The government’s chief whip in the House of Lords has underlined ministers’ refusal to publish “gateway reviews” of its controversial £5.3bn ID cards scheme.
Last month, the government launched a high court appeal against a ruling by the Information Tribunal that the reviews carried out by the Office of Government Commerce should be published in line with requests made under the Freedom of Information Act.
The ID scheme is set to come under even greater scrutiny when Gordon Brown takes over from Tony Blair as prime minister – a transfer of power that is expected to produce shifts in controversial areas of government policy. As Brown prepares to move into Number 10, James Hall, head of the Identity and Passport service confirmed that procurement for the scheme has been delayed, saying it was "not quite ready yet".
But in response to a debate on government IT projects initiated by Conservative backbench peer Lord Lucas, the government’s representative, chief whip Lord Davies of Oldham, restated opposition to making the review information public.
“In the government’s view, disclosure would seriously undermine the effectiveness of the gateway process, as confidentiality is essential to the whole process,” he said.
Lord Davies added: “The process is a crucial management tool to improve the success of the government’s projects and programmes. In our view, it is just not in the public interest to put that effectiveness at risk by disclosing the information in the two reports in this case.”
The chief whip acknowledged that his response would “disappoint nearly everyone who spoke in the debate”, but said a balance had to be struck between “the undoubted merits of openness about the government’s actions” and areas where “very delicate confidentiality issues” were involved.