Tories promise to ditch ID Cards

A liberal conundrum?

The Conservatives will scrap ID Cards if they win the 2010 election, shadow home secretary David Davis promised last night.

The House of Lords and the Commons cobbled a quick compromise together to end their protracted dispute over the Identity Cards Bill in time for their Easter holidays, which settled on ID cards being sort of compulsory until just before the next election, when there would be no choice in the matter.

It was a compromise over which opponents to the ID scheme in both houses expressed regret and disappointment, but was nevertheless voted through and sent for royal assent.

The Conservatives, however, raised a standard to revivify campaigners against the cards.

"While I recommend that my party support the amendment, let there be no doubt that my first act when I take over as home secretary after the next election will be to do away with the Bill," declared shadow home secretary David Davis in the Commons last night, after telling Conservative MPs to vote in support of the compromise amendment.

"It is still an unwarranted intrusion on the privacy of the individual," he said. "It is still ineffective, costly and potentially dangerous. It is still a massive reversal of the relationship between the citizen and the state."

Stewart Hosie, MP for Dundee East, declared the Scottish National Party's intention to continue resisting the imposition of the National Identity Register, the biometric database on which the new legislation makes it compulsory for all British citizens to be recorded.

The significant impact the cards would have on day to day British life, and even the British character, made it difficult for many MPs to accept the legislation, even though most of them voted for it (301 to 84).

"The introduction of identity cards will usher in one of the most far-reaching changes in British public life in recent times," said Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat MP for Sheffield, Hallam.

"It will change, unalterably, the relationship between the individual and the state by massively increasing the quantity and scope of information held centrally by the Government on each and every British citizen," he said.

"It will revolutionise the capacity of the state to monitor the movements and behaviour of each and every one of us. It erodes privacy, and in extremis it will curtail freedom," he added.

It was a day for swan songs fit to stun the reaper. In the Lords earlier, Lord Thomas of Gresford repeated a rallying cry often heard during the course of this debate, for the "traditions of liberty and freedom which are at the heart of the British constitution". ID Cards demonstrated that in Britain the state was shifting from one that protected the inalienable right of every citizen to liberty, to one motivated by fear to create an authoritarian state, "on the basis of secret information that it does not disclose".

Further evidence of that shift could be found in the way the government had sneaked the compulsory element of ID cards in behind an electoral promise that they would be voluntary, he said.

Government's failure to provide evidence that the cards would protect people from terrorism and crime before they foisted them on the British people also smacked of authoritarianism, Lord Thomas said. He also made reference to the terrorism and criminal justice bills, in which compulsion was also the "keynote".

The word "must" appears in the identity cards bill 62 times, which might be expected from a bill designed to give the state more power to tell individual people what to do and how and when to do it, with whom, and where.

There would have been be more musts still had it also contained restrictions on how these powers might be used.

There would have been yet more musts again had the government not parried opposition attempts to impose the principle of transparency on the government - and therefore a stronger likelihood of probity - in the way in which the ID system is developed, deployed and used. ®

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