The comments were in a draft statement due to be given to the Commons by Merlyn Rees, the Home Secretary, who wrote that the introduction of identity cards “would require major changes in practices and powers reaching far beyond immigration control”.
He added: “In the past such changes have been contemplated only in war: the Government does not believe they could be justified on immigration grounds alone.”
The comments were later edited out of the final speech he delivered to the House, as a struggling Labour Government tried to resist the calls from Opposition leader Margaret Thatcher for more draconian measures to tackle illegal immigration.
In a secret discussion between Prime Minister Callaghan and the Whips on March 8 1978, a Downing Street aide wrote: “It was claimed that many Asian immigrants were very frightened.
“There was bitter opposition to the tactics adopted by Mrs Thatcher… and that resentment should be exploited by the Government.”
Ministers stuck by their pledge not to introduce quotas on immigration as they did not want the “objectionable” measure of requiring everyone to carry identification papers.
The confidential Government documents also discussed ways to expose “the fraudulent nature of Mrs Thatcher’s approach”, although a personal note written by Mr Callaghan warned that the Government’s response to Select Committee recommendations was too lacklustre.
He said: “We seemed to be accepting few recommendations — mostly ones to do nothing.”