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Mr. Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con):
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in the House for the first time. I have the considerable honour and great good fortune to have been elected to represent Torridge and West Devon. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear".]
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It is an easy task to praise my predecessor, John Burnett. He was well liked in the House; he did not parrot party dogma; he did not blindly follow the party line. In fact, he proved that the expression "a Eurosceptic Liberal Democrat" was not just an oxymoron. He and his wife Billie worked indefatigably for the interests of my constituents. She supported him loyally and ably throughout the eight years in which he represented my constituency. I have noticed, in listening to maiden speeches in the House, how it is a curious trick of new Members to refer to their predecessors as passed away or gone to another world, but John and Billie Burnett are very much with us and they are regarded, and will continue to be regarded, on both sides of the party divide in my constituency with real affection, gratitude and respect.
My constituency is said to be the second largest in England. It encompasses a large stretch of the north Devonshire coast line, from the little white town of Bideford, via towns and villages such as Appledore, Westward Ho!the only town in England with an exclamation mark in its titleClovelly and Hartland all the way to Hartland point. It runs on its western boundary all the way down the Tamar river from the north to the south coast of the peninsula. Eastward is the scene of scattered villages and fine market towns: Holsworthy, Hatherleigh, Tavistock, Chagford, Great Torrington and Okehampton, each with their own historic and unique character.
If I paint a sylvan and utopian scene, as my constituency may present itself to the tourist's eye, I must say that it is not wholly true. Listening to the debate this evening, I have been struck between a real incongruity between the priorities of my constituents and this Bill. My constituency faces grave problems and the communities of which I have spoken are under serious pressure.
My constituency was the epicentre of foot and mouth, and the effect of the pyres still hangs over it. Livestock agriculture, which is the backbone of the rural economy in the area I represent, has suffered blow after blow. Dairy farmers have to manage on an average wage of £2.50 an hour. Job opportunities are dwindling, house prices are spiralling, and council taxes are soaring becauseI shall risk being controversialthe Government fail to understand through their local government funding formula that the delivery of services to isolated communities costs more. But incomes are low. A disproportionate number of my constituents are on fixed incomes and they can ill afford to bear the soaring costs of the council tax and water charges, which are the highest in the country, because 3 per cent. of the population have to pay for 30 per cent. of that wonderful coastline. Bovine tuberculosis is another issue that weighs heavily on the farmers whom I represent.
As I contemplated the real and genuine concerns of my constituents, I was struck by the fact that not a single letter of the between 100 and 200 letters I have received since having the honour of being elected has said that the answer to their problems lies in the introduction of identity cards. I have spent 22 years on the front line in the battle between the state and the individual. Like the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), I have appeared in cases before the courts where the state's hand has been raised and the finger of
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accusation pointed at an individual in the dock. I can say, after those 22 years, that the state does not always behave well and we who represent our constituents' interests should jealously guard their freedom and autonomy. It is only if a compelling case has been made for an invasion of that freedom that we should contemplate for a moment any surrender of any portion of it.
This Bill represents a vast expansion of the potential for control by the state over the individual. There has not been a time in peacetime when the state has been able to require an individual to notify the state authority of a change of address or to come to a specific place at a specific time, unless he was subject to criminal process and on bail. We should pause and reflect on that fact. Why should free citizens of this great country be subjected to the direction of the state merely in order to exist in our society?
I agree with hon. Members on both sides of the House who have told us that there are practical arguments against the Bill. But even if those arguments were not so strong, I say that the arguments of principle are decisive and unanswerable. That is why, on behalf of those constituents whose real problems I hope to articulate in the coming months, I shall vote against the Bill tonight.
Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, South) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Cox) on his maiden speech. We could be forgiven for not realising that it was a maiden speech, so confident was his delivery. I am sure that he will have no problem in articulating the concerns of his constituents in years to come, and I wish him every success in doing so.
I have some concerns about the debate so far. Some of the arguments against ID cards, especially those from Opposition Members, have not been as measured as we could have hoped. For example, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), who is unfortunately not in his place, did a fantastic and articulate job of opposing all manner of measures that are not to be found in the Bill. On several occasions, we have heard from Conservative and Liberal Members about the threat to rights that we have held for hundreds of years, but that is not what the debate is about, as seen from outside the House. I am concerned that those watching the debate will recognise the synthetic indignation of Opposition Members for the cynical manipulation that it is intended to be, or might find that their own fears and suspicions are simply being encouraged.
ID cards are not a panacea and never will be. They will not provide foolproof defence against terrorism, identity theft and other crime, or health tourism. However, they represent a sensible and moderate proposal and will be one of a range of tools at the disposal of the Government to deal with all those matters.
The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) mentioned that "1984" was a warning, not a textbook. As I have said, some of the contributions from Opposition Members were cynical and inaccurate. They are cynical because there is a danger of playing on the existing cynicism that the public feel toward those
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who govern and those who seek to govern. I make no apologies for holding the unpopular view that government is a good thing and politicians are good people. We should encourage members of the public to trust the Government. [Interruption.] Well, that is a proposal that will not gain currency even in this House, let alone in the country.
It is dangerous to the art of politics for us continually to encourage people to feel so cynical and sceptical of the motives of political parties, especially the two main parties that aspire to government. I do not include the Liberal Democrats in that particular criticism.
The right hon. Gentleman said, on the one hand, that ID cards would not be effective and on the other, that the Government were promising surveillance from the cradle to the grave. What is the Conservatives' main reason for opposing the Bill? Is it because ID cards will work or because they will not work? It is always a cheap political trick to raise the spectre of Orwell in comparison with Britain today. People who say that Britain is turning into Orwell's "1984" are usually those who have not read the book.
We live in a different and dangerous era, compared with any other time in our history. However, the right hon. Gentleman seems to live in an Ealing-comedy world, where we all have a cheery word for each other and the biggest threat to society comes from a plot to rob banks and turn gold bullion into ornamental Eiffel towers. I will break it gently to the Opposition: we do not live in that world. We live in a world where terrorists attempt to kill innocent people by strapping dynamite to themselves. We live in a world where criminals prey on members of the public and seek to steal their very identity.
The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden said that if he had predicted 10 years ago that a Labour Government would abolish habeas corpus and trial by jury and introduce house arrest and ID cards, he would have been locked up. Perhaps that is true, but if he had suggested 10 years ago that four planes would be hijacked in America and piloted into the twin towers and the Pentagon he would presumably have suffered similar treatment.
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I do not want to appear cynical, but can the hon. Gentleman explain how providing surveillance of 99.9 per cent. of the population from the cradle to the grave will do anything to avoid the terrorism or fraud by a small minority to which he is referring?
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