A constitutional crisis is looming after peers hardened their opposition to identity cards, throwing out the controversial scheme for the fourth time.
MPs will be asked today to overturn the defeat and send the Identity Cards Bill back to the Lords. But with neither side showing any sign of backing off, the trial of strength between the two Houses looks set to intensify. In the latest poll, peers voted by 211 to 175 votes, a majority of 36, to keep the ID-card scheme voluntary until the next decade. The previous margin of defeat was 35 votes.
The Government wants all people applying for a new biometric passport to be included on the ID register that will underpin the scheme.
Opponents say the plan contradicts Labour's pledge in last year's election manifesto to keep ID cards voluntary in their initial phase. The Home Office counters that it is essential to the success of the scheme.
In heated scenes in the Lords, Baroness Scotland of Asthal, the Home Office minister, accused opposition peers of obstinacy in refusing to back down to the will of the elected Commons. She said peers had to give way to MPs because their role was to "question and test, but not to over-rule".
Lord Phillips of Sudbury, a Liberal Democrat spokesman, said: "It is principally because I think it is thoroughly disreputable and dishonest of us to pretend that voluntary means compulsory that I have stuck to my guns."
He suggested a compromise under which holders of passports would be added to the register from 2011, enabling the issue to be debated in the next general election.
Andy Burnham, a Home Office minister, dismissed the suggestion as unworkable, and said it would add "uncertainty, delay and inefficiency" to the scheme. He insisted that the Government would "stand firm", and said peers were "playing politics with a flagship government Bill".
Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, has made it clear that he is determined to drive the Bill on to the statute book at the earliest possible opportunity. But ministers are reluctant to use the Parliament Act - which forces Bills into law where the two Houses are deadlocked - because it would hold up the ID-card scheme for at least another year.Reuse content