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Of all the Departments, the Home Office is the last that one would want to put in charge of such a scheme. Identity cards are not only ineffective and open to fraud but we have no faith in the Government's ability to make them work.
Is not the position even worse, in that the Home Office's study on whether the scheme can be realised showed extraordinarily high failure rates for the biometrics?
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David Davis: The hon. Gentleman is right. It is interesting that the Home Office is relying on the cumulative effect of all the biometrics working, yet many thousands of people will, in one way or another, be cut out of public services or unable to be identified because 1 million or more people are excluded.
What is the cost? The Government appear to have no clue. We realised that when the Home Secretary was asked about local government expenditure on libraries and so on. However, fortunately for the Governmentthe Home Secretary will not agreethe London School of Economics has been able to provide an estimate. Unfortunately for the Government, it is much more than they let on. [Interruption.] "Think of a number, then treble it" is probably a good way of estimating Home Office cost outcomes.
The LSE states that the true cost of implementing the proposed scheme will be between £10.6 billion and £19.2 billion. That could raise the average cost of each card, without means testing, to £230 a person. That tax will fall on hard-working taxpayers and poorer pensioners on fixed incomes. It may not be much money for the Home Secretary or members of the Government, but for the poorest in our society, it is more than a month's food bill. Worse, councils will have to find a further £10 billion to cover local costs for new technology and staff training.. That is the figure that the Home Secretary could not find earlier. The cost will inevitably be passed on in higher council tax bills or higher general taxes.
David Davis: I shall revert to that shortly. However, there are two external reportsthe Kable report and the LSE report. Both estimate the cost of the scheme as approximately between £15 billion and £19 billion. That is roughly three times the figure with which the Home Office has come up. As I shall explain, the figures in the reports are more plausible than those of the Home Office. We are considering a 10-year programme and anyone who estimates the cost as being less than a few billion pounds at this stage is unwise.The Home Secretary disputes the LSE's figures, but another company has also estimated the cost to be approximately £15 billion. An expert from Belgium who advised the Government on their plans said:
Whom should we believeindependent organisations or the Government? The Government claimed that the criminal court computer system would cost less than
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£150 million but the actual cost was £400 million. The Government said that moving GCHQ's computers to another building would cost £20 million, yet it cost £450 million. Recently the Government overspent on computer projects by £2 billion. Why should we believe them?
Mark Fisher: Given the importance of cost, would not it be more satisfactory for the House to proceed by inviting a Select Committee to hold an inquiry into the costs to establish whether the disparity between the LSE figures and those of the Government is credible, and to reach a figure on which the House can agree before we make a final decision on the Bill?
David Davis: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. He may remember that on Second Reading, and I think even on Third Reading, I offered the Government a Joint Committee. The idea had stemmed from the newest Member of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack)who, of course, is not really the newest Member at all. It struck me as a sensible idea, and I put it to the Government twice. Twice the Government turned it down. I do not think we can stand by and let the Bill proceed through its stages after being turned down twice and not being given a proper response by the Government twice.
Mr. Love: Does not the essential difference between the LSE's position and that of the Government lie in whether there is a 10-year or a five-year cycle for identity cards? Does not all the evidence about biometrics suggest that the cycle should be closer to five years than to 10?
David Davis: That was part of the difference, as I understand it. I do not think that the Home Secretary was right when he said that it doubled the cost; I think it adds several hundred million pounds, but I do not think it doubles the cost. As for the other point, what is the practical cycle for biometrics? One of them involves a picture of the individual's face. The Government say that 10 years is good enough, while the LSE favours five years. I have known the Home Secretary for more than 10 years, and I think he has changed a bit in that time. I would go for the five-year cycle if I were him.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman give us his take on what the Home Secretary said about what I would describe as the Irish question? Did the right hon. Gentleman understand the Home Secretary to say that those who live in this country and perceive themselves to be Irishmany of my constituents have lived in this country for many years, and still consider themselves to be Irishwould need identity cards?
The simple fact is that there is a common travel area between us and Ireland, and I understand that there is no proposal to change that. It gives citizens of each country an absolute right to travel freely in the other country. The Irish Parliament may well choose not to introduce a system like this, but if it does, such a systemcontrary to what the Home Secretary said earlierwill require information exchange. It is impossible for an identity card system to work in two countries without the exchange of information between them.
David Davis: I suspect that there is no way a number of members of the Democratic Unionist party would accept it either, but that is another matter. There is a serious problem here, which cuts a huge hole in proposals for any serious security-based identification mechanism.
It is no surprise that the Government's plans have come to be seen as a plastic poll tax. They are excessive, expensive, unnecessary, unworkable and, now, unpopular. They have no clear purpose, and they are no guarantee against fraud. It is hard to escape the conclusion that they are an answer in search of a question or a solution in search of a problem.
All along, I have made it clear that I would not normally countenance ID cards, but I was prepared to give the Government a chance to make their case. In my view, however, they have failed to do so. ID cards represent a clear and present threat to the everyday freedoms and liberties of the British people. Some people question why there is such concern about a little plastic card. The answer is that there is not. There is concern about what lies behind that little plastic card.
The Government are planning to establish a massive identity database in Whitehall that will contain all sorts of personal information about people in this country. The database will have a number of access points, and there will be nothing to prevent someone from inserting a virus at any one of those access points which could render the entire database open to fraud. When I asked some of Britain's most senior police officers what could be done to stop that happening, they could not give me an answer. Even today, no one has been able to do so. The concerns remain.
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"What's a biometric? It tells you that this card matches that iris. It doesn't tell you who I am, though. I'd just take someone else's life details . . . register those with my own biometric and name. There, I've faked an ID".
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