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A Liberal Party Policy Statement

 

Individual and Group Rights

Liberals are committed to advancing the rights and opportunities of the individual and to setting freedom first. We believe that individual rights are paramount subject only to the rights of others and of future generations. It is a fundamental Liberal belief that no one should be discriminated against or disadvantaged by their gender, culture, religion, race, age, sexual orientation, or disability.

Civil Liberties

Liberals call for the establishment of a Constitutional Convention, with an extensive brief, to draft a Bill of Rights and a written Constitution. These should incorporate the rights of access to private personal records, freedom of association, lawful demonstration, dissent picketing, privacy, and protection from racial, sexual or any other form of harassment. Liberals also believe that the European Convention on Human Rights should be incorporated into British law. Taken together, these measures would provide a base for building the positive conditions of liberty.

We condemn the continuing erosion of civil liberties, and believe that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) must be immediately amended, at the very least to remove such controversial matters as random stop and search powers for the Police. We would also bring the English law into line with that in Scotland, limiting detention without charge to 6 hours. We would introduce effective legal remedies for groups and individuals who have suffered as a consequence of state inflicted injustice and ensure that victims are adequately compensated.

Euthanasia

Liberals believe that the freedom of an individual ought to extend to the right to die with dignity at a time of one’s own choosing. Accordingly, Liberals seek a comprehensive study of voluntary euthanasia, drawing on experience in the Netherlands where this practice already operates on a limited basis.

Identity Cards

The increasing use of sophisticated technology, whilst bringing undoubted benefits to society, also poses new threats to individual liberty, particularly in relation to Identity Cards. The Liberal Party opposes the introduction of any form of national Identity Card, whether voluntary or compulsory.

Surveillance Cameras

Liberals are concerned at the increased use of surveillance cameras in public places. We are particularly concerned at the serious implications for individuals’ privacy, the risk of the illegitimate use of surveillance cameras, and of commercial exploitation of tapes. We believe that over reliance on such surveillance deals with the results of social breakdown rather than its causes. The Liberal Party calls for the appointment if an independent committee to safeguard the public interest and to regulate the use of cameras both on private and public property.

Privacy

Liberals are perturbed by the apparent lack of respect for individual rights shown by the press and media. However, we are also very concerned at the misuse of existing libel laws by those rich and powerful enough to use the law to protect themselves from legitimate investigation in the public interest. Liberals believe that the libel laws need amending to:

  1. limit the liability to those with editorial control of offending published material - instead of the present situation where the printers and distributors of such material are also quite unfairly liable to be sued. The object of such legal action should not be to receive excessive financial settlements but rather establish facts and get corrections printed - financial compensation should be given a much lower priority;
  2. introduce legal aid in cases of libel to allow ordinary citizens to use and participate in the legal system fairly.

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Justice

Easier access to legal services and simplified court procedures are essential. Furthermore, the Legal Aid system does not correct the present inequalities before the law as only the poorest fifth of the population are now eligible for full civil legal aid. Extensive legal reforms are urgently needed to correct the imbalance between those who can afford to hire teams of expensive lawyers and sustain the losses, and those who cannot. Liberals believe that there is a simple, radical solution to this problem: the creation of a National Justice Service (NJS).

Under the NJS, anyone seeking to bring a legal action would need to show reasonable cause, at which point the NJS would determine what legal services are required and at what cost. Both sides would be constrained by a budget imposed by the NJS and hence prevented from driving up the costs unjustifiably. Liberals believe that equal access, rather than choice, must be the overriding consideration.

Women

Liberals support a wide range of measures which would enable all women to develop their full potential in a society which currently discriminates against them in many ways. Our tax credit scheme would remove any remaining discrimination in the tax system and a “Carer’s Credit” would be introduced for all those at home who care for the young, the old, the disabled or frail. We further believe that all lone parents with one or more children under the age of 16 should have the right to choose to remain at home as a ‘carer’ and that doing so should not incur any penalty under the benefit system. Legislation is needed to ensure equal pay for work of equal value by means of nondiscriminatory job evaluation.

With regard to health, we favour the introduction of “Well Women” clinics to provide primary health care, support and education, as well as immediate aftercare for victims of family assault, rape and incest. Education and the dissemination of information about health needs and diet would be instituted, together with limited assistance for women's support and self-help groups. Liberals support the right of a woman to have an abortion.

Liberals advocate the introduction of new incentives to achieve more flexible attitudes toward job sharing and part-time work, enabling more women to participate in the labour market. “Women only” skill centres should be promoted in areas of predominantly male employment. Action is needed to ensure that nursery provision, both in the community and in the workplace are adequate to enable all women who choose to work to do so, confident in the knowledge that good and safe provision is available for their children.

Women are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment, both physical and mental. Liberals would commission studies on all aspects of intimidation with a view to introducing countermeasures, such as caller ID to counteract the ten million obscene phone calls each year.

However, Liberals recognise that sex discrimination, sexual harassment and domestic violence are not women only issues.

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People with disabilities

Liberals supported the Disabled Persons Act of 1986 and call for sufficient resources to be made available to ensure its full implementation. Other legislation aimed at improving the quality of life of the chronically sick and disabled is also urgently needed. Care in the community needs to be fully supported, as should voluntary organisations and public information campaigns to increase understanding of disability and combat prejudice and stigma.

Liberals recognize that disabled people are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and call for anti-discrimination laws to be extended to cover disability. Liberals favour the development of self-advocacy by disabled people.

Liberals are also concerned that not enough provision is made in public and other buildings to ensure adequate unaided access to facilities for people with disabilities. We therefore call for:

  1. the provision of equal access to all buildings and facilities to which the public has access;
  2. improved health and safety regulations to ensure full protection for disabled people;
  3. all new public and private housing developments exceeding ten dwellings be required to include a percentage of dwellings adapted for use by disabled people.

We further recognise the increasing problems faced by people with disabilities when using public transport, and would therefore extend the above measures to include access to public transport.

However, we recognise that there are some buildings and sites of historic or scientific interests where such measures would be impractical and we envisage that local authorities be given powers to grant exemption to those sites where good reason.

Young people

Young people are the future of our country and yet many are increasingly alienated from our society. Liberals recognize that, from an early age, many children are reliant on the education, welfare, recreation and community services to make up for severe deficiencies at home. This is why we set great store on these services and the concept of community. A feeling of belonging, of wellbeing and security is a human instinct of particular importance to children. The abuse and exploitation of youngsters must be quantified, taboos faced down, and problems tackled well before adulthood, by which time, personalities and attitudes have crystallized.

Young adults should be introduced to responsibility and decision making at sixteen, incorporating economic independence with a choice between work, further education, community service or a combination of all three. Liberals call for the voting age and the common age of consent to be lowered to sixteen.

The Liberal Party believes that reasonable student grants should be re-established and extended to cover all types of training. We also call for the restoration of the rights of 16-17 year olds to claim Housing Benefits and Income Support, pending the introduction of a tax credit system.

Liberals recognise that whilst some young people are committing serious and deeply antisocial offences, an approach which concentrates on incarcerating the most delinquent and damaged adolescents in large soulless institutions is nonsensical and inhumane. We believe that there must be an end to the use of prison custody for all young people under 18 and that the millions of pounds currently spent on such imprisonment be redirected to noncustodial alternatives.

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Senior Citizens

Liberals do not believe in inflexible age limits. We seek a more flexible retirement age and greater use of part-time work and job sharing which is ideal for the passing on of skills before complete retirement.

Those on a retirement pension would benefit under our proposed tax credit scheme. Under such a scheme, all would be entitled to a “pension” credit, a “housing” credit and a “personal” credit, to provide a non-means tested monetary income giving an adequate standard of living and the freedom of choice as to how to spend their money.

Until our tax credit scheme is in place, Liberals would use the existing system to deliver a basic state pension which we have resolved must be set to at least what the Family Budget Unit describes as “Low Cost but Acceptable” (LCA) standard of living, which is, using 2000 data, at least £90 a week for a single pensioner and £135 a week for a couple. We also believe that additional non-means tested benefits will need to be paid to take account of housing costs, disability and additional needs of older pensioners.

Liberals believe that private pensions schemes can enhance but can never replace a basic state pension.

We also believe that individuals should be able to save for additional benefits in a national scheme where the individual pension is related to contributions and investment returns. Because these benefits would be financed directly and genuinely from contributions, those who have saved for their retirement would no longer be penalised because of those savings.

To ensure that these monies are no longer “raided” by government a separate National Pension and Investment Trust should be established. Such a trust would allow the expectation of flexible retirement ages and would cater for the substantial number of employees who regularly change employment or are in self-employed or part-time work.

As a society we should avoid institutionalising the frail elderly if at all possible - care in the community, properly resourced, is our preferred solution. Sheltered housing schemes and the benefits of new communications systems have given retired people a new independence which Liberals support. The home help and meals on wheels services must be maintained and improved.

In order to safeguard people’s financial planning for their retirement, trust law needs to be extended to ensure that pensioners’ entitlements are protected from fraud. Private pension funds should mandatorily include an independent trustee together with adequate training being provided. The powers of the Pensioners Ombudsman should be increased.

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The gypsy and travelling communities

Liberals deplore the present haphazard provision and discrimination suffered by the gypsy and travelling communities. When proper planning for local authority and private sites is made, these communities are able to contribute and, more importantly, their children are assured an education. As things stand some districts provide sites, others do not, and communities are harassed from one makeshift pitch to another, often trespassing in places where there are no sanitary arrangements, causing distress to themselves and their neighbours.

While Gypsies and travellers must realise that it is no longer possible to do as one pleases on a small and densely populated island, we recognize that a nationwide plan for permanent and transit sites is vital. Such a policy would bring travelling people within the ambit of an acceptable legal framework which should ensure attitudes of responsible citizenship from the travellers themselves.

Non heterosexuals

Liberals welcome the many gains to the cultural and social life of society that come from the diverse and varied experience and perceptions of those who are not conventional heterosexual. We are concerned at the continued harassment of, and discrimination against those who do not conform to the conventional heterosexual norm and call for the repeal of ‘Section 28’, amendment of ‘Section 25’, and the examining of other potentially discriminatory legislation with a view to amendment or repeal. Liberals further call for the equalisation of the age of consent for sexual activity to 16.

The Liberal Party welcomes the National Charter of Good Practice for Policing Lesbian and Gay Communities and calls for:

  1. a review of the defence of homosexual panic;
  2. the introduction and monitoring of a new offence of “hate crime”;
  3. all police forces to institute training on issues relating to transgendered people;
  4. the offence of gross indecency to be replaced with a new public sex offence applying to both homosexuals and heterosexuals equally;
  5. the Crown Prosecution Service to initiate training on issues related to homophobia and transgender phobia.

Ethnic cultures and their languages

Britain has always been a diverse and multi-cultural society which owes much to the peoples of many different ethnic origins who choose to live here. Liberals believe in cultural pluralism, whereby all groups can maintain their traditions within the law, thereby achieving a greater understanding between different peoples. Unfortunately, racial discrimination and disadvantage still operate in this country at every level, especially in employment and housing. Racial abuse and attacks are on the increase.

Liberals call for the setting up of a “Human Rights Commission” to oversee the introduction of tougher legislation to combat discrimination and introduce contract compliance and monitoring. Multi-cultural education and mother tongue teaching should be given greater emphasis and police consultative committees should be strengthened.

Steps must be taken to protect and promote the Welsh, Gaelic and Cornish languages and encouragement given to teaching through the medium of these languages at all levels of education.

All government publications should be made available in the languages of all our ethnic minorities. Public information (including street signs) should also be provided in the main languages spoken in local communities.

Freedom of movement

Liberals believe that, subject only to the rights of others, every individual is entitled to the right of freedom of movement wheresoever they wish to go and to the right of abode, wheresoever they wish to live. Our ultimate goal is the creation of a world in which national boundaries and prejudices offer no barriers to those who wish to exercise these rights.

We have opposed every Immigration Act since 1962, and deplore the ways in which these Acts have been used against refugees and those seeking to be with loved ones in this country. We reject as irrational suggestions that the liberalisation of immigration laws would lead to over concentration of peoples in countries such as Britain.

Liberals urge a liberal interpretation of the Vienna Convention on refugees, a right to legal representation and review before deportation and cooperation under the auspices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to ensure the equitable settlement of refugees who flee oppression without having a predetermined destination.

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