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House of Lords Hansard
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10 December 2008
Volume 706

Question

Asked By

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what was the original budgeted cost of the introduction of identity cards; and what is the latest estimated cost.

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My Lords, the national identity scheme cost report is laid before Parliament and gives a breakdown of the estimated cost of introducing identity cards and security enhancements to passports for UK and Irish nationals over the next 10 years. The latest report, published on 6 November 2008, gave a total cost as £4.785 billion which represents a cost reduction of about £1 billion compared with the original estimate of £5.8 billion made in 2005.

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My Lords, given that Answer, why has a respected body such as the London School of Economics estimated the cost at double that amount, perhaps rising to even as much as £19 billion for the total project? During the debate on the Queen’s Speech on 3 December the Leader of the House said of the Government’s programme:

“It has one primary, overriding aim: to help people meet the economic challenges facing our country”.—[Official Report, 3/12/08; cols. 20-21.]

When every family in the country is cutting back, why are the Government pressing on with this unwanted and hugely expensive project?

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My Lords, the noble Lord has asked two questions. The first should be addressed not to me but to the London School of Economics, as the noble Lord quoted its costings. Public support for the introduction of ID cards remains at 60 per cent. The question of the Government looking for cost cutting at the present time is well understood. However, 70 per cent of the costs that I have just quoted are associated with the introduction of biometric passports. Therefore, there would not be a saving if ID cards were to be abandoned.

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My Lords, we have all heard over a considerable period the cost of implementing the ID card system. Will my noble friend tell us not so much about the advantages to the country in fighting terrorism but the advantages to the individual who is issued with a card?

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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his question. First, an identity card will make it easier for people to prove that they are who they say they are. It will also allow travel within the European Union without the need for a passport. About a third of the people who have been told that it will be available in 2010 have seen that as a good reason for having one. It will also help in the fight against identity fraud from which many people are suffering, which costs the country about £1.2 billion a year. Of course, it will confirm eligibility for public services. Again, fraud is costing the country about £800,000 per annum.

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My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned identity fraud. However, he will be aware that the LSE study also found that the use of ID cards in combating identity fraud would be minimal. The LSE estimates that the saving might be £35 million, whereas identity fraud crimes cost up to £1.3 billion a year. Surely that is an enormous gap and means that the cards will be almost useless in that respect.

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My Lords, it is important to note that the introduction of ID cards is not meant to be a total answer to or a panacea for any of the difficulties. It will be a major aid in the areas I mentioned as well as in fighting terrorism as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Davies. It is therefore seen as having a value. The cost to the individual in 2009-10 will be £30 per year.

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My Lords, what items of information will be required to be held on the identity card? I have heard that up to 50 items will be there. What information will have to be given about changes in circumstances and what will be the penalties for not giving it?

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My Lords, the identity card will have identity data including photograph and fingerprint biometrics, which will be held on the national identity register. It will also effectively have all the information that is currently in passports that we issue for some 47 million people. I will write to the noble Baroness on the second part of her question about penalties.

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My Lords, did I hear the Minister say that the cost will be £30 per year?

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My Lords, the ID card will be £30 per person in 2009-10. It is not an annual charge.

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My Lords, will my noble friend give us the timetable for the implementation of these identity cards?

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My Lords, the Government are very conscious that there needs to be an incremental rollout and that the cards need to gain and hold the support of the public. Identity cards became compulsory in November of this year for people entering or seeking to stay in this country. A pilot scheme for air-side staff at Manchester Airport and City Airport will be introduced in the latter part of next year. In 2010, it is hoped to make identity cards available voluntarily to young people, many of whom currently use a passport for entry to nightclubs and the like, and from 2011 voluntarily to members of the public.

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My Lords, the Minister tells us that the personal passport interview offices will be used for identity cards. In the 216,000 face-to-face interviews that have already taken place, there has not been one refusal. Is that because the Government have the right policy or because they are a waste of time?

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My Lords, we would not expect there to be refusals in the case of straight-forward applications. In 2010, or when people renew their biometric passport thereafter, they will have the opportunity of having a passport, currently costing £72, a package including an ID card at £30 or, as many people may choose if they are going to travel on holiday in Europe only, an ID card but not a passport. Where necessary, there will be face-to-face interviews for people who are entering the country for whom the card is compulsory.

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My Lords, does my noble friend agree that when he tries to list the benefits of an identity card, it would be easier to do so if the identity card had two characteristics that it does not have at the moment: first, that it is compulsory and therefore does not differentiate between citizens and, secondly, that it is an entitlement card for benefits in this country?

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My Lords, it is not the intention at the moment, or in future as far as we know, to have a compulsory scheme. That would require primary legislation. In Europe, apart from Denmark and the Republic of Ireland, we are the only country not to have an ID card. Indeed, in Denmark there is a national ID register, although there is no card.

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My Lords, when do the Government anticipate that good quality forgeries will be available?

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My Lords, I think that questions should be serious.

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Let me finish, my Lords. I do not think we can be expected to answer for the criminal fraternity who will, no doubt, as in every other case, seek to find some way around the system. We have to have a robust system that makes it as difficult as possible for forgery to take place.