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Wilson Government thought ID cards would be 'ineffective'.

Harold Wilson's Labour Government rejected the introduction of identity cards in the aftermath of the Birmingham pub bombings, according to official files made public today.

In November 1974 Wilson was under pressure to act after the bombings at the end of another year of appalling terrorist violence.

Twenty-one people were killed and more than 160 injured after bombs ripped through two city centre pubs - the Mulberry Bush and the Tavern in the Town.

In the aftermath of the attacks, Home Secretary Roy Jenkins was given the task of drawing up the emergency Prevention of Terrorism Bill to be rushed through Parliament.

But in a frank memorandum to Cabinet colleagues Mr Jenkins admitted that there was a limit to what such measures could achieve.

And he issued a sharp warning against responding to the terrorist attacks by adopting ever more draconian legislation.

'It goes almost without saying that we must guard against the danger of being driven to more and more extreme measures involving unwarranted infringement of personal liberty,' he wrote.

In the memorandum - dated November 24, three days after the bombings - Mr Jenkins acknowledged that the climate of public opinion was such that the Government had to be seen to take some action.

One proposal considered by Mr Jenkins was new restrictions on travel between the island of Ireland and the British mainland but he quickly concluded that a system of 'watertight control' was 'not practicable'.

'I see no advantage in aiming at a full passport-type control,' he wrote.

'Nor do I see advantage in a system of identity cards, which apart from creating difficulties for ordinary people would be extremely expensive and largely ineffective.'

Instead, he opted for the introduction of spot checks on travellers and a system of banning terrorist suspects from the mainland.

He also agreed to make membership of the IRA illegal, even though he conceded that the measure would 'not significantly assist the police' who would be able to do little to enforce it.

'On the other hand, a prohibition on membership would be welcomed by public opinion, and would help in discouraging people from taking the law into their own hands,' he said.

Perhaps the most important element of the Bill was to enable police to hold terrorism suspects for up to seven days without charging them.

On November 27, the Bill was rushed through Parliament and on to the statute book, with its provisions to expire after one year. It has been renewed every year.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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