Your chance to be one of the first to carry an ID card

Government offers fast-track scheme that could begin next autumn
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IT IS a system familiar to anyone wanting rare tickets to see a superstar such as Madonna, or avid festival-goers hoping to bag tickets for Glastonbury, registering their interest online along with thousands of others in the hope that they will be among the lucky few to be selected. Now the Government says that popular demand has convinced it to adopt the system for one of its own schemes: ID cards.

People will be able to register their interest in having a card early by entering their details on a pre-registration website at the start of next year. A lucky few will then be issued with their cards as soon as next autumn. It will mean that some people will have an ID card in less than a year, about two years ahead of the Government's original plans.

The cards were originally scheduled to be rolled out publicly from 2011. The Home Office would not reveal how many people would be included as part of the fast-track programme. The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, said that the scheme was in response to demand for the cards from the public.

"As I go around the country, I regularly have people coming up to me and saying they don't want to wait that long," she said yesterday. "I now want to put that to the test, and find a way to allow those people who want a card sooner to be able to pre-register their interest as early as the first few months of next year."

Government officials expect many of those wanting an ID card early to be people without a passport, wanting to travel in Europe. The ID cards, which can be used to travel within the EU, will cost £30, less than half the £72 for a passport.

Critics said the fast-tracking of some ID cards was an attempt by the Government to counteract claims that it was back-tracking on its controversial scheme, after it announced that only two airports would be involved in an 18-month trial of the cards among aviation workers.

Manchester and London City airports will be in the government-funded trial, which will involve the issuing of about 20,000 ID cards. "We are seeing a rather transparent attempt to save some ministerial face," said Phil Booth, of the NO2ID campaign. The shadow Home Secretary, Dominic Grieve, said the Government's determination to press on with the £5bn ID card scheme was "reckless in the extreme".

Some airside workers said the Government's scheme would not make the country any more secure. "The Government appears intent on using aviation workers as guinea pigs," said Garry Graham, from the airside worker union, Prospect. "Its proposals have more to do with seeking to grab news headlines than a cool and calm appraisal as to what steps need to be taken to enhance aviation safety."

Handing cards to people early could also scupper plans by the Conservatives to scrap the scheme should they win the next election. Ms Smith also confirmed that high street stores, such as Boots or post offices, are to be invited to set up centres for the collection of biometric data, such as fingerprints and face scans. Attempts to keep costs down are thought to be behind Government plans to hand the collection of data to private firms.

Anyone wanting an ID card will have to pay to have their biometric information taken on top of the £30 cost of the card itself.