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Mr. Oaten: The hon. and learned Gentleman makes my point. The Government state a figure, make out that there is a major problem and suggest that ID cards can solve it. In reality when we break down the figures we realise that the cards will not help to deal with the problem.

Even if we were to accept that all those problems could be solved by the use of ID cards, and even if we bought into the Government's arguments, from terrorism to ID theft, we would still have to consider whether we can set up such a system at a reasonable cost. That is the most complex part of the debate.

The Liberal Democrats accept the need to upgrade passports, so we are arguing not against the total cost, but against the costs that are additional to what we accept needs to be done under our international responsibilities. However, the problem is that the Government are, yet again, being disingenuous; they are suggesting a level of upgrade for passports that is not actually needed, and in doing so they are trying to hide and bring in the full cost of ID cards under a passport scheme. That is wrong both in my judgment and in that of the authors of the LSE report, who state:

We are gold-plating-plus what is required for the upgrading of passports, and the Government are using that to hide some of the costs of ID cards.

We do not need to look at the recent LSE report for the costings or to listen to Kable's assessment of the costs; we simply have to look at the Government's own costs to realise that they are spiralling out of control.
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When the House last debated the costs involved, we were told that the cost for an individual would be about £77 and that the overall cost would be £3.1 billion—yet according to the Government's figures today the cost will be £93 for an individual and the overall total has risen to £5.8 billion. In such a short time, there has been a huge increase. That is not a dodgy LSE report but the Home Office's estimate of the costs.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Another cost to the individual has not been highlighted. We are told that what the Government euphemistically call enrolment centres, where people are supposed to be measured, will be no more than 45 minutes travel time. That is a fantasy in rural areas where 45 minutes would take a person no further than the bus stop outside their house, because there are no buses. For a large number of people in rural areas, there would be a huge additional cost to get to an enrolment centre to be measured. Should not those people receive a rebate if there is to be equity?

Mr. Oaten: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point in several regards. There will be the cost and inconvenience of travel to those large processing centres, especially in rural areas. I have visited one such centre outside Madrid; it was huge. The Government have not fully factored in the additional hidden costs of building such enormous centres all over the country.

Mr. Hogg: The point goes even further than the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) suggests. People in rural areas will have to take a whole day off work, and that is an enormous cost to an individual.

Mr. Oaten: Imagine an average family with two teenage children and maybe a granny, and you can bet your bottom dollar the person will have to go to the centre four or five times a year, taking different family members each time. The public have not realised the costs and inconvenience involved. When they realise that that is what they will actually have to do—

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Oaten: I will give way one more time.

Adam Afriyie: Does the hon. Gentleman consider it dignified for the elderly and those with disabilities to queue to have their retinas scanned and their fingerprints taken to be processed by the Government?

Mr. Oaten: It is certainly much more intrusive than the current system, which involves going to Boots to have a photograph taken and then sending the passport off. We must recognise that the process and the way it is handled will have quite an impact on people who feel uncomfortable about having their fingerprints, face and irises scanned.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Oaten: I want to move on.
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There is another issue, in relation to costs. If the Government are serious about rolling out the scheme to tackle benefit fraud, have they considered the cost of putting scanning machines in all the outlets? We are told, again from Home Office figures, that the reading equipment will cost between £250 and £750. Just putting readers in every single post office would cost £11 million. Interestingly, the Home Secretary seemed to imply that the decision whether to purchase readers would be down to individual authorities. It is interesting, is it not, that health authorities and local government may end up picking up the bill?

There is one hope in relation to costs: they may ultimately be the way in which we can defeat ID card bills. I want to ask the Minister—he may intervene on me—to clarify what the Prime Minister meant when he said:

Is that a promise that if the figures rise, the Government will abandon the scheme, and will the Minister describe what he regards as unreasonable? I regard a scheme that costs £10 billion plus to be an unreasonable scheme.

Mark Fisher: Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the cost to the public will include the cost of readers, and that tens of thousands of readers for all the public services will ultimately be involved, if and when the scheme becomes compulsory? Those costs will be very considerable, and while the public may not pay directly, they will pay, because all those authorities will have to increase their charges. The cost to the public will be very high, even if it is not a direct cost.

Mr. Oaten: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. My fear is simply this. Now that the Home Secretary has indicated that in Committee he is prepared to consider putting a cap on the charge, he has bound himself to say that he is going to charge only a certain amount. But we know that the Government will have to find the money somewhere, so it will go on to tax generally. People will either pay for it individually or they will pay for it through general taxation. We believe that that is wrong and that the figure is getting too large.

Even if one accepted, first, that the proposals had a purpose, and secondly, that this was the right price to pay, one would still have to make the case that the scheme could work, and that is the point at which we reach the issue of the database. There are two questions about the database. The first is whether it is workable. I am not going to rehearse all the arguments, but we know the figures in relation to Government databases; the success rate is pretty appalling. Despite the Home Office success on passports, the general assumption on Government IT schemes is that they go wrong or over budget, or most likely both.

The second question concerning the database is the crucial issue, which has been touched on by the shadow Home Secretary in particular. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the nervousness that Opposition Members feel about what could happen to that database and about who can access it. We might also fast-forward to what we could
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be doing with that database in 10 or 15 years' time. Technology already exists to use CCTV cameras to recognise faces in public. It is not beyond the reasonable bounds of possibility that one could link those CCTV cameras with the facial scan and then start to link that into the database. I am concerned about that, and I am not alone. The Information Commissioner has said that he is concerned that each development puts in place another component in the infrastructure of a "surveillance society". He is concerned about the way in which demands will grow for individuals to prove their identity; the broad purposes permit function-creep into unforeseen and perhaps unacceptable areas of private life. We must look carefully at what could be done next with the database, as technology progresses.

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