Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



  Q80  David Winnick: We will take that answer as "maybe". Can I ask you, will the costs be picked up by the Treasury?

  Stephen Harrison: The costs in the set up phase will be met through departmental budgets in the usual way, so it is part of the spending. In terms of the costs that follow that, once cards start to be issued, then there is revenue coming in, in terms of the charges that people would pay, and those charges have been estimated . . .

  Q81  David Winnick: Charges being paid by the individual?

  Stephen Harrison: Correct. And those therefore cover, just as passport fees, for example, do, they would cover the operating costs.

  Q82  David Winnick: But I was told by your colleague, Miss Roche, that I was wrong to talk about Home Office policy, it is Government policy, and I conceded that, but since it is Government policy is there any reason why the Treasury is not willing to meet the full bill?

  Stephen Harrison: I think in terms of looking at building a scheme which is based on existing forms of documentation, it is an established practice that people do pay for passports and do pay for driving licences and also pay for various documents via the Immigration Service and therefore it is that principle that we followed in designing the propositions to the scheme.

  Q83  David Winnick: You would have no comment if I said that there had been reports that the Home Secretary has not been able to persuade the Chancellor that the full cost should be met by the Treasury?

  Stephen Harrison: You would be correct that I have no comment on that.

  Q84  David Winnick: I understand that and I am not going to pursue that with you. The Home Office commissioned some research, I understand, on public reaction to charging for ID cards. When did that occur?

  Stephen Harrison: There was research at different times during the course of the consultation exercise. The last research that we did was conducted in August of this year, over the summer period, but the issues of charging also went back to the work that was done on the qualitative research.

  Q85  David Winnick: What was the overall result of that? What did you find?

  Stephen Harrison: Around half the people would be willing to pay something. I cannot quote the detailed figures at the moment, but an appreciable number would be prepared to pay and particularly once you discussed the context of the benefits that a card would offer the individual and the fact that people pay for passports and driving licences already, there seemed to be an acceptance that it was reasonable to expect people to pay. I think if you asked the basic question "Would you like to pay or not pay?" most people start with the premise that they would not.

  Q86  David Winnick: Did you see an opinion poll in the Daily Telegraph not so long ago where there was quite a lot of resistance to paying and while there was some acceptance, majority acceptance of ID cards, the opinion poll found that 86% took the view that if there is to be such a card it should be provided free? So that does not come as any surprise.

  Stephen Harrison: No, it is a finding in an opinion poll alongside all of the other research that we have done. I recall the survey actually demonstrated a reasonable level of support for a scheme in principle, but that particular point on costs . . .

  Q87  David Winnick: Do you know what happened in Australia? Because presumably, when your unit was looking into the whole concept of the ID card, you would have seen what happened recently in Australia and other such countries. Would it be right to say that in Australia the scheme was dropped because of widespread resistance to the costs involved?

  Stephen Harrison: I could not answer to the reasons for the Australian Government dropping the scheme.

  Q88  David Winnick: But they did drop it?

  Stephen Harrison: They did drop the scheme, yes.

  Nicola Roche: If I could just add on costs and the public's willingness to pay, they are going to have to pay many of these costs anyway because of trends worldwide to making identity documents like passports and drivers licences more secure. So it is not something that we are going to be able to avoid. The costs are based, we estimate that if we just had to introduce more secure passports and driving licences, as we expect we would have to, it would only be £4 cheaper than the cost we are looking at and that £4 will enable us to cross-subsidise the documents for the low incomed.

  David Winnick: I am sure your political masters will be saying a lot of that to try and soften up public opinion, but I appreciate that.

  Q89  Chairman: The range is 1.5 billion to 3 point what?

  Stephen Harrison: 1.3, I believe, to 3.1.

  Q90  Chairman: 1.3 billion to 3.1, quite a wide range. 1.8 billion between top and bottom.

  Stephen Harrison: Yes.

  Q91  Chairman: And anything more precise than that would endanger commercial confidentiality?

  Stephen Harrison: I think it is the underlying assumptions that generate that final figure that we would be concerned about. I hope we could make that clear in the information we could provide in confidence to the Committee.

  Q92  Chairman: To be perfectly honest, a margin of error of nearly £2 billion seems to me a bit broad to say anything else would compromise commercial confidentiality. Surely it is going to be possible for the Government to be more precise about the sorts of figures that they think are involved before they invite the House of Commons to vote on the Bill later this year? Because there is an enormous difference between those two, one is nearly three times as big as the other. It is hard to see how commercial confidentiality would be endangered by being more precise than that.

  Stephen Harrison: Perhaps it would be helpful to say that the estimates of the consultation paper are at the lower side, assume that the card would be a sort of simple, plain plastic card without any degree of intelligence or chip based models. Obviously we are looking at a card which is more sophisticated and I think there is not the same degree of margin . . .

  Q93  Chairman: So we are moving towards the higher end of the costs?

  Stephen Harrison: We are moving away from the lower end certainly.

  Q94  Chairman: Can I ask, one assumption which I think is a perfectly reasonable one and not a commercial one, how many card readers do you expect there to be across the country in those agencies like the police, like Health, like Benefits Offices, that would need to check the biometric information against the person who is carrying the card?

  Stephen Harrison: In terms of our broader analysis of the business benefits for the card scheme, we certainly have estimates for the numbers of readers for those organisations. At this stage, if you could forgive me, we would err on the side of caution and we will put that in the confidential information we give you to date and perhaps come back to that.

  Q95  Chairman: We can do that for today, but a point of principle it would not be unreasonable for the public to know how many of the machines and at how many locations you expect to have machines that can check that somebody is actually the person they say are on the card.

  Stephen Harrison: I can see that and I think if you could just give us a margin to take that away.

  Q96  Janet Anderson: When do you expect to start issuing passports and driving licences with biometric identifiers?

  Nicola Roche: We expect to be able to issue passports with a biometric identifier, the facial digital photograph, from 2005.

  Q97  Janet Anderson: Right, but not plain ID cards until 2007-08?

  Nicola Roche: That is right. We would need legislation to be able to designate documents as identity cards and that would include the plain card.

  Q98  Janet Anderson: How many cards of each sort do you expect to be issued per year?

  Katherine Courtney: In total, when the system is up and running, we would expect to be issuing somewhere between 10 and 17 million of these cards per year. That is roughly similar to the volume of passports, drivers licences and other identity type documents that are being issued in the UK currently. I do not have the specific breakdown of how many of those would be through new and renewal passports or drivers licences.

  Q99  Janet Anderson: When do you think you would be able to cover the whole of the economically active population?

  Katherine Courtney: Our estimates show that on a sort of phased incremental approach we should reach about 80% of the economically active population within five years after the launch of the scheme.

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