As we approach this landmark General Election, today’s Electoral Commission Report Completeness and accuracy of electoral registers in Great Britain found that non-registration for voting is higher among certain groups, particularly young people aged 17-24 years old (56 per cent not registered) and people from black and minority ethnic communities (31 per cent not registered). Changing address is a key reason for non-registration – just 21 per cent of those living at their present address for a year or less are registered to vote. Millions of people could be falling off the register if they move house between annual canvasses. As a result, the rate of completeness of the register may fall by around 10 percentage points between canvasses. I think this highlights the need to put the duty to register on the individual and to do more to encourage youngsters and those from bme communities to register. It is often argued that 16 year olds should have the vote, but the experience of the group immediately ahead of them in age is not encouraging. Plenty of young people are interested in political issues, but they seem to be willing to let their parents decide what actually happens. We felt almost exactly the opposite when I was young. We wanted to vote to achieve change. It is time for the voice of our young people to be heard. They must register and have their say.
This week was the 50th anniversary of the Chinese invasion of Tibet and on Tuesday there was a mass lobby of Parliament by the Free Tibet Group.
I met constituents who are staunch supporters of the Tibetans. They were very concerned about the fate of the people of Tibet and mentioned Human Rights’ abuses during the run up to and since the Olympics. We had a long talk about Tibet, and I was able to say that in the past I had heard the Dalai Lama speak and been introduced to him. I heard him speak at Cambridge University many years ago, when I was a student. He was calm, logical and very impressive. He recognised the power of China. Even after all these years, he is not calling for independence for Tibet, but for more autonomy within China, so that Tibetans can enjoy their culture and religion. David Cameron has recently met the Dalai Lama and my colleague David Lidington, Shadow Minister, has recently made representations to the Chinese at a high level.
Last year at the General Assembly of the Inter Parliamentary Union, the British delegation held a bilateral with China and I was able to raise my own concerns about Human Rights and Governance in Tibet. Sad to say, the Chinese just did not seem to get it. They were banging on about feudal religious practices with no understanding of the importance of a regional culture and religion. Happily, there are now talks between China and the Dalai Lama’s representatives and we will have to see if they do any good. It seems odd that a State which was able to provide a separate regional autonomy for Hong Kong is so blinkered about Tibet. Of course, Tibet has important natural resources they want, but it is hard to see why that means the Tibetans can’t fully enjoy their culture and traditions.
Campaigners want a thorough and independent inquiry into the reported excessive use of force, including against peaceful demonstrators in Tibet in Spring 2008 and Britain to establish a Tibet Desk at the British Embassy in Beijing, China.They also want us to appoint a UK Special Representative for Tibet. I have written to David Miliband, Foreign Secretary about these issues, asking his response. Given the realities of power, I believe the only way to resolve this is through dialogue between the Chinese authorities and the representatives of the Dalai Lama. In that light I welcome the new round of talks.
Our policy towards China and Tibet should be hard-headed and practical, and we must deal with the situation as it is and not as we wish it was. But to anyone who has read “Seven Years in Tibet”, “Land of a Thousand Buddhas” and other books about Tibet, visited and admired the peaceful Tibetan way of life or met Tibetan monks as my constituents had, the continuing failure of the Chinese authorities to be reasonable is a source of regret and must hold back that great country’s progress in opening to the World.
I have been very concerned in recent years about the way in which the Government has ignored the rights of citizens and created a number of big brother style measures in the regulation of investigatory powers, thus giving the Royal Parks police and others the right to intercept private emails.
In the Legislation and Regulatory Reform Bill they tried to go further and give ministers the power to change Acts of Parliament by government order. And we all know about their plans to have spies in every bin to investigate “dust-bin crime”.
I was very alarmed by their idea that innocent individuals might be locked up for 42 days without charge.
All too often the House of Lords has had to intervene to protect our liberties. My colleague David Davies was so alarmed that he even fought a by-election on the issue. I was delighted that the Government was defeated on 42 days and has backed down but they should have listened before and it really was extraordinary that former Labour Lord Chancellors, a former attorney general as well as two former heads of MI5 voted against the Governments proposals, and that they lost by a wapping 191 votes in the House of Lords – one of the worst ever Government defeats.
Many constituents have been in touch asking what I think about David Davis’ stunning decision to force a by-election.
I strongly support David’s views on the 42 days’ detention and about the erosion of liberty under this Government. Many of us Conservatives have found the Government’s actions disgraceful and demeaning to a democracy and the way in which the 42 days’ vote was won was disgraceful. When I see our rights and liberties that our forebear fought so hard for abused and betrayed in this manner I can understand David’s fury.
I was stunned when I heard that David had resigned his seat in order to fight a by-election. Nothing like this has happened in my 16 years. It is a very unusual move, designed to open up a national debate about the erosion of civil liberties, which is very brave of David. Of course it is not yet clear whether it will work but I will certainly be supporting his campaign for re-election. The absence of a Labour Government candidate shows how frightened Gordon Brown is of this issue. It would have been valuable for the people to have heard how feeble their arguments are, I do hope that David will still be able to open up this vital issue for national debate.