Rebels halve Blair's majority in vote on ID cards

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair's majority was cut by more than half last night as concessions over plans for ID cards failed to prevent the first major Labour rebellion since the general election.

Twenty Labour MPs rebelled over the measure, and others abstained, sending a warning message to the Prime Minister after Charles Clarke made a string of concessions designed to quell a wave of opposition to the scheme.

MPs backed the ID Cards Bill by 314 votes to 283, a majority of 31 after a heated day-long debate as Mr Blair won the first significant parliamentary battle since the general election had reduced his majority to 67.

They reinforced their message, forcing a series of technical votes on the timetable for debate and funding for the scheme.

Mr Clarke pledged to cap the cost of the cards, floated the idea of cut-price fees for people on low incomes and promised to produce a full outline of the scheme's cost before the ID Cards Bill completes is passage in the House of Commons.

The Home Secretary also proposed allowing Parliament a full vote to approve the card charges, as he moved to reassure critics of his plans. He also conceded that the Government would have to think again about charges if the cards became compulsory

Last night Labour left-wingers insisted that opposition to the Bill was hardening. John McDonnell, chairman of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, said last night's vote was "only the beginning of the battle". He said: "Such ill thought-out legislation will inevitably face difficulties throughout its passage and we will be using every parliamentary tactic available to force the Government to re-think."

But anti-ID Card campaigners expressed disappointment. Shami Chak-rabarti, director of the pressure group Liberty, said: "It looks like Labour ID card sceptics have given the Government a reprieve; but as concern for race relations, personal privacy and the exorbitant cost of this folly continues to grow they would be wise not to put their convictions on hold for too long."

Mr Clarke insisted that ID cards would rein back the "big brother" society. He declared: "I argue the ID card system is a bulwark against the surveillance society, the Big Brother society, and not a further contribution to it."

But he came under sustained fire from MPs for all parties, amid open rebellion on the Labour benches, while David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, condemned the plans as "illiberal and impractical, excessive and expensive, unnecessary and unworkable."

Lynne Jones, Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, said: "This Bill should be killed at birth. It will be doing the Government a service, not the reverse. The more people understand about the implications of the proposals, the more people realise that what was a superficially attractive idea is, in fact, not only a dumb idea but a very dangerous idea."

Another opponent, Austin Mitchell, Labour MP for Great Grimsby, added: "It's like a combination of super-Domes with massive expenditure just timed to ruin the election prospects of a Labour Government which we want to carry on so it can carry on the work of social reform."

Mr Clarke dismissed as "fantastic" claims that people could be charged up to £300 for an ID card. He said they would cost £25-£30 more than the projected £63 cost of new biometric passports. He said he was prepared to limit the cost of a card. He also raised "the possibility of cheaper cards for poorer citizens which many of my colleagues have pressed as necessary."

Mr Clarke insisted that the legislation would not alter existing controls over information nor the powers of the police.

Labour's rebels

* Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington)

* Katy Clark (Ayrshire North and Arran)

* Frank Cook (Stockton North)

* Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North)

* Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

* Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent Central)

* Paul Flynn (Newport West)

* Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

* Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North)

* Glenda Jackson (Hampstead & Highgate)

* Lynne Jones (Birmingham Selly Oak)

* John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

* Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway)

* Linda Riordan (Halifax)

* Clare Short (Birmingham Ladywood)

* Alan Simpson (Nottingham South)

* John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)

* Robert Wareing (Liverpool West Derby)

* David Winnick (Walsall North)

* Mike Wood (Batley and Spen)

* David Taylor (Leicestershire North West) voted in the Aye and No lobbies