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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 November, 2003, 11:48 GMT
ID cards plan within 10 years
ID card
A compulsory ID card is unlikely for some years
Measures to create a national identity card system have been announced in the Queen's Speech.

Legislation will create a national register and powers for compulsory cards.

Passports and driving licences will include fingerprints within five years.

The measures made it into the speech after Home Secretary David Blunkett scraped through a Cabinet battled to keep the plan on the table.

Under the scheme, the government aims to create an identity system which it believes will tackle illegal working and immigration, disrupt organised crime and terrorism and prevent abuse of public services and benefits.

At the heart of the system will be a central database which holds data on every legal resident of the UK.

New laws will allow law enforcement agencies and other public bodies such as the NHS to use the system to check the identity of a person.

Safeguards promised

The government says the paving legislation will include safeguards to prevent abuse such as rules in how law enforcement agencies would be allowed access to information without consent.

David Blunkett
Aid counter-terrorism
Stop illegal immigration and working
Cut benefit fraud
Cut abuse of public services
Prevent identity theft
Existing passports and driving licences operations will be brought into the scheme as a first stage of converting the documents to a modern card by 2008.

These new cards would be based on a system recording 'biometric' data such as fingerprints or a scan of the iris - something the government believes would be impossible to forge.

But the two most controversial elements of the scheme are how it would be used by public services and the issue of compulsion.

Under the draft bill, ministers will have powers to change the system to prevent people using specific public services if they do not produce a valid ID card.

Secondly, ministers will have the power to set a future date when the carrying or production of ID cards would become compulsory.

Speaking before the proposals were outlined, David Blunkett said he believed this date would come on or after 2013 because by that time most people would have the new biometric documents.

The set-up costs of the basic system are expected to be at least 180m, rising to 3bn by the time it would be ready for compulsion.

Mr Blunkett has suggested individuals would be required to pay 35 for their card.

Cabinet splits

Mr Blunkett succeeded in getting ID card proposals into the Queen's Speech after a tough Cabinet battle which is thought to have seen five ministers oppose the plan on grounds of cost or erosion of civil liberties.

The 10-year plan in the bill is a heavily watered-down version of Mr Blunkett's original proposals which would have seen ID cards come into force much more quickly.

But Conservatives say the plan is "half-baked" because there would be no point in having identity cards if they are not compulsory.

A BBC poll of 101 Labour MPs found 55 wanted the government to do more research into the benefits of the scheme before committing itself to the expected enormous costs.

The home secretary is also expected to face a battle against the scheme in Scotland where the devolved Scottish executive has declared itself opposed to the scheme.

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