Thu, Nov 13, 2003 - Page 1 News List

UK to press ahead with ID-card plan

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Millions of people in Britain will start receiving their compulsory national identity cards in only four years time under detailed plans unveiled by Home Secretary David Blunkett on Tuesday.

Under legislation to be published in January, the 5 million people who apply each year for a passport or driving license will automatically be issued with an identity card and their personal details stored on a new national identity computer database.

Blunkett made clear on Tuesday that they will also have to undergo high-tech electronic eye and fingerprint scans to ensure that the new combined ID card/passport or driving license cannot be forged.

The identity card will also be compulsory from 2007 for a further 4.6 million foreign nationals living in Britain.

"We anticipate we can get the database up and running within three years and we will start with passports and foreign nationals," Blunkett said .

He expects that within a further five years more than 80 percent of the population will have the new identity cards.

The full extent of Blunkett's victory in the Cabinet battle over identity cards only really became clear on Tuesday when he announced his detailed plans for its two-stage implementation.

The home secretary could not resist chuckling over how the Cabinet ID card revolt led by Chancellor Gordon Brown and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had been faced down.

"That's the beauty of collective decisions. When you make a collective decision, they apply collectively," he said.

Earlier, Blunkett had even claimed that the government had avoided his "becoming the Barbara Castle of 2003" -- referring to a Cabinet revolt in 1969 which led to the decision to ditch her trade union reforms.

Few Cabinet ministers turned up in the House of Commons to support Blunkett, but Prime Minister Tony Blair, an enthusiast for the carefully crafted proposals, gave his personal support, saying: "If we are going to have the right security and the right systems within our public services for the future we do need to contemplate things that maybe a few decades ago we wouldn't."

Blunkett has been forced to accept a 12-month delay in the legislation setting up his identity card scheme until next autumn, but he can press ahead with the preparatory work in the meantime.

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