Page last updated at 18:49 GMT, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Government is 'mis-selling' ID cards - Tories

Home Secretary Alan Johnson with his newly issued National Identity Card
Alan Johnson has been selling what he says are the benefits of ID cards

The Conservatives have accused the government of "miss-selling" ID cards after Alistair Darling appeared to suggest they would be scrapped.

The Treasury insists the chancellor was simply restating the government's position when he said there was no need to go further than biometric passports.

But the Tories have written to Gordon Brown demanding clarification.

ID cards are to be made available across north-west England for a £30 fee after a trial in Manchester.

In an interview with Saturday's Daily Telegraph, Mr Darling - who is under pressure to cut public spending in order to tackle Britain's record deficit - appeared to suggest that ID cards would be added to the list of projects, such as the NHS IT system, that would have to be scaled back.

Not compulsory

He said: "Most of the expenditure is on biometric passports which you and I are going to require shortly to get into the US. Do we need to go further than that? Well, probably not.''

The Treasury said Mr Darling was merely restating Home Secretary Alan Johnson's policy that ID cards would not be made compulsory for British citizens within the lifetime of the next Parliament.

Identity cards are here and now. Already more than 1,000 cards have been issued since their launch
Home Office

A Treasury spokesman said the chancellor did not want ID cards scrapped and was fully behind the national roll-out of the scheme.

The Home Office also denied Mr Darling's comments spelled the end for the controversial scheme.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "Identity cards are here and now. Already more than 1,000 cards have been issued since their launch, with enrolment appointments filling up fast.

"Next year we will expand the service into new areas in the north west of England.

"This means even more people can take advantage of the £30 credit-card sized document, which provides a secure and convenient way for people to prove their identity when they are undertaking individual transactions or buying age-restricted goods.

"The cards can also be used in place of a passport for travel throughout Europe."

'Blatant mis-selling'

People living in Lancashire, Cheshire, Merseyside and Cumbria will be able to apply for ID cards from 4 January next year, the government has said.

The cards were made available to people living in Manchester at the end of November.

Since then more than 2,400 people have applied for a card and more than 1,200 have been issued.

That includes those issued to civil servants at the Home Office and the Identity and Passport Service.

But Chris Grayling, for the Conservatives, who along with the Lib Dems want the ID card scheme scrapped, accused the government of misleading people.

He said: "This is nothing short of a deception of the people of the North West.

"We now know that the chancellor of the exchequer is planning to scrap ID cards. Yet the Home Office is still encouraging people to sign up for a card. It's blatant mis-selling."

Mr Grayling has written to the prime minister asking for clarification on the government's ID card policy.

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