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Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): I think that I am right in saying that my constituency has one of the highest age profiles among parliamentary divisions, with a high proportion of retired people. Those people react with a number of emotions to the failure of the Government's policy on crime and disorder. That has been the case after previous Queen's Speeches, and I fear that it will also be the case as a result of the measures foreshadowed in this Queen's Speech.
My constituents' emotions are typically anger, outrage and, principally, bewilderment. By and large, those people have worked hard, not only in their professional lives, but in what they have contributed to civic society. They are disproportionately the people who collect for the Royal British Legion or the Red Cross. They are involved in all sorts of civic groups; they keep voluntary organisations going; and, typically, they are on the parochial church council. One tends to see the same faces in all those voluntary groups, whether it be the carer group, the stroke group or whatever. Those
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people put so much in. When they were younger, they afforded proper respect to their elders. Now, when they come to my surgeries, they are outraged and, as I have said, principally bewildered that younger people do not show them the respect that they properly think they deserve and, more importantly, which they gave as a matter of course to their elders when they were younger.
The low-level disorder that now affects many parts of constituencyI am sure that it is not untypicalstretches credulity to its limits. Some 10 days ago in the village of Hordle in the New Forest, the parish council found itself barricaded in the village hall and unable to get out as a consequence of the activities of a baying mob of youths outside, and the police had to be called to release them. The problems in Hordle are not entirely new, but they are shocking.
Communities used to police themselves. Antisocial behaviour is nothing new, and rowdy children and problem families have always existed. However, if parents were unable or unprepared to deal with such a problem in the past, it would have been dealt with by relatives, neighbours or informally by the local policeman. If any of those people were to take effective measures now, they would quickly find that it is they who would be up in front of the beak, so we increasingly rely on the police.
There are far too few police, who also lack proper power to deal with the problem. All sorts of new measures have been introduced, some of which have their place and are effective in some ways. However, the principal measure that has been introduced to deal with antisocial behaviour, the ASBO, is, in my view, far too long in coming. The evidence that must be collected and taken to court some weeks later leaves the problem festering for far too long.
It is in the nature of antisocial behaviour and low-level disorder that it must be dealt with quicklyeven instantlybecause people's lives are made a misery for months. I want to see all sorts of measures of a much shorter order that can be introduced more quickly. The Government have dipped their toe in the water with the introduction of on-the-spot fines, on which I am inclined to go further.
The Government indicated that they would take action, which, I believe, would have been effective. The Prime Minister told us that the Government would use housing benefit as a means of enforcing proper social control, which I would have welcomed. It is unfortunately the case that a disproportionate number of those whose antisocial behaviour presents problems are in receipt of one benefit or another. Indeed, an increasing proportion of our population is in receipt of benefits, and we therefore have a proper and potentially very useful means of social control. To receive benefits should be part of a contract that involves behaving according to certain standards. I ask Ministers to listen to what the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) has to say in that respect, because the Queen's Speech should have had rather more to say, and I am disappointed that it did not.
Given the nature of the disorder that we now faceadmittedly it is low level, but it disrupts and makes many people's lives a miseryand the need to deal with it quickly and effectively, I suggest that the police need the summary powers that parents used to exercise.
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Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. A curfew orderan order to remove yourself from the streets, go home and stay at homeis a power that the police should instantly enjoy to quell problems on the streets, rather than having to seek that power months or weeks later in the courts.
Let the boot be on the other foot. Let those people who think that they have been aggrieved or unfairly treated go to the magistrates and argue the case that an order has been improperly placed upon them. Let them make their cases in front of the common sense of the justices, rather than the community having to wait, collect evidence and go to the justices to get such situations remedied. Put the boot on the other foot.
I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) dealt so effectively with the problem of Travellers. I was going to say a good deal about Travellers, but he has saved me that trouble, and if hon. Members did not hear his speech, I urge them to read the Official Report. It is undoubtedly the case that the creative power available to judges as a consequence of the Human Rights Act 1998 has allowed them to remove from our constituents the proper protection of statute law and planning rules. That protection was never enough, but now it has been removed. A serious remedy is required, and it should have been in this Queen's Speech.
Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware that not only does a remedy not exist to that problem in the Queen's Speech, but that the Government do not recognise that the problem exists? Indeed, Ministers in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister have said on the record that the 1998 Act plays no part in the problems with Travellers that are currently being experienced up and down the country.
Mr. Swayne: My hon. Friend is right that the 1998 Act plays a significant role. Even before the 1998 Act, a significant problem existed that needed to be addressed. The fact that the Government are not addressing it is lamentable, particularly when the Prime Minister, at Prime Minister's questions only a few days ago, indicated that the Government were reviewing possible remedies. Here was the opportunity to provide that remedyin the Queen's Speech. Where is it?
The hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) expressed concern that the measures in the Queen's Speech, particularly those relating to identity cards, are a threat to liberty, and he expressed fundamental reservations about his Government's policy in this respect. In fact, I share his prejudice. I do not like the idea that the subject be accountable to the statethe state is our servant, not our master. Of course, we are told that terrorists are determined to destroy our liberty and everything that we stand for, but I caution the Government against destroying those liberties first, before the terrorists can even get to them, through the remedies that we propose.
I acknowledge that if I were to go down the principal community thoroughfare in my constituencyStation road in New MiltonI would probably discover that a
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significant majority of my constituents are in favour of an identity card system. They might not feel entirely comfortable with the possibility of a policeman demanding to see their papers, or of their having to account for themselves, but fundamentally, if it comes to a trade-off they would be prepared to trade their liberty for greater order. I respect that position, but my concern is that when the Bill in question comes before us, the Government will persuade us that it will indeed deliver greater order and address the problems that it allegedly addresses.
Of the problems for which ID cards are described as the panacea, let us consider immigration and asylum. The difficulties and chaos that attend our immigration and asylum system arise from a number of failures of Government policy, each of which could be addressed individually. I am deeply sceptical that those problems can be addressed by ID cards, but my mind remains open and I will listen to that argument. I will not say that I am opposed in principle to ID cards, although I do have deep reservations about them. If I can be persuaded that they will deliver what they are alleged to deliver, I will of course be prepared to consider that equation.
the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn) graciously referred to the fact that it was my service in Iraq that prevented me from attending the previous Queen's Speech. With that in mind, I want to draw to Treasury Ministers' attention what I regard as a failure in the vital regard of prosecuting the war against terrorism. About this time last year, we had three principal enemies in Iraq: organised criminal gangs who regarded a stable Iraq as a threat to their operations; former regime loyalists, of whom there were actually very few, although they were well funded and well armed; and foreign fighters. In essence, that was it.
My fear is that in the intervening year we have acquired a fourth and very much more dangerous enemy in Iraq: a huge number of disaffected Iraqis. I regard that as a failure of policy on our part. By September last year, we had conducted democratic elections in the four provinces under British control in southern Iraq, and provided a local government structure. The United Nations told us that there was no electoral register, but every household had a ration card, so we were able to conduct elections on the basis of a household franchise. That worked very effectively. Those elections were conducted by a number of political parties, all of which were enthusiastic about trying out democracy and gaining power.
Once that local government structure was created, the problem was that the regime in Baghdadthe coalition provisional authoritywould not allow sufficient genuine power and responsibility to be handed to those locally accountable and elected authorities. An enormous amount of frustration built up, and as a result people moved to support the hotheads and militants for whom there had been no support before.
Another factor leading to this fundamental growth in the number of disaffected Iraqis is the way in which operations have been conducted. There is an etiquette that British troops exercise when, for example, searching an Iraqi property. The man of the household
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is brought outside and briefed on what is to happen. He is then allowed to go back inside and brief his women-folk. One may call it an illusion. Nevertheless, the etiquette is maintained whereby the man remains in charge and is not humiliated in front of his women-folk. The operation is discharged on that basis. I do not believe that our American allies operate in that way and according to that etiquette. As a result, there is huge and growing discontent, and irritation with those who are increasingly regarded as "the occupiers".
We have the expertise in these matters: we have 30 years' experience in conducting such peace support operations. Our failure of policy was in failing to bring the benefits of that expertise and experience to our principal ally. If one behaves like a poodle, one gets treated like a poodle. I do not believe that we ever had in Baghdad someone of sufficient authoritywith the Prime Minister's earto call the shots and make clear our feelings to our American allies. Perhaps Peter Mandelson might properly have done that job, particularly given his experience in Northern Ireland. That was a policy failure on our part.
A principal failing of the Queen's Speech is the determination to proceed with reducing the number of Army battalions by two. Such a reduction begs an important question: why does a medium-sized operation of low intensity require the mobilisation of so many reservists? I have no resentment at having been mobilised, but how does supposedly being able to do with fewer regular infantry square with the need to call up reservists more often? I do not believe that the public will understand that at all.
The Ministry of Defence has been entirely infected with the most strange contagion. When one talks to MOD people about the problem of Army, Air Force and Navy numbers, they are full of jargon. They employ a kind of "newspeak". They refer to "network-enabled capability" and "effects-based warfare". The basic theory is that through technology, we have abolished attritional warfare. Our weapons systems will be so "smart" that they will knock out our enemies' capability before they even realise that the conflict has started. As a consequence, we will need fewer platforms. Of course, there is a fault in that logic. What if they hit us first and get the few platforms that we possess?
Let us assume that the MOD is right in its fundamental assumption. Let us assume that the investment that the Government are undertaking, allegedly, in high-tech warfare is of such a calibre that they have abolished attritional warfare and we will hit the enemy so hard first that we knock out his capability. The flaw in the logic is this: how often do we go to war in that way? How many conflicts that we participate in require that sort of capability? It is nice to haveindeed, it is vital to havebut in reality 90 per cent. of what the British Army does is what we are now doing in Iraq: low-intensity peacekeeping operations, which require huge numbers of men on the ground. The principal difficulty that we have faced in prosecuting the war in Iraq is that we have far too few troops on the ground, as have the Americans. That in itself points to an enormous failure of planning for the whole Iraqi operation. There was a plan to fight a high-intensity war and very little planning for the post-war reconstruction.
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