Peers threatened with ban on blocking manifesto pledges

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Ministers have warned the House of Lords that peers' defiance over ID cards could lead to a legal ban on them blocking the Government's manifesto pledges.

Senior ministers moved to reassert the authority of MPs after peers provoked a constitutional crisis by throwing out the ID Cards Bill for a fifth time.

The House of Lords voted by 219 to 191 for an amendment ensuring that people can opt out of the ID cards scheme when they renew their passports. But ministers insisted that the move represented an attempt to wreck the Bill and openly warned that the powers of peers could be restricted.

Geoff Hoon, the Leader of the Commons, floated the idea of curbs on the powers of peers to delay legislation. He said that Parliament could sit all night tonight until the Lords backed down over the Bill, which has been blocked by Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers.

Another minister said that peers' resistance to the ID Cards Bill meant that the Lords' ability to frustrate legislation was now "squarely in the frame".

He said: "As far as we're concerned, this is a manifesto commitment and they are taking us on directly."

Baroness Scotland of Asthal, a Home Office minister, warned the Lords that delays to the Bill would be exploited by people who wanted to curb their powers. She said: "There will be those who use this opportunity against this House."

She said: "I'm personally deeply troubled by what we're doing in this House, because whether we like the contents of a Government's Bill or not, [the Commons] has the mandate of the people of this country."

But Lord Armstrong of Illminster, the former cabinet secretary who proposed the amendment, told peers that many voters would have believed Labour's manifesto that the ID scheme was voluntary.

He said: "The issue of personal freedom should not be brushed aside as being of no consequence."

Lord Phillips of Sudbury, for the Liberal Democrats, said that the Government was guilty of an "act of dishonour" by not abiding by the wording of its manifesto.

But Mr Hoon said the decades-old Salisbury convention, under which peers do not block government manifesto commitments, had been abandoned, and said reform was needed to prevent any elected second chamber from rivalling the power of the Commons.

He warned that "without the Parliament Acts there really is not that much difference between the powers" and made it clear that there needed to be clear curbs on the powers of the House of Lords before MPs would vote for a mainly or fully elected house.

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