LONDON (Reuters) - People in Manchester will be the first to be able to apply for identity cards that the government says will help fight terrorism but which critics say threaten civil liberties.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said on Wednesday the cards, which will be voluntary, would be available in the city from the autumn, ahead of a planned roll-out across Britain by 2012.
She said the move would allow Manchester citizens "the chance to start realising the benefits of identity cards as soon as possible."
The government has already started issuing the cards as a requirement to foreign nationals in Britain.
New airside workers at Manchester and London City airports will also be compelled to have a card from the autumn under a test scheme.
"ID cards will deliver real benefits to everyone, including increased protection against criminals, illegal immigrants and terrorists," Smith said.
The Conservatives say they will scrap the ID card scheme, which is set to cost 5 billion pounds over 10 years, if they win the next election.
Former Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett, once a supporter of the cards, said last month the government should abandon the cards in favour of already planned biometric passports carrying fingerprint data.
Reporting by Tim Castle; Editing by Steve Addison