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Commons walks all over Lords' ID card proposals

Compromise rejected

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The Commons yesterday stuck to the government's guns rejecting (by 284 to 241) a truce offered yesterday by the House of Lords.

The Lords have seen their attempts to liquidate government plans for covertly compulsory ID cards rejected by MPs three times.

The Lords had proposed a compromise on Monday that they hoped would end the current round of legislative ping-pong. Compulsion would have been put off until 2012, making it an issue for the next election. But that idea's been kicked out of Parliament too.

Before Parliament's vote yesterday, Edward Garnier, shadow minister for home affairs, compared the centres where people would have their fingerprints taken, their eyes scanned and their photographs taken for the government database, to the Soviet gulags.

"If compulsion by stealth is so good and so popular, why do not the Government have the self-confidence to try voluntary take-up? If the public are sufficiently attracted and follow the arguments on cost, they will flock into the gulags and processing places so that their information can be put on the national identity register," he said.

For a moment it almost conjured an image of country as concentration camp... but this evaporated as Garnier was promptly forced to withdraw his remark by home secretary Charles Clarke.

Nevertheless, David Winnick, Labour MP for Walsall, North, and a critic of the "jackboot jibes" that have been thrown at the government's ID plans, urged the government not to force a bill with such serious implications for citizenship through parliament without having it proposed clearly to the electorate first.

Which brings us to the New Labour manifesto commitment that has now been parsed ad nauseam: that the cards would be voluntary when someone applied for a passport.

This argument has been wrung dry, leaving the government to argue its case for compulsion on two key points, as it has done since Monday: uncertainty and cost.

As Clarke said yesterday and Baroness Scotland of Asthal, Minister of State for Criminal Justice and Offender Management, told the Lords on Monday, any delay to the imposition of ID cards or voluntary take-up of the scheme would complicate it because the government would have to rewrite the business plan for system and confuse the tendering of suppliers.

Clarke accused opponents of a "deliberate plan for delay and destruction of the process in the Identity Cards Bill."

Opponents said delaying the imposition of ID cards would do no such thing. The government had not even finished drawing up plans for the system and certainly had no idea how much it would cost.

New proposals for ID card readers had only just been floated when the Lords debated the issue on Monday.

"If I wanted to be difficult, I could say that they are making it up day by day. But I don't want to be difficult," said Baroness Anelay of St Johns.®

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