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The repeal bill: what's left in, what's left out

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Big Brother Watch are happy with this – but should they be?

Big Brother Watch broadly welcomes the Bill. The detail and flavour of this proposal so closely follows topics covered in its recent book, Big Brother Watch: The State of Civil Liberties in Modern Britain that we would not be surprised to find the fingerprints of BBW and its supporters all over the drafting process. (Contributors to the book include Tory MPs Dominic Raab, David Davis, Damien Green [now a Home Office Minister] and Jesse Norman – as well as many other names, such as Alex Deane, Guy Herbert and Daniel Hamilton who are very much the usual suspects where issues of civil liberty are involved.)

But the group is concerned that the Bill doesn’t go far enough, merely transforms police powers to stop and search, and is silent in respect of what happens to DNA already taken.

Look more closely at what BBW is concerned with: the encroachment of EU powers, both in terms of regulation and into our legal system; the pernicious effect of diversity and equalities legislation on free speech; the growing role of administrative law - that is, powers of state officials to punish or interfere without recourse to the courts. Not all of this can possibly go into one Bill: some will reappear elsewhere, in specific legislation. Still, this only goes some way to satisfying the full-on traditional conservative lobby.

Included in the Bill are a variety of topics well-rehearsed and that we already knew were anathema to a certain sort of right-leaning tory and civil liberties supporter. But it certainly won’t go far enough for the more radical right – omitting discussion of key topics such as the state’s role in enforcing speech codes, the entrenchment of human rights, and European interference... And it certainly won’t go far enough for the general public who, on the evidence of the consultation, want the government to be generally more liberal on sex and drugs and rock and roll (aka music licensing in pubs).

You spoke, we listened repeated a list of what we're doing already

We have not analysed all the responses, but we did a quick analysis of the first couple of hundred and found in the top 10 just two measures the government is implementing (scrapping of s44 and control orders).

Otherwise, leading the pack by a mile is repeal of the Digital Economy Bill, with drugs, sex and death all featuring highly. Plenty of support for legalising cannabis and relaxing drug laws generally: a lot of support for repealing the smoking ban and bringing back the death sentence; and a number of separate petitions around sexual issues. Decriminalising of prostitution was one: repealing the extreme porn law also scored highly – coming in at number 7 (or possibly even 6) on the "restoring liberty" category.

Alexandra Dymock of sexual civil liberties organisation Backlash told us this morning: "This law is a waste of valuable legal aid and police resources. It should be repealed. We will continue to lobby for repeal during the passage of this Bill."

Undoubtedly pro-drug and pro-hunting groups, whose causes also scored highly, would express similar sentiments.

The Bill sounds radical, but that’s only the wrapper: open it up, and the contents are likely to disappoint, with most of the main issues that the public were interested in not touched; and those that were, touched only in ways that give the appearance of change, but far less real substance. Many of the substantive parts of the Bill are already in play... and where there is change, it doesn't go far enough ... ®

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