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Rebellion against ID Cards Bill poses crucial first test for Blair

By Nigel Morris and Colin Brown

24 June 2005

A backbench rebellion against identity cards is gathering strength, presenting Tony Blair with his first post-election battle with the Labour left.

At least 21 Labour MPs are threatening to oppose the legislation in the Commons and others are considering joining the revolt.

With the Government's reduced majority, legislation can in theory be defeated if 34 Labour MPs vote with opposition parties. The Tories confirmed yesterday that they would vote against the second reading of the ID Cards Bill on Tuesday, which is also opposed by the Liberal Democrats.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, is preparing a fresh effort to sell the benefits of ID cards as an invaluable tool for combatting identity fraud, terrorism and illegal immigration. He is braced, however, for a critical report on its merits next week from academics at the London School of Economics. Several large unions have come out against the plan and there are signs that public support for ID cards is falling.

The hard-left Campaign Group agreed yesterday to table a "reasoned amendment" to the ID Cards Bill, with the intention of wringing concessions out of Mr Clarke. It argues that the legislation will not tackle terrorism or reduce illegal immigration and that the planned ID cards register will not be immune to abuse. John McDonnell, the group's chairman, said: "Opposition to the scheme is hardening every day and every time a minister speaks or tries to defend it. The left is developing a strategy to force the Government to negotiate at every stage of its legislation."

About 40 MPs attending a private meeting of the Campaign Group at which Mr Clarke defended his proposals. One member present said: "While it was an entirely amicable meeting, not a single MP was convinced by his arguments."

The group is planning a similar strategy of tabling "reasoned amendments" to other contentious pieces of legislation, such as the expansion of city academies and the overhaul of incapacity benefit. "We are trying to adopt a constructive but critical approach to the legislative programme," a member said.

Earlier plans to introduce ID cards ran out of time before the election in the face of entrenched opposition in the Lords, and even if the new Bill survives its passage through the Commons it could face a mauling from peers.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "Once the detail of the ID cards scheme is looked at, it's clear that the Government's proposal is not workable and is also likely to prove hugely expensive to the taxpayer.

"They still can't tell us how much ID cards would cost and whether the technology exists for the biometric database to be accurate and reliable."