Brown has set out to jettison Labour's reputation for authoritarianism
with a pledge to "open a new chapter" on civil liberty in Britain.
He acknowledged that criticism of the rise of the ''Big Brother" society
under Tony Blair had to be confronted.
He also wanted to close off a line of attack for political opponents,
who have increasingly focused on the illiberal nature of government
The Prime Minister reinforced his commitment with a series of
announcements – ranging from greater access to Government information to
a relaxation of restrictions on the freedom to protest – to reinforce
Brown also promised a new Bill of Rights to entrench civil liberties and
said Parliament would have a say over whether the country goes to war or
signs international treaties.
He conceded that tackling terrorism had led the Government to stray deep
into territory that its predecessors would never have contemplated.
The greater surveillance of citizens, identity cards, DNA testing and
other intrusions on privacy had been made necessary by the need to keep
the country secure, he said.
But care was needed to ensure that the liberties the terrorists despised
were not set aside in trying to beat them.
Among the measures he announced were:
- New rights of protest. This will mean watering down laws –
introduced just four years ago – that ban any unauthorised protest
within one kilometre of the Palace of Westminster.
- New rights of access to public information by extending the
Freedom of Information Act to companies carrying out public functions,
such as private prisons.
- Entrenched freedoms of the press to carry out investigative
- A review of the rule that allows Cabinet papers to be seen
automatically only after 30 years.
- New rights against invasion of property after it emerged there are
250 laws allowing state agents to enter a home.
- A debate about a British Bill of Rights and Duties and the
possibility of a written constitution.
Brown said he would not compromise the security of the nation and there
would be tougher counter-terrorism laws before Christmas.
Free Speech organisations applaud ‘sea change’
From Index on
Article 19, English PEN and Index on Censorship welcome the Prime
Minister’s commitment, set out in yesterday’s speech on liberty, to
implement many of the proposals in our joint ten-point plan for an open
government, published in June
Gordon Brown’s promise to respect and extend freedom of assembly,
freedom of the press and the public right to know marks a sea change in
government attitudes towards these fundamental rights. We applaud the
decision to drop the deeply unpopular and retrograde fees regulation,
which would have severely limited freedom of information requests, and
the proposal to consider widening the scope of the Freedom of
Information Act. We also commend the decision to review the restriction
to the right to protest outside the Houses of Parliament.
We note that Jack Straw has been commissioned to investigate the idea of
a freedom of expression audit on future legislation, to ensure that the
pursuit of new policy objectives such as combating terrorism and
tackling hate crime does not ‘curb legitimate liberties to speak and be
However, it is not only new legislation which curbs these liberties. The
presence of antiquated offences such as criminal defamation, sedition
and blasphemy makes Britain a laughing stock in the international
community, whilst the Official Secrets Act and Terrorism Acts continue
to curb ‘legitimate liberties to speak and be heard’ on subjects of
We look forward to participating in the consultations now taking place,
and welcome the chance to tackle these and the other restrictions on
freedom of expression which we have already called on Gordon Brown to