Compulsory ID cards for U.K. citizens

All will be required to register within five years. Critics warn U.K. is "sleepwalking towards a surveillance state."

U.K. citizens will be forced to register for biometric ID cards when applying for a new passport within two years after members of parliament voted on Monday night to make the controversial scheme compulsory and to not put the costs under independent scrutiny.

In the end Prime Minister Tony Blair's enforced absence from the ID cards vote due to a faulty plane in South Africa didn't matter as the government comfortably defeated a threatened rebellion by Labor, the majority party whose numbers are significantly reduced.

A late round of lobbying by Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown in Blair's absence ensured the government won the crucial votes in the House of Commons and overturned amendments made to the ID cards bill last month by peers in the House of Lords.

The majority party, halved at 31 members, saw MPs narrowly vote to reject an amendment that would have made it completely voluntary for citizens to register for an ID card when applying for a passport.

MPs also voted, by a majority of 51, in favor of making it compulsory for citizens to register their personal and biometric details on the National Identity Register when applying for or renewing "designated" documents such as a passport despite warnings from Conservative Shadow Home Secretary David Davies that the U.K. is "sleepwalking towards a surveillance state."

MPs accepted without a vote a government amendment that requires a separate Act of Parliament to make ID cards officially compulsory. Home Secretary Charles Clarke has indicated the government would move to do this by 2011.

Clarke agreed to report to parliament every six months on the costs of the program, staving off a rebellion over an amendment that would have forced the government to make the full cost calculations of the ID card scheme public before awarding any contracts to IT suppliers. That was carried by a majority of 53 votes.

The ID cards bill now returns to the House of Lords where peers will vote on whether to approve the legislation or return it to the House of Commons with more amendments for MPs to vote on.

Andy McCue of reported from London.

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