Historic freedoms being trampled, says Campbell

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Historic freedoms are being "trampled underfoot" by the Government as it pushes through authoritarian legislation tightening state control, Sir Menzies Campbell has warned.

The Liberal Democrat leader protested that a series of laws drawn up to combat terrorism had not protected the security of the public but had eroded civil liberties built up over centuries.

He denounced greater stop-and-search powers given to police, restrictions on protests near Parliament, the creation of a DNA database and "unjustifiable, expensive and ill-conceived" proposals for a national identity card.

Sir Menzies highlighted curbs on jury trials and the Civil Contingencies Act, which allows ministers to declare a state of emergency and limit citizens' rights of assembly.

And he protested over suggestions that the Government could amend the Human Rights Act.

"Fundamental and historic liberties are under threat as state control increases," he told an annual festival to commemorate Thomas Paine, the author of The Rights of Man. "How secure can the individual feel then from state control in this environment?"

Sir Menzies said he recognised that the threat posed by international terrorism demanded "a different balance" between liberty and security. But he added: "The rise to the threat to our citizens is much to do with Britain's role in Iraq ... It is clear that the raft of authoritarian legislation that has been passed in the name of security has done nothing to enhance security."

The Liberal Democrat leader called for the ID card plans to be scrapped, for the Government to defend the Human Rights Act and for a public inquiry into the causes of last year's July 7 London bombings.

He also took a swipe at the Government over the extradition treaty under which the "NatWest Three" were sent to trial in the United States, arguing it did not impose equal obligations on the Americans.

"This is a double embarrassment for our country, and it works against our national interest," he said. "My argument is not with the United States. Its government is looking after the interests of its citizens. I only wish the UK Government would do the same for us."