National identity card scheme to be axed

The £5 billion national identity card scheme will be consigned to the scrapheap as a result of the new coalition Government, the Home Office confirmed today.

Axing the controversial scheme and associated identity databases were key manifesto commitments for both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

Senior ministers must now choose how to withdraw several thousand cards already in circulation after individuals paid £30 and handed over personal information.

The majority have been handed to foreign nationals, but people in the north-west England, young people in London and airport workers were also able to apply.

Anyone holding a card can still use it for identification, banking and travel within Europe.

A message posted on the Identity and Passport Service website today urged anyone considering an application to wait for further announcements.

It said: "Both parties that now form the new Government stated in their manifestos that they will cancel identity cards and the National Identity Register. We will announce in due course how this will be achieved.

"Applications can continue to be made for ID cards but we would advise anyone thinking of applying to wait for further announcements.

"Until Parliament agrees otherwise, identity cards remain valid and as such can still be used as an identity document and for travel within Europe.

"We will update you with further information as soon as we have it."

Critics of the identity and passport scheme were likely to lash out at the enormous amount of money spent so far on the abortive project.

The Tories branded the scheme an expensive "white elephant" while the Liberal Democrats said Whitehall could not be trusted with the personal data.

Civil liberties campaigners said the cards would not be a "magic bullet" for crime and terrorism and instead threatened privacy, race relations and freedoms.

Labour ministers said identity cards and biometric passports would help prevent identity theft, illegal immigration and fight terrorism.

The National Identity Register, which underpins the scheme, went live in late 2009. More than 5,000 identity cards have been issued since the scheme began last year.

If Labour had won the election the scheme was likely to have gone live nationwide in 2011. It was expected to cost £5 billion over 10 years, with the former government insisting it would be self-funding.