Met chief under fire for intervening in debate on ID cards

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Britain's senior police officer has stepped into the political row over ID cards with an assertion that the new technology would be "very helpful" to his officers.

Britain's senior police officer has stepped into the political row over ID cards with an assertion that the new technology would be "very helpful" to his officers.

Sir Ian Blair, the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, warned that the al-Qa'ida terrorist network was targeting Britain and said ID cards should be given "further consideration" as a means of tackling terrorists.

Labour was swift to highlight the police chief's words as evidence that ID cards were necessary. But the Tories and Liberal Democrats accused the Government of exploiting fear of terrorism to push its plans for ID cards ahead of the election.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil rights group Liberty, warned the police commissioner to stay out of the political debate.

"Liberty remains clear that the case for compulsory ID cards has not been made. More importantly, however, it is time for Blair the police commissioner to create some distance from his political namesake," she said. "Law enforcement and other vital services must remain politically neutral - especially during an election campaign. Politicians come and go but the public needs confidence that policing goes on regardless."

John Reid, the Health Secretary, interviewed on GMTV yesterday, urged the public to listen carefully to the police chief's comments. "We have said this all along - you cannot be serious about fighting terrorism, or for that matter fighting organised crime, unless you are prepared to support ID cards," he said.

Alan Milburn, Labour's campaign co-ordinator, also confirmed the party's commitment to reintroduce the ID legislation immediately after the election if Labour is returned to power.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary said ID cards were not "a solution" to tackling current fears about terrorism. "The Government has said that ID cards would not even come into effect for eight years," he said. "The priority is to take action now to secure our borders by introducing border police, reintroducing embarkation controls, removing those living here illegally and introducing legislation to deal with acts preparatory to terrorism."

The Liberal Democrats, who will unveil their plans today for 10,000 more police, said they were unconvinced that ID cards would help tackle crime.

Mark Oaten, the party's home affairs spokesman, said the police commissioner should be wary about stepping into the political debate. "Sir Ian Blair should be very careful on talking about political issues during an election campaign. I believe he is completely wrong on ID cards and should consider the alternative to tackling terrorism of more investment in police numbers," Mr Oaten said.

Sir Ian, interviewed on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost, was speaking after the conviction of Kamel Bourgass, who received 17 years' imprisonment for conspiring to cause a public nuisance after police detected a ricin plot. "There's real clarity now that al-Qa'ida affiliates are targeting Britain," Sir Ian said. "The way that al-Qa'ida operates is in a sense of very loose-knit conspiracies."

"I wasn't particularly keen on ID cards until recently - until I began to understand the way in which identity theft is carried out, and the fact that what you and I and many of the viewers would recognise as forgery just doesn't exist any more."

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