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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 October, 2003, 00:48 GMT 01:48 UK
'Cabinet split' over ID cards
Jack Straw
The Sunday Times says it has seen a letter from Jack Straw

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has attacked plans for compulsory identity cards as "flawed" and potentially harmful for the government, according to a Sunday newspaper report.

The Sunday Times claims to have seen leaked letters from the foreign secretary, and Treasury Minister Paul Boateng, which condemn the plans drawn up by Home Secretary David Blunkett.

Confidential letters were sent to cabinet colleagues a few days before Mr Blunkett's plans were backed from Tony Blair at the Labour Party conference, said the paper.

The home secretary has said the cards would help track illegal immigrants and restrict access to public services.

People would not have to carry them, but would have to produce them if asked to do so by authorities.

'Off the agenda'

The newspaper said the documents also reveal the cards would be free for asylum seekers, 40 for British citizens, and 5 for those on state benefits and the retired under-75s.

The report claims the revelations make it "highly unlikely" the ID cards scheme will make it into the Queen's Speech, which outlines the government's legislative plans for the forthcoming session of Parliament, in November.

Mock up ID card
Mr Blunkett and colleagues have argued over the issue
Last month the home secretary said he wanted to push on with his plans while he admitted he had argued with his ministerial colleagues over the idea.

But the Sunday Times claims the leaked letters reveal the full depth of the cabinet rift.

It names Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, Transport Secretary Alistair Darling and Trade Secretary Patrica Hewitt as the main opposers to the scheme.

The letter from Mr Straw to Mr Blunkett, dated 24 September and copied to Mr Blair, reportedly said: "I believe the proposed plan is flawed and no tinkering with particular issues will be able to resolve what is a fundamental political matter."

He is quoted as questioning how the government would get people to accept the fee system, when asylum seekers are given the card free.

The newspaper said he added: "The potential for a large-scale debacle which harms the government is great."

Mr Boateng is reported to have written to Mr Blunkett warning the card charges could be classified as a tax by the National Office of Statistics.

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