Party leaders humiliated by ID card revolt

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The Government's flagship plans for ID cards suffered a rebellion last night as more than a quarter of the Commons failed to turn up to vote for the Bill.

The Government's flagship plans for ID cards suffered a rebellion last night as more than a quarter of the Commons failed to turn up to vote for the Bill.

Labour and Tory MPs defied their whips in droves by openly voting against the ID cards plans or making their disquiet known by not voting at all.

The huge scale of abstentions by both the Tories and Labour will be acutely embarrassing to Tony Blair and Michael Howard, who both pitched their personal authority behind the ID cards plans.

But MPs argued that the cards would breach civil liberties and would be too expensive. The proposals were described as "intensely authoritarian" in the Commons yesterday.

Nineteen Labour MPs, including the former cabinet minister Clare Short, voted against the Government at second reading, while 10 Tory MPs defied Michael Howard and failed to back the Bill.

Among the Tory rebels who voted against the Bill was the former frontbench spokesman John Bercow. He and nine other Conservative MPs defied Mr Howard, who had imposed a two-line whip to force Tories to vote for the ID cards scheme.

Over 170 Tory and Labour MPs failed to turn up to vote in favour of the Bill, which received a second reading by 385 votes to 93, a government majority of 292. The Liberal Democrats voted against the plans.

David Blunkett, who resigned as Home Secretary last week, came to the Commons to support the Government, both during second reading and against an earlier rebel amendment opposing the Bill.

Charles Clarke, the new Home Secretary, lashed out yesterday at the "Luddite" opponents of identity cards for spreading scare stories as he mounted a vigorous defence of the controversial legislation.

Mr Clarke made clear the Government would not be diverted from the principle of the measure inherited from his predecessor, Mr Blunkett.

He said: "There's a Luddite tendency in this House that says we should have no technology on the basis that there have been mistakes in the past. That is a legitimate position to take but it's not one I support in any way." Making his first Commons appearance since his appointment, he told MPs: "Quite apart from the security advantages, there will be enormous practical benefits. ID cards will potentially make a difference to any area of everyday life where one already has to prove identity."

Mr Clarke said ID cards would help to save tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money currently lost to fraud. They would help to tackle terrorism, as more than a third of terrorism activity used false identity. They would also tackle the "vile trafficking of vulnerable human beings" which often ended in "appalling tragedy". He argued that no one would be forced to carry them and the scheme would not mean any extension of police powers.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary and a previous opponent of ID cards, said the Tories would support the Bill but wanted it to be referred to a joint committee of MPs and peers.

He said: "I would not have countenanced ID cards before 9/11 but after 9/11, I accept we have to consider them because it is incumbent on all of us to examine carefully any measures which might enhance the nation's security. Identity cards introduced properly and effectively may indeed help to do that."

David Winnick, a Labour rebel, argued that Spain's identity card system had not stopped the Madrid bombings, and said the new Home Secretary should take the opportunity to revisit Mr Blunkett's pet project.

The former Tory minister Francis Maude said: "It is very, very hard to see how anything more than very tangential, minimal benefits flow from the kind of voluntary scheme he is proposing which many of us see as an expensive waste of time."

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat president, asked: "If you are trying to track down a criminal, terrorist, hijacker or trafficker and the police find the person but they don't have to have a card with them, how does the fact that you can produce a card a week or two weeks later make that any aid in identifying the person?"

Bill Cash, a former Conservative frontbencher, held up a copy of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four as he warned of deep disquiet about the plan among senior Tories. He accused the Government of being "intensely authoritarian" and moving towards "increasingly a Big Brother society".

ID CARD REBELS

Labour

Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish); Michael Clapham (Barns West & Penistone); Jeremy Corbyn (Isl Nth); Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe & Nant); Neil Gerrard (Walth); Dr Ian Gibson (Norwich Nth); Kate Hoey (Vaux); Kelvin Hopkins (Luton Nth); Glenda Jackson (Hamp & High); Terry Lewis (Wors); John McDonnell (Hayes & Harl); Alice Mahon (Halifax); Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway); Clare Short (Birm Ladywood); Dennis Skinner (Bolsover); Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent); Robert Wareing (Liverpool West Derby); David Winnick (Walsall Nth); David Taylor (Leicestershire NW)

Conservative

John Bercow (Buck); Angela Browning (Tiv & Honiton); William Cash (Stone); David Curry (Skipton & Ripon); Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis & Little); Damien Green (Ashford); Edward Leigh (Gains); Peter Lilley (Hitchin & Harp); Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills); Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and Nth Hykeham)

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