Tories press Howard to oppose ID cards

Michael Howard was facing a rift in the Tory party over identity cards yesterday as senior figures urged him to declare opposition to Labour's plan.

Michael Howard was facing a rift in the Tory party over identity cards yesterday as senior figures urged him to declare opposition to Labour's plan.

The party's high command has so far refused to say whether it would support the Government's proposal for compulsory ID cards, despite deep scepticism in sections of the party.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, has stopped short of signalling clear support or opposition to the plan, instead setting five "tests" for any proposal - to be published soon - and warned that the party might yet vote against the scheme. The tests include value for money, the purpose of the scheme, the capacity of the Home Office to make it work and civil liberties.

But senior figures are urging Mr Howard to campaign against the scheme, amid claims that it would put clear blue water between the Conservatives and Labour at a time when Tony Blair is attempting to neutralise potential Tory attacks on the Government with a package of pre-election crime and security legislation.

Mr Howard, who published proposals for an ID card scheme while he was Home Secretary, is thought to be in favour of the plan. He was forced to backtrack after being jeered by Tory hardliners when he announced the policy at the party conference in 1994.

An ICM poll yesterday found that 81 per cent of voters were in support of compulsory ID cards, with support highest among Tory voters. But one senior Tory frontbencher said: "Michael Howard has been instinctively in favour of this, but a large body of the party is concerned about civil liberties ... With a general election coming up, people need a firm policy."

Alan Duncan, the shadow International Development Secretary, became the first senior frontbencher to break ranks in public last week on the BBC's Question Time. He said: "It will have lots of extra data which is actually giving the state more powers to intervene in your life where it ought not to have those powers."

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