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STRAW ENCOURAGES SPEAKER'S CORNERS IN TOWNS AND CITIES

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Speakers' corners or soapbox sites could soon spring up in towns across Britain as a result of a new initiative unv...
Speakers' corners or soapbox sites could soon spring up in towns across Britain as a result of a new initiative unveiled by home secretary Jack Straw.

Mr Straw announced plans for the government and local councils to look at how to develop sites where people can 'get on their soapboxes' and speak about the issues which are important to them.

The sites could also be used by local people for open air question and answer sessions with their MPs or councillors to boost people's involvement in political debate.

Mr Straw said:

'Across government we are working to breathe new life into our towns and cities. They are at the heart of our efforts to revive and reinvigorate communities.

'They are also a crucial part of our shared cultural and economic life.

'History shows the vital role they have played in the development of democracy - a 150 years ago towns and cities, and the open meetings which took place there, were at the heart of the hurly burly of political life on everything from corn prices to electoral reform.

'I am keen to revitalise this tradition and encourage local communities to take part and have their say, both by speaking out and by participating in public meetings.

'As I know from my own experience, they are an effective way of keeping politicians on their toes - a grilling from the public can be just as rigorous and challenging as any Jeremy Paxman or John

Humphrys interview.

'But not everywhere currently has suitable areas or arrangements for open meetings, and the working party will be looking to see how we might encourage participation by developing the right facilities.'

The working party will be chaired by Alan Tallentire of the Association of Town Centre Managers (ATCM), and will include representatives from the Home Office, Department of Transport, Environment and the Regions, local government and the police.

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