Identity cards for all Britons 'by 2013'

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Indy Politics

The cost of a passport will increase to £77 under plans for a compulsory national identity card, ministers said today.

The controversial new cards will be held by everyone in Britain by 2013 and will be based on existing passports and possibly on driving licences in a £3 billion project.

Home Secretary David Blunkett said the scheme would include "biometric" details such as someone's fingerprints or an image of their eye, stored on a microchip in each card.

They will have to be produced to see a doctor, get a job and claim benefits.

The Government will set up a National Identity Register to hold details of all 60 million people in the UK, including their fingerprints or other biometric details, so that their identities can be authenticated when they produce their cards.

A normal passport currently costs £42. The new combined passport and identity card will cost £77.

Under–16s will get them free, the elderly will be offered "lifelong" versions and people on low incomes will be charged £10, the Home Office said.

Ministers were unable to pinpoint the cost of buying and installing electronic machines to "read" the electronic data on the cards.

Employers will usually be required to have a "reader" to check employees' identities but there may be concessions for small companies, Home Office minister Beverley Hughes said.

"Not everybody will need a reader. For some forms of checking, a telephone check will suffice.

"It is only if you need to read the biometrics on the database that you will need a reader," she said.

"We are exploring ways to keep this to an absolute minimum."

There may be a need to renew passports every five years rather than every 10, said Ms Hughes.

"We are looking at all kinds of things, such as people paying by instalments and whether a 10–year renewal period is too long.

"You might have to look at a five–year renewal period.

"It would mean a smaller outlay every five years as opposed to a more significant cost over a 10–year period."

Ms Hughes said she was confident that the massive computerised project would not be a repeat of earlier IT disasters such as last year's Criminal Record Bureau fiasco or the delays at the Passport Service in 2000 which forced then Home Secretary Jack Straw to take emergency measures.

"It will be tightly managed by the Government through its lifetime," she said.

"I'm confident that lessons learned from these experiences and the state of expertise and capability is very different from what it was some time ago."

The police, MI5 and MI6 would have access to the National Identity register but only under certain "safeguards", the minister added.

All EU and foreign nationals coming into Britain will have to pay for a biometric residence permit under today's plans.

The Passport Service will shortly begin a pilot to capture biometric details of 10,000 volunteers, ministers added.

Mr Blunkett said: "An ID card scheme will help tackle the crime and serious issues facing the UK, particularly illegal working, immigration abuse, ID fraud, terrorism and organised crime.

"What we know the public want, which is what we are now proposing, is a scheme that can provide them with a secure and convenient way of confirming their identity, to protect it from theft, tackle terrorism and organised crime and ensure free public services only go to those entitled to them."

Ministers said the cost of the card amounted to just £3.50 a year, and pointed out that applicants would also save the "£4 or £5" currently spent on photographs for passport applications because their image would be taken digitally.

Biometrics will have to be introduced in passports because they are being demanded by the EU and by the US, said Ms Hughes.

"We believe that for a little additional investment we can get the additional benefits of a full ID card scheme," she added.