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Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab): I wish to speak to amendment (a), which I tabled in lieu of Lords amendments Nos. 1, 68, 69 and 70.

My amendment would impose a requirement on the Government to report every six months to the House on the latest estimated cost of the ID scheme, if it goes ahead. I do not support the Lords amendments because they deal exclusively with the initial estimate. History suggests that it is not the initial estimates that are the problem but the actual costs. Although the Government support my amendment, I believe that the ID scheme will not provide value for money. It will not bring an end to terrorism, and if a great deal of credit fraud affects the credit card and debit card industry it is not the taxpayer's job to help those commercial organisations. We ought to behave as the Victorians did with cheques. There was a simple law on cheques—if someone did not sign the cheque and the bank paid out, the loss was the bank's, not the account holder. If we took that robust attitude on debit and credit cards we would be a lot better off. You can bet your boots that those commercial organisations, which want us to bail them out when they suffer from fraud, would quickly find a way of stopping the problem.

Several hon. Members rose—

Frank Dobson: I should like to try to make progress.
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The Government estimate that the scheme will cost £6 billion. If someone came up to a Member in the Chamber and said that they would give them £6 billion to make the country safer only to be told that ID cards would be introduced, that Member would be taken to the funny farm before they had time to draw breath. I am therefore not very keen on the proposition, to say the least.

As I have said, it is not the initial estimate or its nature or make-up that bothers me. IT systems companies such as EDS and Siemens appear to be competing for the title of intergalactic rip-off IT merchant of the decade, and have ripped off the public and private sectors time and   again through their negligence, incompetence and stupidity, usually resulting in massive costs increases for users and huge delays. Our first job as the House of Commons, save to protect the security of the nation, is to control the raising and spending of taxpayers' money It is not overstating the case to say that a considerable number of people are doubtful about the Ministers' original estimates of the cost of the ID scheme. Nobody should suggest that that springs from deliberate deception, but all IT schemes seem to have had substantial cost overruns—with the exception, I might say, of NHS Direct, which did not involve any outside consultants, was done entirely in house, and worked.

I am prepared to accept at face value Ministers' original estimate of about £6 billion. The problem is that if we go on as we usually do, several years hence we will happen to learn from an article leaked to a newspaper or some technical IT journal that the costs have gone into the stratosphere. My amendment will require the Government to report to the House regularly every six months, so that if huge increases are taking place, it will not be too late for us to say stop.

The original £6 billion estimate may turn out to be correct, in which case my hon. Friend the Minister and the Home Secretary will have brought about a modern miracle. As I understand it, having demonstrated a miracle, they would qualify for canonisation as saints during their own lifetime. I think that that is unlikely and that we can expect sudden huge escalations in costs, but if we pass my amendment, we will know and be able to take action to stop it before it is too late.

People may argue that contracts may have been let. Contracts should provide for termination if they go over certain limits and, ideally, require those who have taken the contract costs over the limit to repay the money that they have already squandered. That is going a little far these days, with the delicate organisations with which the Government deal, but it should be done nevertheless.

I do not accept the comments of the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) about subsection (4) of my amendment, which provides for the Government to withhold not a report, but any matter in the report if it would prejudice their relations with any of the outside contractors. It would be foolish for us to require of the Government to identify that they are putting X hundred thousand, million or billion pounds in the budget for a particular contract at the point when they are seeking bids from outside organisations. That would be to the disadvantage of taxpayers, and the point
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of my amendment is to put taxpayers at an advantage and stop them being ripped off, as they have been so regularly and scandalously in the past.

Mr. Garnier: Is not the problem that over the past year or so, and during debates in this place and the other place, the Government have refused to be open and candid, as the right hon. Gentleman thinks that they will be, on the basis of commercial confidentiality? That is ingrained in their DNA. We need to be persuaded that they have changed their mind. They say that they will support his amendment, but their whole way of life in the conduct of the Bill has been to shut up and refuse to give information because they say that that would spoil everybody's confidential commercial arrangements.

Frank Dobson: The wording is:

The Government therefore could not claim that they were securing the best value from the use of public money after some contract had been let. That covers the hon. and learned Gentleman's point.

All that I am doing is giving the House an opportunity for us to do our job. I can commend my amendment both to those who are for identity cards and to those who are against identity cards. For those who are present who are in favour of identity cards, voting for my amendment is a vote of confidence in the accuracy of the Government's estimates and the likelihood that they will prove to be true. There cannot be anyone who is in favour of identity cards who does not believe that the true costs should not be known, and that will also have the effect of bringing pressure to bear on the IT firms to make low bids, because otherwise they will go over the top of the £6 billion figure, and it will maintain a constant pressure both on civil servants and on the contractors to keep the costs low. Those arguments are intended to appeal to those who are in favour of identity cards.

If, like me, Members are not in favour of identity cards, instead of a vote of confidence, it is a vote of scepticism. It enables us to put the chocks under the wheel of the ID card wagon if it starts running down—or running up—the hill of cost escalation. I am in what might be described as a unique situation in that I can advocate my amendment to those who are in favour and those who are against for them to pursue their totally opposing reasons and attitudes to ID cards by voting for one single amendment, and that is why I commend it to the House.

Mr. Carmichael: It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson), whose speech I enjoyed. He has persuaded me that there is more merit to his amendment than I had first seen in it. Had he attached to the report some sort of sanction, as exists in the Lords amendments, I would certainly have been much better disposed to his amendment. I particularly enjoyed his description of the IT companies as intergalactic swindlers, or something to that effect. The thought did just slip through my mind as to what epithets he would apply to the Ministers and civil servants who wrote the cheques and completed the contracts with these IT companies in the first place.
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It will not be lost on the House that the Minister spoke for 40 minutes. For the first 36 minutes of his speech, he did not make any reference at all to either the Lords amendment or the amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman.

Andy Burnham: I began by addressing both amendments. I said at the beginning that the amendment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) struck the right balance and did not fetter us in seeking best value from the market, and that the Lords amendment was unprecedented in dealing, as Mr. Speaker said, in matters of privilege. I addressed them very directly at the very beginning of my remarks.

Mr. Carmichael: That must have been a good 30 seconds out of the first 36 minutes. It was his own hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), who made the point at almost 8 o'clock that he had not yet addressed the issue. We will be able to check the record tomorrow.

In any event, the complexity of the debate rather masks the simplicity of the issues at stake here. The point to be made here is not greatly dissimilar to that which we made in relation to compulsion, namely that if identity cards were as good as was claimed, why was compulsion necessary? If the Government's plans are as well costed and as affordable as they would have us believe, they should have nothing to fear from Lords amendment No. 70.

Whether one takes the LSE report or the KPMG report, or whatever basis one wishes to proceed on, the basic truth of the matter is that no one really knows what the cost of identity cards will be. That is possibly why the Government prefer the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras to Lords amendment No. 70.

8.45 pm

We all know that the acceptability of ID cards to the general public declines as cost increases. The Minister has said that he would not pay £300 for an ID card—that may yet prove to be a hostage to fortune—which is not a point of principle, but an entirely pragmatic point relating to cost. Although he will undoubtedly have moved on to greater and higher things in government, I wonder what his position will be when and if the cost hits £300.

The Minister has also told us that the model for financing ID cards follows that of the UK Passport Service, so it is clear that the cost will impact directly on the individual rather than its coming from the Government. Earlier, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) used the expression "plastic poll tax", which is exceptionally apposite.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie) has referred to the Government estimate that the cost of identity fraud and identity theft is in the region of £1.7 billion. However, that figure includes fraud associated with credit and debit cards, the bulk of which
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takes place online. The introduction of an identity card will make no difference to the incidence of such fraud, because biometrics are useless in relation to online transactions.

The Minister has mentioned the UK Passport Service, but the parallel is not valid, because it does not rely on the database or the register. Furthermore, the UK Passport Service does not require the installation of a reader in every public service office, which will include every benefits office, hospital and GP surgery in England and Wales—the Scottish Executive have more sense than to install such machines. Those costs, which will be significant, make quantification even more difficult.

The Minister has said that Lords amendment No. 70 is unprecedented and novel, and he is absolutely right. He has also said that it is outrageous that the Government should have to explain the cost of the measure before they implement it, because this is a manifesto Bill. If that is outrageous, the cost should have been in the manifesto to allow people to form a judgment at the polls—in that regard, we have seen the worst of Labour party manifestos in the past few weeks. The protection of the taxpayer, which is entirely unprecedented, is appropriate, because the whole Bill is entirely unprecedented. The Bill seeks to rewrite the relationship between the citizen and the state as we have always understood it in this country. If the Government want to take that course, the least they can do is tell us the cost of that step before they take it.

Lords amendment No. 70 is clear. Subsection (2) specifies that the report should contain a detailed estimate of the revenue and capital costs and that a statement of expected benefits should be produced. Subsection (3) covers the extent of the cost estimates.

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