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Government unveils ID card scheme

BBC | May 17 2005

Controversial plans to introduce a compulsory identity card scheme have been unveiled in the Queen's Speech.
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ID cards face Scots opposition

The cards, which had to be dropped ahead of the election, will be linked to a National Identity Register holding information on all UK residents.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke said there had been "technical" changes to the new bill to take account of previous objections to the plans.

The Lib Dems say the plans could be defeated with Tory and Labour support.

Ministers say the new Identity Cards Bill will help protect people from identity fraud and theft, and tackle illegal working and immigration abuse.

Registration

They claim it will disrupt the use of false and multiple identities by terrorists and other criminals, and ensure free public services are used only by those entitled to them.

However, at least at this stage, it will not be compulsory to carry a card.

The ID scheme will cost an estimated £3bn and see each UK citizen being issued with a "biometric" card bearing fingerprints and other personal details which will also be stored on a new National Identity Register database.

The cards will be issued by a new Home Office executive agency, which will take over the functions of the UK Passport Service and work closely with the Home Office's Immigration and Nationality Directorate.

Public and private sector organisations will be able to check a person's identity against the register, with their permission.

The bill will create a National Identity Scheme Commissioner who will oversee the system.

'We're listening'

There will also be a new criminal offence of being in possession of false identity documents, including genuine paperwork that has been obtained improperly or relates to someone else.

Mr Clarke said: "ID cards will help tackle illegal immigration as well as support the work of the law enforcement agencies in tackling the ever-present threat of terrorism."

He said there had been "technical modifications" to the new bill to take account of points raised in previous debates on the issue.

But he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We won't be making great changes of substance in the route we're going down, but we will listen to what people have to say."

However, Matthew Taylor, the Liberal Democrats chairman, said the government had showed "a lack of respect" for the electorate by pursuing unpopular policies.

'Lack of respect'

He said he believed that, with the government's reduced majority, many of the policies outlined in the Queen's Speech could be defeated with the help of rebel Labour MPs and the Conservatives.

"The government's talking a lot about respect and yet it's not paying any respect for the electorate," he told BBC News 24.

"They have been returned with the lowest share of the vote of any government ever and yet this is a rehash of the policies they were pursuing before, including controversial ones like ID cards, which we know aren't effective around the world, which we know are unpopular with backbenchers."

Theresa May, the Conservative spokesman on family issues, said the party did not object to the concept of ID cards in principle.

"But we set the government five tests ... so far they haven't passed them but obviously we haven't seen the details of the new bill they are going to bring forward," she told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme.

"We need to look at that and see if they do pass the tests that we've set."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of rights group Liberty, called on MPs from across the spectrum to oppose the measures "whether in defence of freedom or social justice".

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