This is a guest post by former Labour Home Secretary Charles Clark MP
In the areas of security and liberty many would argue (and I agree) that there has been too much legislation. Despite that, our political opponents intend to campaign on a raft of radical measures, such as the creation of a new bill of rights and elected police commissioners. These measures will certainly consume a good deal of time and energy, probably unconstructively.
Labour's proposals for a fourth term must evolve from our ambitions in 1997. These were enormous and they were quickly implemented and legislated – many in the first four years of Labour's rule.
Levels of crime and antisocial behaviour have decreased significantly, as we strengthened the ability of the police to fight crime. We established crime-fighting partnerships between the police and other agencies, increased police numbers and created police community support officers within a neighbourhood policing strategy. We funded better technology, including CCTV and a DNA database. We established new penalties, such as on-the-spot fines and asbos, and formed the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
We enacted the Human Rights Act and subsequently created a supreme court, breaking the link between the legislature and the judiciary. Consequential legislation included the Regulation of Investigatory Practices Act (Ripa), which for the first time regulated surveillance by public authorities.
We passed the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act (now the source of so much difficulty for those, like parliament, who didn't think carefully enough about how to meet its requirements). We also brought in legislation on transparency of party political funding, which has shone a spotlight on very murky areas, at the cost of the reputation of politics.
Most of this legislation was opposed by the Conservatives and supported by the Liberal Democrats. Its overall effect has been to strengthen the judiciary at the expense of the legislature, to weaken the executive, to empower the media and to discredit the political process. Despite these unwelcome consequences, I continue to believe that the changes were right in principle and should not be reversed.
Shaking up the system
All these measures shook up the existing system. In many cases, a new stable settlement still has to be established. We now know how well our measures have worked, or not, and understand the remaining difficulties. The next parliament is the time to make the necessary modifications to create and secure that stability.
Society has evolved since 1997, most significantly in the rapid march of technology and increased globalisation; and of course the 9/11 attack and its implications have dramatically changed our approach to our own security.
So the next parliament needs to consolidate the new constitutional relationships, establish consensus about the powers of the police and security services and address issues relating to identity.
In the constitutional area, the implications of the new supreme court and the way in which the Human Rights Act has worked in practice require an open discussion between the judiciary and the legislature, particularly to clarify where responsibilities for security lie. We need a franker and more direct relationship between courts and ministers. All levels of government need to be far more open about the use of their powers, and the operation of both Ripa and the FOI should be reviewed to create greater clarity and less bureaucracy. Proposals for a new bill of rights have not been thought through and would make a confused situation far worse.
The security dilemmas
Dilemmas over police and security service powers will always remain and are increased by the security threats under which we now live. On the one hand, we all want the police to have the powers they need to apprehend criminals – including terrorists – and, preferably, to prevent such crimes from taking place. On the other hand, there will always be concern that such powers might abuse the innocent. This debate has intensified since 9/11, and it will not go away.
The atrocities of 9/11 and then 7/7 demonstrated both the terrorists' ruthlessness and our vulnerability. The various legislative responses, including the controversial control orders and proposals for 90-day pre-charge detention, were intended to address these threats in a proportionate way under judicial overview. It would have been best (as I promised in 2006) to consolidate counter-terrorism legislation (including that relating to Northern Ireland) in a comprehensive new act. This act would respect international commitments and alter aspects of existing legislation that have caused concern, such as the police's overuse of counter-terrorism powers to stop and search, or to constrain free movement. The partisan and incoherent 42-day proposal in 2007 replaced the necessary all-embracing review, but the need remains.
In most local communities, effective neighbourhood policing has reduced both crime and fear of crime, and there is no reason to reduce the ability of crime reduction partnerships to use techniques such as asbos and the extension of CCTV to cut crime and antisocial behaviour. These partnerships still need to be improved, and must supported by a stronger police focus on the front line.
The police also need to strengthen their capacity to deal with serious and organised crime, such as people-trafficking and drug-dealing. These remain a major threat to the security of many communities, and stimulate gun and knife crime. Effective intelligence, collected within the proper legal safeguards, remains absolutely essential to combat the criminal gangs' practices, as is better international co-operation, particularly across the EU.
The controversy about identity cards has been politically potent. However, the debate has been beset by misleading and even duplicitous arguments.
The truth is that technological change means that massive identity databases already exist. An immense range of data about almost everyone has been collected by a range of public and private organisations. This includes information on banking, pensions and benefits, health, travel and employment records, and of course the records held by the police and security organisations.
The operation of these databases determines some pretty fundamental practical questions about the ways in which we live. There is an understandable public demand to establish more databases to strengthen protection, for example against sex attacks on children. Moreover, the ability to share data remains an important weapon in the fight against crime and other social problems.
The government needs to establish a coherent data regime that places the individual at the centre, with the practical right to see the data held on them and correct it if necessary. They should also be able to see who made any changes to data that is stored (and when the changes were made), and to give permission for the sharing of any data which is held.
We should aim for simplification and transparency, we should have a frank dialogue with the information commissioner and other concerned parties, and we should be prepared to amend the criminal records bureau, identity register and data protection legislation to meet those concerns.
Labour should reject proposals for further radical change in the areas of security and liberty. Our priorities should be to put the constitutional judicial system on a sound footing; to consolidate and revise existing counter-terrorism legislation; to continue reducing crime through more modern policing (including a more rational structure of police forces and more consistent partnership working); and to revise our identity and data protection legislation to put the rights of the individual at the centre.
I believe that our fourth-term priorities should be to meet the challenges we have put in the "too difficult" box in our first three terms. That means creating a fair system of prisons and probation, designed to reduce re-offending; completing democratic constitutional change by strengthening the role of parliament (including electoral reform and fixed-term parliaments); finishing reform of the Lords; creating an accepted and open system of funding party politics; and restoring the balance between national and local government.
It is now time to address this major agenda and create sustainable change. It is a programme for a fourth-term Labour government.
This article originally ran as part of a Labour's future group series