Straw plans to issue teenagers with identity cards

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The Independent Online

Teenagers are to be issued with identity cards under government plans to crack downon under-age drinking and smoking.

Teenagers are to be issued with identity cards under government plans to crack downon under-age drinking and smoking.

The scheme, which has the backing of Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, is being devised in an attempt to reduce alcohol-related crime and protect children's health.

But critics are sure to seize on the proposal as a first step towards a national identity card for adults, a move long opposed by many Labour supporters and MPs. Under the plans, shopkeepers and pub landlords can refuse sales to any youngster who fails to carry the "proof of age" card.

The Home Office wants the new hi-tech card to be an expanded version of the Department for Education's Connexions card, which offers discounts in shops for teenagers who stay on at school. In one version being considered, the smartcard could carry national insurance and Department of Social Security details as well as education information and a date of birth and a photograph.

Unlike other European countries, Britain has always refused to force its citizens to carry identity cards and the proposals will infuriate civil liberty groups. But recent figures show that the number of sales of alcohol, cigarettes and solvents to those under-age has soared, and ministers are determined to find a cross-Whitehall solution.

A government source: "It may be controversial, but a national card scheme could be a very effective means of combating the problems of under-age sales."

A new survey of retailers found that 92 per cent of shopkeepers want a government-run proof-of-age card, to stamp out under-age sales. Most shopkeepers are forced to refuse to serve youngsters almost daily, the poll for Independent Retail News found.

Yvette Cooper, the Public Health minister, unveiled a joint protocol with local authorities aimed at cracking down on cigarette sales to children. It called on trading standards departments to use more "child spies" to trap shopkeepers who sell tobacco to under-16s without checks.

The idea of a proof-of-age card is already backed by the local authority trading standards body, Lacots, which joined Ms Cooper at the launch.

A spokesman for Lacots said: "We certainly want something that helps to clarify the plethora of different regulations and want to see some consistency in the form of a national proof-of-age scheme."

Under the Home Office-led proposals, which are intended to be introduced immediately after the next election, all 16-year-olds would be issued with the smartcards. The law will place a legal duty on anyone selling alcohol to satisfy themselves that customers are aged 18 or over, by asking to see the card. Based on proposals in the Time for Reform White Paper, the law would apply to pubs, off-licences, supermarkets and newsagents.

Earlier this summer, the Portman Group, which represents the big brewers, published a Mori opinion poll claiming that 91 per cent of the pubic believed wider use of identity cards could help to cut under-age drinking. Some 83 per cent wanted compulsory cards.

The current plans will build on a pilot scheme in Scotland to issue cards to thousands of schoolchildren in a campaign to tackle drinking and smoking. The £80,000 scheme will be tested in Glasgow, where every secondary school pupil will be issued with a card.