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Blair sets up first battle with rebels over ID cards

By Nigel Morris, Home Affairs Correspondent

13 May 2005

Tony Blair is to provoke his first trial of strength with Labour rebels since the election by pressing ahead with contentious proposals for identity cards.

The Government could be hit by a major backbench revolt within weeks after the Cabinet agreed to reintroduce the ID card plans as a priority in the Queen's Speech next week.

Earlier this year, 19 Labour MPs voted against the measure, and dozens abstained. It is also opposed by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, and the shadow Home Secretary David Davis is a vehement critic of ID cards.

With the Government's majority now down to 67, a flagship measure of the Queen's Speech could in theory be defeated by 34 rebels.

Ministers are convinced any rebellion will fizzle out, arguing the measure has widespread support. They are also preparing minor concessions designed to answer fears about the security of the database that would underpin the scheme.

Labour opponents of ID cards, who are about to hold talks on their parliamentary campaign of resistance, said yesterday they were holding firm.

David Taylor, MP for North West Leicestershire, said: "I voted against in the last Parliament and I shall vote against in the next. I think backbenchers will be more hostile to identity cards this time."

Glenda Jackson, MP for Hampstead and Highgate, said: "Before the election, identity cards were morally and economically untenable. Now they have become politically untenable. If Tony Blair deliberately seeks to introduce this controversial legislation at the earliest opportunity it will obviously be seen as an attempt to provoke the Parliamentary Labour Party [PLP]."

Mick Clapham, MP for Barnsley West and Penistone, said: "I have concerns from a privacy point of view and concerns from the freedom point of view." Another rebel, who asked not to be named, said: "It's a crazy idea. There will be talks about what we do next."

The stirrings of rebellion emerged the day after Mr Blair faced criticism from backbenchers in a fractious meeting of the PLP.

Ministeers argue there is overwhelming public support for the introduction of ID cards, with 80 per cent of voters backing it.

Mr Blair denied he would be hamstrung by his reduced majority, saying it was "fatuous" to think the Government could not get its programme through the Commons.

A Labour source said: "If people step out of line, there will be recriminations."

The campaign group No2ID plans to lobby Labour MPs who had privately said they were opposed to ID cards. The group said it knew 80 backbenchers who opposed the scheme.

The ID Cards Bill was abandoned in March just before it was due to begin its detailed passage through the House of Lords.