Kennedy condemns Labour's climate of fear

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Indy Politics

Charles Kennedy accused the Government yesterday of "stoking up" a climate of fear so it could bring in a raft of "extremely repressive" laws which would curb individual freedom.

Launching the Liberal Democrat programme for the next parliament, Mr Kennedy launched a stinging attack on David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, accusing him of deliberately creating anxiety about crime and terrorism and playing to the hardline agenda of the right-wing press.

Mr Kennedy said civil liberties were now under threat in Britain and said the Liberal Democrats would use the final session of parliament before the general election to stop the erosion of hard-won freedoms.

Next week's Queen's Speech is expected to contain a series of Bills with a "safety and security" theme which could further erode civil liberties. Mr Kennedy said: "It is always tempting for governments to use extreme circumstances ­ such as the spectre of international terrorism post-11 September ­ to push through authoritarian measures which restrict our personal freedom.

"And indeed David Blunkett has perhaps been more tempted than most. By using the populist rhetoric of the right-wing tabloids, he has encouraged a climate of fear, which provides an alarming backdrop as he has attempted to force through some extremely repressive measures."

The Liberal Democrat leader, publishing his party's "alternative Queen's Speech", said that it would stand up for individual rights.

"In the months ahead ­ where such measures threaten hard-won civil liberties which have served generations of Britons very well ­ I am determined that the Liberal Democrats will continue to be the effective opposition in defending our rights.

"In the dying days of this parliament, we will hold this administration to account for its illiberalism."

The civil contingencies Bill is in its final stages in Parliament. Campaigners and opposition MPs say that the Bill, allowing the Government to assume emergency powers, contains "draconian" measures that would seriously curb individual liberties.

Mr Kennedy said the Government would try to caricature the Liberal Democrats as "soft on crime", but he said this "could not be more wrong". The policy of "tough liberalism" would lead to a crackdown on criminal behaviour and would provide answers to "the very real problems presented by antisocial behaviour and the general level of crime".

He cited his party's series of by-election successes and added: "In this parliament, the Liberal Democrats have provided the main opposition over the Iraq war and we have also opposed measures such as the introduction of student top-up fees.

"The Government is running scared of the Liberal Democrats and is in danger of following its Conservative predecessors in stoking up a climate of fear and eroding civil liberties unnecessarily."

Tony Blair's alliance with the right-wing Republican administration in Washington would be scrutinised by the Liberal Democrats, as well as his conduct over Iraq, Mr Kennedy said. "We will continue to hold the Government to account over the role of British soldiers in Iraq and its relationship with George Bush."

Mr Kennedy said the Government's priorities for the parliamentary session would be to scrap student top-up fees and the council tax and uprate pensions in line with average earnings. The Liberal Democrats would ensure that personal care for the elderly would be free and environmental measures would provide more incentives to be environmentally friendly.

But Labour and the Tories attacked the Liberal Democrat plans and questioned how they would be paid for.

LIBERAL DEMOCRAT PLEDGES

* Scrap student tuition fees

* Scrap council tax

* Introduce free personal care for the elderly

* Uprate pensions in line with average earnings and provide £25 a week for all pensioners over 75

* Introduce a series of green measures, including the reform of "airport passenger duty" into a new aircraft departure duty

* Give incentives for more environmentally friendly road vehicles

* Turning the current landfill tax into a broader waste disposal tax

* Redirecting government subsidies that support environmentally damaging activities, for example rewarding farmers for environmentally sustainable work

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