Dramatic bill sets out plans to restore civil liberties

Click to follow
Indy Politics

A dramatic bill to roll back the power of the State and abolish unnecessary laws was at the centre of the Government's legislative programme today.

The Freedom (Great Repeal) Bill sets out ambitious plans to restore freedoms and civil liberties lost in recent years.

The coalition administration has DNA retention, identity cards, anti-terror laws, databases and the use of CCTV in its sights.

Many critics accused New Labour of excessive legislation and eroding civil liberties during its 13 years in power.

At its heart are pledges by senior ministers to "reduce the weight of government imposition" on citizens through laws and Whitehall policy.

The Bill has been widely touted by both Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg, who proposed such an Act in 2006.

Its name reflects the make-up of the new Government, including the Liberal Democrats preferred "Freedom Bill" and the Tory's "Great Repeal" message.

The Bill will include:

:: New legislation to restrict the scope of the DNA database, probably reducing the length of time innocent people's details are held to three years as is the case in Scotland.

:: Changes to ensure members of the public can protest peacefully without fear of being branded a criminal.

:: Overhaul draconian and unpopular counter-terrorism laws to strike a fresh balance between protecting the public and civil liberties.

:: New laws to better regulate the use of CCTV, particularly by local authorities and to ensure internet and email records are only stored when necessary.

A standalone Identity Documents Bill will abolish identity cards and destroy all personal information gathered for the National Identity Register.

Ministers said the Government should hold the "minimum of information" about citizens and roll back State intrusion wherever possible.

Identity cards will be scrapped within one month of the Bill receiving Royal Assent and cardholders, who paid £30 each for a card, will not get a refund.

The identity card bonfire is estimated to save £86 million over four years once inevitably sizeable cancellation costs are taken into account.

A further £800 million in ongoing costs are anticipated to be saved over the next decade. The previous Government said these would be recovered through fees.

Identity cards were expected to cost £5 billion and axing them was a key manifesto commitment for both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

The majority have been handed to foreign nationals, but people in the north-west England, young people in London and airport workers were also able to apply.

It remains to be seen how civil servants will disentangle the identity cards scheme from passports as many parts of the new scheme were to be shared.