Compulsory ID cards for UK citizens within five years

Critics warn UK is "sleepwalking towards a surveillance state"
Written by Andy McCue, Contributor

Critics warn UK is "sleepwalking towards a surveillance state"

UK citizens will be forced to register for biometric ID cards when applying for a new passport within two years after MPs voted on Monday night to make the controversial scheme compulsory and to not put the costs under independent scrutiny.

In the end Prime Minister Tony Blair's enforced absence from the ID cards vote due to a faulty plane in South Africa didn't matter as the government comfortably defeated a threatened backbench Labour rebellion, albeit with a reduced majority.

A late round of lobbying by Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown in Blair's absence ensured the government won the crucial votes in the House of Commons and overturned amendments made to the ID cards bill last month by peers in the House of Lords.

A halved majority of 31 saw MPs narrowly vote to reject a wrecking amendment that would have made it completely voluntary for citizens to register for an ID card when applying for a passport.

MPs also voted, by a majority of 51, in favour of making it compulsory for citizens to register their personal and biometric details on the National Identity Register when applying for or renewing "designated" documents such as a passport despite warnings from Conservative shadow home secretary David Davies that the UK is "sleepwalking towards a surveillance state".

MPs accepted without a vote a government amendment that requires a separate Act of Parliament to make ID cards officially compulsory. Home Secretary Charles Clarke has indicated the government would move to do this by 2011.

A rebellion over an amendment that would have forced the government to make the full cost calculations of the ID card scheme public before awarding any contracts to IT suppliers was also staved off after Clarke agreed to report to parliament every six months on the costs. That was carried by a majority of 53 votes.

The ID cards bill now returns to the House of Lords where peers will vote on whether to approve the legislation or return it to the House of Commons with more amendments for MPs to vote on.

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