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ID cards protect civil liberties – Blair

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The Prime Minster has given his strongest support yet for the introductiuon of identity cards in UK.

In what was billed as a make-or-break speech at the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth today, Tony Blair presented ID cards as a way of guarding against bogus asylum claims.

"In a world of mass migration, with cheaper travel and all the problems of fraud it makes sense to ask whether identity cards were no longer an affront to civil liberties but a way of protecting them," he told conference delegates.

The theme of ID cards was touched on only briefly in Blair's 50 minute speech, during which he defended the government's decision to go to war with Iraq. He struck an almost-Thatcherite stance in saying his government would press ahead with controversial policies such as setting up foundation hospitals and introducing University top-up fees.

"I can only go one way, I have not got a reverse gear," the Prime Minister told conference delegates.

Home Secretary David Blunkett, who speaks on the conference later this week, has always been more enthusiastic about the concept of ID cards than the Prime Minister.

Blair's remarks take on an added significance following earlier reports that Cabinet members, including Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt, were opposed to the idea of introducing ID cards on economic grounds. Peter Hain, the leader of the Commons and Charles Clarke, the education secretary are also reportedly against the idea of introducing next-generation ID cards on the basis that the biometric cards would cause far more to introduce than might be saved in reduced benefit fraud.

in June Blair reportedly spiked the idea of introducing ID cards - but they're back. It looks increasingly likely that a bill to pave the way for ID cards in Britain will make its way into the Queeen's speech in November.

Ian Brown, director of influential think tank the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR), told The Register that Blair tends to "oscillate" between supporting and opposing ID cards.

"Of all the arguments that might be made in support of ID cards, suggesting that they back up civil liberties is the least backed-up I've heard. This sounds like spin for the benefit of the conference," Brown said. ®

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