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Scots and pilots brace against ID cards

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The Home Office is seeking parliamentary approval to extend the scope of identity cards for non-European nationals, while opposition to the scheme increases.

The UK Border Agency said on 13 February 2009 that Parliament will vote on secondary legislation which would mean that many foreign nationals who seek temporary leave to remain in the UK are issued with identity cards. The move comes as the Scottish Government restated its opposition, and pilots, who will be among the first to be forced to apply for the card, said they will refuse to cooperate.

Responding to a consultation document about the changes, Scotland's minister for community safety, Fergus Ewing, restated the Scottish government's "complete opposition" to the National Identity Scheme. The Scottish Parliament recently voted in favour of a motion calling for the Westminster government to cancel the scheme.

In a letter to Home Office minister Meg Hillier on 12 February 2008 Ewing said: "Given the current financial climate, the UK government should have better uses for the vast sums of money being spent on this scheme, which presents an unacceptable threat to citizens' privacy and civil liberties, with little tangible evidence to suggest it will do anything to safeguard against crime and terrorism."

Ewing highlighted the overall costs of this scheme, which could be £4.8bn, or £5.11bn if costs associated with foreign nationals are included, and called for the money the money to be spent on nurses, police officers or more schools and hospitals.

"The costs of this scheme are not only to be borne indirectly by the tax payer," he said. "All citizens, including Scots, will be expected to fork out for a card and to enrol on the national identity register when this becomes compulsory in 2012.

"The initial application fee has been fixed at £30 and that is supposedly a cut price offer to entice citizens to get one before they become compulsory. How much they will cost from 2012 is anyone's guess.

Meanwhile, the British Airline Pilots' Association (Balpa) has written to the management of Manchester and London City airports, the first two locations selected by the government to introduce the identity card to airside workers, warning that pilots would not cooperate with the introduction of the card.

Balpa's letter says that forcing pilots to have ID cards is "nothing but coercion. Promises that ID cards would be voluntary have been broken."

"What happens when the first airport worker refuses to register for an ID card?" Balpa asks. "Our understanding from the draft regulations is... that the individual will be out of a job. This could be an individual who has served his or her country as a service pilot being told they are not now trusted. This is both unacceptable and demeaning and we will resist."

The government's secondary legislation, if passed, will mean that from 31 March 2009 those who will be required to supply their fingerprints and apply for a card will include postgraduate doctors and dentists, academic visitors who are staying in the country for more than six months, people seeking private medical treatment, domestic workers and retired people who support themselves financially, plus their spouses and children.

In addition, people who apply to transfer their existing conditions will also receive an identity card instead of a stamp in their passport. Foreign nationals seeking indefinite leave to remain will be unaffected by the changes.

The UK Border Agency said that it has made three successful prosecutions for leave to remain by deception as a result of the cards, which were introduced in November last year. Several other cases are under investigation "where we expect similar results", said the agency. "These successes demonstrate the effectiveness of biometric checks in tackling immigration abuses and reducing illegal working."

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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