Home Secretary David Blunkett is seeking the Prime Minister's support for a compulsory ID card scheme.
The cards would be issued to everyone in the UK over 16, effectively give the pub trade the single proof-of-age card that many licensees and pub operators have been calling for.
Mr Blunkett is reported to have rejected proposals for voluntary entitlement cards in favour of a full-blown compulsory scheme. The cards would cost £39, and would replace passports and driving licenses as well as proving entitlement to state benefits.
With the cards also featuring holders' date of birth, they would also replace the various local and national proof-of-age card schemes which currently operate.
Pubcos including Mitchells & Butlers have long supported a single, national scheme.
Many licensees believe that the number of schemes they are expected to recognise makes it easier for underage drinkers to use fake IDs.
Civil liberties groups have opposed compulsory ID cards, but Mr Blunkett believes Home Office research proves that concern over issues such as terrorism has generated widespread public support.
In a letter to fellow cabinet ministers dated June 25, Mr Blunkett says: "I believe that the case for introducing a universal identity card in the UK is overwhelming. The consultation exercise showed strong public support for a card scheme and a preference for the term 'identity card' rather than 'entitlement card'."
Mr Blunkett has already discussed the scheme with Tony Blair. A Home Office spokesman said: "The Home Secretary's support for an ID card scheme is well know, but we have always said it will be a matter for the entire Cabinet to decide. There will be no official announcement until after the cabinet has reached a view."