Federal Conference this autumn takes place in Brighton, and as you would expect FCC and conference office staff are in discussion with Sussex police about security arrangements for conference.
1. Security at conference
Most security arrangements will be those we always have at conference and are not controversial among conference-goers (as shown by reps’ feedback). The Brighton venue is of course very used to these levels of security, both for our conferences and those of other parties.
The police and security services have however also requested that we use ‘accreditation’ for conference reps. There are widely different views within the party on this and FCC is therefore seeking views from members. This paper sets out the proposal, why the police are requesting it, some further information, and finally some of the arguments for and against. FCC would be grateful for any views on this by 21st April, and will review these at a meeting in late April prior to registration opening in early May.
Under all circumstances, however, FCC is extremely clear that this is our party’s conference, it is up to us to decide who attends, and how any personal data is managed (subject to the Data Protection Act) .
2. Why the police are proposing accreditation
Two senior officers of Sussex police attended an FCC meeting in late March and outlined the reasons they are asking the party to use accreditation. It is their clear view that party conferences, including ours while we are in government, attract people who wish to cause serious harm and violence to conference-goers (and also to those working in the venue and other residents of Brighton, whom they also have a duty to protect). This includes large international terrorist organisations, but also individuals who are able to make bombs or other equipment. They gave some examples of lone individuals who have caused serious violence, or attempted to, ranging from the 1984 Brighton bombing to the Norwegian gunman at a youth political event.
Because of the particular attraction that major public events which are heavily covered by the media have to people who want to cause serious violence, they believe that in order to protect the security of everyone at conference, attendees should go through accreditation.
The police are extremely clear, as are FCC, that preventing any other difficulties or embarrassment for the party are not part of their remit. They are focused only on specific information which might indicate that someone may pose a serious security threat to other conference-goers.
Anyone can join the party for as little as £12 and can then attend conference as a party member.
3. The proposal
Implementing accreditation would mean that, alongside the normal registration process for conference, members would submit some further personal information, including past addresses and passport number. This information is used to check whether the police or security services have any information to suggest that the registrant might pose a serious security threat to conference. Any other information about the individual, including any unrelated criminal convictions, will not be considered.
The party and the police have agreed some further safeguards which would apply if we do use accreditation.
Anyone registering can insist that any security information they provide be deleted after the conference. Some people did this for autumn conference last year and their information was deleted.
Even if someone does not ask for their information be deleted, it is held on a free-standing system which is used solely for purposes for accreditation for party conferences (ours and other major parties’). No other police or security system is able to access it for any other purpose.
FCC is in discussions with the police so that if someone wishes their accreditation to be done by someone from the local Sussex police, rather than the National Accreditation Team (formed by Greater Manchester Police), they should be able to do this.
5. Decision process
The vast majority of people registering for conference, of course, would go through the process without any issue.
Last year the communications were not as good as they could have been and FCC is committed to ensuring that all those attending conference receive timely information about their registration.
If the checking process does recommend that someone not be accredited, FCC is proposing (and Sussex police are also happy with), that the case be referred to the party president, the chair of FCC and the party’s chief executive. They will review the reasons for suggested declining accreditation, and the information on which it is based (where privacy laws permit), and take a decision on whether to accredit the individual. They are clearly strongly committed to the principle of party members being able to attend conference, and will only consider not accrediting a member of the party if they believe there is very strong evidence that that individual may pose a serious security threat to the conference. The final decision on accreditation rests with the party, not with the police (and the police accept this).
6. People who have changed identity
Last year there was considerable concern about people who have changed identity, and whether they would be required to provide information about their former identity.
West Sussex police have been clear that where this applies, individuals can apply under their current identity, and do not need to disclose their previous identity. They are familiar with dealing with this issue, and have ongoing dialogue with relevant communities locally about handling this issue.
FCC is also very happy to follow up any further specific concerns relating to this issue. It is clear that the police understand this issue well and are committed to dealing with it sensitively. We will engage with LGBT+ and other relevant party bodies and individuals.
7. Case for using accreditation
- We have a duty to all those who attend our party conferences – staff and visitors as well as party members – to ensure their security. The high-profile nature of party conferences mean that they can attract people who wish to cause serious violence and harm to large numbers of people. Accreditation may be a proportionate means of excluding anyone for whom there is strong evidence to believe that they are likely to pose a serious security threat to conference-goers.
- If the police recommend the use of accreditation and the party decides not to do so, the party itself is potentially in an extremely exposed position. Having to take liability for those attending and risk invalidating our insurance.
8. Case against using accreditation
- Party members should be free to attend their own party’s conference without any checks.
- Concerns about personal data mean the party should not require members to submit such data to the police.
9. Party views
FCC is well aware that this is a very sensitive issue within the party, with strong views on both sides. It has taken into account the motion passed in Birmingham. It takes its role taking a decision on this on behalf of the party extremely seriously and would therefore welcome views on the proposal, by 21st April. It will consider this at its meeting on 23rd April and take a decision.
Views should be sent to [email protected]
Andrew Wiseman is Chair of the Liberal Democrats’ Federal Conference Committee.
* Andrew Wiseman is Chair of the Liberal Democrats' Federal Conference Committee.