Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
THURSDAY 11 DECEMBER 2003
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
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
Q88 David Winnick: But they did drop
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,
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
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
Q99 Janet Anderson: When do you think
you would be able to cover the whole of the economically active
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.