ID scheme to bite dust in pre-election terror rush?
So much repression, so little time...
The Government's difficulties in pushing control orders through Parliament are making it look increasingly unlikely that the ID Cards Bill will make it onto the statute book before the election. If it fails to do so, then any new Labour administration would be forced to start the process again from scratch after the election.
The ID Cards Bill is currently with the House of Lords, which this week is preoccupied with the Prevention of Terrorism Bill. This currently proposes to give the Home Secretary sweeping powers to monitor and restrict the movement and activities of suspected individuals. The Lords will not however approve it in this form, and while conflicting signals seemed to be coming out of the Government over the weekend as to whether or not it was prepared to make "further" concessions (as we've pointed out here before, the concessions so far don't actually concede much), the straight choice is probably between conceding enough to get the Tory Party onside or losing the Bill. The Tories may line up if the Government concedes the point that all control orders should be imposed by judges, rather than simply the 'more serious' ones, and gives in to a "sunset clause" that automatically expires the powers around September.
That seems a likely outcome, but probably only after a couple of days of squaring off, and the Sunday Times yesterday suggested Home Secretary Charles Clarke was also preparing to deploy a statutory instrument which would continue the detention of the Belmarsh inmates until "new arrangements" can be put in place. This might be used once the Government has maximised pre-election grandstanding at the expense of the opposition.
The second reading of the ID Cards Bill is currently programmed for the House of Lords in two weeks time, on Monday 21st March, by which time it will be getting dangerously close to the election period (the real one, that is, not the one we've been in since November). With the election date expected to be 5th May, Parliamentary business would end in early April, and any Bills left hanging at this point will be subject to horse-trading between the Government and the Opposition. Relatively uncontroversial Bills can be rushed through, while others can pass into law provided the Government is prepared to concede some key points.
The ID Cards Bill however falls into neither of these categories. The LibDems are totally opposed to it, and the current Tory position is that while it is prepared to support ID cards in principle, the current scheme will need substantial amendment before it can win Tory Party approval. This barely papers over the Tory Party's internal fissures over ID cards, but as there's no chance of of the Government giving way sufficiently for the Tory support to actually be delivered, this is academic with a May election coming. The pre-election battle over ID cards will therefore also be likely to amount to name-calling about being soft on terrorism, with (short of the Labour Party being hideously maimed at the ballot box) the whole process restarting once the smoke's cleared. ®