Simon Carr: The Sketch

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Thank heaven for open minds. We can still be swayed on identity cards by new information. I have suddenly seen an enormous upside to them. It was the call I had yesterday afternoon. It said: "Dad, I want to take my degree on to a PhD."

My son's doing computer science at Imperial. He'll be a doctor at just the right time, the speed these things go. The massive and incalculable over-runs in this government project could save me from an old age of poverty, misery and early death.

On the other hand, every time I hear the words "national identity register" I get a little frisson of revulsion. Especially when the Government asks us to trust them. Trust the Government? To do what?

The Lords have amended the Bill and Downing Street seems to have accepted a whopping concession on compulsion. If you remember, the Government had originally emphasised how voluntary the cards were - but sneaked in a provision to be able to make them compulsory. They now accept there will have to be primary legislation to make the scheme compulsory.

But, of course, as Edward Garnier pointed out for the Tories, when it comes to this measure, the Government front bench is a sack of evil weevils. He phrased it pretty much in those terms, I regret to say.

The scheme will be compulsory more or less at once. If you apply for a "designated document", you'll have to go on the national identity register (shiver). A passport is a designated document. When about 50 per cent of people have a "voluntary" card, Tony McNulty says, they will think about making it compulsory. Eighty per cent of people have a passport.

John Denham foresaw a bumpy introduction but rapid improvement, much like the Criminal Records Office experience. I see it going the opposite way with a smooth introduction as our passport details are copied and pasted into the national identity register (flinch). But then the evil weevils will get to work and degrade the pristine data. These weevils, by the way, aren't the hundreds of thousands of public servants and private identity checkers.

No, mere sloth and indolence will cause statistical entropy to increase as people move house, or become Irish citizens or change eye colour. Then organised criminals will hack into the database. Then machines will misread data and the computers will break down. Then human rights lawsuits will run into 10 figures and terrorists with ID cards will fly a plane into the House of Commons and it will all be a hilarious example of government hubris that future generations will cherish.

I'm all in favour of it, as my clever son will be charging the Home Office £1,000 an hour to sort out something that can't be sorted out (think of the overtime!).