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Defeat for Blair as peers refuse to give in over ID cards
The Government's identity cards plan suffered another severe setback yesterday when the Lords voted to keep it as a voluntary scheme.
Ministers want the issue of new passports to be conditional on applicants consenting to the inclusion of their fingerprints and other biometric information on the proposed National Identity Register.
The provision, contained in the Identity Card Bill, would effectively make ID cards compulsory for all except those prepared to let their passports run out without renewal.
But the condition was thrown out by peers, who accused Labour of reneging on a manifesto promise to introduce ID cards on a voluntary basis.
The defeat, by 186 votes to 142, sets the scene for another rebellion by Labour MPs opposed to the Bill when it returns to the Commons in a few months.
Rebels slashed the Government's majority to 25 in a vote on the Bill in October, and their numbers may be swelled by anti-Blair MPs smelling blood not only on ID cards but also over the Prime Minister's education reforms.
In a debate on ID cards last week, peers voted for the Government to come clean over the cost of the scheme, which academics at the London School of Economics says could cost up to £19 billion.
During yesterday's debate, the Tory peer Baroness Anelay said Labour should stick to its manifesto promise to keep the scheme voluntary.
Addressing the Home Office minister, Baroness Scotland, she said: "The minister estimated that by the end of the initial period about 85 per cent of the population would have been forced to have an ID card as a result of applying for passports and going on the register. That is not what any normal person reading the manifesto would expect."
Lady Scotland said: "The Government's intent has been very clear. These amendments would make registration and the issue of identity cards an optional extra to anyone applying for a designated document - for example a British passport, a residents permit for foreign nationals.
"We have always been clear that the identity cards scheme is being designed and is intended eventually to become a compulsory scheme for all UK residents and in this second phase of the scheme it will be a requirement to register with a civil penalty regime for failure to do so."
Lord Stoddart (Ind Lab) said: "All of the new measures taken by this Government over quite a long period, contain the elements of a fascist state." Britain was preaching to other countries about democracy while undermining democracy at home.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury (Liberal Democrat), moving the amendment, said: "Citizens should not be forced to have ID cards. Compulsion is too often resorted to by the modern state. It comes from an intensely managerial culture in which regulation rules. That sits uneasily with fundamental rights."
The Government was defeated again when the Lords backed a Tory move requiring a new Act before cards became compulsory.
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