In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Schoolboy coalition rift over human rights versus “British rights”

Posted by seumasach on May 19, 2010

A cursory glance at the European Human Rights Convention is enough to know why the British elite are unhappy with the Human Rights Act. Instead, they’ve come up with the British Bill of Rights as if the terms “British” and “human” were incompatible . All the debating skills of up and coming fifth former Clegg have been to no avail, foiled by a technique honed on the playing fields of Eton: the ball has been booted into the long grass pending an “independent commission”. Will young Clegg risk continuing to annoy the Tories by insisting on this fundamental plank of his own party’s policy?


19th May, 2010

A battle between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats over whether to introduce a British bill of rights, supplanting the European convention on human rights, is to be passed to an independent commission after a disagreement within the new coalition.

The decision has been taken prior to the publication of a full coalition agreement between the two parties , replacing the seven-page agreement rushed out following weekend talks.

The Conservative party has been divided over whether to support a bill of rights, and whether it would interpret or supplant the European convention.

The attorney general, Dominic Grieve, has strongly opposed British withdrawal from the ECHR, and was one of the few Tories to admit he had been “broadly comfortable” about its incorporation into UK statutelaw. He said in a lecture last November: “There is a complacency among lawyers, academics and campaigners who support the Human Rights Act as to the extent of public resentment of the operation and influence of the legislation itself.” Grieve argued a British bill should use the ECHR “as a starting point” but should be allowed to clarify these rights in greater detail, as well as its relationship to the Strasbourg courts that oversee the ECHR.

The deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, will set the highest possible bar for his plans to reform politics when he claims the government’s programme represents “the biggest shake-up of our democracy since 1832, when the Great Reform Act redrew the boundaries of British democracy, for the first time extending the franchise beyond the landed classes”.

He will promise in his first speech as deputy: “This government is going to transform our politics so the state has far less control over you, and you have far more control over the state. I’m talking about the most significant programme of empowerment by a British government since the great enfranchisement of the 19th century.”

Clegg will claim he is not offering incremental change, but a wholesale, big-bang approach to political reform. He will promise abolition of the ID card scheme, the national identity register and second generation biometric passports.

He risked angering some Tories when he told the Times the coalition will aim to make taxes fairer, rather than reduce the overall tax burden. Clegg was asked if he expected the government will reduce the overall tax burden. He replied: “No, I am saying we’ll rebalance the tax system. We’re not making great claims about the overall tax burden.”

Clegg risked annoying Tories by defending the Human Rights Act, which David Cameron’s manifesto promised to scrap, and warned: “Any government would tamper with it at its peril.”

In his speech Clegg will also promise: “We won’t hold your internet and email records when there is just no reason to do so. CCTV will be properly regulated, as will the DNA database, with restrictions on the storage of innocent people’s DNA.

“And we will end practices that risk making Britain a place where our children grow up so used to their liberty being infringed that they accept it without question.”

The ContactPoint database, designed to hold information on all children under 18, will be scrapped and schools “will not take children’s fingerprints without even asking their parents’ consent”.

Clegg will promise to repeal restrictions on the right to protest, and review libel laws. He will also say he will ask the public to tell the government which of thousands of criminal offences should be repealed, saying taking away people’s freedom has not made people safe.

The advance of the speech makes no mention of the Lib Dem plan that no one currently given a prison sentence of less than six months will in fact go to jail.

Clegg will also promise a mechanism to block pointless new criminal offences, as pledged by the Liberal Democrats.

Clegg’s plans to put liberty and political reform at the centre of government will be tested as he comes up against resistance from more authoritarian Tories in the Home Office, but he is likely to find broad support from the Ministry of Justice, run by Kenneth Clarke, the new Lord Chancellor, and his Lib Dem minister of state, Lord McNally a veteran supporter of constitutional reform.

One test of Clegg’s speech will be whether he sets out a timetable for Lords reform and for a referendum on the changes to the electoral system. He is likely to be asked if he has detailed plans to introduce reform of party political funding through new caps on donations, state aid and limits on spending during the electoral cycle.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: