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Mr. Kennedy: It is refreshing to get into a philosophical debate with the Prime Ministerthey should let him out more often. I rather agree with him, but the problem for the Prime Minister, others of a like mind and me is that the Home Secretary does not agree one iota with that analysis. Indeed, I shall quote the Home Secretary's interview on the Saturday before last's "Today" programme. He discussed the Liberal Democrats, which is one of his favourite themes when he appears on that programme, and in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester and me:
"I would challenge Charles Kennedy on this, we actually have got to be able to distinguish an open, liberal society from libertarianism, where everything goes and selfishness and individualism are somehow presented as liberalism."
I mentioned the use of the word "liberal" as a term of abuse. The Home Secretary is incorporating something else from recent American political experienceneo-con stuff from the presidential campaignand we can see it in the presentation of his case in and around the Queen's Speech. Just as the Bush Administration established in the minds of the average American citizen that al-Qaeda and 11 September were somehow connected with Saddam's regime in Baghdadeverybody knows that they were notthe Home Secretary would like us to think that international
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terror, disruption and disorder are part of ASBOs and people being threatened in their communities, and that that is part of losing control of ourselves, our communities and our sense of safety. That is an insidious, invidious and dangerous line to go down, and our voices will make that case again and again in many debates because it needs to be heard.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Surely the essence of the problem with this Home Secretary is that he has adopted a raft of measures that greatly adds to the power of the state without in any meaningful way adding to the security of the citizen. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that the truest description of this Home Secretary is that never has there been a Home Secretary who has wielded so much power, has made so little effective use of it and has been in such an indecent haste to blow his own trumpet.
Mr. Kennedy: This emerging triumviratethis Polish Government in exileis the most amazing in which I have participated since The Spectator awards of two weeks ago, when the leader of the Conservative party and the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) flanked me as I received an award. I can assure them that I have got that photo on the bedroom wall.
I certainly agree with the approach taken by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), and I commend the personal and parliamentary courage with which he has put his arguments of late on these and other issues. We in this country enjoy a relatively stable, mature, tolerant, fair-minded and open democracy and the material affluence that goes with it, and it is absolutely essential that we do not drift intoor worse still, consciously designknee-jerk, short-term strategies that might, through a degree of popularity, buy votes in the run-up to an election, but which in the longer term would work against the interests of us all as citizens, regardless of political persuasion.
Chris Grayling: I am very grateful. May I probe a little deeper into what the right hon. Gentleman is saying? He will be aware that a school of thought exists today whereby the publicity and policy making that have accompanied the events of the past few years in reality constitute an attempt by a particular part of the political spectrum in the west to create a "new enemy" to replace the one that existed during the cold war, and that the threat of al-Qaeda has been exaggerated to promote a particular style of politics. Does he share that concern?
I do not doubt that there are some who are of that mindset, and that the absence of the old fixed certaintieswhich were physically embodied in the presence of the Berlin wall and in the competing values and weapons systems that lay on either side of ithas created something of a void. However, I do not subscribe to the view that that has somehow left all politics in a moral vacuum, and I doubt whether the leaders of the Conservative or Labour parties do either.
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No doubt there are those with a rather bizarre philosophical intentthose whose primary interest is with whom they are going to make the next weapons deal, and to which part of the world they are going to sell them and how much for, without asking too many questions about the purpose for which they are required. But there will also be those who approach this issue from the direction referred to by the hon. Gentleman.
I shall deal brieflygiven that this philosophical excursion has lasted rather longer than I anticipatedwith the other measures in the Queen's Speech and indicate our stance. We support the education measures for 16 to 19-year-olds, which are aimed essentially at part-time students. However, if we had had this legislative chance today, we would of course have legislated, as we have done in the Scottish Parliament, for a much fairer deal for our studentsa deal that does not involve the savage amount of personal debt that will result from the imposition of student fees, and from the top-up fees that will shortly accompany them, in England and Wales.
We also welcome the establishment of a commission for equality and human rights, but in this respect there has been more than just a drafting oversight. Reference is made to the various categories that will be included in terms of sexual orientation, religious preference, race, and so on, but no reference is made to anti-age discrimination in respect of the provision of goods and services. I have no doubt that we will want to discuss that issue when the Bill comes before the House.
As Members of Parliament, we have all heard from our constituents of horrific instances of maimings and deaths caused by road accidents. It is amazing that although we have accident investigation bureaucracies that deal with rail, sea and air travel, no such bureaucracy exists for road travel, despite the fact that 10 people will be killed today on our roads. We read the terrible headlines about the recent appalling rail accident, yet fewer people were killed in that accident than were killed in each subsequent day on the roads.
The proposals on corporate manslaughter are a step in the right direction, although, when it comes to the detail, the Government may have to revisit whether the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986 would provide a more appropriate route to achieve their objective.
I commented on the difficulties that can arise with computerisation. I hope that those difficulties will not arise during the integration of the Inland Revenue with Customs and Excise. However, problems that will have to be addressed include the interdiction powers of Customs and Excise, which have been seriously questioned in recent court rulings. We support the further moves that will be made on charities and the fact that the threatthe realityof global warming features in the Queen's Speech. However, it is essential that
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among the many other things that the Prime Minister has to talk to the President of the United States about, he engages him positively in that agenda, not least through the presidency of the G8.
There is one old friend that never goes away. Governments come and go, but this one never goes away: Europeand it is here today. The Bill will be introduced, and I agree with the leader of the Conservative party that it would be more helpful to be able to flesh the subject out with a bit of detail, such as when Billy Bunter's postal orderany European referendum from this Governmentis going to arrive. I hope that when we begin to get into the arguments in the House, the Government will stop making the mistake that they have been making all along, which is "defending the red lines" and speaking in Eurosceptical language to justify a pro-European move.
John Major learned, to the decimation of his premiership, that the more we feed the monster, the more the monster wants, and eventually the monster will devour us. We watched that when the Conservatives were in government, week by week and month by month. This Government are not in that position yet, but they are kidding themselves if they think that they can turn public opinion around by presenting an argument about engaging with Europe in the vocabulary and the stance that people instinctively equate with the Eurosceptics, if not the downright anti-Europeans.
Apparently, the Labour party has launched a new website, called "Proud to be British". In it, the party invites people to send messages to Labour to tell it why they are proud to be British. That is all very interesting. Perhaps Peter Mandelson will launch a website called "Pleased to be European". What most of us feel about being British is that we are proud to be British. Britain is a good country; it has a sense of fair play and of tolerance and the other virtues that I referred to earlier. But in addition to that, this country recognises that life is more complex and that decisions and difficulties that arise for Governments are more complicated than the easy tabloid analysis of life.
I am glad to say that, from a Liberal Democrat standpoint, I have no such complaint about the Government. I am relieved to say that they show no temptation to steal our language or the philosophy that lies behind it. That will be the defining issue of the election in coming months. I am talking about an instinctively Liberal approach to the problems of the day at home and abroad, backed up by principles, as opposed to the instinctive reaction towards an illiberal partial solution to a much more complicated set of problems. The people of this country deserve to have that debated in a mature and rational way, and to have it put forward as a set of principles and a coherent view of Britain today and Britain's role in the world. I believe that, come the election, after the debates on the Queen's Speech and the legislation that follows, millions more of our fellow citizens will see that, instinctively and properly, that comes best and most sincerely from the Liberal Democrats.
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