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Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): It is a pleasure to take part in this debate, which got off to a slightly grumpy start with the Home Secretary's analysis of the election campaign. I do not intend to go down that route. I hope that my party generally tried to fight a positive campaign. Frankly, we would have been unable to mount such a poster campaign even if we had wanted to, as we do not have the moneythat is a heart-breaker. However, we are very good value for money in terms of the number of MPs we delivered for the amount of money that we spent. I would say this about the campaign: politicians must sometimes be prepared to argue things on the doorstep knowing that they are unpopular and try to change individuals' views on the basis of their strongly held opinion instead of testing out those views in advance in market research and opinion polling and adjusting one's poster campaign and message. That is an important principle that this party will stick to when it fights election campaigns.
As for the range of measures in the Queen's Speech, Liberal Democrat Members will give our support to some; we believe that the Government's long-term intention is right on others, although the way in which they are trying to get there is wrong; and we are fundamentally opposed to the rest. The charities Bill is long overdue. We welcome it and will give it our support; it is a pity that it fell because of a lack of parliamentary time.
On religious hatred, I share many of the concerns that were articulated by the shadow Secretary of State, particularly in trying to ensure that we protect freedom of speech. There are ways around this. We certainly support what the Government intend to do, but we need to consider whether we can additionally deal with concerns to do with racial hatred. Some of the measures that were discussed in Committee need to be looked at again. The Home Secretary's response to the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) was helpful. Considering the blasphemy laws as part of the review is a constructive way forward. We will work with the Government on this, but as things stand we are very uneasy about what is being suggested.
It is welcome that, after the 40 or so hours that we sat when we debated the terrorism legislation, the Home Secretary has kept his promise to bring it back and reconsider it. I am very proud of the role that my party took in ensuring that when it came to balancing the principles of civil liberty with ensuring that this country is safe, we and our colleagues in the other Chamber fought strongly to ensure that civil liberties were protected. At no point during the passage of that legislation did I feel that Liberal Democrats were suggesting anything that would make this country less safe from a terrorist attack.
I am pleased that the Government are returning to the idea that was discussed during that debate concerning new measures on acts preparatory to terrorism. As we
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argued then, the best way to deal with that is to have new criminal offences and take people through the proper criminal procedure. However, I am worried by press reports suggesting the creation of other measures to do with condoning terrorism. That will be difficult to judge and gets us into the same difficult territory as religious hatred. I am nervous about that and would want to see the detail of what exactly the Home Secretary has in mind.
I am disappointed that, if the press reports are true, the Home Secretary is not looking at the question of intercept communications. We made a powerful case for considering the way in which other European countries have made phone tapping admissible in court cases, and I hope that the Home Secretary will still leave the window open for including that in the detailed measures that he brings forward in the autumn. Although I accept that intercept evidence would not have helped in the Belmarsh cases, it may be useful at some point in terms of having a proper criminal procedure.
We will want to probe the Home Secretary on the current regime of control orders because it is unacceptable that Parliament will not be given regular information about how many people are being held under them. We want to ensure that that information is given to Parliament not as and when the Home Secretary decides to announce it.
Mr. Charles Clarke: The commitment given in the debate to provide regular reports to the House on control ordersI recollect that they will be made every three monthswill obviously be met exactly as was stated to the House in the last Session.
Mr. Oaten: The Home Secretary is aware that we believe that if somebody is put under a control order, we should not have to wait two and a half months for that information to be known, particularly given the gravity of taking away somebody's liberty in such circumstances. We shall want to revisit our plea on the standard of the burden of proof, and to look again at the role of the judge versus the politician on non-derogation control orders.
These are difficult issues. Many of us feared that, in the run-up to the general election, there would be a Madrid-style attack in this country. We should put on record the debt that we owe to the police and the intelligence services for ensuring that such an atrocity did not take place.
We will examine the Government's new proposals on terrorism seriously, and I genuinely hope that there can be cross-party support on the issue so that we can put in place a proper mechanism. That said, this party will continue to defend civil liberties, including in relation to identity cards.
The shadow Home Secretary's speech was extraordinary. I do not know where he is nowhe has probably gone to buy some creosote to paint on his fence, which must be very large for the whole Conservative party to sit on it. The Conservatives need to make up their minds where they stand on the issue. The Conservative party has put forward a set of five questions, and it is clear from any analysis of those questions that they have not been answered. During the election campaign, I went around studios speaking with
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Conservative MPs who made extraordinarily good speeches and arguments for rejecting ID cards. I simply cannot understand how, with the Second Reading of the Bill perhaps a couple of weeks away, Her Majesty's so-called official Opposition cannot make up their mind what to do on this key issue. If they had the courage to come off the fence and join the Liberal Democrats and, I hope, many on the Labour Back Benches who share our view, we could defeat the ID card scheme. What a prize that would be, but the official Opposition do not want to share in that. I cannot understand that.
I shall now give the reasons why we will continue to object to the scheme. We are not convinced at all on the subject of costs. I asked the Home Secretary if he could tell us what the costs will be, but he cannot. How on earth could we back a scheme with a blank cheque? We know that the costs are likely to rise as more details, time and complexities are added to the scheme.
We do not believe that the idea that a piece of plastic could save the country from a terrorist attack is a sound argumentI note with interest that the Government talk about that a lot less. I am not convinced that a serious suicide bomber would be deterred by a piece of plastic. Sadly, we know that in New York and Madrid it was not effective and did not help protect national security.
I remain doubtful about whether the biometrics can work. Studies have emerged saying that there is a 1 or 2 per cent. error rate in some of the biometrics. A 1 per cent. error rate in a population of 50 million would mean that far too many people would be affected by a mistake or an error in their biometrics. They are not effective, and the failure rate is too high. I am not convinced that the database will work effectively or convinced about the protections that could be put in place on the database.
I am also not convinced by the argument that we will start with a voluntary scheme and move to a compulsory one, and that decisions about whether someone must have an ID card will, in the first place, be linked to whether they have to renew their passport. That could lead to the ridiculous situation that some of my Liberal Democrat colleagues might have to get an ID card because their passport is renewed, but I would not until 2012 because my passport does not need renewing until then. A two-tier society would be created with some people carrying ID cards because their passport is up for renewal and some not. What purpose and use can that be for any organisation in protecting anything? Someone could turn around and say that they do not need an ID card because their passport is not up for renewal. The proposed system is neither one thing nor the other, and the Government must make up their mind.
As for the claim that the scheme will tackle benefit fraud in this country, the Home Secretary knows that the vast majority of benefit fraud is not caused by people pretending to be someone else, but by overclaiming, so the scheme would not help. Another argument put forward by the Government relates to illegal working. We all want to tackle illegal working, but systems are already in place to do so. Are the police actually carrying out those prosecutions? No. Do we believe that gangmasters and individuals who bring in illegal
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workers would pay a blind bit of notice to whether they have an ID card? Of course not; it is an undercover market, and ID cards would not help tackle it.
Our final objection is the kind of culture and climate that the scheme would create. If I have to collect benefits, see my doctor, go into a post office, or access health services at an accident and emergency department, do I want someone to check who I am through my biometrics, fingerprints or a facial scan? Do I want to have to go to a centre, perhaps 100 miles away, to have all that data registered? Do I want to have to go and put my eye against an iris-scanner in my GP's surgery to enable me to use the public services that I can now use any day of the week without people asking me to do such things? That is not the kind of society that I want to live in. I am therefore proud that the Liberal Democrats have made their minds up to oppose and, I hope, defeat the identity cards Bill.
I welcome the Government's proposals in the Queen's Speech on immigration, because a points scheme represents a positive step forward. At last, the Government are going to come out fighting on this issue and to make the economic case for immigration. We argued during the election campaign that we should have a quota linked to an independent economic assessment of how many jobs were needed in this country, so that we could link jobs with economic migrants. The Liberal Democrats are proud to welcome, and celebrate the role played by, economic migrants. If the Government's intention is to do the same, through the points scheme, and to make that economic case, they will have our support.
The Government will also have our support in rejecting the Conservative proposals for a quota on genuine asylum seekers. We reject that proposal; there is no way in which Ior, I hope, the Home Secretarycould ever turn away a genuine refugee from this country, saying, "I'm terribly sorry, we're full. We've used up our quota. Come back next year and we'll see if there's space for you then." No way. We will not go down that route.
The Government have proposed various measures to deal with violent crime, on which there is a compelling need for new thinking. There is no point in getting into an argument about whether the statistics are going up or down in different parts of the country. If someone has been the victim of a crime, the only statistic relevant to them is 100 per cent. They do not want to hear politicians arguing about whether crime levels are slightly up or down. We need to tackle the problem of yob culture. Anyone who saw what happened in that graveyard in Bolton at the weekend will be disgusted at the way in which the graves were smashed up. We have seen far too many such images, and we know from our own constituencies that such activity presents a real problem.
The starting point is, of course, to ensure that we have proper policing, and I welcome the Home Secretary's speech to the Police Federation in Manchester last week, in which he acknowledged that more needed to be done to ensure that our police were out on the streets rather than filling in forms. I hope that our police will also be given the technology that could revolutionise their work methods, and that they will be able to get out on the streets with that technology rather than having to spend time filling in forms.
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Of course, the solution goes wider than that. I agree that we must tackle the problem of reoffending. The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety, the right hon. Member for Salford (Hazel Blears)whom I congratulate on becoming a Privy Councillorhas been talking about that over the past few weeks. I am not going to get into a discussion about orange, red or blue clothing, but she has a point about tackling reoffending. She also has a point when she says that, when we consider alternatives to prison, the public must be able to see that proper community justice is delivered. I have sympathy with the arguments on badging, because if we can persuade the public that this is a tough, effective, alternative measure, that has to be the way forward.
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