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Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire) (Lab): It may help my hon. Friend to learn that when I questioned IT professionals who are hoping to take part in the tender, they said that the LSE figures were entirely speculative, bearing in mind the degree of knowledge about the project, but they added that the Government's were too. There is no proper basis for estimating such a project without much greater knowledge about its purpose and its specification. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Andy Burnham: I note my hon. Friend's point about the LSE figures. On the Government's figures—the main thrust of his question—he will know that we commissioned an independent assessment from KPMG. It looked in detail at the business case for the scheme and concluded, in an independent summary that we placed in the Library, that it was "robust and appropriate". We have not opened up the whole report to Members, so some of the details will have to be taken on trust, but I can assure my hon. Friend that that was KPMG's conclusion and I urge him to refer to the document, which suggests that our figures have some validity.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend set out how the Government are approaching the commissioning of the enormous contract for a database that must be pushing at the envelope of IT knowledge? The Government's track record in commissioning computer-based technology is disastrous—as was that of the previous Government—so how are they approaching it differently to ensure that we do not experience, as we have in the past, vast overruns and increases in expenses in a programme that is not fit for purpose?

Andy Burnham: My hon. Friend is right to note that the project is a major undertaking and will require significant sums, and I shall set out in detail how much we expect to spend. I have two points in response to her question. If we said that because there had been problems in the past we would never embrace new technology and never make significant investment in a project that could bring improvements, that would be the wrong approach. However, I assure her that we are basing the delivery body for the scheme on that of the UK Passport Service. It had problems a few years ago, but they were not related to the introduction of the IT system, and it has since emerged as one of the highest-performing public sector organisations and is extremely well equipped to deliver the scheme cost-effectively.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): I am not against identity cards in principle, so I ask this question
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in kindness, rather than anything else. Does the Minister agree that there has been a pretty long trail of failures by all Governments in implementing IT and that this Government have had a number of such failures, which he perhaps underestimates? Has he conducted an inquiry into those failures? Will he place in the Library the list of lessons that the Government have learned from the failures of the past, so that we can estimate whether they will be able to handle what is, on all accounts, a very large order of magnitude in changed technology?

Andy Burnham: I hesitate to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman has experience of such matters. Governments of both colours have had negative experience in that regard, but it is precisely because of some of the past procurement problems that the Office of Government Commerce gateway process has been established. As he will know, that involves private sector expertise at every stage of a major project to consider its readiness and whether the associated risks are adequately addressed. The scheme has been through a series of gateway reviews, and I assure him that that directly builds on experience learned from past failures. Some of the people involved in the process have been involved in other major public and private sector procurement. [Interruption.] Obviously, they have clearly learned the lessons and know exactly what they are doing now. The serious point is that the scheme is being closely examined, and we seek to make as much information from the gateway process available as possible. I take on board the right hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I am not satisfied that the Minister has answered the question asked by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson). The tax credit fiasco suffered from enormous IT overruns, and when the Government tried to fix them the costs went up even further. I wonder whether the Minister still shares the Home Secretary's confidence that he will not only hit the target of about £540 million, but beat it?

Andy Burnham: I do share that confidence. Let me develop the point that I made in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson). It is not correct to say glibly that the scheme is directly comparable to the Child Support Agency. They are not analogous, and we are describing a very different function. Before hon. Members run away with the idea that the scheme is intended to encompass everything, let me say that it is a basic identification scheme that will hold biometric details.

Let me refer the House to the experience of the United States since 11 September. The US has introduced biometrics into its immigration system pretty much from a standing start, and they are now used for all visas around the world and for people going through US customs control. Such schemes are workable. They are in use today. The British Government are increasingly using biometrics. We have progressively introduced biometrics into visas, and that process is beginning to be implemented around the world. A biometric is being used in applicant registration cards for asylum seekers, and we are seeking to build on such relevant experience.
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Mr. Todd: May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the need for greater transparency, which might provide reassurance? He referred to the fact that only a summary of the KPMG report has been published. It would certainly be helpful if the whole report were published, and commercial confidentiality would not be affected in doing so. The OGC gateways could readily be disclosed, at least in summary form. It is welcome that the Government have commissioned a concept viability report on the project, and it could also be made available. I have yet to see it, and it would have been useful to have seen it before the debate.

7.45 pm

Andy Burnham: I take on board my hon. Friend's general point. I hope that, after this evening's vote, the discussion will change from one about whether or not the scheme should happen to one about how it will happen. I think that that important distinction will quickly take root in people's minds. I embrace my hon. Friend's point of view. It would not be right to proceed with a scheme of such national significance with any sense of a culture of secrecy. We will seek to put as much information as possible into the public domain, but as he will understand from his experience before first coming to the House, that must be balanced by a requirement to secure best value from what will be a major procurement process. We need to keep those two things in mind.

On independent scrutiny, an independent project assurance group is reviewing cost, project management and IT implementation and bringing together a range of experienced stakeholders. The biometric assurance group, chaired by the Government's chief scientist, Sir David King, will review that specific aspect. So there is independent scrutiny, but I take on board my hon. Friend's point that we should seek to make more information available as and when we can.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. When the Minister turns to speak to his hon. Friend, he is not only turning his back on the occupant of the Chair, but, more importantly perhaps, taking his voice away from the microphones, which makes it very difficult for the Official Report. I hope that he will bear that in mind.

Andy Burnham: I certainly will, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I apologise for any inconvenience.

I want to stress to the House that the £584 million cost of issuing passport and identity cards includes all the existing costs of issuing passports through the United Kingdom Passport Service, together with the developments that will be needed over the next few years to introduce biometric passports, starting with passports incorporating facial images and moving to biometric fingerprints. About 70 per cent. of the cost of issuing identity cards, alongside passports, is attributable to the introduction of biometric passports. Let me put that figure into perspective.

The figure of £584 million includes the baseline figures for the operation of the UK Passport Service, which in 2006–07 is expected to be some £397 million. That is the organisation's running cost in carrying out its core responsibility of issuing passports to the British public.   Essentially, the difference between those two
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figures—about £200 million—is what we are debating. That is the extra cost that the identity card scheme will place on the public, and it is the set-up costs of establishing the scheme, which were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud.

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