David Blunkett provoked a storm of protest yesterday from civil liberties groups over plans for the introduction of identity cards in Britain.
In a leaked letter to John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Home Secretary sets out proposals to charge every person about £39 to carry an electronic identity card.
The card, to be carried by everyone over 16, would be used by people accessing government services such as the benefit system or the NHS. It is to be discussed by members of the Cabinet shortly before an announcement to Parliament by Mr Blunkett within the next few weeks.
In the letter, Mr Blunkett, anticipates "highly organised" opposition to the scheme, and tells Mr Prescott that the Government's message that the cards would not infringe on privacy should be reinforced "continually during debate on legislation".
Civil liberties groups said yesterday that the letter confirmed that plans for ID cards were far advanced. They said the scheme included insufficient safeguards to stop the police demanding cards from people they stopped.
Charter 88, which campaigns for a fair democracy, said that ID cards were unnecessary and that the plans would discriminate against ethnic minorities and low-income groups in Britain.
Karen Bartlett, the group's director, said: "This letter confirms our worst fears about the introduction of ID cards. They are a solution looking for a problem and will be another expensive folly. In France where ID cards have been introduced, black people and Algerians are more likely to be stopped and asked for ID cards than any other group."
In the letter Mr Blunkett says that "the argument that identity cards will inhibit our freedoms is wrong".
He says: "The identity card I am proposing will not be used to store large amounts of personal data to which government departments or agencies would have unfettered access."
The scheme would cost the average person about £39 , with discounts for over 75s, 16-year-olds and those on low incomes.
Yesterday Mark Littlewood of the pressure group Liberty warned the Government that it would be "extremely foolish to press ahead". He said that the cards would give government employees access to highly personal information about people's health, benefit claims and police records.
"The level of opposition they are likely to face in Parliament and the country will be very substantial," he said.