ID cards behind schedule, admits Home Office

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair's cherished national identity card scheme is in crisis after the Home Office admitted its introduction is likely to be delayed.

The first cards were meant to be introduced in 2008, but that target has been dropped following the review of the department ordered by John Reid after his appointment as Home Secretary. Tendering for contracts for the £5.8bn programme, which would eventually force every adult to provide fingerprint and iris scans, has also been put off until the end of this year.

Mr Reid has already signalled that controversial proposals to merge police forces are to be slowed down - or even scrapped. Last night he faced further embarrassment when his predecessor, Charles Clarke, attacked the mergers U-turn as "weak and damaging" and said it would harm the fight against terrorism.

The Home Office insisted yesterday that ID cards remained a centrepiece of its strategy for combating identity fraud, serious crime and illegal immigration. But news of the delay fuelled speculation that the scheme could be ditched by Gordon Brown, who does not share Mr Blair's enthusiasm for the proposals, upon his arrival in Downing Street. ID cards were championed by Mr Blair and David Blunkett, the former home secretary. They eventually reached the statute book in March, amid controversy.

The Home Office said yesterday that it would not be bound by the "artificial target" of 2008. A spokesman said: "Biometric identity is absolutely essential and that remains the case. Any suggestion we are not going ahead with the scheme is wrong."The plans to merge police forces have also fallen victim to the new regime. Mr Clarke had drawn up plans to reduce the 43 forces in England and Wales to 17. But it was announced yesterday that the proposals will be reviewed.

A decision to abandon the only agreed amalgamation - between the Lancashire and Cumbria forces - drew a furious response from Mr Clarke, who said that the move was likely to jeopardise the whole police reform programme, including the manifesto pledge of neighbourhood policing throughout the country.

Plans in crisis

Identity Cards

Proposed: April 2004 by David Blunkett.

Delayed: Yesterday.

Reason: Complexity.

Police Mergers

Proposed: September 2005 by Charles Clarke.

Delayed: Last month.

Reason: Widely opposed.

Private Sector-run Probation Services

Proposed: June 2004 by David Blunkett.

Delayed: April 2006.

Reason: Services hostility.

Powers to shut 'Extremist' Mosques

Proposed: August 2005 by Tony Blair.

Abandoned: December 2005.

Reason: Hostility from police and religious leaders.

Time Limit For Terror Extraditions

Proposed: August 2005 by Tony Blair.

Abandoned: This week.

Reason: Legal problems.