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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 January, 2005, 09:36 GMT
Labour dismissed ID cards in 1974
Roy Jenkins
Roy Jenkins warned against 'expensive and ineffective' ID cards
Identity cards were dismissed by Harold Wilson's Labour government as expensive and ineffective, records have revealed.

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.

The people of Uganda have been following with sorrow the alarming economic crisis befalling on Britain
Idi Amin

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.

'Largely ineffective'

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




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Why the 1974 Home Secretary rejected the plans



SEE ALSO:
Benn-Wilson animosity laid bare
01 Jan 05 |  Politics
Nuclear subs planned for Belfast
01 Jan 05 |  Northern Ireland
Loyalist strike dismissed as last fling
01 Jan 05 |  Northern Ireland
Ministers encouraged IRA-UDA talks
01 Jan 05 |  Northern Ireland
IRA and UDA 'held secret talks'
01 Jan 05 |  Northern Ireland


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