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Lords ready to scupper ID cards after MPs back Bill

By Nigel Morris, Home Affairs Correspondent 11 February 2005

Plans to introduce identity cards face a mauling in the Lords, despite winning overwhelming support last night from the House of Commons.

Although the Liberal Democrats joined 19 Labour rebels to oppose the scheme and the Tories abstained, after supporting the measure in December, the ID Cards Bill was passed by 224 votes to 64.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, argued that the measure - a key part of Labour's pre-election legislative programme - was vital to the fight against terrorism, benefit fraud and identity theft. He acknowledged, however, that resistance in the Lords would make it difficult to turn it into law were an election to be called in the spring.

The Home Secretary branded the Tory stance as dishonourable and a "betrayal of the interests of the country". The Conservatives said they were abstaining because a series of crucial questions about the scheme had not been answered and the Bill had been rushed through without proper scrutiny. David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "Rather than playing politics they should make a serious effort to make it work by proper revision in the Lords. By leaving these complex proposals so late they are making a difficult task even harder."

The register created by the Bill will hold details of everyone living in Britain. The database, the biggest IT project ever attempted by the Government, will store details such as name and address, plus "biometrics", such as fingerprints and images of the iris. The Bill provides a power to make the cards compulsory at a later date, which the Home Office has estimated at 2010 to 2012.

Richard Allan, for the Liberal Democrats, accused the Government of trivialising the cost of cards and warned that for a family of four it could be several hundred pounds. Urging MPs to oppose the Bill, he said: "It's simply not ready. We are being asked to buy a pig in a poke."

Neil Gerrard, Labour MP for Walthamstow, said: "Whatever you do to this Bill ... it's fundamentally objectionable in what it sets out to do." Other Labour rebels included the former ministers Mark Fisher, Glenda Jackson and Clare Short.

Earlier, Tony Blair said he believed "the time is right" to introduce ID cards. He said: "I think these civil liberties arguments are a bit outdated." He was speaking as he visited the UK Passport Agency in central London, which has just completed a trial of fingerprint and iris-recognition technology.

Thousands join protest group

It all started in a tiny, crowded pub in the back streets of the West End of London nearly a year ago. Huddled around a table in the Newman Arms, half a dozen self-confessed civil liberties obsessives railed against the iniquities of plans to introduce national identity cards.

They decided the scheme was so dangerous that they organised a public meeting at the London School of Economics a few weeks later, which drew an audience of 50 or 60.

Today the tiny pressure group they formed - N02ID - has signed up 10,000 supporters and has plans for "explosive growth" between now and the election.

Last month it emerged from supporters' front rooms and into a national headquarters in central London. It has already established 26 local groups from Exeter to Edinburgh and wants to set up another 30 by the election expected in May. The group has been further boosted by councils in Norwich (home city of Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary), Oxford and York passing motions refusing to co-operate with the cards.

Plans are being made to campaign against candidates who support the legislation and organisers say protest rallies, and eventually the jailing of ID card refuseniks, are inevitable if the plans are implemented.