Here is the full text of Gordon Brown's speech on liberty and planned constitutional changes, on 25 October 2007:
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
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.
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
* respecting freedoms for our press, the removal of barriers to
* 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
* 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
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
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
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
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 AC 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
First, it is the British way to stand up for freedom of assembly, speech
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.
Home Secretary is publishing a consultation document on this issue
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
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 (Fol) 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
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
However the Government does not believe that more restrictive
rules on cost limits of Fol requests are the way forward.
And so Jack
Straw has decided, and has announced today, that we will not tighten
Fol 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.
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
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
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
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 Fol 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,
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
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.
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.
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 DMA 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
We must remember that liberty belongs to the people and not
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.