Kennedy: 'Civil liberties at risk from identity cards'

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Indy Politics

Britain's culture of civil liberties could be irreversibly damaged by compulsory identity cards and other measures designed to wage war on global terrorism, Liberal Democrats said yesterday.

The party's annual conference also heard its leader, Charles Kennedy, urge Tony Blair, if necessary, to exploit the special relationship between London and Washington to call for restraint in retaliation to the recent atrocities.

Delegates voiced anxiety at the prospect of conflict in a debate on the crisis before observing a two-minute silence in honour of the dead.

Senior party figures also warned that traditional freedoms were at risk after Mr Kennedy told activists they faced a difficult dilemma "gauging between the balance of the liberty of the individual against the threat that the terrorist presents to that very liberty".

Their comments contrasted with the view of David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, who said on Sunday that compulsory identity cards were being seriously considered.

In an emergency statement to the Bournemouth conference, Mr Kennedy said he had discussed civil liberties with Tony Blair during a telephone call yesterday. He said any anti-terrorism legislation had to be balanced against domestic civil rights, a warning echoed by senior Liberal Democrats.

Menzies Campbell, the party's foreign affairs spokesman, said: "If every person in Britain had an ID card on the morning of 11 September, it would have made absolutely no difference ... There is a tension between the interests of the state and the liberty of the individual. I will need a great deal of persuasion before I accept the necessity of identification cards."

Paul Burstow, another frontbench spokesman, said: "It would be a disaster to destroy civil liberties and not get any significant improvement in public safety."

Baroness Williams of Crosby, a former Labour cabinet minister and SDP founder, said there was no "reason at all why we should bring in a permanent rolling back of civil liberties in response to the current crisis".