Monday, 22 February 2010

Phil calls for national debate on policing

Had a hectic couple of days in Cardiff for Plaid's pre-election conference.

Everyone was in bouyant mood and great spirits and I can rarely remember such a sense of optimism in advance of any election, let alone a General Election for the UK Parliament.

Here's the speech I gave to the Civil Rights Panel in the Saturday morning session of conference.

Please feel free to comment on my call for a national debate on policing.

Best wishes


The issue of civil rights has a direct impact on our daily lives, whether we believe it or not, whether we like it or not.

It can't be seen as an abstract issue nor one confined to some policy document gathering dust on a shelf somewhere in the Home Office.

It may be true that in the past generally many of us may have taken our own rights for granted, understandably maybe because we want to be safe, we want to feel safe in our homes and walking the streets. But scaremongering is a very useful tool for a Government to use when it wants to get its own way.

ID cards to combat the threat of terrorism are a prime example. It was sold to us by a control freak government as a panacea that would resolve this threat and then keep us all safe, which of course is now widely accepted as being dangerous nonsense.

Most of us want the Government, and the by that I mean the Police, to catch criminals if they burgle our houses, lock away child molesters, murderers and rapists, and generally keep us from harm.

What we don’t want, or need, is to be spied upon constantly in our daily lives. That is what they used to do in the USSR under the Communists and still do in some other repressive countries.

Organisations like Liberty, an independent organisation that looks after human rights and our rights as free citizens, have taken a battering from the ‘establishment’ because they have dared to stand up and challenge them.

But we can’t afford to leave the protection of our civil rights to Liberty.

Our freedom and our basic rights were hard fought for - by our grandparents and great grandparents -we must protect those freedoms and cherish them.

We all have a duty to do that.

The role of the police changed fundamentally under the Thatcher Government. Ken Clarke, then Home Secretary launched an Inquiry into Police Responsibilities by Sir Patrick Sheehy – the Chairman of the British & American Tobacco company. An ideal man to protect our rights and look at policing? I think not.

By the way, Ken Clarke became a director of BAT a short time later.

They convinced themselves – as the Tories always do – that you can run everything like a business.

How stupid and dangerous a concept that turned out to be as Labour has grasped that concept and proved time and again that it will restrict our liberties at every opportunity. Labour has introduced some 3,500 new ways of breaking the law since it came to power.

The Tories, slavishly followed by Labour, embarked on a policy of setting targets and objectives which on the face of it may sound harmless enough – but actually that policy has taken bobbies off the streets, it has closed our police stations and it forces the police to focus on issues that are government-led.

So if it’s not a target or an objective - it’s not a priority. If it’s not a priority it doesn’t get done. If you can’t count it, it isn’t worth doing.

And basic police work like preventing crime is replaced by ASBOs and public reassurance is provided by people in uniform who are not attested nor have even basic powers of arrest or stopping vehicles.

The worst thing we can do now is to look at these issues in isolation or deal with them in a piecemeal fashion.

Policing in a democracy is a complex business. It is linked directly to our individual rights at citizens and it's my firm view that we need to have a national debate on policing. We, the people have a right to have a say about how we are policed which is the very basis of policing in the UK – Policing by Consent.

Lose sight of that basic principle and we are on very dangerous ground.

We need to revisit and review the laws that have been rushed in under the guise of prevention of terrorism acts and laws that allow councils to spy on its own rate payers.

Last week we launched a discussion paper on having our own Jurisdiction in Wales. When that arrives we need to commit Wales to review every law that currently stands and decide whether it becomes a Welsh Law or not

We need to have responsibility for policing in Wales to be devolved so that we can decide whether the current metropolitan system is what we need or whether we need to develop a new community-based system, accountable and answerable locally, with bobbies working in their own communities preventing and detecting crime.

And we need a system that is centred on justice for the victims of crimes and where there is honesty and faith in sentencing policy.

This will be a huge challenge but guided, as we will be, by the principles of justice, fairness and integrity as the very basis of our thinking, we will succeed.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to have your say on Phil's campaign.