Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Bassam of Brighton: We have again strayed dangerously into yesterday's territory. I shall pay a few compliments and offer a few words of thanks before I respond. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. With her usual courtesy, she pointed us in the direction of the further and better particulars which she seeks. She did so quite rightly, and I understand and respect that. I accept that yesterday's debate, which included lengthy comments about cost, was not the easiest of debates. While I do not accept that we have got it wrong, it is certainly down to government to provide as much information as they properly and practically can to Parliament in making their case. We will endeavour to do that in the best way possible between now and Report.

7 pm

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: Is the Minister saying that we shall have the capital cost details by the Report stage?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I specifically do not commit to that for very good reasons. I shall deal with the point now. We would be an exceedingly negligent government if we were to expose in the public domain information of a commercially sensitive nature. I see that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, is in her place. Like me, she is a former employee of KPMG. I suspect that the accountants and those who have a duty to see that governments as much as anyone else stick to the rules would be pretty apoplectic if they thought we, as a government, were revealing information that placed us in a commercially vulnerable position. That would be quite wrong and, I suggest, a breach of our fiduciary
16 Nov 2005 : Column 1133
responsibilities. It would also place the Government in a very vulnerable position indeed throughout the procurement process. It would be irresponsible of us to behave in such a way. However, that is not to say that we should not aim to put into the public domain as much information as we can and to validate it in the best way possible.

I turn now to the particulars of the amendment. It seeks to insert into the Bill a new subsection the purpose of which would be to require the Home Secretary to lay before Parliament a report to demonstrate and certify for any particular public service that it will be cost-effective for that service to make use of identity cards and to calculate the costs and savings that would arise as a result of the designation of a document under Clause 4.

There is already a provision in the Bill that requires parliamentary scrutiny under the affirmative resolution procedure of any proposal to designate a document under Clause 4. Also, where it is proposed to make regulations requiring a particular public service to be conditional on the production of an ID card under Clause 15, those regulations will need to be consulted upon to ensure that members of the public likely to be affected by the regulations are aware of the intention to introduce an identity card requirement and the reasons for it. They will also be scrutinised under the affirmative resolution procedure.

As we have said, we have already published the estimated annual running costs of issuing passports and identity cards: the now often-quoted figure of £584 million per annum. It is perfectly correct to point out that these are issuing costs. They do not include the marginal costs to public services of checking identity cards. However, we should not fall into the trap of thinking that just because we are introducing biometric identity cards, every card check will have to be a biometric one. In many instances, as we have said on a number of occasions, a simple visual check will suffice.

Where there is a good case for investing in identity card readers, of course that will be done. But it will be for each public service to determine its own cost-benefit analysis to provide for that. We would not expect the costs of issuing passports to be constrained by decisions on the use of passports by, say, the Immigration Service.

I readily accept that the ID card scheme will take a number of years to roll out and that many of the benefits in, for example, combating identity fraud will be more easily realised once there is a high coverage of ID cards. We are working closely with other government departments to assess whether the benefits of identity cards will enable services to be delivered more quickly and efficiently, and to safeguard our enviable public services against fraud. We have already quantified the estimated financial benefits as ranging between a low figure of £650 million to £1.1 billion per annum once the ID card scheme is rolled out.
16 Nov 2005 : Column 1134

I understand that in due course noble Lords will want to scrutinise individual proposals to designate documents under Clause 4 or to require identity cards to be produced to access public services under Clause 15. I am quite sure that the costs of doing so will be a factor to be considered at the time. That is a debate for the future. However, I do not think that it would be helpful to be constrained by the provisions in the amendment. For those reasons, I ask that it be withdrawn.

During our discussion some doubt was cast over the reliability of costing assumptions. It is right to put on the record that the accounting firm KPMG has carried out what is in our view a robust, independent review of the identity card costings. It has concluded that the costing methodology as much as anything else is sound and appropriate for this stage of the development of the ID card scheme. The question has been put to me whether we can provide more information from the KPMG report. We will look at that request to see whether it is possible to do so without compromising commercial confidentiality, although clearly we will have to consult very carefully indeed with the authors of the report. I am prepared to say that that is something which we shall undertake to do.

I have also been asked whether the Inland Revenue and Customs would be able to seek and use information. Yes, of course they will. I turn the attention of noble Lords to Clause 19(4). It makes the position very plain on the face of the Bill.

I hope that my response clarifies the issues that have been raised as part of our debate. As I said at the outset of my response, we shall do what we can to ensure that we provide at all times during the course of the Bill's trajectory through this House as much information on costs as we reasonably can. However, we believe that the position we have reached is robust. I do not accept the allegations made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, on this. I can understand why he might want to put forward his argument, but it is not one that I can accept. That is one of the reasons why we reject the amendment.

The Earl of Northesk: If I have understood the Minister's explanation correctly, it is possible that this scheme could come into operation and end up being used only by the Home Office. Is that correct?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: For the reasons that we have been putting forward in many of our debates on this measure, I think it is exceedingly unlikely that that would be the case. Many departments have already begun to identify cost benefits in wanting, at a future stage, to invest in reading and verification equipment and so forth. As I said in my contribution and as my noble friend Lady Scotland made plain yesterday in one of her contributions on the issue of costs, already even at what could be said to be this early stage in the life of the development of the ID card scheme, some of the cost-reduction analysis and research undertaken shows up very clear benefits. I think that our discussion about the Inland Revenue and its ability to access information probably highlights the help that
16 Nov 2005 : Column 1135
the scheme will be to that department and, no doubt, to other enforcement agencies in recovering revenues lost to HM Revenue & Customs in terms of moneys to the public purse. So there will be benefits. It is inevitable and highly desirable that other areas of the public service should buy into those benefits. That will be of assistance to us and to the Government as a whole.

The Earl of Northesk: Does that not reinforce the point made so eloquently by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell that, in order for us to test the viability of the scheme, it is absolutely essential that we have some clue as to the costs of integration among government departments.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: At this stage it is not possible to identify all of the costs. It is also not desirable to do so, certainly in terms of procurement for the reasons I spelt out earlier and which I am sure the noble Earl understands. I am sure that he is familiar with procurement processes—how they work and how the market is tested. For those reasons it is not possible to identify all of the costs and to make the figures public at this stage.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. In my opening speech on the amendment, I was so diverted by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, that I forgot to say the magic words, "I beg to move". However, that seems to have had no impact and we have had our debate in any case.

While I touch on matters other than my response to the Minister, perhaps I may say that taking into account the progress we have made this afternoon—the Government might think of it as a lack of progress—despite all our best efforts, I should announce now that I shall not move Amendment No. 23 before what I hope will soon be a dinner break.

Noble Lords have taken up my invitation to refer briefly to the difficulties faced by the Government yesterday on the issue of costs. The Minister has been kind enough to repeat yesterday's answers. Unfortunately, however, yesterday's answers were shown not to be adequate for proper scrutiny of the Bill in this House. As my noble friend Lord Crickhowell said, we need to have greater clarity on costs before the Bill is able to pass safely through this House.

I am grateful that the Minister will consider carefully the KPMG report to see whether further information may be put into the Library so that noble Lords may have access to it. He is right to say that the amendment is only a rough vehicle for debate. I made clear that the amendment puts the Government on notice that by Report stage the House will anticipate better clarity regarding costs before it is able to judge whether the scheme is properly deliverable and a proper charge on the public purse. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
16 Nov 2005 : Column 1136

7.15 pm

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page