ID card plan shelved until after election

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The Government's plan to bring in a national identity card scheme is to be shelved until after the general election.

The Government's plan to bring in a national identity card scheme is to be shelved until after the general election.

The Identity Cards Bill has been approved by MPs and was due to begin its detailed passage through the House of Lords shortly. But it is unlikely to be allocated more debating time before the general election expected on 5 May. The move follows a change of heart by the Tories, who havehardened their stance against the Bill. Their party supported the measure when it had its second reading in the Commons but abstained in the third reading vote.

Ministers had hoped to see the controversial scheme become law before the election but, with time running out, they now accept that it will not reach the statute book without the active support of the Tories, the biggest party in the Lords.

"The ID cards Bill is dead," one minister told The Independent yesterday.

Labour is preparing to blame the Tories for the delay, accusing them of weakening the fight against terrorism. This is increasing the pressure on the Opposition not to scupper the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, which would allow the Home Secretary to put suspects under house arrest. Senior Tories fear that if they halt both measures, it would make it easier for Labour to portray them as "soft" on crime. "We can block one of the Bills but not both," one Tory source said yesterday.

Michael Howard, who tried unsuccessfully to bring in identity cards when he was home secretary in the last Tory government, was initially keen not to oppose Labour on the issue. But he has faced a growing revolt among Tory MPs and several members of his Shadow Cabinet, including David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary.

The death of the Bill in the current parliamentary session means that it would have to start its passage all over again, if Labour wins a third term. That would leave less time for the public sector reforms that Tony Blair wants to dominate the first year after the election to show that his administration has not run out of steam.

When the election is called, there will be negotiations between the Government and opposition parties about which Bills still going through the Commons and Lords will be rushed through in the few days before Parliament is prorogued.

Labour hopes measures on education and child benefit will get through but may have to offer concessions to other Bills. The Tories may demand the dropping of "super casinos" from the Gambling Bill and plans to create a new offence of incitement to religious hatred from the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill.

The Liberal Democrats also oppose the proposed offence. Iqbal Sacranie, of the Muslim Council of Britain, wrote to Charles Kennedy saying it was alarmed by the party's stance. "We hope you will understand that our disillusionment is a result of both the misinformation emanating from your party, and the position your party seems to have decided to take on what we see as a vital piece of equality legislation," he said.

Ian McCartney, the Labour chairman, accused the Liberal Democrats of "political opportunism" by wooing Muslim voters but refusing to support the proposed offence.