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Sunday, November 13, 2005

A question of identity

The Observer reports that the Prime Minister's next crisis will be over identity cards. It seems that when the Bill gets to the House of Lords this week peers will seek to render the scheme toothless by blocking plans to make the cards compulsory for every citizen and sabotaging the requirement to make Britons store their personal details on a national register, which would underpin the cards.

Rebel Tory and Liberal Democrat peers are expected to win a vote on amendments which would allow a vote in both houses before every citizen could be forced to have a card. This would make it far more difficult for the government to move from a voluntary scheme to a compulsory one - and easier for any future administration, whether led by the Tories or by Gordon Brown, to abandon the plans.

Doubts are also being raised about the overall cost of the scheme. Following a briefing from Home Office minister Andy Burnham last week, experts at the London School of Economics now predict the final cost to the taxpayer could reach £40 billion. They said the government's own estimate of the cost of the scheme - £5.8bn - excluded the cost of rolling the scheme out across government departments and public bodies.

In a letter to Burnham seen by The Observer, Professor Ian Angell, the convenor of the LSE's expert panel, states: 'We now understand that the projected cost ... applies only to the costs incurred by the Home Office.'

The LSE's previous estimate of the cost of ID cards back in June was £19 billion, three times the £6 billion predicted by the Government. On a self-financing basis that would make the cost of acquiring an I.D. card something in the region of £300. On their latest estimate the cost of an individual I.D. card could be as much as £600.

It is true of course that the Government has said that what the ordinary citizen pays for an I.D. card will be capped but can even they justify spending £40 billion on this scheme, roughly equivalent to 13.5p on the standard rate of income tax?


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