Identity card scheme still alive despite bitter rift in the Cabinet

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Indy Politics

The Cabinet is expected to keep the prospect of a national identity card alive today despite a bitter row last night between senior ministers about the proposal.

A marathon two-and-a-half hour session of the Cabinet's domestic affairs committee, chaired by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, was described by one participant as "bloody but inconclusive".

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, who is worried about the cost and feasibility of introducing identity cards, launched a strong attack on the scheme championed by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary.

However, the full Cabinet at its weekly meeting today is expected to agree to include the proposal in the Queen's Speech on 26 November in draft form.

The unusual move, designed to defuse the deep divisions between senior ministers on the subject, would make it unlikely that ID cards were introduced before the election. But the compromise would allow Mr Blunkett to claim that his pet project was still firmly on the agenda.

He has fought an enthusiastic campaign for the introduction of the cards, arguing that they would be a vital tool in the fight against illegal immigration. But he has run into strong opposition to the move around the cabinet table.

Last night, one minister said that it would be highly unusual for such a proposal to be published in draft form before a policy decision had been taken to press ahead with the legislation. "This is a classic compromise. It isn't what draft legislation was designed for but it should keep everyone happy," the minister said.

The Home Secretary's support for ID cards has divided the Cabinet. Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary, and Peter Hain, the Leader of the Commons, strongly oppose their introduction on libertarian grounds.

Others, including Mr Prescott, Mr Brown and Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, have raised concerns over the cost and practical problems of the move. They also fear that the move could unnecessarily antagonise voters and run into opposition on the Labour back benches.

Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, John Reid, the Health Secretary and Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, are understood to be in favour.

Last month Mr Blair told MPs that he was in favour of the idea "in principle", pointing to their potential to combat benefit fraud and illegal immigration. But he acknowledged the unresolved questions over the cost and the "logistics" of introducing such a card.