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ToryDems stoke ID card 'bonfire'

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Home Secretary Theresa May outlined the mechanics of scrapping the ID register yesterday as the bill to scrap the programme moved through the Commons.

Speaking at the second reading of the Bill to scrap the scheme, May said the scheme "represents the worst of government. It is intrusive and bullying, ineffective and expensive. It is an assault on individual liberty which does not promise a greater good.

"We have no hesitation in making the national identity card scheme an unfortunate footnote in history. There it should remain - a reminder of a less happy time when the Government allowed hubris to trump civil liberties."

For added spice she said that one month after Royal Assent, individuals will not be able to use their cards to prove their ID.

Asked by David Blunkett if this meant it would be illegal to use the cards, she said "I did not use the word 'illegal', except in relation to those who possess equipment for falsifying documents. I trust that, as a former Home Secretary, the right hon. gentleman is not intending to hold equipment for the falsification of documents."

More tangibly, she said scrapping the plan would save £86m over the next four years, and £800m over the next decade. The "net cost" of the bill will be £5m this year covering termination of contracts, contacting card holders, and laying off staff that can't redeployed.

"The post of Identity Commissioner will be abolished," she said. "The public panels and experts groups that were established by the Identity and Passport Service have already been disbanded, and 60 temporary staff in Durham have already been released early."

All information in the National Identity Register will be destroyed within two months of Royal Assent.

"Photographs and fingerprint biometrics will be securely destroyed. This will not be a literal bonfire of the last Government's vanities, but it will none the less be deeply satisfying. The national identity register will then cease to exist entirely."

Alan Johnson, the last Labour Home Secretary, described May's figures as "utter fantasy".

"By cancelling the scheme, the Government remove the income stream but leave the cancellation costs, which the taxpayer will be forced to pay, and let us not forget the continuing cost to the economy of fraud, abuse of the NHS, illegal immigration and unauthorised working," he said.

"The Government will make not a saving, but a substantial loss."

May also rejected any suggestion that the government was being inconsistent by keeping ID cards for foreign nationals, saying the previous government had only rolled that programme into the National ID scheme to bolster it. ®

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