It does indeed speak volumes, but then very few positive reasons for the scheme remain. One reason why I was taken aback by the reports at the weekend was that I thought that the new Home Secretary had realised that and was trying to scrap the scheme outright. I was disappointed to discover that that was not the case. We will have to await the arrival of the new Government to secure that change.
Of course, the battle over ID cards between Ministers has been played out over the airwaves and the newspaper columns for some time now. We have seen an array of different opinions aired about how best either to keep or end the scheme. In March, the then Home Secretary insisted that the scheme was going ahead. She said:
"We are on track to introduce identity cards this autumn, and we have already started to issue ID cards for foreign nationals. Next month, we plan to award two contracts for the national identity scheme".—[ Hansard, 23 March 2009; Vol. 490, c. 15.]
"My sense is that ID cards will not go ahead. We have to find savings somewhere, and it would be better to shelve schemes like this that aren't popular."
On the same day, another former Home Secretary, Mr. Blunkett also called for the ID card scheme to be scrapped, in favour of mandatory biometric passports. Asked whether ID cards could be dropped, he said:
"I think it is possible to mandate biometric passports. Most people already have a passport but they might want something more convenient to carry around than the current passport and may be able to have it as a piece of plastic for an extra cost."
"ID cards are an interesting point because the lion's share of the expenditure is going on biometric passports. People are rightly concerned about who comes in and who goes out of this country. Your old conventional bog-standard passport was okay but it was not too difficult to improvise, shall I say. The biometrics means that it's very much more difficult. That is the bigger cost."
So he made a commitment to biometric passports, but was very cautious about ID cards.
When the current Home Secretary took over, things looked much brighter for those opposing ID cards. He reportedly launched an urgent review of the identity card scheme, paving the way for a possible U-turn on the policy. A source was quoted as saying:
"Alan is more sympathetic to the civil liberties arguments than previous home secretaries. He is genuinely open minded. He wants to see all the evidence and then he will make his decision before the end of the summer".
Statutory instruments relating to the scheme were due to be debated this week but have now been postponed.