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Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I shall briefly comment on Amendment No. 261, just for completeness, as we have our name to some of the amendments in this group.

The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, referred to Amendment No. 261 being a gift to the Government because thereby they might be able to exempt students. That was the category that he gave; the category that we put forward is that of older people, who may be retired on low income, and others on low income. I know that we have had conversations before across the Dispatch Box about the difficulty of identifying categories of people who may be on low income, but I hope that the Minister has been sufficiently prompted by previous debates to be able to respond positively to some of those proposals when he replies to Amendment No. 261 in particular.
 
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4.30 pm

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The amendments are clear, and we understand them. We believe that the issue of ID cards should be compared to the issue of existing documents such as passports or driving licences, for which a fee is charged, rather than a public service, such as education or National Health Service treatment, which is free at the point of use.

We entirely accept that some people might find it difficult to pay the full fee for an ID card. However, the Bill provides at Clause 37 a wide range of powers to set fees, including allowing for the payment of fees by instalments. The Government have always made it clear that there would be concessions or discounts for those on low incomes. Not everyone would need to pay the full cost—and we believe that that is fair.

Clause 41(4)(b) would allow us to waive fees altogether for particular groups, just as we do for passport fees for people born on or before 2 September 1929, which makes Amendment No. 261 unnecessary. However, it would be wrong to tie our hands completely by requiring all cards to be issued free of charge. The fee charged for an ID card would be only a relatively small uplift on the cost of a passport. We have already published in the regulatory impact assessment our forecast unit cost of £93 for issuing a biometric passport and ID card. I should stress that that is a unit cost, not the actual fee that would be charged, and that around 70 per cent of the unit cost would be accounted for anyway by the cost of introducing biometric passports with both facial image and fingerprint biometrics.

A charge of £30 has been announced for a stand-alone ID card that is valid for 10 years at today's prices. I do not consider it appropriate that £30 is specified in the Bill as a maximum charge, as in Amendment No. 260, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. Primary legislation is not the place for specific detail on costs. The Government have made their announcement and, when the first fees are announced, Parliament will have the opportunity to debate them. This may be tempting fate, but I must say that I cannot think of a piece of legislation that sets fees in the way that is proposed in this amendment. Perhaps the noble Lord has an example of that.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: No, but the noble Lord is provoked because he cannot think of legislation of this consequence for which the establishment and integration costs, which run into billions, are not vouchsafed to the House in order for them to adjudge the merits or alternatives. So, if he is going to give me one example of uniqueness, I shall give him another.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: That is a clever point from the noble Lord but, as I explained, Parliament will have the opportunity to debate fees through the process of secondary legislation.

Amendment No. 260 would also mean that no charges could be levied for modifications to the register under Clause 12. Amendment No. 176 would preclude charges being levied for the reissue or
 
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replacement of an ID card if it is cancelled through no fault of the individual. We are assuming that no charge will be levied for maintenance transactions of the register that do not require a new ID card to be issued, such as change of address—so I am afraid that I do not consider the point that the noble Lord made about students relevant. However, it may be necessary to charge for changes that require a new ID card to be issued, as well as for the replacement of lost or stolen ID cards. There will also be a fee charged for the reissue or replacement of expired ID cards. It would not be practical to introduce a fault test to any charges that could be levied under this clause. How would one establish whether an individual was not at fault in losing their card for the third time in six months? I can think of occasions when, certainly, younger people mislay their precious cards—whatever those cards happen to be—fairly frequently. We have to make people think and act responsibly in this matter.

It is right that the maintenance process should allow for a fee to be charged, in particular in those cases where a new card needs to be issued. We intend that the charging regime decided in the future will be reasonable. The fee regime will be set in regulations made under Clause 37 nearer the introduction of ID cards in 2008 so there will, as I said, be an opportunity for Parliament to consider the actual fees proposed. The Bill has been amended already to make the first fee order subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

Amendments Nos. 263 to 267 would require the Secretary of State to have directly incurred any expenses which he could prescribe fees to recover. Our intention is that we should have as flexible a fee regime as possible, subject to one important proviso: we cannot run the overall scheme at a profit and use the net revenue to fund other public services. This is not an identity card tax. However, given the range of services offered by the scheme—registration, card issuing, accreditation of organisations using the scheme to check identity and the validation of information recorded in the register, to name but a few—it is reasonable to allow for flexibility in setting charges for individual services subject, of course, to the very important principle that in total we are not raising more in charges than it costs to run the scheme.

The way that the amendments are worded would also introduce an unwelcome degree of uncertainty into the application of the fee regime. It could suggest that the costs of paying others for relevant work—for example, specialists in information technology—could not be taken into account in setting fees under the Bill. I suggest that is not a sensible way to limit the power.

Amendment No. 268 would make all fee-related orders subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. This goes further than the recommendation from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee report, which was that orders merely to keep pace with inflation should remain subject to negative procedures. We had a brief discussion on that earlier. We have considered the report and are inclined to agree that the power to set fees should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, apart from the
 
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regular uprating of fees to take account of inflation. In a spirit of compromise I assure Members of the Committee that if they withdraw this amendment we will return on Report with a suitable replacement.

I think that that answers most of the points raised by the three noble Lords who contributed to the debate. I have a little more information on students. As I have already told the Committee, the intention is that students will have a choice whether to keep temporary term-time addresses on the register or register their home address. It is not intended to keep addresses on the card or to charge a fee for a change of address. I want to make that clear although I believe that I did so earlier.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I am grateful to the noble Lord for dealing with those amendments, particularly for the concession on the affirmative order for the setting of the original fee. I perfectly accept that the top-ups should not need it.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I wonder whether I might assist the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. Does he mean to welcome the fact that the only changes that will be made by negative procedure will be those that reflect changes in the value of money? I do not think the Government are trying to get out of the recommendation that the affirmative procedure should apply to changes in the level of fees where those do not simply reflect changes in the value of money. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, is trying to give away too much.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I never try to give away too much but I am a generous fellow, and it was my amendment. I did not want to do any more than the noble Baroness said, and I will not repeat it because it would be boring. What the noble Lord said about wanting a flexible regime is all very well but there is anxiety about what people will have to pay. The anxiety is partly because there is so little hard information about costs, but there is also genuine concern about just how the Government will behave in terms of making concessions to different groups. Given that he does not like my attempts at putting a bit more framework around the charging provisions, would there be some purpose in meeting to see whether anything can be done, beyond the affirmative resolution for the basic setting of fees, to provide a little solace and a little framework?

One of the points the Minister raised, which is germane to all this, is whether the Government intend to offset the revenue that they generate through selling the services of the register to the private sector. Do they intend to offset revenues against the expenses by reference to which they will set charges? For example, if—to take the extreme case—the annual running cost of the register was recouped by sales of services to the private sector, would that mean the Government would not be charging at all, for notifications of changes of address, for example? Is that what the noble Lord was hinting at?
 
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These are difficult issues, but I would be most grateful if we could try to come back on Report with something a bit more specific, which may address this issue and others.


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