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Mr. Salmond : I agree with the general tenor of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks on identity cards, but, having heard the Prime Minister earlier, does he agree that the concept that the cards would not be compulsory for devolved services, but would be compulsory in regard to reserved issues, is nonsense?
Mr. Kennedy: I was intrigued by that proposal as well; it was a new one on me. The Deputy First Minister in the Scottish Parliament, my party colleague, Jim Wallace, did not seem to be willing to get bogged down in this distinction between what is devolved and what is not, when he said recently in a speech:
"The truth is that ID cards will fail to combat terrorism and make little or no difference in tackling illegal working and cutting crime. The harsh reality is that the UK government's ID card scheme is nakedly opportunistic and the certainty is the huge cost of ID cards, a cost that will have to be borne by every individual."
Mr. Kennedy: Temptation, temptation! There are issues on which we can clearly draw a distinction between what is devolved and what is not, and that one is devolved. That was not my decision; it was a decision for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, and that is as it should be.
Mr. Kennedy: I have not heard Lord Steel sound off on this specific issue, I must admit. However, I find that I can always count on his moral support, as I can on that of all former leaders of the Liberal Democrats.
We continue to oppose detention without trial. In a liberal democrat societyin the non-party sense of the termit surely cannot be acceptable. We acknowledge, however, that there is a real problem in regard to at least some of the detainees at Belmarsh. This matter is, of course, subject to the decision of the courts. It must be preferable to secure a conviction, when it is legitimate to do so, and that might involve the allowing of information obtained by phone-tapping to be given in court, if it is a relevant and essential piece of information. It is better to arrive at such a conviction than to leave someone languishing in a legal no man's land, as is happening at the moment. Depending on the detail that will be provided in due course, that proposal will have to be looked at.
The Prime Minister has also made much of a matter that we have been very straightforward about, which is that we, as a party, have had to reassess our attitude to antisocial behaviour orders. He was quite right to say that we were critical of them in the past, and that we warned him about some of their implications. We have been proved right about some of those implications, but we have to be realistic. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) has been consulting not only the many Liberal Democrat-run local authorities that have had recourse to the orders and found them useful, but authorities of other political persuasions as well.
Where a developed view is concerned, I listened to the Leader of the House's interview on this issue on Sunday night[Interruption.] I am sure that other listening posts within the Labour hierarchy follow very carefully what he says when he gives his later-night weekend interviews. If, after a scheme comes into operation,
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judgments must be formed on its practicality and changes must be made in the stance, we should be upfront about that. That is the kind of rational discussion that the public want to see. In being straightforward in saying that, I hope that there will be a degree more straightforwardness in the response from the Government in acknowledging that to be the case.
Let us consider some of the issues that we highlighted at the time. For example, if we put antisocial behaviour orders in the context of wider criminality in this country at the moment, we see that the prison population has risen by 20 per cent. since the Government came to power. Before 1997, however, the Labour party in opposition argued that prisons were already overcrowded. Perhaps that is tough on crime, but it is not tough on the causes of crime. With that increase, reoffending rates are now running at 60 per cent., and among 18 to 21-year-olds, at more than 70 per cent. "Tough on crime" is the headline, but we need to consider the facts that lie below it.
Equally, the Government are tough on the implementation of ASBOs. It must be acknowledged, however, that the ASBOs that have been administered have a 36 per cent. failure rate. What does "failure rate" mean? It means that the people made subject to ASBOs who break themthe failuresend up in detention. If we consider the detention figures, we see the effect that that has on those individuals becoming reoffenders. It would be better if we could get to those peoplethis is our whole argument, on which we differ from the Governmentbefore the legal intervention takes place. Then, if something were to go wrong, we would have a better prospect of getting them back on the straight and narrow, before they reach the point of incarceration when they are much further down the track and much more difficult to reclaim as a fully paid-up, worthwhile member of society. That is a serious issue and it should be pursued.
The third context in which the issue should be placed is the need, which I mentioned, for more police and community police officers generally. It remains ridiculous that 10 per cent. of our active police on shift at any given time are acting as bureaucrats and are not out in the streets and communities. The vital need to reduce the bureaucratic imposition on the police continues.
We support the Government on their establishment of a serious organised crime agency. It must make sense to bring those functions together in a more coherent one-stop shop, as it were. We will scrutinise that, but we want to give it our broad support.
What I find most perverse, almost, about this Queen's Speech is that the Prime Minister, before he became Prime Minister, and in his earlier years in office, would often wax lyrical and with great reflection and consideration on the fact that the 20th century had been too dominated by the conservatives, and that the progressivesbe they those in his party, my party or elements of the Conservative partyshould try to capture the 21st century. Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have delivered speeches in which they have alluded to the fact that Liberal thinking has influenced and led to the enactment of big improvements in social measures and liberties by Labour Governments. However, what has happened today? Sadly, the Prime Minister's analysis is being
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steadily eclipsed by his Home Secretary's approach. In a short space of time, the Home Secretary has managed to do something that took the neo-conservatives in the United States 20 years, if not more. In aping them, he has managed to turn "liberal" into a derogatory term of abuse in this country's political dialogue. I am not talking about the party political term "Liberal"; I am talking about people who consider themselves liberal, whatever their party political allegiance.
That is totally out of kilter with British society todaythis is reflected in the legislation that we have passed on same-sex relationships and other mattersso much of which is instinctively liberal in its attitudes and aspirations. The Home Secretary seems to have lost that plot or, indeed, seeks to undermine that welcome development.
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman's argument is important, but surely there is no inconsistency between being liberal-minded on issues such as, for example, equality in terms of race, gender or sexuality and the incorporation of the European convention on human rights into our domestic law, and at the same time saying that people who make life hell for others in their communities should not be allowed to get away with itthere is nothing illiberal about that approach, which contains a lot of common sense. I agree that we need to invest in Sure Start and in opportunities for young people, but what do we do when elderly and vulnerable people's lives are made really difficultsometimes they are made virtually impossibleby antisocial behaviour? Surely we have to act. I do not see any inconsistency between being entirely liberal on issues to do with equality and very sure and tough on issues to do with proper behaviour.
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