David Davis: I listened with great interest to the hon. Gentleman's whipped speech. I have had fun before with the Whips' plants on the Government Benches. He is clearly a new addition to that group. I shall give way in a moment.
In the run-up to the debate there was an independent report about the cost and technical capability of the proposed systemsan independent report by the London School of Economics. [Interruption.] I expected hon. Members to groan. The Governmentand, to my surprise, the Home Secretaryhave been attacking the individuals who drew up that report. As a result, Howard Davies, the head of the LSE, wrote to the Government saying, "You are wrong to attack individuals who wrote the report. Sixty different people wrote it. It was peer reviewed. It was written by experts on various aspects of ID card technology." I will return to their views.
Chris Mole: Will the right hon. Gentleman make clear what the fine would be, as prescribed in the schedule, if a special adviser inappropriately and outwith the legislation accessed the sort of information that he suggested?
David Davis: Of course such a person would be fined if he were caught, but one of the problems with the proposal is that high volumes of data would be travelling round the system, and it is not good enough to say that there would be a small fine.
Let us assume that people do not care about their privacy. Let us assume they believe, as the hon. Gentleman does, that the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, Mr. Alastair Campbell and a legion of special
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advisers are all saints. Let us imagine they believe that. There are still good reasons not to want to be on the register. Let us go through them. First, there is the price.
Even on the Government's figures, the price of passports for a family of four would rise from £134 to £372. On the LSE's figures, which I trust more, the cost could be as high as £300 per person or more than £1,000 for a family of foura plastic poll tax that the Government must fear will lead no one to volunteer for the system.
Edward Miliband: The right hon. Gentleman is much more experienced than I in the House. He is basing his case on an allegation that he made earlier in his speech, that a former special adviser tried to gain access to the privileged details of someone's sex life through Government machinery. If he has evidence of that allegation, he should put it on the table. He should not make such allegations on the Floor of the House under parliamentary privilege.
David Davis: This is the public domain. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman was doing when he was at the Treasury. Perhaps he did not read any newspapers in the past few years. That would explain quite a lot about his political performance.
Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): Since there are only six pieces of personal information on the national identity registername, sex, date of birth, place of birth, nationality and addresshow would the collection of those data, which are already collected for passports, make it any easier or more difficult for the kind of revelations described by the right hon. Gentleman to be made?
David Davis: The primary concern is about a piece of data giving access to other databasesfor example, driving licence number or national insurance number. Such pieces of information are the access keys to other databases. I shall return to that in detail, because there is expert evidence that causes concern among people who know a great deal about that.
Earlier, in Home Office questions, the Home Secretary made the dubious claim that the Passport Agency has been a tremendous success, which was sort of reiterated in an unqualified way by the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. The Home Secretary must have far different criteria for success from me and the rest of the country, who have seen many millions of our money squandered on that. It overran significantly and led to great inconvenience for a large number of people.
As I said to the right hon. Gentleman, four Government agencies have seen projects with a total budget of nearly £9 billion record spectacular failures,
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racking up a combined overspend of £33.9 billion. Even simple databases are often beyond the Home Office. Why should we imagine that it is capable of setting up the very complex register required by the Bill in an acceptable and workable way? If it goes wrong, that may manifest itself in problems and delays in getting the designated document. How much longer will it take to get a passport if we add the ID card requirements? Once we have renewed our passports, we are required to keep the Government informed of any changes. We will have to tell the Government every time we change our address, on pain of a fine of £1,000, which is quite a lot of money.
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): I have been listening to the right hon. Gentleman's argument and he makes the point about the alleged unreliability of Home Office IT projects. Does he agree that in fact the process being outlined for what is effectively an evolutionary process for putting data on a database is the proper and valid way to proceed in order to ensure that all procedures are tried and tested before we have the debate on compulsory registration, and that these processes can inform that debate? Should he not therefore be supporting the Government?
David Davis: The hon. Gentleman makes a decent point in truth. A large database should be introduced on an evolutionary basis and slowly. However, that could be done on a much more steady basis with a voluntary system. The point here is the strategic problem of the database itself, but I will come back to that in a moment because it is a serious point to take on.
There is also the question of inaccuracy. The Government have tried to persuade the public of the value of an identity card, but they have not considered the consequences if there are erroneous records. Many hon. Members have dealt with personal disasters that have befallen constituents when some data held about them have been wrong. As the Select Committee Chairman will know, the Home Office cannot even ensure that the Criminal Records Bureau database is accurate. At one point two thirds of it was in error, and at the last check it was one third. Those are serious errors in what should be an absolutely accurate record. So what chance with a 40 million person database? So there are many major problems even before one considers the hundreds of thousands of people who will be the victims of false positive or false negative biometric tests, as has been clear from the studies done.
Finally, there is the most important question about the whole issuethe insecurity of the system. The Government have made, in a way properly, much of the issue of identity theft, particularly with regard to terrorism. Yet their proposala point I referred to earlieris to gather the access keys to virtually every Government database in the national identity register, put them on one large computer and then create many thousands of direct access points to that computer. They will have created the most attractive possible target for every fraudster, terrorist, confidence trickster and hacker on the planet. Those people will be able to lift data out and put viruses and false data in.
If the Pentagon and Microsoft cannot keep hackers from penetrating their mainframes, what chance the Home Office? Speaking about the scheme, Microsoft's
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national technology officer has said that a central identity database could worsen the very problems that it was intended to prevent, such as terrorism and identity theft. He said that
Incidentally, this is yet another area where the Government mounted a mendacious attack on the independent LSE report. I will deal with that in detail because it is rather important. The section of the report that highlights the very serious security flaws in the proposed system was written not by an antagonist of the identity card system, but by somebody who favours identity cards, Dr. Brian Gladman, the ex-technical director of NATO, who had an eminent career in the British military ensuring the security of our military computer systems. He himself has said: