Freedom 'must not be sacrificed' in terrorism fight

The Lib Dems have slammed the government for "frenzied law-making"
The Lib Dems have slammed the government for "frenzied law-making"

The Liberal Democrats have today set out how they would protect Britain's security - but without the "illiberal legislation" introduced by Labour.

The party has been criticised for failing to be tough on crime and, with its emphasis on civil liberties, for caring more for the rights of offenders than for the victims.

But today home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg argued the Lib Dems could safeguard freedoms and protect security at the same time, saying the two were interdependent.

"We will fight terrorism because our lives depend on it. But we will also fight for freedom because the character of our nation depends on it," he told delegates at the Lib Dem party conference in Brighton.


"[Home secretary John] Reid has asked us to trade a piece of our liberty for security. I wish it were that simple, but it isn't.

"The liberty he has asked us to sacrifice isn't mine, it isn't that of politicians, officials or the police. It's the liberty of the weak, sacrificed for the security of the strong.

"And it counts against us, because it fuels resentment and alienation among the very people who we need be on our side."

Mr Clegg, who is tipped as a future Lib Dem leader, condemned the 3,000 new offences introduced under Labour and attacked the government's "frenzied law-making" on criminal justice, many of which the Lib Dems have opposed.

"Curtailing the right to jury trial. Identity cards. Fingerprinting children in schools. Child curfew zones. The biggest DNA database in the world. This is not the Britain we want," he said.

The MP for Sheffield Hallam acknowledged Britain was facing "dangerous and challenging times" and that with a "new, deadly terrorist threat we all face, people are understandably fearful".

But he insisted: "Fear cannot be quelled by a torrent of panic legislation, by knee-jerk announcements from one home secretary after another invariably designed to capture headlines, not safeguard our security.

"Yet that is exactly what this government has done. Under New Labour the Home Office has been condemned to the worst of all worlds - the object of relentless legislative hyperactivity, married to dismal administrative incompetence."

The Conservatives were doing little to challenging the government, Mr Clegg said: "Flip-flopping on ID cards, muted comment on extradition and rendition, exploiting immigration.Sorry Dave, we can see right through you."

As a result, it was up to the Lib Dems to take action, he said, and announced the launch of a new consultation to see which laws Britons want repealed. The 'great repeal act' would in one single go roll back a decade of "illiberal" laws.

However, Mr Clegg insisted this did not mean the Lib Dems would be weak on tackling crime and terrorism - they would support ministers' efforts to tackle terrorism "wherever we can" and vote for more resources for the security services.

"Our pledge to the British people is that we would do less to do it better - less of the heavy handed regulation that is the legacy of this government, better government to secure a free, fair and open society," he said.

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