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Compulsory ID cards to access schools, hospitals

g and compass

Guardian Unlimited

Compulsory ID cards to access schools, hospitals

Liberty Watch - Observer campaign

Kamal Ahmed, political editor
Sunday September 30, 2001
The Observer

Every British adult will have to show a compulsory identity card to use public services, including schools and hospitals, under plans being drawn up by the Home Office.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, will announce that the development of an ID card which 'entitles rather than restricts' will help in the crack down on terrorism and the fight against crime.

Senior Home Office figures have told The Observer that although members of the public will not have to carry the identity cards all the time, they will need them to use any Government service. They are now bracing themselves for a series of attacks on the policy at the Labour Party conference which starts today.

'If you go into a hospital, they will ask you for your identity card,' said one member of the Government. 'If you go into a school, they will ask you for your identity card. If you try and claim benefits, they will ask you for your identity card.

'It will be a check on who is using the service and it will also give people the feeling that they have a right to use the service. It is not a negative thing, it is positive.'

The development of an ID card policy is one of a raft of measures being planned by the Government in the wake of the attack on America on 11 September. One Whitehall official said that it was time for a 'closure of all the loopholes'.

On Thursday, the Government will announce two 'skeleton bills' which will provide the initial framework for a significant crackdown on terrorism and a tightening up of extradition procedures. Tony Blair will tell the second emergency session of Parliament since the atrocities, that the new laws are necessary to protect the country from terrorist attack.

The Prime Minister will also say that civil liberties are important to him but that the public's right to life 'is the most important freedom of all'.

As first revealed in The Observer two weeks ago, the new extradition bill will curtail the number of judicial reviews available to someone charged with offences abroad.

A fast-track system will mean that as long as the case is technically watertight the actual evidence does not need to be heard at length. The Government hopes that the moves will shorten the amount of time people charged with terrorist offences abroad are able to stay in the country.

Last week, there was anger when it was revealed that a number of individuals wanted for questioning around the world could remain in Britain for up to three years before the legal processes are exhausted.

A second bill will concentrate on the funding of terrorist organisations. It will look at freezing the financial assets of people who have committed or attempted to commit terrorist acts and also of those who participate in groups connected to terrorism.

Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that Britain would investigate bringing the country's laws into line with the new United Nations Security Council resolution which demands that member states introduce tough anti-terrorism measures similar to those which will be discussed on Thursday.

'For the first time, the Security Council is imposing obligations on all states to join together in the fight against terrorists,' Straw said.

'All states owe it to the victims of the World Trade Centre attacks and other terrorist atrocities to implement these measures. A number of them are already in force in the UK through the Terrorism Act. We are, nonetheless, considering urgently what further domestic legislation may be required.'

The Government is now facing a series of criticisms over its stance on civil liberties.

Writing in The Observer, Bill Morris, the leader of the Transport and General Workers Union, says that historic freedoms won over centuries are at risk.

'Before we rush for remedies we must remember the old adage is never more true when it comes to matters of civil liberties - legislate in haste and repent, well, repent if you do at all outside of mainstream society,' he says.

Morris argues that he fears that the present atmosphere will lead to draconian curbs on asylum seekers and the use of ID cards to target innocent people.

The former Home Office Minister, Mike O'Brien, will also attack the use of ID cards.

'Ministers have recognised that our aim is to seek to protect freedom and democracy, and therefore each time we are forced to undermine these values, terrorists will claim it as a victory,' he will say in a pamphlet to be published jointly by the civil liberties groups Charter 88 and Liberty tomorrow.

'Identity cards were abolished in the early fifties for good reasons. They were unreliable in proving identity and damaged the relationship between the public and the police. When it comes to fighting terrorism and serious crime, there are more effective things to spend our money on.'

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