Government Wins Vote for ID Cards ... but It's Not Compulsory
Byline: By TOMOS LIVINGSTONE Western Mail
Plans for ID cards for every citizen in Britain were approved by MPs last night as the Government avoided a potentially damaging backbench rebellion. Despite opposition from civil liberties groups, opposition parties and some Welsh Labour MPs, the Commons approved the scheme in a series of votes last night. The cards, which will not be compulsory, are now set to be introduced in 2008. Ministers have always wanted people to have to automatically get a card when they apply for a passport, and, in the most contentious of last night's votes, they got their way by 310 votes to 279, a majority of 31. Peers will now have to decide whether they want to try to overturn this when the Bill returns to the Lords, threatening a constitutional stand-off between the two Houses. Prime Minister Tony Blair was missing from Westminster after being delayed in South Africa, but Chancellor Gordon Brown - in a sign both men are preparing for a handover of power - gave his support, saying, 'We will do what is right to protect the security and liberties of our citizens and country and in the face of global terrorism we will prevail.' Speaking in South Africa, Mr Blair said the Government had 'won the argument' on ID cards. Ministers say the cards will help stop illegal working, illegal immigration, identity fraud and terrorism, but questions remain over the cost. In England the cards will be needed to use public services - but the Assembly Government says this will not be the case in Wales. 'We have no active plans to make ID cards compulsory to access public services in Wales,' said a spokeswoman for the Assembly Government.
The Treasury also rejected claims from Plaid Cymru that the Assembly could be given a slice of the ID cards budget to spend on other services, saying this would not be the case as the cards were a UK-wide policy.
The Government backed down on making the cards compulsory, accepting a House of Lords amendment that said there should be a separate Act of Parliament first. That is unlikely to happen before the next election. Home Secretary Charles Clarke told the Commons, 'The benefits of the identity card scheme will grow steadily as more people obtain their cards. 'But Shadow Home Secretary David Davis warned MPs against allowing themselves to 'sleepwalk into the surveillance state', and said the cards could end up being a 'plastic poll tax'. Mr Blair missed the votes after the aeroplane bringing him home from a visit to South Africa aborted take-off at the last minute.
The pilot had spotted problems with an engine, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said.
Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood, who has said she would rather go to prison than carry an ID card, said the idea was 'risky, illiberal and an unnecessary burden on the tax payer'. Doug Jewell of civil rights group Liberty said, 'The Government has done a lot of work over the weekend to persuade backbenchers that they have taken on their concerns. …