Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate) (Lab): I rise to support the amendment that stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones), myself and other honourable colleagues. The hon. Member for Westmorland and—

John Bercow: Lonsdale.

Glenda Jackson: Thank you. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) mentioned the last time that identity cards were required in this country; that was during the second world war. One of the first calls that my office received this morning was from a constituent, urging me to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill and telling me that one of the happiest days of her life was when she tore up her identity card, when it was no longer obligatory to carry such a card in this country.

Reference was made earlier in this debate by, I think, the shadow Home Secretary, to the bravura performance at the Dispatch Box of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and I would not argue in any way with that assessment. It did, however, bring to my mind one of those archetypal characters that used to feature regularly in American western films. I am not referring to John Wayne. I am referring to the character that would usually arrive in a small town in a covered
28 Jun 2005 : Column 1226
wagon, covered with illuminations and pots and pans. There was almost invariably a ukelele accompaniment to this character's arrival on the scene.

Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): John Carradine.

Glenda Jackson: My hon. Friend is giving the name of the individual—probably the actor, not the character. I am not prepared to argue with him on that point. However, the character would emerge from the back of his covered wagon and proceed to entertain the town, with the basic premise that he had something to sell them, and what he had to sell would cure all their ills. It would take many guises, but it became known as snake oil. I am not in any way imputing to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary one atom of the huckster spirit that was so true of that archetypal character, but enormous claims have been made for the efficacy and the absolute necessity of the introduction of ID cards in this country. They will apparently reduce, if not obliterate, crime, acts of terrorism and benefit fraud, but no one—either from the Dispatch Box, or one of my hon. colleagues who have shown that they support the Bill—has been able to tell us how.

I do not mean to rehearse the arguments that have been put about the excessive cost that it is imagined the introduction and maintenance of such a scheme would involve. Neither side of the argument has proved its case. Most markedly, the Government have not proved their case on the costs. My concern about the Bill is what it has always been: it seems to carry the potential for the most disruptive introduction of a scheme that could have the most desperate effects on our society.

The Home Secretary when he was at the Dispatch Box was somewhat sanguine when the issue was raised about who would be most markedly targeted when, if the scheme is ever introduced, it inevitably becomes compulsory to carry an identity card. He dismissed the allegations that certain sections of our society would be over-targeted in that way. He referred to the old sus laws, but they were discredited for the simple reason that a group in our society was consistently targeted. It was made up of those in the Afro-Caribbean society in my part of the country. They tended to be young men below a certain age.

One of the most recent reports after the changing of the old sus laws to the new sus laws, which caused the Home Office no small disquiet in itself, showed that about 18 per cent. of young Muslim men were being over-targeted in that way. The Home Office's own racial assessment of the introduction of the Bill caused disquiet, particularly among the Afro-Caribbean group of people who were part of that consultation exercise, and concerns were expressed by those in the Muslim community who were also part of that consultation exercise.

If, indeed, the Bill comes into force, and it is deemed that a certain section of our society must carry ID cards—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) put it so succinctly—it will create in this country, which I thought believed in equality under the law, a group of our fellow citizens who will be, in effect, second-class citizens.
28 Jun 2005 : Column 1227

I am also concerned about another issue that has been raised during the debate: the issue of opting to carry an ID card, the expense of doing so and how that will impact so deleteriously on some of the poorest in our society. The Home Secretary gave no clear definition of what concessions—if concessions there will be—would enable the poorest in our society to carry an ID card if they wish to do so. My concern is not only that people will be excluded from doing so on the grounds of finance, but that they will be excluded by the purveyors of services.

We all know of service providers who do not want certain people as customers, and it will be all too easy for those providers to turn to someone and say, "No, I'm very sorry. We cannot possibly allow you to open this account"—or to borrow money, or to buy this, that or the other—"unless you can produce an ID card." So already, even before the cards become compulsory, we are beginning to see sections of our society being divided off—in that instance, probably based on what is believed to be their economic validity. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) mentioned rough sleepers, who have only just been allowed to vote without needing a settled address. They were excluded from the democratic process. There will be other kinds of exclusion.

It is undoubtedly the case in my opinion, Madam Deputy Speaker—[Interruption.] Oh, I do apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You enter with such quietness. It is inevitable, unless the Bill is kicked out, that ID cards will become compulsory. Hon. Members have touched on the issue of ID cards being used to guarantee the provision of services. The national health service has been mentioned, and it was pooh-poohed that anyone in an A and E department would refuse to treat an emergency case because they could not produce an ID card. I entirely agree with that view. It would be anathema to anyone who worked in the health service to refuse to treat someone in an emergency because they could not produce an ID card, but are we seriously accepting that there would not be some jobsworth or someone in that A and E department who was waiting to be treated who would not comment on the fact that an individual had a different coloured skin, spoke in a language that the other person did not regard as being English, or was in some way different? I can hear them now saying to the doctor or the nurse, "Does that person have an ID card? If they don't, you should not treat them before you treat me." [Interruption.] An hon. Member from a sedentary position said "rubbish", I think. I am afraid that hon. Member ignores the realities of human nature.

If it is presented to the people of this country that the greatest dangers come from outside, from people who are different and from people we do not know, we build on that essential part of human nature that is perfectly prepared to point the finger at any kind of difference and say, "Not them first, but me." There are real dangers for the breakdown of social cohesion.

It seems to me that we in this country, up to this point, have a pretty proud record in the way that we have managed to absorb, to adapt to, to welcome and even to celebrate our differences. The Bill will absolutely begin the erosion of that. It will do nothing to improve our security, either internationally or nationally, or to reduce home-grown crime. It will most certainly give
28 Jun 2005 : Column 1228
breathing space to those who have always wanted, and will always want, to create social difference. It will break down many of the things that this country should value and that we as a country in an increasingly competitive world will need to support even more in the future.

8.7 pm

Mr. Douglas Carswell (Harwich) (Con): I begin my maiden speech by honouring those who preceded me as Member of Parliament for Harwich and Clacton: the late Sir Julian Ridsdale, who sat for the constituency for many years with his wife, Paddy. I say "with his wife, Paddy" because, as hon. Members who remember Sir Julian will know, Lady Ridsdale was part of everything that he did. Julian and Paddy could not have been kinder or more encouraging to me as a newly selected candidate.

Ian Sproat, who came after Sir Julian, was also wise and generous with his advice. Ivan Henderson, who represented the seat until the last general election, was perhaps less generous with his advice about how I could win the seat, but he was generous in his commitment to the people of Harwich. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will recognise that he was a very diligent, good and committed Member of Parliament for his constituency.

Today, my constituency is a mixture of seaward settlements and their Essex hinterland: the port of Harwich; the lovely town of Frinton-on-Sea; Walton-on-the-Naze; Jaywick; Dovercourt; my home town of Clacton-on-Sea; and the villages of Thorpe-le-Soken, Kirby-le-Soken and Holland-on-Sea—a corner of England that is fiercely English. Never in my life have I felt as proud and as honoured as I do now, speaking for the people whom I represent in the House.

I rise to make my maiden speech in this debate today because my constituents are deeply worried—I am sure that many hon. Members' constituents are, too—about the rise in crime, in violence, in the yob culture and the rise in what one might term uncivil society, and because we are told so often that ID cards are the answer. As this is my maiden speech, I shall leave it to others to question whether they are the answer. I leave it to others to question whether they will make us more secure and whether the high cost of the scheme might mean that they are a plastic poll tax. Instead, I wish to make a broader observation: if the House is today debating the merits of a scheme that will make the citizen more accountable to the police and the agencies of the state, one day I hope that it will also debate measures to make the police and the state more accountable to the citizen.

Over the past generation or so, under Governments of both parties, crime and disorder have risen. ID cards are not the answer to reversing that trend because making people more answerable to the police is not the solution. Perhaps part of the answer lies in making the police more locally accountable to communities such as Harwich and Clacton.

Having been out on the beat with the local police in my constituency, I have been impressed by their professionalism and dedication, yet all too often they are upwardly accountable to a distant bureaucracy. They are all too often unable to take effective action against crime and the yob culture because they answer to a remote and unaccountable elite. Remote elites set
28 Jun 2005 : Column 1229
the police's priorities, local people take the rap and no one is accountable—that is how our local communities are policed today. In the place of more upward accountability—identity cards—we should have a policy based on the principles of downward accountability; decentralisation and localism; and direct democracy—not identity cards. We should let local people elect their police chiefs and let local police chiefs set their police priorities. Why stop at policing? Let us localise control of, and accountability for, a range of public services. We should take power over key public services from central quangos and put it in the hands of local people.

I am surely not alone in having detected during the recent election a sense of frustration—alienation, even—on the doorstep. Hon. Members on both sides of the House must have come across the same thing. On doorstep after doorstep, people felt that elections did not matter any more. They thought that no party could clean up their hospital, get their child into a preferred school, or stop mobile phone masts being built in their neighbourhood. That should worry us all. Turnout remains low because people are increasingly giving up on the democratic process. If we want to be respected in this House, we should make elections matter again.

Local communities should be able to determine their priorities for policing, planning and education. My constituents should be able to determine the future of the local library and the Leas school in Clacton, the location of mobile phone masts on the seafront and the number of GP surgeries in Holland-on-Sea. No less importantly, those who make decisions should be directly vulnerable at the ballot box. Elected representatives have lost ground to unelected officials at every level and, if I am honest, that has happened under both Labour and Conservative Governments. A consequence of that process is that elections are becoming increasingly perfunctory.

Powers have steadily leaked from the House: sideways to the judges, downwards to the regional assemblies and agencies and upwards to Europe. At every level, the elected politician who is accountable to the electorate has lost ground to the unelected functionary, but that must stop. My constituents have had enough of being told what to do by remote elites. They want to make their own decisions. They want those who run their local policing, primary care trust and schooling to be more, not less, accountable to them. They want local decisions to be in the hands of local people.

I shall do my best to articulate those concerns and desires in the House. I am here to argue for the devolution of powers outwards and downwards. We need to reverse the flow of powers that has taken place over the past 30 years from town halls to Whitehall and from the citizen to the state. We should take powers away from the greatest quango of them all, namely, the European Commission.

I shall spend my time speaking and voting in the House for a wholesale decentralisation of powers from the remote elites to the people—from the unelected and unaccountable to local communities such as Harwich and Clacton. I shall speak up for an independent Britain trading with Europe and beyond, yet governing
28 Jun 2005 : Column 1230
ourselves once again, living under our own Parliament, making our own laws. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to begin that today.

8.15 pm

Next Section IndexHome Page