The Government has retreated over its proposal to introduce compulsory identity cards as part of emergency anti-terrorist legislation now being drafted.
Lord Rooker, a Home Office minister, said that the introduction of an identity card scheme had been discussed informally. "We have no policy, no plans, no consultation paper," he said. "There is no secret Bill and no secret agenda."
His words were echoed by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, who said: "The first emergency measures will not include ID or entitlement cards. We are trying to weigh up whether to launch a consultation on the issues around it."
Mr Blunkett said that the new package of anti-terrorist legislation would not be presented on Thursday when Parliament will be recalled for an emergency debate.
Civil servants are working round the clock to draft an emergency Bill that would have 12 elements for presentation in the next few weeks. These are expected to include speeding up extradition procedures and banning people suspected of terrorist links from claiming political asylum in Britain.
Yesterday civil liberties groups said they were delighted at the "climb-down" by the Government and claimed that it was a result of a powerful public and political backlash. But they said their campaign would not end until ID cards had been permanently ruled out. Mark Littlewood, of Liberty, the civil liberties organisation, said: "The degree of public airing of this issue has flushed them out. They are backtracking and retreating. This is a partial victory for us."
Lord Rooker said that any future ID card scheme would not include giving the police stop-and-search rights. Identity cards would include thumb prints or eye recognition technology to guard against card forgery.
A cross-party coalition of MPs, religious leaders and police officers published a stinging indictment of ID cards yesterday, claiming that they would not aid the international fight against terrorism.
Alan Simpson, the Labour MP for Nottingham South and a former Home Office minister, said: "The lurch towards national identity cards has everything to do with national insecurity and nothing to do with national security.
"You do not defend the open society by turning it into a closed one. Nor do you make any of us safer by looking for sanctuary within a technology fix that may bring with it more ills and imperfections than it would claim to remove." Mr Simpson warned in a pamphlet entitled ID Cards: Arguments against that they were "unreliable", would not stop terrorists and would damage the relationship between the public and the police.
"Identity cards would not have stopped the suicide bombers in the USA, after all it would appear that the terrorists had gone through passport checks and were legally present in America."
The introduction of the identity cards would cost an estimated £1bn. Yesterday, delegates at the Labour Party conference in Brighton expressed concern that their introduction would inflame racial prejudice in Britain. French police have admitted that they are twice as likely to ask for papers from young men of North African origin as they are from their white counterparts, the conference was told.
Last week, Liberal Democrat MPs also expressed grave reservations about the Government's plans.
Chris Lawrence-Pietroni, the deputy director of Charter 88, a group that campaigns for democracy, welcomed the Government's climb-down yesterday and said that it had been a direct result of protests about the proposals.
"What this has demonstrated is that opposition to ID cards is broad-based," he said, adding that it was not exclusively from the civil liberties lobby.Reuse content