Blair shelves ID card plan amid fears of public outcry

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Plans to introduce identity cards for every citizen in Britain have been shelved after protests from ministers who argued that they were "flawed" and would spark a political backlash.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, had been pushing for a Bill introducing ID cards to be included in next month's Queen's Speech, but Downing Street has abandoned that plan in the face of objections from cabinet ministers.

The move will be a blow to Mr Blunkett, who saw compulsory ID cards, which would include biometric data such as an iris scan or fingerprint, as a way of tracking illegal immigrants.

Other ministers, including Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, have said that they may compromise civil liberties and prove politically damaging.

In a letter to Mr Blunkett, dated 24 September, which was also sent to Tony Blair, Mr Straw warned: "The proposed plan is flawed and no tinkering with particular issues will be able to resolve what is a fundamental political matter.

"The potential for a large- scale debacle which harms the Government is great, and any further decisions on the next steps must be made collectively. I will continue to urge strongly that this issue be shelved."

Tony Blair had backed Mr Blunkett's plans for ID cards and the idea received an endorsement in his speech to the Labour Party conference.

Downing Street sources have now indicated that the ID cards will not be introduced in the next batch of Bills, but will be investigated by a cabinet committee headed by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister.

"We are looking at this issue, and there is a cabinet committee that is looking at this issue," a Downing Street spokeswoman said.

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, had also questioned the feasibility of the scheme and its costs. A letter from the Treasury pointed out that charging each individual £40 for the ID card would count as a tax rise. It drew attention to significant objections within the Cabinet.

The backdown will delight civil liberties groups, which had warned that non-whites would become an unfair target of police checking ID cards.