In a speech on liberty at the University of Westminster, Thursday 25 October 2007, Gordon Brown said that the discussion would focus on how to "entrench and enhance" individual freedoms while also detailng the responsibilities "that flow from British citizenship". Mr Brown expressed his hope that the debate be informed by all people and all viewpoints regardless of any political affiliation.
I want to talk today about liberty - what it means for Britain, for our British identity and in particular what it means in the 21st century for the relationship between the private individual and the public realm.
I want to explore how together we can write a new chapter in our country’s story of liberty - and do so in a world where, as in each generation, traditional questions about the freedoms and responsibilities of the individual re-emerge but also where new issues of terrorism and security, the internet and modern technology are opening new frontiers in both our lives and our liberties.
Addressing these issues is a challenge for all who believe in liberty, regardless of political party. Men and women are Conservative or Labour, Liberal Democrat or of some other party - or of no political allegiance. But we are first of all citizens of our country with a shared history and a common destiny.
And I believe that together we can chart a better way forward. In particular, I believe that by applying our enduring ideals to new challenges we can start immediately to make changes in our constitution and laws to safeguard and extend the liberties of our citizens:
- respecting and extending freedom of assembly, new rights for the public expression of dissent;
- respecting freedom to organise and petition, new freedoms that guarantee the independence of non-governmental organisations;
- respecting freedoms for our press, the removal of barriers to investigative journalism;
- respecting the public right to know, new rights to access public information where previously it has been withheld;
- respecting privacy in the home, new rights against arbitrary intrusion;
- in a world of new technology, new rights to protect your private information;
- and respecting the need for freedom from arbitrary treatment, new provision for independent judicial scrutiny and open parliamentary oversight.
Renewing for our time our commitment to freedom and contributing to a new British constitutional settlement for our generation.
And my starting point is that from the time of Magna Carta, to the civil wars and revolutions of the 17th century, through to the liberalism of Victorian Britain and the widening and deepening of democracy and fundamental rights throughout the last century, there has been a British tradition of liberty - what one writer has called our ‘gift to the world’.
Of course liberty - with roots that go back to antiquity - is not and cannot be solely a British idea. In one sense, liberty is rooted in the human spirit and does not have a nationality. But first with the Magna Carta and then through Milton and Locke to more recent writers as diverse as Orwell and Churchill, philosophers and politicians have extolled the virtues of a Britain that, in the words of the American revolutionary Patrick Henry, ‘made liberty the foundation of everything’, and ‘became a great, mighty and splendid nation…because liberty is its direct end and foundation’.
At that time few doubted that modern ideas of liberty originated from our country. Britain ‘hath been the temple as it were of liberty’ said Bolingbroke as early as 1730 ‘whilst her sacred fires have been extinguished in so many countries, here they have been religiously kept alive’. ‘The civil wars of Rome ended in slavery and those of the English in liberty’ Voltaire wrote. ‘The English are the only people upon earth who have been able to regulate the power of kings by resisting them…The English are jealous not only of their own liberty but even of that of other nations’.
So powerful did this British idea of liberty become that the American War of Independence was fought on both sides ‘in the name of British liberty’ and the first great student of American democracy de Tocqueville acknowledge its roots across the Atlantic: ‘I enjoyed, too, in England’, he said, ‘what I have long been deprived of - a union between the religious and the political world, between public and private virtue, between Christianity and liberty’.
A century and more later, facing fascism on the right and Stalinism on the left, Orwell wrote that ‘the totalitarian idea that there is no such thing as law - there is only power - has never taken root in England [where] such concepts as justice, liberty and objective truth are still believed in’.
And while we should not overstate it, the anthems that today celebrate our country have at their heart a call to liberty. In 1902 A.C Benson wrote ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ to define Britain as ‘the mother of the free’ and two centuries before Rule Britannia, written in England by a Scot, resounded with the resolve ‘Britons never never shall be slaves’.
Of course the cause has been hard fought — won and lost and won again. But if you draw a line through all the peaks and valleys, the direction over time is upward.
A passion for liberty has determined the decisive political debates of our history, inspired many of our defining political moments, and those debates, conducted in the crucible of great events, have, in my view, forged over time a distinctly British interpretation of liberty —— one that asserts the importance of freedom from prejudice, of rights to privacy, and of limits to the scope of arbitrary state power, but one that also rejects the selfishness of extreme libertarianism and demands that the realm of individual freedom encompasses not just some but all of us.
And I believe that to each generation falls the task of expanding the idea of British liberty and to each generation also the task of rediscovering liberty’s central importance as a founding value of our country and its animating force.
Indeed I am concerned that too often in recent years the public dialogue in our country has undervalued the importance of liberty. Too often the political debate has become polarised between a new right that has emphasised laissez-faire more than liberty and an old left that has mistakenly marginalised liberty by seeing it as the enemy of equality.
Now is the time to reaffirm our distinctive British story of liberty - to show it is as rich, powerful and relevant to the life of the nation today as ever; to apply its lessons to the new tests of our time.
So instead of invoking the unique nature of the threats we face today as a reason for relinquishing our historical attachment to British liberty, we meet these tests not by abandoning principles of liberty but by giving them new life.
We all approach the history of these islands in our own way. But for me certain key themes emerge over and over again through the centuries to characterise the British conception of liberty.
First, I trace the historical roots of liberty in Britain to a struggle for tolerance, by which I mean also a gradual acceptance of pluralism - a notion of political liberty that would allow those of different denominations and beliefs to coexist peacefully together.
The commitment in Britain to basic freedoms of worship, assembly, speech and press began to emerge in the 16th and 17th centuries alongside a rejection of religious persecution. ‘If not equal all, yet all equally free’ wrote Milton in Paradise Lost.
This did not happen all at once, or without setbacks and struggle. The flames of religious intolerance burned across this land too. But never as strongly as in continental Europe.
And down the centuries the British people have come to demonstrate a shared belief that respect for the dignity and value of every human being demands that all be given the freedom and space to live their lives by their own choices, free from the control and unjustified interference of others.
There is of course always the danger that villains of history become redeemed by the passage of time. There is a human instinct to recast the past as a lost golden age. I do not wish to fall into that trap. Nor should we succumb to an excessively Whig-like interpretation of history that assumes an inevitable stage-by-stage progress. In particular we should neither glorify nor distort what has gone before - and the struggles, both the ups and downs, of empire are not long behind us - to uphold a particular view of where we are now or what we can become.
So we need to recognise, for example, that it took until 1829 for Catholic emancipation, even later for legislation ending discrimination against the Jewish community. It is true that in 1914 our franchise was more narrowly restricted than nearly all other countries in Europe. It was only in the second half of the twentieth century that Parliament took action to combat discrimination against women and ethnic minorities and there is still much work to do in these areas and against discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, disability and religion.
But the single most powerful thread that runs though our history is a succession of chapters in the defence of liberty and toleration.
We gave refuge to Huguenots fleeing persecution in the 1600s.
By the eighteenth century, London was arguably already the world’s most diverse city - a situation which we can remain proud of in Britain to this day.
The abolition of slavery was an act that led the world in the defence of human dignity - and today our abhorrence of torture is and must be unequivocal.
And as the chapters have unfolded and the battles have been won, tolerance in Britain has evolved from a passive defence of free speech and freedoms of press and assembly into a positive assertion of their place in our progress.
Indeed today one of the qualities British people say they admire most about our country is our tolerance, and the characteristic that makes them most ashamed is any intolerance.
And this British idea of liberty evolved into something even more remarkable in the early modern era - the right to dissent - fought for by the civil war dissenters and embodied in the campaigns of the chartists and later the suffragettes.
Now, tolerance may have been instrumental in shaping modern British beliefs in liberty, but liberty for Britain steadily became not just about mutual acceptance but also about due process against arbitrary power.
While this great tradition can be traced back to the Magna Carta, it was the rise of the modern state with all the new powers at its disposal that made the 17th century the pivotal period in the struggle against arbitrary and unaccountable government —— as Britain led the way in the battle for freedom from hierarchical rule, for human rights and for the rule of law.
And tracing Coke’s defence of common law, the work of John Locke and the Bill of Rights of 1689 right through to the first of the Reform Acts, Macaulay concluded that ‘the authority of law and the security of property were found to be compatible with a liberty of discussion and of individual action never before known’.
And in the mid to late 20th century, this idea of liberty increasingly became the foundation of a new international order where the right of everyone - human rights - should be respected by everyone. On an island off Newfoundland in 1941, Churchill and Roosevelt together drew up the Atlantic Charter, and by beginning the system of international law based on the fundamental rights of all human beings, Britain led the way in asserting the inviolability of individual rights, irrespective of race or nationality and made the freedoms so dear to Britain the cornerstone of a new international order. And a few years later Britain led the way in the European Convention of Human Rights so that the same insistence on tolerance, the same defence against the arbitrary power of governments, the same fundamental rights and implicit mutual obligations between all human beings could provide protection to all individuals wherever they were.
One view of the American tradition of liberty manifests itself in the ‘leave me alone’ state. But while concern for privacy is central in our tradition, the British conception of liberty which runs though and defines much of our national experience has not led, at least for most of our history, to notions of the isolated individual left on his own — it is privacy not loneliness that British people seem to value. Nor did it lead to selfish individualism.
Instead, throughout the last three hundred years in Britain, as Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has eloquently described, the progress of the idea of liberty has gone hand in hand with notions of social responsibility: ‘the active citizen’, the ‘good neighbour’, and civic pride, emphasising that people are not just self interested but members of a wider community - sustained by the mutual obligation we all feel to each other.
As Gertrude Himmelfarb puts it, in Britain the enlightenment focus on asserting the rights of individuals was accompanied by a cluster of ’social virtues’ —- benevolence, improvement, civic society and the moral sense underlying shared purpose. Thus John Stuart Mill did not, in the end, call for unfettered freedoms, but argued that ‘there are many positive acts for the benefit of others which he may rightfully be compelled to perform’.
So I recall a British story of liberty rooted in tolerance, the liberty that is necessary to uphold the dignity of each and all; reinforced by due process against the exercise of arbitrary power; best advanced in the modern world when we recognise the responsibilities we owe to each other; and now as a new generation expands the frontiers of liberty, also increasingly about empowering the individual to make the most of their potential. As T. H. Green put it: ‘when we speak of freedom as something to be so highly prized, we mean a positive power or capacity of doing or enjoying something worth doing or enjoying, and that, too, something that we do or enjoy in common with others’.
Indeed, from more than a century ago, in the view of British thinkers - not just Green but Hobson, Hobhouse and Tawney - freedom could only be fully realised when society was prepared to overcome the barriers that prevented people from realising their true potential. Hobson put it as a question when he asked: ‘is a man free who has not equal opportunity with his fellows of such access to all material and moral means of personal development and work as shall contribute to his own welfare and that of his society?’.
So in this modern view freedom comes to mean not just freedom from interference, but also freedom to aspire - the opportunity and the chance to live a rounded life in which for everyone there is a place for choice and talent to flourish.
So I am in no doubt that our freedoms, our openness and tolerance, and our very enterprise and creativity which flow from these qualities — what we value about being British - emerge from this rich and historic tradition.
Yet all too often on the political right, liberty has been reduced to a simplistic libertarianism in which freedom and licence assumed a rough equivalence, and the absence of government from public life seen as essential to maximise liberty - such as in the 19th century with the continued acceptance of child labour.
And some politicians of the left have mistakenly seen liberty at odds with equality and were too often prepared to compromise or even ignore the sanctity of freedoms of the individual.
But these simplistic caricatures are unacceptable: we need a more rounded and realistic conception of liberty.
In a world of increasingly rapid change and multiplying challenges - facing for example a terrorist threat or a challenge to our tolerance - democracies must be able to bring people together, mark out common ground, and energise the will and the resources of all.
It is the open society that responds best to new challenges and we are fortunate in being able to do so by drawing on that British story of liberty.
Indeed, the components of our liberty are the building blocks for such a society:
our belief in the freedom of speech and expression and conscience and dissent helps create the open society; our determination to subject the state to greater scrutiny and accountability sustains such openness; the reinforcement of civic responsibility and the empowerment of the individual gives our country the underlying strength we need to succeed in the years ahead.
And while some people argue that in this changing world the concern for liberty has to take its place behind other commitments, I am convinced that both to rebuild our constitution for the modern age and to unify the country to meet and master every challenge, we need to consciously and with determination found the next stage of constitutional development firmly on the story of British liberty.
This will only be possible if we face up to the hard choices that have to be made in government. Precious as it is, liberty is not the only value we prize and not the only priority for government. The test for any government will be how it makes those hard choices, how it strikes the balance. To claim that we should ignore the claims of liberty when faced with the needs of security would be to embark down an authoritarian path that I believe would be unacceptable to the British people. But to ignore the duty of government to protect its people - and to be unwilling to face up to hard choices - is the politics of gesture and irresponsibility.
In my view, the key to making these hard choices in a way that is compatible with our traditions of liberty is to, at all times, apply the liberty test, respecting fundamental rights and freedoms, and wherever action is needed by government, it never subjects the citizen to arbitrary treatment, is transparent and proportionate in its measures and at all times also requires proper scrutiny by, and accountability to, Parliament and the people.
And so I want today to give you some examples of how in accordance with this approach we can, consistent with our security and the other priorities of government, do far more to entrench liberty in our constitutional settlement.
First, it is the British way to stand up for freedom of assembly, speech and press.
Wherever and whenever there are question marks over the ability to express dissent I believe that the balance should be with those taking action to defend and extend the liberty of individuals and their freedoms to express their views within the law.
So as I set out before the summer, I think it right - in consultation with the Metropolitan Police, Parliament, the Mayor of London, Westminster City Council and civil liberties groups - to review the law to ensure that people’s right to protest outside the very heart of our democracy - the House of Commons - is not subject to unnecessary restrictions. And the Home Secretary is publishing a consultation document on this issue today.
Alongside this it is important, as the Government has made clear, that charities are guaranteed the independence and the right to have their voice heard and to campaign on the issues that matter to them.
In addition, there is a case for applying our enduring ideas of liberty to ensure that the laws governing the press in this country fully respect freedom of speech.
The key is to achieve the right balance between freedom of the press, the protection of individual privacy, and public safety and security - and I now believe there is more we can do to ensure that freedom of expression and legitimate journalism are protected.
We agree with the Select Committee on Culture that a free press is the hallmark of our democracy, that there is no case for statutory regulation of the press, that self-regulation of the press should be maintained and that it is for the publishers themselves to demonstrate by their decisions that they can sustain and bolster public confidence in the way information is gathered and used.
But for our part - and to make sure that in pursuing essential policy objectives like combating terrorism and tackling hate crime any new measures do not curb legitimate liberties to speak and be heard - Jack Straw, the Secretary of State for Justice, will investigate the idea of a freedom of expression audit for future legislation.
Last year, in a draft bill, we published proposals which would limit media access to coroners’ courts. Having undertaken extensive consultation we have now decided not to go ahead with these proposals.
No one wants to see criminals profiting from publishing books about their crimes. At the same time, we must ensure that the freedom of the press to investigate and report is maintained. Our preferred option, subject to further technical examination, would be for the public to have the right through civil orders to recover payments made to people where these payments can be constituted as benefits of crime.
The wilful abuse of personal data is of serious concern so there are proposals currently under consideration to clamp down on those who profit illegally from trade in personal data. But Jack Straw has asked the Information Commissioner to produce guidance, in consultation with the Press Complaints Commission, to make sure we take into account concerns about the new rules - which allow for a prison sentence of up to two years. Clear guidance will make sure that legitimate investigative journalism is not impeded but that the sanctions provide a strong deterrent to protect individual privacy.
Because liberty cannot flourish in the darkness, our rights and freedoms are protected by the daylight of public scrutiny as much as by the decisions of Parliament or independent judges.
So it is clear that to protect individual liberty we should have the freest possible flow of information between government and the people.
In the last ten years in Britain we have created a new legislative framework requiring openness and transparency in the state’s relationships with the public. The Freedom of Information Act has been a landmark piece of legislation, enshrining for the first time in our laws the public’s right to access information.
Freedom of Information (FoI) can be inconvenient, at times frustrating and indeed embarrassing for governments. But Freedom of Information is the right course because government belongs to the people, not the politicians.
I now believe there is more we can do to change the culture and the workings of government to make it more open — whilst of course continuing to maintain safeguards in areas like national security.
When anything is provided without cost, it does risk being open to abuse. However the Government does not believe that more restrictive rules on cost limits of FoI requests are the way forward. And so Jack Straw has decided, and has announced today, that we will not tighten FoI fees regulations as previously proposed.
We do this because of the risk that such proposals might have placed unacceptable barriers between the people and public information. Public information does not belong to Government, it belongs to the public on whose behalf government is conducted. Wherever possible that should be the guiding principle behind the implementation of our Freedom of Information Act.
So it is right also to consider extending the coverage of freedom of information and the Freedom of Information Act. And we are also today publishing a consultation document to consider whether additional organisations discharging a public function - including in some instances private sector companies running services for the public sector - should be brought within the scope of Freedom of Information legislation.
Freedom of Information is not simply about current discussions within government but about the restrictions we place on the publication of historical documents.
It is an irony that the information that can be made available on request on current events and current decisions is still withheld as a matter of course for similar events and similar decisions that happened 20 or 25 years ago.
Under the present arrangements historical records are transferred to the national archives and are only opened to public access after thirty years or where explicitly requested under the FoI Act. It is time to look again at whether historical records can be made available for public inspection much more swiftly than under the current arrangements.
There are of course cost and security implications of a more open approach which we will need to examine thoroughly. So I have asked Paul Dacre, Editor-in-Chief of Associated Newspapers and member of the Press Complaints Commission - working with Sir Joe Pilling, former Permanent Secretary of the Northern Ireland Office, and the eminent historian David Cannadine - to review this rule. And we look forward to receiving their proposals in the first half of 2008.
At the same time, we know that increasing the flow of publicly available real-time data about what is happening on the ground - whether about local policing or local health services - is vital in enabling people to make informed choices about how they use their local services and the standards they expect. And even in the most sensitive sphere, national security - where everyone agrees that some safeguards have to be in place to respect confidentiality - it is right to consider the circumstances in which we open up more information for debate. For the first time - starting later this year - the Government will publish, for parliamentary debate and public scrutiny, our National Security Strategy setting out for the British people the threats we face and the objectives we pursue. New rules will also govern a more open approach to the working of the Intelligence and Security Committee and I have agreed with the Chair of the ISC that Parliament should have a clear role in the appointment of members to the Committee.
The advancement of individual liberty depends upon the protection from arbitrary interference of the person and private property and, above all, the home.
I am aware of concerns that have been expressed about the powers of public authorities to enter homes and business premises without permission - powers that have been granted piecemeal over the years in pursuit of generally agreed public goals such as the protection of children, action against criminals - and, more recently, suspected terrorists.
In the last year we have tried, in the interests of protecting the privacy of the home dweller, to regularise the circumstances in which bailiffs have permission to enter homes.
But I believe we can go much further.
There are a surprisingly high number - at least 250 - of provisions granting power to enter homes and premises without permission. This high number reflects how often they are drawn very narrowly - not least because of our traditional respect for liberty and privacy.
I share the concerns about the need for additional protections for the liberties and rights of the citizen. And I believe that one of the strongest guarantees is a clear understanding of what these rights are and that is more difficult with the very existence of hundreds of laws.
So the Home Secretary is working with the Association of Chief Police Officers to examine, in the name of clarity and the greatest possible protection for the individual, the scope for bringing together all existing police powers of entry into a single understandable code. But, besides the police, many other public authorities covering areas like public health, animal welfare, health and safety, and customs and excise, also have powers of entry. So, alongside the review of police powers, the Home Secretary will establish and coordinate a wider review of all other powers of entry.
But it is not enough to clarify and subject these powers to the liberty test. Any change should be and will be accompanied by guidance on how these powers should be exercised and the rights members of the public have to take action if those expectations are not met. And we should consider whether we need to do more to offer redress for the individual against any disproportionate use of powers by the state.
In the same way as we do more to safeguard privacy in the home, so too we will review in consultation with the police and civil liberties organisations whether we need - whilst never compromising our security - to improve the guidance for police officers on the exercise of Section 44 of the 2000 Terrorism Act — so we can both ensure that they have the powers they need and preserve trust in the way power is used.
Up until now our concerns about privacy have focused on the physical space of our homes and neighbourhoods. What is new about 21st century ideas of privacy is that they rightly extend far beyond the home right across our lives to the way information about us is handled.
This is the century of information. Our ability to compete in the global economy, to protect ourselves against crime and terrorist attack, depends not just on natural wealth or on walls or fences but on our ability to use information - in industry, in our schools and universities, at our borders, in our police forces and intelligence services. And it is clear that we can use DNA to help solve crimes and we can use new powers of access to information to deny terrorists and criminals financial freedom and the ability to move across borders.
At the same time, a great prize of the information age is that by sharing information across the public sector - responsibly, transparently but also swiftly - we can now deliver personalised services for millions of people, something not dreamt of in 1945 and not possible even ten years ago. So for a pensioner, for example, this might mean dealing with issues about their pension, meals on wheels and a handrail at home together in one phone call or visit, even though the data about those services is held by different bits of the public and voluntary sectors.
But if Governments do not insist on accountability where people’s data is concerned - and are not held independently to account - then we risk losing people’s trust which is fundamental to all these issues and more.
And as what is possible changes, so the protections we afford to individuals must change, and we must respond to the need for a more secure way of establishing and protecting people’s identity; to the new opportunities to use biometrics to identify false passports or DNA to solve crime; to the need to deny terrorists and criminals financial freedom and the ability to move across borders; to the pressure to provide more personalised public services. In all these areas the challenge is both to be able to use, where appropriate, the opportunities of new technology in pursuit of security or in pursuit of justice — and simultaneously to put in place proper standards and oversight to protect liberty.
The information age has, as Tom Friedman has so well drawn out, flattened hierarchies and potentially increased the power of all citizens. So we should not fear the advent of the information age - and it should not lead us to abandon or fear for our values - but at the same time I believe we require a new and imaginative approach to accountability and to winning people’s trust in the ways in which information is held and used.
In previous centuries people’s identities were protected in the only ways people knew how - with the requirement to register at the time of birth, marriage and death. Today we have the benefit not just of the fingerprint technology of the last century but advances in biometric technology in this, that can protect individuals and society against crime, fraud, illegal immigration and terrorism - and protect for each and every individual our own identity.
With identity fraud on the increase the need for this personal protection is increasing, as was recognised in the recent report by the All-Party Group on Identity Fraud. Banks, credit card companies, retail stores and computer companies now all use sophisticated identification techniques, including biometric technologies, to identify people.
And on those occasions where we already have to identify ourselves - when we open a bank account or withdraw money, pay for something, cross borders or register with a GP - citizens themselves are recognising that it is in their interests to have a modern and secure means of identification which better protects against crime, fraud and illegal immigration and also protects each of them as individuals, their property but also their privacy.
And so the issue for the future is not whether biometrics are used - they are now already being used by companies, by retailers, on new laptop computers in place of passwords to protect personal security and privacy: the question is how they will be used and under what protections for the rights of the individual.
This is an issue for both private and public sector transactions alike. And whatever views people have in the debate we are currently engaged in about the management of identity for entry into our country and in other respects, I believe we need a wider debate - right across the public and private sectors - about the right form of independent oversight and parliamentary scrutiny and safeguards.
So notwithstanding the continuing debate about identity cards, it is right that the Information Commissioner - independent of Government - should continue to have, on behalf of the public, oversight of how Government collects, hold and uses data — testing it against the best data protection laws and ensuring individuals will have the right to see the information held on them. And it is the British way to insist that we do all we can to protect individual citizens and their rights. So we must always ensure that there is - as we have legislated on ID cards - proper accountability to Parliament, with limits to use of the data enshrined in parliamentary legislation, the exercise of responsibilities in this area subject to regular and open scrutiny by Parliament, with detailed reports on any new powers published and laid before it.
These are issues not just for us but for others — and I know that similar debates are going on around the world. Jack Straw and I have asked the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas and Doctor Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, to undertake a review of the framework for the use of information - in both the private and public sector - to assess whether it is right for today’s landscape and strikes the right balance —– giving people the protection they are entitled to, while allowing them to make the most of the opportunities which are being opened up by the new information age.
Concerns people rightly have about modern protections for personal privacy are matched by concerns people rightly have about the protection of time honoured rights in the face of unprecedented new threats to our security.
Terrorism can today strike anywhere and anytime.
The very freedoms we have built up over generations are the freedoms terrorist most want to destroy.
By insisting that liberty is and remains at the centre of our constitution, we rightly raise the bar we have to meet when it comes to measures to protect the security of individuals and communities against the terrorist threat.
For me this means that any necessary steps we take to enforce security must always be accompanied by the strongest of safeguards to ensure there is scrutiny, accountability and transparency in the decisions that are made and that at all times we preserve the primacy of independent courts and strengthen accountability to Parliament.
I am in no doubt about the desirability of a debate over pre-charge detention. It is central to our tradition of civil liberties that no one should be held arbitrarily, and it is right that the longer someone is detained, the more concerns there are about arbitrary treatment.
The police and others - including the independent reviewer Lord Carlile - have argued that the clear trends in recent terrorist cases towards greater complexity, greater numbers and international links suggest that in the future 28 days may not be enough and we are also considering other proposals including post-charge questioning.
But weighing that case for an extension of days against legitimate concerns about arbitrary treatment, I know the importance of making sure that whatever specific changes are agreed for special, perhaps exceptional, circumstances that might arise, there will be - and must be - greater protections for the individual —- both greater legal or judicial safeguards on executive decisions and more intensive scrutiny of them by Parliament.
Our commitment to liberty - to the restriction of arbitrary power and to the empowerment of the individual - is of course also the foundation for our recent proposals on constitutional reform launched in July.
I believe that trust in our institutions can only be strengthened if our constitutional reforms are explicitly founded on British ideas of liberty — and that it is imperative that in every generation we re-examine areas where the executive has discretion and where to limit that discretion would be in the interests of good government.
In my first days as Chancellor of the Exchequer I gave up power to the Bank of England. To restore the credibility of government economic policy we had to constrain the power of government to put the politics of the moment ahead of the national economic interest.
Now - in my first few months as Prime Minister - we are consulting on other areas where the Prime Minister and executive should surrender or limit their powers, re-examining patronage where it is arbitrary and at all times seeking to bring the executive under democratic control.
In my statement to Parliament before the summer, I proposed that in twelve areas important to our national life the Prime Minister and executive should surrender or limit their powers - the exclusive exercise of which by the government should have no place in a modern democracy - including:
- the power of the executive to declare war;
- the power of the executive to ratify international treaties without decision by Parliament;
- and powers in the appointment of judges — ensuring the independence of the judiciary and recognising their role in safeguarding liberty.
Further consultation documents on those reforms are being published by Jack Straw today.
These are the specific measures we are taking forward now, but we are also beginning a wider, longer-term debate about how best to entrench liberty in our constitution itself.
Today, Jack Straw is signalling the start of a national consultation on the case for a new British Bill of Rights and Duties - or, as I said in July, for moving towards a written constitution.
This will include a discussion of how we can entrench and enhance our liberties - building upon existing rights and freedoms but not diluting them - but also make more explicit the responsibilities that implicitly accompany rights. We will also examine the rights and responsibilities that flow from British citizenship, informed by the work being carried out by Peter Goldsmith on citizenship.
The debate about a Bill of Rights and Duties will be of fundamental importance to our liberties and to our constitutional settlement and opens a new chapter in the British story of liberty. So it is right that the discussion should engage those of all parties and none who believe in our democracy and the importance of liberty within it in a constructive dialogue. And this debate is not just for one party or one year but for all parties and for this generation. I hope other political parties will join this dialogue.
At all times in our history we have had to debate how the need for strong and effective government can be combined with the pursuit and preservation of liberty.
Such debates are both inevitable and desirable.
The challenge for each generation is to conduct an open debate without ever losing sight of the value of our liberties.
Indeed the character of our country will be defined by how we write the next chapter of British liberty - by whether we do so responsibly and in a way that respects and builds on our traditions, and progressively adds to and enlarges rather then reduces the sphere of freedom.
And as we make these decisions, we must never forget that the state and the people are not equivalent. The state is always the servant of the people.
We must remember that liberty belongs to the people and not governments.
It is the challenge and the opportunity for our generation to write the next chapter of British liberty in a way that honours the progress of the past - and promises a wider and more secure freedom to our children.
From The Times February 27, 2009
To mark the Convention on Modern Liberty, the children's author has written this article
Are such things done on Albion's shore?
The image of this nation that haunts me most powerfully is that of the sleeping giant Albion in William Blake's prophetic books. Sleep, profound and inveterate slumber: that is the condition of Britain today.
We do not know what is happening to us. In the world outside, great events take place, great figures move and act, great matters unfold, and this nation of Albion murmurs and stirs while malevolent voices whisper in the darkness - the voices of the new laws that are silently strangling the old freedoms the nation still dreams it enjoys.
We are so fast asleep that we don't know who we are any more. Are we English? Scottish? Welsh? British? More than one of them? One but not another? Are we a Christian nation - after all we have an Established Church - or are we something post-Christian? Are we a secular state? Are we a multifaith state? Are we anything we can all agree on and feel proud of?
The new laws whisper:
You don't know who you are
You're mistaken about yourself
We know better than you do what you consist of, what labels apply to you, which facts about you are important and which are worthless
We do not believe you can be trusted to know these things, so we shall know them for you
And if we take against you, we shall remove from your possession the only proof we shall allow to be recognised
The sleeping nation dreams it has the freedom to speak its mind. It fantasises about making tyrants cringe with the bluff bold vigour of its ancient right to express its opinions in the street. This is what the new laws say about that:
Expressing an opinion is a dangerous activity
Whatever your opinions are, we don't want to hear them
So if you threaten us or our friends with your opinions we shall treat you like the rabble you are
And we do not want to hear you arguing about it
So hold your tongue and forget about protesting
What we want from you is acquiescence
The nation dreams it is a democratic state where the laws were made by freely elected representatives who were answerable to the people. It used to be such a nation once, it dreams, so it must be that nation still. It is a sweet dream.
You are not to be trusted with laws
So we shall put ourselves out of your reach
We shall put ourselves beyond your amendment or abolition
You do not need to argue about any changes we make, or to debate them, or to send your representatives to vote against them
You do not need to hold us to account
You think you will get what you want from an inquiry?
Who do you think you are?
What sort of fools do you think we are?
The nation's dreams are troubled, sometimes; dim rumours reach our sleeping ears, rumours that all is not well in the administration of justice; but an ancient spell murmurs through our somnolence, and we remember that the courts are bound to seek the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and we turn over and sleep soundly again.
And the new laws whisper:
We do not want to hear you talking about truth
Truth is a friend of yours, not a friend of ours
We have a better friend called hearsay, who is a witness we can always rely on
We do not want to hear you talking about innocence
Innocent means guilty of things not yet done
We do not want to hear you talking about the right to silence
You need to be told what silence means: it means guilt
We do not want to hear you talking about justice
Justice is whatever we want to do to you
And nothing else
Are we conscious of being watched, as we sleep? Are we aware of an ever-open eye at the corner of every street, of a watching presence in the very keyboards we type our messages on? The new laws don't mind if we are. They don't think we care about it.
We want to watch you day and night
We think you are abject enough to feel safe when we watch you
We can see you have lost all sense of what is proper to a free people
We can see you have abandoned modesty
Some of our friends have seen to that
They have arranged for you to find modesty contemptible
In a thousand ways they have led you to think that whoever does not want to be watched must have something shameful to hide
We want you to feel that solitude is frightening and unnatural
We want you to feel that being watched is the natural state of things
One of the pleasant fantasies that consoles us in our sleep is that we are a sovereign nation, and safe within our borders. This is what the new laws say about that:
We know who our friends are
And when our friends want to have words with one of you
We shall make it easy for them to take you away to a country where you will learn that you have more fingernails than you need
It will be no use bleating that you know of no offence you have committed under British law
It is for us to know what your offence is
Angering our friends is an offence
It is inconceivable to me that a waking nation in the full consciousness of its freedom would have allowed its government to pass such laws as the Protection from Harassment Act (1997), the Crime and Disorder Act (1998), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), the Terrorism Act (2000), the Criminal Justice and Police Act (2001), the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (2001), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Extension Act (2002), the Criminal Justice Act (2003), the Extradition Act (2003), the Anti-Social Behaviour Act (2003), the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act (2004), the Civil Contingencies Act (2004), the Prevention of Terrorism Act (2005), the Inquiries Act (2005), the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (2005), not to mention a host of pending legislation such as the Identity Cards Bill, the Coroners and Justice Bill, and the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.
And those laws say:
Sleep, you stinking cowards
Sweating as you dream of rights and freedoms
Freedom is too hard for you
We shall decide what freedom is
Sleep, you vermin
Sleep, you scum.
Philip Pullman will deliver a keynote speech at the Convention on Modern Liberty at the Institute of Education in London tomorrow
Michael Wills blathering on in the Times:
It's more than 300 years since this country last had a Bill of Rights. It has served us well but it is time to explore whether we need a new one.
This Bill of Rights, is it?
Oh, that country.
Hard times also call for hard drinking, which leads me onto my latest article for Our Kingdom: The death of community pubs
In discussion of the Modern Liberty Convention's question 'Where next?', Guy Herbert has replied to my suggestion that there should be a constitutional convention:
Gareth Young (and others):
“Could this Convention be a springboard to a Constitutional Convention?”
That is the last thing we need. What Charter 88 didn’t comprehend 20 years ago, and what proponents of this view (some of them very old frienmds of mine) don’t get now, is a basic matter of historical and political fact. Writing a constitution (or rewriting one) is something you do from a position of power. Constitutions are imposed to legitimate and entrench the sort of society that the victors think they want.
That is what the barons did in Magna Carta and in the Charter of the Forest AFTER they had humbled King John.
That is what Henry VIII did. Supremacy followed Star Chamber.
That is what parliament did in the Bill of Rights AFTER it had supplanted James by William.
That is what the Continental Congress did AFTER Yorktown, not before the Revolution.
That is the origin of the European Convention and the Universal Declaration that are revered as magic: they say
“We won, and this is why we are better than Hitler.”
And that is what the New Labour Project did after 1997, with an unprecedented majority and party discipline, and is still struggling to do. It was applauded for much of that time - until it was almost too late - by would-be constitional reformers, because it was astute enough to do use their buzzwords to characterise what it was doing in its slow-motion coup. If it hadn’t been for the war and the related cosying up to the US I strongly suspect many would not have woken and would still be applauding. Those more soaked in the ideas of the new corporate state sometimes called ‘civic republicanism’ still are.
Constitions are written and rewritten from power… by tight elite groups with a grasp of the meaning of power. They fail not from overreach but by failing to tailor the institutions to support and reinforce the new dispensation. Wide consultation and talking shops have no hope of creating something lasting. let alone imposing it.
If you want a new constitution, first you need a revolution in power. What *we* need to do is to foment a - peaceful, lawful, I hope - revolution in the name of liberty and the rule of law.
The first steps are resistance to halt the katabasis and provide a rallying point the forces. The accrescence of arbitrary official power hasn’t stopped because the great and good have noticed it happening. The moster no longer freezes when you look directly at it. It is already too powerful.
To be effective resistance needs to be formulated in a way that can be popular - which is not to say it must engage the lower mob, but it must engage a significant portion of significant people to turn public opinion and received wisdom sharply from a passive acceptance of whatever “They” impose on us all. Enough people must say - enough.
What Charter88 didn't comprehend is the simple fact that the political class are only interested in brokering power, not in sharing it or distributing it fairly.
A look at one 'Cameron Direct' session from East Renfrewshire demonstrates this well, I think:
On solving the West Lothian question Cameron makes it clear that there is nothing, nothing whatsoever (presumably including another Labour Government at the behest of Scottish seats) that will prevent him from putting the Union at risk.
I don't think there is a perfect solution [to the West Lothian Question]....I am a Unionist, I believe in the United Kingdom. I don't want us to fall out over money. I don't want us to fall out over how we change the rules and get everything absolutely perfect. I'd rather have an imperfect union than a perfect divorce. So I'll never put anything - like the West lothian Question or the Barnett Formula - above keeping the Union together. It's very important you know that about me, it's in my DNA.
On the value of small parties to our political process and the political life of the nation, he concludes that the preservation of an elective dictatorship is more important than a representative diversity of political opinion in the chamber.
I think one of the strengths of our system is that you can throw a government out. I don't believe in proportional representation which would help the smaller parties, because I think that even though you can argue that there may be some fairness in saying the share of votes you get should be automatically reflected in the number of seats you get...I think that although there may be a fairness in that I think what you gain in the fairness you loose in the decisiveness. I think one of the great things about our system is that under the first past the post that we have under the Westminster elections you can really kick a government out...I think it's good that we can be decisive and make a change. So the minor parties, do they have a role? Well, they have a role in Parliament; they have opportunities to make their voice heard; sometimes they come up with ideas that others then take on. I'm not a fan in any sense of UKIP, I think they're pretty barking. And I think the BNP are beyond barking, I think they're pretty evil and I think they're just peddling the politics of division, and trying to turn people each other against each other on the basis of race, and I don't think they have any part in a sensible democracy like ours. The Greens I think have added to the debate about the environment but I think their views are quite unrealistic about what is achievable and I'd rather have practical green conservatism rather than impractical Green greenery.
On the transfer of power away from Westminster (in this case to the EU) Cameron is steadfast in his opposition to the transfer of power.
My constituents send me to Parliament to go and make the law, to ask the Government questions, to have a bit of a punch up on a Wednesday. They send me to Parliament to stand up for them in West Oxfordshire, but they don't send me there to give power away that aren't mine to give away. And we shouldn't do it without asking their permission in the first place. A very simple principle, but one I think we should apply on all future occasions.
No one asked the English whether they minded power being transferred away from Westminster to the devolved administrations. That's not Cameron's fault, of course, but if it is principled to ask the public whether they approve of the transfer of powers, then doesn't the same principle apply to asking the public to approve of what powers are retained or created?
What powers should Westminster and the Cabinet have; should they be absolute?
I would say no. Guy Herbert and the Conservatives would say, in theory at least, yes. It's a zero-sum equation for them. For them what is important is the absolute sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament, and that is why they are against a constitutional convention - the answers that they got would be unacceptable to the political class.
"Mr Blair acknowledged that if people in England were asked if they wanted a Parliament like Scotland's they would overwhelmingly agree." - Yorkshire Post, 28 November 2006
The above quote illustrates the danger of a constitutional convention to Labour and the Conservatives.
The cynic in me concludes that a constitutional convention is a risk that the Lib Dems are prepared to take in order to acheive proportional representation.
The Guardian reports that the police are now insisting on CCTV in pubs.
"I can't really see any downside to it at all," said Simon Fennell, 19. "Unless you are doing anything wrong then there is no problem - and for the rest of us it just makes things safer."
Safer from what? You're in a pub for f*cks sake!
I once went to some crappy pub, a real dive, down Rose Street after a cold afternoon's rugby at Murrayfield and the 'bouncer' insisted that I took off my beanie/toque. When I asked why he told me it was so the CCTV camera in the bar could see my face. Did I feel safer for entering a bar whose criteria for entrance is determined by the patrons' willingness to subject themselves to CCTV. We'll never know because I never went in.
Via Our Kingdom:
From: David Gilbertson
Sent: 04 March 2009 14:02
Subject: Excessive Powers of Arrest by Police - Petition to the Prime Minister
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
PLEASE READ ON, THIS IS NOT A ‘SPAM' MESSAGE
Most people are unaware that in 2005 a fundamental change in police powers was quietly passed into law; a change that directly affects the life and liberty of you and every person in this country.
Section 110 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 was ‘tacked onto' an otherwise acceptable piece of legislation and allows ANY police officer in England and Wales to arrest, (i.e. physically detain, handcuff and take to a police station for a DNA sample), ANY person, for ANY offence, no matter how trivial and whether or not a power of arrest previously existed for that offence. People can now be, (and have been), arrested and detained under Section 110 for not wearing a seatbelt; dropping litter; shouting in the presence of a police officer, climbing a tree, and building a snowman. Whereas police officers used to have to justify every arrest and be aware of whether or not a particular piece of legislation gave them power, they no longer have to do so. The power to deprive someone of their liberty should only be exercised in the most extreme circumstances, yet young and inexperienced police officers, (and soon, PCSO's), are being trained that arrest and detention of a suspect is the first option in most encounters with the public. This sweeping power is being roundly abused on a daily basis in all of the 43 police forces in this country and puts you, your wife, husband or partner, your children and your friends at risk of arbitrary action by the police.
I spent 35 years of my adult life in the Police Service and am appalled by what it has become, largely as a result of powers such as those granted under Section 110.
Petitioning the Prime Minister will probably do little to stop the drift of this country to what has been described as a ‘Stasi State' but I would nonetheless ask that you consider placing your signature on the petition - if only to see how the government responds to genuine concern from thoughtful citizens.
If you are sympathetic to this project, please forward this message and link to other friends, colleagues or bodies concerned about civil liberties.
The link to the petition is below:
David Gilbertson QPM
(formerly Assistant Inspector of Constabulary
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary,
Home Office (retired 2001))
Patients have been told they must be quizzed by Health Service officials if they want to keep their name off a national medical database.
Everyone who wants to be omitted from the 'Big Brother' scheme will have to visit their GP and make their case in person.
Nice try Daily Mail, but not 'everyone' will have to visit their GP to be omitted from the National Health Service database, nicknamed "The Spine". Take, for example, the Scots - they won't have to visit their GP. Neither will the Welsh. Nor the Northern Irish.
Only the English are on here.
And it's costing us upwards of £12 billion; possibly £20bn if Lord Warner is to be believed:
Plans to give all 50m NHS patients in England a full electronic medical record are running at least two to two-and-a-half years late, Lord Warner, the health minister who oversees the project, has confirmed.
He also admitted that the full cost of the programme was likely to be nearer £20bn than the widely quoted figure of £6.2bn. The latter figure covered only the national contracts for the systems' basic infrastructure and software applications, he said.
It makes the London Olympics look like damn good value for money. Little wonder that in Britain it's only England that can't afford free prescriptions.
When the PM taps into his computer a problem like “house prices falling”, it proposes “act to shore up house prices”. “Voter concern about knife crime” elicits “release misleading statistics about fall in knife crime”. “You're too Scottish” is met by “launch initiatives on Britishness”. This is the politics of the mop and bucket, wiping up spillages in the supermarket aisles; the politics of the clipboard, piling prominent shelves with market-tested goodies for the impulse-purchaser.
Here's another from Reich Interior Minister Jacqui Smith.
A one year-old.
For Christ's sake!
Is big brother watching you? Are you – innocent and law-abiding – kept awake at night for fear that your door will be kicked in by agents of the state?
Are your children being “groomed for life in the database state”?
If some of those attending a conference last weekend – the Convention on Modern Liberty – are to be believed, the answer to those questions, and many similar, is “yes.”
I mention this because in the same week that national newspaper stories warned that the government is deliberately trampling on individual liberties and undermining public safety, a story in the Lancashire Telegraph told us that crime is going down.
So, let me get this right, crime is going down thanks to the database state and because we have become an endemic surveillance society? So it follows that in order that we can all live in safety it is permissible for the State to spy on the Individual to make society a better place? For whom?
"under Socialism crime is not a form of protest against the existing conditions of life [i.e. as it is in the West] but above all the result of moral deformation of the personality, intellectual retardedness and low culture" - Nikolay Shchelokov, Soviet Minister for Internal Affairs, Pravda, 17 March 1973.
Nothing to fear, nothing to hide. We're all retards to Jack Straw.
In response to A National Conversation for England I thought I had better clarify my position.
The Guardian's Ros Taylor asked whether an independent England "would better safeguard our rights, or is it a red herring in the battle between the individual and the state?"
Ros seems to have fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the debate because, as Paul Kingsnorth points out, the case for English independence wasn't discussed (or even mentioned so far as I can recall).
Ros believes that the national question is a distraction from the convention's main purpose:
to thrash out how much power the state should have over the individual. The idea of creating an independent England, with or without a Human Rights Act or a bill of rights, may have a certain utopian appeal to those on the right as well as the left. But appeals to nationhood, as Alibhai-Brown pointed out, are the very stuff that oppressive anti-terrorist legislation feeds upon. It is the right to opt out and reject a given identity that many of the campaigners at the convention today prize most. Could English citizenship really bestow that? On current evidence, I doubt it.
This doesn't accurately reflect the argument that I made. I wasn't arguing for human rights for England or legal citizenship for England, I was arguing that we need a national conversation to decide what it means to be English. Is there an idea of English liberty that can be invoked to protect our liberties?
Rights are all well and good, but essentially they are a contract between the individual and the State. Rights are there to protect you from the State. Liberty is something more abstract. Liberty is the absence of laws, freedom from interference, perhaps, even, the absence of a State or controlling influence. Rights may enhance our liberty, but in England we haven't really discussed what liberties we want, and nor do we have a forum in which to discuss it.
There is a poverty of thought and expression in England, we lack the liberty to define ourselves as English and to express ourselves as English for fear of the consequences (usually being called 'racist' by Guardian readers or accused of 'trying to break up the Union' by Telegraph readers). This is unhealthy.
…in general the English live in a miasma of what Isaiah Berlin called “negative liberty”: their collective aim is to be free of interference, not to define the future. “Negative liberty” has become the currency of the dispossessed - “whatever”, say the English today when they’re told something they don’t like, and “whatever” is exactly what they get and what they are ready to accept, so long as everyday life lies undisturbed. - Andrew O'Hagan
To define the future as Englishmen and women is not to deflect from the battle between the individual and the state because national identity is an historic relationship; it is important to both our understanding of ourselves and our understanding of the State.
As for "appeals to nationhood" being "the very stuff that oppressive anti-terrorist legislation feeds upon". Well, perhaps. But we are discussing appeals to nationhood in defence of liberty. What else will defend liberty if not the people acting as one? And what else is it that terrorists and totalitarians target if not national peoples and the States that act in their name? Unless we ask 'D'ou venons nous, que sommes nous, ou allons nous?' then how are we going to understand what we mean by liberty and prevent ourselves from repeating the mistakes of the past?
I would suggest, Ros, that you read my speech with the above in mind.