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Last Updated: Monday, 22 September, 2003, 05:58 GMT 06:58 UK
Blunkett pressing on with ID cards
Mock up ID card
Many parts of Europe already use ID cards
Home Secretary David Blunkett says he wants to push on with plans to introduce national identity cards.

Mr Blunkett said the lack of ID cards explained why he had absolutely no idea how many illegal immigrants were currently in the country.

He said he wanted a bill for the introduction of the cards to be included in the Queen's Speech - although he admitted arguing with his ministerial colleagues over the idea.

And he warned the government must "change or die" in the current atmosphere of public distrust if it wanted to win the next election.

The Queen's Speech on 26 November outlines the government's legislative plans for the forthcoming session of Parliament.

I haven't got a clue
David Blunkett, asked for his best estimate of how many illegal immigrants were in the country

Mr Blunkett told the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme on Sunday that he wanted to persuade cabinet colleagues to include an ID card scheme in the speech.

But he conceded he was facing "genuine scepticism" and a "vigorous debate" with some other ministers over whether the bill should be included.

Mr Blunkett said the ID cards would help track illegal immigrants and restrict access to public services.


He said it would ensure "people don't work if they are not entitled to work, they don't draw on services which are free in this country, including health, unless they are entitled to".

He said it would also mean "when we find people we can identify quickly that they are not entitled and get them out".

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

Asked whether the cards would be compulsory, he said in his view no-one should be able to work or claim benefits without an entitlement card.

People would not have to carry them, but would have to produce them if asked by competent authorities.

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin said the government had not thought the "half-baked" system through and it would prove unworkable.

"If the card is compulsory, but you do not have to carry it, are we to expect that individuals will tamely turn up at a police station some days later to admit that they have not got one?" he said.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said the cards appeared "fundamentally illiberal" and possibly unworkable.

"The more you look at it, the more you realise it won't do any of the things Mr Blunkett hopes it will," said Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes.

'Renewing ourselves'

And civil liberties groups were worried the cards would be abused by the authorities.

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

David Blunkett
The government needs bold and radical plans, Mr Blunkett believes

On why he did not know how many illegal immigrants were currently in the UK, Mr Blunkett said it was precisely because there was no ID card system.

"We don't have a rigorous and enforceable identification system liked to a register of all those who are in the country," he said.

"That is what we are debating in cabinet at the moment. Should we have a register of all those in the country and should we have an identification system that relates to it?"

Mr Blunkett's move was seen by analysts as an effort to grab the initiative after a difficult few weeks for the government.

He acknowledged the Iraq war and the Hutton inquiry had affected public attitudes towards the government.

Asked whether the government had to change the way it related to voters, Mr Blunkett said: "I think if we don't change we die...

"We are renewing ourselves now. We know we have got to. "

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"The ID card would have a microchip with an imprint of our eye or fingerprint"

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