I know that it is conventional to say nice things about one's predecessor, but even if it were not, I would want to say them about Chris Pond. He was the Member for Gravesham from 1997 until 2005, and from 2003 onwards he was a Minister at the Department for Work and Pensions. I first came across him when I was making a series of programmes about homelessness in London. I know that he spent nearly three decades of his life lobbying for the low paid and that he was the driving force behind the Low Pay Unit. Many of us think that that was an extremely positive way for him to spend those decades, and I pay tribute to him for it.
In Gravesham, Chris Pond was a good constituency Member. At the general election, a number of people told me that he had quietly gone to spend time in the local hospice with their relatives during the last few days of their lives. I should also like to thank him and his wife, Lorraine, for their kindness to me over the past couple of years.
I also want to pay tribute to Jacques Arnold, who was the Member for Gravesham from 1987 until 1997 and is still remembered on the doorsteps for going the extra mile for his constituents. I should also like to register my appreciation to him for all his advice to me. I am grateful to those former Members.
Gravesham is about 20 miles down the Thames if one turns left at the Terrace. The two main towns in the constituency are Northfleet and Gravesend. Pocahontas is buried in a churchyard in Gravesend, and Conrad is rumoured to have written some of "Heart of Darkness" while stranded on the tide near the town. Underneath those towns we have the A2 and the channel tunnel rail link. Beneath that, we have the villages of Higham, Meopham, Cobham, Shorne, Istead Rise, Luddesdown, Vigo and Culverstone. Over the past few decades, traditional industry in Gravesham has declined, most recently with the closure of the AEI factory. There are new jobs, however, and a great deal of new development. There is also a great deal of optimism.
Gravesham is a model of successful racial integration and tolerance. Ten per cent. of the population are Sikhs, and that community is building the biggest Sikh temple in Europe. This involves ordinary families paying about £30 a month by direct debit towards the building and mass volunteering to do manual labour at the weekends. We already have two gurdwaras, a Muslim cultural centre and a Buddhist temple, complete with monks, in a semi in a cul-de-sac. We also have about 30 Christian churches.
Regrettably, however, there is more involved than just building things. Crime and antisocial behaviour are putting a huge strain on communities in my constituency. While 99.9 per cent. of my constituents are trying to get on with their lives, bring up their families and enjoy their old age, about 0.1 per cent. are persecuting the rest and making their lives an absolute misery. For example, last year Rev. Jim Field and his wife Marleen came home to find that the rectory had been burned down. So, after 30 years of marriage, they departed with their possessions in two black bin liners. The 12-year-old who was alleged—and, indeed, seen—to have done it is still wandering around the same street where the incident occurred. Since I have been in Gravesham, I have never seen a walking police officer in a residential area.
Last Sunday, Gwen Ostheimer was shot at with an air pistol, 40 windows were smashed at Shears Green school, and Stuart Hubbard had his windows smashed at 3.30 in the morning because he told a group of youngsters where to go. Mohinder is too terrified to leave his house because of the abuse that he gets on the streets. My friend the Lib Dem candidate was left for dead while walking his niece home at Christmas, and it is still possible to see the marks left by people stamping on his head.
Part of the problem is that the perpetrators of those crimes have no idea of the consequences, either to themselves—in terms of punishment or of their future—or to their victims. Over the past few months, I have been wandering around talking to some of these kids, who are aged between about nine and 14. I have asked them what they thought the consequence would be if they turned over some bins, threw golf balls at an old man's head—I have seen that happen—smashed someone's front windows or set upon people in gangs. The answer from those kids is nil. That is not just bravado; it is true in most circumstances. There are rarely prosecutions or any other kind of follow-up, so the kids cannot envisage any consequences, either to themselves or to their victims, as a result of what they do. I cannot see the point of using ID cards to identify people when no one is even looking for the perpetrators of those offences.
I should like to illustrate my opposition to ID cards with a couple of anecdotes. The first relates to organised crime and illegal immigration. In 2001, I made a documentary for ITV in which I pretended to be an asylum seeker/economic migrant. We went first to Istanbul, where we made contact with a number of criminal gangs. Istanbul is a kind of staging post, and according to the Turkish authorities gangs such as these bring about 700,000 people into the European Union each year. Those people are charged between $7,000 and $10,000. We ended up in the Sangatte camp outside Calais, which was still open at the time—the problem still exists today, however. The camp was full of people smugglers who, for a price, would take great hordes of people down the road—I have done this—to break into the Eurostar terminal and try to get on to a train to England.
During that time, I made friends with a guy whom I will call Malik. Needless to say he, like everybody else, got into England. Two weeks ago I ran into him in Soho. He is now called Mike and he is a builder running a small construction company. He told me that since he came to the UK four years ago, he had had no contact with any form of British authority—not the police, not the tax authorities, not even Westminster council. What would ID cards do about the huge, unknown quantity of people like Mike, some of whom are perhaps not as productive as he is? I am not convinced that they would help.
My second anecdote involves terrorism. In 2003, I found myself in northern Iraq. At that time, there was an area right up on the Iranian border that was controlled by Ansar al-Islam, an organisation affiliated to al-Qaeda. I believe that there was considerable swapping of personnel between the two organisations; some would argue that they are one and the same. One night, its mountain complex was bombed. We heard the bombs going off and we wandered up the valley early the next morning. A few local Kurds had already arrived and started going through the bodies of the people who had been dispersing from the buildings when the bombing started. There were a number of passports there—these guys were from the Maghreb as well as from the more obvious parts of the middle east. The passports contained visas and entry and exit stamps from European Union countries and from the United States dating from after September 2001. So we could all be carrying our ID cards, yet guys like these could be walking around London with tourist visas.
In summary, I would vote for ID cards if I did not think that they were some kind of red herring. They are a red herring in regard to the urgent priorities of my constituents—for whom they will, in effect, represent another tax—and I do not believe that they will do the slightest good in tackling organised crime or terrorism.