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Mr. Carmichael: That certainly appears to be the case. As with everything else to do with this cursed Bill, we do not know, because we do not yet have the detail of what the Government are proposing.
 
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The Bill will impose a penalty, which if it is to be meaningful must be recoverable and that can be done only by means of civil penalties.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): After making a sedentary intervention, the Minister has disappeared from the Treasury Bench. He should not do so. What is his disagreement with the logic of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael)? Is it that people would not receive a card if they did not pay? If they do not pay, presumably the Government have some means of recovering the charge. The hon. Gentleman should pursue that point; he may have touched on a Government soft nerve.

Mr. Carmichael: I do not know whether it is soft, but it is certainly raw—

Mr. Salmond: The Minister is now getting advice.

Mr. Carmichael: The Minister should have no need of advice as I have already raised the point with him in Committee. Members from Scotland in particular will have memories of the political capital that they made in the 1980s and early 1990s from the poll tax and the poindings and warrant sales, which should give them pause to reflect before they go into the Lobby tonight, or on any other occasion.

Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): As someone who once had the sheriff's officers at his door, I can well remember that time. Furthermore, as someone who, albeit somewhat reluctantly, has supported the Government on some issues tonight, I will not be supporting them on payments for individuals. We should keep separate the arguments. I would accept the argument on cost, although we must challenge what the cost would be, taking on board the comments of the Select Committee mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), but what I will not accept—nor will a number of people—is that the costs should be transferred to individuals who cannot pay them. If they are on income support or are among the millions of our low-paid workers, they should not have to pay under that system.

Mr. Carmichael: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point. I would have expected him to take that position because I know his views on a range of similar issues. However, I fear that he may prove to be the exception rather the rule among his fellow Scottish Labour Members, but we shall see.

8 pm

Dr. Blackman-Woods : I would not want the hon. Gentleman to think that Labour Members are not concerned about costs, especially costs to the individual, because we want them to be as low as possible. The Secretary of State has given us assurances that every effort will be made to keep the costs reasonable.
 
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Mr. Carmichael: I do not doubt for a second that hon. Members on both sides of the House are worried about costs. I am worried that Labour Members' concern does not seem to extend to providing meaningful protection for those who simply will not be in a position to pay and will thus be heavily penalised due to the scheme.

I am aware that time is short and that other hon. Members wish to speak. I thank the Conservatives and the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, who is yet to speak, for giving us the opportunity to discuss the matter on the Floor of the House. We have had a useful debate and if the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is minded to press amendment No. 19 to a Division, I assure him that the Liberal Democrats will support him in the Lobby.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I shall speak to amendment No. 19, and with your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall press it to a Division at a later stage.

I come to the debate, as always, as a humble seeker of the truth. I am doing everything that I possibly can to ensure the swift and speedy passage of Government legislation, and I am supporting them by trying to ensure that whatever legislation is passed can be properly implemented.

The problem on which hon. Members on both sides of the House are currently stumbling is that the Government clearly and correctly said from the beginning that they wanted to ensure that they budgeted for the scheme appropriately and set aside the required sums to introduce such a new mechanism for identifying individuals. They said that those sums should properly cover the costs and be effectively and efficiently spent, which I wholeheartedly support. When there was discussion and consultation on charges for ID cards themselves, the Government honestly said that they wanted to keep any charge to a minimum, yet ensure that it would cover the costs of implementing the scheme. That was why we reached the point in June during which it seemed almost as though negotiations were going on in the Chamber between Labour Back Benchers and Front Benchers about the breakdown of charges between the passport and ID-card elements of the scheme. We were told at that stage that the Home Secretary was looking at trying to keep the charge of the card down to £30.

A £30 charge on top of the charge for a passport—that takes the charge to £93—might well be reasonable for some people, but the figure is based on the Government's estimate of the costs of the scheme. The charge is designed to cover the costs, but what will happen if the costs have been underestimated? The Government estimated that the passport and ID scheme would cost £5.8 billion over 10 years, which was the basis on which we calculated a charge of £93. I must say that I could spend £5.8 billion on many more productive things than an ID card scheme, but let us put that principled argument on one side.

The London School of Economics report that analysed the scheme, which has already been cited, gave its lowest estimate of the cost of the scheme as £10.6 billion. The median estimate was £14.5 billion and the highest estimate was £19.2 billion. If the Government wish to cover the cost of the scheme
 
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through charging, a cost that is anywhere near the LSE's predictions will mean that the charge for a card and passport will eventually rise to something like £200 to £300.

Lynne Jones: I share my hon. Friend's concern. Is he aware that the increase to the charge for a passport between this year and next will be £15.57, which will be set to take account of only minor changes: the facial biometric and the system of interviews? However, it is estimated that the charge will increase between 2006–07 and the full implementation of the scheme by only £5.07, although fingerprint and iris biometrics will be introduced and the changing database will be set up during that time. The Government's figures are intuitively unreliable—compare £5 for a massive change with £15 for a minor change.

John McDonnell: My hon. Friend's point, which was perfectly made, reinforces our worry about what the Government will do if the charge is to cover the cost and yet the cost escalates.

The Home Secretary and the Government have quite properly given assurances that they will try to keep costs down, but I have sat in the Chamber listening to assurances before. When we considered the Bill that became the Terrorism Act 2000, the Home Secretary—he was then a junior Home Office Minister—assured us that the measure would not be used against people who were peacefully picketing and demonstrating, but within three months it was. I have thus sat through debates when assurances have been made by Government Ministers that have then not been realised.

I am worried about what will happen if there is a cost overrun after we have inflicted a mandatory charge on the general public. Who will cover the cost if the system does not work? What will happen if not only the initial procurement estimates are wrong, but the cost of the contract starts to overrun in the early stages? Will we give more assurances to the public that the charge will not rise and, if so, will the cost fall on general taxation? Alternatively, will a one-off levy be put on businesses or others?

Mr. Love: According to the press release that was released yesterday to indicate that the charge of a card to those who do not take a passport will be £30, the Home Office can absorb any costs entailed in the scheme. If costs go up, they will thus lie with the Home Office and the only way in which it will be able to recoup the money will be by increasing the charge for the identity card.

John McDonnell: That is one option. However, we are all aware of the stringency of the Treasury's activities across Government Departments, so the other option would be that the Home Office would have to swallow its own smoke by using its budget, which would lead to cuts in other services, such as probation, prisons and policing. If costs escalate, the options are to increase the charge for the cards, or to cut services in the Home Secretary's remit.

It is argued that risks will be reduced because the scheme will be rolled out in phases, but that does not reassure me. It is estimated that the scheme will involve
 
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the biggest computer contract in western Europe for the past 20 years. A project on such a scale has great potential for problems and cost overruns. Reports by the Public Accounts Committee tell us time and again that 50 per cent. of the Government's computer projects have failed, experienced serious developmental and operational problems, or overrun on time scales, thus overrunning on costs. None of us will be reassured about the implementation of the programme through such a massive contract.


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