§ Beverley Hughes
[holding answer 9 July 2002]: My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made a statement to the House on 3 July 2002 announcing the publication of a consultation paper on Entitlement Cards and Identity Fraud. The consultation period will last until 10 January 2003. The Government have made it clear that the introduction of an entitlement card would be a major step and that it would not proceed without consulting widely and considering all the views expressed very carefully. The consultation paper rules out a scheme where it would be compulsory to carry a card but does raise the option of a universal scheme where everyone would have to register and obtain a card.
The paper includes a number of estimates of what a scheme would cost, depending on the sophistication of the card. A reasonable estimate would be that a scheme would cost around £1.3 billion over a 13-year period covering the three years it would take to set up the necessary information technology systems and the 10-year period for which the first cards would be valid.
This would include much more stringent identity checks than currently apply for passports and driving licences in response to increased levels of fraudulent applications.
It would also include the costs of using biometric information (fingerprints or iris images) which would uniquely link the card holder with a card.
A universal entitlement card would be a powerful weapon in the fight against crimes of identity fraud which cost the economy at least £1.3 billion each year. It could also help to combat illegal immigration and illegal working. The degree to which a card scheme could reduce these crimes would depend on the type of card scheme introduced, to what services it was linked and the speed of its introduction. The Government will be consulting on these and other issues during the consultation exercise.