Trevor Mendham

UK Compulsory National Identity Cards (ID Cards)

Briefings - Charles Clarke, 28/06/2005

This is page 8 of my personal response to Charles Clarke's speech at the Second Reading of the misnamed ID Cards Bill on 28/6/2005 Click here for page 1.

Charles ClarkeResponse from Trevor Mendham
Mr. Clarke:
I will not give way again. I am going to make progress on the point about the capacity to run major projects made by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). There are a lot of easy jibes of the type that he made, and I want to begin by giving the example of the Passport and Records Agency - an organisation that has issued 6.1 million passports in the past year, that has 47 million records across the country and that, as is very well known, had major problems in 1997, which caused concern throughout the House.

Only this year, the Comparisat benchmark survey, run by FDS International, surveyed a wide range of organisations based on their customer satisfaction and what was going on. Number one on that list was the UK Passport Service, which was followed by Asda, eBay, Amazon, Virgin Mobile, Morrisons, Tesco, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Post Office, Boots and ScottishPower. I cite that example because it demonstrates that major public service projects, and even Home Office public service projects can, through investment in technology for massive schemes, beat the world - both the public and private sector - in the service that they offer to people. That is a tribute to what can be done.

Such public support for his department is an admirable leadership quality. It doesn't change the facts.

All large IT projects risk failure. Those at most risk are where there is lack of clear scope, lack of user support and constant function creep.

All those criticisms apply to this scheme.

I can cite other examples. The UK information technology industry is currently rolling out the introduction of chip and PIN in stores and shops throughout the country. The project involves 42 million consumers who hold more than 140 million credit and debit cards, 3 million retail staff in stores throughout the country and more than 250,000 bank branch and call centre staff. That massive project is being carried out well.

Chip 'n' pin - a private sector project - is tightly scoped with a specific purpose and uses established technology. It is smaller than the proposed ID Card scheme since not everyone has or wants credit cards. It also has almost universal user acceptance.

The Department for Work and Pensions payment modernisation system means that 22.5 million accounts are now paid by direct payment. The scheme was completed on time with less expenditure than was initially anticipated, and it will save more than 1 billion over the next five years. The same is true of NHS Direct. All those examples demonstrate that the public sector in general, and the Home Office in particular, has the capacity to undertake such major projects. Of course the projects must be well managed, and I could produce a list of private and public sector failures, but it is important to get a balance on the whole situation. The worries about this scheme would be almost as great were it a private sector project. In fact the worries are so great that even the IT industry - which will benefit financially - is demanding a rethink. See for example the ID Cards on Trial campaign. They say:
" is lobbying the government for greater transparency over the 5.8bn Identity Cards Bill and to rethink key parts of the plan that leading politicians, academics and IT experts warn could turn it into the biggest-ever government IT disaster"
Lynne Jones: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Clarke:
Not at this stage.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I heard the Home Secretary say that he was not going to give way. I must remind the House that many hon. Members wish to speak and that interventions will eat into their time.

Mr. Clarke:
I am grateful, Mr. Speaker. I shall try to make progress and to give way only once more before I finish.

Our approach on the technology is straightforward. When the Bill has passed through Parliament, we intend to conduct trials of the technology, including small-scale tests, database tests and large-scale testing during roll-out. There has been a lot of concern about biometric identity cards, especially those using iris recognition, so I draw the House's attention to a report published earlier this week by the university of Cambridge computer laboratory. Its conclusion and recommendations indicate clearly and categorically:
"Iris recognition can be reliably used on a national basis in an Identity Cards scheme, including the capability for exhaustive iris code comparisons to detect multiple identities, if the decision policy employs a threshold criteria"
it then sets out some technical details. These issues can thus be resolved.
I'm not a biometric expert but I note the words "threshold criteria". Does that mean that we would have a threshold on certainty of identity? How certain would we be? 99%? 90%? 75%?

Very certain? Fairly certain? Somewhat certain?

The government has made a huge point of claiming how secure and difficult to forge these biometrics will be. Are they now admitting that in order to make the system work at all we have to apply an arbitrary "threshold" on certainty?

Mr. Clarke:
I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice).
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab):
Why can my friend not tell us the failure rate of identifying biometrics that would be acceptable? The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality told me today that that is still being determined through stakeholder consultation.
Mr. Clarke:
The report that I cited indicates that with irises on the database,
"with reasonable acceptance thresholds, the false match rate is less than 1 in 200 billion."
"reasonable acceptance thresholds"

So we can be reasonably sure someone is who they say they are.

Gosh, I feel so much more secure now.

If there is iris recognition, facial recognition and fingerprint recognition, it significantly reduces the possibility of errors arising. No it doesn't. It increases the chance of one or more biometric tests failing. Presumably the government is planning to take a "two out of three aint bad" approach.

So if there's one biometric the terrorists can't easily forge or spoof it doesn't matter, as long as they can manage the other two.

Several hon. Membersrose
Mr. Clarke:
I give way for a final time to the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown).
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con):
About 37 million people in this country aged over 16 would be liable to have an identity card over a period of time. There has been wide variation in the estimates of the cost of introducing the cards. The estimates range up to 5.5 billion, which would give a huge headline figure of about 140 per person. Whether that figure is accurate or not, will the Home Secretary undertake to produce a proper regulatory impact assessment of the costs that can be relied on before the House definitively makes up its mind on Third Reading?
Mr. Clarke:
We have already set out a regulatory impact assessment that can be relied on, but I repeat the assurance that I gave earlier: before the Bill leaves the House, we will produce data in the form that the hon. Gentleman wants.
The Home Office has consistently refused to reveal the details of its costings, hiding behing "commercial confidentiality". As such no-one can rely on its modelling, assumptions or conclusions.
On all the grounds that I have set out, the ID card will protect individuals against the Big Brother state, rather than the opposite. I have talked about the costs, benefits and technical issues. I tell my hon. Friends who are considering voting for the reasoned amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak that accepting the amendment would be a vote against Second Reading, which would thus defeat the Bill, so I hope that they will agree not to do that. Clarke has presented us with an amazing concoction of wishful thinking, doublethink and failure to understand the fundamental issues.
I commend the Bill to the House. I urge all MPs of all parties to reject this unnecessary, unwanted and dangerous scheme.

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