Labour considers backing human rights legislation: Policy paper seeks to end impression that party puts society or state above individuals. Anthony Bevins reports
Monday 03 May 1993
The policy paper, A New Agenda for Democracy, was founded on the political premise that 'the task of the Labour Party is to use the power of the community, acting together, to advance and liberate the individual . . .
'The perception that has damaged the cause of socialism - often wrongly so far as democratic socialism is concerned - was that it put the interests of society or worse, the state, above those of the individual.'
Arguing for a Bill of Rights, the paper said: 'The UK is alone amongst major Western European nations in not laying down in legislation the basic rights of its citizens, and in not giving those citizens a direct means of asserting those rights through the courts.
'The justification that is often offered is that in the UK the citizen is protected by the rights and freedoms established by the common law. But those rights and freedoms, important as they are, are incomplete, ill-defined and, perhaps most importantly of all, not immediately accessible to, or understood by, the ordinary citizen. And the extent and limits of those rights are controlled by the judges and not by Parliament.'
Incorporation of the European convention was advocated as the quickest and simplest way of getting a substantial package of human rights on to the statute book. But as it had been drafted with Nazi excesses in mind, the convention did not cover issues of contemporary concern like economic or social rights, freedom of information or data protection, and dealt inadequately with discrimination.
The paper proposed that a special all-party commission should be created to draw up a 'homegrown' Bill of Rights, and to advise on 'the immensely difficult issue of entrenchment', or application, when judicial decisions or other legislation conflicted with the Bill of Rights.
The policy draft, which is one of a number to be considered by Labour's new policy forum, which meets for the first time in London on Friday and Saturday, also offered proposals on prerogative powers, parliamentary, local and regional government reform, freedom of information and judicial appointment.
Summing up what it called the most radical package of democratic reform ever proposed by any major party, the document said it would generate serious debate and even conflict between institutions.
'A reformed House of Commons will discomfort the executive; an elected second chamber will want to spread its wings; individuals using the Bill of Rights will expose the government to much greater accountability and influence the future development of the judiciary.
'European decisions will have to be debated in greater detail; and local government will be rejuvenated. Above all, the individual will not only feel greater ownership of the political system and be more demanding of it, they will also be less tolerant of the abuse of power and better equipped to put it right.'
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