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Identity Cards

Oral Answers to Questions — Treasury – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 10th May 2007.

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Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Opposition Whip (Commons) 10:30 am, 10th May 2007

What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on a contingency budget to underwrite possible overruns in the costs of the identity card programme; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

The arrangements for funding the identity cards scheme were agreed in November 2003. Costs will be met from existing departmental budgets, and from charges.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Opposition Whip (Commons)

It is rather alarming that the Chancellor and the Home Secretary have not had discussions about such an enormous issue. Perhaps the Chancellor's famous inability to get on with Home Secretaries might be an explanation. The London School of Economics estimates that the cost of the identity cards scheme could run to £20 billion—four times the current projected cost—which will punch an enormous hole in the Home Office budget, creating a serious threat to the United Kingdom in terms of the Home Office's inability to protect our country from terrorism. Is it not about time that proper contingency arrangements were made, as this massive IT scheme is being administered by the Home Office, and we cannot expect it to run to budget?

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The project will be well planned and taken forward in partnership with private sector suppliers. The threat to the security of our country comes not from that source but from his right hon. and hon. Friends' refusal to match our spending commitments in that crucial area.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Clearly this is a good day to bury bad news, and that is why the report on the cost of the ID cards scheme has been published today, nearly a month late and in breach of the law. In an answer to my hon. Friend Mr. Francois, the Chief Secretary said that despite the fact that the Cabinet backed ID cards, the Treasury had yet to approve the expenditure. Has approval now been given—or, once the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary are out of the way, will the Chancellor follow our advice and scrap the scheme that he once backed?

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

The procedure being followed in this case is precisely the same as with other major projects of this kind. Before substantive procurement begins, Treasury approval needs to be given, and it will be.