The introduction of a national ID card scheme has moved a step closer with the government inviting potential suppliers to come forward.

Once a number of pre-qualified suppliers have emerged, the Identity and Passport Service will select companies and agencies to provide a range of skills, services and supplies.

The government says the ID cards programme will provide one mechanism by which people can prove their identities.

The plans to introduce ID cards have generally been welcomed by convenience store retailers, who believe it will aid them in the battle to prevent underage sales - a war which is likely to become tougher when it becomes illegal to sell tobacco to under-18s on October 1.

Spar retailer Richard Inglis from Southampton said: "I totally agree with the introduction of a new ID card system. It would be good to have one standard system in place which is easy to recognise."

Home office minister Meg Hillier added: "It has become increasingly clear that the methods we have traditionally relied on to prove ID are outdated, inefficient and open to abuse. That has to end, and that is why we are taking the scheme forward. 

"We are committed to introducing the scheme carefully and securely, minimising both cost and risk."