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Mr. Cash: I have listened to the hon. Gentleman's remarks this afternoon with great interest. Will he remind me what the Liberal Democrats did on Second Reading?
Mr. Carmichael: We voted against it. I am slightly thrown, as I cannot remember any stage at which our position has changed. I know that the hon. Gentleman's party has had a rather more interesting progress down the road to Damascus. As an elder of the kirk, I can say that there is great rejoicing in heaven and on earth at the repentance of the sinner. I welcome the conversion of the Conservative party on this point.
John Bercow: I apologise to colleagues for breaching the convention that one does not intervene a few minutes after one has entered the Chamber. Another convention is worth upholding: the principle of fairness between the parties. If memory serves me correctly, the Lib Dems have been against this Bill all along.
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. We are wandering a little far from the amendment under discussion.
Mr. Carmichael: I think that we have wandered much further than this in the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I take your stricture to heart.
Lords amendment No. 70 brings with it the ultimate sanction that the Bill could be implemented only after all those matters had been established to the satisfaction of
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this House. We should not cast that off lightly. I like the idea put forward by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras that there should be an ongoing review of costs, but my difficulty with his amendment is that I am afraid that paragraph (4) would act as a get-out-of-jail free card for the Government.
Mr. Drew: The hon. Gentleman makes just the point that I wanted to make. I am greatly attracted by what my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) says because the problem with Government IT contracts is the ongoing costs, which, admittedly, usually come on the back of an overrun on the initial set-up costs. Such costs could be trapped by amendment (a), whereas Lords amendment 70 apparently would not do that. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?
Mr. Carmichael: I accept that; indeed, I have just made that point, more or less. However, if the Government are minded to proceed along the lines outlined in amendment (a), there is absolutely no barrier to them doing so without putting it in the Bill. It is always open to the Government to review such matters and to make reports in the way suggested. Neither amendment should necessarily be seen as being exclusive of the other.
Frank Dobson: The hon. Gentleman says that there would be no comeback for the Secretary of State if he held back information from his six-monthly report. However, I suggest that if he admits to holding back a piece of information in one six-monthly report and still wants to hold it back in the next such report, there would be a considerable political pain for him, providing at least that the Opposition parties were doing their job properly.
Mr. Carmichael: That would require us to know that the information is there and is being withheld, which is not always the case, as the right hon. Gentleman must be aware. In any event, if something is the subject of commercial confidentiality today, it will probably still be so in six months. It is difficult to see how that situation would change.
Frank Dobson: I know that the hon. Gentleman was a lawyer, but we are not talking about commercial confidentiality. The Secretary of State would have to say that
which is a harsher test than the generalised claptrap that all Governments have used about commercial confidentiality.
Mr. Carmichael: I fear that the right hon. Gentleman's expression,
would include commercial confidentiality and much else besides. He has drawn the new clause even wider.
The problem is that we could not test the truth of the Secretary of State's decision and whether it was soundly based. That is simply indefinable.
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Mr. Carmichael: The hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right.
I am trying desperately to conclude my remarks. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) skewered the Under-Secretary with her interventions about the KPMG report. She has struck at the heart of the problem with the Government's approach. They constantly overstate and oversell the benefits and underestimate the disadvantages. There is little in the Government's history on the matter that makes me believe that I or my constituents should be prepared to trust them. I therefore hope that we shall not disagree with Lords amendment No. 70.
Lynne Jones: I welcome the Government's agreement with amendment (a). However, my problem is that large amounts of public money will be spent before we reach the inevitable point at which we have to call a halt to the terrible monster. I am more sceptical than my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) about the Government's figures. Their precision is incredible£584 million, not £583 million or £585 million. At least the London School of Economics gave a range of estimates. The Under-Secretary did not make it clear in reply to my interventions whether the figure included set-up costs.
However, we have information about current expenditure from the United Kingdom Passport Service website. I also obtained information through parliamentary questions and from letters from the Under-Secretary. We therefore know that the cost of running the old-style passports was £219 million in 200405 and that the charge to people who wanted a passport was £35.60. This year, we commence the introduction of biometric passports, which will include only the facial biometrica digital image. Yet it will cost the Government £397 million a year and people who purchase the passports will have to pay at least £57.93, which, according to the Government, is the cost of producing the passports.
In getting from old-style passports to the first phase of the biometric passport, which includes only one image, the running costs will increase by £178 million a year. Those figures are probably reliable. However, the jump from the new passport with one digital biometric to the all-singing, all-dancing biometric passport/ID card system database is supposed to entail an increase of a mere £187 million. I cannot believe those figures. I cannot believe that it costs £178 million a year to get from A to B yet it will cost only £187 million a year to get from B to C. That does not include the £93 that will have to be paid. Apparently, 70 per cent. of it is attributable to the passport, working out at approximately £65 for the passport element. I cannot believe that a passport that contains two fingerprint biometrics as well as the facial biometric will be so cheap, given that the Government have already said that the cost will exceed £57.93. Furthermore, the £93 that people will pay for the privilege or otherwise of having their details on the national identity register and being forced to have an identity card will not cover the cost of operating and maintaining the verification services. We have had no breakdown of how much of the £584 million that would account for; it is an additional cost.
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I am cynical about Government computer systems. I recently served on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which conducted a brief inquiry into the Rural Payments Agency's computer records system. The initial cost of that system was going to be £37.4 million a year, to cover capital and revenue costs. That figure has now risen to £54.3 millionan increase of 50 per cent. If a database of only 100,000 records is costing £50-odd million a year to run, it does not seem sensible that we are going to have to pay only an extra £187 million a year to run a massive database of 100 million records, which will be interrogated and will have an audit trailnever mind the cost of the security.
What really frightens me about this scheme is that it will make me feel less secure, rather than more secure. The biometrics will have radio frequency identity chips on them, and people will have a field day intercepting them. So what security are we going to put on to the cards? In America, the biometric passportswhich also have just the facial biometrichave radio frequency identity chips so that they can be read without contact. There was a furore there when people realised that anyone could intercept that identity information, and an agreement to allow the scheme to go ahead was reached only because a shield was provided in the cover of each passport to stop the signals being intercepted other than when the cover was opened for the passport to be verified at border controls or for Government purposes.
The figures simply do not stack up. They do not compare in any way with the costs of other computer systems, and the proposed system is far more complex than any other that we have seen anywhere in the world. Earlier, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee quoted from his Committee's report. I should also like to do so. Paragraph 64 on page 23 states:
"The proposed system is unprecedentedly large and complex. It will contain sensitive personal information on tens of millions of individuals. Any failure will significantly affect the functioning of public and private services and personal and national security. Measures to ensure the integrity of the design, implementation and operation of the system must be built in to every aspect of its development . . . We will make recommendations for addressing this serious weakness later in the report."
The Committee went on to do so. It had been
and stated that it was essential the process be open. It went on:
"Any potential gains from competing providers providing innovative design solutions are likely to be more than offset by the unanticipated problems that will arise from designs that have not been subject to technical and peer scrutiny."
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