Ministers believe programme of security measures will pay off at the ballot box

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Indy Politics

The Government is to take sweeping powers to force people to produce identity cards before they can benefit from a wide range of public services.

The Government is to take sweeping powers to force people to produce identity cards before they can benefit from a wide range of public services.

Plans to bring in a national identity card scheme will form the centrepiece of today's Queen's Speech, when ministers will promise to make "safety and security" their main priority in the last session of Parliament before the general election, which is expected next May.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, is determined to see his flagship scheme become law before the election. Although 28 Bills and nine draft Bills will be announced today, the shorter session planned by Tony Blair means that many of them will not reach the statute book before polling day. Ministers will also try to ensure that five other measures are enacted by next spring: tackling organised crime and giving police new powers; combating drugs; curbing antisocial behaviour; reforming education and scrapping the Strategic Rail Authority.

Mr Blunkett will present identity cards as a means of stopping criminals and terrorists using false and multiple identities. He will also argue that the measure will tackle illegal working and abuse of the immigration system.

The Home Secretary will pledge that the new cards will protect people against fraud, provide easier and more convenient ways for people to access services and ensure that services are used only by people entitled to them. This follows concern about alleged "NHS tourism" and people claiming state benefits after moving to Britain.

The Independent has learnt that the Bill will give the Government special "enabling powers" to ensure that "access to specified services" is linked to the production of a valid identity card. This means that the scope of the measure could be extended without new legislation. The move will fuel the concerns of civil liberties groups, which have already promised to oppose the scheme, and could run into opposition in the House of Lords.

The cards will be introduced on a voluntary basis from 2008, when a new agency will oversee a National Identity Register. The Bill will provide a power to make the scheme compulsory at an unnamed future date, including penalties for those who fail to register.

Mr Blunkett said on Sunday that the scheme may become compulsory in the years 2010-12, earlier than the original date of 2013. Ministers have promised a vote in both Houses of Parliament before compulsion is introduced.

The measure will enable public and private sector bodies to verify a person's identity by checking it against the register with the person's consent before providing services to them. A new offence of possessing a false identity will be created.

A Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill will set up what ministers will call an elite squad of specialist investigators, described as a "British FBI", armed with new powers to convict the "Mr Bigs" of the crime world.

A radical overhaul of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 would give community support officers and other police back-up staff the power to tackle anti-social behaviour, including greater powers of arrest and search. This would free police officers for front-line duties.

The same Bill will include a crackdown on animal rights extremists, who could be banned from demonstrating outside people's homes for up to three months and create a new offence of doing so in a way that causes harassment, alarm or distress to residents.

It would bring in a "name and shame" policy by removing media reporting restrictions in youth courts when a juvenile is accused of breaching an an anti-social behaviour order.

A Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill will enhance the power of local authorities and other bodies to combat anti-social behaviour by imposing on-the-spot fines for actions such as dropping litter; flyposting; abandoning nuisance vehicles; fly-tipping and night noise.

A Drugs Bill will provide for people to be tested for drugs when they are arrested rather than charged. It will give the police new powers to tackle dealers who hide evidence or claim drugs are for their own personal use. The courts will be required to pass a tougher sentence if dealers operate in places such as schools.

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