Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): There is much that has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House with which I can agree. I am attracted to the suggestion by the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) for a new law that makes it an offence to buy alcohol for those who are under age.
29 Nov 2004 : Column 435
However, there is no purpose in it unless we have the police to enforce it, and unfortunately we do not seem to have them available to enforce such wonderful ideas.

I want to concentrate on identity cards. In particular, I want to associate myself with my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary's analysis of them. He displayed a welcome scepticism about the good sense and practical utility of introducing identity cards. I also wholeheartedly agree with what the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) said about them. His analysis was entirely correct. I also take note of the practical experience and analysis of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), who as a Cabinet member saw at first hand the pitfalls that are inherent in trying to introduce an identity card system.

There is no point in repeating what has been said, but I agree with the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) that there is an unattractive illiberal tinge to the Queen's Speech. When we consider identity cards and their practical utility—let us forget about the principle for a moment—it is important that we weave that in with all the other pieces of legislation with which the Government wish to frighten the public between now and the next general election.

The argument seems to rest on the somewhat strange idea that if someone has nothing to hide, he has nothing to fear, and on that basis we should all accept with open arms the introduction of identity cards. There is a huge flaw in that. I still practise at the defamation Bar and remember acting for newspaper defendants who were the respondents in applications for interlocutory injunctions, which are interim injunctions that prevent them from saying anything defamatory. The counsel for the claimant would point out that if the newspaper was not intending to say anything nasty about his client, there could be nothing wrong with my client agreeing to be bound by an undertaking that he would do nothing of the sort. That is, of course, an insidious change of the balance. It is up to the claimant to demonstrate that the newspaper or anyone else is going to do something unlawful. It is wrong to place that burden on the defendant.

One might just as well say, "If you're not going to do anything criminal, you can't object to being bound over to keep the peace. If you're not going to do anything criminal, you can't object to being subjected to a curfew order from 11 o'clock at night to 7 in the morning. If you're not going to do anything unlawful, you can't object to being subjected to an order for bail. If you're not going to do anything unlawful, you can't object to being subjected to a tagging order." The whole insidious move behind the Government's proposals is to reverse the burden of proof and the balance of power between the citizen and the state.

The state has a duty to protect, and I, as a subject of the Crown, have a duty to obey the lawful commands of the Government. However, the balance requires the Crown in Parliament—the Government—to respect my rights and freedoms as a citizen. The Identity Cards Bill and some of the other illiberal measures in the Queen's Speech will insidiously change the climate.

The right hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers) spoke about the freedoms that the Government want to give to the public. I do not know
29 Nov 2004 : Column 436
whether that was deliberate or accidental, but it was instructive. Freedoms belong to me as a matter of right and they are not a gift from the Government. When he speaks, he does so on behalf of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who speaks on behalf of the Prime Minister. In that one expression, the Government's whole agenda was exposed, and it is one that we should recognise and speak up loudly against, irrespective of our views on terrorism, antisocial behaviour, illegal immigration and bogus asylum seekers.

The agenda that the Government wish to encourage between now and the general election, whenever that may come, is that they will decide what protections people need and they will feed out certain privileges, which they describe as freedoms. One of the great freedoms will be the compulsory possession of an identity card, with which people can walk freely in the streets without being hindered by a law officer of the Crown.

At the end of the 18th century, there were two great revolutions—the French and the American. If I had to make a choice, I would want to follow the example of Jefferson in my attachment to revolution and personal freedom and in my refusal to accept a Government who wish to place burdens on me. This Government have chosen the route of Robespierre. I am not suggesting they are going to cut our heads off literally, but their metaphorical position is to set up a committee of public safety to allow them to control every aspect of our lives, and to ensure that they control the levers of our very breathing and the way in which we exist and go about our lawful business. [Laughter.] It strikes me that, despite the guffaws of Labour Members, they are trapped in the Government's agenda, as outlined by the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North.

The atmosphere of political engagement and discourse is changing in a way that the Government are too stupid to realise is happening—or perhaps they are not too stupid and know what they are doing, hoping that we are too stupid to realise what is going on. I urge the House to be extremely careful about the illiberal measures that the Government are introducing.

8.9 pm

Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): I congratulate the Home Secretary and his Department on a number of proposals in the Queen's Speech. Many of the ideas in the agenda get right to the heart of the concerns felt by many of my constituents. I am sure that there is much in the proposals that they will welcome. I am particulary pleased about the emphasis on security, as the issue of law and order—whether it be concern about drugs, antisocial behaviour or any other activity—features regularly in my constituency postbag. It is not just the victims of crime who suffer. Even non-violent crimes can cast a shadow over entire neighbourhoods; communities are faced day in and day out with graffiti, abandoned cars, noise nuisance and cycling on the pavement.

With that in mind, the clean neighbourhoods and environment Bill should further equip local authorities to deal with quality-of-life issues, which the residents of my constituency raise with me quite often. The Bill is rooted in the broken-windows theory of crime: if we tackle low-level problems such as fly posting and graffiti
29 Nov 2004 : Column 437
quickly and aggressively, we will send a message that will bring down the levels of more serious crime. That method undoubtedly works when applied properly. Although we have to act sensitively when dealing with diverse communities such as those in my constituency, the results can be extremely positive.

On a completely different scale, I welcome the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill, and specifically the establishment of a Serious Organised Crime Agency, which will take over a number of functions. It hardly needs saying that we live in an increasingly globalised world, where ease of travel and electronic technology have brought not only great benefit but real challenges, as criminals, not to mention terrorists, can exploit such advances to work across international boundaries. That is especially true of drug smuggling and people trafficking, as well as of the growing problem of organised criminals who smuggle migrants—often at great risk to those migrants; it has been reported many times that migrants have drowned in the sea while travelling—while generating large profits for themselves.

Tackling those criminal groups effectively will require a co-ordinated response that the new agency should be able to provide. It could also enhance our effectiveness in combating terrorist organisations and their sympathisers who may fund their networks through other criminal activities, as is so often the case. Of course, there are challenges with creating such a new body. As the Police Federation notes, there needs to be an effective integration of the new body into the existing structures, so that intelligence and information are passed on and not lost or withheld in counter-productive turf wars.

Although the agency will be useful at a national level in challenging drug trafficking, it is essential that we provide the police and courts with the powers necessary to tackle drug use locally. Just last week, I received a fax signed by a number of local shopkeepers who were concerned that groups of drug users and dealers loitering outside their stores were having a damaging effect on local businesses and the community at large. I hope that the provisions in the drugs Bill will therefore go further not just in reducing the number of users but in ensuring that those taken off the streets are given the support and treatment that they need to beat their addictions so that they do not offend again.

On balance, I support the introduction of identity cards. Various sections of the community oppose the proposal, while others support it. Of course there are real concerns, which should be aired and discussed, but ultimately, as long as the card is used not to create profiles but simply for identification, it should be a means of ensuring that someone is who he or she claims to be. Law enforcement professionals and the public as a whole appear to support the introduction of ID cards—at least, as far as the public are concerned, as long as the card remains affordable. Last week's report that identity fraud occurs every four minutes in the United Kingdom is a sobering reminder of the challenges that we face.

I am not sure how I feel about the Police Federation's call for the compulsory carrying of cards, as I do not believe that the card will be useless if the law does not
29 Nov 2004 : Column 438
compel people to carry it at all times. However, that is probably a moot point, as the Government have said that it will not be compulsory to carry a card. If someone has not broken any law, I do not see why the police would have any further interest in them. The trick will be for the Government to ensure that the system is efficient and secure, so that the public can have confidence in it.

I also support the introduction of an equality Bill, which is to include a new commission for equality and human rights to replace existing equality bodies and to oversee new laws on age discrimination, sexual orientation and religious beliefs. As a Member of Parliament who represents a hugely diverse constituency, I can certainly see the benefits of a body recognising the challenges faced by different racial and faith groups. However, bringing the issue of equality under a single umbrella organisation should encourage further moves towards fair treatment of all groups, including women, and underscore the point that any discrimination is wrong and will be tackled vigorously.

As should always be the case, the Government will need to be mindful of the reservations that people may have, and do have, about legislation. When dealing with issues of security, safety and even terrorism, it is all too easy for legislators to undermine a sense of well-being even as—

Next Section IndexHome Page