Police and immigration given powers to demand to see identification
Police and immigration officers will be able to stop Britons and demand they prove their identity under proposed sweeping new powers.
By Tom Whitehead, Home Affairs Editor
Last Updated: 10:33PM GMT 02 Dec 2008
Shadow Immigration Minister, Damian Green: “This scheme will do nothing to improve our security.” Photo: ANDREW CROWLEY
Clauses in the draft Immigration and Citizenship Bill give state officials the power to make anyone who has ever entered the country, at any time, prove who they are without needing any suspicion of a potential crime.
Civil liberty groups warned that the catch-all clauses would effectively cover any British citizen who has ever left the UK, even for a holiday, because they will have “entered” the UK on their return.
Refusing to hand over the necessary documents would be a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of almost a year in prison and/or a hefty fine.
Officers will also be able to hold someone until they meet the requirements and can even demand a medical examination, although that will be more targeted at foreign nationals arriving from countries with high health risks of contagious diseases.
Critics said the move would see a return to war-time Britain where citizens had to carry their “papers” with them and accused the Government of bringing in compulsory ID cards by the back door.
Phil Booth, national coordinator of the NO2ID campaign, said: “We have not had any sort of law like this outside of war time.
“In practice it will be impossible to determine who has or has not entered the UK and therefore this applies to anyone in the UK.”
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne added: “This is potentially a catch-all power which would allow the police or the officials to arrest and hold anyone who was unable to prove their own identity.
“The Government has always promised that it would never introduce such a draconian intrusion into our daily lives.”
The clauses in the Bill, contained in the Queen's Speech, were unearthed by civil rights group Liberty and centre on a power to examine those who “arrive in, enter or seek to enter the UK”.
A sub-clause refers to anyone who “has entered the UK” and can therefore mean anyone who has entered either recently or in the past.
It means police or immigration officers would have the power to stop anyone, either at a port of entry or inside the country, and demand their identity purely on the basis they may have entered the UK at some point.
Clause 28 gives the power to require the production of a passport or other valid identity document.
A Liberty spokeswoman said: “This extends powers of examination to several new categories including anyone in the UK (whether a British citizen or not) who has ever left the UK at any time. ”
Currently, police or immigration officers can ask for identity if there is reasonable suspicion of a crime or immigration offence.
The Liberty spokeswoman added: “Clause 28(3) dramatically changes this premise allowing identity documents to be demanded of anyone that has at any time entered the UK by anyone authorised by the Secretary of State. No suspicion of criminality or immigration offending is required.”
She said it went “far beyond” what is reasonable for immigration control, adding: “We believe that the catch-all remit of this power is disproportionate and that its enactment would not only damage community relations but would represent a fundamental shift in the relationship between the State and those present in the UK.”
Around eight in ten UK citizens have a passport and the majority of those will have left the country at some point and therefore have “entered” again.
The clauses are in the draft bill to be put forward in the Queen's Speech.
They say refusal to submit to demands for identification would be a criminal offence that carries a maximum penalty of no more than 51 weeks in prison and or a 5,000.
The Government is currently rolling out the controversial ID cards programme for both foreign nationals and Britons but has insisted it will not be compulsory for Britons to carry the cards.
But Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti said: “Sneaking in compulsory identity cards via the back door of immigration law is a cynical escalation of this expensive and intrusive scheme.
Shadow Immigration Minister, Damian Green, added “This scheme will do nothing to improve our security, may make it worse, and will certainly land the tax-payer with a multi-million pound bill.
“Labour should be concentrating their efforts on things that will actually improve our security, like a dedicated UK Border police force, instead of trying to introduce ID cards through the back door.
“Now more than ever the issue of our basic freedoms is very important.”
A Home Office spokeswoman insisted there were no plans to make it compulsory for British citizens to carry or produce forms of identity.
She said: “It is simply wrong to claim there are any plans whatsoever to make identity cards compulsory for British citizens or to require British citizens to have their ID card or any other form of ID on them at all times and to present it when asked to do so.
“From next year British citizens will have the convenience of being able to use identity cards to travel in Europe, but they will not become the only way to prove your identity at borders and the UK passport will still be valid.
“In order to maintain an effective immigration control it is only right that we ask everyone attempting to enter to the UK to produce a valid identity document.”
But Mr Booth said it was “appallingly-drafted legislation”, adding: “They have got to the point that we must take the worst possible implication of the legislation.”