Full speed ahead on ID cards that are 'good for you'
London Times | December 20, 2004
CHARLES CLARKE today accuses critics of identity cards of “liberal woolly thinking” and spreading false fears as he pledges not to waver from David Blunkett’s controversial plans.
As both the new Home Secretary and Michael Howard, the Tory leader, face backbench rebellions in tonight’s Commons vote, Mr Clarke says in The Times that ID cards will “help make everyone a bit safer” at no real cost to civil liberties.
A spokesman for the civil rights group Liberty said: “If opponents of identity cards are woolly liberals, what does that make George W Bush? He has ruled out ID cards in the US on the grounds that they will have not one iota of effect on terrorism and will seriously undermine civil liberties.”
In an attempt to placate opponents Mr Clarke says that the legislation will not make it compulsory to carry a card, and will not give powers to the police to stop individuals and demand to see their card. The database accompanying the system will not hold information on medical records, religion or political beliefs.
Among other safeguards against misuse, officials who gain unauthorised access to information gathered under the system will face up to two years in prison, and there will be moves to make the cards cheaper for pensioners and the poor.
Mr Clarke, facing his first big parliamentary test since taking over five days ago, will make plain that he will not “pause for thought”, as suggested again yesterday by Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader. But while Mr Clarke may face objections from up to 30 Labour MPs, Mr Howard faces the biggest revolt of his leadership. Several Shadow Cabinet members are unhappy about his decision to back the Bill in principle and many front-benchers and backbench MPs plan to stay away rather than vote for it.
Baroness Thatcher was also reported yesterday to be strongly against ID cards. She told a private meeting that they were a “Germanic concept completely alien to this country”. The Lib Dems oppose the Bill.
Mr Clarke writes in The Times that ID cards have significant security and practical benefits as well as saving millions by tackling fraud. A secure system would help to prevent terrorist activity and tackle the “vile trafficking in vulnerable human beings” as shown by the Morecambe Bay cockle-picking tragedy. It would be profoundly civil libertarian because it promotes the most fundamental civil liberty, the right to live free from crime and fear.
He says critics are “woolly” and spreading fears when they claim that cards will erode liberties and usher in the Big Brother society or a police state.
“Those kinds of nightmares will be no more true of ID cards than they have been for the spread of cash and credit cards, driving licences, work security passes and other forms of ID which most of us carry.”
It was reported last night that a document prepared by Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General, on whether ID cards would invade people’s privacy or infringe their human rights was being kept secret from MPs before tonight’s vote.
The report is understood to contain legal arguments on the powers of the security services, police and other bodies to access information on the cards.