Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:57 pm on 28th June 2005.

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Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Labour, Holborn and St Pancras 6:57 pm, 28th June 2005

No, I need to make progress and other Members want to speak.

It is not the issues of principle that are a problem but the practicalities and costs. Sadly, as I have listened to Ministers talk about the Bill I have become less convinced about the practicalities and the costs, whether the system would work, and the security and safety of the database on which the system would run. Perhaps it is my Yorkshire background, but my principle concern is about costs. We must aim to get value for money and we must remember that whatever is spent on the ID card system cannot be spent on anything else. The cards will be paid for either by the taxpayer from general taxation or by what amounts to a special tax levied on those who want to be card holders. That is just the cost of the card.

The costs of the rest of the system—the verification process, the scanners and readers, and the hordes of people who go round installing them, following up, mending them and running the system—will undoubtedly have to be met by the taxpayer, either local or national. What would be the costs of all that? Estimates are, to say the least, many and varied. I do not challenge the integrity of Ministers and their advisers who have come up with the lowest estimates, as it was obviously a position of integrity to say that the estimate used to be £3 billion and now it is approaching £6 billion. Equally, I do not doubt the integrity of the opponents of ID cards, who have come up with the highest estimates. With respect to all those who have come up with estimates, however, they are not estimates but guesses, and even the lowest guess is an awful lot of money.

It is a major function of a freely elected Parliament and its Members to control the raising and spending of taxpayers' money and to see that it is well spent. Information technology is an area of grotesque failures, delays and overspends. That is not confined to the Home Office, this Government or the public sector—there has been scandal after scandal across the board, probably because all concerned in making the original estimates are reduced to being dependent on such serial fantasists and failure-mongers as EDS, Siemens and others who have messed it up.

It might be that £6 billion—the latest official estimate—would be well spent, but is the ID card system the best way of spending the marginal £6 billion of Home Office money? If it is spent on that, it will be £6 billion less spent on more police or improving the immigration service. At £6 billion it might be a bargain, but if it is in excess of that there will be less and less value for taxpayers' money. Any excess has a double cost—it is not just the extra money spent on the ID cards and system, but that there is then less to spend on other things. If the excess is to be met from the Home Office budget, the currently intended investment in the police, immigration services and so on will be reduced. If it comes from the overall Government budget, we will have to face all sorts of cuts as a result of reductions in intended spending. That will mean taking away money from hospitals, clinics, schools, transport, environmental improvements, overseas development or making sure that our troops are properly equipped.

I could not support the Bill tonight unless it contained a provision for the Government to come back to the House—which is responsible for the raising and spending of tax—every six months to give us an up-to-date estimate of the costs. There should not be any problem if things are going well, and if things are going badly we would have the opportunity to say, "Cut the losses, we are not going to spend any more on this project." Were that to happen, we would have the opportunity to stop throwing good money after bad. Therefore, I cannot support the Bill tonight.