Identity Cards Bill scrapes through Commons by just 25 votes

United Kingdom

The highly controversial Identity Cards Bill passed its third and final reading in the House of Commons this week and will now undergo further scrutiny by the House of Lords.

The Bill, which was introduced to Parliament on 25 May 2005, was only narrowly passed with a slim majority of 309 votes to 284. In the largest rebellion since the May elections, 25 Labour MPs voted against the government.

A central issue to the Commons debate was whether passport applicants should be forced to submit their details to the ID cards database. An amendment tabled to remove this requirement failed, even though the government made a manifesto pledge that initially the scheme would be introduced on a voluntary basis. A further amendment (to remove all charges under the scheme) and an attempt by the Liberal Democrats to send the scheme back to Committee also failed.

It is expected that a stand-alone ID card and a combined passport and ID card will be launched in 2008. Unique biometric identifiers (such as face, iris and fingerprint scans) will be used to identify people using the cards, which will be available to UK residents over the age of 16. There are presently no plans, however, to link the cards to an individual's criminal, financial or medical records.

The scheme has come under attack from major players in the IT industry. Microsoft's national technology officer Jerry Fishenden warned the Government: "Putting all of our personal identity information in a single place is something that no technologist would ever recommend: it leads to increased and unnecessary risk". Others in the sector have remained silent, with cynics pointing to the fact that the IT contracts necessary to implement the scheme are valued between £6bn and £19bn.

The bill has now passed to the House of Lords, where it is expected to face stiff opposition and where no political party has a majority.