The government’s bill clearing the
way for compulsory biometric ID cards linked to a national identity database
narrowly passed its second reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday night.
Some 20 Labour MPs rebelled against
the government — not enough to prevent the bill from passing with a reduced
majority of 31. The bill will now pass to a committee stage, where it is
expected to come under further criticism and revision.
The Labour MPs who rebelled were
mostly left wingers and strongly anti-war. However the vast majority of Labour
MPs loyally followed the government’s line — showing up the weakness of the
Labour left in its first big parliamentary test.
Activists from the
NO2ID anti-ID cards campaign held a protest
outside parliament as the debate took place. They are planning to build a mass
campaign against the bill over the coming weeks.
Public opinion is turning rapidly
against New Labour’s ID plans. The government’s own information commissioner,
Richard Thomas, has attacked the bill as “excessive and disproportionate”,
claiming it will take us further down the road to a “surveillance society”.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of
Liberty, attacked the scheme as a “dangerous white elephant”. “Fears for race
relations and personal privacy warrant ending its rampage even before costs
spiral completely out of control,” she added.
The costs of the ID card plan are
another concern. A report released earlier this week from the London School of
Economics estimated that each ID card could cost around £170 — well above
Charles Clarke, the home secretary,
responded to this report by promising to “cap” the costs of ID cards to
individuals — though he refused to set a figure for this cap.
It is possible that cosmetic
“concessions” such as these will be enough to buy off Tory or Lib Dem opposition
to the bill, or persuade potential rebel MPs to stay in line.
That is why it is so important to
build a mass campaign against ID cards that draws together all those opposed to
New Labour’s attacks on civil rights, and hardens public opinion against this
latest piece of authoritarian legislation.
Respect MP George Galloway voted
against the bill. The rebel Labour MPs were: Diane Abbott, Katy Clark, Frank
Cook, Jeremy Corbyn, Gwyneth Dunwoody, Mark Fisher, Paul Flynn, Kate Hoey,
Kelvin Hopkins, Glenda Jackson, Lynne Jones, John McDonnell, Bob
Marshall-Andrews, Linda Riordan, Clare Short, Alan Simpson, John Smith, Robert
Wareing, David Winnick, Mike Wood.
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