Blair plans ID cards

But Mr Blair may struggle to push his raft of bills through parliament afterhis party’s majority was slashed from 161 seats to just 67 in this month’s general election.

The Prime Minister said the ID card scheme would “protect our citizens from terrorism and crime”.

Opponents fear a national ID card, carrying biometric details such as fingerprints or iris scans, would erode civil liberties.

“An ID card scheme will take time to set up. It is essential that we begin now,” Mr Blair told parliament.

“I urge other parties to think carefully before opposing what is necessary for our security, to combat fraud, to tackle illegal immigration and which the new technology makes the obvious policy for security in the times in which we live,” he said.

A group of rebellious Labour lawmakers are unhappy with Mr Blair’s leadership and could scupper legislation if they vote with opposition parties.

The government wants to set up a National Identity Register, containing biometric details of every British citizen.

“We need ID cards as soon as possible for foreign nationals entering Britain on more than a short term visa,” Mr Blair added.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, accused the government of a “chronic lack of respect for our democratic traditions.”

ID cards are commonplace in most European countries, but have never been permanently introduced in Britain.

The government also revived plans, first floated after the September 11, 2001 attacks, for making incitement to religious hatred a crime.

Ministers say the law would protect minorities from bias and target extremists who use religion to stir up tension.

Opponents, who have already forced the government to drop the plans twice, fear it could undermine freedom of speech.

On other security measures Mr Blair’s draft Counter Terrorism Bill intends to make it easier to secure terrorist convictions.

An immigration bill will ensure only skilled workers who speak English have the right to settle in Britain permanently.

The Prime Minister, in power since 1997, has promised to step down near the end of his third term, with finance minister Gordon Brown seen as a likely successor.