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Mr. Garnier: The right hon. Gentleman may be further concerned to hear that, before we broke for the recess in July, I tabled 10 or 12 written parliamentary questions to a number of Departments of State to find out what steps they had taken to prepare for the national register and the identity card system. Not one of them, not even the Home Office, was able to say that it had done anything meaningful to prepare for the scheme. The Treasury, the Department of Health, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Ministry of Defence, the Northern Ireland Officenone of them had done anything sensible to meet the right hon. Gentleman's Committee's concerns.
Mr. Denham: That is an interesting point. Although the Select Committee supported the ID card scheme, one of its recommendations was that it felt to us a year and a half ago as though this was a Home Office scheme that the rest of Government was watchingthose were not our exact words, but that was the sense of themrather than a cross-Government scheme to which the whole of the Government were committed. I fear that what the hon. and learned Gentleman recounts rather supports that view. Those are not reasons to vote against the Billwe need the schemebut it is right to put down warnings that, unless those issues are addressed, the scheme may well not be successful.
Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that a cultural barrier lies in front of the scheme, to which he has just alluded? All Departments must be involved in delivering savings and process changes to make the collection of national identities work for them. Yet they must also step back in the management of the project and allow someone to deliver it without their direct control. That presents a management conundrum, which I admit, as someone who has had to manage projects, would be scary in the extreme.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the right hon. Gentleman responds to that intervention, I remind him and the House that these amendments relate to what the public must pay for the cards. The cost of producing them is therefore irrelevant, so a wide-ranging debate on that aspect is not acceptable. The debate is specifically about what people must pay for the cards.
Mr. Denham: I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your advice and tolerance up to this point. However, the point I wish to make about procurement is now directly related to the cost of the overall scheme and therefore the cost that the public are likely to have to bear, be it for a free-standing card or for a passport-plus in the form that 80 per cent. or so of the population will have.
There seems to be a lack of willingness in the Home Office at the moment to adopt what is generally called an open process to procurement. That does not involve openness about whether we are advertising according to the normal European procurement processes and so on. There are essentially two approaches to procurement that will have a big effect on the design and cost of the scheme. The first is one where, having defined the broad outcomes and objectives of the scheme, the Government tender for one or more suppliers to provide a black
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boxcomputer software or a certain type of cardthat will deliver what they want. The second approach is one where all the major issues about the design of the software, the structure of the identity register, the choice of card and the choice of different types of chip on the card are made publicly available and there is the widest technical and scientific scrutiny.
Traditional Government procurement has taken the view that the savings in cost achieved by the black-box type of procurement outweigh the advantages of a wider scrutiny of the proposals. Having looked at procurement around the world, the Select Committee came to the opposite view: the most open technical procurement, with the best scrutiny, was most likely to deliver systems that worked at the lowest possible cost.
Lynne Jones: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government should not go ahead with procuring the system without having conducted, or having had conducted, an independent large-scale study to ensure that the necessary error rates can be achieved on a population of 60 million people?
Mr. Love: The Government have commissioned a study by KPMG, which looks at the risks to the system and, I understand, includes costs. However, they have said that due to commercial confidentiality they can release only part of that information. Is my right hon. Friend, like me, somewhat concerned about that, and is not it important that we be as open as possible about the system if we are to achieve the ends that he wants?
Mr. Denham: I have much sympathy for what my hon. Friend says. It seems to me that we are locking commercial confidentiality into the procurement process far too early, when many of the major technical design issues have not been solved. The likelihood, therefore, is that we shall end up paying more than we need to for the final product because we have not had appropriate scrutiny of what is being purchased. That, I can reassure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will impact directly on the cost that the public may have to pay for the card.
: It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham). He may have pushed the boundaries of what was in order, but he made a highly significant contribution, bringing as he did an almost unique insight into Home
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Office procurement processes. That is indicative of the sort of debate that we need in the House in relation to identity cards, but are unfortunately denied due to the nature of the Bill, which, as has already been observed, is an enabling measure.
The right hon. Gentleman prefaced his remarks by saying that he was a supporter of identity cards. I wonder what someone reading his contribution would think that the opponents were saying if that was a Government supporter's analysis of the case. If there was a flaw in his argument, it was that his message seemed to be that we should identify all the difficulties but pass the Bill anyway. That is entirely the wrong way of going about things. The right hon. Gentleman is inviting us to give a blank cheque, which will ultimately be substantial, for something whose efficacy is by no means guaranteed.
I want to say a few words about the amendments. This is one of the occasions when I feel that I may have fallen through the looking-glass. I find myself supporting a Conservative amendment that proposes a free universal provision, in the teeth of opposition from a Labour Government. However there is some merit in the Conservative proposal, as there is too in amendment No.19, which the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) has yet to move. There will be a cost to us all, whether from those who have to get the card at a flat rate or through general taxation, which is a burden that falls on us all. Both the Conservatives and Government Back Benchers are offering the Government a way out.
The Government are stumbling towards a new plasticised poll tax. It is worth recalling why the poll tax was unpopular. It was a flat-rate tax, which bore no relation to ability to pay. In that sense, it was regressive. What the Government are suggesting is, at the very least, a similar flat-rate levy. Much of the opposition to the poll tax was not from principle, although that was at the root of it; the serious opposition, at least in Scotland, arose from the recovery process. We saw local authority-instructed sheriff officers carrying out poindings and warrant sales for the recovery of a civil penalty, the poll tax. The Bill suggests that failure to pay the fee for an identity card will incur a civil penalty. We are presented with the spectacle that a Labour Government will be sending out sheriff officers to carry out poindings and warrant sales for the recovery of a civil penalty[Interruption.] The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality says from a sedentary position that that is not true. Perhaps he can tell me on which point I am wrong. He is not going to do so.
John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare) (Con): On the point about a regressive charge, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is likely to fall most heavily on some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of the public? In my constituency, we have a large proportion of pensioners, who are often on fixed incomes. Many of them will find it extremely hard to pay that additional tax, struggling as they are already with a number of other cost increases.
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