Identity cards were dismissed by Harold Wilson's Labour government as expensive and ineffective, records have revealed.
Roy Jenkins warned against 'expensive and ineffective' ID cards
Files released to the National Archives under the 30-year rule show that Home Secretary Roy Jenkins also feared the cards would infringe civil liberties.
Current Labour Home Secretary Charles Clarke has dismissed fears the cards would create a "Big Brother" state.
The ID card plan came into focus in November 1974, after IRA pub bombings in Birmingham killed 21 people.
Ministers were under tremendous pressure to act and Mr Jenkins was given the task of drawing up the emergency Prevention of Terrorism Bill.
But in a frank memo to cabinet colleagues he admitted there was a limit to what such measures could achieve.
And he issued a sharp warning against responding to the terrorist attacks by adopting ever more draconian legislation.
"It goes almost without saying that we must guard against the danger of being driven to more and more extreme measures involving unwarranted infringement of
personal liberty," he wrote.
In the memorandum - dated 24 November, three days after the bombings - Mr Jenkins acknowledged that the government had to be seen to take some action.
In particular, he was conscious of the need to avert reprisal attacks against innocent Irish people in Britain.
He said: "We are in greater danger of justifiable criticism if we do too little than if we do too much.
"We must, moreover, take action which is firm enough to
pre-empt action by self-appointed vigilantes."
One proposal considered by Mr Jenkins was new restrictions on travel between Ireland and the British mainland, but he quickly concluded that a system of "watertight control" was "not practicable".
"Nor do I see advantage in a system of identity cards, which apart from creating difficulties for ordinary people would be extremely expensive and largely ineffective," he wrote.
Instead, he opted for the introduction of spot checks on travellers, a system of exclusion orders banning terrorist suspects from the mainland and making IRA membership illegal.
But perhaps the most important element of the Bill was allowing police to hold terrorism suspects for up to seven days without charge.
Other revelations from the batch of documents include:
- Harold Wilson wanted nuclear submarines to power Belfast during the 1974 Ulster Workers' Council Strike.
Ministers dismissed the strike, which wrecked a 1974 power-sharing deal in Northern Ireland, as the "last fling" of loyalist extremists
- Ministers encouraged links between rival paramilitaries at the height of the Northern Ireland Troubles
- The relationship between Harold Wilson and his industry secretary Tony Benn reached "rock bottom" in 1974
- Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath secretly considered serving under his arch
rival, Harold Wilson, in a "Government of National Unity" in the aftermath of the inconclusive 1974 election
- The Princess Royal told an armed kidnapper that she was not "bloody likely" to obey his request for her to come with him in an ambush incident.
- Ugandan dictator Idi Amin offered to save the UK from financial ruin, and suggested he could broker peace in Northern Ireland
- Israeli secret services targeting Ali Hassan Salame, the Palestinian behind the killing of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, killed a Moroccan catering worker in Norway by mistake