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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 September, 2003, 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
Blunkett pushes ID cards debate
Mock up ID card
Many parts of Europe already use ID cards
David Blunkett wants proposals for ID cards to be included in the forthcoming Queen's Speech.

The home secretary told BBC One's Breakfast with Frost programme he wanted a bill for the introduction of national identity cards to go before Parliament in the autumn.

Pressed on whether carrying a card would be mandatory, he said at the very least no-one should be able to work or claim benefits without one.

Mr Blunkett admitted he did not know how many illegal immigrants are currently in the UK, but said ensuring they do not work illegally or draw from public funds and services remains a priority.

Other countries' ID cards are costly, unwieldy, unhelpful and a real threat to civil liberties
Mark Littlewood, Liberty
He said the government is likely to remain in the dark over exact numbers until it introduces an enforceable identification system linked to a register of all immigrants in the country.

"That is what we are debating in cabinet at the moment... [whether] we have a register of all those in the country and... an identification system that relates to it," he said.

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin told BBC News 24 the government had not thought the system through.

"What we've had from ministers is a confusing set of semi-indications of a half-baked policy and that's no way to proceed," he said.

"What's to stop someone from giving a false name if they are stopped by a policeman on the street and not produce their ID card, if they are to be voluntary?"

An illegal immigrant is not going to apply for an ID card, he said.

"If and when the government has worked out some practical system of dealing with these issues and they present a reasoned white paper that describes it, costs it, shows who's going to have to pay and how, examines the practical effects and shows us the civil liberties implications are outweighed by its good effects, then we cannot look at it constructively to see how we can proceed."

Compulsory issue

Mr Blunkett said he wanted to persuade cabinet colleagues that proposals for ID cards should be included in the Queen's Speech on 26 November.

Civil liberties groups are worried the cards would be abused by the authorities and others have raised concerns about the cost, both to individuals and the Treasury.

Campaign group Liberty said it could lead to thousands of ordinary people being criminalised if they refused to carry the cards.

Date of birth
Employment status
National insurance number
Passport number
Driving licence number
Electronic fingerprint

"Experience from other countries with ID cards show they are costly, unwieldy, unhelpful and a real threat to our civil liberties," said campaigns director Mark Littlewood.

"The government should take a step back, a long deep breath and put these proposals where they belong - in the dustbin of history."

He urged the cabinet to "rein in" the home secretary.

It is expected the identity cards will carry name, date of birth, address, employment status, sex, photo, national insurance, passport and driving licence numbers, plus a password or PIN and "biometric information" such as an electronic fingerprint to prevent identity fraud.

While everyone will need to register on a national database, being able to produce the card to the police is not expected to be compulsory.

But debate over the issue remains a heated topic within government, Mr Blunkett said.

"There are genuine scepticisms... there are really vigorous debates going on about how compulsory is compulsory.

"But my own view is that the minimum is you can't actually work, or draw on services unless you have the card."

The BBC's Daniel Boettcher
"Issues of civil liberties remain a sticking point, as does cost"

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