Clause 1 — The National Identity Register
Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill
Frank Dobson (Holborn and St Pancras, Labour)
I should like to try to make progress.
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 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 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.