Government defeats in the Lords, card plans on the rocks

IssueFebruary 2006
Comment by Phil Booth

It is a sad indictment of our so-called liberal democracy, and the ultimate irony of Tony Blair's constitutional reform agenda, that it is the unelected House of Lords who must stand up time and again protect our civil liberties, and the very foundations of British society. On the first day of the Report Stage, that's precisely what they did (again) with a triple salvo of amendments to the government's identity cards bill.

After months of campaigning and lobbying on this issue, NO2ID applaud the first in what we expect to be a series of blows to New Labour's plans for universal identity control.

The most devastating of these amendments holds the government to account on what the scheme will cost. Controversy began to bubble over into constitutional crisis at the government's continued refusal to publish full cost estimates for their proposals.

On cost and on principle

Clearly no-one believes the increasingly unbelievable “#584 million per year” figure. Especially now that they have been forced to admit their figures exclude setup costs -- five hundred million or more to build the National Identity Register -- and allow nothing for integration with other systems, representing yet more billions that would have to be spent before other government departments, local authorities or private sector companies could even make a single check on the register or read an ID card.

But these practical concerns pale in comparison to the principle that the government can force people to be registered, be fingerprinted and have their eyes scanned, submit to a detailed personal interrogation -- sorry, interview -- and made to use a card that will, overtime, by means of the “audit trail” on the register, provide the government and security services with a detailed life history for every person in the land.

Fighting on all fronts

NO2ID and its supporters have campaigned and lobbied hard on all fronts since just before the introduction of the bill, and are gaining traction in the mainstream media, parliament and the court of public opinion. Public support for ID cards has collapsed, from the government's claimed 80% in favour to 50% against in just 12 months. The government have lost the public's trust on ID cards, and will never get it back.

Now that every major opposition political party in the land has come out against ID cards, the key to defeating this costly, invasive and personally risky scheme lies in convincing Labour MPs how bad this bill is going to be for their party, and for their own personal interests. The last vote in the Commons reduced the government's majority to its lowest level on a single vote, prior to their defeat on 90-day detention without charge. If enough can be convinced to support the Lords on the linking of ID cards to your passport and other “designated” documents, then ID cards are as good as dead.

Many Labour MPs are already nervous about ID cards. NO2ID encourage every one to visit our online lobbying tool at and get writing now. We need just 16 more backbenchers to vote for the Lords' amendments when the bill returns to the Commons -- particularly those on cost, removing compulsion and limiting the register.

Our local groups across the UK are running open letters and making a noise in the local press to show those Labour MPs who have expressed concerns about the bill the strength of opposition in their own constituencies. Please join in or, if there isn't an open letter in your area, start one now. We have just a few weeks to influence a vote that could genuinely push back the tidal advance of the surveillance state.

Topics: Civil liberties