Page last updated at 18:09 GMT, Thursday, 29 January 2009

Manchester 'could pilot ID cards'

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith explains the government's ID card scheme to a class of school children
Ministers say public support for ID cards is high

Manchester could be one of the testing grounds for the government's ID cards scheme, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has said during a visit to the city.

Manchester would be "in the running" to take part in the next phase of the scheme, she said, in which young people will be encouraged to apply for cards.

Ms Smith said many young people saw the need for ID cards to prove their identity in a "safe and secure way".

But civil liberties groups accused her of trying to "indoctrinate" youngsters.

'Real benefits'

Critics argue the cards will be hugely expensive, invasive and will not help in the fight against terrorism and organised crime as the government believes.

Ministers will give details later this year of a number of so-called "beacon areas" where people aged over 16 will be able to volunteer for cards.

As the cards become more widely available, the whole country will see real benefits
Jacqui Smith, Home Secretary

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.

After taking part in a discussion on the ID scheme at a school in the Wythenshawe area of Manchester, Ms Smith said people saw the merits of the cards - which will cost £30 each.

"I think having talked to young people this morning that having a safe and secure way of proving your identity is something they want and something they need," she said.

"We are saying that if you think it has got benefits for you, for only £30 you can register with the scheme and you have got a card to prove who you are as you start out on life."

Since November, ID cards have been compulsory for foreign nationals living in the UK and officials estimate 50,000 such cards will have been issued by April.

Cards will also become mandatory for workers at Manchester and London City airport later this autumn as the government presses ahead with the rollout of the scheme to workers in sensitive jobs and locations.

Seeking to allay concerns about privacy and the security of personal data, Ms Smith said an independent commissioner would be appointed to "monitor" the system and protect the interest of citizens.

"As the cards become more widely available, the whole country will see real benefits," the home secretary added.

'Guinea pigs'

But civil liberties campaigners warned people against becoming "guinea pigs" for the scheme which they described as "divisive".

"Schools are places for education and not indoctrination," said Sabina Frediani, campaigns co-ordinator for Liberty.

"We urge the home secretary to reconsider the appropriateness of pushing ID cards to our kids."

A nationwide system of ID cards will cost about £4.8bn over the next decade, according to the government's latest estimates, but opponents say the ultimate cost will be far higher.

The Conservatives and Lib Dems have both said they would scrap the scheme.

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