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Mr. Allan : Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that the Government have failed to publish the Office of Government Commerce gateway review documents? They were produced at public expense and I cannot believe that at this stage they contain anything of a sensitive commercial nature. They should be before the House as we debate this important Bill.

Mr. Oaten: I agree entirely. It is unacceptable that for reasons of commercial confidentiality in the procurement process, we as the politicians deciding these matters cannot be given that information, whereas companies making bids can. That is not an acceptable way to proceed.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Does my hon. Friend find it amazing that all the efforts of the Home Affairs Committee to get answers to those questions were refused point-blank by the Home Office?
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Mr. Oaten: It is extraordinary and unhelpful; we are being asked to support a Bill and to sign a blank cheque. It is also important to note that there are genuine political issues about where we might spend that money. We might all have different priorities for its most effective use. I would have thought that more police and more intelligence officers to support the system might be more effective in dealing with some of the things that the Government are trying to tackle—not least terrorism.

I am conscious of the fact that many other hon. Members want to speak, so I shall conclude by considering the database itself. The Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee was right to identify the fact that although the database is, in many ways, the key issue, there are two issues to consider: the civil liberty implications and, frankly, the Government's inability to run such systems in the first place.

The Government's track record on IT procurement is awful. The projected cost of the Child Support Agency system was £150 million, but the figure ended up at £450 million. The final cost of the Horizon project—an automated Post Office Counters system—ended up at £1 billion and ran three years late. My particular favourite is the NHS IT programme, with expected costs of £6.2 billion. The actual cost was £18 billion, and the figure is still rising. Of course, recently and more seriously, the national automated fingerprint identification system crashed owing to server software difficulties, causing serious problems for the police.

How will the database be kept up to date? An earlier intervention pointed out the churn on the electoral roll, with individuals moving many times, people changing their addresses and new individuals coming on when they are 18 years old and others being taken off when they die. The scope for error is absolutely enormous, and the track record suggests that costs will get out of control.

The more important point, however, relates to the principles of what is held on the data system. What can happen in 15 or 20 years? How can the information be linked, for example, to CCTV systems that can individually scan faces and recognise them? Do we want to move into the kind of society where people know exactly who is walking up and down the high street? Is there even a possibility that a future Home Secretary may decide to tag on DNA information? What would be the implications of adding on the vast amount of DNA information that is already collected?

David Davis: I am listening with interest to the hon. Gentleman. Does he think that such a system is impossible? I do not believe that it is. Surely the introduction of the things that he describes—a rather scary prospect—would all be subject to primary legislation.

Mr. Oaten: On the first point, although I am sure that the Government could get the system up and running, their track record suggests that the failure rate will be very high indeed. For example, last year 400 people were turned down for a job because it was said that they had criminal records when they did not. If the error rates that we have seen with existing systems are multiplied to cover a population of 60 million, even if the failure rate
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is 0.01 per cent., an awful lot of people will have difficulties. So there are serious concerns about the implications of the system.

Mr. Simon Thomas : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Oaten: I am conscious of the fact that other hon. Members want to speak.

Finally, I want to deal with the most farcical element of the Bill: whether the system is voluntary or compulsory. I cannot understand where the Government are heading. Although I would still oppose the system, intellectually it would be a lot better if it were compulsory. That would stack up, and the Home Secretary would have been able to answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) because the scheme would have included the powers for which the police might be looking.

In my village, my neighbours will have to carry an identity card in a few years' time. I will not have to do so because my passport is not up for renewal until 2012—lucky me—but that is a two-tier system. [Interruption.] The Minister says that people will not have to carry the card, but this is not about whether people have to carry it; it is about whether they must have an ID card in the first place. The problem is that I will not need an ID card, but my neighbours or my wife may have to have one. It will be compulsory for some, but not for others.

We are walking into a system that is, frankly, chaos. Some people must have the card; some must have one at some point in the future; others will never have to have one because they do not have a passport; but, at an unknown point, which the Home Secretary will decide, we will all need a card. That is a complete mess. A two-tier system will be created in relation to the proof of identity that people will have to carry, and the implications of that are wrong.

When the card becomes compulsory—I am sure that that is where we are heading—what will it be like for 80 or 90-year-old pensioners to be told that they have to turn up at registration centres to have their fingerprints taken and their irises and photos scanned because the system has suddenly become compulsory? If the Home Secretary thinks that 80 per cent. of people will still be in favour when the public realise that that will happen, he has got another think coming.

Here we have a £1 billion project that looks set to go over budget, a piece of plastic and a database that will do nothing to tackle terrorism and crime, a system that is neither compulsory nor voluntary and a database that will make the CSA mess up look like a tea party. This is also a debate about changes to our country and to society. If people look like illegal workers or terrorists, they can be stopped. People will have to turn up to centres to have their fingerprints and irises scanned. If they visit a GP or an accident and emergency department, they will have to submit a scan and prove who they are. I urge hon. Members on all sides of the House to reject the Bill. I am afraid that, tonight, a Labour Government, with Conservative support, are turning us from nanny state into a Big Brother state.
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6.55 pm

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I disagree strongly with my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham). He said that he could not understand why there should be such concern and controversy. I serve on the Home Affairs Committee, which he chairs, and he will know that we have had many disagreements on this. I could not agree with the majority report of the Home Affairs Committee. I made my opposition clear and proposed an amendment or minority report.

If it is true that there were serious disagreements in the Cabinet some months previously and in the shadow Cabinet only last week, I would not exploit that; I would be very pleased. I would think it depressing if either the Cabinet or the shadow Cabinet had agreed on such a serious subject without much controversy. If the press reports are true—members of the Cabinet have not told me about this—there was proper consideration, discussion and apparently disagreement, and I see no reason why not.

I want to make it perfectly clear tonight, as I have done previously, that if I was persuaded that identity cards would help to stop terrorism or undermine it substantially, I would support them, whatever reluctance I may have on grounds of civil liberties, because the safety and security of this country must come first and foremost. But I am not so persuaded.

As I and many other hon. Members have often said, the atrocities in Madrid and Istanbul took place despite the existence of identity cards. When the previous Home Secretary came before the Select Committee and I asked him whether ID cards with biometric details—all that he emphasises—would have prevented such atrocities, he said no.

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