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The election was fascinating in many ways. The pundits have been divided about how we ended up with the result. However, one thing I know-the election was not a referendum on scrapping identity cards or restricting the use of CCTV or DNA. We all know in our hearts, if not in our speeches, that the public did not endorse any party to carry out those policies.
For many years, my constituents have been telling me that their priorities are protecting their communities, and not protecting those who commit crimes and antisocial behaviour, or those who abuse benefits and immigration systems. A few years ago, I invited my constituents to Parliament to tell me how they wanted the Home Office to help in their community. I held two packed meetings in Committee Room 14-the biggest Committee room in Parliament. It was full to overflowing. My constituents believed almost universally that, in helping tackle crime, making antisocial behaviour more difficult and clamping down on immigration abuses and benefit fraud, ID cards would give them more freedom, not take it away. Out of more than 400 people, more than 90% agreed.
In the recent election campaign, people continued to tell me that ID cards, CCTV and DNA could make a difference. They will not necessarily prevent all the bad things that happen, but my constituents believe that they will protect their rights and make life harder for those who would abuse their privileges. If the Government scrap ID cards or the next generation of more secure biometric passports, we are not clear how they would ensure the security of our borders, prevent illegal working or make it harder to defraud the benefit system.
I have spoken about ID cards many times in the House, and many constituents have come to me because their identities have been stolen. Sometimes that has meant their being wrongly fined for the congestion charge, getting the wrong bills and, in more serious cases, being removed from packed planes because somebody had used their name and committed a crime. There was also the devastated family who watched the drugs squad come through their front door because the police were unaware of the identity of the people next door.
There are many simpler cases. The national identity register and biometric passports are essential to ensure the integrity of people's identity. Many people have already obtained ID cards because they are prepared to pay for that protection and want to be able to prove their age in pubs and travel freely around Europe. They are angry that the Government will not support them.
Nobody has ever come to my advice surgery asking for CCTV to be taken away. I suggest that nobody will ever come to other hon. Members' surgeries with such a request. People come to see us because they want more, not less CCTV. People in Gilpin close, Mitcham thought that the only way to resolve the problems of antisocial behaviour, and young people vandalising cars, taking drugs and threatening other residents, was through introducing CCTV. Thanks to the Labour Government and the hard work of their councillors, the people of Gilpin close now have that CCTV. Nationally, we heard in the past few days that the main suspect in the Bradford murder case was arrested after a caretaker found CCTV footage of one of the victims.
The same argument applies to DNA. Would a woman walking home late at night feel safer knowing that a criminal had their freedom because DNA evidence
could not be used to convict them? I do not think so. The DNA database provides the police with more than 3,000 matches each month, and my constituents do not want to lose that tool in the fight against violent crime, burglaries and rape.
One of the most notorious crimes in my part of south London in recent years was solved when the killer of poor Sally Anne Bowman, Mark Dixie, was found guilty as a result of DNA evidence. If the Government have their way, DNA profiles will be retained only for those arrested for a serious offence, and for only three years unless a further court extension is granted. My constituents are worried that they will make it harder to catch the Mark Dixies of the future.
I take the use of ID cards, CCTV and DNA seriously, and my constituents share that view. I find it hard to believe that a new Government, with such a broad church, could come up with the Identity Documents Bill. They do not really have an identity of their own, so how can they protect anybody else's?
I also find it hard to comprehend how plans to make it more difficult to use CCTV or DNA evidence could appear in something called a "freedom" Bill. To whose freedom does that refer? We read in the broadsheets and hear grand speeches about individuals, but may I suggest that the freedom of the many-of the community-is based in DNA retention and the use of CCTV, and a Government who are prepared to stand up for ordinary people?
It might be good to make great, eloquent speeches about the individual and their inalienable rights, but it is the right of an elderly lady to have the freedom to live in her own home without people sitting on her front gate and throwing stuff at her windows; the right of a woman to use the tube late at night and walk back to her home; and the right of young black men, who are the main victims of crime, to walk freely in our town centres without fear. CCTV, the DNA database and ID cards would make a strong, positive contribution to allowing those people, who are not necessarily represented in the House, their freedom.
Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) in making a maiden speech in this debate. He made a fantastic maiden speech and we all now know to be very careful where we blow our noses in his constituency.
It is a great honour for my family for me to be elected for North East Somerset. My father-or my noble kinsman, Lord Rees-Mogg, as I am now meant to call him-told me that between him, myself and my sister, we have tried seven times with one victory. I fear that if we were a football team, people would be calling for the manager to be removed.
It is also an enormous honour for me to be elected for North East Somerset, which is where I was brought up and where my family have lived for generations. As everybody knows, Somerset is God's own county, and North East Somerset is God's own part of God's own county.
I inherit the seat from two very distinguished gentlemen, one of whom is my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr Foster). I am very glad he is now my hon. Friend,
because I discovered when canvassing that a lot of people who were unaware of boundary changes were still intending to vote for him. When they discovered they could no longer do so, they turned out to be lifelong Conservatives, so I welcome him to the Peelite coalition that we now have.
The main part of my constituency was the old Wansdyke seat, which I have inherited from Mr Dan Norris, a most distinguished Labour Member, and a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband). He is probably sorely missed at the moment during the Labour leadership election. He was the model of an assiduous constituency MP. He worked tirelessly both as an Avon county councillor and as an MP and I indeed have large shoes to fill.
North East Somerset, which, as I said, is God's own part of God's own county, has a great place in British history. I am not going to go back at any great length to Bladud, the father of King Lear, who in 683 BC founded Bath-he found some pigs with skin disease in north-east Somerset, and washed them in the waters-because he is a rather peripheral figure.
Alfred the Great is more substantial. Alfred the Great, we must remember, in 878 AD, had just Somerset left, with the Danes all around, as they had begun to take over all of Wessex and already had much of the rest of England. Alfred, however, brought together the people of Somerset, Wiltshire and parts of Hampshire and they crossed over from the Somerset levels through north-east Somerset to Edington, near Chippenham, and there they fought the great battle on which our freedoms depend. They put paid to Danish occupation. Alfred was a great law giver-a man we should think about in this debate particularly, because he did not want to innovate laws; he wanted to codify laws. He wanted to tell people what ancient rights they had and how they ought to have their liberties. He was able to expel the Danes and his grandson became the first King of England on borders we would recognise to this day.
Moving on a little later, the next great figure from North East Somerset is Alphege, Archbishop of Canterbury, born in Weston, a village bordering north-east Somerset and Bath. He is really the first tax martyr. He was called upon to pay the Danegeld, and he took £48,000 to the Danes, then at Greenwich, and handed it over. They said, "Mr Alphege, we would like some more, and if you don't give us more, we are going to hold on to you as a hostage." And Alphege replied: "I will not give you more; I will not put higher taxes on my people; I will not have them suffer this imposition." So they threw ox bones at Alphege until he died. I hope that people will not find it necessary to throw ox bones at me, but as another representative from North East Somerset, I will stand constantly for low taxation.
The final figure I am going to mention in this great pantheon of wonderful figures from God's own part of God's own county is John Locke. Brought up in Belluton-this really is a sop to the Whig coalition that we now have-this philosopher of the Whigs was in many ways the founder of the constitution that we now have, one that has as its essence the fact that power comes from the people up to the legislature, which is there to supervise the Executive. Members will all know that the argument at the time was about the divine right of kings and some may now think that we have another form of divine right of the Executive. Locke made it clear that the duty
of the legislature was to check and to stop the Executive exceeding the powers, the rights and the authority that it had from time immemorial.
Let us take these three great Somerset men: Alfred the Great, the first Eurosceptic, who got rid of the Danes and made England independent; Alphege, the low-tax martyr; and John Locke, standing up for the legislature and the people against the Executive. For however long I represent North East Somerset, I will take these three as my great heroes and hope to model my political words on their thoughts.
Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): I am not sure I am up to the task of following such an eloquent, entertaining and, frankly, self-assured maiden speech as the one we have just heard from the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). Not since the days of Boris Johnson have we in this Chamber been treated to such a colourful, imaginative and evocative detailing of our history. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that I have no doubt that he will do extremely well in this Chamber, and on his own Government's Front Bench at some point soon. I am sure that if he holds on to his seat long enough, after the next general election, he will make an excellent addition to the shadow Cabinet.
I was elected to this House precisely nine years ago today, and I made my maiden speech a few weeks after that-coincidentally, on the Queen's Speech debate on the constitution and home affairs. During that speech, I made mention of the fact that a commitment to electoral reform was absent from the Government's agenda that year, and I said that I hoped the absence of electoral reform would be a recurring feature of future Queen's Speeches.
Unfortunately-alas and alack-we now face a Government who are committed to a referendum on electoral reform, and specifically on replacing first past the post with the alternative vote. As for that referendum, I am somewhat bewildered by the fact that in this new age of Aquarius-this new dawn of democracy, the new politics-we are left with a Government, both parties of whom campaigned against a referendum on the alternative vote, but who are now implementing a referendum on the alternative vote. I hope that those of us who use the phrase "the new politics" will henceforth remember to indicate the irony of that phrase by perhaps using air-quotes when they say it.
The Liberals continue to oppose the alternative vote in principle, but they support it in practice, because they see it as a stepping stone to further electoral reform. The Conservatives still oppose the alternative vote in principle, but they support it in practice, because it is the only way that they can keep hold of their ministerial Oyster cards. There is something peculiarly undemocratic about that situation.
Personally, I am looking forward to campaigning for the retention of first past the post in my constituency and throughout the rest of the country. Let me say at the outset that first past the post is not a good system for electing MPs-indeed, it is a rubbish system for electing MPs-but it has the unique value of being slightly less rubbish than all the alternatives. I do not want us to move through further electoral reform to a
situation where the decision of who forms the Government and who becomes Prime Minister is taken from the hands of the electorate and given to a single individual: whoever happens to be the leader of the Liberal Democrats. I do not see anything remotely democratic in that.
Just after the election results were known, a number of my colleagues on the Labour Benches went on television to talk about "our friends" in the Liberal Democrats. Those "friends" are the same people who have supported electoral reform in some form or other over many years because they hold the view that there is a permanent progressive majority in this country that, given the opportunity and the right electoral system, would put in place a permanent anti-Conservative coalition. Leaving aside the dodgy democratic credentials of such a proposal, I would ask my hon. Friends whether they still believe that the Liberal Democrats' centre of gravity is on the left of British politics. I would ask them to look across the Chamber and see the evidence before their own eyes. I do not believe that the Liberal Democrats would be an appropriate partner for the Labour party in a future coalition Government. After all, I do not want to touch them with a bargepole-I know where they have been.
My favourite part of the new politics so far has been watching Liberal Democrats arguing that black is white, that north is south, and that Short money was ever intended for Government parties. However, I have some reassurance for Liberal Democrat Members. If they are genuinely worried about a closing down of a valued and regular source of income-I would totally understand that-I have some words of comfort for them, because although I might be wrong on this, as far as I understand it, they now qualify for Ashcroft money.
I do not want to take up too much time, so let me conclude. There has been a lot of talk about the Government's proposed caps on immigration, including in our considered amendment, but I want to suggest a departure not only from my party's policy, but from that of any other party-I am effectively thinking out loud now, having listened closely and carefully to the views of my constituents during the election campaign. There is a lot of concern about immigration, but we cannot avoid the fact that there is a lot of concern not only about non-EU immigration, but about EU immigration. I wonder whether we have reached a point at which we should at last, like the French citizens until two years ago, offer the people of our country a referendum whenever we decide to enlarge the European Union-whether we should give the people ownership of those decisions, and fight for the arguments in favour of expanding the EU. Those arguments are strong; I think that they are unanswerable. But I also think that if we, the political elite, insist on making such decisions ourselves without consulting the public, we shall reap the whirlwind in terms of disenchantment with the EU and a possible collapse of support to the far right.
Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): I am grateful to you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but not half as grateful as my family and friends in the Public Gallery, who I rather naively suggested should be here at half-past two.
While I am paying tributes, let me mention my predecessor, Nick Ainger. I do not think that, in the 20-odd years for which I knew him, there was a single issue on which we agreed, but that did not mean that we did not hold him in great regard. I know that he was respected in the House, but he was also respected in our part of west Wales, and we wish him well in whatever he plans to do now.
Let me also say what a pleasure it is to enter the House alongside my hon. Friends the Members for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns), for Cardiff North (Jonathan Evans), and for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies). We are a little short of the 15 Welsh Members whom we hoped to tally up with a rugby team just before the election, but I hope we now have a broad rural and urban representation that is relevant-and what we may lack in size in the Vale of Glamorgan, we undoubtedly make up for in age in Montgomeryshire.
I love my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire like a brother, but I hope he will not mind my regretting, just slightly, the loss of Mr Lembit Öpik from the House. Lembit was a good friend of many people, and-let's face it-he brought a certain colour to proceedings on both the inside and the outside. He was also pioneering unusual coalitions long before they became a habit in the House.
I fully understand why not many Members have ever been to, or in many cases even heard of, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire. It is, after all, quite a long way west. Let me, however, take a few seconds to whet Members' appetites. There has been a bit of a competition among the new entry about who can paint the juiciest picture of their constituency. I can tell the House that there is more coastline in my part of the world than anywhere else except the Isle of Wight, and that we have 30 beaches, two estuaries, 12 castles, an oil refinery, a power station under construction, and fantastic farming and tourism industries. If all that is too much for Members, we have our own island monastery and two nudist camps-not co-located, I might add.
Dylan Thomas wrote "Under Milk Wood", while in a sober state, in my constituency, and Gareth Edwards is still as happy catching sea trout and salmon on the River Towy as he ever was scoring tries at the old Arms Park. If the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) was worried about where the beach scene in Russell Crowe's recent "Robin Hood" epic was filmed, I can reassure him by saying that it was in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire-and I regret to tell the House that Dobby dies in the sand dunes on Freshwater West beach in the final film in the Harry Potter series, which comes out next year. [Laughter.] I hope that I have not said anything that I should not have said.
It should not be thought that everything is rosy in our particular garden, however. We have the same economic and social problems as any other constituency, which is why today's debate is so crucial. I was encouraged when the Deputy Prime Minister nodded in the direction of rurality in the context of constitutional reform. People who form just 2% of the electorate cannot help thinking from time to time that their votes may not count for
anything at all, and cannot help thinking from time to time that Governments are there to do things to them rather than for them. If we have learned anything at all in rural communities during the election campaign it is that voters have told us that cheaper is not necessarily the same as better in politics, and that quality was raised much more often than cost in our doorstep conversations.
Our voters hope that this new coalition will adopt a less-is-more approach to government and will have at its heart four simple objectives: to keep us safe; to keep us solvent; to keep us healthy; and to keep us free from prejudice and discrimination. Honour and respect for politics and Parliament will be restored only if we apply those simple rules to every single decision we take in this House.
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