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Tory and Lib peers aim to ice ID cards until Blair's overthrow

Costings look ball-crushingly tight, apparently...

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Tory and Liberal opposition peers will unite in the House of Lords today in an attempt to have the UK identity card scheme shelved pending an investigation of costs and benefits. Their amendment is intended, according to Tory Home Affairs spokesman David Davis to force the Government to produce proper costings of the scheme, but if passed it will be likely to kick ID cards into touch for the remainder of Tony Blair's term in Downing Street.

The Home Office's slipperiness on the true cost of the scheme has meanwhile come under renewed fire from the London School of Economics, which has published a status report on its identity cards project to coincide with the Lords debate. The latest report is introduced by LSE Director Howard Davies, who expresses irritation at the tone of ministers' comments on earlier LSE research, saying that these "have not encouraged the kind of rational debate that proposals of this far-reaching nature surely require." He notes that "the Government has not been very forthcoming in providing details," but says that the LSE team "stands by the cost estimates outlined in its first report", and warns that "any estimates made of the cost of the current proposals may... significantly underestimate the total cost of the scheme in the longer term."

The report itself says that the Government's refusal to disclose information on the ID scheme means that the LSE team is currently unable to publish a fully-detailed second edition of its study. But it describes Home Office claims that the LSE was substantially wrong as "scurrilous", and says its "cost estimates from June 2005 remain as they were.

"Dozens of questions about the scheme's architecture, goals, feasibility, stakeholder engagement and outcomes remain unanswered". says the report. "The secuirty 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."

Enough? Besides all that, the LSE is unconvinced by the Home Office's claims that a KPMG report (which the Home Office declines to make fully public) gives the scheme a clean bill of health, and argues that on the contrary, the KPMG report supports the LSE's estimates. And it's worth noting this opening of a socioeconomic 'second front':

"Since the publication of our June report we have been increasingly concerned that the market based approach adopted by the government will lead to endemic identity checking, resulting in an unregulated rolling tax on citizens. By instituting a monopoly on identity architecture and placing this on a commercial footing, the Home Office risks creating a 'free for all' in which organisations outside government make substantial profits from relentless and unnecessary identity checking."

And the Home Office, in the view of the LSE, has shown itself unfit for the management of a scheme of this magnitude (which we presume makes the Home Office the unacceptable face of repression and invasiveness). There is an "ongoing culture of secrecy endemic in the planning of the identity card proposals. The Home Office has conducted most of its work in a covert fashion, refusing to disclose information that would inform debate, and conducting negotiations in a closed environment." A project this size "should be managed by a department with the internal culture and experience commensurate with the scope and application of the project." The LSE suggests the Treasury, then publicly renounces its earlier support for identity cards:

"At the outset, the LSE Identity Project supported the implementation of an identity scheme in principle but expressed significant concerns regarding the Home Office proposal. In light of the numerous inconsistencies and conflicts that have emerged, serious unanswered concerns that remain, project dynamics that are dysfunctional and potential outcomes that may be harmful to the public interest we can now no longer support even the principle of an identity scheme owned and operated by the Home Office."

So it's no more Mr Nice London School of Economics then. Much more rollicking good reading in the full report. And to all you peers out there, amend early, amend often. ®

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