Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 140-159)



  140. So if legislation were duly passed, and someone decided on libertarian grounds not to register, obviously that person would be infringing the law.
  (Mr Gieve) If we go ahead on that basis, yes.

  141. What other basis could you go ahead on?
  (Mr Gieve) I was simply making the point that we set out in the document a possible scheme. You are responding to it as though it is a firm proposal rather than a basis for consultation. But if you have a universal scheme under which all residents must register, then clearly if they do not register, they are breaching the rules.

  142. It is difficult really to conceive of any scheme where you do not have to register if you are going to have this card. Can you think of some alternative scheme?
  (Mr Gieve) One of the alternatives the paper mentions is a voluntary scheme, under which people who wanted to use the card because it had some advantages in confirming their identity and possibly being useful for other services could have it if they chose. That is another version which is in the consultative paper.

  143. Were you at all surprised at the negative reaction in the media?
  (Mr Gieve) No, I was not very surprised by the reaction in the media, but I do not think it was universally negative. I thought it was quite a mixed reaction.

  David Winnick: I am looking at one or two comments. The Financial Times says it is an idea that at least for now should be put back in its box, and The Times itself concluded that the plan is a gamble and the Home Secretary seems to have very few winning cards in his hands, but perhaps there are other newspapers here and there that would say—

  Chairman: Never mind what the newspapers say. What is your question?

David Winnick

  144. My question was, if you recall, Mr Chairman, was the Home Office surprised by the negative reaction of the media?
  (Mr Gieve) I do not think it was as negative as you are suggesting, and there are strong views. Everyone knows there are strong views about identity cards and entitlement cards in certain quarters. The fact that people produced them again did not surprise us. What this is intended to do is to take a proper sounding across the public and the organisations concerned and find out what the balance of opinion is, and not to rely on the views of columnists in certain newspapers.

  145. How much would it cost? One estimate given, of course, was £1.3 billion. Is that right?
  (Mr Gieve) That was our estimate for the cost of a plain plastic card with no chip in it but it depends on the type of card.

  146. A sophisticated smart card, to use that description, would be that much more, would it not?
  (Mr Gieve) Yes.

  147. How much more?
  (Mr Gieve) For the most sophisticated one that the paper mentions, we cost that at around a bit more than £3 billion.

  148. Would that be money you would expect if the scheme went through to get from the Treasury?
  (Mr Gieve) The proposal in the paper is that you could pay for this by increasing the charges for driving licences and passports, because this would be a scheme linked to the card version of the driving licence and passport.

  149. Self-financing, as the Home Secretary said at the time. We will see if that would be very favourable to people. To what extent could this identity or entitlement card be immune from fraud? Is it possible to have a card system which would be a protection against identity fraud?
  (Mr Gieve) Yes, I think new technology, the use of biometric data and so on can make fraud a good deal harder to carry out. It may still be technically possible to make one up illegally but it would be very much harder if it contained some of the features that are set out in our document.

  150. But would it not be correct to come to the view that the more sophisticated criminal gangs, once such a card was around, would do their utmost to forge?
  (Mr Gieve) I do not know. They might. People try and forge everything so I am sure people would have a go at it. Whether they could do it economically I do not know. It would be very difficult to forge some of these more sophisticated smart cards.

  151. But possible, of course.
  (Mr Gieve) I do not know if it is possible actually. I am just allowing a certain caution in my answers because I am not technically equipped to know quite how foolproof these cards would be.

  152. Presumably if a forgery did take place, it would create more problems than it would solve. As far as illegal immigrants are concerned, is it felt that this card would be very much of a deterrent?
  (Mr Gieve) We have introduced a card for asylum seekers gaining support in the last few months, and we think that is useful. I think in terms of illegal working this could potentially be useful, and that is one of the reasons we have put it forward for debate.

  Chairman: I am going to stop you there, Mr Winnick.

Angela Watkinson

  153. When the various options for the different types of identity card were looked at, was future compatibility with the European identity card a consideration?
  (Mr Gieve) You are taking me out of my depth now. I am sure it was, yes. As you know, the card proposal as sketched out here is supposed to be compatible both with the European and the international standards on passports and driving licences so that you can have combined versions.

  154. This could be the thin end of a very large wedge.
  (Mr Gieve) I had not seen it like that, I must say.

Mr Cameron

  155. As principal accounting officer for the Department, you are responsible for the way that money is spent. Do you look at a project like this and think £3 billion for a sophisticated smart card would be another third on your budget? Given the not altogether rosy history of Home Office computer projects, do you look at it, and does the principal accounting officer side of your character say to ministers, "This is an awful lot of money, some of which may be wasted, and we should look very carefully at it?"
  (Mr Gieve) No. I think it would be a very challenging project, but that is what makes the job interesting.

  156. You can see a case for saying something costing £3 billion could be done, it could be done on budget, and it could be worthwhile? There is not a part of the principal accounting officer function that says, "Hold on. This is going to blow my budget to bits"?
  (Mr Gieve) We are engaged in a number of big projects which have high degrees of technical and financial risk, and of course I worry about them. I am not worrying very much about this at the moment because it is not a firm proposal; it is a consultation. If the response comes in and the Government decides to press ahead with this, I am sure it can be done and I am sure I will worry about it.

Mr Prosser

  157. I am sure the Government will have been comforted and encouraged by the flurry of public opinion polls on identity cards, which showed an enormously high level of support. I saw some at 70 per cent and some at 80 per cent. I am asking about asylum support costs, and this is a question for Mr Boys Smith. Last year we were told something like 88,000 claims were rejected, 34,000 appeals then failed, and only 11,000 or so failed asylum seekers actually returned. What sort of feel have you got of what happened to the rest of them?
  (Mr Boys Smith) Undoubtedly a large number of them have remained in the country, there is nothing new in that. It is also the case, we believe, (we are now talking of something where the evidence does not exist to prove one position or another) that a number of people leave voluntarily often to try their luck elsewhere. That does not just mean elsewhere in the European Union, it means elsewhere often in North America. We know, for example, that certain nationalities have an inclination to try their luck in Canada if they fail here.

  158. How do you think the new proposals in the new Bill—the Bill coming through now—would tighten up the position?
  (Mr Boys Smith) One element of that, of course, is the non-suspensive appeals to which John Gieve referred earlier and simply by being able to deal with the whole of that business at an earlier stage and therefore to remove the person earlier, that is a huge advantage. But fundamental to the provisions in the Bill is the way in which it would enable us, particularly through the accommodation centres, to tighten up the system by having continuing contact with the applicant and to manage the process more tightly than is possible at the moment when, so to speak, people are at large in the community, either dispersed through NASS or in no way in contact with NASS if they have not sought support. Fundamentally the single answer is tighten up the procedure, keep in contact with people and a lot of that we are doing already and it is not dependent on the Bill. The issuing of the asylum registration card again, which was referenced to a moment ago, is one aspect of that. The induction centre, the first of which was in your constituency, Mr Prosser, is another example. The establishment of additional reporting arrangements around the country requiring people to call periodically so that we remain in touch with them and know where they are living, they are all elements of that. The Bill and the accommodation centres are therefore fundamentally important reinforcements of that.

  159. Asylum seekers without children who have had their final refusal cease to have support from NASS.
  (Mr Boys Smith) Yes.

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