Blair urges support for ID cards

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Identity theft is costing the country billions of pounds a year the Prime Minster warned today as he urged MPs to back new plans to introduce ID cards.

Identity theft is costing the country billions of pounds a year the Prime Minster warned today as he urged MPs to back new plans to introduce ID cards.

Mr Blair told the Commons at question time: "The abuse of identity actually costs this country billions of pounds a year.

"We have the new biometric technology. We have in any event to move to new biometric passports as a part of other changes happening around the world.

"This is an important moment where we decide that we legislate so that we can enable identity cards to be taken forward."

He was responding to Labour's Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) who spoke of a constituent whose identity had been stolen.

"On more than one occasion his parents have been sent frantic by calls from the police to say he has been arrested, only to go to the police station to find it's not him," she said.

"He receives threatening letters and court summonses from train companies on whose trains he's never travelled."

Mr Blair said he looked forward to her support on the Identity Cards Bill, republished today after it fell at the end of the last Parliament.

He added that perhaps even Tory leader Michael Howard would back the measures having been "a great advocate" of them in the past.

Meanwhile, the estimated cost of buying a new national ID card has risen again to £93, it was revealed.

Home Office documents confirmed the previous best guess of £88 had not included VAT and other extras.

The average annual running cost for issuing the controversial cards alongside passports was put at £584 million.

The £93 charge would eventually be imposed on every British adult for their passport and a new "biometric" identity card carrying details such as their fingerprints.

Results of a pilot project which took the fingerprints and a digital scan of thefaces and irises of 10,000 volunteers were also published today.

It revealed the facial verification system, which measures the distance between a person's features, was the least successful technology.

Success rates were 69% for a representative sample of 2,000 people and 48% in a sample of 750 disabled people. Fingerprint verification was successful in 81% of the representative sample and 80% among the disabled.

Iris verification was a success in 96% overall and 91% among the disabled volunteers, the results showed.

It took just under eight minutes to carry out the enrolment process in the sample of 2,000.

The Transport and General Workers Union said the Bill was an "enormous, costlyand unnecessary diversion".

Assistant general secretary Barry Camfield said: "ID cards will cost over £5 billion and are based on flawed ideas and unproven technology.

"Instead of funding a new Big Brother society with all the adverse implications for our civil liberties, that money should be used to invest in our public services and manufacturing where it will deliver real benefits to people."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: "The horrendous economic costs of the ID card scheme are clear, the social costs will be with us for decades.

"Parliament must reject this rehashed ID card Bill, a scheme more about political machismo than rational policy.

"Liberty recalls the welcome humility with which the Prime Minister addressed the nation after the General Election.

"He reflected upon his much reduced parliamentary majority and the lowest share of the popular vote of a majority Government in living memory.

"He promised a more consensual approach and to listen more. The decision to push ahead with this ill-conceived scheme shows how little he actually heard."

John Cridland, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said: "ID cards could be a positive step towards tackling identity theft, which is an increasing threat to companies and consumers, estimated to be costing £1.3 billion a year.

"They could also make a significant contribution to improving the efficiency of public services by making it easier to exchange data within the public sector, and between the public and private sector.

"But firms are concerned about information being shared without adequate safeguards.

"Companies want more information on the national identity registry and serious questions remain unanswered.

"What types of data will be stored? How will the Government assure accuracy and integrity?

"The bill introduced in the last Parliament was extremely vague on these issues and raised real worries."

Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said there were no substantive changes to the Bill."In essence it is the same Bill," he said.

Mr McNulty denied it was being put forward now to catch opponents off-guard.

He told BBC Radio Four's the World at One: "We made this a very strong commitment in the manifesto and made very clear during the election that this would be a Bill, given that it has gone through many of the stages already in parliamentary terms, that we would bring back as soon as we possibly could."

Mr McNulty acknowledged some concerns had emerged about the Bill and he accepted there would be some "teething problems" with the biometric cards.

He added: "I would hope and I think we will secure the Bill."

Senior Conservative backbencher Edward Leigh, an opponent of ID cards, said it was "inconceivable" that his party would back the new bill.

Tory leader Michael Howard, who personally supports ID cards, gave his party's support to their introduction in the last Parliament.

But Mr Leigh told BBC Radio 4's World at One: "I think that the party has a very firm position. We have said that we will never support it unless the Government can provide various reassurances.

"They can't possibly ever meet those reassurances."

He added: "It is inconceivable that the Conservative Party will vote for this measure. We will oppose it, I'm very confident."