Lords reject Government ID card plans – again

Out-Law News | 21 Mar 2006 | 2:02 pm | 2 min. read

The Lords yesterday rejected Government plans to make it compulsory for people to acquire an ID card when they apply for a new passport. It is the second time that peers have voted against the proposal, and the fourth time they have blocked passage of the ID Cards Bill.

Advert: Infosecurity Europe, 25-27 April 2006, Olympia, LondonInstead, peers backed a compromise proposal to keep the scheme voluntary until 2011 – after the next general election.

While the Identity Cards Bill is controversial in its own right, the Lords have taken particular objection to a Government amendment that would force anyone applying for or renewing their passport from 2008 to also have to pay for an identity card.

But critics argue that this would make the scheme compulsory, which is contrary to a Labour manifesto pledge to “introduce ID cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports."

The proposal has been described as "compulsion by the back door" and earlier this month peers voted to reject it by a majority of 35. But the House of Commons reinstated the amendment last week, sending it back to the House of Lords for further debate.

Speaking ahead of the vote yesterday, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesman, explained that a compromise amendment had been put forward, ensuring “that no one will be compelled to have an ID Card when obtaining a passport before 2012. This delay will allow the political parties to make clear where they stand on this fundamental issue at the next election."

"In the meantime, anyone will be able to voluntarily take out an ID Card," he said, adding that “in five years' time it will be much clearer what the effects of this scheme will be in terms of cost, technology and public opinion."

Labour peers fought back, accusing the opposition and rebels of ignoring the voice of elected MPs. But Lord Sudbury denied that this was the case.

"I have a complete sense of the superiority of the Commons. We are lucky to be here at all and we try and do a good job, but we are subservient to the elected House," he said, according to the BBC. “It is principally because I think it is thoroughly disreputable and dishonest of us to pretend that voluntary means compulsory that I have stuck to my guns.”

Peers approved the compromise by 211 votes to 175 – a majority of 36.

MPs are due to consider the compromise when the Bill comes back before them today. In the meantime, Government ministers are becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress, and have threatened to use the Parliament Acts to force the Bill through.

The Parliament Acts took away the House of Lords’ power to veto a bill – unless it is one to prolong the life of a parliament – leaving it with power only to delay the bill for a year. But using the Act in this case would bring further delays to the ID card scheme, something the Government is anxious to avoid.

In the future it may be able to avoid such struggles, if another controversial Bill, currently working its way through Parliament, is approved.

The measure in question is the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which is touted as making it quicker and easier to tackle unnecessary or over-complicated regulation by giving ministers the ability to amend, replace, or repeal existing legislation.

But critics argue that the Bill gives too much power to the Government which, they say, could overturn even fundamental constitutional laws – such as the Magna Carta – without proper Parliamentary debate.