Progress on Civil Liberties – something all liberals can agree on.

Apologies. I haven’t posted in a few days – I like most of you who are reading this was glued to the TV listening to the cabinet and ministerial appointments and just generally trying to get my head, and heart, around our ‘new way of doing politics’. I still don’t have answers on that front, but having read and re-read the pithily titled ‘Conservative – Liberal Democrat Coalition Negotiation Agreement‘ there are some areas where I can whole-heartedly agree, not least that of Civil Liberties.

As a former member of the Labour Party one of my biggest disappointments was the gradual but continual attack on our civil liberties. Over 13years the last government chipped away at our freedoms – curtailing the right to protest, holding DNA profiles of innocent people (including children), the introduction of ID cards, even the finger-printing of children at school. It is a depressing fact that we are now the most watched country on earth – with more CCTV cameras per head than any other nation. Liberals, by definition, have to abhor this state of affairs – and now, with liberals in government, there is an opportunity to do something about it.

It seems likely that later this month the Queen’s Speech will announce the Con-Lib coalitions intention to put forward a ‘Great Repeal’ or ‘Freedom’ act to parliament. Not all details of this act have yet been finalised, but it seems likely that it will include the following.

  • Scrapping the ID card scheme – along with the National Identity register and the next generation of biometric passports.
  • Scrapping the Contact Point Database – a register of all 11million children in the UK
  • Outlawing the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission
  • Extending the remit of the Freedom of Information act to improve transparency of all public bodies
  • Ensuring that only those found guilty, or charged with a serious sexual/violent offence are placed on the DNA database
  • Ensuring that trial by jury remains at the heart of our justice system
  • The restoration of rights to non-violent protest.
  • Safeguarding freedom of speech through a review of libel laws
  • Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.
  • Further regulation of CCTV.
  • Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason.

Not bad for a first bill and, in a stroke undoing much of the negative legislation brought in by successive home secretaries over the last decade. True, there is more to do – I would like to see a commitment to cutting the number of days suspects can be held pre-charge as a start. It is however an example of what a Liberal-Democrat government can do in office – and an answer to all of those who argue they have not ended up with what they voted for.

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