ID card bill to test new government

The government insisted before the election that it would bring its ID card bill back as a priority, but will it manage to get it through?

The government's controversial identity cards plan looks set to be one of the first tests of Tony Blair's vastly reduced parliamentary majority after leading the Labour Party to victory in a third successive General Election.

The majority — down from 166 seats in 2001 to a likely 66 seats — means that any renewed opposition to the ID cards proposal could lead to the bill being either watered down or voted down.

The Identity Cards Bill was passed by 224 votes to 64 in its third reading in the House of Commons but scrapped by the government before it reached the House of Lords after running out of legislative time before the election.

Any new bill may not face such a comfortable passage through parliament in light of Labour's reduced majority. More worryingly for Blair, most of the MPs who opposed it last time have been re-elected.

Out of the 19 Labour MPs who voted against the government, 16 have been returned to parliament (with the remaining three standing down), while all 10 of the Conservative MPs who defied Michael Howard's instruction to abstain and instead voted with the Labour rebels have been re-elected. Other anti-ID card MPs who also won seats last night include Labour outcast George Galloway — now of the Respect coalition &mdash and Wyre Forest Independent Richard Taylor.

Much will depend on whether the Conservatives — who first voted for ID cards and then abstained in the last vote — decide to pick their first fight with a weakened Labour government and follow the Liberal Democrats in opposing any new bill.

Eric Woods, analyst at Ovum, said the government may be forced to think again on ID cards.

"One significant casualty of the reduced majority could be the ID card programme. The government may be forced to adapt its ID card legislation significantly, if not drop it altogether, by its reduced majority," he said.