By Marie Woolf, The Independent - UK
Oct. 13, 2003
Plans to introduce identity cards for every citizen in Britain
have been shelved after protests from ministers who argued that they were
"flawed" and would spark a political backlash.
David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, had been pushing for a Bill introducing
ID cards to be included in next month's Queen's Speech, but Downing Street
has abandoned that plan in the face of objections from cabinet ministers.
The move will be a blow to Mr Blunkett, who saw compulsory ID cards, which
would include biometric data such as an iris scan or fingerprint, as a way
of tracking illegal immigrants.
Other ministers, including Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade
and Industry, and Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, have said that they
may compromise civil liberties and prove politically damaging.
In a letter to Mr Blunkett, dated 24 September, which was also sent to Tony
Blair, Mr Straw warned: "The proposed plan is flawed and no tinkering
with particular issues will be able to resolve what is a fundamental political
"The potential for a large- scale debacle which harms the Government
is great, and any further decisions on the next steps must be made collectively.
I will continue to urge strongly that this issue be shelved."
Tony Blair had backed Mr Blunkett's plans for ID cards and the idea received
an endorsement in his speech to the Labour Party conference.
Downing Street sources have now indicated that the ID cards will not be
introduced in the next batch of Bills, but will be investigated by a cabinet
committee headed by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister.
"We are looking at this issue, and there is a cabinet committee that
is looking at this issue," a Downing Street spokeswoman said.
Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, had also questioned the feasibility of the
scheme and its costs. A letter from the Treasury pointed out that charging
each individual £40 for the ID card would count as a tax rise. It
drew attention to significant objections within the Cabinet.
The backdown will delight civil liberties groups, which had warned that
non-whites would become an unfair target of police checking ID cards.
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