By James Kirkup, Political Correspondent
The Government’s national identity card scheme was “in the intensive care ward” after leaked documents showed plans to issue UK citizens with the cards have been delayed until after the next election.
Amid growing doubts that the multibillion pound scheme will ever see the light of day, a confidential Home Office report suggests that the widespread introduction of cards for British nationals will not come until 2012 at the earliest.
That is two years later than the Government has previously stated. It would also ensure that the general introduction of ID cards took place well after the next election, which must be held by May 2010 at the latest.
The Home Office paper, entitled “National Identity Scheme Delivery Strategy” and marked “Restricted” was prepared for senior officials on 20 December 2007.
It sets out “a high level roll out strategy for the National Identity Scheme” and shows a timetable for implementation.
It shows that “Borders phase II (UK citizens),” the project for issuing cards to UK nationals in large numbers is now slated to begin in 2012.
The Government has said it plans to make ID cards compulsory, but only after a “voluntary” period during which anyone who renews a passport or driving licence will be automatically issued with a card.
Last night’s leak follows Gordon Brown’s apparent hesitation over the future of ID cards in the Commons earlier this month.
Pressed repeatedly whether he stands by plans to make ID cards compulsory for all UK nationals, the Prime Minister said only: “It is the Government’s policy to move ahead with this but subject to a vote of Parliament, depending on how the voluntary scheme works.”
Downing Street has since insisted that Mr Brown’s position on the scheme has not changed, but opponents detect waning Government commitment to the project in the light of recent damaging losses of sensitive data by the public sector.
David Davis, the Conservative shadow home secretary, last night said the document cast fresh doubt on the future of the ID card project.
He said: “It is in the intensive care ward. There are clear flaws in the whole government strategy for data protection.
“There is a clear fracture in public confidence in ID cards. And there are weaknesses in every single major IT system in the public sector. This is a political nightmare for the Government.”
Further fuelling suspicions of a Government climbdown on ID cards, a major review of the scheme appears to have been shelved.
James Crosby, the head of the HBOS bank, completed a review of the potential private sector uses for ID cards last year. But the Treasury has now confirmed there is no date set for its publication.
The leaked Home Office document makes clear that some British nationals like teachers and care workers could get cards as soon as next year.
An ID card could be made a requirement for holding a job in a “position of trust” such as teaching or social care from 2009.
It says: “Our first priority should be to issue cards to those who are employed in positions of trust where identity assurance is critical to determining their appropriateness for that employment.”
The Home Office refused to comment on the leaked document.
An Identity and Passport Service spokesman said: “We have always said that the Scheme will be rolled out incrementally.
“As stated in the Strategic Plan for the National Identity Scheme published in December 2006, we will begin issuing ID cards for foreign nationals this year, and the first ID cards for British citizens in 2009.”