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Another Lords defeat for the Identity Cards Bill

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:48 pm on 23 January, 2006.
Categories privacy and surveillance.
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The BBC reports that the House of Lords have inflicted another defeat for the government over the Identity Cards Bill:

The government has been defeated twice in the Lords over its Identity Cards Bill, as opposition peers attempt to make the scheme entirely voluntary.

Ministers want applicants for passports and driving licences to be obliged to go on the ID card register.

But peers decided by 186 votes to 142 - a majority of 44 - to ensure that entry on the list is voluntary.

The government lost again when peers called for a separate Act of Parliament before cards could be made compulsory.

The votes were among a series of Lib Dem and Tory amendments aimed at making sure people have a choice.

These defeats followlast week’s amendment requiring the government to produce a detailed estimate of the costs of the scheme before the scheme can go ahead.

It is interesting to consider now what these defeats mean. When the bill goes back to the House of Commons they have the choice of overturning the amendments and sending the bill back to the House of Lords, or of accepting the amendments, or of using the Parliament Act to overrule the House of Lords. However, the last option would require the Bill to be reintroduced to Parliament in the next Parliamentary session resulting in a year or so’s delay.

So the critical questions are whether the government wishes to tough it out, playing ping-pong over the bill with the House of Lords, whether the House of Lords will insist on these amendments and whether Labour MPs will be swayed to back e.g. the amendment requiring a complete costing of the scheme. The government is ludicrously holding some figures back on “commercial” grounds — this is taxpayer’s money they’re proposing to spend and they want to keep MPs and the public in the dark over the costs.

If the House of Lords insists on its amendments, the government will either have to accept them or accept a year’s delay in implementation. If it accepts the amendment about costing, that will also delay the bill. If they accept the amendment making getting a card and being registered voluntary for those applying for the passport, they will accept delays in take-up of the scheme should it go ahead.

Whichever way it goes buys more time for those opposed to the scheme to campaign against it either in terms of stopping the bill, or in terms of persuading large numbers of people not to register whilst the scheme is entirely voluntary.

The crucial variable is that the House of Lords must not back down. Backing down will let the government get the bill on the books on its own timetable, with those who apply for or renew passports being compelled to register (or forgo having a passport).

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