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Mr. Wilshire : I was beginning to enjoy the hon. Gentleman's fairy story and trip into wonderland. Earlier in the debate he tried to deliver a lecture to Conservative Members about democracy in Greater London. What is the difference between complaining about one thing half an hour ago and now trying to tell us that when it suits him he does not like the democratically expressed will of the House backed by a general election?
Mr. Barnes : As I said in my intervention, democracy is not merely about having one election by which people are placed in power and can then continue in power. It is about the circumstances for the next election. In London, people were not allowed to decide their own future or to express their support or otherwise for the GLC. If that was democracy, we could say that the election of Adolf Hitler was democratic because he had as many votes as the Thatcher Government when he was elected. He altered the system by due process--admittedly with much force--to get an enabling Act to allow him to continue in power. We know that his system was not democracy because he did away with all the methods and avenues of democracy, and it was his will that operated. As a minimum, democracy must involve future elections. The poll tax seeks to fiddle with the franchise. The argument that there is a nice system that we should stick with and that we should never put a toe into any kind of illegality does not have the strength and moral force that it used to have.
Column 1149a day or two ago by the Manchester Gay Centre which advertised a meeting by a thing called Nestwork, an organisation for the self-insemination of women?
Mr. Barnes : I do not know about the matter to which the hon. Lady refers, and I would require a great deal of information about it because I have no respect for her views upon that issue. During debate on clause 28 of the Local Government Bill, she said that she supported acts of lawlessness in terms of the burning down of a place run by gays in London. The hon. Lady has never apologised for that.
Mr. Barnes : We should not tolerate the evil of a Government who seek to manipulate the political system and to destroy the normal and traditional democratic rights that have been fought for and squeezed out of previous Governments, mainly through the organisation of the working class and movements such as Chartism in the 19th century, trade unionism and the suffragettes, who fought for an extension of the franchise. We represent the political party which emerged from that struggle and which was in its vanguard. Conservative Members belong to a party which at that time tried to batten down the hatches and only gradually gave way to democratic demands. That is occurring in Poland at the moment, where Solidarity has accepted a temporary solution which is rather like the temporary solutions of 1832, 1867 and 1884 which were encapsulated in Reform Acts. Those were democratic advances that were pushed from the bottom to allow a democratic say to ordinary people. That democratic right is now under attack.
Mr. Wilshire : The hon. Gentleman cannot be allowed to get away with this sort of thing. In response to challenges from Conservative Members, he has said that democracy is whatever he says it is, and that elections are fine when he approves of the results. He has made repeated allegations about fiddling the franchise but has not offered one shred of evidence or made one attempt to justify his statements because he knows there is no justification for them.
Re-enfrachisement of the People Bill.
The only clear evidence we have of franchise figures was given in a parliamentary answer on the size of the electorate in Scotland and other developments. Since the last election, scotland's registered electorate has fallen by 1.5 per cent. In Glasgow, the loss is nearly 5 per cent., with about 14,000 people missing from the electoral register since last year. I appreciate that changes of a demographic nature have some effect, but it is interesting to note that Scotland's electorate increased through all the early years of the current Government until 1987. I acknowledge that there is a falling birth rate and an aging population, so that those whose names leave the register through death are not replaced by younger electors. But for Glasgow, despite population and housing changes, to lose 20,000 of its
Column 1150population--because to the figure of 14,000 existing electors one must add their children--is highly problematic.
Despite the strong arguments that are to be made for not selling one's birthright to the franchise, if people cannot pay the poll tax, they will come to understand that the way to evade it is to avoid not only registering for it but the next obstacle, which is to have one's name recorded on the electoral register. Some people will still be traced, because draconian powers in the legislation allow the registrar to attack all manner of civil liberties. Theoretically, it is possible that people recorded on the poll tax register will also find themselves reinstated on the electoral register at a later stage. Nevertheless, I encourage everyone to register for elections, as well as the development of facilities and resources that will enable electoral registration officers to do their jobs properly and ensure the maximum possible franchise. The poll tax legislation tells against that happening.
Initial figures for Scotland illustrate what is likely to happen. I have been unable to obtain any figures yet for England and Wales, because my inquiries in the Library show that those electoral figures have not yet been published. However, I know from speaking to other right hon. and hon. Members that they are seriously worried about the size of the electorate in areas such as Liverpool. I hope that I shall be able to produce further information on that aspect when I introduce my ten-minute Bill.
It is clear that the franchise is under threat because of the Government's attempt to perpetuate their term of office. Democracy is about the spirit in which the electoral system operates, not just about a technical electorate arrangement, however essential that mechanism may be. That spirit of democracy embraces civil liberties and the rights of the individual. We are not supposed to elect dictatorships for five-year periods. Ours is supposed to be a pluralist democracy that sustains different interests and different power sources. Although the Executive have the right to govern, they must also take into account other pressures. Even Hobbes, in "The Leviathan", written in the 17th century, emphasised that, to avoid anarchy, the monarchy would be wise to listen to the interests of others, otherwise there could be rebellion. He felt that, although citizens did not have the right to rebel, rebellion was likely to occur if a Government, however dictatorial, failed to be sensitive to and to acknowledge other views and values in society.
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : The hon. Gentleman must bear in mind that the Government's community charge proposals were clearly spelt out in the last general election. Throughout the country--and in Derbyshire very markedly--the electorate voted for the return of a Conservative Government, knowing full well that they would introduce the community charge. We encourage the hon. Gentleman's efforts to ensure that everyone registers for the franchise, because there is no wish on these Benches to denigrate the franchise. Nor do we need measures to help perpetuate a Conservative Government, because the public are persuaded by our arguments. I am sure that they will re-elect us again.
Mr. Barnes : I adopt the position that I do in respect of the poll tax because of the Government's attack on democracy and constitutional provisions. In those circumstances, action might be justified that would be described by the Government as being lawlessness.
Mr. Barnes : I refer to the mobilisation of forces so that people can defend their democratic rights. The hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) asked me what kind of action could be taken. The legislation is draconian, making vast attacks on civil liberties, removing local government authority, and placing control in the hands of the Secretary of State for the Environment, who in this respect will act as a municipal Mussolini in order to run the whole system. The public may advocate, as they do in Scotland, mass non-payment, non-implementation campaigns, but to me that is not a feasible course of action. Although I understand the depth of feeling, it is unlikely that such a line can be held. When it is broken, many people who have not paid their poll tax will find themselves in considerable debt. Their earnings can be attached--and if they receive benefits, even those can be attached.
Many poor people in Scotland rely on credit to pay for their clothing and furniture. If their earnings or benefits are attached, they are likely to lose credit facilities, and their future livelihoods will be in jeopardy. I do not gaily seek widespread support for non-payment among people who could find themselves in such circumstances, however hideous it may be for them to pay the poll tax. However, selective non-payment by people who wish to give a political lead, for example--I shall not pay the poll tax and will have an attachment of earnings levelled against me--is needed. It will soon be needed in Scotland, whereas England and Wales still have one year before the full force of the law applies.
I refer only to non-violent acts of civil disobedience, which are not to be likened to action of the type taken by the IRA. I speak of an entirely different sphere of activity--legitimate civil disobedience, behind which are principles that should be understood by anyone who has read world history and of the actions of people such as Gandhi who fought against oppressive systems. Civil disobedience need not even be the immediate course of action. Legitimate avenues can be explored, such as demonstration and petitioning--if that is allowed. The approaching county council elections will also provide an oppportunity for people to argue their case, adding to the Government's growing unpopularity.
After a while those who involve themselves in campaigns against the poll tax in England and Wales may begin to ask, "What do we do now? The poll tax is still there ; should we just do more of the same?", and the campaign will begin to decline. A lead will need to be taken--as principled a lead as possible. Groups will need to be set up to take part in selective non- payment. Many committees of 100, such as have been established in Scotland, could be spread across England and Wales. The mutual respect, despite differences of attitudes and approach, that exists among CND's committees of 100 is what is needed here.
Column 1152This highly centralised system will attack civil liberties and smash local government, forcing it to act on the whim of central Government. It even seeks to fiddle local election results. A recent Conservative party political broadcast presented the Tories' views on the poll tax rather well for propaganda purposes, It showed someone receiving his poll tax demand, screwing it up and throwing it into the waste paper basket. He knew what to do : vote Conservative. The measure is intended to manipulate the electoral system. It will alter not only the number of people on the franchise but the number who will vote. People will be pushed into a Hobson's choice. Either the Labour council cuts services to survive, hurting its people in the process, or it hurts them with a high poll tax because it is they who must pay to provide their own services. When the people become depressed because they cannot pay, in come the Conservatives and poll tax organisations like the ratepayers' organisations of the past. In a democracy Governments are entitled to take action that attracts votes. They are not entitled to fiddle the system to further their own political interests.
Mr. John Patten : May I ask the hon. Gentleman two short questions? First, will he confirm that he is advocating that certain groups, to make their protest known, should not pay the community charge? Secondly, what action will the hon. Gentleman be taking? Will he not pay the charge?
Mr. Barnes : I shall advocate selective non-payment as part of a general campaign of civil disobedience, and I shall be involved in that action. The poll tax legislation provides in cases of non-payment for attachment of earnings, sending in the bailiffs or imprisonment. In my case it would be attachment of earnings, because I am fortunate enough to have reasonable earnings that can be easily attached. [ Hon. Members-- : "The hon. Member will break the law."] I will break the law, and will gladly suffer the consequences, as a legitimate means of protest against an unjust measure. That is an entirely respectable and justifiable position. The hon. Member for Colne Valley represents a seat once occupied by men such as Victor Grayson, who expressed views entirely in line with mine. The hon. Gentleman should be proud to follow such men rather than presenting us with such nonsense as today's motion.
Mr. Barnes : If the tax fiddled the franchise, attacked civil liberties, centralised Government power and was so unfair as to constitute an abuse of the norms of any Western democratic system, the hon. Gentleman would be justified in taking such action ; but he would have to stand up in Parliament and argue his case, as I am doing.
I agree that if someone decides to buck the system in a small way--and I am talking about doing it in quite a small way--the onus will be on him, especially if he is a parliamentarian, to prove his case. It will not be a matter of mathematical proof ; the case will not be so easy to establish. Balanced argument will be necessary. I am putting forward a balanced argument, and I hope that if
Column 1153our circumstances were reversed the hon. Member for Colne Valley would do the same, in defence of parliamentary democracy.
Mr. James Cran (Beverley) : Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that he is giving youngsters outside the House an appalling example? They will look to him and then decide that if a Member of Parliament can say in the House that he will break the law, they can do the same. Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that his remarks will lead to anarchy and the destruction of democracy, which is exactly what he is pontificating about today?
Mr. Barnes : I do not take such action lightly : I think carefully about the likely consequences. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about young people, he should read the poll tax legislation more carefully. Many young people will leave their homes because they have become an extra tax burden. Finding that they cannot afford to pay the charges imposed by this and other measures forced on them by the present Government, they will get on their bikes--if they happen to have them--and move from place to place, trying to survive in a culture of lawlessness. The Government are forcing such action on them. They should take responsibility for what they are doing. I am by no means an anarchist. I am arguing for the norms and traditions of democratic pluralism for which people have struggled and fought, sometimes involving themselves in civil disobedience. Presumably hon. Members believe that in the 19th century people were justified in taking action to extend the franchise. The argument seems to be that, once a democratic pluralist system is in place, people should stick to it because it can be adjusted to accommodate their wishes.
Some Conservative Members may not understand the nature of a massive campaign to fiddle the system. Perhaps only the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Environment understand it fully. Those with political nous realise that the way to achieve objectives--such as the sinking of the Belgrano--is not through a democratic system but by using any method that is to hand. Those who defend democracy but who use such crude methods as this dangerous poll tax to further their interests should be condemned. The poll tax is unfair. It is a tax on voting. It merits the types of response to which I have referred.
An attack has been made on the Derbyshire county council. The members of the Derbyshire county council have been described as loonies.
Mr. Barnes : They are perfectly respectable people. What they are doing needs to be considered properly and fully. Crude, misleading arguments should not be used against them. They are all being lumped together and described as people who are not politically responsible. If one goes to a meeting of the Derbyshire county council, one finds that its leadership--David Bookbinder, Geoff Lennox and others, including my agent, Harry Seddons, who is a county councillor--wipe the floor with the Conservative opposition in debates. The leader of the Conservatives on the council--Mr. Marshall--then grunts a few things which later appear in local newspapers as headlines. There is a manipulation of the media in that area that puts Rupert Murdoch to shame.
Column 1154to debate lawlessness, not to listen to a party political broadcast on behalf of the Derbyshire Labour party. I think that we are straying away from the subject of the motion on the Order Paper.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : As the debate continues, I am beginning to realise that lawlessness is a very wide subject. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) is in fact addressing himself to the motion before the House.
Mr. Barnes : The Derbyshire county council is not involved in acts of lawlessness. Its members are trying to act within the framework of the law, to be as responsible as possible and to provide a massive range of services for the county. The Derbyshire county council's education record is one of the proudest. It heads the shire counties in terms of its teacher -pupil ratio. It is top in special education and in secondary education. Its primary education is a hair's breadth behind that in Nottinghamshire-- another Labour-controlled council. It can be very proud of its education record.
Mr. Barnes : I was trying to point out that the criticisms levelled at the Derbyshire county council are irrelevant to the discussion. I have tried to correct the record and to show that the Derbyshire county council is a fine authority that keeps within the constraints that the Government have placed upon it. Those constraints will be made even worse by the poll tax.
It has been argued that the Labour party's policy on the prevention of terrorism in Northern Ireland and other issues is immoral and has encouraged lawlessness. We need to tackle the unemployment, the homelessness and the difficulties encountered by the Health Service in Northern Ireland if we are to overcome lawlessness and disruption. Working class people in Protestant and Catholic areas have a common interest in overcoming the problems, but they are solidly divided against each other on sectarian grounds.
The Northern Ireland Housing Executive can be proud of the new homes that it has provided, but as soon as they are erected the gable ends are covered with sectarian paintings. As soon as a struggle takes place, barriers are put up. Northern Ireland politicians demand the erection of barriers as soon as trouble breaks out between the Catholic end of a street and the Protestant end of a street, instead of trying to get the people together to find out whether they could co-operate with one another.
Working people in Northern Ireland have more interests in common, because of the increasing plight in which they are being placed by the Government, than issues that divide them. Government assistance to build up the economic and social structure of Northern Ireland would far more effectively deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland than the present policies. The people of Northern Ireland need to be given some hope that their problems can be solved.
If I advocate civil disobedience because of the poll tax, it is not right that I should then be linked with people who advocate other forms of lawlessness and with those who use techniques that are abhorrent in any type of society and that are entirely
counter-productive. I have talked
Column 1155about peaceful civil disobedience and about people being willing to face up to the consequences of their actions. I shall follow that course as strongly as I can. Some of us would be willing to be imprisoned rather than be faced with attachment of earnings. I feel so strongly about the poll tax that I believe that stronger measures ought to be taken against me. However, the Government will not allow such people to be imprisoned. They realise that that would result in a martyrs' charter. We are entitled to use the law when we are struggling against the poll tax. Utter disrespect for the law is not involved ; the aim is to advance democracy.
The pluralist nature of democracy that existed before the Government came to power was limited and restricted. I do not advocate its mere continuance. I am critical of many of the procedures in the House. These buildings should be turned into a museum. Parliamentary buildings should be erected elsewhere. A modern legislative chamber should be built in the middle of the country to which people could gain easy access. Then they could make full use of it. I should like more people to be involved in our democratic procedures, which would result in an extension of worker control and democracy.
Mr. Barnes : My point is that, although our democratic rights are imperfect, they should be held on to, re-established, nurtured and developed. As a Democratic Socialist, I want our democracy to be extended.
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) : I find myself in an incredibly difficult position, following what I consider to be one of the most outrageous and dreadful speeches that I have ever had to listen to. If I were to give vent to what I feel privately, I fear that I might bring myself and the House into disrepute. It stirred in me all my deep beliefs, why I wanted to come to the House in the first place and defend what it stands for, and why I am absolutely determined, as are virtually all hon. Members of whatever political persuasion, to hand on to my son and our children that democratic heritage which until now has flourished. In those circumstances I shall leave until later some detailed observations. I may then be somewhat calmer, more rational and more able to put a clear argument to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes).
When I asked whether it would be possible for me to speak in the debate I made it clear that, unfortunately, I would not be able to stay for the end and I apologise for that. I have a lunchtime engagement and setting the example of reliability is relevant to what I want to say.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) on a stimulating introduction to the debate and a comprehensive review of matters that worry
Column 1156the overwhelming majority of British people and on giving most of us a chance to address these issues rather than to ramble around revolutionary Left-wing politics.
Normally debates on lawlessness do not take the form that we have just heard. They tend to start from the premise that we are living through an epidemic of lawlessness, and statistics can be produced to suggest that that is the case. They then tend to focus on the shortcomings of the young which leads sooner or later--usually sooner--to calls for stiffer punishments, better deterrents and more police. I support those calls in principle, but, as I had to make clear in an intervention in my hon. Friend's speech, while we can support the principle of those calls, there is a limit beyond which I, at least, cannot go.
That sort of approach strikes a chord with the electorate. It is high profile on action. It describes the world in which we live, but simply to opt for those high profile, instant responses does not explain in detail why the troubles happened in the first place. If I dare say so, that approach has not produced as much improvement as we should have liked.
My purpose in speaking, therefore, is not to add to the catalogue of woe or to make further calls for instant action, but to suggest where we might look for the real explanations and the lasting cure to the problem of lawlessness. The weakness in the familiar approach of instant action is that it describes the symptoms of lawlessness rather than the disease itself. It urges action to suppress those symptoms rather than suggesting how we may achieve a lasting cure. To suppress the symptoms is no bad thing, which is why I support stiffer punishments, more deterrents and more police, but those actions are all essentially reactive and short term. We must look at how we might plan for the long-term future and ensure that the disease itself is tackled.
Clearly, lawlessness has an infinite number of forms and my hon. Friend surveyed the scene well. In a short debate individual speeches can focus on only one aspect of lawlessness, and, as I feel most strongly about lawlessness among the young, I shall concentrate on that.
We are all too familiar with many of the symptoms : truancy from school, vandalism, the antics of the lager louts and attacks on passers-by. Huge numbers of people are desperately busy addressing each of those symptoms. The Government, charities and many others are investing huge sums in trying to tackle them. Progress, however, is slow and certainly does not appear to be getting much faster. What is it that ultimately causes lawlessness among the young? I do not accept any of the fashionable theories. I am not impressed by the argument that it is deprivation or by the argument that it is affluence. It is too simple to blame Churches or materialism, or to take that sort of approach. All of us as adults are to blame--each and every one of us and society at large. If I am right, it means that the cure lies with us rather than with the young. Carl Jung in "Psychological Reflections" puts it better than I can when he says : "If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves."
There are some things that we must change in ourselves if we are to cure lawlessness in the young. The first is the role models that we provide for them. The second is the attitudes to authority that we encourage among ourselves
Column 1157and that we have heard encouraged today. The third is the anti-social behaviour that we occasionally condone. I shall suggest how we should respond to each.
Should not many of the role models that we provide for the young give rise to great anxiety? The most powerful model is undoubtedly the parent, and my hon. Friend touched on that. I wish I knew whether family life is not what it was. That is often asserted, but sometimes I suspect that our historic image is based more on a misunderstanding of the life of a privileged minority and that if it existed, it was an untypical, brief period in our history. Yet there are statistics to show that family life is changing, even if it is not getting worse.
All too often we see latch-key children going home to empty houses, and statistics suggest that more children grow up in broken homes. Whatever we make of the statistics, the children involved face an uphill struggle. To be left alone and not to grow up in a natural family unit takes its toll. It is high time that we started to question the wisdom of making it ever easier and more fashionable for mothers to leave their children all day. We should question whether the time has come to reverse the trends of the divorce statistics and the break-up of people living together. Until we tackle those problems, the role model of the family will not lead to a reduction in lawlessness.
Parents are not the only role models that we should think about. Society's fictional heroes and community leaders have an enormously powerful influence on young people. We need look no further than Iran or the programmes any night on television for examples of that. As my hon. Friend touched on teachers as role models, I can leave them to one side.
We parade fictional heroes before the young and my hon. Friend produced appalling statistics from one night's viewing of television. Until he said that they came from one night, I thought that he was going to say that they came from one episode of "EastEnders". The facts are there for all to see. The fictional hero that we glorify is violent, often a criminal and generally uncaring of those around him. Therefore, should we be surprised when children seek to follow that example?
All too often today's community leaders present one of two role models. They are aggressive, assertive and demanding ; they set the example that if we throw our weight about we shall get what we want. At the other extreme, there are community leaders who are apologists for virtually everything and excuse even the worst behaviour. They deride the values and standards of today's society. Is it any wonder that, confronted with those role models in their community leaders, young people are only too willing to trample on, abuse and decry the values of those with whom they live?
How do we tackle the problem? We must take a number of practical steps. First, we in this House should tackle, once and for all, television and cinema violence in a firmer way. It is time that we, as leaders, reasserted the importance of holding for ourselves clear values and standards for other people to see.
Secondly, we must change attitudes to authority and the way in which we encourage others to mock the examples that we set them. Lawlessness will not improve while we glorify sports personalities who bend the rules or defy the referee. It will not improve while we adults tolerate schools that deny the need for discipline. Yesterday's edition of The Daily Telegraph carried the headline :
Column 1158" Clip round the ear' governor is sacked."
The article continued :
"A school governor was sacked yesterday for suggesting that naughty children deserve a clip round the ear. Mr. Bob Wheeler, retired schoolmaster and SLD councillor, made his remark at a meeting of the governors of Knowsley junior school, Springhead, Oldham, Lancs.
Mr. Wheeler, who retired from secondary school teaching two years ago, was unavailable for comment yesterday. But he had earlier defended his views, saying : Clearly, one does not bash or clobber a child round the head.
But I am very much a firm believer in the chastisement of a child.'
He said his remarks followed complaints of pupils using bad language to school dinner ladies.
I was not advocating corporal punishment, or the use of the cane, strap or slipper.
I was only suggesting the sort of reaction a child could expect if he or she stepped out of line with a parent. Some deterrent must be seen to be available'."
That is merely one example of the hundreds that all of us could cite about the position that we have allowed to develop in our schools.
Another aspect of our attitude to authority is the way in which we allow and encourage the abuse of police and the undermining of what they stand for. That was summed up by an officer who recently said to me that, all too often, he finds that he is the first person to say no to a teenager, and to mean it. If that is so, it is hardly surprising that it leads to confrontation. How often do adults condone what a young person does and side with him or her against the police, who are trying to uphold authority on our behalf? Until we tackle that attitude, we shall not make progress.
Thirdly, adult society must face up to the fact that for too long it has too regularly shown a willingness to excuse anti-social behaviour, which is carried out in the name of either achieving change or responding to cultural differences in society. My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley touched on the trade union problems. I still think that, because of the period in which they took place, they provide the best example of what can happen if a society allows such behaviour to develop.
When we were undergoing trade union disputes--as it seemed, every day--we were witnessing the use of lawlessness to achieve change. If we preach that unity equals strength, and, the more united we are and the more muscle we have, the more we can achieve, it is not surprising if the young follow our lead. If we argue that solidarity is all about manning picket lines, demonstrations, riots and seeing off the police, should we really be surprised if the young people who watch these things on television night after night decide that it will be a good idea to follow that example?
We must accept that if any hon. Member or anyone else wants change, they must seek it within the law. I was going to cite another example from the clause 28 debate, in which I was involved and which I feel strongly about. Instead, I shall take the example of seeking revolutionary change, about which we have heard this morning from the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North -East, and describe where such action will lead. He used words such as "smash", "fight", and "struggle". That is the language and image of violence and when children hear it they will think that it would be good to take such action if they want change. The hon. Gentleman's argument was founded on nonsense--the idea that the franchise was under threat. Despite my requests for examples, he could not produce one shred of evidence. We should have heard it said that we are talking about freedom of choice and of the individual--freedom to vote
Column 1159and to register to vote must be equalled by the freedom not to vote and not to register. There is no evidence to suggest that people have been refused admission to the electoral register or have been forcibly taken off, so that argument collapses.
What worried me most in the context of lawlessness
Mr. Harry Barnes : The hon. Gentleman used the argument that everyone should have the right to put his or her name on the franchise or not to do so. The current legal position is that we are obliged to register and if we do not, we could be fined. As an advocate of pure law and order, the hon. Gentleman should recognise that.
Mr. Wilshire : The hon. Gentleman's intervention takes my argument even further. There is no attack on our freedom to register or vote, and he made that case admirably. What concerns me most about lawlessness is the sort of language and issues that we heard suggested as ways of advancing the society in which the hon. Gentleman believes. The phase "non-violent civil disobedience" trips off the tongue rather well and sounds respectable, but there is a simple word for it in the dictionary-- "lawlessness". The rule of law is absolutely fundamental to a civilised society, because the only alternative to it is the rule of the jungle.
We have heard today about the abandonment of the principles that matter-- civilised standards, courts and judges--and about the undermining of the police and everything for which they stand. We heard a call for lawlessness and selfishness, and the argument that non-payment is a means of proving something. It is not. Non-payment is a means of making someone else pay for our services, which is intolerable in a civilised society.
In the hon. Gentleman's party-political propaganda we also heard that to vote Labour in Derbyshire was to vote for a lawless Derbyshire, and to vote to be trampled on by those who no longer respect the rule of law in this country. What the hon. Gentleman said was a disgrace and when he comes to write his autobiography he may find that, singlehandedly this morning, he has achieved a great deal more than he knows to ensure a fourth term for the Conservatives. I was also concerned about excusing anti-social behaviour, which leads to increases in lawlessness, in the name of multi- cultural harmony. My experience in local government in the west of England involved me in the St. Paul's riots, when I saw at first hand that riots are all too often triggered by demands from minorities for exemption from the laws of the majority ; when the majority tries to enforce the rule of law on a minority, riots break out. It is often the young people in the community who take the lead in such riots. The elderly people stoke up the flames and then encourage lawlessness in the young.
The episode of "The Satanic Verses" is another case in point. Many crucial international issues have been raised by it, but one or two connected issues have not yet been debated. Where cultural ghettos exist, there follow demands, sometimes with menaces, for special treatment for those ghettos. The burning of books has awful echoes of the burning of people-- and in the protests that follow, young people of these communities are frequently in the vanguard.
Mr. Sheerman : I am a little concerned about the expression "cultural ghetto". Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the cultural entities in this country do not have the right to pursue their own religions and culture within the rule of law? Like him, I condemn book burning and censorship, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not going on to say that these cultural entities have no right to a viable existence in this country.
Mr. Sheerman : The hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that. Is he suggesting that a group of people with a distinct character, tradition and religion encourages violence in the host community by its very existence? This sounds very dangerous. Will the hon. Gentleman clarify exactly what he means?
Mr. Wilshire : The hon. Gentleman and I have been picking our words carefully. I have not been saying what the hon. Gentleman fears I might have been saying. I say that a cultural ghetto can all too readily lead to requests and demands for special treatment and exemption from the laws of the country. If that is allowed to continue, I draw from it the lesson that we must tell people who come here of their own free will--we are pleased to have them--that the law-abiding future lies not in multicultural separation but in cultural integration. Those who come here with every right to their beliefs, cultures and languages must accept the lesson of history, which is that when people move to an alien culture they must adapt. The history books are littered with examples of the lawlessness and violence that ensue if they do not--