The idea of an identity card combining passport and driving licence has been dropped but the scheme still promises to be a fool-proof age check.
By Kathryn Dowsett of thePublican.com's team of legal experts from London solicitors Joelson Wilson.
Pressure from MPs has forced Home Secretary David Blunkett to scrap plans for the proposed national identity card to act as a combined passport, identity pass and driving licence. The change of tack was made public in the Home Office's reply to the Home Affairs Select Committee on October 27.
The government now intends to issue identity cards to UK citizens alongside passports. However, it is intended that the card for British nationals would be accepted as a travel document within the European Economic Area.
The Home Office's reply to the select committee report also makes it clear that only approved private sector organisations will be able to make checks against the National Identity Register. Clause 11 of the draft bill will be revised to prevent inappropriate demands for identity cards.
Additionally, before the cards become compulsory, the public and private sector will have to offer reasonable alternative means to prove identity. Nevertheless, the essential elements of the scheme remain the same. A new, secure register will be established and biometric technology will be used to recognise the owners' fingerprints, eyes and face.
The cards will be introduced voluntarily but if plans go forward as currently expected, they will become compulsory for all British nationals resident in the UK and foreign nationals resident for more than three months.
Mr Blunkett is as keen as ever to progress the scheme. Though national identity cards have not yet received parliamentary approval, the commitment of resources has begun.
The Home Office has already appointed an external development partner - PA Consulting - to advise on the design and implementation of the scheme and more than 23 civil servants are working on the programme.
A public relations team is being recruited to publicise the scheme's benefits to the public, MPs and public sector groups.
Eventually a new executive agency will be set up incorporating the UK Passport Service and working closely with the Home Office's Immigration and Nationality Directorate.
Oversight of the whole scheme will fall to the proposed National Identity Scheme Commissioner. The aims of the programme remain the same:
- To tackle illegal working and immigration abuse
- To disrupt the use of false and multiple identities by organised criminals and those involved in terrorist activity
- To help protect people from identity fraud and theft
- To ensure free public services are only used by those entitled to them
- To enable easier and more convenient access to public services.
However, as long as the holder's date of birth is still to appear on the card, it will also hopefully provide a fairly foolproof method of age identification for the pub industry.