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The National Identity Scheme will produce just 50,000 cards in its first few months – and has yet to define the role or budget of its commissioner.

In response to a parliamentary written question from Liberal Democrat shadow home secretary Chris Huhne, home secretary Jacqui Smith said that about 50,000 identity cards will be issued between the scheme's launch for foreign nationals between November and April 2009. "Volumes will rise rapidly thereafter and will depend on the speed of implementation and the nature of the immigration categories brought into the scheme," she added.

On 1 September, the UK Border Agency said it will start issuing cards to foreign nationals from outside the European Economic Area on 25 November, to those applying to stay in the country as students or through marriage.

The Home Office also revealed that the role and budget of the National Identity Scheme's commissioner – a post which is required by the Identity Cards Act 2006 – has not been decided.

In response to a parliamentary question asked by Lynne Jones on the budget for the commissioner, who is meant to oversee the scheme, identity minister Meg Hillier said: "The precise definition of the role of his or her office is still being finalised and, as a result, the budget has yet to be finalised."

An Identity and Passport Service spokesperson said that the commissioner will be primarily concerned with the National Identity Register for UK nationals, which will start next year with the introduction of identity cards for workers in sensitive posts including airside staff at airports.

The department also released information on the related e-Borders border control project. In response to questions from Damian Green, Nigel Evans and Philip Davies, Liam Byrne said that it had cost £133.5m by 31 January 2008, and that the biometric visa programme had been completed in December, "three months early and several millions pounds under budget".

He added that 2.5m fingerprint enrolments have generated more than 19,000 matches of data "recorded in connection with a previous immigration or asylum matter", with an average of 1,200 such matches each month. So far, this process has brought to notice more than 3,100 applications lodged using a different identity.

On the scheme's future, Byrne said that e-Borders will check and screen 60% of all passenger and crew movements in and out of the country by December 2009, 95 per cent by December 2010 and 100% by 2014. "We do not intend to publish details of those routes for which Passenger Name Record data will be captured as this is operationally sensitive," he added.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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