Clarke faces Tory calls to bring in ID cards: Conference may force Home Secretary to reconsider policy. Colin Brown reports

THE HOME Secretary will face a surge in grassroots demands for identity cards to be introduced in Britain at the annual Conservative Party conference.

The strength of support for ID cards has surprised Tory officials and could force Kenneth Clarke to reconsider the issue.

Conservative Party sources say the calls for ID cards outnumber the resolutions on any other single issue for the key law and order debate at the conference at Brighton in October.

There are many calls for tougher penalties for serious crime, including the usual demands for corporal punishment for young offenders.

Over 200 resolutions have been tabled on law and order, including more than 30 from constituency parties urging the Government to consider the introduction of ID cards.

It will be seen as a co-ordinated campaign by right-wing supporters of ID cards within the party. But the Government has also faced continued pressure in the House of Commons from mainstream Tory MPs, who believe it would help to check illegal immigration and the cross-border flow of terrorists.

Demands for ID cards were rejected by the Government in the House of Lords in June, when ministers warned a compulsory scheme would cost pounds 350m in the first year.

But the introduction of voluntary ID cards is seen by some Tory MPs as a fall- back position, if Britain eventually loses its battle to maintain some checks when border controls are abolished next year as part of the European single market. Mr Clarke, as the Independent reported, believes Martin Bangemann, the vice- president of the European Commission who is responsible for border policy, will not take Britain to the European Court of Justice if the UK maintains some form of 'light touch' immigration check on EC citizens. Mr Bangemann's colleagues insist that the commissioner is keeping his options open.

Hugh Dykes, a Tory MP and former chairman of the Conservative group for Europe, said: 'It is interesting to see this groundswell of opinion. A few years ago, most rank and file supporters would have been dead against ID cards. This would be a neat way for the Home Office to get around the border issue.'

Conservative home secretaries traditionally have a rough ride at the party conference in the law and order debate, particularly over the failure of Parliament to reintroduce the death penalty. Mr Clarke, regarded as one of the Cabinet big guns, is expected to be given an easier time at his first conference. He has tackled out-of-date police work practices and has taken the first steps to privatising Strangeways prison, in Manchester, which will be well-received by the Tory right wing.

Labour is planning to step up the pressure on the Government later this week over rising crime. Tony Blair, the party's home affairs spokesman, will highlight the limitations which crime imposes on the freedom of the individual.