Wednesday, 12 May 2010

A new birth of freedom

Liberal Conspiracy has a leaked document that sets out the terms of the Lib Dem/Conservative coalition agreement. And it's mainly great. I'm sitting here with a great big soppy grin on my face. The short paragraph on immigration promises "We will end the detention of children for immigration purposes," thus removing one of the most disgraceful stains on Britain's international reputation. And the section on civil liberties is as wide-ranging as most of us could have wished for. It's worth savouring in full. We knew that ID cards were doomed as soon as Labour gave up the struggle, of course and the relevant government webpage has already been updated to reflect the new political reality. But beyond that there were many questions. This document answers most of them. I've highlighted the parts that I find particularly welcome.

10. Civil liberties

The parties agree to implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government and roll back state intrusion.

This will include:

* A Freedom or Great Repeal Bill.
* The scrapping of ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database.
* Outlawing the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission.
* The extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.
* Adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.
* The protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.
* The restoration of rights to non-violent protest.
* The review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech.
* Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.
* Further regulation of CCTV.
* Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason.
* A new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.

Anything they missed? There doesn't seem to be anything about the Digital Economy Bill, and the last provision, while welcome, only refers to new unnecessary offences - what about all those that have been introduced in the past decade and a half? And after everything that's happened merely promising a "review" of the libel laws strikes me as far too weak. Still, it's a tremendous start. Taken together, the various provisions read almost like a modern-day Magna Carta. Let's hope they get on with it.