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Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): We all share the regard and gratitude for the British Transport police that the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) has just so eloquently and passionately described, but I shall not follow him down that route.
This is a strange and uncomfortable Queen's Speech. A quarter of the 32 Bills are about tougher action on terrorism and crime and imposing tighter security measures generally, so the Speech has been described, rather sensationally in my view, as stoking the politics of fear. The motive is far more likely to be neutralising and wrong-footing the Tory party in the one remaining area where it might have some appeal. The problem with that strategy is, of course, that it has a high price; we defeat the Tories by adopting something akin to their policies. Moreover, if the objective of the Queen's Speech is to demonstrate that the Government are tough on security, we would do well to remember the catchphrase that the Prime Minister once highlighted, which needs only a small adaptation now; we should be tough on terrorism, and tough on the causes of terrorism.
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The cause of terrorism in the current context are surely, clearly, our participation in the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, when it was known that Saddam Hussein had no connection whatever with the 9/11 attacks. Our involvement in Iraq is exposing the country to the possibility of terrorist counter-attack, and the most effective means of reducing that exposure would be not to restrict civil and human rights in this country, but to make known our commitment to a staged, early troop withdrawal as soon as elections and the security situation feasibly allow.
Of course, I entirely understand that it will be said that the deteriorating security situation does not allow such a policy; but, again, the key fact is that 150,000 foreign troops are occupying the country, and the brutal methods used by the US forces in pacification are now feeding the insurgency. In the last analysis, the Iraqi invasion is a US policy, not a British one. If we want to reduce the threat of terrorism in this country, by far the most effective route is to disengage as soon as we can from this US venture in Iraq and to make public our intention to do so.
The Queen's Speech, however, proposes something rather different. It foreshadows a new draft counter-terrorism Bill which, it has been suggested, may include using Diplock-style, no-jury trials in terrorist cases. That proposal has already some discussion.
It has also been suggested that the draft Bill would include allowing phone tap evidence to be admissible in court and would introduce a new offence of "acts preparatory to terrorism". That is worrying on several counts. We already have the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, the legality of which has been challenged. There must be doubt as to whether draconian legislation is achieving its purpose at all. Home Office figures show that, of the 644 people arrested since September 2001 on suspicion of terrorism in this country, only 17 have been convicted. All of them were Irish nationalists, Sikh militants or members of organisations with no connections with al-Qaeda. Not a single person convicted has been shown to be a member or associate of the al-Qaeda network.
What is most worrying of all is that although harsh anti-terror laws may not be very effective in achieving the purpose towards which they are ostensibly directed, they coarsen the policing culture over the much wider area of domestic law; for example, in lowering the burden of proof in court and emasculating the right to silence. That is too high a price to pay when anti-terrorist gains are very limited.
Those are all reasons why we should be uncomfortable with the Queen's Speech. However, what is disturbing is not so much what is in it as what is not in
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the speech. It has been said in the current highly popular market lingo that this is the third-term offer. If it is, it is rather disappointing to say the least that there is nothing in the speech about the great underlying injustices in Britain today. They include the growing inequality in income and wealth, a greater centralisation of power than ever before, the erosion of human and civil rights to which I have referred, the lack of adequate workplace protections in so-called flexible labour markets, increasing marketisation of public services undermining equality of provision and the need for a foreign policy more independent of the United States.
In the time left, I would like to give one or two examples. Although the Government haveI very much agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers)done a good deal to assist the incomes of some of the poorest in society, the level of poverty remains, as he indicated, far too high. There are 12 million on income support, and inequalities are still growing. The basic state pension is only £79 a week while the latest survey shows that the average income, including bonuses and incentives, for the chairmen and chief executives of the top 100 FTSE companies is now £1.6 million a year, which works out at more than £32,000 a week.That span of inequality is grotesque. The very least that should be done is to increase the pension in line with earnings while subjecting the fancy pay increases for the richest executives to shareholder approval.
I refer to one other fact that has come to light in the past few days. When 2 million pensioners get a pension of less than £80 a week, it is frankly indefensible that judges who get pensions of between £75,000 and £90,000 a year should be, as now seems mooted, exempted from the tax that the rest of us will all have to pay if our total pension funds exceed £1.5 million. I hope that the Government will have another look at that.
On civil and workplace rights, it is crucial that the draft corporate manslaughter Bill is brought forward quickly and is not watered down. The Health and Safety Executive has indicated that 80 per cent. of deaths in the workplace are due to managerial negligence or incompetence, yet the average fine is only £30,000. That needs to be looked at again.
Looking at the events of the day of the Gracious Speech, it seems a rare feat of timing for the story of the foiled terrorist attack on Canary Wharf to have broken on that very day. It was subsequently discovered, if I am right, that if the incident had been real, it would have occurred a long time ago. The Queen's Speech was laden with references to security and terrorism, so it was a good day to exhume security news albeit of dubious provenance and vintage. Do we really live in a society that is so much on the edge that it should warrant 10 Bills out of 37 to be on security and crime?
Is there any confusion here? The Government are in favour of 24-hour drinking. They famously targeted young peopled before the last election saying, "If you want 24-hour drinking, vote Labour." However, they
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also talk about an alcohol harm-reduction strategy that is aimed at reducing the harm caused by alcohol misuse. However, the strategy is led by the very industry that produces more and more alcopops each year, with the drinks being targeted at the young and frequently consumed to huge excess by the very young and under-age. When will the Government stand up to the drinks lobby and outlaw such drinks? When will the Government tackle the whole question of under-age drinking by ensuring that licensees uphold the law? Or are the Government, as Sir Simon Jenkins said in a piece last week,
Earlier today, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) said that there also appeared to be muddled thinking on drugs policy and the relaxation of the laws on cannabis. According to health statistics, we are told that its increased use has been phenomenal, and one wonders what the proposed drugs Bill will do about that. I fully accept that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 needs to be reviewed, and I look forward to seeing the details of the proposed Bill.
The raw truth is that more than two thirds of all property crimes before our courts emanate from a need to feed drug addiction. That is an appalling statistic. We may be in danger of looking at the symptoms rather than the cause. Are we not tough enough on the causes of crime, to coin a phrase? That is where I welcome moves to increase the effectiveness of drug interventions and programmes, but I must say to the Minister that they may prove to be no more than empty words unless they are provided with far more resources. In Wales, fewer than 40 rehab beds are available for the country and, in many towns in rural settings, we need more than 40 just to serve those areas.
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