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Compulsory ID cards to be scrapped as Government performs humiliating U-turn


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Compulsory ID cards to be scrapped as Government performs humiliating U-turn


By Daily Mail Reporter

Last updated at 4:22 PM on 30th June 2009




British citizens will never be forced to carry ID cards, the Government announced today.


In a humiliating U-turn, Home Secretary Alan Johnson said that a trial scheme that was to force some airport staff to carry the controversial cards has been scrapped.

The massive climbdown means that carrying an ID card will now never be made compulsory for members of the general public.

It signals the end of one of Labour's most controversial policies, which has been championed by a succession of Home Secretaries, and threatens to further undermine the authority of the Prime Minister.

Insisting that ID cards should be voluntary, Mr Johnson said: 'Holding an identity card should be a personal choice for British citizens - just as it is now to obtain a passport.'

Previously, ministers said ID cards could become compulsory once 80 per cent of the population was covered.



article-1196561-02CB52D200000578-647_468x318.jpg Jacqui Smith unveils the ID card in September last year - six months after conceding that they would not be compulsory after all


The cards were being trialled at Manchester Airport and London City Airport prior to a national roll-out but that trial has now been cancelled, Mr Johnson said.

The announcement means that foreign nationals in the UK will be the only group of people who will be forced to carry the cards.

Last month it was revealed that the bill for issuing ID cards and passports over the next ten years is now £4.945billion for UK citizens and £379million for foreign nationals.

But the rollout of the ID card scheme will now be accelerated on a purely voluntary basis for UK citizens, starting in Greater Manchester by the end of the year.

Mr Johnson said: 'I want the introduction of identity cards for all British citizens to be voluntary and I have therefore decided that identity cards issued to airside workers, planned initially at Manchester and London City airports later this year, should also be voluntary.'


Asked if the cards would ever be made compulsory he said: 'No'.


'If a future Government wanted to make them compulsory it would require primary legislation,' he added.


Mr Johnson said he still believed the cards would help improve security at airports.


But he admitted the Government had allowed the perception that the cards would be a 'panacea' that would stop terrorism.


Listing the benefits of the scheme at a press conference in central London, he did not at first mention tackling terrorism.

Instead he said the cards would help stop illegal working, people trafficking and ID fraud.


Mr Johnson said he was an 'instinctive' supporter of ID cards and said he wanted to 'accelerate' the delivery of the cards.


A pilot scheme covering Greater Manchester will be extended to the whole of the North West of England from early next year, Mr Johnson said.


article-1196561-02A2DA100000044D-506_468x286.jpg Charles Clarke was just one of a number of Home Secretaries who championed the identity cards.


The scheme has been mired in controversy ever since its launch, coming under fire from all angles as politicians tried to present it as a solution to multiple problems.

It has been proposed as a way of countering terrorism, identity theft and misuse of public services and also as a way of proving the carrier's age and identity generally.

ID cards were enshrined in the Identity Cards Act 2006 and major contracts were to have been awarded by the end of this year for design, production and rollout.

Cards are linked to the National Identity Register, a centralised database intended to hold information such as fingerprints, facial and iris scans, past and present addresses.

Crucially, the databanks would be indexed to other Government records, allowing them to be cross-referenced.

The register has been pilloried by civil liberties campaigners as an Orwellian tool of state power that would be easily open to abuse.

ID cards were first mooted as a voluntary scheme by Michael Howard, Home Secretary under John Major.

At the time Tony Blair, then in Opposition, attacked it as a waste of resources that would be better spent putting more police officers on the streets.

But New Labour revived the idea and ramped it up in the wake of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington DC - proposing that identity cards should be compulsory.

David Blunkett, then Home Secretary, put the scheme out to consultation in July the following year and gave the go-ahead in 2003.

By that time doubts had surfaced about its effectiveness against terrorism. The official name, 'entitlement cards', was dropped as being too euphemistic.


article-1196561-035815520000044D-487_468x343.jpg NO2I.D. campaigners stage a naked protest in Parliament Square in October 2005


In the immediate wake of the July 7 attacks in London, Mr Blunkett's successor Charles Clarke admitted he did not believe ID cards would have prevented the atrocities.

In August 2005 Tony McNulty, the Minister in charge of the scheme, apologised for 'overselling' its benefits.


He admitted in a private Whitehall seminar: 'Perhaps, in the past, the Government in its enthusiasm oversold the advantages of identity cards.

'We did suggest, or at least implied, that they may well be a panacea for identity fraud, benefit fraud, terrorism, entitlement and access to public services.

'Perhaps we ran away with it in our enthusiasm. I apologise for us overselling the case for ID cards.'

When it was revealed that scanners designed to read the cards would not be able to identify Islamic terror suspects because of key technical difficulties, MPs declared the scheme 'a farce'.

Jacqui Smith launched a mock-up of the card in September last year - but that was six months after she admitted it would no longer be compulsory.

Non-EU foreign nationals living in Britain have already been issued with ID cards.

According to plans, staff working 'airside' at Manchester and London City airports are set to follow later this year.


Next year young people opening bank accounts are to be encouraged to obtain ID cards and over the following two years anyone getting a passport will get one - but can opt out.


The cost of the cards per person was given as £77 in 2004, then as £93 in July 2005. But research by the London School of Economics put it at a massive £230 a head.

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