Philip Johnston, Telegraph (UK), Apr. 8
Legislation paving the way for a compulsory identity card will be published within the next few weeks, David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, said yesterday.
The draft Bill will set out the details of a scheme that will start in 2007, provided the technology works. From that date, people renewing passports and driving licences will be issued with a combined card incorporating a biometric identification, probably an iris recognition print.
Mr Blunkett has won a Cabinet battle to make the card compulsory without recourse to further legislation, as was originally envisaged. Instead, once coverage of the combined documents has reached about 80 per cent of the country — a process that would take about five years — a vote in Parliament would be enough to extend it to the rest of the adult population.
The document would then have to be produced to gain access to public services such as the National Health Service, or to get a job or claim benefits. It is not proposed that people should be required to carry them at all times. They would, however, be expected to produce them at a police station within a fixed period if asked.
The £3 billion scheme would also cover 4.5 million foreign nationals resident in Britain. It will be backed by a database on which the personal details of every citizen will be entered.
Mr Blunkett acknowledged there had been opposition from some of his Cabinet colleagues, among them Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, and Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary.
“It would be very surprising if there were not misgivings,” he said on BBC radio.
But Mr Blunkett was supported by Tony Blair and a majority of colleagues in his endeavour to introduce the first identity system since wartime cards were abolished in 1952.
As passports and driving licences are renewed, the personal details will be entered on the national identity register and the new document combined with an ID card.
Plans outlined last year suggested that the combined passport and ID card would cost about £77 while the driving licence version would cost £73. The cards on their own would cost £35, but 16-year-olds would receive them free. The elderly and people on low incomes would pay £10.
Mr Blunkett maintains that concerns about the threat from international terrorism have overridden any civil liberties objections. Officials said certain other “hurdles” need to be overcome before a compulsory scheme was introduced, notably whether the technology worked.
For the time being, Mr Blunkett has only a commitment to a draft Bill, which will have no force in law and will need to be backed by full legislation later in this Parliament or early in the next. However, a further Bill in six years — something Cabinet critics originally insisted upon — will not now be needed.
Mr Blunkett’s hand was further strengthened by the United States’s decision to require biometric identification in all new passports from this autumn. He says ID cards would help the authorities to combat crime, fraud, terrorism and illegal immigration.
He was supported by Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, who said the case for ID cards was “unarguable”. Interviewed in The Spectator magazine, he said: “I was against them until about a year and a half ago, because we did not have the biometric technology to ensure the truth of people’s identity.
“Now we have that. We need to know who’s coming in and out of the country, and who’s in the country.”
He added: “We don’t actually know who is in London at the moment. We don’t know what the population of London is. ID cards would not only assist in the business of stop and search, terrorism, organised crime, but would also assist us to know better how our welfare, transport, hospitals and education system can deal with the number of people in London.”
But David Winnick, a Labour member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: “I don’t believe the case for ID cards has been proven.
“If the emphasis now is on terrorism, the fact remains that in Spain identity cards are compulsory from the age of 14 onwards. In what way did that stop the massacre which occurred?”
Recent surveys have shown public support for ID cards running at 80 per cent or more in favour.