http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianpolitics/story/0,3605,1046964,00.html

Home secretary presses cabinet sceptics to agree to include paving legislation for introduction of national scheme in Queen’s speech

Alan Travis Home affairs editor

The Guardian. Monday September 22, 2003

The home secretary, David Blunkett, said yesterday that he was still hopeful that legislation paving the way for a national identity card scheme would be introduced in the Queen’s speech this autumn, despite opposition in the cabinet.

He confirmed for the first time that he wants to see a compulsory scheme, and that those who do not qualify for the card will not be able to work or get access to healthcare, education and other public services.

That confirms the fears of civil liberties campaigners that in reality it will prove to be a “disentitlement card” scheme.

Several leading cabinet ministers, including Charles Clarke, Peter Hain and Patricia Hewitt, are sceptical and known to have strong reservations about the introduction of identity cards.

The cabinet’s domestic affairs committee was given the task 10 days ago of making further feasibility studies before a final decision whether to go ahead with the scheme is taken this year.

Mr Blunkett candidly admitted yesterday that there was “a vigorous debate” in the cabi net on compulsion, the cost of the scheme, the technology involved, and the timing of the necessary legislation.

He appealed strongly to cabinet sceptics to back the need for paving legislation this autumn.

And he argued that without a national identity card scheme it would never be possible to establish how many illegal immigrants were living in Britain.

Asked on BBC TV’s Breakfast with Frost yesterday to estimate how many unregistered migrants there are in the country, the home secretary replied: “I haven’t got a clue… The reason we haven’t is, of course, because we don’t have a rigorous and enforceable identification system linked to a register of all those who are in the country.

“That is, of course, what we are debating in cabinet at the moment.

“Should we have a register of all those in the country and should we have an identifica tion system that relates to it?”

The Home Office has never made an estimate of how people are living illegally in Britain, on the grounds that it is impossible to know.

Mr Blunkett said yesterday that it was clear from the number of people using public services that it was wrong to claim the figure was as high as one million.

“I have to get people’s trust on asylum and immigration,” he said.

“And one of the trusts that we need is that we know who’s here, we know who they are, that we can track them, that people don’t work if they are not entitled to work, they don’t draw on services which are free in this country, including health, unless they are entitled to, and that when we find people we can identify quickly that they are not entitled and get them out.

“Now all of that, in my view, is dependent firstly on improving the whole system… you build on what is already there, 44m passports, 38m driving licences, we can build on that, and ensure that everyone has a verifiable card.”

He said the ID cards would not be compulsory in the sense that everyone would have to carry one in the street.

But the card would have to be produced when it was required, and that would mean that those without it would be denied access to work and public services.

“My own view is that the minimum is that you can’t actually work, or draw on services, register for services unless you have that card.”

Asked whether he wanted to see the necessary legislation in this autumn’s Queen’s speech, Mr Blunkett said: “It is my hope that we will do that.

“We are debating the Queen’s speech at the moment, let’s see if we can get that through.”

The home secretary also confirmed that it was his intention to introduce legislation for a single right of appeal for asylum seekers whose cases were turned down.

He will learn the outcome this week of his appeal against the high court ruling that the decision to deny welfare benefits to those who do not claim asylum as soon as they arrive in the country was illegal.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianpolitics/story/0,3605,1046964,00.html

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