ID cards will be useful for picking up parcels, the government says
Young people should take up identity cards as a "convenient" way of proving their age in nightclubs and bars, a Home Office minister has said.
Meg Hillier said the cards would also make it easier to prove identity at the post office when picking up parcels.
But former shadow home secretary David Davis, for the Tories, said: "This is a far from robust defence of one of their most expensive follies."
The first cards will be available in Greater Manchester later this month.
Ministers plan to launch the £30 biometric ID card nationwide in 2011 or 2012, but it will not be compulsory.
'Pretty good going'
The government argues it will help combat identity fraud, crime and terrorism.
The pilot scheme in Greater Manchester starts on 30 November.
Ms Hillier said replacing lost ID cards would be cheaper and quicker than replacing passports, used by many to gain entry to licensed premises.
She told BBC Radio 4's programme: "They are £30, compared with a £77.50 passport, which is pretty good going for something which proves identity and allows travel in Europe."
She added: "Greater Manchester has got among the highest number of young people in a single area across Europe.
"People often take their passports to prove their identity, going to nightclubs and bars and the Passport Service sweeps these up every week.
"For a lot of young people this will save the cost and the hassle of risking losing it, and instead we have got this very convenient credit-sized card.
"I've got one. It's very convenient."
The card is similar in look to a UK driving licence but holds more data, including two fingerprints and a photograph encoded on a chip.
This chip and its unique number in turn links the card to a national identity register which, under current legislation, could hold more information about the identity of the individual.
Ms Hillier said the information would be held on several different databases, each containing different aspects of the holder's personal information.
2008: Foreign National ID card launched
2009: UK ID card offered in Greater Manchester
2010: Scheme extended across NW England
June 2010: Last possible date for general election
2011-12: Nationwide roll-out?
This would make the system more secure, she added.
Ms Hillier said: "On a day-to-day basis, you could use it to do things like prove who you are at the post office when you pick up a parcel."
The card can be used as a travel document within Europe, separate to the passport, similar to arrangements between other EU member states.
In June, the Home Office dropped plans to make the ID card compulsory for 200,000 airport workers amid widespread opposition from inside the industry that it would do nothing to improve the security procedures already in place.
This means only some foreign nationals are currently obliged to hold a card.
The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and civil rights campaigners say ID cards are a waste of money and will not improve national security.
The scheme is said to cost £5bn, although the London School of Economics estimates it will cost between £10bn and £20bn.
Shadow immigration minister Damian Green said: "I would advise anyone in Manchester not to bother wasting £30 on an identity card as a Conservative government would scrap this expensive, intrusive and unworkable scheme. The Government shouldn't hoodwink anyone in Manchester that there are benefits to this card."
Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have said they would abolish ID cards if they win the next election.
UK NATIONAL ID CARD: KEY FEATURES EXPLAINED
1. Symbol meaning a chip is embedded in the card
2. ID card number
3. Citizenship. Foreign nationals in the UK are being given different cards.
4. Place of birth
5. Signature - digitally embedded in the card
6. Date of card issue and date it becomes invalid
7. Photo taken to biometric standards
8. Biometric chip holds fingerprint record
9. Swipe zone. Information which can be automatically read by computer