Clause 8 - Issue etc. of ID cards

Identity Cards Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:22 pm on 20 January 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Shadow Minister, Home Affairs 5:22, 20 January 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 44, in clause 8, page 7, line 4, after ''issued'', insert ''free of charge''.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Labour, Rossendale and Darwen

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 186, in clause 37, page 31, line 24, at end insert—

''but no fee shall be imposed for a card issued in consequence of an order by the Secretary of State for compulsory registration.''.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

Before I forget, I should say that I hope that I will remember to say at the conclusion of our debates on the clause that we hope to vote on amendment No. 43, which was debated much earlier in our proceedings and which will come up in due course.

Amendment No. 44 is very simple. It would insert the phrase ''free of charge'' after the word ''issued'', so that the beginning of the clause would read, ''For the purposes of this Act an ID card is a card which—(a) is issued free of charge to an individual by the Secretary of State''. The amendment is intended to enable us to begin what should be an important and significant debate on another major test in relation to the ID card   and the register, namely the cost that will be involved to the taxpayer, the individual and, overall, how it will be divided.

I recall an interesting exchange that I had the day before yesterday with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam. He asked me to consider what I would do if I had a set of scales in front of me and I had to weigh on one side the prospect that a card or register would be of help in fighting terrorism, and on the other side the huge infringement on civil liberties that that might involve. I think that he was asking me where my tipping point would be. It was a very good question then, and it remains so now. I say to him again what I said to him then: there is no firm answer to that, and eventually one has to rely on instinct as to when to exercise one's judgment. It is almost like asking whether it is worth spending £5 billion to save one life. There is no human answer to that question, because our nature and our instinct say that it is worth spending everything to save one life. These conversations are very difficult.

I begin my approach to the issue of cost by putting my question in a slightly different way: is the cost of the register—and the identity cards, readers and everything else that follows—worth it? Later, we shall ask what the cost is, and to whom, but initially I want to know whether the cost represents the best value for money. The first principal thrust of what I want to say is that the cost of the ID card scheme, the register, and everything else might amount to £5 billion. Has it been considered whether the same amount could be better spent in other ways to achieve the same objectives, in particular, the principal objective, which must be the reduction of terrorist activity?

To put it another way, who has considered—and can the Committee consider—whether the £5 billion, or whatever the sum is, could secure our objective better if it were spent on extra police, security services, and people at our ports, airports, and customs to exercise the relevant controls? Where would the money be better spent?

I imagine that studies have been carried out on the best-value issue. I hope that the Minister will share those studies with us and try to convince us that the card and register scheme is much to be preferred to other options that would use the same amount of money.

Photo of Chris Mole Chris Mole Labour, Ipswich

I am somewhat confused by what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. We are talking about ensuring full recovery of the costs of introducing ID cards, and therefore we are not talking about resources that are available from the Government purse to sustain the development and operational costs of the scheme. Given the hon. Gentleman's support for the programme, can we expect the costs to be met in the shadow Chancellor's Budget proposals? If not, it seems that his amendment is somewhat frivolous. Perhaps one could even suggest that it is wasting the Committee's time.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

I do not speak for the shadow Chancellor, and this is not a frivolous amendment. The hon. Gentleman, whose further contributions to   the debate Opposition Members—and Labour Members, I am sure—would greatly welcome, must understand that we are talking about significant issues of cost and security. As to why I am raising the matter when the costs in their entirety will be recovered from the individual, that gives rise to the question of whether I, as an individual, expect to pay £85 for a biometric passport, and whether I would prefer to have the money taken from me and spent in other ways to achieve the same objectives. That is a worthwhile aspect of the debate.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not feel that I am wasting the time of the Committee; I am sorry that he still has to be here, but he will understand the importance of debating the issues in full, and not simply gliding over them.

I understand that the police and security services want the identity card and the register. There will come a time when the Minister will have to take us through exactly what the police and the security services have said—I hope he will seize the opportunity sooner rather than later—and trail before us the arguments they put forward.

Specifically, have the police discussed among themselves or with Government the option of spending the money that would otherwise be spent on ID cards and the register instead on more police, more customs officers and more security services. What is the so-called best value to the police of those two options, not only in terms of money but also, more usefully, in the fight against terror?

Photo of Mr Bill Tynan Mr Bill Tynan Labour, Hamilton South 5:30, 20 January 2005

Will the hon. Gentleman help me, because I am somewhat confused? If we take away the cost of the identity card from the individual and place that burden on the state, is the choice between whether we have more police or whether we use the money in a different way? If the individual is paying the cost of the identity card, how is there a burden on the state?

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

If the individual pays for absolutely everything, as though in a private, commercial transaction, although we know that costs tend to escalate—double or treble—in a general sense the burden does not fall upon the taxpayer. The hon. Gentleman is right to that extent. Nevertheless, the question of how a particular sum could be better spent is surely worth exploring in Committee. Would the money be better spent on an ID card and register system or on other areas that could go towards the same conclusion?

Photo of Mr Bill Tynan Mr Bill Tynan Labour, Hamilton South

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we say to the population of the country, ''We want a contribution from you, not for ID cards, but in order to do something else, which is undetermined at present''? Is that what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting?  

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

No, I am not directly suggesting that. I remind the hon. Gentleman, whose experience is not inconsiderable, that in Committee it is worth trailing arguments. One of the arguments that I am trailing this afternoon is value for money. Whether the global sum is £5 billion or £1 billion, whatever the amount or wherever it comes from, everything boils down to price and cost and money best spent.

I quote the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), the shadow Home Secretary, on Second Reading:

''My fourth test is the cost-effectiveness of the scheme . . . The introduction of the Bill saw the cost of the ID card scheme almost double overnight, from £3 billion to £5.5 billion.''—[Official Report, 20 December 2004; Vol. 428, c. 1964.]

So, let us look at the question of cost and go back a little in time. Irrespective of who pays, the whole issue of the cost of this scheme needs to be looked at, not only in the interests of the taxpayer generally, but also in the interest of the individual who may be called upon to pay some or all of the cost.

The hon. Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) shakes his head as though the issue of cost is irrelevant. I am proposing to tease out of the Government, as the Home Affairs Committee—unsuccessfully I think—sought to do, what they regard as the likely cost of the scheme.

Photo of Mr Bill Tynan Mr Bill Tynan Labour, Hamilton South

I do not want to labour the point, but the hon. Gentleman said that I was shaking my head. I was doing so in disbelief. I find it very difficult. If there is no cost to the Government, but the cost is to the individual, how could the money be used by the Government if no cost exists at the present time?

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

The hon. Gentleman—in part and quite accidentally—misses the point. We are talking about cost, and I am concerned on behalf of the individual as to whether his or her money represents best value for money.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

My hon. Friend is doing the Committee and nation a service in what he is saying.

It depends on whether the full cost really is recovered, because if it is not, there is a general cost on the taxpayer. However, even if it is recovered, it will matter a great deal for those on benefits, those receiving purely the state pension and those just above that level on very low income, because in one case the state will pick up the tab, but in another the cost will become a burden on some of our constituents, particularly youngsters who have just started in their first job. It will really be a burden if the cost, which is estimated at the moment at £85, is £150 or £200 by the time that the card comes in.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

I am disappointed to see Labour Members smiling and even laughing at the sensible comment made by my hon. Friend, who rightly says that if the cost falls to certain individuals, they might find it difficult indeed.

In July 2002, the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) asked the following written question: 

''To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment he has made of the (a) costs and (b) change in the levels of crime which would result from a compulsory national identity card scheme; and if he will make a statement.''

The then Minister, the right hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes) in her reply, insofar as it relates to costs, referred to a consultation paper and said:

''The paper includes a number of estimates of what a scheme would cost, depending on the sophistication of the card. A reasonable estimate would be that a scheme would cost around £1.3 billion over a 13-year period covering the three years it would take to set up the necessary information technology systems and the 10-year period for which the first cards would be valid.

This would include much more stringent identity checks than currently apply for passports and driving licences in response to increased levels of fraudulent applications.

It would also include the costs of using biometric information (fingerprints or iris images) which would uniquely link the card holder with a card.'' [Official Report, House of Commons, 10 July 2002; Vol. 388, c.1066-67W.]

Inasmuch as we were clear about anything after that, we had a figure from that Minister that I infer—I hope that the present Minister can take us through it with some care—was her proposition for the cost of the entire scheme, ranging from the introduction of the register and set-up costs to the card and the readers.

I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) is not serving on this Committee. He was and remains a distinguished member of the Home Affairs Committee and in a hearing of that Select Committee, he had a most interesting exchange on the question of costs with a gentleman called Mr. Stephen Harrison from the Home Office, the head of the identity card policy unit at the Home Office, who was examined. I will paraphrase certain bits. However, the hon. Gentleman began by asking,

''How much is all this going to cost?''

I hope that you can take it from me, Ms Anderson, that in his first answer no figure was given, but a number of points were made.

The next question from the hon. Gentleman was:

''On the basis of a voluntary arrangement and then a compulsory one, what at the end of the day would be the total estimated cost?''

The answer was:

''We then have the set of costs there, as I have mentioned. We then have a period at which cards would be issued to the population and the Government's policy position on that is that those costs should be recovered through charges.''

The hon. Gentleman then asked:

''But could you just give us the figure of what it is estimated to be at the end of day, the cost involved, whoever meets the bill? We will come to that in a moment, but what do you believe is the sum which we should be working on if it comes from both the voluntary stage and the compulsory stage? What is the round figure?''

The answer was:

''I think in terms of looking at that, forgive me for trying to give you a sort of lengthier answer on this, I think it depends at what point one draws the line because in a sense the scheme''.

The hon. Gentleman interrupted:

''At the end of the day, if Parliament approves, what would be the round figure? Is that difficult to answer?''

Mr. Harrison responded: 

''What is the end of the day in that sense? Even if you reach a point''.

The Chairman intervened:

''Mr Harrison, in the Government's consultation document last year you published a figure £3,145 million''—

I take that to be £3.1 billion. The answer was ''Yes''. The Chairman carried on:

''Is that still your estimate?''

The answer was:

''There was actually a range of figures''—

I love that phrase—

''which were published and what that was based on was adding costs and we talk about the period at which you cut it off.''

The Chairman asked:

''Is that our best figure?''

The answer was:

''We have better estimates of some of the detailed costs that have gone on.''

The hon. Member for Walsall, North asked:

''You seem to be rather evasive about this. I understand you are not a politician''.

In due course, Mr. Harrison, who clearly gave his best evidence, said:

''On the consultation paper there was a range of costs and it varied from about £1.3 to about £3.1 billion. We believe that if you look at a comparable costing for the period of that scheme, the consultation period envisaged which was 13 years, then our cost estimates still lie within that range.''

The hon. Gentleman asked:

''Which range? Quote the figure yourself. Which range?''

The answer was:

''The 1.3 to 3.1 billion.''

Finally, the hon. Gentleman said:

''You have been very cautious, Mr Harrison. Congratulations.''

If nothing else, that illustrates—

Photo of John Robertson John Robertson Labour, Glasgow Anniesland

That the hon. Member for Woking is wasting time and can read.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

I hear a sedentary intervention from the back of the Room. If the hon. Gentleman does not want to intervene, I shall give way to the hon. Member for Reading, West.

Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

I do not wish to waste time, but I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to his comments during the programme motion debate. He made the not unreasonable plea that more time should be made available for the consideration of this very important Bill. I have sat and witnessed a blatant filibuster. I want it on record that Labour Committee members are perfectly aware of the tactics being adopted by the Opposition.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Labour, Rossendale and Darwen

Order. If the hon. Member for Woking had been filibustering, I would have called him to order by now.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

I am sure that the hon. Member for Reading, West did not intend to insult, or to cast any slur on, the Chair of this Committee. He will know, through his vast experience and the major contributions that he has made to Committees over the years, that matters relating to filibusters are for the Chair. If the Chair believes that there is a filibuster, the Chair will intervene.  

Mr. Salter rose—

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

I shall give way in a moment. If the hon. Gentleman resents the fact that I am talking at some length about the question of cost, and I am staying in order in so doing, that says more about his desire to get away from the Building than about his desire to commit himself to a detailed examination of the Bill that is before him.

Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

I stand corrected. Ruling that a filibuster has taken place is, of course, a matter for the Chair. However, as a Member of the House I have every right to express my view on whether Members of any party are seeking to prolong arguments and debates longer than necessary. The exchanges between my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North and Mr. Harrison could have been summarised in about 20 seconds to make the point. I merely wanted to put that on the record.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Labour, Rossendale and Darwen

Order. I say to the hon. Member for Woking that he has remained perfectly in order and that is why he has not been called to order. However, I would appreciate it if hon. Members on both sides of the Committee kept their contributions as succinct as possible, as we still have a great deal to discuss.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

The hon. Member for Reading, West says that the comments from the Home Affairs Committee debate could have been summarised in 20 seconds. I am sure that the relevant parts of his intervention could have been summarised in even less time. If the hon. Member for Reading, West believes that the hon. Member for Walsall, North was not doing his parliamentary duty, I sure that he will give him an appropriate rocket.

Some outside bodies are very interested in the question of costs and who is going to pay them. It is interesting to note that a number of polls have asked people what their support was for an ID card; many polls even showed 85 per cent. support.

However, only 48 per cent. polled by MORI were prepared to pay for the card; only 20 per cent. were willing to pay more than £25. The Minister ought, this afternoon, to give his best estimate of the total cost of the whole scheme. He also ought to be able to tell us which parts will fall on the individual. Will all individuals have to pay the same? I think that there is a point to be made on that by him. Will the card cost about £85?

According the report of Privacy International, the Government estimated in 2002 that the scheme would cost about £3.1 billion. When, in 2004, the Home Affairs Committee asked the Home Secretary to clarify the exact amount, he refused, citing commercial secrecy. I believe that by the time the final Bill was published in November, the Government had acknowledged that the cost of the scheme over 10 years would be £5.5 billion. Apparently, industry specialists have warned that the complexity and uncertainty of the scheme's architecture and technology could drive the cost even higher.

Photo of John Robertson John Robertson Labour, Glasgow Anniesland 5:45, 20 January 2005

The hon. Gentleman has vast Committee experience: he is stretching his points somewhat, but always within the bounds of what is right. I detect something from what he is saying today. Is he not in fact against the Bill in its entirety? He is not in favour of ID cards. Will he come out and say that?

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

No, I will not. I pay a corresponding tribute to the hon. Gentleman, because he has contributed well to these debates. We are now in Committee; we gave the Bill support on Second Reading because we wanted it to be considered here. I speak for my hon. Friends—all of them—when I say that the Committee is used to tease out from the Government information of the sort that enables us to vote appropriately on Third Reading.

Photo of David Curry David Curry Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

Will my hon. Friend permit to say that I believe our party divides three ways: those who are against and voted against; those who are against and did not vote; and those who are against and voted for?

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

In the long history of helpful interventions, I am not entirely sure where that ranks. However, my right hon. Friend makes a very good point.

Let us be absolutely serious for a moment: there is very divided opinion in the governing party and in the opposition party. We will not play politics, however, because I believe that there are those at a very high level in the governing party who fundamentally object to this measure and those in my party of great seniority who take a view that differs from the official party position. Both parties, as we have come to realise in the past week or so, are very broad Churches indeed. Our purpose is to go through the Bill quite carefully.

Can the Minister give us a genuine estimate of what everything will cost and can he separate that out into the various components? Will his costings include the thousands of biometric readers that I gather will be needed to check irises and fingerprints online when it becomes necessary to prove one's identity to gain access to public services? I have been told that the Home Office has said that the biometric readers could cost between £250 and £750 each. Does he have an estimate of how many of them will be needed? There are those who think there will have to be many thousands of them, and many thousands at such a cost add up to a lot of money.

Citizens Advice tells me that those of our citizens who are very poor will have great difficulty in participating in the scheme, and it rightly believes that there needs to be a clear and fair charging regime. I think that the Minister will be able to tell us of some sliding charge, which will recognise the fact that some   people have less money than others. I would also be grateful if he summarised in straightforward language the gist of the Bill's regulatory impact assessment. That is an important document, which is of relevance to the total cost of the scheme and the split in it.

I have intentionally kept my remarks to a minimum; the debate could easily carry on much longer. However, I want to return to the recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee. It discussed costings at great length and its conclusion was disappointing for the Government:

''The Home Office have provided us with details of the assumptions on which their costings have been based, on a confidential basis. We are not convinced that the level of confidentiality applied is justified. Cost information is an essential element in determining the value for money of any project. It is of prime importance where expenditure is funded from the public purse and of particular relevance with regard to public sector IT projects which have a history of poor performance and cost-overruns. We are also concerned that the least robust cost estimates appear to relate to the assumptions with the greatest cost-sensitivity, such as the length of enrolment time, the anticipated number of applications requiring further investigation, the cost of card production and the criteria for subsidised cards. Changes to any one of these factors could cause significant increases to the cost of the programme.''

In their response, the Government said that they would make information on cost assumptions and estimates available as Parliament debates the substantive legislation. That is what we are doing. There can be no better time and place for the Government to give us their best view about costings than in this sitting.

My amendment would issue the identity card to individuals for free. It is a probing amendment, however, so I conclude by asking the Minister to be very specific in his response to the inquiries on what will be the charge to the individual and on whether there will be any sliding scale, as well as whether account will be taken of individuals' particular financial circumstances and hardships. What guarantee can he give that the costs that he will talk about later this evening will not shoot up in the months and years ahead so as to make a burden on individuals that is already heavy well nigh intolerable?

Does the Minister understand my first central point, which is that there is a real debate to be had about how to spend a big sum of money better so as to obtain the results that we want? That is a fundamental question.

Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Gentleman, who has been arguing with conviction and passion about whether the provision outlines the best way to spend the money available. I say more power to his elbow in the daily debate that I am sure he is having with his colleagues on where their party should end up on Third Reading.

Photo of John Robertson John Robertson Labour, Glasgow Anniesland

I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's point. Was it made because he and the hon. Member for Woking are kindred spirits on the Bill?

Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

From a political point of view, I would be pleased if Conservative Members came round to our way of thinking, because it clearly would make for more exciting progress on the Bill in another place,   even if we could not quite muster the numbers in this House to amend it substantially. However, perhaps more Labour Members will also come round to our way of thinking.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

Following the point made by the hon. Gentleman, I have said throughout my parliamentary career that I have much in common on several issues with people in other parties of good will and good sense. One of the problems with the parliamentary system is that we seem perpetually to be at each other's throats when, on some occasions, we agree. I have often thought that the hon. Gentleman has spoken sensibly about several issues. I hope I do not get into trouble for saying that.

Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It is late in the day and we have been here for a long time, but I was energised during our comfort break by an encounter with two young constituents of my neighbour, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Helen Jackson). They were so concerned about the proceedings on the Bill that they had prepared some good briefing notes on their worry. They met the Minister and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough and, at her expense, had come down to express their views. That helps to set our proceedings in context: they are important to people outside the House, even if they do not always seem to be.

Amendment No. 186 covers some important principles that deal with how we charge people for public services. Because we charge people for passports and driving licences, a lazy assumption has been made that somehow that is not public money or taxation and that we should read that across to ID cards. We could equally come at the matter from the other end and say that we do not charge people for a national insurance number card, a national health service card or going on to the electoral register. In common with other arguments that I have advanced in Committee, there is a fundamental difference here between a universal service and a service that only a number of people take up voluntarily. Our amendment targets specifically those who are brought into the scheme on a compulsory basis.

There is a difference. The reason that we charge for passports and driving licences is that they were the preserve of the privileged. The number of people who have them may have grown, but there was an important distinction between universal services available free at the point of delivery and the privileged services for which a small number of people were expected to pay. With ID cards, we are moving into the former territory of the universal service.

When we debate later clauses, we will consider specifically whether public services can be made conditional on the possession of an ID card. There is a legitimate argument that, if one is making a service such as the NHS conditional on having an ID card and there is a charge for that card, that starts to undermine the principle of free at the point of delivery. Good arguments can be made in principle on why we should charge people for the cards.

We should not fool ourselves that the money is somehow not public money. I equate a charge that everyone must incur universally as being comparable with the council tax, for example, Everyone incurs a charge for that. It is public money. If we make matters compulsory universally, it is not money that is outside the public realm, so it is important that we are discussing matters in the context of something that is compulsory. All citizens, and non-citizens too—everyone who is resident in the country—will have to incur such expenditure so, in a sense, it is public money. We could go to them and say that we want them to give us money for policing or for something else. We do that on a regular basis and such matters are all discretionary. We should not exempt this case and say that we can collect money for ID cards but not for something else. It is all of a kind, and we should bear that in mind.

Amendment No. 186 seeks to exclude those who are required to be compulsorily registered, but I suspect that the Government will have to do something like that anyway. This is the freeview version of the ID card, and the Government will have to come up with something cheap or free if they are going to be able, with public support, to deal with people left at the end of the process. I find it hard to envisage a situation in which they will be able to bring in legislation or orders that allow them to insist that everybody in the non-passport holding category of people in the country come forward and pay £50, £60 or whatever it will be for an ID card—by that time we will be talking about a lot of money if full cost recovery applies. That will be difficult.

Given the Government's model for funding, I am concerned about the extent to which they will feel unconstrained in how they let the system develop. We are concerned that it will develop out of all control in terms of the costs required to implement it. One has to be more concerned if the notion is that any additional costs will be passed on to the public. The Government may not feel constrained to limit costs because there is a cash cow and they can pass costs on to the public, but I am not convinced that that is a healthy attitude with which to approach the problem.

In the context of clause 8 there is a fundamental question about whether the cards need to be issued at all. Until now, we have been talking about the national identity register, and it is clear that a lot of the benefits that the Government seek to achieve come from the register rather than the card. Costs will be incurred issuing cards to people who do not want them, and the whole process of chasing people up, finding them, sending out orders and going through appeals processes is certainly not cost free. I am not sure how much that makes sense given that a lot of the benefits that the Government seek to obtain, particularly law enforcement benefits, will come from the database and biometrics and not from the card at all. The card is almost incidental to the benefits that the Government are seeking to achieve. 

Photo of Chris Mole Chris Mole Labour, Ipswich 6:00, 20 January 2005

I was minded to pose this question to the hon. Member for Woking. Given the consent that I have sensed through the debate during the past two days in Committee from all parties for a biometric passport, would the hon. Gentleman accept that the costs pertinent to the biometric passport should be levied through a charge in the same way that a charge is currently made for a passport?

Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

As I explained earlier, I recognise passports as being in a different category; it is voluntary to obtain them, which makes them different from a compulsory ID card. I have no objections in principle to the cost recovery for the passport, but we are considering extending that principle to a category of people who neither wish nor need to have a passport, and yet on whom we are potentially seeking to impose costs.

The Minister has expressed his confidence in the Bill and its legal structures, but we are on nothing like as confident ground when we come to the costs. I could summarise the exchange in the Select Committee that the hon. Member for Woking referred to as follows: the hon. Member for Walsall, North asks, ''So what's it going to cost then?'' and the Home Office official replies, ''Er, er, er, we are not sure yet.'' We do not seem to be much further on in that debate. Most figures that we have seem to have been thrown into the air.

I reiterate my earlier call for us to be given information, particularly the gateway reviews. The reviews are carried out by the Office of Government Commerce using public money and are supposed to be the authoritative reviews that decide whether a project should go ahead. I cannot believe that at this stage they include anything of significant commercial confidentiality—or confidential commerciality, as the hon. Member for Woking said earlier—that would mean that we should not see them. That is the kind of information that I would have confidence in. If we are going to be on firm ground when debating the subject, it would be helpful to be able to discuss something from the Office of Government Commerce.

Some Government schemes come in under budget and on time. Those that do not tend to be the ones that are overly complex, involve a great deal of novelty and contain a large number of unknowns. This project has perhaps the largest number of unknowns and the greatest novelty and complexity of any that I have seen. If the Bill is not amended in either way, because of the current Government model of cost recovery, significant bills will fall on citizens which they will have reason to feel aggrieved about, because they will not have been sufficiently involved in giving their consent to that expenditure.

If the Government stick to their full cost recovery model, my advice to them would be to get in early. It should be to get in early or to get in late, but I think that it will be to get in early. If the system works as they intend, I think that initially they will set a fairly low price for the cards, but that the costs will ramp up. If they pass the costs on, they will ramp up significantly and are then likely to fall afterwards. That is the model that any normal business goes through. It starts to   deliver something, it is not sure what the price is—I think that, politically, the Government will put in a loss leader price—the costs go up and then they fall afterwards. The costs could fall even further if the Government have enough confidence in their business model to pass any savings made in other areas over to this budget. I should be interested to hear whether that is the Government's intention. If they make savings in, for example, the costs of identity checking in the Department for Work and Pensions or in the health service, will they pass those savings back? The individual has paid for the card. If, by virtue of having that card, money is saved for the other Departments, it is right that that should be given back.

My fear is that, rather than have a hump of costs that we will pass on, it will be a steadily increasing line, an uphill slope. That means that those who come in early and go through the passport structure will get a reasonable fee. My suspicion is that, for political reasons, the Government will try to cover it up, pass the money on to the public purse and take it from other areas of potential expenditure. However, if they stick to the full cost recovery model, by the time they get to compulsion and the 20 per cent. of potentially poorest people, they would have to make significant charges, if they were honest about it. I am not sure what will happen, but I think that I would be fairly safe if I were to put a significant bet on the eventual costs of the scheme being considerably more than any of the figures given to us to date and a significant part of those costs falling on the poorest members of our society.

The amendments address that issue, and I hope that the Minister will be able to respond in a way that gives us more confidence by perhaps releasing more of the information that I suspect has been prepared in the Home Office, on which we should like to be able to base our comments.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

As this is the first substantive contribution that I have made in this debate, I welcome you to the Chair, Ms Anderson, and your co-Chairman, Mr. Conway.

I know that there is some irritation at the so-called slow progress that we are making on the Bill, but Standing Committees must examine these important matters in proper detail. It is up to both Opposition parties to do exactly that. Therefore, I make no apology for raising a few, I hope very brief, points with the Minister. He may not have the answer to all of them, but I would be grateful if he would write to me, and perhaps to the rest of the Committee, and place a copy in the Library, with the answer to my questions if he cannot answer them now. He may well be able to answer them now. They are important points. The clause on costs is extremely important, so we need to examine it.

I shall repeat the Home Office figures, because I want to ask questions to discover whether they are correct. Therefore, I should be grateful if the Minister would first verify the figures. The scheme will cost £186 million in set-up costs for the first three years from November 2003; £415 million is the estimated annual cost of the biometric passport from 2008-09; £85   million is the estimated annual cost of operating ID cards on top of possible costs; £50 million is the estimated annual cost of providing verification services; and £85 is the current best estimate for paying for all of that.

My first question is this. Clearly the cost per card depends on the number of cards. Can the Minister tell us whether the costs are based on a pure 80 per cent. of the population, which I understand is the Government's estimate of the percentage of people who will apply for passports in the first period and therefore be obliged to have ID cards.

What is the extra cost—the marginal cost—of the additional 20 per cent. of the population if and when the Government go for a full, compulsory ID card, which the Minister said this morning that they would? Do the Government think that at the end of the 10 years it will in fact be 20 per cent.? If not, how many more of that 20 per cent.—that is, people on very low incomes who are likely to be on pensions or in receipt of state benefits—are likely to be included? Presumably, the costs of social security to pay the £85, if it is what the cost will be, will also have to come out of general taxation.

How many foreign nationals who stay here more than three months, including the southern Irish, whom the Minister mentioned this morning, will have to have a card? [Interruption.] These are not trivial questions. They are important, as costs will be affected. Will foreign nationals also have to pay the full cost recovery amount, or will they get the cards free of charge on the basis of reciprocal EU arrangements?

As my hon. Friend the Member for Woking says, critically important is the number of recording devices and how much they will cost. That leads on to the precise technology that will be used for the cards. Will it be a bespoke arrangement for the UK only, or an off-the-shelf technology brought in from the US or the EU? That will critically affect the cost, and, given the Government's record—the problem is not restricted to this Government, although it has accelerated under them—on rolling out large IT projects that have run way over budget, the figures are for the birds if it is to be a bespoke arrangement.

Could the Minister say what type of biometric information will be collected? Will it be the three main types of biometric classes—the face, the fingerprint and the iris? I believe that the US does not require all three. Finally, critically, the type of card will affect the cost. Will they be plain plastic cards, simple smart cards or sophisticated smart cards? Perhaps the Minister ought to think about offering a choice, as some people may wish to buy a sophisticated chip so that they can put other information on their ID card. One advantage of an ID card is that it could replace the plethora of plastic cards that people have to carry in their wallet.

I hope that the Minister will be able to answer those questions today. If he cannot, I would fully understand, but I should be grateful if he would write to me. 

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

I suspect that I probably will not be able to answer in detail the points that the hon. Gentleman raised, as I had no prior notice of them and I would not have necessarily expected them. He will understand that I am not equipped to answer all the questions that I could possibly be asked on the Bill—certainly not off the top of my head. He said that I might write to him, so answers will be provided to his questions and any others that I have undertaken to answer but have not been able to respond to by the conclusion of my remarks.

Amendment No. 44 would remove the ability to charge for cards issued by the Secretary of State as part of or together with a designated document. Amendment No. 186 is on the same theme but would apply only to those who are subject to compulsory registration. I suspect that the purpose of tabling the amendments was to allow hon. Members to make wide-ranging contributions about costs and to pose some questions, many of which are answered in the regulatory impact assessment.

It was instructive to observe that the hon. Member for Woking was prepared to quote from the documents that he has, some of which are now quite dated in terms of the progress of this proposal from its inception as an entitlement card. He quoted from a number of documents—at length from some of them—and came back to the regulatory impact assessment, which has paragraphs dealing with all the issues that have been debated. Paragraphs 13 to 23 have a cost-benefit analysis and the best cost information that is available to the Government and shared with hon. Members.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to summarise that information, and with respect to him, I do not intend to do that. All members of the Committee have had the opportunity to read the regulatory impact assessment, and that is the Government's best estimate and sets out the arguments. It is open to hon. Members to seek to intervene.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam is, of course, entitled to ask questions to which he knows that I do not have the answers. The Government have shared the relevant information, and I have been at pains to explain why the Bill is structured in the way that it is, and why we are proceeding in the way that we are. I am seeking support for the scheme from Parliament in a very open fashion, and having done that, I am certainly not going to stand here and make up figures, or guess at future figures. We want to move incrementally and appropriately, and Parliament will need to make decisions, the most important of which will be the compulsion decision. There will be a significant amount of information available at that point.

What has not been helpful in this debate—something that I thought that we had laid to rest on Second Reading—has been taking the whole cost of passports in a biometric environment and the costs of the ID cards, aggregating the lot, multiplying by 10, and saying that the scheme will cost £5.5 billion. I thought that, by the concession made by the hon.   Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), which was very important, we had become grown-up about the scheme. I thought that people were not going to say any longer that the £5.5 billion should be better spent some other way. Well, if it is going to be spent some other way, the 80 per cent. of the population of this country who have passports, will not have passports. We will not be able to travel internationally; we will give up international travel in order to spend the £5.5 billion in another way. It is entirely inappropriate to put the debate in that context.

Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry) 6:15, 20 January 2005

For the sake of clarity, I hope that the Minister will go back over the record and recognise that I did not use the £5.5 billion figure at any time in my comments. However, he must concede that there will be some additional expenditure, as between just having biometric passports and the scheme that he proposes in the Bill. That is a significant amount of money, which it is reasonable to debate.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

The hon. Gentleman is entirely correct, and correct also to say that he did not use that figure, although the hon. Member for Woking did. I am not seeking to apportion blame, but others will read our debates and will quote them back at us all, and quite rightly too.

One of the most important things that happened on Second Reading was the agreement across the House that the bulk of the expenditure and the development of the expertise in technology was going to have to take place anyway. We all agreed, for all our security, that we should undertake that process. That left us all in the position, in principle and in detail, of being able to debate and explore all the other issues. It is not appropriate to return to those issues, as I am being encouraged to do by the hon. Member for Woking, as if we had not had that agreement.

The most recent cost figures that the Government have were published in the regulatory impact assessment. I am not going to repeat them, because they should all be in everyone's minds since the hon. Member for Cotswold read them out. He is precisely correct. Those are the figures that the Government have put in the public domain, and that they stand by. I am asked to give further information that has been requested before, and which the Government have said that we cannot publish for purposes of commercial confidentiality. That would be negligent of the Government, in advance of the major procurement process that will be involved, and it would not be in the interests of taxpayers— whether they paid for the process on a fully costed basis or otherwise. Would the Government obtain value for money if more detailed information and cost assumptions were published at that stage?

There must be a balance. I understand that, which is why the OGC gateway review process was set up. It was set up so that that information could be given to people with expertise, the decisions could be made and commercial confidentiality could be retained. Putting the information in the public domain would in any event drive a coach and horses through that carefully structured process. That is the Government's position.   That will not stop people from continuing to ask for information, and I understand that, but the Government will not stop saying, ''That is why we can't do it now.''

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

I am sorry that the Minister is so dismissive about cost. It is all very well to point to the regulatory impact assessment, which we have all read, but, although I take his point about the passports, we also seen contrasting views about the total cost. The Minister owes a duty to the Committee at least to tell us the totals extracted from the regulatory impact assessment because, if nothing else, it would form a record in Hansard that would be useful for parliamentarians and others. Is he not going to give us the figures?

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

The hon. Gentleman was present when the hon. Member for Cotswold did just that. How many times were those figures—[Interruption.] He read them. He did not read those figures from the regulatory impact assessment but from another document. The source of those figures, however, was the regulatory impact assessment. I am never reluctant to accede to the need of the hon. Member for Woking to put information in the public record, but it does not need to be in the public record three or four times within 30 minutes. I am beginning to wonder whether my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West is right about the hon. Gentleman's contributions to our debates if the hon. Gentleman now wants me to read things superfluously into the record.

The amendment, which is designed to remove the ability to charge for any cards, would mean that our proposal to cover the costs from charging would fall. That, in turn, would mean that the only source of funding for the scheme would be general taxation, but it would not make the scheme free in the sense that no one would pay for it. I am sure that Opposition Members would not find that proposition attractive, so I do not expect them to press the amendment.

We believe that ID cards should be compared to passports rather than to those services that are free at the point of use—the very point made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam. However, if Liberal Democrats take another position, they disagree with the Government. On a regime of full cost recovery, the Bill will allow us to subsidise some groups. Sufficient discretion is allowed in the Bill should the Government of the day decide to waive fees totally for categories of people, including when compulsion is introduced, but that will be a decision for the Government of the day depending on where we are at that time. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his predecessor made it perfectly clear that it was our intention to consider a regime in which not everyone would need to pay the full cost and that some support would be given.

The proposal to charge for ID cards is central to our scheme, and we believe that it is reasonable. The most up-to-date research among the general public shows   that 68 per cent. of people think that an ID card combined with the passport at the currently projected cost of £85 is a good idea.

Photo of Chris Mole Chris Mole Labour, Ipswich

The hon. Member for Woking spoke earlier of public opinion, based on available knowledge of the scheme's operation. Does the Minister think that the revised figure of 68 per cent. might rise in the knowledge of the likely cost of a biometric visa, which will be required at some stage for entry to the United States? That could be a significant separate sum, which would make having a UK biometric visa at such a cost a more attractive proposition in the first instance.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

My hon. Friend makes a sensible and important point. I am concerned that I cannot respond other than by making some sort of guess about where public opinion will go. However, I am able to share with the Committee the fact that the last detailed research that I read—I think that it was conducted by MORI; I shall check and, if I have inadvertently given the wrong name, I shall correct myself later—showed that, as the debate has progressed, the public have become more knowledgeable about the scheme. That is appropriate and good. It is exactly as we would want it to be. However, as they were becoming more knowledgeable, the support for ID cards was being sustained at inordinately high levels for any type of public policy. I understand, as the hon. Member for Winchester says, that somebody has to speak up for the 20 per cent. However, somebody has also to speak up for the 80 per cent. If a public policy has the support of 80 per cent., somebody has to speak for them. We need not necessarily adopt the minority position.

Public opinion in support of the scheme is being sustained. People are beginning to understand more clearly what is involved in the scheme, and have a better understanding of compulsion than we give them credit for. As people understand the costings in the context of passports and grasp the reality of the fact that biometrics are becoming a significant part of document security internationally, they realise that they are prepared to meet the costs in order to continue with their own, normal, everyday transactions and international travel.

I am not belittling this—to ask somebody for £85 is to ask somebody for a significant amount of money. To ask somebody for the current cost of a passport could be, depending on their income, to ask them for a significant amount of money. However, the money will be invested for 10 years. We are not going to go back to people every year; it will be for a 10-year passport, associated with a 10-year ID card.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

I believe that the Committee might be suspended shortly, so may I ask the Minister very quickly, so that he can give us an answer in the next sitting, about the costs that I read out—£415 million, £85 million and £50 million, a total of £5.5 billion over 10 years? If 55 million British people apply for the ID cards, that is £100, not £85, each. I might be wrong, so I shall be grateful if the Minister can confirm whether I am correct.  

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

With respect, I do not think that one can apply such simple arithmetic to such costings. We must bear in mind that the hon. Gentleman has already asked me for estimates in terms of the number of foreign nationals who would qualify for cards. In any event, 55 million is wrong, because not everybody who lives in the country is over 16. I am sure that he will accept that. This is for a significantly smaller number of people. I realise that the consequence of what I am saying is that the cost per head goes up.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

I shall endeavour to give the hon. Gentleman information on the calculations later in the debate. He asked for the component elements in an earlier question, and I have undertaken to try to get the answers for him. Let me say before I move on that the research to which I referred was carried out by ICM, not MORI.

The proposal is that the charge for an ID card would be a relatively small uplift to the cost of a passport. That is justified when we consider how secure the process will be. By way of comparison, several EU countries, France and Italy among them, are upgrading their national ID cards to introduce biometrics, as I have told the Committee. For decades, France has issued free cards to its citizens. I understand that the new cards will not be free.

Another effect of the amendment would be to prevent our charging for documents that attract a charge now, if those documents were to be designated as ID cards. It might be an unintended consequence, but it is a consequence. Therefore, we could not charge the full cost for resident permits for nationals of third countries. The consequence of that would be a further loss of income for the Exchequer—or is it Opposition Members' preference for us not to designate this permit and to deprive foreign nationals of the of the security of a card that is functionally equivalent to the one to which British citizens are entitled? I do not believe that it is. We know that foreign nationals who are legitimately here to work or to study sometimes find it difficult to do everyday things, such as open a bank account, without multiple forms of ID. These people bring investment and skills to this country, and we do not want to make life harder for them.

Before I conclude my remarks on the clause, I shall discuss amendment No. 186, which is on the same theme but which is intended to apply only to those who are subject to compulsory registration. We cannot operate on the assumption that there is a stereotypical group of people who will be subject to compulsory registration, although there is merit in the argument that people from a particular stratum of society will be over-represented. I do not imagine, if I may borrow from an earlier part of the debate, that all of the people who appear before the hon. Member for Woking when he sits as a magistrate and who are not comparatively well off do not have a passport or go abroad on holiday. Indeed, I suspect from the figures that I have   seen for international travel by UK citizens that a substantial proportion of them do, which is all to the good. Poverty is relative.

My response to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam is that I am not prepared to treat that group of people as an amorphous mass. I shall relate to the Committee a fact that some of my Scottish colleagues will know, which is that the predecessor of my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland, Donald Dewar, who was a justifiably well respected member of this House for many years, never had a passport until he became the First Minister in Scotland. I do not believe that he had ever travelled abroad. That did not make him any less of a rounded individual. He was, in fact, a very rounded individual with a massive knowledge of several things, but he did not have a passport.

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, and I believe that I have responded to it appropriately by saying that there is an intention to keep the discretion and to use it to have reduced charging and, if necessary, free entitlement to cards, but I am not prepared to be forced into a position in which all compulsory cardholders will be granted that.

Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry) 6:30, 20 January 2005

I observe that the Minister, in talking about this 20 per cent., is having to depend on anecdote and supposition. I am looking at him and thinking that the Home Office research department is a very well respected organisation with comprehensive resources. I wonder whether it would not be helpful to all of us if members of that department could ask people at the Office for National Statistics and others, who I am sure have this information, to give us some sort of profile of people who do not have passports They are the people who we are talking about.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

That is a reasonable request, and if it can be responded to, I will see what can be done.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. I shall share a general observation with him. I took through the House the Bill that was designed to introduce, and introduced with significant success, an electoral identity card in Northern Ireland in order to combat electoral fraud. We may have to address certain consequences for registration but, broadly speaking, the last election in Northern Ireland was the least criticised for electoral fraud. It was the first election conducted with electoral identity cards. That scheme operated on the basis that a comparatively small number of people needed to have them, because other secure documents with photographic identification were broadly accepted as their equivalent. It was helpful to that debate to try to work out just how many people needed these cards to see what the challenge was. So I will be happy to respond to the hon. Gentleman's request to the extent that it is possible to do so.

I have tried to address the issues that hon. Members have raised, with the honourable exception of the hon. Member for Cotswold, who asked me very specific questions, which I suspect he knew I would not be able to answer in this contribution. Before I invite the hon. Member for Woking to withdraw his amendment,   which I oppose, I shall share, with the leave of the Chairman, information relating to carriers' liability figures, which I promised to read for the record if I had them. From December 2002, when the carriers' liability regime changed, my understanding is that £5.6 million of fines were imposed—which was reduced on appeal to £2.97 million—that £1.35 million has been paid so far, and that £125,780 has been waived, with the qualification that the outstanding balance is due   within a payment period of 60 days and that some appeals are still pending. Those are the best figures that I can obtain.

Debate adjourned.—[Joan Ryan.]

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes to Seven o'clock, till Tuesday 25 January at ten minutes past Nine o'clock.