Page last updated at 14:55 GMT, Friday, 20 February 2009

ID card reviews 'to be published'

ID cards
The government's ID cards scheme has proved controversial

Ministers have been ordered to publish two reviews into the controversial ID cards scheme after a four-year Freedom of Information battle.

The independent "Gateway" reviews look at the progress and likely success of government projects at various stages.

Critics say the government has a poor track record in delivering big IT projects and publishing them would allow better scrutiny.

The government says confidentiality is a crucial part of the reviews' process.

In a judgement published on Friday, the Information Tribunal - which hears appeals against FOI rulings - ordered both reports be disclosed within 28 days.

Decision making

But it said the names of contributors to the reports could be withheld.

The Tribunal said it endorsed the view that there was public interest in disclosing the reviews.

In its ruling, it said: "First, there is an undoubted debate as to the merits of the scheme, second, there are the practicalities involved and third, there is the history as to the decision-making which underlies the scheme and which continues even today."

The Information Tribunal has concluded that neither they nor the information commissioner believe all Gateway reviews should be disclosed
Office of Government Commerce

The two reviews were carried out in 2003 and 2004 - before the publication of the draft Identity Cards Bill.

In January 2005 Mark Dziecielewski, a member of the NO2ID campaign, made an FOI request to see them, before MPs were due to debate the Identity Cards Bill.

The Office of Government Commerce was ordered to publish the documents in 2006 but the OGC appealed against the ruling, which has since been considered by the Information Tribunal and the High Court, before being sent back to the tribunal.

'Toxic'

During the hearings Sir Peter Gershon, the first chief executive of the Office for Government Commerce, argued that disclosing the reviews would undermine their core principles of confidentiality and objectivity.

He said the Gateway reviews process had saved the government about £1.45bn of wasted or avoidable costs between 2003 and 2005 - and people would be put off from participating, or more inclined to offer "bland and anodyne reports" if they thought they would be published.

Speaking after the tribunal's ruling, an OGC spokesman said: "The Information Tribunal has concluded that neither they nor the information commissioner believe all Gateway reviews should be disclosed.

"It has made clear that its decision refers only to this specific request and does not set any precedent. We are currently assessing the detail of the Information Tribunal's decision and will respond in full in due course."

NO2ID national coordinator Phil Booth said the ruling meant "we are back at the same place were at last year" with the government "trying to avoid have a precedent set on the release of OGC Gateway reviews in general".

He said he did not expect the ID card reports to contain anything that would be a major source of embarrassment to ministers but he accused the government of flouting the spirit of FOI laws of which they were once so "proud" in order to block the publication of information on major capital spending projects, which the public had a right to see.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: "The government is increasingly realising that its ID card scheme is a laminated poll tax with all the same toxic ability to make it unpopular.

"Ministers would win more plaudits if they did not drag their feet on their legal obligations."

Both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives oppose the plan to introduce ID cards and say they would scrap it if they were in power. The overall cost of the scheme over the next ten years is estimated at about £5.1bn.

Since November, ID cards have been compulsory for foreign nationals living in the UK and will become mandatory for workers at Manchester and London City airport in an 18-month pilot later this year.

The cards, which will contain details of a person's fingerprints, name, date of birth and address, will then be offered to the rest of the population from 2011.



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