HC Deb 27 October 2003 vol 412 cc17-8
12. Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)

What estimate he has made of (a) the costs of introducing identity cards and (b) the annual revenue and capital costs of such a scheme for each of the next five years. [134169]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it is precisely the analysis and verification of the matters that he asks about that I have been working on for the past 18 months. Indeed, I referred to that work in July of last year, when I made a statement to the House and launched a consultation. I know that he will forgive me if I avoid infringing the right of Cabinet colleagues to make final decisions by not giving him the details this afternoon.

Mr. Thomas

Unfortunately, I cannot forgive him for that omission, because I really want to know how much this system will cost the taxpayer. We now know that identity fraud accounts for only 5 per cent. of the problems that have arisen in respect of benefits, yet the costs being talked about in the press are huge, for a system that will be neither effective nor efficient. Will the Home Secretary please drop this back-door tax on our identities, and if he is determined to press ahead with it, will he at least do what other European countries with such systems have done and ally it to a written constitution, so that the right balance of freedoms and responsibilities is struck for our citizens?

Mr. Blunkett

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity—I would never have imagined that getting the European constitution or individual constitutions into this question was manageable. so well done. The truth is that whether or not we go ahead with an identification scheme, there will be substantial costs—similar to costs for ID cards—for biometrics, for proper verification of passports, and, through the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, for proper verification of driving licences. When we have discussed the matter in Cabinet, I shall be very happy to present the detail and to explain where we go from here, because one way or the other we shall be going forward.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

In looking at—

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

My hon. Friend needs an identity card.

Mr. Gerrard

I still have an identity card, which I was issued with in 1942. In looking at the costs of developing an ID card system, is my right hon. Friend examining developing a new database from scratch? Does he accept that if we try to build on existing databases, such as the DVLA's, which were not designed for the purpose of proving identity and are known to be insecure, we will be spending a great deal of money on a system that will be flawed from day one?

Mr. Blunkett

My hon. Friend is right to draw this matter to the House's attention. There are two separate issues: the process by which people would obtain cards and the mechanisms in place to deal with it; and the database itself, which will be crucial if biometrics and cards with chips—including future passport cards and driving licence cards—are to work effectively. In such a scheme, dovetailing the citizens' information project, which the Treasury has been working on, with the revision and refinement of the national insurance system will also be crucial. I look forward to being able to return to the House in the weeks ahead with an answer as to which of the routes we will take.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove)

Does the Home Secretary agree that although citizens rightly expect a great deal from the state and from taxpayers, taxpayers have an equal right to be able to ascertain the identities of those citizens who wish to claim benefits? I wish him well in his battle with the Treasury over this argument, and will he impart to the House his chances of actually winning it?

Mr. Blunkett

I am all in favour of ensuring that people who are entitled to benefits and services get them, and that those who are not do not. However, for the avoidance of doubt I should like to make it clear that I am not in a battle with the Treasury. We have sometimes had rigorous discussions in the past six and a half years; in this instance, we are having very amicable and helpful discussions.

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