Fraser Nelson

The government’s identity crisis

The government's identity crisis
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There were genuine gasps of amazement in the chamber when Darling unveiled the scale of this disaster. If you have a child, and receive child benefit, your bank details are right now on the loose. Sort code and account number, together with your address and age of your child – details of 25m people in 7m families: every parent in the land. This data goldmine was downloaded onto two CDs on 18 Oct by a “junior official” (the fact that it’s so easy to do this is, is in itself, an outrage) and sent from HM Revenue Customs & Excise in Newcastle to the National Audit Office in London (who say they never asked for such detail in the first place). The CDs never arrived. And no one has a clue where they are.

Explaining this to the House, Alistair Darling looked exhausted and defeated. He’s known about this since last weekend. Last Monday, it looked like the CDs may turn up (still stuck inside some guy’s Arctic Monkey’s sleeve by mistake, I like to think) but by Wednesday he called in the Met. He tried the “wisnae me” line, naming and shaming the courier company TNT and protesting that HMRC has “operational independence” (not when Brown ordered its merger with Inland Revenue it didn’t).

Darling’s voice was faltering, and even Labour MPs looked devastated rather than supportive. Jack Straw kept looking the other way, as if he was trying to pretend nothing was happening like an owner of a dog against a lamppost. The top two Labour benches, outside camera focus, were almost empty. How very telling.

Update: In the Commons, Darling said that anyone who suffers as a result of this would be protected. We later learn this is no Northern Rock-style promise, he's simply restating statutory protection. But any parent stung by identity fraudster from now on will suspect the missing CDs are to blame. This could get much, much worse.

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice and the Centre for Policy Studies.

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