UK Gov't Pressing Ahead With ID Card Bill

By Kevin McCandless | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

London ( - Despite being significantly weakened in the recent election, Britain's Labor government has announced it will push ahead with attempts to pass controversial identity-card legislation this year.

Prime Minister Tony Blair told lawmakers at the opening of the new parliament that he wanted every citizen of the United Kingdom to have his or her own "biometric" ID card bearing fingerprints and other personal details.

The proposed law would not make it compulsory for British subjects to carry the card, but it would create a national registry, which public and private organizations could use to verify someone's identity.

Government ministers said that the proposed scheme, with an estimated $5.7-billion price tag, was necessary to fight terrorism.

Civil liberty groups have denounced the plan, but Blair argues that polls show overwhelming support for the cards.

Along with the ID-card bill, Blair also introduced a number of bills which commentators said were guaranteed to stir up rebellion among left-leaning members of his party.

These include proposed sweeping new anti-terrorism powers, a planned overhaul of the welfare system and another attempt to pass a law making the "incitement of religious hatred" a crime.

In the last session of Parliament, when a similar ID law was first proposed, 19 Labor lawmakers voted against it. After some debate, the Conservative Party leadership eventually opposed it and passage was stalled until the legislative term ended.

With the Labor majority in the House of Commons slashed from 161 to 67 in this month's general election, Home Secretary Charles Clarke told the BBC on Monday that some "technical modifications" had been made to the new bill.

"We won't be making great changes of substance in the route we're going down, but we will listen to what people have to say," Clarke said.

Labor leaders say a vote could take place "within days."

Michael Parker, spokesman for a lobby group opposing the initiative, NO2ID, said the bill would be almost useless in fighting terrorism.

Currently, only a small fraction of the ninety million entries into the UK each year are met with comprehensive security checks. In addition, he said, no studies have proved a link between improving national security and any form of ID card.

Parker said now that the election campaign was over, his group hoped more Labor lawmakers would vote with their conscience and against the bill.

"We're looking for a much more comprehensive rejection of these ... totalitarian measures from a so-called leftwing government," Parker said.

"Now that the election is over, we hope that a lot of [Labor] backbenchers will take the chance to vote against them."

Philip Cowley, a political science professor at Nottingham University, said he doubted the government would be defeated over the bill.

The Conservative Party would be too preoccupied with the battle to succeed departing leader Michael Howard, and it was also too early in the new parliamentary term for any backbench rebellion to gain any steam, he said.

"This isn't going to be the real hurdle for the government. The real test of the strength of the backbench rebellion is going to come later on this term," Cowley said. "To be honest, I think the ID card bill is bit of a smoke screen."

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