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Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:16 pm on 20th December 2004.

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Photo of Patsy Calton Patsy Calton Shadow Minister (Health), Health 8:16 pm, 20th December 2004

I understand that no guarantees are given for that. Indeed, the cost could be a lot more.

The dangers to civil liberties and traditional freedoms are well known and have been well rehearsed today, and they are greater when we have no confidence that what is being proposed will produce a reliable system.

The balance between the civil liberties of the individual and the benefits to the state has been discussed several times. My constituents tell me that they are worried that the Government appear more and more authoritarian, and that this proposal is just another facet of that authoritarianism, with the Government wishing to be present at every move that people make and in every service in which they wish to take part.

When I talk to people about large-scale Government computer projects, they laugh. They remind me of the recent chaos at the Child Support Agency because of major failures of its computer systems. I am reminded of the even more recent computer crash at the Department for Work and Pensions, with all the inconvenience and genuine hardship that that caused. The track record of those huge IT projects is disturbingly unreliable. This IT project will be bigger than anything so far, much more complex, and much more liable to error. I do not share the Government's confidence that identity cards cannot be forged, or the systems hacked into, by clever criminals with sufficient resources. What assurances can the Minister give that these systems cannot be tampered with? Unless he can give such assurances, an awful lot of money will be wasted.

When our access is impeded or denied because the computers are down, or because our information has been wrongly entered, how will we feel? When our elderly neighbour or relative cannot get their pension because their details are wrong, how will that affect any enthusiasm that we might have for the idea? How long will it be before our DNA profile is added to the register?

I want the billions proposed for this project to be put into the police, immigration and other security services: for example, more intelligence officers for MI5 and the new Serious Organised Crime Agency. Vast sums are being diverted from forces that desperately need more resources. Only recently, chief police officers complained that they face a £350 million shortfall for fighting crime next year. A sum of £3 billion could pay for 10,000 extra police officers for the next six years.

By this proposal, the Government show clearly that they have the money to spend. Let them spend it on effective means to keep us safe and to prevent fraud. The Conservatives often say that they want to do away with big government. Big government does not get much bigger than this.