Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:14 pm on 28th June 2005.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby 7:14 pm, 28th June 2005

I agree entirely. The Government are now attempting to keep down the estimated costs so as not to frighten people. Each time the estimate increases, public support for the Bill falls. When the true costs are revealed, support will vanish entirely and turn into a negative.

As I said, it is when we have to search for a problem for this ingenious little measure to solve that the doubts begin to appear. The Government are not now saying that it is intended to deal with terrorism. It certainly did not do so in Spain or in the US. If people can come here for three months without being required to have an ID card, that will be the time to commit any acts of terrorism. ID cards will not deal with questions of entitlement, because only a small part of benefit fraud involves stealing someone's identity. I note that, interestingly, there is no difference between the crime rates and benefit fraud rates of the four European countries that do not have ID cards, and of the rest, which do. That suggests that ID cards are a minor matter in that respect.

ID cards will not even deal with identity fraud, which is trumpeted as their main purpose. We are told—shock horror!—that £1.3 billion-worth of identity fraud is committed each year, and that there are enormous difficulties in terms of clean-up. In fact, that is a myth. The Government have lumped together the figures for stolen credit cards, stolen cheques, money laundering and various other crimes that have nothing to do with identity fraud in order to produce that figure. The Gilligan article in last week's Evening Standard put the true cost of identity fraud at £150 million, not £1.3 billion.

We are told that introducing ID cards is an international obligation, but it is not. We shall have to change our passports to comply with European and American decisions, but there is no international obligation to impose an identity card. In any case, it seems to me that if we are following an international trend, which we are not, the sensible course would be to let other countries go ahead, watch their mistakes and implement our own system to avoid them. That is not necessary, however, because no one else is doing it.

The purposes are unreal, but the damage that will be inflicted is very real indeed. The costs will be enormous. The Government estimates keep going up and will go up again. The current estimates are going up even before anything has happened, and they are bound to increase further. The LSE estimate of the costs, which varies between £10.6 billion and £19.2 billion, with a median of £14.5 billion, seems to me to be far more accurate.