From the start of the 2003-04 financial year, up to the end of September 2006, a total of £58.2 million was spent by the Home Office on the identity cards scheme.
Given that the huge cost is one of the reasons why so many people are rightly sceptical about the ID cards scheme, why are the Government so unwilling to publish the gateway reviews and come clean about the true accumulated cost of the project?
I note with interest that the Liberal Democrats' website says that they:
"Support the inclusion of biometrics in passports...as a means of combating...illegal immigration, terrorism and fraud."
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt have read the cost report that we laid before the House not too long ago and he will remember that about 70 per cent. of the costs set out in it will be incurred anyway as we upgrade our identity systems to support biometric passports as well. He is looking for some Christmas reading, so he will be delighted to know that, just before Christmas, we will publish our action plan for identity cards, together with detailed plans about how we will use biometric identity systems to tackle illegal immigration, a cause to which I am delighted that he subscribes.
When the report is published, will my hon. Friend bear it in mind that cost does not stop terrorists or illegal immigrants coming into this country? When he examines such things, he should remember the needs of the people of this country before he starts listening to the wishy-washy Liberals.
Recently, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Joan Ryan, gave me a written answer saying that no costs had been calculated for the deployment of ID cards in the private sector—indeed, all the cost estimates so far have been only in respect of the Home Office. Is any quotation of possible savings from the introduction of ID cards not ludicrous until a full and comprehensive cost estimate is provided for not only the private sector, but the full public sector and not just the Home Office?
The private sector will make investments in exploiting ID cards as it sees fit and when it sees a net positive business case for doing so. We are fulfilling our obligation to the House to provide six-monthly estimates of the costs as we see them. When we laid the cost report before the House not long ago, we took the opportunity to set out the net benefit case. The net benefit stood at between £1 billion and £1.7 billion a year, in addition to helping our ability to strengthen controls, tackle illegal immigration and identity fraud, and disrupt terrorism.