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Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:29 pm on 20th December 2004.

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Photo of Mark Oaten Mark Oaten Shadow Secretary of State for Home Affairs, Home Affairs 6:29 pm, 20th December 2004

It is extraordinary and unhelpful; we are being asked to support a Bill and to sign a blank cheque. It is also important to note that there are genuine political issues about where we might spend that money. We might all have different priorities for its most effective use. I would have thought that more police and more intelligence officers to support the system might be more effective in dealing with some of the things that the Government are trying to tackle—not least terrorism.

I am conscious of the fact that many other hon. Members want to speak, so I shall conclude by considering the database itself. The Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee was right to identify the fact that although the database is, in many ways, the key issue, there are two issues to consider: the civil liberty implications and, frankly, the Government's inability to run such systems in the first place.

The Government's track record on IT procurement is awful. The projected cost of the Child Support Agency system was £150 million, but the figure ended up at £450 million. The final cost of the Horizon project—an automated Post Office Counters system—ended up at £1 billion and ran three years late. My particular favourite is the NHS IT programme, with expected costs of £6.2 billion. The actual cost was £18 billion, and the figure is still rising. Of course, recently and more seriously, the national automated fingerprint identification system crashed owing to server software difficulties, causing serious problems for the police.

How will the database be kept up to date? An earlier intervention pointed out the churn on the electoral roll, with individuals moving many times, people changing their addresses and new individuals coming on when they are 18 years old and others being taken off when they die. The scope for error is absolutely enormous, and the track record suggests that costs will get out of control.

The more important point, however, relates to the principles of what is held on the data system. What can happen in 15 or 20 years? How can the information be linked, for example, to CCTV systems that can individually scan faces and recognise them? Do we want to move into the kind of society where people know exactly who is walking up and down the high street? Is there even a possibility that a future Home Secretary may decide to tag on DNA information? What would be the implications of adding on the vast amount of DNA information that is already collected?