Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/394/4469
Our rights under attack
LABOUR'S REDUCED majority in their third term seems to have done nothing to curb their zeal for introducing anti-working-class, anti-democratic legislation.
As well as the planned attacks on public services and welfare state, they are trying to beef up the state machinery in order to curtail any protest against these attacks.
The Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill and the ID Cards Bill, if passed, will introduce laws seriously limiting democratic rights.
New Labour managed to rush the Prevention of Terrorism 2005 Act through Parliament, drawing as little attention to it as possible and avoiding any real debate.
They are now exacerbating and exploiting fears over national security, crime and anti-social behaviour in order to undermine basic human rights.
THE SERIOUS Organised Crime and Police Bill proposes the extension of arrest powers and makes trespass a criminal (rather than civil) offence.
Currently the police must decide if a person is committing a non-arrestable, arrestable or serious arrestable offence and their powers flow from that position. The Bill proposes extending the power of arrest to all offences indiscriminately.
Section 44 of the 2000 Terrorism Act has already resulted in more than a 300% increase in stop and searches of Asians in 2002-2003. Any further extension of police powers can therefore be expected to be used disproportionately against an already victimised Asian population.
The Bill also increases powers of 'citizen's' arrest, allowing Community Support Officers, private security firms and store detectives to make arrests without proper training - a move opposed by the Police Federation.
A new criminal offence of trespass on a "designated" site would also be created. Any site could be 'designated' by the secretary of state for reasons of national security. However, these reasons are not defined and no justification for the designation is required.
In theory, the Home Secretary could designate any area in which a demonstration is planned, thus criminalising legitimate protests. It would also become illegal to protest within one kilometre of Parliament Square.
The Bill criminalises "economic protest" i.e. any that causes "loss or damage of any kind".
Many protests aim to cause economic loss in order to hit companies and bosses where it hurts - in the pocket! Under this part of the Bill a boycott, strike or even verbal or written criticism of the company could become an offence.
Why we oppose ID cards
THE IDENTITY Cards Bill proposes that every UK citizen be issued with a "biometric" card bearing fingerprints and other personal details. These would be stored on a new National Identity Register database. Cards would eventually become compulsory.
New Labour say identity cards would help protect people from identity fraud and theft, help defeat terrorism and tackle illegal working and immigration abuse.
So why is the Socialist Party opposed to them?
The scheme is expected to cost £5.5 billion but could be much higher. That money could be spent on health, education, pensions or increasing the minimum wage. The cost of driving licences and passports would increase from 2008, with an "enhanced" biometric passport costing around £85. Eventually people would have to buy an identity card, which on current estimates would cost £40.
There would be a fine for renewing or replacing cards. The fine for failing to have one would be £2,500 and £1,000 for failing to tell the authorities about a change of address or circumstances.
The scheme would entail the use of complex technology. Every previous large IT. system, such as in the passport office and the child support agency have failed resulting in the loss of billions of pounds of public money. And the scheme is bound to be run by a private company making huge profits.
In a leaked memo in 2003 Foreign Secretary Jack Straw warned that the scheme could be a "large-scale debacle".
The Bill allows information from the register to be disclosed without consent to many different agencies including the police, Inland Revenue and the Department for Work and Pensions. The information on the cards could be increased at a later stage to include details such as political affiliation and campaigning activities.
There would be an increase in police harassment, in particular of ethnic minorities and young people.
The scheme would not help prevent terrorist attacks. David Blunkett himself said in July 2002: "I accept that it is important that we do not pretend that an entitlement card would be an overwhelming factor in combating international terrorism". Of the 25 countries that have been most affected by terrorism since 1986, 80% have national identity cards, and one third of these incorporate biometrics. Most terrorists operate under their own identity and travel as short-term visitors.
Identity cards are as likely to increase crime as combat it. They will give a lucrative business opportunity to organised crime. Even biometric ID cards are open to forgery. Only 0.6% of benefit overpayments were as a result of false identity. Any savings would be massively outweighed by the cost of the scheme. The police don't have problems identifying individuals but linking them to crimes.
ID cards would result in rationing public services. We don't want a system where you could be denied medical treatment or other services because you have not got your ID card. ID cards should be scrapped and the money used to increase public services for everyone.
ACCORDING TO a poll by data company Intervoice, support for ID cards has dropped by 30%. Just 57% of people are now in favour compared to over 80% in an ICM poll in December 2004.
When Australia tried to introduce ID cards, support for them went from 90% in favour to 70% against in just a few months as people began to realise exactly what they would mean. The scheme was scrapped.
In The Socialist 26 May 2005: