In the Media

Clarke vows to overturn ID cards defeat

PUBLISHED March 8, 2006

The home secretary, Charles Clarke, today vowed to overturn a defeat inflicted by the Lords after Tory and Liberal Democrat peers last night opposed attempts to introduce the compulsory identity cards 'by stealth'.

The Lords voted 227 to 166 - a majority of 61 - to try to ensure that passport applicants will not have to enter their details on the national identity register.

Opposition peers say the plans break the government's promise that ID cards would initially be voluntary.

But Mr Clarke said the House of Lords should respect the clear views of elected MPs as he accused some peers of playing party politics.
Speaking in bullish mood earlier this morning on the BBC's Today programme, Mr Clarke said he would ask MPs to overturn the defeat for the second time when the identity cards bill returns to the Commons.

"This is a very well-developed programme, which will have a massive impact on illegal immigration, and I find it surprising that the Conservatives oppose it," he said.

"The situation is very clear. We passed in the Commons a clear vote on that particular very narrow question on which the Lords voted last night.

"The Lords set themselves up against it by their vote yesterday. When it comes back to the Commons, I will be urging my colleagues in parliament to roll over the Lords' decision

"I hope the Lords will recognise that this manifesto commitment, voted through by the elected chamber, should be respected."

Ministers say ID cards should be linked to biometric passports, which are being issued for the first time this week - they want everybody applying for a passport from 2008 to also be issued with an ID card.

But a report published today on the cost of a combined identity card and passport is likely to fuel opposition to the government's proposals.

Figures published today by the London School of Economics reveal that the government will face a deficit of ?1.8bn over 10 years unless it racks up the fees for issuing the cards, according to a report in the Financial Times.

The analysis by the LSE, which has repeatedly clashed with ministers over its assessments, is based on a comparison of government forecasts to take up of the cards, set against its estimate of the cost of the programme.

The figures will be seized on by opposition parties, determined to face down the government's plans.

Ahead of last night's vote, Conservative shadow minister Baroness Anelay of St Johns called the government's plan "compulsion by stealth", a view echoed by Lady Kennedy, a human rights lawyer and Labour rebel.

Lady Scotland, the government's home affairs spokeswoman in the Lords, hit back, telling peers the plans had the country's backing.

Under the Salisbury convention, opposition parties promise not to vote against manifesto commitments at second reading or to table wrecking amendments.

"We went to the electorate and said, we want identity cards and it will be a compulsory scheme in the long term," she said.

There were also common sense reasons for issuing passports and identity cards together, she added, such as increased convenience for the public and lower total costs. It would also ensure that the project rolled out faster, allowing its benefits to be enjoyed more quickly.

Lord Gould, a Labour peer and one of Tony Blair's closest political allies, added: "The will of the people and the elected parliament should prevail."

But Lord Phillips, the Lib Dem home affairs spokesman, rejected those arguments and quoted from Labour's election manifesto, which said the scheme would "[roll] out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports".

Lord Phillips said it was not just a question of ID cards themselves.

"What we have here is a bill that is compulsory ... that gives the home secretary 61 order-making powers, that carries heavy penalties for citizen failure and, above all, which has attached to it a major database of our private information, some of it highly personal."