Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1142-1159)|
MP AND MR
14 JUNE 2006
Q1142 Chairman: Good morning to our two
ministers, Joan Ryan and Vernon Coaker. Welcome to this our final
evidence session on two of our case studies on ID cards and the
classification of illegal drugs. For your benefit and the benefit
of visitors this morning, this is part of an overarching inquiry
looking at how scientific evidence informs government policy,
how it informs risk, and how Government takes advice from an evidence
base and a scientific base. That is its purpose. Our job is not
to decide whether ID cards are a good thing or a bad thing. It
is very much a matter of looking at the science behind it, the
evidence behind the Government's policy. We are, first, going
to run through the issues on ID cards and then move on to drug
classification. Several witnesses have said that they were unclear
about the objectives of the ID card programme. Are you clear what
they are? Would you give us a quick canter through that?
Joan Ryan: Yes, I think I am.
I am happy to do that. The reason I am clearer than most is because
I served on both the standing committees that took ID cards through
the process in the Commons. I would outline four main reasons
for ID cards. That is not to say there are not or will not be
others as this develops but I think we have four key objectives.
The first I would identify as being to enable people to have a
secure means to establish and protect their identity. The second
is to help to counter illegal immigration and work to strengthen
our borders. The third is to counter the misuse of public services,
to ensure that public services are used by those entitled to use
them, and therefore also to improve efficiency and effectiveness
in service delivery. I would identify the fourth as to counter
organised crime and terrorism, to disrupt the activities of terrorists
and organised criminals, and to make the UK the most difficult
place in the world to use false identity.
Q1143 Chairman: Do you feel that
from the beginning of this process the Government has been clear
as to what its objectives are since David Blunkett announced them
as the Secretary of State a good number of years ago now? Do you
think there has been a clear timetable and are you working to
that timetable? Are you conscious of a timetable?
Joan Ryan: I do think the Government
has been clear right from the beginning and, as I say, I have
had quite some involvement in that process from an early stage.
I think we were very clear on the face of the Bill. We have been
clear in the early discussions and consultations that took place.
These four reasons have figured throughout. It is true that people
have sometimes given them in a different order and perhaps with
a different emphasis.
Q1144 Chairman: You are working to
Joan Ryan: In terms of a timetable,
we have what I would describe as a broad timetable with landmarks
along it, rather than a detailed timetable. If we go back to David
Blunkett in 2002, we can see the progression; we can see that
a very big landmark was getting the legislation enacted. There
was a delay there of a year. That is now part of the timetable.
In the main, we are now at a stage where we are seeking to move
to procurement and the procurement process itself will have a
very big influence on determining the timetable from the point
at which procurement happens.
Q1145 Chairman: As the Minister responsible,
are you now clear in your mind that, from now until the time that
we all have ID cards, not only is the timetable mapped out but
there are no hurdles that are yet to be overcome and, if there
are any, what are they? Is it all plain sailing?
Joan Ryan: On the timetable, we
do not have a date at which I can say to you, "Here you are.
On this date the scheme will be ready and we will start at that
point rolling it out". I can tell you where we hope to be.
However, as I have said, the procurement phase is crucial. We
have landmarks in this timetable to work with our partners to
deliver on our building blocks. The committee is probably aware
of things like biometric passports, UK biometric visas and biometric
residents' permits. Those kinds of developments and the feedback
from them will help determine the timetable. The reason why the
timetable is perhaps a bit looser than what might be called a
very detailed timetable is because of that development and because
we want to be very cautious on the basis of all the lessons we
have learnt from good and bad projects.
Q1146 Chairman: You are giving the impression
that there are no problems facing you at the moment, no scientific
problems facing you at the moment, and all has been resolved.
Joan Ryan: I am not attempting
to give that impression, Chairman. What I am saying is that the
procurement phase is going to be absolutely crucial and trialling
during that procurement phase in identifying for us where the
issues are, if problems are going to have to be caught. It is
because we are taking it in that incremental developmental way
that we expect therefore to be able to deal with issues as they
come up in that procurement.
Q1147 Chairman: Has procurement begun
Joan Ryan: No. We have done a
preliminary information notice.
Q1148 Chairman: Has that thrown up
Joan Ryan: That has obviously
alerted the market to the fact that we are seeking to go forward
towards procurement. We have done some very detailed market soundings.
What we have identified through this are risks rather than problems.
De-risking is a very important part of the way we are going forward
and of the incremental build with the building blocks I have mentioned
and also the way in which we are hoping to structure procurement.
Q1149 Mr Flello: Do you think that
perhaps some of the confusion and difficulty has arisen because
actually as the whole idea around ID cards has evolved, more and
more really good uses are being thought of for them, for example,
in terms of employment? If somebody is coming to an employer and
needs to prove their identity, ID cards would be a very good mechanism
in that sense. Do you think that some of the confusion and difficulties
have arisen simply because there are so many add-on benefits for
an ID card?
Joan Ryan: I think that is exactly
right. There are a number of other schemes in different countries
around the world, all of which we are looking at and we are talking
to the people involved. I know the committee has had some evidence
on some of these issues and our conversations with people in terms
of the US visit with the FBI; IDENT 1, the police fingerprinting
scheme; and the Hong Kong scheme where they can use ID to counter
on-line fraud. All of these developments continually bring forward,
first, that this is a concept of its time now and, secondly, that
there are growing advantages. Different bits of the advantages
appeal to different people, and that is what they will emphasise.
That is why it is important we have our four main objectives.
As I said, that should not exclude developmental work on using
the card in other ways as time moves on.
Q1150 Chairman: One of our concerns
as a committee is about the principal objective. Let us say that
there is an agreement and the Government is clear about its four
major objectives. I understand that different things could be
added on in the future, but at the moment take those four things.
What we find difficult to understand is how it is possible to
decide on a technology which will be most suitable when you do
not really know what it is that you want the technology to do.
You have some objectives. You are going out to procurement but
you do not know what it is you are going to procure in order to
achieve your objective. We find that difficult to understand,
or I as a simple person do.
Joan Ryan: I am clear about that.
Obviously I have had many meetings discussing these issues with
my officials and those who advise me on scientific issues in recent
weeks, and only in recent weeks as I am newly in post, as you
will understand. That is a very crucial part of understanding
how this is going to happen. I think the committee is right to
ask the question because these are large expenditures and we have
to get this right. My understanding is that the reason procurement
will happen in the way it does is that we do have clear objectives
and so we know what outcomes we want. The technology that will
be developed through procurement will be driven by the outcomes
we require. We are not going to the market to buy something off
the shelf. We are not saying to the market, "The technology
must look like, feel like and act like this". We are saying
that the technology must be able to deliver these outcomes for
us. We will test that through the trialling. The private sector
suppliers are the experts in developing the technology. We want
to use their expertise and continually stretch them throughout
the procurement process, but always testing and ensuring that
we meet our objectives; i.e. the outcomes we require in order
to establish the identity card programme.
Q1151 Chairman: You are now totally
in the hands of the market to deliver an unknown product on which
you may or may not meet the specifications which have been laid
down by the Department?
Joan Ryan: I do not accept that
we are totally in the hands of the market. You will know that
in the first instance when we go out to procurement, the first
phase will be when the market will produce for us a pilot or prototype
where they will bear the risk and they will compete with each
other. We will then have trialling of that small-scale production
as to how we will enrol people and how the technology will work.
At the end of that phase, we will select either a consortium or
a private sector provider.
Chairman: You are confident that that
is going to work.
Q1152 Dr Iddon: While we have been
taking evidence, industry has been quite critical of the Home
Office. I will give you a quotation from Microsoft, who, after
all, are one of the biggest firms, in the field. They said: "After
all these consultations we still do not seem to have had an impact
on the level of understanding about what makes for a good identity
system". On the back of that quotation from Microsoft, I
would ask: is industry going to be entirely clear in the procurement
process about what you are asking them to deliver?
Joan Ryan: You will know that
we have, as I said, had a comprehensive market sounding exercise,
and we have worked closely with industry and technical bodies
using the industry routes such as Intellect. We have also worked
closely both with experts within the Home Office, through our
Biometrics Experts Group, our Biometrics Advisory Group, across
Government, through the Assurance Group and the Chief Scientific
Officer and his panel. We have also looked very carefully at other
schemes that are up and running. I cannot answer for any individual
company's comment but I can say that we have worked closely with
industry. We have taken a great deal of care to work closely with
schemes that are already in operation. We are working with caution,
I think it is true to say, to get these building blocks in place
so that when we come to the procurement, we already have a large
amount of evidence about the way in which biometrics are working.
I think we are right to be cautious and to question. This is a
big programme and a big expenditure. I am confident that the work
we are doing with the market is in-depth work and that we will
be able to move successfully through into procurement.
Q1153 Dr Iddon: It is not just Microsoft
that are critical. Here is another criticism from another source.
They say, and I quote, "You have people who are, frankly,
scientists giving evidence to people who are, frankly, not".
The implication there is that there are not enough scientists
in the Home Office with which outside agencies and industry can
engage at the same level and communicate properly.
Joan Ryan: Someone said to me
on this position, "Don't you think it would be helpful if
you were a scientist?" I said, "No, I do not. I think
scientists are very helpful people and in fact I could say I am
a scientist, a social scientist".
Q1154 Dr Iddon: I am not talking
about you, Joan, but about the officers.
Joan Ryan: The point I was going
to make is that I think we can demonstrate involvement at all
levels of scientific and technological expertise both inside the
Home Office and outside. It is also crucial that people who are
not scientists are able to assess and understand this information
and make a judgment about how confident we can feel in all the
work that is being done. When we are running this out to the public,
there is a huge issue of trust. We have a responsibility I believe,
as Government and as Members of Parliament, to ensure that public
trust and confidence in a project such as this is developed and
maintained for all the right reasons. I think both scientists
and non-scientists need to be able to understand it.
Q1155 Dr Iddon: What we are picking
up, and it is not just in this inquiry but in other inquiries
that this committee has undertaken, is that there used to be a
scientific structure in the Home Office that seems to have been
destroyed during the last couple of decades maybe and that the
Home Office, when it comes to major procurement programmes like
this, gets itself into difficulty because there is not enough
technological understanding within the Home Office to be able
to communicate with an industry that is going to deliver. Would
you think that is a fair criticism or do you think the Home Office
is well set with scientists and technologists able to handle this
Joan Ryan: I know that criticism
has been made and there has been previous criticism of lack of
a scientific culture in the Home Office. I also think that if
we look towards the Home Office's Science and Innovation Strategy
of 2005-06, which summarises the science in the Home Office and
a series of reforms to invent science within the department, we
can see that some of those concerns are perhaps not justified.
Q1156 Adam Afriyie: There are three
main types of risk. We have a risk of time; it might take too
long to deliver. We have a risk of money; it may cost too much
to deliver. We have a risk of functionality; it may not deliver
at all or it may not work. Which of those risks would you consider
the easiest to mitigatetime, money or functionalitywithin
Joan Ryan: All risks have to be
mitigated. From what I have said previously to the Chairman about
ultimately the issue of trust and confidence, the fact is that
this is a large project involving large sums of money and all
of those risks must be mitigated. If the honourable gentleman
would like me to say a bit on each of those, I think we are working
very hard to make sure that that de-risking does occur.
Q1157 Adam Afriyie: Perhaps you could
say a few words on the type of risk in terms of time. You have
a very tight time schedule here. I have 15 to 20 years' experience
of IT projects. It seems almost inconceivable that you could trial
new technology, develop it and have it deployed within the timescale
set. Perhaps you could talk about how you are mitigating the risk
of time so that all this does not take too long.
Joan Ryan: As I said, the timetable
is not one that says to us, "Here is a ready-to-serve date.
You must be rolling out ID cards at this point". We have
aspirations built on some of the building blocks that we are putting
in place, but the detail of the timetable will only become absolutely
clear though procurement. That is as it should be because we would
not be de-risking if we said to the committee, "We can absolutely
guarantee to you that you will see the first ID card at such and
such a date". If we did that, you would rightly say to me,
"So are you going to learn no lessons through the procurement
process? Are you going to learn no lessons through the trialling?"
Obviously we have to work through the procurement process and
the exact timetable will fall into place. I am sure we will have
much more discussion about that as the process takes place.
Q1158 Bob Spink: Is the Minister
now withdrawing the implementation timetable that had previously
been announced for ID cards?
Joan Ryan: We do not have an implementation
programme for me to withdraw, so I am not withdrawing anything.
We do not have an implementation timetable.
Q1159 Chairman: We have been given
evidence on that.
Joan Ryan: What we have been told
is that there is a desire, and a strong desire, to see ID cards
towards the end of 2008-09 being issued.