Oral Answers to Questions — Duchy of Lancaster – in the House of Commons at 1:47 pm on 8th July 1998.

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Photo of John Healey John Healey Labour, Wentworth 1:47 pm, 8th July 1998

What progress he has made in developing the use of smartcards to provide access to Government services and information. [47923]

Photo of Dr David Clark Dr David Clark Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

Smartcards and other new technologies can radically change the way in which the Government do business. Examples such as supermarket loyalty cards are already transforming the levels of service and choice offered in the private sector. As we move from the old industrial society and its way of working to the new information age, the Government's relationship with our citizens is changing and we must lead and manage that change. I want a wired-up Government to provide high-quality, easy to use and flexible services to our citizens.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Labour, Wentworth

I thank my right hon. Friend for that encouraging but rather general response. I draw his attention to a specific smartcard project—the Endorse project, which was launched last month by the Government with Barclays bank to cut out form filling for the newly self-employed. Is the Minister aware that the project is being piloted in Rotherham, which is one of nine pilot areas, four of which are in South Yorkshire? Can he tell me when the pilot period is due to end and what plans he has to make sure that the lessons and benefits from the pilot are promoted across the country?

Photo of Dr David Clark Dr David Clark Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

I was pleased to launch Barclays' Endorse, which followed a similar pilot project by NatWest and the Post Office, called "Business as usual". They make life easier for our citizens, who, until we introduced an electronic method of registering as self-employed, had to send to three Departments six separate forms, with the possibility of having to follow those with eight forms. The result was, not surprisingly, a failure rate of 40 per cent. We tackled that problem by allowing people to register electronically as self-employed, which means that they fill in one smart form on a personal computer, which is immediately electronically transmitted to all the relevant Government Departments. I am sure that the experiment will be a success, and I look forward to the days when there are 1,000 such terminals available to our citizens.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

What consideration has the right hon. Gentleman given to using smartcards for providing information to the authorities? For example, when shall we do away with the flimsy bit of paper that happens to be our driving licence and use a smartcard for that, or does the right hon. Gentleman live in fear of the civil liberties lobby?

Photo of Dr David Clark Dr David Clark Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

The Government have made a decision not to introduce a national identity card, but we already have in hand the issue that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. A small smartcard driving licence is being tested in various parts of the country and, before long, will become universal. Like the hon. Gentleman, I look forward to the day when we use smartcards to provide Government services such as the renewal of television licences and payment of motor taxes. We would not have to go to the post office armed with a sheaf of papers, but simply go to a kiosk, use our smartcard and get a licence immediately. That is the future.