“1984 was a warning, not a blueprint” – the Liberal Democrat Freedom Bill

You heard this first in the People’s Republic.* Ready?

  • Scrap ID cards for everyone, including foreign nationals.
  • Ensure that there are no restrictions in the right to trial by jury for serious offences including fraud.
  • Restore the right to protest in Parliament Square, at the heart of our democracy.
  • Abolish the flawed control orders regime.
  • Renegotiate the unfair extradition treaty with the United States.
  • Restore the right to public assembly for more than two people.
  • Scrap the ContactPoint database of all children in Britain.
  • Strengthen freedom of information by giving greater powers to the Information Commissioner and reducing exemptions.
  • Stop criminalising trespass.
  • Restore the public interest defence for whistleblowers.
  • Prevent allegations of ‘bad character’ from being used in court.
  • Restore the right to silence when accused in court.
  • Prevent bailiffs from using force.
  • Restrict the use of surveillance powers to the investigation of serious crimes and stop councils snooping.
  • Restore the principle of double jeopardy in UK law.
  • Remove innocent people from the DNA database.
  • Reduce the maximum period of pre-charge detention to 14 days.
  • Scrap the ministerial veto which allowed the Government to block the release of Cabinet minutes relating to the Iraq war.
  • Require explicit parental consent for biometric information to be taken from children.
  • Regulate CCTV following a Royal Commission on cameras.

Henry Porter’s dream shopping list? Labour’s nightmare scenario? Yes, both of those, but more than that, the above list is the substance of the first draft of the Liberal Democrats’ Freedom Bill.

Oh boy. Am I happy they’ve done this – though not before time. The idea of the one bill to rule them all was originally an initiative of Clegg’s when he was Shadow Home Sec’y (back before civil liberties was fashionable), and it’s been out in the cold for too long.

And it doesn’t end there either. The site proclaims:

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of all the freedoms that have been lost in recent years. Sadly, there are too many. It is intended to be a starting point – to show people how much personal liberty has been stripped away by this Government and the one before it. The Freedom Bill and the corresponding website is a consultative document. We want to hear from you. What have we missed? What have we got wrong? What do you disagree with? Where should we have gone further? Which do you think are the most important rights to restore? What else would you like to see on the website?

For the sake of liberty, go to the site, sign the petition, comment on the draft and sign up to the RSS to show your (whole-hearted and enthusiastic support/qualified approval with the rider that the Lib Dems are still a bunch of wets and you don’t much like the cut of their jib except for Vince Cable, he’s a LEGEERRRND he is/some psychologically unsatisfactory combination of the two that you can’t quite come to terms with) – delete as applicable.

* Unless you read it first at Lib Dem Voice.**

** Or unless you read it first at Comment is Free.

12 Comments

  1. This is both great and saddening. Great, because it states clearly exactly what needs to be done, and saddening because it *shouldn’t* need to be done, and up until about 15 years ago *none* of these things would have even been considered in the first place…

  2. 14 days? OUTRAGEOUS! A week would be pushing it for me. And they need to add all sorts about internetty freedoms being guaranteed too.

    But most of that is dead on.

  3. I agree it is impressive. Of course, there is absolute no chance that of it being supported by the government, so it won’t in fact achieve anything, and will instead be denounced as futile gesture politics.

    If they wanted to genuinely try and achieve changes, they could have gone for something less confrontational and more likely to get a consensus of support in the form of a bill, and put this stuff as a manifestio commitment.

  4. Its value is mainly in the way which it will keep highlighting the issues of civil liberties and repressive legislation, along with the growing trend towards this now in the MSM.

    It will force New Labour and New Tory soundbiters to actually explain why we all need to be thrown into metaphorical or literal Titan Prisons to protect us in (or from) The War on Terrr.

    It may also make people wonder why they think that there are only two parties for which to vote, especially when the polls suggest that New Labour could easily slip into third place over the coming months.

    It is actually also nice to have proposed legislation made available for discussion and development, rather than given no thought, squeezed through the back door by Statutory Instrument and never scrutinised by our wonderful Parliament.

  5. I agree its value is largely symbolic, and I think that is important. I just think that, if they wanted to present an actual Bill which might in fact achieve a genuine change, then they could have gone for something less drastic.

    You might be surprised by the amount of work, and thought, involved in producing even a very basic negative SI.

  6. Also, can we descope the anti-terror laws somewhat, so that they apply to terrorist activity, rather than photography, cycling, trainspotting, protesting, etc. Thanks.

  7. Hypocrites. For the LibDems to be coming out all fuzzy over civil liberties now is just a joke. After Chris Bloody Huhne was so liberal as to agree with Geert wotsisname being barred from entering the country.

    Please change the party name asap, you are neither liberal or democtats.

  8. D, I think what you suggest might prefigure what’s actually going to happen. This is a “Lib Dems ideal world” bill, and that makes it a negotiating position because no-one’s ideal prevails completely. If the aim is to force it into parliament “around the time of the next election” then that suggests a bargaining process. Stuff could, I guess, get taken out or moderated as well as added before we arrive at something acceptable to all. We need to watch out for too much watering down.

    But for the moment I am enjoying the idea of the whole thing, plus a few more of the suggestions I have seen on the website and on CiF😀 The symbolic value is vital not just for making us do a jig of joy, but for creating enough of a stir to get the consultation process kick-started (I say a stir – a stir among Guardian and Indy readers anyway). Normally the Lib Dems get told off for being too cautious.

  9. So where in that list is there freedom for the trade unions to organise or any acknolwedgement of a need to repeal Thatcher’s Orwellian anti union laws..?

  10. Alix.

    While supporting our “Freedom Bill” I note that it does not include Freedom of Speech.

    Possibly this is because the others on the list are obvious and non-controversial while FoS has grey areas.

    I note your excellent coverage of the week- end conference and indeed you must have typed your poor fingers to the bone.
    You wrote with surprise that Chris Huhne did not mention Wilders and hoped he would be asked about this at conference.

    Over at LDV comments I found myself in a minority of one for suggesting that Chris had the right of freedom of speech when asked by the Beeb for his view on Wilders.

    The respondents, and editors, mainly felt that while they must defend Wilders right to come express his views, Chris Huhne did not have the same right. The old saying about “I do not agree with his views but by god I will defend his right to state them” did not apparently apply to Chris Huhne.

    The reason given for CH not having Freedom of Speech was said to be because he is the PARTY SPOKESMAN and therefore can only speak party policy! So I suppose when invited by the Beeb he was expected: 1.to decline to comment; 2.Say that he would consult with the party at the next conference and then come back to them.

    As I remember the interview CH put his views in first person singular; he did not say “The Liberal Democrats…..”

    My personal view of FoS is that the good taste and manners that we exercise on a personal level should dictate how we behave in society. Just as we would not go to a party and chat up fellow guests with views that might hurt or offend them, so the Wilders and Quatadas should not do this to society as a whole.
    On this standard I find I cannot agree with the right to villify people crudely and obviously. This does not mean that you may not insult people; but it has to be done by satire or by such elegance of language that the recipient(s) are left wondering if offence has been given.

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