|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland). It has been a particular pleasure to hear the range of views expressed from the Government Benches in the course of the debate, ranging from pure 24 carat, 100 per cent. new Labour from the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers) to the lucid and cogent demolition by the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), not just of the Government's security measures in the Queen's Speech, but of the Government's record on civil liberties. I would not necessarily go quite as far as he did in criticising the Government's record on civil liberties, but he was on to the central issue that we should be discussing when we consider the Home Office contributions to the Queen's Speech.
I shall talk about freedom. There are times when the House needs to address directly some of the fundamental issues that concern us, and a debate on a Queen's Speech that is dominated by Home Office Bills is one such occasion. The key question that should concern the House is whether the restrictions on all our freedoms that are proposed by the Government are necessary to provide us with safety and security. If the answer is no, as I believe it is, to approve this raft of legislation would be a betrayal of our duty to stand up for the rights and freedoms of all citizens. We should learn from history. Governments that hide under the cloak of promoting public safety are often more concerned with their own administrative convenience.
As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) said, great crimes have been committed under the guise of "committees of public safety". Fortunately, in our democracy, we are not at risk in that way. However, we are at risk in more subtle ways.
Every instinct of a parliamentarian, whether of a broadly left-wing or right-wing perspective, should bridle at Governments who promise more order in return for a little more intrusion of the freedom of the citizen. All too often, the result is that the freedom disappears and the habits of intrusion remain, and the order never arrives. The streets do not become any safer and the terrorist threat is not reduced. Given the various Bills laid before us, it does not require Nostradamus-like predictive powers to see that we are faced with just that sort of bad deal. It is predictable that those who oppose some of these Bills will be accused of being soft on crime or even soft on terrorism. That will be a cheap and ridiculous accusation. We must be firm in sticking to our duty in assessing the details of the proposed legislation and always remembering our other duty of maintaining the freedoms of our citizens.
In the raft of measures that are before us the country is being offered ineffective authoritarianism. If the Home Secretary gets his way with these Bills, he will end up harassing the innocent and missing the criminal. All these Bills need to be put in the context of what has come before from the Government. Across the range of Departments we have a Government who believe that Whitehall knows best and that if it is needed to make criminals out of people who need to be discouraged from wrong behaviour, they, the Government, will be effective in making society safer. That will not happen. In the end, the Government will be wasting police time
29 Nov 2004 : Column 444
by taking police officers away from dealing with serious criminals and, at the same time, damaging the relationship between the police and the overwhelmingly respectable and law-abiding members of the public.
It is a testament to the dangers of the Home Secretary's approach that millions of people now believe that they are much more likely to have a policeman after them if they drive a car than if they deal in drugs. After eight years of this Government we can see why they have reached the point where they are ineffective authoritarians. That is a charge that it would have been impossible to lay at most previous Labour Governments, some of whom were famously liberal.
It is a peculiarly new Labour trait to believe that old is always badthat the burden of proof lies on existing practices and institutions to show that they still matter. So the ancient freedoms represented by the right to trial by jury or the right not to have an official document proving one's existence just do not register with this Government. If they find that people feel unsafe in their communities, as many Labour Members have admitted they do after nearly eight years of new Labour Government, old freedoms can act as no barrier for new powers to this Government.
The next problemit is a key problem for many of the proposed Billsis whether the new powers will be effective. This is where I join hon. Members on both sides of the House who have expressed a strong and sensible degree of scepticism about the likely effect on law and order and safety in our community of the various Bills that have been laid before us.
I was one of those who had not been against identity cards in principle as long as they met my original criterion of providing us with safety and security in return for the restriction of freedom. However, I must tell Ministers, as have other right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, that the more I look at the detail, the less likely it seems that we will be getting a good exchangethat we will have more security and more order in return for less freedom.
There has been much discussion of the costs of the scheme that the Government propose. Currently, bids range between £3 billion and £10 billion. History tells us that the amount will be at the top end rather than the bottom end. All experience with computer-driven Government projects says that the Government's ambition of getting the project through in 10 years is also probably ridiculously optimistic.
There lies the nub of why the measure will be ineffective. If it is urgent in the fight against terrorism, the Government should be getting on with it quickly. If it is not urgent in the fight against terrorism, benefit fraud or illegal immigration, the Government are trying to lead the people up the garden path and into thinking that identity cards will be an effective solution to those
29 Nov 2004 : Column 445
problems. The Government, I hope in this House and certainly in another place, will be well advised to drop this idea.
The Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill is basically a good idea, but there are elements that will damage relations between the police and ethnic minority communities in particular. On the drugs Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Flook) eloquently made the point that many of the measures would appear ineffective.
That is the root of the problemineffective authoritarianism and false populism. Various polls have been thrown about, but I point the Government towards the poll carried out by the Reform think-tank showing that 71 per cent. of voters believe that the Government are imposing too many infringements on their civil liberties. If these Bills pass into law, they will diminish our historic freedoms without adding very much to our security. The final verdict will not be what the Government want, which is that they are tough on crime; it will be that they are weak on freedom and the defence of freedom, and that would be shameful.
Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): It is a genuine pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green), with whom I share a dark secret: we are both avid supporters of Reading football club, although I have less distance to travel to see the home games.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary not only for what he is trying to do to make our communities more secure, to help break the link between drug addiction and crime and to give local councils such as Reading and local police forces new powers to tackle antisocial behaviour or for his efforts to combat serious organised crime. He rightly deserves praise for all those measures and many more besides, but my admiration for him goes far beyond the fine job that I think he is doing as Home Secretary. He is a man of great integrity and unquestionable honesty and commitment. At a time when others are trying to use his personal and private life to bring him down and destroy him, he needs to know that, on the Labour Benches and elsewhere in the country, he has our full, absolute and unflinching support. He has earned that, and he richly deserves it.
I wish to speak in favour of much, but not all, that is in the Queen's Speech, although I fear that, with the general election perhaps only a few months away, many of the measures will not see the light of day without the re-election of a Labour Government for a third term. Although we should take nothing for granted, I believe that that seems an increasingly likely prospect. I have not spoken to a single Conservative Member who believes that the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) will inherit the keys to No. 10 Downing street, but I have met hundreds of voters who are more than alarmed at the prospect of his inheriting that position.
In this short contribution, I want to deal with three specific issues: Traveller encampments and the problems associated with them; antisocial behaviour and binge
29 Nov 2004 : Column 446
drinking; and the link between drugs and crime and the use of drug dealer assets. I have two Travellers' sites in my constituency, and they create different problems. One is at Pangbourne hill and the other is at Portman road. Both involve breaches of the law of the land. At Pangbourne hill, a group of Irish Travellers have legally purchased a plot of land, but have breached every planning law in the book by creating hard standings in an attempt to establish a permanent caravan site in an area of outstanding natural beauty overlooking the Chiltern hills and well outside the settlement boundary as defined in the local plan. It is to be hoped that the new stop notices, which are about to go out to consultation following the introduction of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, will provide a useful measure to enable local authorities to prevent the construction of permanent unauthorised encampments.
On Portman road, the problem is of an entirely different nature and scale. There, on a roadside verge in an industrial estate next to many residential properties, a group of Travellers has created a disgusting rubbish tip around their squatter camp. Local businesses were threatened with violence if they did not offer employment to the Travellers, who had the brass neck to go on to local radio and say that they are claiming income support as a means of subsistence. Local residents have had to endure loud noise, drunken revelling, fighting and Travellers breaking up cars within a few yards of their homes.
Why on earth do we not use the welcome new antisocial behaviour orders to deal with such conduct? Those Travellers' behaviour is every bit as bad as, if not worse than, that of groups of drunken teenagers in my constituency, who have rightly been subject to youth dispersal notices and ASBOs. Merely moving on groups of Travellers from one location to another does precious little to address the two underlying issuesthe conduct and behaviour of some Travellers and the lack of suitable sites.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|