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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be the first to recognise that he is straying well away from the amendments, which are about what people will have to pay for the cards. We are not dealing with the Iraq war at this stage in the proceedings.
Mr. Salmond: As always, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I accept your advice, but the question of opportunity cost bears on what people will have to pay. In the absence of an answer from the Government to any of the substantive questions that have been raised, they cannot give us a realistic estimate of costs. The LSE estimates that have been quotedthe £10 billion to £19.2 billion, which would result in a cost for the individual of £170 to £230are the best and most reasonable estimate available.
If those are the real coststhe best that can reasonably be estimated from the Government's lack of preparedness and in the absence of information from themit is legitimate to ask how those substantial charges will be extracted from members of the public. At the time of the poll tax, one of the jokes was that people would next be taxed for breathing. The way that the Government formulate identity cards makes them virtually a tax on existence. In the absence of any assurance, quantification or solidity underpinning the Government's position, it is entirely legitimate to ask how the charges will be extracted from the population. When the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) asks about poinding and warrant sales, those are legitimate questions. It will require more than a little additional advice from the Treasury Bench to answer themperhaps not in relation to the result of the votes tonight, but certainly when there is a general debate and the effects of such a disastrous Bill are felt among the general public.
Bill Etherington (Sunderland, North) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) on his honesty. He clearly said that he had moved the amendment to try to wreck the Bill. That is admirable. I want it to be understood that, for precisely the opposite reasons to those that he advanced, some of us support the proposition that there should be no individual payment to obtain what is compulsory.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) opposes identity cards, but I am not against the concept. I have reservationsfor example, I do not believe that ID cards will be a
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panacea or solve all the problems that we are led to believe they will solve, but they can improve the situation. ID cards are an erosion of civil liberties, but on balance, I can live with that. Although in this case the erosion of civil liberties may not appear too severe, that must be taken in conjunction with the various other erosions of civil liberties that have occurred since we took power in 1997. The erosion of civil liberties is becoming increasingly worrying, and I look forward to the day when a Labour Minister stands at the Dispatch Box and announces an increase in civil liberties, rather than their curtailment. That is the history of our party, and it causes some of us considerable concern.
There can be significant advantages to the use of identity cards or smart cards, whichever they are called. I believe that the matter is being properly addressed, but there is one thing that I cannot come to terms with. Various comparisons have been made by Ministers. We hear about driving licences and passports, and the fact that people have to pay for those. But with very few exceptions, nobody is obliged to purchase a passport, because very few people are obliged to go abroad. They go abroad because they choose to. The same can be said about obtaining a driving licence. Very few people are obliged to drive a motor car, so they are not obliged to purchase a driving licence.
When the Government decide that for the benefit of society as a whole some measure needs to be introduced, society as a whole, not the individual, should pay for it. We have all heard about the old age pensioner couple who might see their winter fuel allowance wiped out because eventually it will be compulsory for them to obtain identity cards, whereas if it cost £100, £200 or £300 to obtain an identity card, it would not have any great effect on people like us. That principle is wrong. Although we do not hear so much about it now, I rather like the concept of socialism and progressive taxation. It is an admirable concept that those who take most out of society should put most back in, for the benefit of us all.
It is unfair that if something is compulsory, people should be obliged to pay for it. Initially, ID cards will be voluntary. Does anybody believe that people will shell out money for something that is voluntary, if they do not need to? When the voluntary card becomes compulsory, which will eventually happenit has considerable meritit will be so much more difficult if few people have taken up the voluntary option. Even at this late stage I ask the Government to think again. I have not mentioned costs or the merit of costs, because I do not want to stray into those matters. Any Member or Minister who is concerned about the cost should bear in mind that there will be a far greater incentive to keep the cost down if the Treasury must bear the cost than if it falls on the individual.
Mr. Ellwood: This debate is not simply about ID cards: it is about the relationship between the citizen and the state and the borderline between what civil liberties we are willing to concede in order to live in a fairer, safe and secure world.
The Bill's aims are commendablethey include tackling ID fraud, benefit fraud, illegal immigration and terrorismbut as we learn more about the detail of the costs, the British nation is becoming increasingly sceptical. I wonder whether we would be having this debate if the Government were a little more transparent
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about some of the costs that are likely to be incurred. My hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) quoted the report from the London School of Economics. Other estimates of the total cost of the project range from £3 billion all the way up to £10 billion.
I wonder whether we will get value for money if we spend that much. It has been said that the police support the project. If they knew that they had £10 billion to spend on helping with matters to do with security and benefit fraud, would they spend it in this fashion? For example, Bournemouth is crying out for an improved CCTV system. We could easily spend that money on projects that are worth while and beneficial to the nation instead of a system which has no exact final cost. In America, where they do not have ID cards yet, extra money after 9/11 has been invested in homeland security and strengthening its borders.
The costs of current database systems have spiralled. The NHS database went from £6.2 billion up to £20 billion. The probation service database went from £85 million to £120 million, and was then scrapped. The air traffic control system went from £350 million to £630 million. Why would the database for ID cards be any different? What guarantees can the Government give that they are not going to repeat those mistakes?
Another issue is that of the performance of the IT. The Passport Agency, the Child Support Agency and the Criminal Records Bureau have all had IT problems with their databases. Again, why should the ID cards database be any different?
Lots of questions have been asked today about the cost. How much would it cost to replace the card? How much has already been spent on the project to date? I asked those questions of the Minister in Committee. Is there an upper limit to how much the Government are willing to spend before they say that the costs have spiralled out of control, as in the case of previous databases? In order to prevent a terrorist from using a stolen ID card, or a thief from making a false benefit claim, some form of verification processa contraption such as an iris scannerwill be required to determine that the person holding the card is the person they say they are. We will then get that apparatus right across Britain, including at all our airports. Who will meet the cost for those additional bits of equipment?
Having debated this on Second Reading, in Committee and today, I believe that the Bill is flawed. It is open-ended and dangerous in that it does not have a clear timetable, it is based on technology that does not work and uses questionable or unknown costings, and it is increasingly without the support of the people.
I did not intend to speak in the debate but as there is some time I should like to make a couple of brief points. The first concerns spiralling costs. At the beginning of the project, the cost of identity cards was meant to be £15. It then went up to £35 and was linked to the passport and went up to £77. The latest estimate is £93. It takes a great deal of trust and confidence to think that it will not continue to rise.
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We all know that there are significant risks to the costs involved in the project. That is one reason why many people, even those who support the scheme, are suggesting that there needs to be greater transparency. In my constituency, the turnover of people is in the region of 20 to 30 per cent. annually. The electoral register cannot keep up because of that movement. If addresses are to be included, as was suggested earlier, the costs will spiral, especially in urban areas such as Greater London.
So far we have not mentioned inaccuracy, but there will be substantial inaccuraciesthere are in every computer system that we have. Sorting them out will undoubtedly lead to major increases in cost. There will also be great public concern about security. Making the system even more secure will cost money.
There has been much talk about the location of the centres for biometric identification. We can be sure that, whatever number the Government come up with, we will need to double it to satisfy the public. The time taken to go through the identification process will be much greater than estimated. If we add function creep and the inflation of the amount of information that is kept in the systemall are consequences of a mandatory schemeone can envisage costs spiralling out of control.
How can we make the scheme proportionate to the likely limited benefits that it can deliver? That cost-benefit analysis has not been done. We have talked a lot about the financial cost but there are also related social costs. One of the great disappointments of the Home Affairs Committee report was that it steered clear of that argument. It behoves the Chamber to discuss those costs. Let us consider the 51 pieces of information that will be held on an individual. They require 13 different biometric tests. If that is not information overkill, I do not know what is. That is not proportionate to the likely benefits. I hope that, if nothing else, the Government will at least listen to the anxieties that are being expressed; otherwise, first the Home Office and then the Government will be shafted.
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