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New government focuses on civil liberties

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 25 May 2010

The main themes of the Queen's Speech were outlined right at the top: "Freedom, fairness and responsibility" - and these, presumably, are themes which both sides of the coalition can rally around. Felicity Spector writes.

CCTV camera (Getty images)

And one of the earliest priorities for the new government is scrapping Labour legislation which the Tories and Lib Dems campaigned against when they were in opposition.

At the centre of the entire legislative programme is a new Freedom (great repeals) Bill' - focussing on civil liberties and 'rolling back the state'.

It sets out ambitious plans to curb surveillance, restrict the scope of the DNA database, including time-limits on the amount of time the DNA of non-offenders can be held. It could bring those rules in line with Scotland, where such records can only be retained for three years. There'll also be limits on the ability to hold internet and email records, while the use of CCTV cameras will also be regulated.

The widely-disliked ID cards will also be scrapped, and information that's already been gathered for the National Identity register will be deleted. The move should save the government around £86 million over four years, along with another £800 million in ongoing costs - although there's bad news for anyone who's already purchased one of the cards - they won't get their £30 back.

There's also a section on anti-terror legislation and the desire to balance protecting the public with protecting their civil rights. This is another area where the coalition partners have accused Labour of trampling over personal freedom with overly draconian laws.

More from Channel 4 News on the Queen's speech
- Queen's speech: live blog
- What the 23 bills will do
- Reducing UK debt at heart of Queen's speech
- Who Knows Who: the Queen, the PM, William IV and his mistress
- Queen's speech: nightmares past and present
- Peace protesters network with MPs
- Green MP's alternative Queen's speech

But for the Liberal Democrats - their most cherished political hopes are pinned to the new Parliamentary Reform Bill - which they're hoping will herald a radical overhaul of the political system.

Among the new measures confirmed today - five year fixed-term Parliaments, which will take away the prime minister's right to call an election at a time of his or her choosing. Voters will also be given powers to recall rogue MPs found guilty of serious wrongdoing, by forcing a by-election.

The Conservatives also want to redraw the constituency map - to make them more equal in size and reduce the number of MPs - and there's a rather more controversial proposal stating that 55 per cent of MPs must support a no confidence motion to kick out a government before the end of its fixed term.

The same Bill could also provide a vehicle for a referendum on voting reform for future Parliamentary elections - one of the Lib Dems key demands - although it won't offer full-blown PR unless someone introduces an amendment.

And another potential flashpoint - reform of the House of Lords - has been kicked into the long grass - a committee's been tasked to report back on the issue by the end of the year.

But along with a pledge in the Queen's speech to restore the right to protest, a rather prominent protestor was arrested earlier this morning.

Anti-war campaigner Brian Haws, who's been camped outside the Commons for nine years, was detained by police at around 8am, as they moved in with sniffer dogs to check out his collection of tents.

Mr Haws, along with another protestor, is thought to have been arrested on suspicion of obstructing officers in Parliament Square.

The director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabati said she was disappointed that peaceful dissent was being shut down on a day when democracy was supposed to be celebrated - "The new coalition government has promised to restore the right to non-violent protest." she said. "A sweep of Parliament Square is not the most promising start."

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