The government has signalled its determination to press ahead with ID cards, in spite of calls from the opposition parties and civil liberties campaigners for the scheme to be scrapped.

Under new plans, high street retailers could process the biometric details, such as fingerprints and photographs, for identity cards.

From the autumn, residents in Manchester will be able to apply voluntarily for an ID card. The cards are already being rolled out to foreign nationals living in the UK, with 30,000 rolled out so far. The government expects 75,000 cards to be in circulation by November this year.

In a sign that large IT programmes including the £5 billion ID cards scheme and the £12.7 billion NHS National Programme for IT will become a major issue in the next general election, the Conservative party used today’s announcement to reiterate its pledge to cancel the scheme.

Chris Grayling, shadow home secretary, said: “The government is split down the middle [about] ID cards but it looks as if Jacqui Smith is carrying on regardless. They should abandon this farce.”

The government promised that the high street stores, which could also include the Post Office and other shops with photo booths, would operate “under strict standards set by the Home Office”.

"While private companies will clearly benefit from the increased footfall from offering this service, their customers will benefit from being able to quickly provide their biometrics while they are out doing the shopping,” said home secretary Jacqui Smith.

Last month, the government signed contracts totalling £650 million, with CSC and IBM, for delivering parts of the controversial identity cards programme and upgrading passport systems.