Howard faces revolt over ID cards

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Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, faces possible defeat over even the weakest plans for voluntary identity cards, according to a Harris opinion poll of MPs which will disappoint Conservative grassroots members keen for new measures against crime.

The poll found that 18 per cent of Tory MPs are opposed to a voluntary scheme based on the new photo driving licence - the option that Mr Howard is expected to announce at October's party conference in Blackpool. Twenty four per cent would prefer no change at all - an option included in Mr Howard's Green Paper on identity cards after pressure from Euro-sceptic and libertarian elements in the party.

The Euro-sceptics are suspicious of any move towards identity cards as a prelude to a Europe-wide system which would mean abolishing Britain's border controls, while others on both left and right of the party fear an erosion of civil liberties. The combination of Euro-rebels and maverick libertarians promises a serious revolt over almost any measure.

"We have frequently found that the Government's measures run into trouble when about a quarter or more Conservatives in our surveys say they are prepared to vote with the Opposition," said Andrew Hawkins, of Harris Research. A majority of Labour MPs appear to oppose any scheme except an explicitly voluntary one. The poll appears to sound the death knell for compulsory ID cards, opposed by 43 per cent of Tory, and 61 per cent of all MPs.

Mr Howard is believed to have rejected police demands to create a new offence of failing to carry a driving licence. The Association of Chief Police Officers denies that making the carrying of licences mandatory would be "the introduction of identity cards by stealth".

t Most MPs believe the number of parliamentary private secretaries - backbench MPs who act as ministers unpaid informants - is too high, says a poll published today. Of 151 MPs questioned by Harris for the Parliamentary Monitor magazine, 66 per cent of Tories and 61 per cent of Labour MPs said the number was excessive.

ID cards: The options

Tory MPs Support Oppose

No change 24% 72%

Voluntary ID card 61% 36%

New photo driving licence

as de facto ID card 78% 18%

Compulsory ID card 54% 43%