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Queens' speech: The politics of fear
By Nigel Morris

23 November 2004


Proposal: Draft Bill in the New Year will propose juryless anti-terror trials, use of wiretap evidence in courts and civil orders for people suspected of "acts preparatory to terrorism" such as raising cash.

Government says: Although he has strongly denied that the next election will be fought on the "politics of fear'', David Blunkett has also warned al-Qa'ida is "on our doorstep and threatening our lives". He says ministers are trying "to square an impossible circle" by attempting to adapt the legal system to protect Britain against new threats without eroding basic human rights.

CRITICS SAY: A time of increased public fear is the wrong time to be pushing through draconian measures that undermine fundamental freedoms. Many critics accuse Mr Blunkett of exploiting fears of an attack to justify them. The use of wiretaps may be widely welcomed but the Law Society says judge-only trials is an "unacceptable erosion" of citizens' rights to be tried by peers. Civil liberties groups worry innocent people could be stigmatised - and threatened - as the burden of proof in civil orders is lower than in criminal prosecutions.


Proposal: Setting up in April the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), a "British FBI", with 5,000 officers to tackle drug smuggling, people trafficking and money laundering. Extra powers for police and community officers in Police & Criminal Evidence Act (Pace).

THE Government says: Ministers argue that organised crime costs the country 40bn a year and needs a new approach to combat it. Bringing together such diverse organisations as the National Crime Squad, Special Branch and Serious Fraud Office is likely to reduce risk of turf wars.

CRITICS SAY: The Government has been urged to ensure the new agency is properly accountable and that complaints can be handled. The Association of Chief Police Officers has warned of the danger of self-defeating conflict with local forces jealous of Soca. The Government's reliance on community support officers has proved controversial, with the Tories calling for the cash to be spent on "proper" police. Critics say the overhaul of Pace could be used by police to take fingerprints at the roadside.


Proposal: New police powers to test for drugs upon arrest, rather than charge, and for a broader range of offences. Users could be prosecuted if drugs are found in their bloodstream. Crackdown to be balanced by improved facilities for treatment.

THE Government says: With figures on Thursday expected to reveal an increase in the use of class-A drugs, Tony Blair has argued that tackling drug addiction is crucial for bringing down crime rates and improving neighbourhoods.

CRITICS SAY: Opponents worry that ministers are preparing to throw the net too wide in an attempt to gain tough headlines. Gareth Crossman, director of Liberty, says: "Many, many people who take drugs aren't in fact committing any offence other than taking them. This would make it more likely they will be caught up in the criminal justice system and criminalised. Where is the public interest in that?"


Proposal: National identity cards will be devised with unique biometric identifiers, along with the database to underpin them. Will be rolled out from 2008 as people apply for passports and driving licences; they could become compulsory by 2010-12.

Government says: David Blunkett argues the scheme will help fight terrorism (35 per cent of terrorists use multiple identities), crime, illegal immigration and fraudulent claims on public services. He insists "robust" safeguards are built in to prevent abuse. But the Home Secretary acknowledges it is a major challenge, admitting he would "certainly be remembered as one of the biggest political failures that Britain has ever produced" it it were not to work.

Critics say: Mr Blunkett has faced accusations he is using the threat of terrorism to give impetus to his pet project. Many Labour MPs - including cabinet members - are worried about giving the state too much power; the Commission for Racial Equality has warned that ID Cards could inflame racial tensions. Critics point out that an identity system was in operation at the scene of the Madrid bombings.


Proposal: Town and parish councils empowered to let staff issue on-the-spot fines of between 30 and 100 for dog-fouling, littering, vandalism, making excessive night-time noise, fly-posting and throwing fireworks.

THE Government says: Antisocial behaviour is the biggest issue for voters. Tony Blair said recently: "For too long, the selfish minority have had it all their own way. That is changing." The Prime Minister is so preoccupied with antisocial behaviour that Labour has produced a succession of Bills in recent years. He can, however, point to evidence that the concept of anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) is beginning to take root.

Critics say: Penal reformers believe Asbos force youngsters into custody for breaching them and argue that they do not address the root causes of offending behaviour. The Rethinking Crime and Punishment think-tank has said: "The disproportionate emphasis placed by the Government on bans, injunctions and public identification threatens to create outlaws, who have less and less incentive to conform."