03 September 2005 10:09

Home Secretary Charles Clarke last night tried to breathe new life into his bid to introduce national identity cards and declared: “Big Brother society is already here and my job is to control it.”

He told the EDP that the argument that cards would infringe civil liberties was “ridiculous” – and promised to present new proposals about the cost and make-up of the ID cards “within a couple of weeks”.

He attacked the “Big Brother state” accusation head-on, insisting: “People’s names are already on a large number of databases.

“Most of us have dozens of cards in our wallets with our identities on. We already have a Big Brother society.

“ID cards mean identity fraud can be dealt with and stopped.

“ID cards are a means of controlling the Big Brother society rather than creating it. Big Brother society is already here.”

The Bill to introduce ID cards went through its Second Reading in the House of Commons with a majority of just 31 on June 28, with MPs in all parties anxious about civil liberties and the cost.

Opponents are lining up to try to defeat the Government in the Bill’s later stages, and promising fierce opposition in the House of Lords if it does clear the Commons.

A report from the London School of Economics (LSE) said the ID-card scheme could cost as much as £19bn, or about £200 per person – a claim dismissed by Mr Clarke as “complete nonsense”.

But in an interview with the EDP, he said: “Can we produce

a scheme which is worth it on cost?

“We’ve got a long way to go to persuade punters here in Norfolk and everywhere that they are a good thing.”

Mr Clarke said he was a “militant supporter” of ID cards.

He said: “The whole thing depends on using ID cards in a number of different areas of life, including Criminal Records Bureau applications, driving licences, passports.

“It could reduce the number of cards you have in your pocket.

“I think the civil liberties argument is ridiculous.

“If we compare people’s right not to be blown up with their right to civil liberties it is not difficult.

“No measure can absolutely guarantee to stop a particular event. But I believe ID cards will help. Most countries in Europe have ID cards.”

He would not comment on how much the cards could cost, but said the LSE figures were “absurd”.

“We have to remake the argument for ID cards. It needs to be re-articulated. The argument against is principally cost. I’m less preoccupied about the civil liberties issue.”

The cards, which could be issued from 2008, are likely to include a photograph of the holder, along with their name, address, gender and date of birth. A microchip would also hold biometric information – a person’s fingerprints or iris or facial scans.

Mr Clarke faces the busiest period since he took charge of the Home Office following David Blunkett’s resignation last December and is planning a series of speeches in the lead-up to the party conference season to unveil his key policies.

He will talk to the European Union Parliament in Strasbourg on September 7 about the urgent need for cross-border co-operation to tackle international terror and crime.

And the following week he will outline his plans to overhaul the judicial and prisons system at a speech to the Prison Reform Trust.

His tray is full of unresolved issues, with the continued fallout from the London terror attacks, controversy over 24-hour licensing legislation and the never-ending arguments about immigration.

Eastern Daily Press 3rd Sept 05