Ethnic minorities 'will be targeted by ID cards'

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair is facing increased opposition to ID cards amid fears that they will be used to target ethnic minorities.

The Muslim Council of Britain will issue a statement expressing concern about the legislation today while the Commission for Racial Equality warned that the scheme could have an "adverse impact on different racial groups".

Ministers are already bracing themselves for a battle over ID cards in the Commons tomorrow, when MPs will have their first opportunity to vote on the proposals since the election.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, is expected to face intense pressure from MPs as they attempt to extract concessions from the Home Office. Twenty-one Labour left-wingers have signed a rebel "reasoned amendment" expressing a series of concerns.

Major unions, including Unison and the Transport and General Workers' Union, have expressed opposition and a poll published yesterday showed strong public resistance to the proposed charge for the cards.

Diane Abbott, the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, has also entered the row, warning that ID cards risked becoming a "virtual pass law situation in our inner cities".

Campaigners said the legislation could lead to people from ethnic minorities being disproportionately targeted and asked to prove their identity.

Home Office research found that support for identity cards was lower among black people than any other section of the population. A total of 77 per cent of blacks sampled said they worried they would be asked to produce cards more often than their white counterparts.

A spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain urged the Home Office to reassure Muslims that they would not be singled out. He said: "There are concerns that are being expressed in the community. The key point is whether the community would be unfairly targeted."

A spokesman for the Commission for Racial Equality said: "The CRE has concerns ... in particular whether there will be sufficient monitoring arrangements and adequate safeguards in place to address potential adverse impact on foreign nationals and Gypsies and travellers." Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: "This is a recipe for discrimination. It could jeopardise the Government's own targets of social cohesion and integration and the work of generations of people who have striven to make Britain a multi-racial and more just society."

Ministers, meanwhile, denied reports that the Home Office was planning to sell the identity database to private firms, although officials admitted that companies would be able to check individuals.

A poll in The Mail on Sunday showed that only one in 10 people supported ID cards if they cost £100. That fell to only 2 per cent if the cost rose to £300.

Members of the left-wing Campaign group of MPs believe a full House of Commons showdown over the Bill is likely to be delayed until the last stages of its passage later this year.

Leaders of the House of Lords also warned that the Bill faced a rough ride. Lord Strathclyde, the Conservative leader in the Lords, said: "There is certainly a majority in the Lords that holds a deep antipathy towards the Bill."

Lord McNally, the Liberal Democrat leader in the Lords, added: "It's going to run into difficulties." Lord Desai, the Labour peer, told the BBC: "The Lords will amend it, mainly on civil liberties grounds ... We will probably get a better Bill at the end of the process ... but it will take a long time."

How would the scheme change people's lives?

What information would ID cards contain?

A photograph, name, address and date of birth. Plus biometric information such as fingerprints or iris scans, to make the cards difficult to forge. They would be linked to a national identity database.

Will they be compulsory?

The cards would initially be voluntary from 2008, but could be compulsory after several years following a vote in Parliament.Passport applicants will get a new biometric passport.

What is the justification for the cards?

Ministers say biometric information will be necessary on passports, whether or not ID cards are introduced. They say the cards would protect against identity theft and would be a way of checking people's entitlement to public services. They would also help defeat terrorism and organised crime by cracking down on the use of false identities.

What would it cost?

Ministers estimate the card would cost £93 to produce. Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, dismissed claims that the real cost could be up to £300, after academics at the London School of Economics suggested the scheme could cost up to £18bn.

Why do critics oppose the plans?

Civil liberties campaigners, Tories and Liberal Democrats say it would fundamentally change the relationship between citizens and the state, and raise concerns about access to information about individuals and the potential for errors.