Blunkett plans ID cards 'by stealth'

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The Cabinet battle over identity cards intensified last night as it emerged that David Blunkett is being accused by senior colleagues of introducing a compulsory scheme by stealth.

The Cabinet battle over identity cards intensified last night as it emerged that David Blunkett is being accused by senior colleagues of introducing a compulsory scheme by stealth.

The hostility to the Home Secretary's proposals, to be published within weeks, is revealed in letters leaked to The Sunday Times. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, Paul Boateng, the Chief Secretary of the Treasury, and Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade have all voiced alarm.

They are angry that Mr Blunkett's proposed legislation introducing a voluntary scheme could lead to citizens later being forced to carry identity cards without a further act of Parliament being passed.

Early last November, the Cabinet struck a deal on ID cards under which, Downing Street said, ministers agreed to put off a decision on a compulsory scheme "until later this decade".

An agreed Cabinet statement issued at the time said: "In principle Cabinet believes that a national ID card scheme can bring major benefits. In practice, given the size and complexity of the scheme a number of issues will need to be resolved over the years ahead."

Ministers said they expected 80 per cent of the population to hold the ID card - through either a passport or a driving licence - by 2013.

However, Mr Straw's and Ms Hewitt's letters to John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, who chairs the Cabinet committee on the issue, suggest that the bill goes further than Cabinet agreed.

The Foreign Secretary refers to "the need to ensure that the draft Bill is in line with what colleagues earlier agreed. I do not have the minutes of our discussions to hand, but my recollection is the same as Patricia's ... a bill of this kind would be seen to be focused on the introduction of a compulsory ID scheme."

In his letter, dated the week before last, Mr Straw added: "I should like to emphasise that the ID card scheme must be designed in a way that is compatible with our obligations under international law, in particular EU law."

Mr Darling is said to have complained that "there is a widespread feeling that a change of this significance and sensitivity will need a far fuller debate". Mr Boateng is said to have written: "I remain concerned about compulsion - an issue that cuts to the core of the political and public acceptability of the scheme."

Tonight, a Home Office spokesman said: "The Government position was set out in the Home Secretary's statement to the House last November, and in the Next Steps document published at the same time. Nothing has changed."

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