When the Government introduced its ID card legislation several years ago, it made one thing clear. Even though it would be obligatory to register on the ID database when obtaining a new passport, it would not be compulsory to carry a card.
This has led some people to assume that the scheme is voluntary. It is not, except insofar as someone whose passport has expired is happy never to travel abroad again. But ministers recognised that the scope for ID ‘matrydom’ was high if people were forced to carry an ID card.
The last identity system was abolished in 1952 following a celebrated case prompted by the refusal of a man called Clarence Willcock to produce his card when required to by a police officer. Mr Willcock reasoned that as the war that necessitated their introduction was over, he had no need to carry ID with him. The Government wanted to avoid creating an army of Clarence Willcocks so deliberately did not make it a legal requirement to carry ID.
Now it turns out that they are planning to sneak in just such a power presumably hoping that no-one noticed. But the eagle-eyed lawyers at Liberty spotted that clauses in the draft Borders, Immigration and Citizenship Bill — confirmed as part of the Government’s programme for this session of parliament in the Queen’s Speech – give state officials the power to make anyone who has ever entered the country, at any time, prove who they are.
This 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. It will mean that for the first time in more than half a century that the police will be able to demand your papers.
One reason for publishing a draft Bill is so that it can be closely scrutinised before it gets into parliament for precisely such hidden powers or for clumsy drafting. Perhaps the Government did not intend the legislation to be so widely drawn and meant it merely to apply to people when they arrive at the border as part of a proper immigration control system.
If this is a drafting error, then the remedy is simple: when the Bill is formally introduced the offending clause can be withdrawn or amended.
If the Government insists upon proceeding with the measure in its current form, then we can draw our own conclusions.
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