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Monday, 1 October, 2001, 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
Compulsory ID cards 'ruled out'
Labour conference
Critics say ID cards are a blow to personal freedom
The government has ruled out the introduction of compulsory ID cards, Home Office Minister Lord Rooker told a Labour Party fringe meeting.

Suggestions that cards could be made mandatory had come under fire from civil liberty groups and a former Home Office minister and the New York branch of the Labour Party.

There is no secret bill and no secret agenda

Lord Rooker
Mike O'Brien - Home Office minister during Prime Minister Tony Blair's first term - said ID cards did not work and that "terrorists would claim [their introduction] as a victory".

Lord Rooker later moved to play down those fears, saying ID cards would not form part of the package of new measures introduced either later this year or early next year.

No police inspections

The Home Office minister told delegates that ministers had only discussed the idea informally.

"We have no policy, no plans, no consultation paper," he said, adding: "There is no secret bill and no secret agenda."

Specifically, Lord Rooker also said the government had ruled out the idea of making ID cards compulsory or giving police "stop and search" powers to inspect them.

David Blunkett
Blunkett said he would examine the ID idea
Earlier on Monday, Downing Street said the issue was now "on the slow track".

His comments were echoed by a motion sent to the conference by the overseas New York branch of the Labour Party, which warned that ID cards would only "further the terrorist agenda".

Before Monday, Prime Minister Tony Blair and Home Secretary David Blunkett had confirmed they were looking at plans for mandatory ID cards.

Now Lord Rooker's comments, which have already been welcomed by civil liberties groups, give the impression that the government has shelved the idea.

'Unreliable and damaging'

Mr O'Brien had made his opposition clear in a joint Charter88/Liberty pamphlet, ID Cards - Arguments Against.

He wrote: "Ministers have recognised that our aim is to seek to protect freedom and democracy, and therefore each time we are forced to undermine these values, terrorists will claim it as a victory."

Identity cards were abolished in the early fifties for good reason

Mike O'Brien MP
He pointed out that ID cards were abolished in the 1950s - "for good reasons".

"They were unreliable in proving identity and damaged the relationship between the public and the police.

"When it comes to fighting terrorism and serious crime, there are more effective things to spend our money one."

Mr O'Brien's public criticism of the proposal was all the more surprising because during his time at the Home Office he played a key role in driving through the government's tough asylum legislation, coming under frequent attack from civil libertarians himself.

One of the key concerns about introducing compulsory ID cards to the UK is that the police would be able to demand to see them.

Campaigners fear they could be open to the same abuse as the old "stop and search" powers, which seemed to be used disproportionately on young men from ethnic minorities.

Labour MEP Claude Moraes said the attitude of such people towards compulsory ID cards would be crucial.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The acid test would be this: if I was a Muslim in Britain would I be happy and secure about carrying an ID card?"

NY Labour opposition

In a separate move, the New York branch of the Labour Party - made up of British ex-pats living in the city - sent a motion to the party's Brighton conference rejecting plans for compulsory ID cards.

The party said the final victory would go to the terrorists if the UK government abrogated civil liberties because of the attacks in their city.

ID cards had not stopped terrorist attacks in countries where they were used, it argued.

Former home office minister Mike O'Brien
"I am sceptical about the whole idea of ID cards"

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