That this House notes that lawlessness in Great Britain has increased steadily over the last 30 years and that its causes are many and varied, not least among which is that there has been a lack of moral leadership from important opinion formers for young people, such as parents, teachers, broadcasters, church leaders and political leaders ; believes that the general public needs to be more involved in the fight against crime ; and urges the Government to continue to seek all effective means of combating lawlessness.
I am delighted to be here so early on a Friday morning. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Department, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) and the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) will be delighted to have the opportunity to participate in the debate, and we look forward to hearing from them. Clearly, I have chosen a very popular subject for debate, judging from the low turnout this morning, at least among the Opposition.
As politicians, we spend a great deal of time fending off complaints and grumbles from our constituents, and talking to them about current issues. One issue that is a constant source of concern throughout the country, and certainly among my constituents, is law and order. That is a bad start. The only Opposition Back-Bench Member, the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) has left. She is obviously impressed by the eloquence of my argument.
Elderly people in particular worry about the rise in crime. The number of offences recorded by the police in England and Wales rose from 500,000 in the 1950s to 1 million by the mid-1960s, 2 million by the mid-1970s and more than 3.5 million in 1985.
Having won first place in the ballot, I felt it would be particularly apt and useful to have a debate on the problems of lawlessness, examining some of its causes and considering some of the ways of tackling the problem. I do not pretend to have all the answers to those complex issues, but it is useful to examine them. One thing that is common to much of the material I have read and the conversations I have held in preparing for the debate, which back up my feelings on the subject, is the decline of family stability over the past 20 or 30 years. The divorce rate has increased dramatically, as have the numbers of illegitimate children, and the intitutions of marriage and the family have been questioned more seriously than before. Yet during childhood, and in particular the difficult years of adolescence, young people need a loving discipline and a stable environment. If one does not experience discipline when one is young, how can one possibly be expected to exercise self-discipline when one grows up? Many would say that we are now reaping the whirlwind of the permissive sixties, when responsibility
Column 1138and discipline were thoroughly undermined. The number of teenagers aged 15 to 19 who have been found guilty of, or cautioned for, offences trebled between 1961 and 1987.
However, it is not only parents who show a lack of leadership. All too often one hears parents complaining about the lack of discipline in schools, which is not surprising when self-expression seems to be the fashion of the day, rather than learning the three Rs. There is no doubt that young people will follow the example of their seniors--in this case their teachers--which is why it is important that teachers demonstrate high standards of morality, discipline, general behaviour and--for heaven's sake --dress. Pupils in schools that pursue anti-racist policies would be better off if they were taught to treat everybody with respect and kindness, regardless of skin colour. It will be interesting to know the views of the Elton commission on that.
I am confident that the Education Reform Bill, which represents a far greater opportunity for parents to participate in the running of their children's schools, will help to instil further into children the values of tolerance, self-discipline and respect for others. I cannot believe that the increasing violence shown on television has not played its part in increasing crime. Not only does British television show many programmes that mock authority and knock the establishment, but there is more violence and bad language on television today then ever before. The BBC itself accepts that violence can affect children psychologically and has issued guidelines stating that, because of their violent nature, certain programmes cannot be shown before 9 o'clock in the evening--the hour at which our children are supposedly tucked up in bed. However, I recently visited a primary school in my constituency and talked to a class of 9 and 10-year-olds. I asked them what time they got to bed, and the consensus was between 10 and 11 o'clock at night, which surprised me. Things have obviously changed since my day. Back in 1986, The Star newspaper conducted a survey of television programmes shown before 9 o'clock in the evening in just one week. The findings were startling and horrifying and showed a catalogue of violence of 131 killings, 22 shootings, 10 bombings, 13 riots, four cases of arson, two knifings, 15 threats of violence, 18 fights, two kidnappings, and one hanging. I stress that that catalogue of violence was shown in just one week on television--before 9 o'clock. The fact that advertisers spend millions of pounds advertising their products on television gives the lie to those who say that there is no connection between what people see on their television screens and how they behave. Even I have been shocked by some of the scenes of violence that I have seen on television, for example on "Miami Vice"--and I have never regarded myself as a shrinking or timid violet.
It is to the shame of the broadcasters and a clear demonstration of their lack of leadership that it has been necessary for the Government to set up the Broadcasting Standards Council. However, it is only fair to the BBC to point out that a new leadership might be emerging. Only last week the BBC announced a new code of practice and new guidelines on sex and violence on television. However, there is no way in which the broadcasters can ignore the influence of scenes of sex and violence or even that of bad language when portrayed on television--a mass medium of enormous influence and importance.
Column 1139When are we going to get some real leadership from the Church? If Church leaders want to pronounce on all aspects of Government policy, we shall have to put up with that, but I should like to hear Church leaders speak about the need for individuals to exercise responsibility over the way in which they run their lives. When are we going to hear Archbishops of Canterbury and of York calling for a moral regeneration of the country and telling us what is right and what is wrong, and urging parents to exercise more responsibility and discipline over their children?
I was horrified to hear the Archbishop of York being interviewed on the BBC programme "On the Record" last December. The presenter, Jonathan Dimbleby, started the interview by pointing out that the charge of a failure of leadership had been made against the Church and asked Dr. Hapgood how he pleaded to that charge. I shall quote Dr. Hapgood's full reply to the question :
"it depends on in what direction people are expecting a moral lead to come. Now I personally believe that one of the great evils of our age is stereotyping, over-simplification, the rushing into decisions which have been ill thought out and therefore for me to give a clear moral lead may well be to say to people, pause, think, reflect that you may be wrong, realise that we are sinful human beings, that we are all fallible, so let us consider together, let us try to explore the truth together and try to reach consensus. Now that seems to be clear moral leading".
Well, to me it seems muddy and feeble, prevaricating and a clear demonstration of poor leadership. If the Archbishop of York cannot give a clear moral lead, and cannot tell us what is right and what is wrong, who can?
What about the leadership of politicians? Surely we in this place have a responsibility to show respect for the law, but even now some politicians-- members of the Opposition--advocate breaking the law on the community charge by a policy of non-payment in Scotland. However much those hon. Members disagree with the policy, they have a duty to urge their supporters and people generally to support the law. The way to change the law is through the ballot box and that is what they should be seeking--they should not urge people to break the law. Some Opposition Members were ambivalent about the law-breaking tactics of some of the miners during the miners' strike. Back in 1977 there was the appalling scene of a Labour Minister, now a senior member of the Social, Liberal and Democratic party, being arrested on the picket lines at Grunwick amid scenes of the most violent disorder imaginable.
The worst case of sabotage by supporters of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was probably when some Greenham women cut hydraulic pipes on construction equipment, thus endangering the lives of site workers. After consulting the CND executive committee, the then chairman, now the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) refused to condemn such activity and was instructed merely to express
"surprise that anyone connected with the campaign could be involved in anything that could reasonably be so interpreted".
However, perhaps the most appalling example of a politician supporting law- breaking when it suits was when the former leader of Hackney council, now the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) was moved to say that the police had been given "a bloody good hiding" in the appalling Broadwater farm riot, which led to the unspeakable murder of PC Blakelock.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) : I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be totally fair and deal with his hon. Friends' encouragement for breaking the law--but in different ways. I remind him of the comments made by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in relation to insider trading and also of the comments of several of his hon. Friends--perhaps even of himself--about urging people to trade on Sundays when everyone knows that it is against the law of the land.
Mr. Riddick : That intervention shows just how feeble is the Labour party response to these matters. This Government, through the Financial Services Act 1986 and other legislation, has done more to crack down on law breaking in the City than the Labour party has ever done. The Labour party has done nothing in that respect. The hon. Member for Huddersfield is on very thin ice with his argument.
There are also examples of Labour-controlled local councils attempting to undermine the police in their fight against crime. For example, Lambeth council effectively banned the police from council offices. Many of my hon. Friends will remember the GLC video which was produced when that appalling organisation was still in being. I think that that video was entitled "Policing London." It undermined the police in every possible way. It portrayed them as anti-working class and racist, and it was distributed to many schools and youth clubs throughout London. I am sure it has played a significant part in undermining the respect of young people for the police.
Mr. Matthew Carrington (Fulham) : Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, does he accept that it is very important for him to remind the House that the Inner London education authority seemed to condone some of its schools banning police coming in to talk to pupils on road safety? That must engender in the pupils an antagonistic attitude towards the police.
Mr. Riddick : My hon. Friend's intervention simply supports my points. It is disgraceful that some schools are adopting that approach, which is being encouraged by ILEA. Who is to say that we are not right to abolish that organisation?
Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston) : Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the appalling insult which he has offered to the people of London when he called the Greater London council "an appalling organisation"? Has he forgotten that it was an elected local authority and the expression of the political will of London's people? The only way in which the Conservative party could deal with it was to misuse governmental power to abolish it.
Mr. Riddick : I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to correct myself. She is absolutely right. The GLC was not an appalling organisation : it became one when it was taken over by the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone). The way in which he completely undermined the authority and the good work
Column 1141which the GLC had done in the past was appalling. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to clarify my earlier comments.
Mrs. Wise : The hon. Gentleman used a rather odd term which comes easily to his lips and to the lips of his hon. Friends, because they often engage in it. He talked about a takeover. The word that he was really looking for was "elected". My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) was an elected member of the Greater London council, as were all his colleagues. The hon. Gentleman is still insulting the will of the people of London.
Mr. Riddick : It must be said that, had the people of London known that the far-Left policies of the hon. Member for Brent, East, as he is now, were to be implemented, I have no doubt that they would not have elected a Labour administration to power in the GLC. The hon. Member for Brent, East effected a takeover. There was a coup the very day after the elections were announced.
Mr. Carrington : As my hon. Friend has rightly said, the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) effected a coup against Lord McIntosh, who fronted the whole election campaign for the GLC on a very moderate platform. Mr. McIntosh, as he was then, was the GLC member for Haringey, an area with which I was associated. During his election campaign, I remember that he flatly denied that there was any chance that the policies of the present hon. Member for Brent, East would be implemented by the GLC under his control. He was horrified and mortified by the takeover that occurred in the GLC and the putsch--there is no other word for it--by the hard Left against the moderates in the London Labour party.
Mr. Riddick : Yes, and with astonishment, as my hon. Friend says. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) had to suffer the results of that appalling putsch, as he described it.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that democracy is not simply about a specific election putting various people into office, that it involves a continuing process, part of which is the principle that there should be elections in future to hold politicians in check? The only restraint on the obsessive nature of the work of this Government is the worry about an election in future. That restraint was taken from the GLC and democracy was removed.
The points which Conservative Members have made were not put to the test. If my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and the leadership of the GLC were doing things which the people of London did not want, why were Londoners not given the opportunity to determine that in elections?
Column 1142one of the strongest advocates of that extreme loony Left council in Derbyshire, whose main purpose seems to be to ensure that the majorities of Conservative Members in Derbyshire increase dramatically at election times.
Mr. David Amess (Basildon) : Does my hon. Friend agree that it is suspicious that the Labour Whips did not allocate a room to the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone)? Were they afraid that if he had a room, he might launch a coup similar to that which he achieved on the GLC?
Is it any wonder that young people should be so contemptuous of the law when they see national and local politicians, people who are supposed to be community leaders, openly flouting or advocating the flouting of the laws of the land? Leadership and the setting of good examples are crucial factors in any debate on lawlessness. How can we try to arrest the rise in crime and bring about an improvement? First, we clearly need to reverse the trend of poor leadership to which I have referred. The opinion formers have a duty to show respect for the law, demonstrate self-restraint and self- discipline and get across to young people the message that they are responsible for their own actions and behaviour.
The time has come for the law to be changed to establish a direct link between parents and the crimes committed by juveniles. If youngsters will not behave themselves, we must make it clear that parents must see that they do.
The Criminal Justice Act 1982 allowed courts to order parents to pay fines imposed on their children. I believe that the time has now come to make parents directly and legally responsible for the behaviour of their children. I am encouraged by the fact that recent newspaper leaks have suggested that the Government are thinking along those lines. I would certainly urge Ministers to be brave in this respect and make a change in the law that could have a dramatic effect on juvenile crime.
I believe that the time has come for the Government to examine why 85 per cent. of men who have left their wives fail to keep up the maintenance payments for their children. That is a scandal, and a clear example of fathers being allowed to abdicate entirely their responsibilities towards the children who, after all, they helped to bring into the world. I believe that there is some evidence, although it is somewhat scant, that the parents-- [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene I shall be happy to give way, but I do not think he should make noises from a sedentary position.
Mr. Sheerman : What I said from a sedentary position, I shall say standing up. Values in public life do not only pertain to those politicians who are members of the Opposition. All politicians should set examples of good standards in public and in private life.
Column 1143accusation against an individual, he should tell the House which politician--on whatever side of the House--is failing to keep up his maintenance payments.
There is some evidence, although perhaps it is scant, that suggests that the Asian population actually commit fewer crimes than other sections of the population. That is interesting, because one of the factors which impresses me enormously about Asians--I have a number in my constituency-- is their strong family ties, and the fact that church leaders are still very much respected by Asian families, including the children.
The fight against crime will never be successful unless the people of Britain are involved in that fight against crime and support the efforts made by the Government and by the police in that fight. I believe that the neighbourhood watch schemes play a marvellous part in helping to reduce crime not only because they are a significant deterrent to the burglar and the vandal, but because they get ordinary members of the public involved in the battle for law and order.
I cannot understand why the Government have been so negative towards the appearance of the Guardian Angels on the London Underground. I accept that such groups must be properly controlled and run, but again they represent an example of the ordinary citizen getting involved in policing his own community, which is surely to be welcomed. The Sunday Times last weekend carried an article showing the success of vigilante patrols in various parts of the country. In Gosforth and in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, citizens' patrols have cut the number of burglaries dramatically. The same has happened in Grimethorpe in South Yorkshire. Such groups should be encouraged and properly advised by the people, not regarded as a threat by them. Why have we allowed the number of special constables to dwindle from 62,000 in 1952 to approximately 16,000 today? Just as the territorials do a splendid job in supplementing the armed forces, so, too, the special constables have a contribution to make in increasing the police presence on the streets. I realise, of course, that there are those within the Police Federation of England and Wales who are far from keen on an increase in the number of special constables. Then, of course, what trade union does not like to defend its own little cartel? We must get the ordinary citizen as involved as possible in law and order. We cannot expect the police to do everything. We all have a role to play in the fight against crime. It is not just a question of involving the community in the battle against crime ; it is vital that the population as a whole are broadly in agreement with the national policies being followed by the Government and being implemented by the police and the criminal justice system.
It is important that violent criminals and rapists have been seen to be receiving much stiffer sentences in recent years, because that is what the people want. That is why it is so unfortunate that the House continues to defy the majority of the British people over capital punishment.
I make no apology for raising this issue, because I do not believe that the House can defy for ever the will of the British people on this vital issue. My view is that, if we were to reintroduce capital punishment, it would change entirely the climate of the debate on law and order. It
Column 1144would send the clear unequivocal message to the criminal and to the British public that the country is deadly serious-- quite literally--in its attempt to defeat the criminal.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : In fact, the original abolition of capital punishment would never have gone through had the then Labour Government not given that Bill extra time, in the same way that it gave extra time to the then Abortion Bill.
Mr. Riddick : My hon. Friend is in a better position to tell me exactly what happened in those days, because I was a very young lad when capital punishment was abolished.-- [Interruption.] Hon. Members only have to look at my hon. Friend and myself to see that, while we are fairly close in age, she has the advantage over me.
Mr. Carrington rose --
Mr. Carrington : I am sure that my hon. Friend, on reflection, would like to rephrase his comments and say that our hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) has greater experience in the House, as he was, unfortunately, trying to observe those events from outside the House at that time.
Mr. Carrington : I am sure that my hon. Friend was not in the cradle. I am sure that my hon. Friend was watching those events closely and was dying to participate. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster obviously had a closer and a more direct involvement in those events, and therefore has greater knowledge.
Mr. Riddick : All I can say is that I imagine that that is right. I must say that I cannot remember exactly where I stood on that vital issue at that time. I must look through my diaries to see whether I made a note of it.
The death penalty should not be imposed, obviously, on those who have committed murder as a crime of passion. I believe, however, that it would act as a deterrent to the robber, for example, who was intent on robbing a bank, and would affect his decision whether or not to commit that crime armed. For what it is worth, I believe that, unless there is a radical reduction in the amount of violent crime--I sincerely hope that that does happen--that the House will vote in favour of the re-introduction of capital punishment in the next 20 years.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) : Up to now, I and my hon. Friends have been delighted to encourage and support my hon. Friend, but we are reaching a point in his speech where I believe the argument has been developed that capital punishment is a deterrent. If that is the case, that is a powerful reason for those of us who have voted against it in the past reconsidering our positions. However, I am not aware of any statistical proof to show that, where capital punishment has been reintroduced, it has had a
Column 1145deterrent effect. If my hon. Friend cannot produce evidence of that, I urge him not to develop that argument any further.
Mr. Riddick : As the hon. Gentleman says, it is a gut feeling. It is a gut feeling that is shared by the vast majority of people in this country. I wonder how long the House can continue to defy the will of the majority.
I believe that there is one other aspect of the criminal justice system which needs to be changed. The time has come to abolish the suspect's right of silence. If it is good enough, just enough and fair enough for Northern Ireland, it is good enough for mainland Britain too.
One class of person alone is helped by the right of silence--the guilty. Any policeman would tell the House that it is the guilty man who employs the right of silence to give him time to put an alibi together or to buy time. If an individual is innocent, he has nothing to fear from telling the police what he was up to or where he was at a given time. If someone has something to hide, the right of silence helps him to hide it. Juries should be allowed to draw their own conclusions from a suspect's refusal to talk.
So far, I have said little about the Government's record on law and order, but I intend to put right that omission. There is no doubt that there are more police now than there have ever been and that the morale of the police has been transformed from the appalling state of despair that existed when the Government took office in 1979. The carrying of weapons for criminal purposes has been made subject to tougher penalties. The Criminal Justice Act 1988 made it an offence to carry a knife in public without good reason.
I congratulate the Government on giving courts the power to confiscate from drug pushers the proceeds of their crimes. I am glad that, later this year, other criminals will also be subject to such confiscation. One of the most significant moves made by the Government has been to give magistrates the power to make convicted burglars pay compensation to their victims.
I congratulate the Government on the firm, and in some cases the far- reaching, measures that they have already taken to combat the rising tide of crime. The Government's record on providing the courts with increased powers, providing the police with increased resources and on heightening the profile of crime prevention is good. I wonder whether I have time to compare that record with the Labour Party's record-- [Hon. Members :-- "Yes, do."] I am grateful to my hon. Friends for their encouragement. I shall make that comparison brief, as I know that my hon. Friends wish to participate in this debate. The House will note that, so far, I have ignored the positive record--if there is such a thing--of the Labour party on crime. I have ignored it because the Labour party has nothing to offer. In the early years of this decade, the Labour party said that the rising tide of crime was caused by unemployment. In the latter years it has said that crime has been caused by too much affluence--the yuppie syndrome. That is what the Labour party has had to say about the problems of crime in the 1980s.
Mr. Riddick : Such statements have been made. The hon. Gentleman's boss, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has referred to the "loadsamoney economy". If my hon. Friend the Minister has anything further to say, I will happily give way.
Mr. Patten : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for characteristically making the time to give way to me. My hon. Friend entered the House in 1987, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will recall the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition talking about the "loadsamoney society" and the bad effect that that has had on crime rates. I have been behind the Dispatch Box when the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook has attributed the rising crime rate to unemployment and to affluence in the same breath. Surely that is schoolboy sociology of the worst kind.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Huddersfield cannot deny that his party has continually voted against the renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974. The Labour party voted against the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which gave the police the tools with which to fight crime. It also voted against the Public Order Act 1986, which helped the police to stop disorder on the streets. When the Labour party left government in 1979, police morale and pay were at rock bottom and the number of police officers was 7,000 below establishment.
We all know that the Labour party has been playing around with the rather unfortunate suggestion that local councillors should have some part to play in the operational duties of the police. The 1985 Labour party conference voted to introduce democratic control of the police authorities by councillors to influence and direct local policing policy and practice. The 1987 Labour party mainfesto also said : "Locally elected police authorities will be given clear statutory responsibility with the police to enforce the law"
That represents a dangerous and sinister threat to the rights and ability of the police to fight crime unhindered, particularly bearing in mind the examples that I have already given that prove how hostile some sections of the Labour party are to the police.
Crime can be prevented because many crimes are opportunist and are committed on the spur of the moment. Crime prevention is not only practical, but it helps to involve the individual in the fight against crime. Neighbourhood watch schemes are one visible part of crime prevention and improving the physical security and design of existing houses is another. We must actively encourage such developments in new housing. Motor manufacturers must be persuaded to improve the design of their vehicles so that they no longer represent easy pickings for the thief. I also believe that insurance companies should be encouraged to charge lower premiums to those
Column 1147householders who have taken steps to improve security in their homes and in their cars. Street lighting also has an important part to play in the prevention of crime.
I hope that the Chancellor will continue to use the tax system to promote low-alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks and that the police and the courts will come down heavily on those clubs and pubs that are badly managed and which encourage irresponsible drinking. It is interesting to note that, in Brighton, publicans have introduced an identity card system for drinkers to screen out the under-aged drinker and the trouble-maker. There is no doubt that irresponsible drinking is the cause of much unnecessary and stupid crime. Before Christmas, I spent about six hours with the police in Huddersfield town centre. Practically every incident to which we were called was drink-related. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will continue the good work on which he has already embarked to maximise the opportunities to prevent crime from being committed in the first place.
A Government can do only so much, but this Government have done more than most to combat lawlessness. The thrust of Government policy on education, housing, trade unions, health and the economy has been to give more power back to individual citizens, who now have more responsibility for running their lives. I believe that, if one gives people more responsibility they act in a more responsible manner. The fact that there was a reduction in the number of crimes committed last year surely suggests that there are signs that that policy is beginning to work. At the end of the day, however, the key to controlling the problems of lawlessness lies with every one of us. It is we, along with those who influence us, who must develop and improve our standards of behaviour and our self-discipline. 10.18 am
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) The speech by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) was disappointing because his constituency has a great tradition of radicalism, liberalism and radical Socialism. The hon. Gentleman expressed crude, Right-wing, hanging and flogging notions.
The motion calls for moral leadership but there is an omission from it. Broadcasters are mentioned and they tend to be in connection with radio and television, but we also need to mention the press. Questions about moral leadership should be directed to the Murdoch press. It should exercise moral responsibility and take on board the fact that there are different views and values in society that need to be reflected in the press but are not.
The approach of the hon. Member for Colne Valley was simple-minded. He expressed constitutional views for tiny tots and deplored any deviation from the norm to which he adheres. Anything that in any way puts its toe into the water of engaging in struggle on behalf of people in trade unions to act against the measures that he mentioned is beyond acceptance. In that context I want to talk about the poll tax, which is a constitutional monstrosity. It attacks the fundamental rights of British people and even the franchise. We are told that at all times we have to stay entirely within the law and have to be careful because the courts have a tendency to alter the boundaries of the law and we
Column 1148must not do anything to obstruct them. That means that it is difficult to act effectively against a measure and to show one's opposition beyond formal methods of holding meetings and demonstrating.
Even the right to petition poll tax registrars against the operation of the tax has been turned on its head by a Scottish Minister who said that petitions against the poll tax will be used to register people on the poll tax registers. That is saying to people, "Do not sign petitions, because if you do they will get hold of you and put your name on the register." That is duress against people's formal petitioning rights. That is the most ancient right of ordinary people because it goes back to Anglo-Saxon times when there was no franchise. At that time people had the right to petition the Crown and later to petition Parliament without duress, but even those minimal rights are being offended by the Government.
Some people will begin to think of other methods to keep the pot on the boil and to awaken people to problems so that when the next election occurs the issue of the poll tax will be high on the agenda. People have been involved in a struggle against the tax, and actions which in other circumstances might not be justified can be defended and advocated on democratic and constitutional grounds. That is because the people involved in such actions are democrats who are trying to save democracy and the spirit in which it operates. Other people take the simple-minded attitude that somebody just has to have a mandate. They say, "We shall have a dictatorship for a few years and we need not consider what will happen in future because we will be able to fiddle and manipulate through advertising and get hold of people's minds and push ourselves into office again." That is not the spirit of democracy.