£40 identity card shelved

by DAVID HUGHES, Daily Mail

Plans for compulsory ID cards have been dropped from next month's Queen's Speech after strong opposition led by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

David Blunkett had wanted to force everyone to pay £40 for a card - although asylum seekers would get theirs free.

Under his proposal - which is backed by Tony Blair - those who are over 75 or on state benefits would pay a reduced rate of £5.

Mr Blunkett believes the cards are vital in the battle to curb illegal immigration and to help foil international terrorism.

But fierce resistance led by Mr Straw, who objects on civil liberties grounds, has led to a Cabinet deadlock.

Downing Street now concedes that despite the Premier's personal backing in his party conference speech in Bournemouth, there is no chance of securing agreement for the idea in time for the new legislative programme.

Ministers say that in reality, that means it has been shelved until after the next general election as no government would try to introduce a compulsory £40 ID card in the run-up to polling day.

It is a serious setback for Mr Blunkett who is furious about what he regards as "sabotage" by Mr Straw.

A critical six-page letter written by the Foreign Secretary to Mr Blunkett and copied to the Prime Minister was leaked over the weekend.

It was sent two weeks ago, just before Mr Blair publicly backed the idea of ID cards in his conference speech as being "no longer an affront to civil liberties but maybe a way of protecting them".

In it, Mr Straw says the proposal is "flawed" and warns that

"the potential for a large-scale debacle which harms the Government is great".

He makes no attempt to disguise the rift with Mr Blunkett over the issue.

"We remain as far apart as ever on the acceptability of charging," he says. "How will we get people to accept a fee system when asylum seekers get the card free?"

Mr Straw also questioned the practicality of ensuring everyone providesa "biometric sample" such as a iris impression or fingerprint "while no effective procedures are in place for those who refuse".

The Foreign Secretary goes on to insist that "any further decisions on the next steps must be made collectively. I will continue to urge strongly that that this issue be shelved".

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt, and Transport Secretary Alistair Darling are all unhappy about the scheme.

Its supporters include Health Secretary John Reid, Education Secretary Charles Clarke and Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, who are all regarded as Blairite modernisers.

The Treasury also has reservations about ID cards on grounds of cost but has yet to take a formal position on the issue.

A letter from Treasury Chief Secretary Paul Boateng - also leaked over the weekend - warns of a potential political backlash.

He points out that as a "fully compulsory charge" the fee would be regarded by the Office for National Statistics as a tax.

A Home Office spokesman said Mr Blunkett would hold a full debate on ID cards as it was such a momentous issue. "That's the stage we are at now," he added.

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