An excellent speech today from (Lord) Tom McNally:
What was so sad about the last Labour Government was that it slipped far too easily in to authoritarian behaviour and authoritarian measures.
Labour created thousands of new offences and used a steady stream of criminal justice and anti-terrorism laws to ratchet up the powers of the state and to diminish the rights of the citizen.
This coalition comes into office to reverse that tidal flow of laws and restrictions on individual liberty. Which is why my department, the Ministry of Justice, will now check each new criminal offence. And if we don’t need it, it will be blocked.
We will protect freedoms – and we will restore them. ID cards and the National Identity Register are being scrapped. Freedom of information will be extended and a pro-active transparency programme introduced; the Data Protection Act will be updated to keep pace with the developments in technology since its introduction a decade ago.
Labour extended the state’s grip over our personal information: this government wants to reduce that grip, and make sure the private sector knows its limits too.
We will extend transparency – the right to know – and in so doing we’ll change fundamentally the relationship between government and people.
And as Nick told us yesterday, we will bring in a Freedom Bill. It will identify the liberties which have been taken away – and return them.
We will also reform our libel laws to protect freedom of speech and get the balance right between personal privacy and public interest. I pay tribute to my colleague, Lord Lester, for the groundwork he has done on a Bill I hope will be ready for pre-legislative scrutiny early in the New Year.
We are also looking at the Human Rights Act – not to see how we can diminish it, but so that we have it better understood and appreciated.
And let us be clear: The European Convention on Human Rights, coming up to its 60th anniversary, is not “someone else’s law”. It was never imposed on Britain.
In fact, Britain was the first country to ratify the Convention – and with good reason.
It was a Conservative, David Maxwell Fyfe, who led the committee which drew up the Convention. It was that great Liberal – he’s ours as well as theirs, you know! – Winston Churchill who called after the War for “a Charter of Human Rights, guarded by freedom and sustained by law”.
But our commitment to human rights is far older than the post-war European settlement:
“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.”
Those words come echoing down to us through the ages.
Words from Magna Carta, whose 800th anniversary we will be celebrating in five years time. The Lord Chancellor and I will be at Runnymede in a couple of weeks time to help launch a series of events leading up to 2015.
We will celebrate Magna Carta because it is our first great assertion of the rights of the individual against the power of the state – the first great affirmation of the rule of law as the basis of government…
But I am not only Minister of State for Justice. I am also Deputy Leader of the House of Lords and Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords. This makes not only for a very long business card – it also gives me responsibility for navigating Nick’s constitutional reform agenda through the Upper House.
As someone with a sense of history, I am delighted to serve on a committee chaired by Nick Clegg which is drawing up a draft House of Lords Bill ready for 2011 which will redeem the pledge contained in the Liberal Government’s 1911 Parliament Act.
I know the House of Lords likes time to think about things; but 100 years is long enough.