Computer problems likely to delay identity cards

Click to follow
Indy Politics

The Government fears it may have to delay the date at which all Britons will be issued with identity cards because of growing alarm over the computer system that would run the scheme.

As MPs delivered a scathing verdict on other Whitehall computer bungles, the Home Office conceded that the ID card scheme might not happen until 2014 - the previous official target date was 2013.

There are also growing doubts within the IT industry whether the planned date of 2007 for launching the ID database is realistic.

Several major companies are vying to supply the computer systems that will underpin ID cards. The potential problems were underlined yesterday by the Public Accounts Committee, the Commons financial watchdog, which accused the Government of failing to carry out basic checks on high-risk Whitehall IT projects. It said they were still too often characterised by "delay, overspends, poor performance and abandonment".

Edward Leigh, its chairman, said the ID cards contract would be the most complex ever awarded by ministers. He said: "Given the Government's track-record in this area, it is extremely problematic whether they have any hope of developing this project on time or to budget."

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "Many concerns have been raised about ID cards, all of which the Government have refused to address. Now we see the timetable slipping. This is not surprising given the Government's appalling record at delivering technology on time and on budget."

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, has been stung by the backlash against ID cards, and jitters over the scheme extend to No 10. Last week, in an attempt to win over backbench critics, Mr Clarke signalled a series of possible concessions to the detail of the ID Cards Bill but made clear he would not compromise on its principle.

Ministers were accused yesterday of trying to "steamroller" the Bill through the Commons after MPs were given the equivalent of five days' detailed debate on the legislation. Twenty Labour MPs who rebelled over the Bill last week were excluded from the standing committee that will scrutinise its detail. Labour loyalists dominate the committee.

Edward Garnier, a Tory home affairs spokesman, said large parts of the legislation would escape debate. "We are never going to be able to debate this in a sensible way. We will get to the stage where the Government will impose guillotines or knives, so large parts of the Bill will not have been scrutinised when it goes to the House of Lords."

There are no government amendments among the 120 currently tabled for the Bill's committee stage. But Labour left-wingers believe their concerns about ID cards will not be met by technical amendments in detailed debate on the Bill. They want to scrap plans for a national identity database and are demanding safeguards over the security of information held on people and the potential cost of a card. John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, said: "If the Government wants to ensure the Bill fails by stacking the committee, they are going the right way about it. This is a disastrous tactic and will simply build opposition to the Bill."