herald recounts the debate and quotes two Liberal Democrat peers. First, Paul Scriven:

But Liberal Democrat Lord Scriven challenged the benefit of ID cards in combating crime and terrorism, insisting that both France and Indonesia had them but this had not prevented atrocities in those countries.

 We would be undermining those very British values of freedom and civil liberty and the criminal and terrorists would win if we were forced to have a compulsory ID card,” he said.

And Jonny Oates talked about how ID cards would fundamentally alter the relationship between the state and the people:

Liberal Democrat former director of policy and communications Lord Oates said ID cards were a “very bad idea”, which would fundamentally alter the relationship between the state and its citizens as well as “violating the fundamental traditions” that had kept the UK’s liberties safe.

“For the first time the state would have the power to demand information from every person in the land simply because you exist,” he warned.

This, dear readers, is why the #libdemfightback is essential.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Parliament.


  • Christian de Vartavan 15th Jan '16 - 8:46am

    Dear Caron, I am most happy to see this very important issue raised in my mailbox this morning. Like you I cannot agree more with the words of Lord Oates concerning ID cards or any form of compulsory identification on domestic soil. There are however millions who do not understand the fundamental principle that Lord Oates has stated. This is where education, backed with philosophy, comes in again, whether in the form of teaching or in the form of a communication campaign.

  • I will put on my in hat whilst saying that I just do not get the fuss about ID cards. You can do nothing without ID these days – we all have passports, driving licences etc. I understand that there is a point of principle in there somewhere but it genuinely eludes me as to why it is something that some seem willing to go to the barricades for.

    Does the average French national really feel any different or less free compared to the average Brit because they have an ID card? I honestly believe that if you told the average voter that having an ID would “violate the fundamental traditions that had kept the UK’s liberties safe'” they would look at you in bemusement. I doubt it is an issue that has any relevance to most people’s daily lives.

    Forgive me if I am missing something but what would actually change for anyone with a a passport if they also had an ID card?

  • There seems to be a bit of Ostrich in the sand here. We already carry quite a few ID cards. If you are a pensioner or disabled you have your concession card (bus pass) which is linked to a national database. You have your driving licence which is linked to a national database. You have railcards which are linked to a national database. You have bank cards and credit cards which are not only linked to a national database but are shared with credit referencing agencies many of whom store their database abroad. Private companies know more about people than they realise. All is perfectly legal as long as their Data Protection Registration says what they are going to do with the data. The authorities can within minutes find out your financials, your credit history, even where you have travelled and what purchases you have made.

    Incidentally it was fuel card use which enabled the serial killer Robert Black to be charged with the murders after he was caught for abduction.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 15th Jan '16 - 12:06pm

    Bruce, you have just made the case that Britain doesn’t need an ID database as Black was convicted in pre-internet days using something that wasn’t imposed by the state.

  • Yes of course we often carry other forms of ID. The problem with an ID card system is not just that you will have such a card, but that you will probably be compelled by law to carry it with you (and it will be backed by a database as others have said).

    So at the moment, I know if I want to get on a flight, enter a Government building or open a bank account, I will need ID. But if I want to walk down to the local shop with some change in my pocket to buy a pint of milk, I don’t have to prove who I am to anyone.

    It would be a major change in the relationship between the citizen and State if we were always obliged to prove who we are at all times during our normal everyday life.

  • Black was convicted by the fuel supply companies daatabase. it was a paper database but it is still a database, with paper the search takes longer.

    It is too late, interlinked database software is already in use. The data referencing companies already integrate data from various databases. it is not against the Data Protection Act to supply data to third parties as long as it is mentioned in the registration. The DVLA releases vehicle ownership data to relevant parties including car park companies. Fuel stations now use ANPR to monitor use and any fraudulent taking of fuel is followed up by a request to the DVLA for ownership details.

    Since Gpass appeared in 1984 (very appropriate) we have had medical databases with Vision, EMIS and others in use.

    Any good data specialist can get more information than a national ID system would hold.

  • “Any good data specialist can get more information than a national ID system would hold.”

    Or maybe not. Think of what a compulsory ID card scheme could enable. Suppose we have the cards and because of “terrorism” or whatever, the Government decides that they need to track people as well as cars. Your ID card has a QR code on it, and then it becomes compulsory to have your card scanned everytime you get on a bus or train, buy something in a shop, have a hospital appointment etc.

    A compulsory ID card enables all sorts of things that are contrary to basic liberal principles.

    At the moment, we all have optional ID available to us (passports, driving licences etc.) and we produce them only when necessary. At other times, we can choose to carry it, or choose not to. And I can choose not to have a car, or selectively not use it, and not be tracked by ANPR.

    Is there any evidence that compulsory ID cards actually make countries safer? There are plenty of countries which do require ID cards, and are still much less safe than the U.K.

  • You will always be able to find a case where a guilty person was caught as a result of some illiberal law or policy. But this does not necessarily mean that on balance it is always better for society to have these things in place. Guilty people have been convicted as a result of removing double jeopardy for example, but the effects of removing double jeopardy also means that nobody that is ever falsely accused and found innocent can ever really be 100% sure they won’t be put through the courts for it all over again. Was taking this protection away from everybody really worth what we gained from it (a few more convictions)? I personally think not.

    The lib dems have been great on ID cards. The problem is they don’t consistently stand for liberal principles.

    In Scotland they’re now talking about the over use of stop and search. During the 2010 uk election however they were calling for “an increased use of tougher, targeted stop and search”. The party actually called for stop and search to be harder on those who it was used against. They didn’t even say it was necessary sometimes and should be as quick and easy as possible, they wanted the process to be tougher on the groups profiled.

    The messages in the uk in 2010 and Scotland in 2016 couldn’t be more different. This gives the party huge problems. Almost nobody knows who the party are or the importance of liberal values.

  • @ Dave Page

    I take the point but really can’t get outraged about it. We provide so much information to everyone on a daily basis these days, both voluntarily and statutorily, I can’t see what difference an ID card would make. I think there are far more important things to be worrying about but whatever floats your boat as they say.

  • Ollyt if the boat you are floating belongs to Northlink ferries you need ID.

  • @Nick Baird
    “The problem with an ID card system is not just that you will have such a card, but that you will probably be compelled by law to carry it with you (and it will be backed by a database as others have said).”

    I’m not sure where this idea has come from. Who has ever suggested such a thing? It would clearly be the most unworkable law ever to be implemented.

    I’m not sure why people are so scared about “databases” either. From the moment our births were registered, information on all of us has existed on numerous databases. Pretty much every interaction one has with government will result in a record being created in a database somewhere. Unless you live your whole life as some sort of wild man of the woods, you exist in databases all over the place. The vast majority of people even voluntarily carry about mobile tracking devices exactly as you describe.

    The arguments against ID cards are weak, but then that’s OK because the arguments for them are pretty weak as well. As the Tory quoted in the report says, the main objection to ID cards is that such a scheme is superfluous, since we already have several excellent forms of ID.

  • A Social Liberal 16th Jan '16 - 5:06pm


    Why have an ID card if you are not compelled to carry it? What would be the point?

  • @A Social Liberal
    One example might be to provide reliable ID when applying for benefits or proving eligibility for work.

    It’s like a driving license – all drivers need to possess one, but nobody has to carry it around with them.

    I’m not making a case for cards here – I’ve already said that the arguments for them seem quite weak.

  • John Mitchell 18th Jan '16 - 5:08pm

    I’d say the Liberal Democrats in Scotland of 2016 are standing up a lot better for liberal values than the Liberal Democrats were at a UK level in 2010. I can’t believe that the party would support such draconian legislation which is likely to be direct conflict with liberty. The situation in Scotland is particularly troublesome and I’m happy that Willie Rennie, Alison McInnes and the party have raised concerns over stop and search in Scotland.

    As for the wider debate, I would fundamentally be against ID cards as I always have been. Others have raised other examples but with a driving licence or passport the individual has some element of choice. It is albeit restricted in the sense that if you want to travel you’ll have to comply. It hasn’t got to fingerprints or retinal scanning technologies yet, but I do not believe that the government have an absolute right to hold such personal information about anyone.

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