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The Government argue that identity cards and the national register will protect us from terrorists, stop benefit fraud and prevent illegal immigration—their effect will be to provide an answer to all our problems. The Conservatives appear to agree. "Appear" is the operative word: why else would so many of them, we understand, have been told to take the day off rather than reveal the extent to which they oppose identity cards?
I am very dubious about the first claim of ID cards protecting us from terrorism. We all want our constituents to be protected from terrorist attacks, which are made more likely by this country's involvement in the war in Iraq. The Government dragged the country into that war—again, with the full backing of the official Opposition. Then, as now, it was left to the Liberal Democrats to lead the opposition in the House. However, I see no evidence that identity cards have prevented terrorist attacks in Europe. Over recent years, hardly a European state has not had its citizens murdered by terrorists, as in Madrid in the train bombings, despite Spain's citizens having been compelled for many years to have identity cards.
The amount of taxpayers' money needed to start up this system is huge—an estimated £3 billion or more for the computer system. We should watch for the announcement that that has doubled or trebled, as the costs of so many such schemes do. Then there will be the as yet unknown ongoing costs for the army of people to maintain the system and constantly to update individuals' records as their addresses and situations change. How many more people will have to be put on the payroll to do that, and at what cost? We simply do not know.
I have seen various initial estimates of the cost to each of us of an identity card. No one seems to know the true figure, but whatever it is, how long will it be before it rockets? How will that affect those who were not forced to register for an ID card when renewing their passport, but who are given notice that the Secretary of State requires them to register under threat of a £2,500 fine for non-registration?