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John Bercow: To what extent, if at all, does the hon. Lady think that the Government have factored into their calculations the capital and running costs of the extra 70 high street offices that the UK Passport Service proposes to establish for the purpose of conducting interviews with first-time passport applicants? It has never been clear to me why such a provision is necessary, although Mr. Bernard Herdan is clearly keen to drive the agenda. Clearly there will be a bill to pay, will there not?
It is probably easier for the Government to estimate the cost of providing buildings than it is for
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them to estimate the cost of providing complex computer systems. I have to accept their assurances that that is included, although I note that there will also have to be two secure facilities for the storing of the computer systems. I am not sure that the time scale that the Government say they have in mind will allow them to procure those facilities. I envisage many problems. It is clear that the Government have not recognised the need for an open procurement policy, as advocated by the Select Committee. The Committee said that the Government must
Mr. Cash: Has the hon. Lady, in the course of her diligent analysis, considered the extremely difficult problem of assessing the extent to which the wide-ranging powers in the Bill will be used or not used? There is a great deal of uncertainty about the extent to which certain powers will be used, and indeed about whether the whole process will be extended to involve designated documents. As I said in an earlier intervention, the process seems to be endless. Has the hon. Lady seen any calculation that reveals the impact of the powers if they are used? When an aircraft or a ship is being built, it is possible to see that it will end up as a product. Here, we are talking merely about a vague use of powers.
Lynne Jones: I am prepared to accept the Government's assurances that the driving licence will not be a designated document, but it is clear that the identity card and the operation of the database will go ahead. The Government are determined to use those powers, at least for the time being, until the costs emerge. They might think twice about it after that. We do not know the extent to which other Departments, or even devolved Assemblies and Parliaments, will use the database to deliver services. The costs are not included in the Government's £584 million assessment.
The UK Computing Research Committee has commented on the document on the assessment of technologies needed for a national ID card scheme. It says that the assessment is not objective, because the authors have an interest in supplying the ID technologies. Most independent experts are dubious about the Government's scope and ability to deliver. They include the London School of Economicswhose work the Government have rubbished without justification, as we learned from the letter from Brian Gladwyn to the Prime Ministerand the UK Computing Research Committee, as well as other organisations dealing with computing.
I do not think we should spend vast amounts of public money on a scheme that is highly dubious, and whose benefits, let alone costs, have not been assessed. I tabled a parliamentary question to the Department of Health on the cost of people gaining access to health services when they were not entitled to do so. The Department had no idea of the cost. We do not yet know whether it will go along with the scheme, but the Minister has said that it would benefit the NHS.
I am prepared to bet that the £584 million will prove to be only a fraction of the eventual cost if the Government insist on the scheme. The proposed six-monthly estimates are welcome. However, the Government will perhaps end up spending billions of
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pounds before realising the error of this approach. Instead, they should opt for the solution that all other European countries are opting for: documents that have biometrics on the card, and appropriate security precautions that are an improvementas they will have to beon those currently available. The Government should drop their obsession with this ridiculous national identity register, which will be costly, has severe implications for civil liberties and will prove a honey pot for international criminals and terrorists. Rather than protecting our identities, such a register will lead to everybody facing the threat of identity theft.
When I spoke on Second Reading, I expressed concern about the security of biometrics and the ability of individuals to apply for more than one document. That fear remains and the Government have had to react to such criticisms by greatly increasing the number of biometrics to be stored. Originally, they planned to have only iris recognition and facial recognition; now, they have been forced down the route of including 10 fingerprints. Even if the system proves 99 per cent. accurate, there will still be 48,000 false matches in a database of 48 million people. It will not be the ordinary citizen who will apply for multiple ID cards using the same biometrics. However, the system will not be able to know that the same biometrics have been duplicated, but with different identities. Terrorists, money launderers and international criminals will be willing to hack into the system, and they will be patient.
The police computer system is regularly abused from the inside by police officers giving information to journalists; other systems have been hacked into. Staff working in computer centres could be bribed or blackmailed into handing over sensitive data. What will happen, for example, if somebody changes the address on my database record and puts in a request for an audit trail? Such information will then be delivered securely to the alternative address. The implications are horrendous. Chips on the card will allow people to be followed wherever they go, unless the security that nations such as America are building into
Lynne Jones: As I understand it from answers given to me previously by the Minister, the cards will contain radio frequency identity chips that will send out a signal, which will be picked up by antennae. If they are to be stand-alone cards, the chips will need to be read by a reader at close proximity. However, many experts have expressed doubts about this scheme, in that, if the chips are to be read remotely, the signals could be picked up as people travel from one antenna to another. Obviously, the power of such antennae will be a factor in that regard.
The private sector will have readers and access to the verification service, so there will have to be some form of encryption. However, the fact remains that those in the private sector will have access to my identity and will be able to steal it. If the readers are stolen, other peopledepending on the accuracy of those readerswill be able to steal my identity.
If the Government are concerned about identity fraud, they should not go down this route. There are much simpler and less costly ways to address identity
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fraud. In the US, for example, when somebody wishes to access consumer reference information, they have to obtain the permission of the individual. In that way, the individual will know if someone is applying for credit or carrying out financial transactions in their name. The Government could introduce such measures and ensure better security than will be achieved by this expensive scheme. The Government claim that it will make us more secure and deal with terrorism and immigration, but immigrants will not have to have identity cards. The Government should reconsider and move towards having biometrics on passports, as other countries are doing. They should abandon the database and the costs that will be associated with it.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): It is important that we get this right for two reasons that the Minister gave earlierfirst, because we now have a scheme that will be compulsory and, secondly, because, as the Minister has said, the bulk of the costs will be covered by fees. If costs go up, fees will go up. The cost of the scheme will be borne by our constituents. It is therefore important that we have as much information as possible about what the scheme will mean to the people whom we represent.
I do not believe that amendment (a), tabled by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson), would do what it is claimed it would do. I suspect that the very reason that the Minister is prepared to accept it is because he knows that it is the dog that will not bark. It will not even growl or whimper. The Minister is bound to like the amendment because it will not provide any ability to stop the scheme in its tracks. We will not have the information that would allow us to make a considered decision until it is too late. The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras said that it was better than the Lords amendment because it allowed us to look at the ongoing costs, but we know that the Minister will be able to hold back information on that under subsection (4). It states that information may be held back if it is
That is the very basis on which the Minister has held back the full capital cost of the scheme. We are told that it would breach commercial confidentiality and stop us getting the best value. So in his six-monthly reports, the Home Secretary will be able to hold back the very information that would enable us to make an assessment of the costs. Amendment (a) would not do what is necessary.
We have heard a lot of hocus-pocus economics this evening. It must be down to my experience in local government, but I always get worried when a report goes into minute detail. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) said, the Minister can pinpoint the cost as £584 million a year. But when we start asking the big questions, everything becomes vague and we are told that for reasons of commercial confidentiality the capital costs cannot be revealed. In my experience of local government, that usually means that no one is quite sure how much the scheme will cost at the end of the day. When I encounter that approach, I begin to be wary.
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The Minister, again in answer to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak, said that the capital could either be paid in a lump sum or annualised and added on as running costs. He gave an assurance that it would not be more than the annual running costs according to the present estimate, but if the amount was equal to the running costs the annual cost would double. Will that be added to the fees that the public pay for the card? The Minister gave no indication.
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