Blair seeks to limit damage of rebellion on three fronts

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Tony Blair will today begin his toughest week since the last election by attempting to rescue plans for a national identity card.

His cherished scheme has been savaged in the Lords, where the Government suffered eight defeats. Ministers have bowed to demands to introduce a new parliamentary Bill before ID cards move from becoming voluntary to compulsory and they have promised to update MPs every six months on the cost of the controversial scheme. They hope the moves will take the heat from Labour rebellion. But after the Government's surprise defeat two weeks ago over its Religious Hatred Bill, Labour chiefs are taking nothing for granted.

They are mounting a ferocious whipping exercise, ordering MPs home from foreign visits. Even Tony Blair has been forced to cut short a trip to South Africa, where he is meeting left-of-centre national leaders.

Tonight's main flashpoint is likely to be the requirement for all people to agree to their biometric details being added to a national database when they apply for a new passport. The move was rejected by the Lords by a majority of 44 last month, but ministers insist it is fundamental to the ID Cards Bill.

Labour whips are aiming to limit the rebellion to 20 MPs, which could cut the Government's majority to little more than 20. The numbers are likely to be even tighter on Wednesday, when MPs debate plans to ban the "glorification" of terrorism.

MPs approved the proposals by one vote in November, and they have been overwhelmingly rejected by the Lords. Ministers privately believe they could losing when they ask the Commons to overturn the Lords defeat.

Tomorrow's vote on outlawing smoking in all pubs and clubs looks likely to be passed. Although it is a free vote, such an outcome would be embarrassing for the Government which supported a compromise banning smoking in pubs that only serve food.

But the Government has backed off from a fourth controversy this week. It had considered publishing its education White Paper, setting out plans to create more city academies and give new freedoms to school trusts, on Thursday.

Following signs that recent compromises had failed to satisfy enough rebels to avert a major rebellion, it has delayed publication in an effort to buy more time.

The flashpoints

* TODAY

Identity Cards Bill: The Government tries to reverse a series of defeats to the Bill inflicted by the Lords. It has offered some concessions, but still faces opposition from MPs worried about cost and civil liberties implications.

Risk of embarrassment: Medium to high

* TOMORROW

Banning smoking: MPs have a free vote on whether smoking should be outlawed in all pubs and clubs. If it is passed, that will still be a rebuff to the Government which initially favoured a partial ban but backed off in the face of a rebellion. Risk of embarrassment: High

* WEDNESDAY

Glorification of terrorism:

Ministers have to overturn a Lords defeat over their plan to ban the glorification of terrorism. It only scraped through the Commons by one vote last month amid fears it undermined freedom of speech. Risk of embarrassment: Acute.

* THURSDAY

Commons rises for half-term recess, returning 27 February.

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