Ministers deny ID cards set to be shelved

Ministers have moved to defend the government’s controversial ID card scheme after reports over the weekend that its future was uncertain.

The Sunday Mirror claimed ID cards for British nationals would be “shelved indefinitely” after concerns the scheme will almost certainly be challenged in the courts.

Critics have also claimed the costs of ID cards are set to soar and the project is already behind schedule.

Work and pensions secretary Peter Hain dismissed the reports and told the BBC it was “not true” ID cards for Britons were being sidelined.

It had been reported Mr Brown would downplay ID cards as an anti-terrorism tool in favour of new counter-terror measures to be set out in the Queen’s Speech tomorrow.

A minister close to the ID card scheme also told the Sunday Mirror the government now felt the role of ID cards was being fulfilled by photo driving licences and biometric passports.

ID cards for all were set to come into force in 2010. Foreign nationals are set to get ID cards from next year.

Home Office minister Tony McNulty yesterday told Sky News: “As far as I am aware universal ID cards remain on the agenda.”

Security minister Lord West – who has been conducting a review of security and the UK’s ability to deal with a sustained terror attack – said he was “not aware” of any plans to “go cold” on the scheme.

Lord West told the BBC: “National identity cards will play an important part, a very important part, in countering terrorism.

“They will be extremely useful.”

Nevertheless, the Guardian reports this morning the prime minister has ordered a review of the technology underpinning the £5.3 billion scheme. Past government IT projects, such as the NHS IT upgrade, have been beset by delays and spiralling costs.

A sceptical review could provide Gordon Brown with a politically acceptable reason to forestall the scheme.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have both opposed the scheme and vowed to scrap it if they gain power. Lib Dem leadership candidate Nick Clegg also vowed to lead a grassroots resistance against ID cards.