Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:50 pm on 28th June 2005.

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Photo of Mark Todd Mark Todd Labour, South Derbyshire 8:50 pm, 28th June 2005

No, I shall not give way.

My interest is in two aspects of the Bill. The first is whether the benefits of the project have been set out with sufficient clarity and quantified in such a way as to justify its progress. The second is how Parliament is to scrutinise the commissioning, delivery and management of a complex, high-risk, IT-enabled change in the way in which we relate to our Government and the services that are sold to us.

In a project of this scale, I would certainly expect to see a business case published that identified the gains to be achieved—quantified and valued where possible—and showed how they would be committed to and delivered. I have yet to see such a document. We have seen that various parts of our public service endorse the concept of ID cards, but that is insufficient in itself. They must own and sign up to the process changes, improved outcomes and efficiencies that they say can be delivered. We have noted, for example, that the Criminal Records Bureau will apparently greatly increase its efficiency following the introduction of ID cards. That could readily be quantified and valued, but we have yet to see it done. There have also been statements about the reduction in identity fraud. Again, it should be possible to quantify the potential gains and to analyse whether they relate to the costs and scale of the project. Those gains must then be assessed against the project's apparent costs and disbenefits, and a mechanism needs to be set out that will allow us to measure whether we are achieving those goals, and to monitor them in the future.

I would also expect to see an objective risk analysis of the project. I accept that the technologies used, and the process changes that are likely to be made, are achievable in themselves. However, delivering all of them within one project carries huge, multiplying risks. The Office of Government Commerce's gateway process has been far from perfect in preventing flawed projects from proceeding, yet it is probably the best mechanism available to date. I would strongly suggest that the OGC's reports be made public through this process, so that we can examine for ourselves whether the project is likely to be deliverable.

Associated with that is the recognition that any project of this scale and complexity should have defined boundaries in terms of cost, budget and functionality. It is all too easy to persist with a stricken project, rather than risk criticism by taking the correct course of cancellation. I would expect to see a definition of how the inevitable problems of this project will be appraised, and of how they will be assessed against reasonable criteria of success and failure.

Finally, I would expect a robust management strategy to be defined, both at political and project management level. Fatal to most projects, and certainly to this one, would be a creeping specification, involving changes part-way through. Politicians tend to wish to please, and we cannot predict what will be asked for in the future. Projects of this scale, however, need to be run with narrow-minded dogmatism to ensure that they are delivered at all. I see a huge contradiction between that and the likely longevity and complexity of this project. I would therefore like to see a public recognition in Government of the discipline required to achieve anything at all.

Some of my expectations might be met through changes in the Bill. There are strong arguments for an affirmative vote prior to the commissioning of the project based on a far clearer understanding of what is being attempted than has been offered up to now. I would urge an amendment on those principles. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench can produce a more resilient and fact-based case during the Bill's passage. I thus reserve my support on the future stages of the Bill. Tonight's vote, however, is on the principle of the Bill, and it will have my support then.