Clause 8 — Issue etc. of ID Cards
Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill
Andy Burnham (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office; Leigh, Labour)
Over the past hour or so, the debate has arrived at the point of concern for most people in the country, namely, the cost of the scheme to individuals and its cost more generally. I do not believe that many people will be persuaded by the great perorations on liberty that we have heard tonight. They can see the purpose and the benefits of the identity card scheme and they want to know whether it will be affordable. That is the bottom line.
Many good points have been raised on both sides of the House tonight, in what has become a more reasoned debate since about 7 o'clock. There has also been hyperbole on both sides, and the poll tax has been mentioned on a number of occasions. There is quite a difference between a proposal for people to pay between £800 and £1,000 a year, and one for an identity card that will cost £30 for 10 years. They are not directly comparable, and it did the debate no good to make that comparison.
There is however some common ground between us. We all have a vested interest in ensuring that the overall costs of the scheme—and therefore the cost to the individual—are as low as possible. I shall address the two matters separately: the cost to the individual, and the related point that was so eloquently raised by my right hon. Friend Mr. Denham about the cost of the scheme overall.
Amendments Nos. 7 and 19 raise a point of principle—interestingly, it was raised by Members on the Conservative Front Bench—about making the cards free of charge. While we agree that the charges should be kept as affordable as possible, there is clearly an issue involved in whether there should be any charge at all. My hon. Friend Bill Etherington put forward his argument on that point very clearly.
We believe that the card will bring a range of benefits to the individual, in terms of everyday convenience, and of enhancing their ability to protect their own identity data against misuse. Individuals will also benefit from being able to use the card as a travel document within the European Union. That, of course, is a benefit to the individual, and is consistent with the charge that is levied for a passport at the moment. The question raised by the amendments is whether the cost of the scheme should be met entirely from general taxation—I believe that that was the thrust of the contributions of my hon. Friends the Members for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and for Sunderland, North and of the Conservative amendment—or whether it is right to set a charge that reflects the benefits to the individual while also ensuring that it is affordable.
I want to take head-on the point raised repeatedly in the debate about the opportunity cost. During the general election campaign, I lost count of the number of times that the Liberal Democrats said that they would use the money from the national identity card scheme to put more police on the street. That was an entirely spurious argument, as there is not a great big pot of money that can then be allocated to pay for more police on the beat. Our proposal is for a scheme based on recovery of charges from individuals. The argument that there is a big amount of money to be allocated either to ID cards or some other public purpose, such as CCTV in Bournemouth, is not therefore correct.