I begin my maiden speech by honouring those who preceded me as Member of Parliament for Harwich and Clacton: the late Sir Julian Ridsdale, who sat for the constituency for many years with his wife, Paddy. I say "with his wife, Paddy" because, as hon. Members who remember Sir Julian will know, Lady Ridsdale was part of everything that he did. Julian and Paddy could not have been kinder or more encouraging to me as a newly selected candidate.
Ian Sproat, who came after Sir Julian, was also wise and generous with his advice. Ivan Henderson, who represented the seat until the last general election, was perhaps less generous with his advice about how I could win the seat, but he was generous in his commitment to the people of Harwich. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will recognise that he was a very diligent, good and committed Member of Parliament for his constituency.
Today, my constituency is a mixture of seaward settlements and their Essex hinterland: the port of Harwich; the lovely town of Frinton-on-Sea; Walton-on-the-Naze; Jaywick; Dovercourt; my home town of Clacton-on-Sea; and the villages of Thorpe-le-Soken, Kirby-le-Soken and Holland-on-Sea—a corner of England that is fiercely English. Never in my life have I felt as proud and as honoured as I do now, speaking for the people whom I represent in the House.
I rise to make my maiden speech in this debate today because my constituents are deeply worried—I am sure that many hon. Members' constituents are, too—about the rise in crime, in violence, in the yob culture and the rise in what one might term uncivil society, and because we are told so often that ID cards are the answer. As this is my maiden speech, I shall leave it to others to question whether they are the answer. I leave it to others to question whether they will make us more secure and whether the high cost of the scheme might mean that they are a plastic poll tax. Instead, I wish to make a broader observation: if the House is today debating the merits of a scheme that will make the citizen more accountable to the police and the agencies of the state, one day I hope that it will also debate measures to make the police and the state more accountable to the citizen.
Over the past generation or so, under Governments of both parties, crime and disorder have risen. ID cards are not the answer to reversing that trend because making people more answerable to the police is not the solution. Perhaps part of the answer lies in making the police more locally accountable to communities such as Harwich and Clacton.
Having been out on the beat with the local police in my constituency, I have been impressed by their professionalism and dedication, yet all too often they are upwardly accountable to a distant bureaucracy. They are all too often unable to take effective action against crime and the yob culture because they answer to a remote and unaccountable elite. Remote elites set the police's priorities, local people take the rap and no one is accountable—that is how our local communities are policed today. In the place of more upward accountability—identity cards—we should have a policy based on the principles of downward accountability; decentralisation and localism; and direct democracy—not identity cards. We should let local people elect their police chiefs and let local police chiefs set their police priorities. Why stop at policing? Let us localise control of, and accountability for, a range of public services. We should take power over key public services from central quangos and put it in the hands of local people.
I am surely not alone in having detected during the recent election a sense of frustration—alienation, even—on the doorstep. Hon. Members on both sides of the House must have come across the same thing. On doorstep after doorstep, people felt that elections did not matter any more. They thought that no party could clean up their hospital, get their child into a preferred school, or stop mobile phone masts being built in their neighbourhood. That should worry us all. Turnout remains low because people are increasingly giving up on the democratic process. If we want to be respected in this House, we should make elections matter again.
Local communities should be able to determine their priorities for policing, planning and education. My constituents should be able to determine the future of the local library and the Leas school in Clacton, the location of mobile phone masts on the seafront and the number of GP surgeries in Holland-on-Sea. No less importantly, those who make decisions should be directly vulnerable at the ballot box. Elected representatives have lost ground to unelected officials at every level and, if I am honest, that has happened under both Labour and Conservative Governments. A consequence of that process is that elections are becoming increasingly perfunctory.
Powers have steadily leaked from the House: sideways to the judges, downwards to the regional assemblies and agencies and upwards to Europe. At every level, the elected politician who is accountable to the electorate has lost ground to the unelected functionary, but that must stop. My constituents have had enough of being told what to do by remote elites. They want to make their own decisions. They want those who run their local policing, primary care trust and schooling to be more, not less, accountable to them. They want local decisions to be in the hands of local people.
I shall do my best to articulate those concerns and desires in the House. I am here to argue for the devolution of powers outwards and downwards. We need to reverse the flow of powers that has taken place over the past 30 years from town halls to Whitehall and from the citizen to the state. We should take powers away from the greatest quango of them all, namely, the European Commission.
I shall spend my time speaking and voting in the House for a wholesale decentralisation of powers from the remote elites to the people—from the unelected and unaccountable to local communities such as Harwich and Clacton. I shall speak up for an independent Britain trading with Europe and beyond, yet governing ourselves once again, living under our own Parliament, making our own laws. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to begin that today.