Identity cards and freedom

This day 56 years ago Parliament ended the ID card scheme introduced to the UK in 1939.

It took a brave and clever Judge to kill it off. In June 1951 Lord Goddard ruled against the continuation of ID cards. In a famous judgement he said:

“It is obvious that the police now, as a matter of routine, demand the production of national registration identity cards whenever they stop or interrogate a motorist for whatever cause. Of course, if they are looking for a stolen car or have reason to believe that a particular motorist is engaged in committing a crime, that is one thing, but to demand a national registration identity card from all and sundry, for instance from a lady who may leave her car outside a shop longer than she should, or some such trivial matter of that sort, is wholly unreasonable. This Act was passed for security purposes….To use Acts of Parliament, passed for particular purposes during war, in times when the war is past….tends to turn law-abiding subjects into law-breakers, which is a most undesirable state of affairs. Further, in this country we have always prided ourselves on the good feeling that exists between police and the public and such action tends to make people resentful of the acts of the police and inclines them, to obstruct the police…”

When Parliament passed the National registration Act in September 1939 it did so for three reasons.. It did so because it was felt we would need rationing, and some favoured a national system using central registration rather than the local shop based system used in the 1st World War. It needed an up to date census for wartime planning as the 1931 census was very out of date by 1939. The government wanted to plan all manpower and needed information of how many people in what trades and occupations lived where. The registration system was part of a grand planning approach to a wartime economy.

Ministers did not claim that registration cards were crucial to our security. Indeed they took other draconian measures to ensure that. Some Germans and Italians were put in prison. Others were monitored by police. Beaches were covered in barbed wire and anti tank devices. Observation and sentry posts were set up where the government feared invasion and intrusion. Commercial flights and shipping to Germany and the occupied territories of Europe stopped.

Against this background it is bizarre that some today tell us ID cards worked in the war to keep us secure, so why shouldn’t they work in peace? Presumably even this authoritarian government does not think it can round up “enemy aliens” as they were called in wartime and put them in prison. Even this government will stop short of physical traps on our beaches, and sentry posts on the streets.

In 1947 Morrison made excellent criticisms of the ID cards. “There are no doubt that they are troublesome documents to some people. They frequently get lost. The dishonest man – the spiv, as he has been called –is generally possessed, I am told, of five or six different identity cards which he produces at his pleasure to meet the changing exigencies of his adventurous career. So in the detection and prevention of crime no case can be made out for the identity card.”

Why can’t this government ditch this hated scheme? The evidence of history shows it is not a good idea, and great socialist luminaries of the past understood the need to protect our freedoms.


  1. Cliff
    February 21, 2008

    As I understand it, the ID scheme is a diktat from our real government in Brussels….You know the one…The one we can't vote on or get rid off.

    Makes you proud to be British doesn't it?

  2. Tony Makara
    February 21, 2008

    The ludicrous thing about this is the government seem to think an ID card would protect us against terrorism. Does Gordon Brown actually believe that a terrorist group would not be intelligent enough to produce perfect fake cards, or that a suicide bomber without a criminal record wouldn't be able to carry out an attack using his/her ID card? This is one of the most stupid of ideas ever dreamt up by a government. Very much in the Labour mode of quick-fix politics and not thinking the issue through. Worst of all is that we have a government that won't admit that it has got it wrong, so they continue to blunder forward, even after all the recent breaches in security due to lost data.

  3. newmania
    February 21, 2008

    Good Lord Mr. R are you atemting a sort of lugubrious humour . This will do nothing for your reputation for intellectual asceticism .I smirked anyway , so I hope this is not a no smirking zone.
    There is something almost viscerally abhorrent in the state supplying you with an identity but in truth its the cost of it that sways me more than anything else .

    PS- Great post , every ball a coconut and I see that many people are saying we need that nice man Mr. Redwood in a position of power.

  4. Toque
    February 21, 2008

    Why? Because they are authoritarians.

    Great post.

  5. Freeborn John
    February 21, 2008

    There are many definitions of freedom but the version that I adhere to is

  6. James
    February 21, 2008

    Mr Redwood,

    Why can’t more of our politicians be like you. David Cameron has committed a major oversight by not promoting you to his cabinet.

    It’s a breath of fresh air to read a politician (even an opposition one) wholeheartedly expressing a view that anybody in possession of half a braincell could agree with.

    Thankyou, and keep them coming.


    P.S. I was once a Labour Voter. Never again!

  7. APL
    February 21, 2008

    JR: "Even this government will stop short of physical traps on our beaches, and sentry posts on the streets."

    But as someone who I imagine took part in the debate on the civil contingency act, you must know the government have already made provision for just this sort of behaviour.

    I believe it is possible for the government to declare an area (forbidden- ed) and send in the (word left out ed) troops to forcibly evacuate the designated area.

    I recall there have already been some drills in the Manchester area where the police have actually evacuated the area on the pretext that there was some form of WMD. Of course nothing was actually found.

    Piece shortened

    Indeed, the past is a foreign country.

  8. Michael Taylor
    February 21, 2008

    Keep it up. The consistently high quality of your thought and work on this site provides a rare beacon of hope for those of us who'd like a Conservative Party which might, just might, make a difference. As "newmania" says, it's important to get that nice man Mr Redwood into a position of power.

  9. Elizabeth Elliot-Pyle
    February 21, 2008

    It is the unbelievable COST of this whole scheme that horrifies me – apart from the thought of this government having access to every single detail of our lives.
    Keep up the good work, Mr Redwood.
    PS Do you ever talk to Mr Cameron about your various ideas, and the response you get to them?

    Reply: Yes, I do talk to David Cameron and George Osborne. The Tory front bench made many of the important points about trying to find out what the taxpayer was buying before thinking of purchase in the debate this week.

  10. mikestallard
    February 21, 2008

    Will you allow me to say that you remind me very much of Macchiavelli who used, apparently, to dress himself in his finest robes to write his book about politics in the evenings. Everything he said was completely right, but it didn't get him back into power. Italian Unification came centuries later, and then look what happened!

    It is heartbreaking for people like me on the sidelines watching my country being taken slowly to pieces while "spivs" and crooks and overpromoted nincompoops take every single advantage of the situation.

    Nevertheless – very well said!

  11. Stuart Fairney
    February 22, 2008

    They can put me in jail and seize my assets deny me public services and I will still never carry one.

    This changes the fundamantal relationship between citizen and state. I do not need to prove my innocence nor will I. The state needs to prove my guilt before a jury of my peers if they believe me guilty of a crime. I do not need to prove my identity and I never, never will.

    The state is not my master, as labour believe, it is supposed to be my servant.

  12. tim holden
    February 22, 2008

    I was a teenager living in South Africa in the early Sixties when identity cards became mandatory to combat "the terrorist threat".

    The first general use to which the new document was put was for the conscription of white children into the South African Defence Force. I was sixteen when I was called up.

    Not long afterwards, for the same reason, a law was passed allowing thirty days detention without trial. And not long afterwards, for the same reason again, that period was increased to ninety days. The echoes are disturbing.

    Such tactics are the methods of governments that later become vilified by history. And pure ignorance of lessons from the past is demonstrated in the callow and overbearing current Labour Government.

    Britain's fourth and equally doomed venture into Afghanistan is the most perfect example, but the further case of their identity card scheme indicates a depth of sinister intent . It is clear that Mr Bean, although exposed as such in all his ineptitude, is still trying to be Stalin.

  13. Bazman
    February 23, 2008

    The scheme is just not going to work. The main reason apart from cost and forgery, that it would have to be compulsory to carry one and an offence not to. Just not practical or possible in country like Britain even if you think we should.
    Technology may solve the cost issue and make forgery impossible, due to DNA cameras, or something else as far fetched at this moment in time. With DNA taken at birth. Not so far fetched.
    How many people, especially conservative minded people will be so against the idea then? Any government would love to sell the idea and if you listen to any talk radio show there seems to be many people who quite like the idea of a soft police state and I'm sure a few would like a police state. Nothing to hide, so nothing to fear is the thread of many callers.
    How keen is parliament on id in principle? The state rarely gives up any powers once it has them, and the technology becomes cheap and available.
    It's not a police state…… yet! copper! Oh! It's you Mr Redwood MP…. Sir. Very sorry for stopping you and your charming lady wife. I'll tell the boys you are about.

  14. Andrew Duffin
    February 23, 2008

    The point is not the card. Proving your identity is only part of the point.

    The point is the surveillance database that lies behind the card. T
    You will carry it, all of you, because in time, without it you'll be unable to buy petrol, or a drink in a bar, or an airline ticket, or a train ticket, or open a bank account, or enter a major public building such as a council office, or obtain any benefits, or get your pension from the Post Office, or get treatment in a hospital. And lots of other things I haven't thought of or haven't space to put down.

    And every time you produce it on those occasions, it will be swiped, and the fact of its having been swiped will go into the database, marked with the location, the purpose, the time and the date. And who knows what else. YOU won't know, because everything on the card will be encypted so that only the State (and criminals) will know what's on it.

    THIS is what makes our rulers salivate, this is the bit that was missing from the wartime scheme, which the judge so rightly demolished, and this is the piece you are all failing to spot. It is the whole justification, it is worth any price to them. Especially since the price, however high, will be paid by the surveillees themselves.

  15. Bazman
    February 24, 2008

    A cross between Futurama and Tutankhamen.
    Andrew Duffin is right on the money with his cash card combined with a mobile phone theory. Given the right organisation and 'cooperation' of the companies involved would be easy and cheap even today. Keep illegal immigrants out and prove where social security fraudsters are at just for a start. You will not be able to avoid the cost as it will be included in your moble phone bill and as technology progresses, further refined to include overseas visitors and keep check on your Internet usage. DNA cameras in the street will fit as soon as. You will not be able to function without this card/phone and hacking will be impossible. Ever heard of a toll free mobile?
    Any government organisation will have the information available Private companies and your wife/husband will be able to buy it. Gold dust.
    MP's, ministers and the rich will of course be exempt for national security and business/tax reasons.

  16. Carroll Powell
    March 3, 2008

    Very good post Mr Redwood. You should also be aware that Meg Hillier, the relevant junior minister, said to a Select Committee last week that:

    "You should see an ID card like a passport in-country".

    There was a time when we in Britain could feel superior to countries like South Africa or the Soviet Union because they had such things as pass laws and internal passports under which the State monitored and controlled what its people did. No longer, I'm afraid. I hope the Tories make much much more of this. The civil liberties angle is one where they would get a lot of support from those who hate and despite the authoritarian tendencies of this Government.

  17. Owen Dougan
    July 10, 2009

    I still have my identity card issued to me in january 1951.this was a blue card issued to adults from the age of 16. I also have my n.i.card issued in1948,my grade4 national service card as unfit for military service january 1953.

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