News 16th April 2015

Open government in the Liberal Democrat Manifesto

by Josephine Suherman-Bailey

Josephine was a Policy Analyst at Involve. She worked on the Open Government Partnership and supported the coordination of the UK Open Government Partnership civil society network.

We’ve been scanning through the party manifestos for policies relevant to open government. This is what we’ve found in the Liberal Democrat Manifesto. Have we missed anything?

Updated on 17/04/15 to include commitments on Freedom of Information and the Digital Bill of Rights – thanks to Maurice Frankel at Campaign for Freedom of Information and Ellen Broad at the Open Data Institute for their comments. We’ve also updated with further commitments on the HRA, proposed Freedoms Act and freedom of the media and internet.

Liberal Democrat Manifesto

Briefing on commitments of interest to open government reformers

Read the Liberal Democrat Manifesto here.

Topline messages Quote from the manifesto Page number
Constitutional Convention
Constitutional Convention – looking at written constitution Constitutional change has taken place rapidly. We now need to make sure all the new arrangements work together coherently and we will therefore establish a UK Constitutional Convention, made up from representatives of the political parties, academia, civic society and members of the public, tasked with producing a full written constitution for the UK, to report within two years. 10
Reform funding of political parties
£10k cap on donations to political parties
Wider funding reform
Take big money out of politics by capping donations to political parties at £10,000 per person each year, and introducing wider reforms to party funding along the lines of the 2011 report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, funded from savings from existing government spending on politics. 131
Trade union rights
Protect right of trade union members to have subscriptions deducted from salary
Let trade union members decide which party they wish to support through automatic payments
Electronic voting in trade union ballots
Protect the rights of trade union members to have their subscriptions, including political levies, deducted from their salary, and strengthen members’ political freedoms by letting them choose which political party they wish to support through such automatic payments. We will encourage wider participation in trade union ballots through electronic voting.
Proportional representation
More PR

STV for local and national elections

Reform our voting systems for elections to local government and Westminster to ensure more proportional representation. We will introduce the Single Transferable Vote for local government elections in England and for electing MPs across the UK. We will reduce the number of MPs but only as part of the introduction of a reformed, fair, voting system. 132
Strengthen and expand lobbying register
Prohibit MPs from accepting paid lobbying work
Strengthen and expand the lobbying register and prohibit MPs from accepting paid lobbying work. We will consider carefully the work of the independent reviewer into the impact of third party spending regulations to ensure the right balance has been struck. We will also remove the discrimination against third parties by requiring political parties to include the cost of staffing in their national expense limits in the same way as third parties now do 132
Scottish devolution
Scottish devolution After the independence referendum, the Smith Commission brought Scotland’s five main parties together to agree what further powers should be assigned to the Scottish Parliament. Liberal Democrats ensured the package of powers reflects Scotland’s key priorities. The Scottish Parliament should raise in tax more than half of what it spends in its budget. A Scottish welfare system should allow the Scottish Parliament to change the benefits regime where there is specific Scottish need or priority, with a starting budget of around £3 billion. These powers and more will deliver for the Scottish people: an empowered and accountable Scottish Parliament in a strong and secure United Kingdom. We will deliver Home Rule for Scotland by implementing the Smith Commission proposals in full in the first session of the next Parliament. We will continue to make the case for powers currently held at Westminster and Holyrood to be transferred directly to local government where appropriate. 133
Welsh Devolution
Welsh Devolution We endorse the recent St. David’s Day announcement and will implement it in full, devolving powers over energy, ports, local elections, broadcasting and more, and implementing a reserved powers model. But this announcement does not go far enough. Liberal Democrats will go further and deliver proper Home Rule for Wales and a Welsh Parliament by: w Implementing the remaining Silk Part 1 proposals on financial powers for Wales. We will consider the work of the Government’s review on devolution of Air Passenger Duty (APD), with a view to devolving long-haul APD. w Implementing the Silk Part 2 proposals by: ❖ Transferring powers from the UK Parliament to the National Assembly over S4C, sewerage, transport, teachers’ pay, youth justice, policing and in the longer term other justice powers. ❖ Devolving funding of Network Rail in relation to the Wales network. ❖ Strengthening the capacity of the National Assembly to scrutinise legislation and hold the Welsh Government to account. w Allowing the Welsh Government to set its own bank holidays. w Providing for a Welsh Parliament, preventing Westminster from being able to override Wales on devolved matters, and devolving the power to amend electoral arrangements for the Assembly and local elections in Wales with a two thirds majority. w Giving the Children’s Commissioner for Wales the power to examine issues that affect children in Wales but are not within the control of the Welsh Government. In addition, to help create jobs and boost growth in Wales, we will abolish the economically distorting tolls on the Severn Bridge once the debts are paid off. 134
Rejuvenate local government in England
Rejuvenate local government in England Devolution of power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has implications for the UK Parliament and its dual role in legislating for England as well as the federal UK. It is possible that a future UK government could use the support of MPs representing Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland to secure the passage of legislation that only affects England, even if the majority in England were opposed. This would be a key issue for our proposed Constitutional Convention to address. Liberal Democrats believe an English-only stage in legislation affecting England should be considered, so English MPs can have a separate say on laws that only affect England. However, this would need to be on a proportional basis, genuinely reflecting the balance of opinion in England, not the distorted picture generated by the First Past the Post system. Beyond Parliament, there is much to change to improve the way communities in England are governed. By returning power to the villages, towns, cities and regions of England we can drive growth, improve public services and give people freedom to run their own lives. To rejuvenate local government in England, we will: w Reduce the powers of Ministers to interfere in democratically elected local government. w Remove the requirement to hold local referenda for Council Tax changes, ensuring Councillors are properly accountable for their decisions by introducing fair votes. w Build on the success of City Deals and Growth Deals to devolve more power and resources to groups of Local Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships, starting with back-to-work support. w Establish a Government process to deliver greater devolution of financial responsibility to English Local Authorities, and any new devolved bodies in England, building on the work of the Independent Commission on Local Government Finance. Any changes must balance the objectives of more local autonomy and fair equalisation between communities. In some areas of England there is an even greater appetite for powers, but not every part of the country wants to move at the same speed and there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. We will therefore introduce Devolution on Demand, enabling even greater devolution of powers from Westminster to Councils or groups of Councils working together – for example to a Cornish Assembly. 135-6
“Everyday democracy”
Support for mutuals, co-ops and employee participation in decision-making To lead a fulfilled life, people need power over more than just their government. Liberal Democrats will spread democracy in everyday life by encouraging mutuals, cooperatives, and employee participation and by increasing the opportunities for people to take democratic control over the services on which they rely. We will encourage citizens to engage in practical social action, seeing government as an enabler and facilitator rather than just a commissioner and provider of services.We will:

  • Aim to increase the number of Neighbourhood, Community and Parish Councils and promote tenant management in social housing.
  • Encourage employers to promote employee participation and employee ownership, aiming to increase further the proportion of GDP in employee-owned businesses. We will change company law to permit a German-style two-tier board structure to include employees.
  • Introduce mandatory arbitration for strikes likely to cause widespread public disruption, enabling us to defend workers’ rights to strike while ensuring continued service in essential public services.
  • Strengthen worker participation in decision-making, including staff representation on remuneration committees, and the right for employees who collectively own 5% of a company to be represented on the board.
  • Give football fans a greater say in how their clubs are run by encouraging the reform of football governance rules to promote engagement between clubs and supporters.
  • Support local libraries and ensure any libraries under threat of closure are offered first for transfer to the local community.
  • Spread mutual structures and employee participation through the public sector.
Freedom of Information
Extend Freedom of Information laws to cover private companies delivering public services.
End the Ministerial veto on release of information under the Freedom of Information Act.
Freedom of the press
Introduce statutory public interest defences for exceptional cases where journalists may need to break the law to expose corruption or other criminal acts.
Protect journalists’ sources by ensuring judicial authorisation is required for the acquisition of communications data
Introduce Leveson recommendations to protect investigative journalists
Prevent ministers from holding roles in the BBC Trust or Ofcom
A British ‘First Amendment’ law
As the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris showed, freedom of expression cannot be taken for granted. In an open society there can be no right ‘not to be offended’, which is why Liberal Democrats in government have strengthened the law to make it harder for prosecutions to be brought for using ‘insulting words’, and have led the way in protecting journalists’ sources under the 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). Yet censorship and self-censorship are still rife, and the threat of prosecution can have a chilling effect on the willingness of people to speak out against injustice and corruption. To change this and promote investigative journalism, we will:

  • Introduce statutory public interest defences for exceptional cases where journalists may need to break the law (such as RIPA, the 2010 Bribery Act, and the 1998 Computer Misuse Act) to expose corruption or other criminal acts.
  • Ensure judicial authorisation is required for the acquisition of communications data which might reveal journalists’ sources or other privileged communications, for any of the purposes allowed under RIPA; and allow journalists the opportunity to address the court before authorisation is granted, where this would not jeopardise the investigation. w Undertake a post-legislative review of the 2013 Defamation Act, which Liberal Democrats drove through Parliament, to ensure the new provisions are reducing the chill of libel threats.
  • Introduce, after consultation on the detail, the changes to the 1998 Data Protection Act recommended by Lord Justice Leveson to provide a fairer balance between personal privacy and the requirements of journalism, ensuring that the position of investigative journalists is safeguarded.

To promote the independence of the media from political influence we will remove Ministers from any role in appointments to the BBC Trust or the Board of Ofcom. To guarantee press freedom, we will pass a British ‘First Amendment’ law, to require the authorities and the courts to have regard to the importance of a free media in a democratic society. To nurture public interest journalism and protect the public from press abuse, we are committed to a system of accountability that is totally independent of both government and the newspaper industry, as set out in the Royal Charter on Press Regulation.
We share the hope of Lord Justice Leveson that the incentives for the press to sign up to genuinely independent self-regulation will succeed. But if, in the judgment of the Press Recognition Panel, after 12 months of operation, there is significant non-cooperation by newspaper publishers, then – as Leveson himself concluded – Parliament will need to act, drawing on a range of options including the legislative steps necessary to ensure that independent selfregulation is delivered. Where possible, we would seek to do this on the same cross-party basis that achieved the construction of the Leveson scheme by the Royal Charter.

Policing, surveillance, security
Liberal Democrats believe security and liberty are two sides of the same coin: you cannot have one without the other. The police and intelligence agencies do vital work to protect the public and we are rightly proud of them. But we always have to be vigilant that the state does not overreach itself, as it has done at times through corruption, heavy-handedness or illiberal laws. We will:

  • Ensure proper oversight of the security services.
  • Establish in legislation that the police and intelligence agencies should not obtain data on UK residents from foreign governments that it would not be legal to obtain in the UK under UK law.
  • Back a full judicial enquiry into complicity in torture if the current investigation by the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee investigation fails to get to truth.
  • End indefinite detention for immigration purposes.
  • Introduce restrictions on the indefinite use of police bail.
  • Require judicial authorisation for the use of undercover police officers to infiltrate alleged criminal groups.
  • Get to the full truth about corrupt practices in parts of the police and the press by ensuring that the Daniel Morgan Panel Inquiry is completed expeditiously and that Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry starts as soon as the criminal prosecutions in the hacking scandal are completed.
  • Identify practical alternatives to the use of closed material procedures within the justice system, including the provisions of the 2013 Justice and Security Act, with the aim of restoring the principle of open justice.
Freedom of the internet
Digital Bill of Rights (more below)
Freedom of the internet and net neutrality
Oppose the introduction of the Snooper’s Charter
Stricter limits on surveillance. Opposition to the blanket collection of UK residents’ personal communications by the police or the intelligence agencies.
In the modern digital age, the power of the state and of corporate interests can threaten our privacy and liberty. We have achieved much in rolling back the over-mighty state – passing the first ever Protection of Freedoms Act to restore lost civil liberties, securing the ongoing root and branch review of RIPA and legislating for the creation of a Privacy and Civil Liberties Board – but we cannot be complacent. There will be a complete overhaul of surveillance powers in 2016. We need to ensure this and other opportunities are seized as a chance to control excessive state power, and ensure that in an era when surveillance is easier than ever before, we maintain the right to privacy and free speech. Privacy should always be the norm for personal data, meaning surveillance must always be justified and proportionate and any demand to read private encrypted communications must be targeted and proportionate. We will:

  • Pass a Digital Bill of Rights, to define and enshrine the digital rights of the citizen.
  • Safeguard the essential freedom of the internet and back net neutrality, the principle that internet service providers should enable access to all lawful content and applications regardless of the source, and without favouring or blocking particular products or websites.
  • Oppose the introduction of the so-called Snooper’s Charter. We blocked the draft Communications Data Bill and would do so again. Requiring companies to store a record of everyone’s internet activities for a year or to collect thirdparty communications data for non-business purposes is disproportionate and unacceptable, as is the blanket surveillance of our paper post.
  • Set stricter limits on surveillance and consider carefully the outcomes of the reviews we initiated on surveillance legislation by the Royal United Services Institute and the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation David Anderson QC. We are opposed to the blanket collection of UK residents’ personal communications by the police or the intelligence agencies. Access to metadata, live content, or the stored content of personal communications must only take place without consent where there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or to prevent threats to life.
Protect the Human Rights Act
Protect the Human Rights Act
Protect trial by jury
Pass a new Freedoms Act (more below)
800 years after Magna Carta, the need for written, legal guarantees of our rights and liberties has not gone away. We will:

  • Protect the Human Rights Act and enshrine the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in UK law. We will take appropriate action to comply with decisions of UK courts and the European Court of Human Rights.
  • Block any further attempts to limit the right to trial by jury.
  • Pass a new Freedoms Act, to protect citizens from excessive state powers.
Introduce a Freedoms Act
Our Freedoms Act will:

  • Tighten the regulation of CCTV, with more powers for the Surveillance Camera Commissioner.
  • Extend the rules governing storage of DNA and fingerprints by public authorities to include all biometric data – like facial images.
  • Protect free speech by ensuring insulting words, jokes, and non-intentional acts, are not treated as criminal, and that social media communications are not treated more harshly than other media.
  • Prevent heavy-handed policing of demonstrations by tightly regulating the use of ‘kettling’. w Reform joint enterprise laws.
  • Ban high-frequency Mosquito devices which discriminate against young people.
  • Strengthen safeguards to prevent pre-emptive arrests and misuse of pre-charge bail conditions to restrict civil liberties and stifle peaceful protest.
  • End the Ministerial veto on release of information under the Freedom of Information Act.
  • Cut back on the petty over-regulation of everyday life, like removing licensing requirements for leafleting for community events, liberalising the restrictions on songs and readings at wedding ceremonies, and permitting swimming in open bodies of water
Digital Bill of Rights
Our Digital Bill of Rights will:

  • Enshrine the principle that everyone has the right to control their own personal data, and that everyone should be able to view, correct, and (where appropriate and proportionate) delete their personal data, wherever it is held.
  • Forbid any public body from collecting, storing or processing personal data without statutory authority, and require any such legislation to be regularly reviewed.
  • Give increased powers and resources for the Information Commissioner and introduce custodial sentences for egregious breaches of the Data Protection Act.
  • Ensure privacy is protected to the same extent in telecoms and online as in the offline world. Public authorities should only invade an individual’s privacy where there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or where it is otherwise necessary and proportionate to do so in the public interest, and with appropriate oversight by the courts.
  • Ensure that privacy policies and terms and conditions of online services, including smartphone apps, must be clear, concise and easy for the user to understand.
  • Uphold the right of individuals, businesses and public bodies to use strong encryption to protect their privacy and security online.
  • Make it clear that online services have a duty to provide age-appropriate policies, guidance and support to the children and young people who use their services.