The UK full coalition agreement between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrat parties has just been published. It includes a section on civil liberties which is much more than we could have hoped for and which makes no mention of rolling back the Human Rights Act or the more ludicrous fringe Conservative demands… In full it is as follows:
“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 the ID card scheme, the national identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point database;
• Outlawing the fingerprinting 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.”
All of these points are excellent. They lack detail of course, and the devil is always in the detail, and I would have liked to have seen a little more on what would be included in the ‘great repeal’ given that later it only talks about ‘safeguards’ against the abuse of anti-terrorism laws, but really this is as good as anyone could have hoped for, even, though they may not admit it, many of the more socially-liberal Labour Party supporters. The reform of libel laws and commitment to transparency is equally as welcome as the rolling back or regulation of surveillance, and this seems to extend into other parts of the agreement for the reform of government and elections. I hope the eventual full programme will also include some rationalisation of the crazy landscape of multiple ‘commissions’ to regulate different aspects of state-citizen information relations, in favour of an expanded and more powerful Information Commissioner’s Office, but we will see. However, this is a great start (and I never, ever, thought I would be saying that about a Conservative government…).