ID cards off agenda, govt insists

By staff

Downing Street has denied claims the government’s controversial ID cards scheme is under scrutiny by senior Cabinet rebels.

It was reported today some members of the Cabinet were unhappy with the £5 billion scheme as the government looks for ways to make spending cuts.

The Independent newspaper said ministers had said some “sacred cows” may have to be sacrificed if they are to bring down the enormous Budget deficit.

With pressure mounting on the cabinet to find savings beyond the promised £9 billion in “efficiency savings” the unpopular programme could be the first one on the chopping block.

“My sense is that ID cards will not go ahead,” a senior Cabinet minister told the paper. “We have to find savings somewhere, and it would be better to shelve schemes like this that aren’t popular.”

No 10 rejected the claim, however. The prime minister’s spokesman said: “The government is still committed to ID cards. [The scheme] helps to protect people and their families from identity fraud, illegal immigration and terrorism.”

The Conservatives have promised they will scrap the scheme if they win the next election but Gordon Brown has so far remained intransigent on the issue while home secretary Jacqui Smith recently said the government was on track with the plan.

The news comes following former transport secretary Steven Byers’ call to scrap both the ID card scheme and the replacement of Trident at the weekend. He said it would be a “fraud on the electorate” if parties were not open about the cutbacks required.

Mr Byers’ comments were echoed by other parties who are calling on the government to make cuts to unpopular programmes to protect public services.

“Instead of threatening frontline public services the UK government should be doing as Stephen Byers suggests and look at the waste that will be spent on Trident and ID cards,” said Joe FitzPatrick, SNP member of the Scottish parliament’s finance committee.

“Labour in Scotland are now in the embarrassing position of defending Tory-style cuts whilst supporting billions being wasted on weapons of mass destruction and big brother style ID cards.”

Vince Cable the Liberal Democrats Treasury spokesman said last week he believed ID cards and Trident were “sacred cows” that would have to go as part of cuts in public spending.