Lords demand full costs of ID cards

Out-Law News | 17 Jan 2006 | 4:53 pm | 1 min. read

The House of Lords told the Government last night that it will not approve its ID cards legislation without full details of the costs. It has amended the legislation; but the Home Office has vowed to overturn these changes when the bill returns to the Commons.

This may not be easy: the Government's bill last went through the House of Commons with a majority of just 31 after 20 Labour MPs rebelled – and a new report from the London School of Economics (LSE) is adding fuel to heated arguments over the cost. One of the authors suggested that "guesswork and wishful thinking" by the Home Office make a mockery of the entire scheme.

The Home Office has published estimates: it says the scheme will cost £6 billion over 10 years and that each card, with integrated biometrics and passport details, will cost £93. But these figures have been denounced for focusing on the Home Office's costs in isolation and ignoring the costs that will be incurred by other bodies that use the ID card scheme, such as the NHS and local authorities.

The LSE estimated last June that the total cost of the scheme is more likely to be between £10.6 billion and £19.2 billion with individual cards costing 230.

The House of Lords last night called for a detailed report setting out a cost estimate over a 10 year period for all Government departments, not just the Home Office, and for anyone else carrying out functions under the legislation. In addition, it demanded that the cost estimate be examined by the Comptroller and Auditor General who must prepare a report for Parliament.

Peers also voted last night for amendments to the ID card legislation that would require more security provisions and more controls on who can access the data that will be held in a central register.

In a report published on Sunday, the LSE said that the Home Office had shown itself incapable of planning the ID scheme, that the Government "remains on the wrong path" and that control should pass to the Treasury.

The Report states: "The security of the scheme remains unstable, as are the technical arrangements for the proposal. The performance of biometric technology is increasingly questionable. We continue to contest the legality of the scheme. The financial arrangements for the proposals are almost entirely secret, raising important questions of constitutional significance."

The Report identifies 24 unanswered questions that LSE has put to the Home Office.

"We don't know what to believe any more," said Professor Ian Angell, head of LSE's Department of Information Systems. "Contradictions, guesswork and wishful thinking on the part of the Home Office make a mockery of any pretence that this scheme is based on serious reasoning."

The Lords are due to resume discussion of the bill on Monday.