Licensees must wait a decade for a national ID card scheme, despite facing increased penalties for serving underage drinkers under the new Licensing Act.
The delay means the first 18-year-olds who will prove their right to buy a pint with an ID card are currently at primary school.
Earlier this week, home secretary David Blunkett confirmed that he won his case for a compulsory scheme despite opposition from the senior cabinet ministers including Chancellor Gordon Brown, although it will not be implemented until 2013.
The trade has given a guarded welcome to the government's plans.
Rob Hayward, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said: "We welcome the commitment to ID cards, but would like the government to speed up the process."
According to The Publican Market Report 2003, 84 per cent of licensees would welcome a national scheme which would allow barstaff to check customers' age quickly. Such a scheme would replace the confusing range of proof-of-age cards currently used.
Rick Robinson, licensee of the Willoughby Arms in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, said: "A national ID card scheme can't come soon enough for us. We have a strict policy on ID - it has to be a passport or driving licence with a photo. There are no other proof-of-age cards I know of which can't be forged."
A spokeswoman for Birmingham-based Mitchells & Butlers, operator of the Scream pub chain, said:
"Underage drinking is one of the most serious issues facing the trade, and we support initiatives to combat it, including The Portman Group's 'Prove It' card.
"The trade will welcome this announcement, but will be concerned about the timetable."
The new scheme will give people the choice of carrying a standalone card, or combining it with a passport or driving licence.
One key victory for the Chancellor means the scheme will have to be self-financing, with the charge ranging from £35 for the standalone card to £77 for a passport.
However the complexities of adding biometric technology such as fingerprint or retina scans to the cards means the roll-out is not scheduled to start until 2007, with cards unlikely to be compulsory before 2013.
Timetable for ID cards
- 2007: ID card compulsory for foreign nationals living in UK.
- 2008 onwards: new passports and driving licences will include biometric data to double as ID cards.
- 2013: 80 per cent of adults will have biometric passports or driving licences. At this point ID cards are likely.