Response: Chair of Federal Conference Committee on increased security measures

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We have just announced arrangements for registering for our autumn conference, including some new security arrangements which will apply for the first time this year. Some concerns have been raised about them so I wanted to set out what exactly the new arrangements are, and why the Federal Conference Committee has decided that it is necessary this year to increase security – something that we have been very reluctant to do.

Firstly I want to restate the basic point that we as Liberal Democrats are in control of our own conference – not the police, or the Conservative party, not even Lib Dem ministers, or anyone else. You may recall that last year there were widespread rumours that our conference would somehow become confused with the Conservatives, with David Cameron speaking at our conference, or that the conference could become muzzled in commenting on what the government is doing. I think it is plain as could be that this has not happened: David Cameron has not spoken at any of our conferences (and for the record as far as I am aware no-one other than mischievous journalists has ever suggested that he should) – and our spring conference this year in particular made abundantly clear that far from being muzzled, it is more than ever a strong platform for the party speaking out on government proposals, for example the potential reforms to the health service.

The same applies to security. Of course we need to talk to the police and others but it is very clear that all decisions about security remain with FCC.

As part of our responsibility in organising conference, we do need to look seriously at the security threats, including those which are new as a result of us going into government. I believe we have a clear responsibility to everyone who attends conference to ensure they are safe. The hard fact is that our conference as a whole, and some of our members who attend conference who are ministers, are now more a focus for people who very seriously do not wish our democratic procedures to continue. To be blunt, if us taking the wrong decisions on security leads to loss of life or limb, then we have not discharged our responsibility to anyone.

People may of course believe we have made the wrong judgements, but I have been alarmed to see some comments which seem to suggest that we should not have to take security considerations into account at all. We as a committee are clear that it would be seriously irresponsible with people’s lives, as well as, for those who are more concerned about these things, the party’s financial liability. In fact if we do not take these matters seriously then we will find that venues will not accept our bookings. Our insurers want to know that we act on police advice and if we do not we run the risk of invalidating our insurance. Without the necessary insurance no conference venue will accept our booking.

If some interpret this as the party accepting any suggested ‘requirement’ for new security that is made, then that is very far from has actually happened. Over the last year or so representatives of the party, including myself, have spent many hundreds of hours discussing security arrangements with the police and Home Office, and in particular what measures Liberal Democrats regard as acceptable and what they do not. Any suggestion that we as a party have simply rolled over to accept whatever the police demand is very wide of the mark indeed.

So taking all this into account, the Federal Conference Committee – which is of course made up of very longstanding party members and conference goers – has discussed repeatedly and at considerable length what arrangements we think do need to be put in place for our autumn conference.

The major change which does need to be made is the introduction of ‘accreditation’. The aim of this process is to identify any individuals who might pose a very serious security threat to our conference. As a committee we have taken the view that, taking into account the advice of the police and the Home Office, as a party to secure our conference for our members and observers, we do need to do this.

The accreditation process is the same one which has been in place at Labour and Conservative conferences for many years. It requires attendees to provide their address, and either their passport number, their driving licence number or their National Insurance number. This is aimed at ensuring that those who register to attend conference are who they say they are.

There has been some suggestion that this means the police will decide who can come to conference. This is absolutely not the case as the final decision will rest with the party.

The police will carry out the accreditation process, as they do for other parties, but if this process does flag up any issues then these will come straight to myself as FCC Chair and the Chief Executive. It is explicit that we have the power to overrule the police – as I said, it is our conference. Can I guarantee now, in advance that whatever information is given us, we would never agree that a particular individual would pose such a severe personal security threat that for the safety of all our conference goers they should be excluded? Of course not – and I can just about conceive of circumstances in which there was very strong evidence relating to an individual that we might feel we had to take that view. But I think it unlikely this will happen, and you know how seriously we will approach any such decision.

The accreditation process is not aimed at preventing those who have been on a picket, have protested against nuclear power or those that have proactively campaigned for the decriminalisation of certain substances (!) from attending conference. It is aimed at preventing those who are intent on causing serious harm.

The data is securely handled in accordance with the Data Protection Act and only used for the purposes of accreditation at party political conferences. An up to date photo is being required because the quality of the photos previously used by the conference office was so poor it was almost impossible to recognise anyone from their badge!

In organising our conference we have a very wide range of responsibilities – first of all to ensure that the party can be fully represented, and to make policy and challenge our leaders. But we do also have to ensure the safety of all our attendees. FCC, from a very sceptical position, has become convinced that the measures I have outlined above are proportionate to the real threats which do now apply to us.

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153 Comments

  • Andrew Tibbs 3rd Jun '11 - 1:01pm

    I really am confused. Why do I need to provide my passport number, etc to prove who I am? You have my membership number and you’ll no doubt be providing rigorous searches on entry to the venue to prevent anyone bringing in illegal items. So why do you or the police need further details.

    I just don’t get how provision of the aforementioned details, including the photograph which has to be of the same standards as those required for a passport or driving licence, will protect us. Are we snow saying that we will not allow entry to anyone thought by the police to be a troublemaker? Or are we planning on checking to see who has a criminal record and prevent them from being members and having an opinion?

    It would seem to me that the federal party is forgetting that we are here, as a democratic organisation to let our members speak. If those members have views that some disagree with, it is not up to the party, the FCC or anyone else to deny them the right to speak.

  • Alisdair McGregor 3rd Jun '11 - 1:02pm

    I *am* accredited – I am a Voting Party conference rep, have stood as a Party Candidate & am a paid up party member. I am NOT under any circumstances giving any police force any data, and I simply do not trust claims made in regard of the Data Protection act in this instance – I work in IT and I know exactly how problematic that becomes once dissemination starts to occur, and it’s already going to two separate police forces.

    Try starting from a stance that doesn’t presume your own party members are a problem at their own party conference.

    Rethink this NOW. If you manage to stop me from attending or voting there will be hell to pay.

  • What is the need for data retention after the conference is over?
    Will the police be liable to show the FCC the details (previous names, previous convictions, whatever) of would-be-delegates that they consider to have “issues”?

  • Sarah Brown 3rd Jun '11 - 1:07pm

    Am I understanding this correctly? FCC spent many months negotiating our rights of association and assembly as a political party and at no point ever thought to tell us thins was going on? Nobody ever thought that this might be a major issue for a party which campaigned strongly on civil liberties and the disproportionate retention of data by the security services? Nobody saw the inevitable backlash coming?

    I am deeply concerned about the security of this information. I see no reason why it should be retained (apparently indefinitely). Furthermore, many of us have good reasons not to trust the police with our personal data. I am a transgender woman, and the last time I needed to be so “vetted”, I was outed to the organisation in question (in this case by the CRB), despite them supposedly having procedures in place to prevent this from happening. The outing included release of my previous name, which I found incredibly distressing, and made me deeply suspicious of any such “vetting” procedure in the future.

    When we were actively campaigning against ID cards, I pledged that I would rather go to prison that submit to the database state. I never thought my own party would sell me out like this. If we don’t take our own civil liberties seriously and stand up for our own rights not to have our personal data retained inappropriately, how can the public trust us to do so for them?

    This makes a complete mockery of our stance on civil liberties.

  • Others will touch upon the end result of the process, but the end result isn’t what concerns me. The fact that this process is happening at all, and the effect of undertaking that process is demonstrably a disproportionate barrier to a great many groups within our party – notably, on my soapbox, our trans members.

    The non-participation of any group within our membership (which we will see, with members refusing to undergo this gross intrusion) is *not* acceptable collateral for an imagined increase in the safety of the majority. While this process is in place, Conference excludes a great many previously enfranchised members from across our party, and resultantly has a severely diminished mandate versus previous years.

    I’ll leave it there for this post, but further thoughts on why I and other of our members feel potentially unable – not unwilling, unable – to attend Conference under the current arrangements can be found here – http://j.mp/l24iFp

  • Wow – I really seem to be in a minority of one (well, maybe two, if you count the author of the post) in just thinking this is really no big deal at all. I attend both other conferences – Labour and Tory – for my work and have been through the accreditation process for both conferences every year since 2002 and find it no more intrusive than having to present a passport when I want to fly.

    To be frank, I had assumed the Lib Dems had always done the same, and am surprised to find out that that has not been the case.

  • Sarah Brown 3rd Jun '11 - 1:20pm

    The data will be “handled acutely in accordance with the Data Protection Act”. The only question in my mind is how long until someone from the Home Office leaves a list of Liberal Democrat Activists complete with passport numbers on a USB stick on a pub somewhere? You know it’s going to happen – leaking personal data is what the civil service *does* when it comes to IT.

    You are NOT having my passport number.
    You are NOT having my drivers licence number.
    You are NOT having my National Insurance number.

    If this means I have to re-stand for my SAO exec position in absentia this year, and in all future years, so be it. But I will not go quietly.

  • Stuart: I think (and I speak for myself) it’s not the hassle of presenting documents that’s being objected to – it’s the knowledge that the information will be used to perform background checks and the resulting information will be retained and potentially disseminated in ways beyond our control. It’s also the escalation – I think many members of this party in particular take a dim view of the trend of security encroaching on freedom and (in this case) privacy. This is a party that has been at the forefront of opposing “this sort of thing”, and having it inflicted on us is a particularly sore point.

    http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/keepldconfliberal/

  • “There has been some suggestion that this means the police will decide who can come to conference. This is absolutely not the case as the final decision will rest with the party.”

    That doesn’t appear to be the case based on some of the wording I’ve seen. Can you therefore make explicitly clear that the final decision will rest with Party staff, made independently of police? Would you also agree that any individual who is refused entry should be given the reasons for this and given the opportunity to appeal?

    “An up to date photo is being required because the quality of the photos previously used by the conference office was so poor it was almost impossible to recognise anyone from their badge!”

    In that case, since it was the Party’s fault in maintaining poor pictures, can you ensure that (a) all representatives will be given adequate time to arrange for a new photograph to be taken, and (b) the Party will offer to reimburse all representatives the cost of the new photograph (usually about £5)? I know of one case where this is causing real difficulty and could result in this person not being able to attend (a student who has already paid for registration and accommodation, and has been told that if they don’t get a new photo within a week will have to pay again.)

  • Oh – and on identification. You have our membership numbers. Attached to this is our address. You already have access to electoral registers across the UK. All you have to do is cross-match the membership database with the electoral register, and Bob’s your uncle. (OK, so this might not catch everybody – students registered at home address with membership at uni, for example – but the overwhelming majority would be.)

  • Before this turns out to be a complete slanging match against the FCC, can I personally say a big thanks to them, not only for organising conference, but adapting to the changes in recent months and for putting up with some of the rude and unhelpful comments made by some members,

  • Duncan Borrowman 3rd Jun '11 - 1:40pm

    As somebody who has been accredited on numerous occassions over the years for conferences, heads of state, parliament etc by security forces in the UK, USA, former USSR and a few other smaller countries, I really don’t understand the fuss.
    If people want to congregate in a hall and get themselves blown up, then they can hire somewhere to freely assemble.
    But, as Andrew says, the FCC have a duty of care and people should be pleased that they are exercising it.

    Quite honestly, if a police state comes in your cards are marked already.

  • Mike Galloway, MK 3rd Jun '11 - 1:43pm

    Andrew, this is just not acceptable. Just because Labour and Conservatives have done this for years is no justification. What next – vetting and accreditation to attend football matches or other large events?

    I am an elected councillor in a major city (soon hopefully!) in the UK. Is that not accreditation enough?

    “As a committee we have taken the view that, taking into account the advice of the police and the Home Office” So instead of hiding behind this why not be open and publish this advice and the evidence to justify this.

    Such pre-vetting and accreditation is not needed as part of the security arrangements needed to enter Parliament. or the Royal Courts of Justice – In both cases you just turn up, perhaps wait in a queue, go through a metal detector and then you are in.

    So please start now by being honest with party members, publish full details of who met who when and what “advice” was given. What is the truth about insurance and what is the cost of this extra accreditation exercise. All this should have been done months ago, not announced so late on as a done deal.

    I and my family have suffered harassment recently greatly made worse because of failures by the police, so I have little faith that we can trust their processes any more than any other. Overall the police have as poor a record on data security as other public bodies.

    Gathering this data creates a perfect opportunity for indentity theft – we KNOW data cannot be guaranteed to be held securely.

    Can you PROVE the data will be held and processed securely – of course not!

    Please think again and try applying some Liberal philosphy to this and stop trying to disenfrashise members from attending conference. It is already difficult for many members to attend conference we should not be making it harder still.

  • Melanie Lewis 3rd Jun '11 - 1:44pm

    I was thinking that this August I would be attending my first political conference. Under these terms I wont be.

    “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Ben Franklin

  • Just to register another voice for the minority view in this thread: I have to say that I am pretty relaxed about this.

  • Lefthandedlondoner 3rd Jun '11 - 1:46pm

    To all those people who are saying “you have my ID through my membership number” – well (a) that ignores the hundreds of people that come to our conferences that aren’t members and (b) you don’t need to prove who you are to join the party under any name you like.

    For me, I have no problem with the idea that you have to prove who you are to attend the conference; the only real problem as I see it is that the police may retain this data for an unspecified length of time and for unspecified purposes.

  • I am glad that the police will not be able to ban anyone from our conference, but again I’d question why there is a need for them to have any of this information at all. We accepted bag searches and scanners on the basis of “OK I suppose we don’t want people bringing stuff to throw or weapons or anything”, yet the questioning of “are you sure that’s fanta?” “hmmmm it does smell orangey” at Sheffield did strike me as a bit over the top.
    I assumed that as liberals, the question would be asked “why SHOULD you have this power?” rather than “why SHOULD’T you?”.
    Agree with the comment on membership- cowley street has a list of all of us, names and addresses, and crucially membership numbers. that should be all thats required.
    We’ve learnt what happens when we put “convenience” ahead of principle through the fees decision. our principles are right on this and we should trust them.
    The only ONLY reason i can possibly think of for why FCC agreed to this is that the police have a tipoff that someones going to sneak in dressed in a yellow polo shirt with someone else’s pass on or something and FCC are trying to protect us.

    Actually that raises another point, if we lose our passes we could normally get another for a small “sorry i got drunk and left it somewhere” fee. what happens if we lose this one? How many papers and ID will we need to PROVE that we lost it? Should I bring a Gas Bill and my Birth certificate just in case? Will they need my adoption certificate too?

    I can’t even believe I’m asking these questions of a LIBERAL party!
    /rant over (sorry for the Caps abuse!)

  • Sarah Brown 3rd Jun '11 - 2:10pm

    To those chiming in with the so-called “minority” view that you hsee no problems with this, please stop it. Security theatre may not present major problem for the majority of people. However, it tends to single out minorities disproportionately. Some of us have to face the fallout from this every day of our lives, and are genuinely afraid of the potential consequences in terms of harassment, denial of access to serves, humiliation and physical and mental abuse.

    When you chime in to indicate that you’re not in that position, please consider that you are rubbing the noses of people like me in it. We know “normal” people have nothing much to fear from security theatre. Many of the rest of us do. Stop flaunting this; it’s vulgar.

  • “There has been some suggestion that this means the police will decide who can come to conference. This is absolutely not the case as the final decision will rest with the party.”

    The problem is that the registration web pages say:
    “These details will be passed onto the police to carry out their own accreditation procedures. Please note that Police Accreditation will be carried out by Greater Manchester Police on behalf of West Midlands Police.
    In the unlikely event that your accreditation is unsuccessful, you will be issued a full refund of your registration fees.”

    Nothing about the decision being made by the party. It says if the police accreditation is “unsuccessful,” you’ll get a refund.

  • “What next – vetting and accreditation to attend football matches or other large events?”

    And why not? Isn’t that the logic of the argument that’s been presented? And isn’t it much the same as the logic of the arguments in favour of ID cards?

    Either way, you can be pretty sure that ordinary people aren’t going to have any say in whatever the powers that be decide is going to be done “for their own good.”

  • “To those chiming in with the so-called “minority” view that you hsee no problems with this, please stop it.”

    How liberal.

  • Strange – About a week ago I was being told on here in no uncertain terms that privacy was meaningless. One chap even suggested that a belief in privacy was incompatible with being a Lib Dem and that I should form another party.

    Anyway, this thread seems to me to be ample evidence that the whole, ‘the state is your evil enemy – trust no one,’ narrative has gone way, way, way too far.

    I’ll let everyone jump on me now.

  • It is noticeable that the article above does absolutely nothing to address the issue of the retention of the data for future use, even though this is an aspect that has drawn some of the strongest criticism.

    The claim is that the data will be used in the future only for purposes of accreditation at other conferences. But in that case there would be no reason to retain it against the wishes of attendees, because it could simply be requested again when needed.

  • What comes to mind is the ELDR election campaign launch in Brussels in 2009 – this was an event kicking off the european election campaign for a party that has a large number of very senior posts. Sitting about half way down the crowd, as I recall, the official welcome began by reeling off “Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Commissioners, Ministers, Members of the European Parliament, Members of Parliament, Your Royal Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen – Welcome”.

    The “accreditation” procedure to be a member of this august audience? I had, a week before, filled in my first name, surname, email address, and “UK Liberal Democrats” on an online form. When I arrived at the event, I had to reproduce that name, was asked if I’d like to leave my coat in the cloakroom or keep it with me, and then walked in – with no metal detectors, bag checks, screening of any kind. (Oh, I also had to run the obligatory gauntlet of leafletters, asking among others, why Malta wasn’t present, and begging us not to forget Flanders. At least, I’m guessing that was what ‘Vergeet Flandeeren niet’ means). Put simply, getting on the Eurostar had involved significantly greater security and ID checks.

    Does someone want to tell me why we’re at apparently such greater risk of attack? Has there been a serious and credible threat made? Or is this just paranoia and supposition? Learn from Belgium about how to hold an event, and learn from liberal principles about how we should only be digging into people like this if there’s an absolute and pressing need to do so.

  • James Baker 3rd Jun '11 - 2:53pm

    Is this accreditation a proven means of increasing security, or is it just part of a security theatre? It seems absurd that you now have to be ‘checked’ and ‘vetted’ before attending conference when you don’t need to undergo such a process to visit the houses of parliament. Proper security screens, fences and searching people on the way in is enough to ensure no one has a weapon. No one is suggesting we should have no security at conference, but it’s over the top to vet everyone. Data analysts and security experts consistently struggle to even correctly identify threats when they exist, and any serious organisation could easily apply under false documents or use someone clean with no record of trouble to carry out an attack,

    The Data Protection Act offers no protection in this instance because the data is being handed to the police, and there are exemptions under section IV of the act that allow data to be shared for crime prevention purposes. Stating this act as a reassurance is meaningless to anyone who understands how useless it is at protecting or safeguarding data. Getting an agreement from the police that all personal data will be deleted after the conference would be a first step in allaying people’s fears.

  • Sarah Brown 3rd Jun '11 - 2:57pm

    Dear Chris

    Asking that people refrain from gloating about their privilege in front of people who don’t share it is not illiberal. It is simply a request for tact.

  • Josh Russell 3rd Jun '11 - 2:57pm

    I don’t understand all this fuss, if you’ve got nothing to hide, what are you worried about?

  • David, Twickenham 3rd Jun '11 - 3:25pm

    Well said William Summers, ‘Duncan’ and Duncan Borrowman.

  • “Remember also that people have been killed and maimed at party conferences in living memory.”

    Refresh my memory. Were the terrorists attending the conference in question?

  • James Baker 3rd Jun '11 - 3:38pm

    No William it’s not like compulsory ID cards, but it is very much like the child vetting and barring scheme that we have been critical about . Back when Chris Huhne was our home affairs spokesperson he said the vetting plans for adults coming into contact with children “were so disproportionate that they were going to put off masses of people from volunteering”. Yet now we are all as adults being vetted simply to attend a conference.

    Why does conference require a vetting scheme, when you can get into parliment without going through such a process?

  • Sarah Brown 3rd Jun '11 - 3:48pm

    William – could you explain what sort of *physical* threats mass screening and data retention would flag up which would not also be stopped by the sort of security we had at Liverpool?

  • Ok, end of so-called “hyperbole”.

    One simple question:

    Why does “if you’ve nothing to hide then you’ve nothing to fear” apply to conference but
    not to ID cards and the database state?

    Either we’re liberals or we’re not. Let’s please TRY and apply our principles consistently?

  • Keith Browning 3rd Jun '11 - 3:58pm

    On the day when the ‘chattering middle classes’ are almost exclusively talking about their lack of Olympic ticket allocation, the Lib Dems are up in arms about the access arrangements to their annual conference.

    A cartoon earlier in the week demonstrated the problem – the widening gap between what politicians think is important and what the people on the doorstep think is important.

    The very group who try to do the best for themselves and their children, with good education and healthy lifestyle have been shafted again because as usual the ‘corporates’ have the largest say in any social or sporting extravaganza and the true enthusiast is cast back to his TV screen.

    We are now destined to, yet again, see half empty stadia because the ‘sponsors and their friends’ are too busy wining and dining to watch anything.

    Normally it would have nothing to do with the Lib Dems but now in GOVERNMENT it does !! They actually have the power to make a difference, if they so choose.

    Show some leadership and it would be a vote winner, amongst the very group who feel most shafted by the university fees debacle.

    I always thought politics was about the people not about political parties. Wrong again, the people only seem to count just before an election, which is way to late.

    Stop navel gazing and see what the electorate really care about.

  • @William Summer: “it is a security check for a major event” – right, that’s why we have metal detectors, X-ray machines, bag checks, pat downs – if there are any weapons, or other undesirable items aimed at conference, this should get them out. If this section isn’t working, ‘background checks’ will do little or nothing more – how many times in the last decade have crimes been carried out with no prior police knowledge of them? And equally, how many people have been unnecessarily and wrongly on watchlists?

    P.S: Dear LDV – it’s still very, very annoying to have to scroll up to the top to see a comment, read them in reverse order, then back to the bottom to reply!

  • James Baker 3rd Jun '11 - 4:14pm

    William much concern about the child vetting was also that people would have to be ‘officially’ approved before they could come into contact with them. Vetting, managing and controlling people through the collection and cross-matching of their personal data is simply illiberal. It’s what the database state does.

    You have stated that we don’t have such checks in parliament because it isn’t practical, yet parliament is a far bigger target than Lib Dem conference. We are simply asking that reasonable security measures such as screens, x-ray and searches are used rather than trying to mass vet everyone, that involves handing all your data over to the police. We are a democratic party, and if people are voicing concerns they should be addressed. Does it not worry you at all that people are being put off attending by this or do you just dismiss all of those people’s concerns as wrong headed?

  • Sarah Brown 3rd Jun '11 - 4:15pm

    William Summers – so to be clear, you think excessive background checks are OK in order to determine that no protests involving heckling occur inside the venue? The possibility of physical assault can’t be prevented by vetting, and that’s why there are security guards inside the venue.

    How very like the other two parties we seem to have become.

  • James Baker 3rd Jun '11 - 4:19pm

    Keith, people also want political parties that stick to their principles and don’t drop them due to ‘security concerns’ the minute they get into government.

  • David Rogers 3rd Jun '11 - 4:25pm

    “The hard fact is that our conference as a whole, and some of our members who attend conference who are ministers, are now more a focus for people who very seriously do not wish our democratic procedures to continue. To be blunt, if us taking the wrong decisions on security leads to loss of life or limb, then we have not discharged our responsibility to anyone.”

    I fully support Andrew Wiseman’s explanation of how the FCC have considered these matters and now made their decision.
    I do that in the light of 1) living in Brighton in 1984, about 500 metres from the Grand Hotel, and realising early that October morning what had woken my (then) infant daughter a few hours before; and 2) having until relatively recently been a member of the Sussex Police Authority, and during that time both receiving a full explanation of these processes for the conferences of Government parties, and experienced it directly – not least the effects when well-known journalists or party figures ‘forgot’ their accreditation!

  • “having until relatively recently been a member of the Sussex Police Authority, and during that time both receiving a full explanation of these processes for the conferences of Government parties, and experienced it directly ”

    So what happened last year? Did they just forget?

  • Paul Trollope 3rd Jun '11 - 4:32pm

    Everyone who keeps saying “you can get into Parliament with less security” obviously hasn’t filled in the forms (I say forms, it’s more like a book) that allow you to move through the vast bulk of the estate which isn’t accessible to the public (and therefore doesn’t have a policeman with a machine gun at each corner).

    I’d rather live in a world where this sort of thing isn’t necessary, but I’m also old enough to remember the Brighton bomb. And I really can’t fault FCC who have been told these measures are necessary – they would be abdicating their responsibility if they ignored police advice, and I couldn’t even imagine the vitriol they would receive from people on this forum and others if they ignored advice and something were to happen.

  • Sarah Brown 3rd Jun '11 - 4:50pm

    William – so we need these extensive and intrusive background checks because they are magic wands that can determine if someone is going to “disrupt” the conference (but only in a way that doesn’t involve heckling)?

    Couldn’t we just, you know, throw them out?

  • I get a sense that the far wider question here is being dodged. Let me be clear, I make no value judgment here in this comment about the arrangements, or other people’s views. What people are effectively saying is, ‘security is taken above liberty in the wider world – Lib Dems don’t like that – therefore our conference must have relaxed security arrangements.’ The question there is not why the party is following the trend, but why does the trend exist in the wider world.

    Vetting and barring has been mentioned on here a lot, but that was following real public and media pressure. Again, I am not making a value judgment here on either the pressure or on the effectiveness of the vetting and barring measures. Of course, high security at political party conferences is not new and pre-dates New Labour. We live in a world where simply we can not regulate our relationships and demand that something must be done and – far more telling – someone must be to blame for the acts of mad men.

    Whilst a demand that Lib Dems somehow live out the cause may be admirable, it does not really look at the trends in society, outside of the party that have brought us to this point. Whilst a shout of, ‘security theatre,’ might make people feel all warm inside it is glib.

    This thread misses that these measures are a symptom of wider trends. That is the discussion that is needed.

  • As already mentioned the one big issue skipped over was data retention, while I have nothing to hide this has become a matter of principle. We cannot one second say we will not introduce ID cards because they have no effect on the security of the holder , the justification Labour used for trying to introduce them. Then say we need these stringent security checks to ensure the security of the conference. Either ID checks will or wont aide security you cant have it both ways.

    Yes I understand the reason for making checks but then to store the information for future use is not on

    I’m an admin on a Facebook group for LibDems and I have had several members say they will not go to conference if changes are not made. I’ve had other members say the whole reason for joining the party was because of our stance on civil liberties and that they are now re assessing their membership because of this whole situation!! .

    What a mess, we’ve gone from shooting ourselves in the foot to using a shotgun on our legs.

  • Richard Gadsden 3rd Jun '11 - 5:14pm

    I’m a Liberal and I’m against this sort of thing.

    I’ve filled in the forms because I’m a middle-class, middle-aged, white cis man who has the privilege to be able to do so without any difficulty, and if people who can pass the checks easily refuse to do so in a gesture of solidarity with those who face real difficulties in doing so, then there will be no-one inside to represent for those excluded.

    But I’m a Liberal and “I’m all right, Jack” isn’t good enough for me. “None shall be enslaved by conformity” is written on the back of my membership card, and I expect my party to live up to that.

    Did you really not think about trans people? Really? If you didn’t, then that’s a disgrace. If you did and you didn’t manage a clear statement explaining precisely what the risks are, how these proposals mitigate them, and what you propose to do to make sure that the police treat trans people with the respect that they deserve, then that’s even more of a disgrace.

  • Simon McGrath 3rd Jun '11 - 5:15pm

    @Emma “The idea that this is so far removed from the concerns of people we represent just does not ring true for the trans community, whatever it may seem from the ivory tower of “nothing to hide”. As I’ve blogged, this is the kind of gratuitous intrusion that we face daily, and is a microcosm of the indignities suffered on a daily basis which are one of the major battles in LGBT equality right now.,”
    What on earth does this mean.? Why should it affect lbgt people more than anyone else?

  • “I suspect we may find that the Police and Home Office will refuse to pay the costs of the additional data entry associated with re-entering a lot of details twice a year, which would be likely to bring an additional cost to the party of (I’m guessing) a few tens of thousands of pounds.”

    That’s just plain ridiculous. the data are being entered through a website. They can be put into whatever format is needed automatically. Tens of thousands of pounds my left foot!

  • @Jeremy…thanks for the response but one key issue you miss you say unless we have this accreditation then we wouldn’t get a venue…at this rate you will not have any delegates!!…The big concern for most is the data retention and until that is sorted I for one will not be registering and if I miss the early bird registration then I will not be coming due to cost…

  • Dave Page (with respect)

    ‘Duncan, you’re asserting that these checks, and permanent storage and sharing of data, necessarily constitutes “more security”. I remain to be convinced in the former case, and am certain that the latter is false.’

    Yes, but again, this is dodging the point. What is or is not meaningful security is a reasonable question – I get that. But my point is that this is a reflection of a wider trend. The real question here is not about some living out the cause but about why these wider trends have come about.

    And come about, it should be noted whilst the Lib Dem party has forcefully argued the opposite.

  • “There is also one key point in Andrew’s article which I don’t think is mentioned in any of the comments below. If we don’t do something like this system of accreditation, then we won’t have a building to hold our conference in, as no-one will have us.”

    But how can things have changed so much since the last conference? It sounds to me as though the only thing that’s changed is that you’ve had these discussions with the police.

    So what is the situation? Is it that the police have demanded this information, and are, in effect, blackmailing the party into providing it, by means of a threat of making it known that you’re not complying with their advice? That’s the only sense I can make of what you say, and if it’s true it’s of VERY much wider concern than the issue over this specific conference.

  • Richard Gadsden 3rd Jun '11 - 5:28pm

    I think I understand your point that people from minorities should not be singled out for harassment and of course I strongly agree with it. But I don’t particularly see how the process we’re discussing here will encourage that. If people do use more than one name then I can imagine that that probably would need to be identified. But once it is it clearly isn’t a security-related issue so I don’t see how it will cause any harassment. I am definitely not an expert in this area, so if there are some specific issues related to minorities then I’m sure if the relevant party people are made aware of them, they can follow them up to ensure they are appropriately addressed (I’m happy to facilitate this if helpful).

    That’s not good enough.

    Sarah has explained clearly why this is an issue. If you didn’t get it, then let me spell it out for you.

    Sarah is a transwoman. Her birth certificate has a man’s name on it. That name is not hers. She doesn’t use more than one name – she uses one name. All of her identity documents (now) show that one name.

    Many other transpeople are not in that situation. A name that they have abandoned; a name that prejudiced transphobic people will use to insult them, is still on their passports, their driving licences, their bank accounts. When they apply, they will have to supply this “official” name because they haven’t yet completed the lengthy processes needed to change it on every piece of paper. That’s especially a problem for young trans adults, as the transition process takes time and usually starts relatively early in adulthood. Even more so, because many of these can be expensive, and young trans adults are often students (in real poverty) and also often cut off by transphobic parents or family.

    Transphobic people, if they can find out the name that a transperson used to have before they transitioned, will insist on using that as the transperson’s “real” name. It’s an insult, that transpeople understandably recoil from. For that reason, transpeople are extremely careful about who they allow to know their pre-transition name.

    Hopefully, that’s got it through your skull why this is a huge issue for transpeople.

  • This accreditation argument on the Home office not paying for checks a second time so we need to keep the same checks for spring conference..OK so I’ll fill in the forms send my picture pay my money go to conference , and then join a terrorist group the day after as I will now be cleared!!!!!. sorry doesn’t add up I’m afraid

  • Sarah Brown 3rd Jun '11 - 5:38pm

    Jeremy – thanks for your response. First and foremost, can we please stop the “there are real threats that need serious action” rhetoric please? It’s the exact same justification for the ID database, for control orders, and for a whole host of other things that we as a party have campaigned against and in some cases, passed primary legislation to destroy. It’s not credible, possibly symptomatic of having “gone native” with respect to the Home Office, and this argument has been done to death over the years. Please stop insulting our intelligence.

    On the trans aspect, I think people are really not getting this. Lots of trans people do not trust the police with our personal data. We have good reason not to because they keep messing up, including where they have procedures in place to avoid it. This is because the procedures don’t work and aren’t followed. I’ll give you a simple example which happened to me – last time I had a CRB check when I wanted to do volunteer work in the health care sector, despite following the very specific process to avoid the CRB outing me as trans, they did anyway, and then when they realised their mistake they went and drew a huge amount of attention to it. Not only did they out me as trans to the organisation for which I was volunteering, they released my previous name as well, which is an extremely distressing thing to happen.

    I know this isn’t a rarity – it’s usual practice. I have lots of trans friends who are terrified of flying, not because of any fears that the plane might crash, but because of being ridiculed or sexually assaulted by security staff. It happens a lot. These procedures are always designed for the Great White Males and they invariably end up screwing up when presented with minorities, and it’s always the members of the minorities who suffer. The *only* organisation I’ve encountered who take this sufficiently seriously are HMRC, who issue those trans people in possession of a Gender Recognition Certificate with a protected identity. To give an indication of how seriously they take this, HMRC give us the same level of protection afforded to people in witness protection. In other words, if I actually supplied you with my NI number, there is every likelihood that the Greater Manchester Police wouldn’t actually be able to do anything with it – most tax offices can’t. I’m almost tempted to do that to deliberately try and sabotage your vetting system, as a form of civil disobedience.

    Finally, talking about how you’ve spent a very very very long time behind the scenes trying to sort this out is making the anger people feel over this even worse, because it means that the FCC spent ages negotiating our right to free assembly – something extremely dear to the hearts of many members of this party – without telling any of us. Had we known about this we could have lobbied, questions could have been asked in parliament, etc.. As it is, we’re presented with a fait accomplis and are left having to decide to boycott, protest outside the venue, engage in civil disobedience, etc.. I’m sure you can appreciate how that rankles?

  • ‘lefthandedlondoner’ is the only one on this who is in his right mind.! well said.! The FCC have a difficult enough job to do (and as volunteers).. perhaps those complaining will ALL put their names forward for election, and see if they can do the job any better. The biggest issue to my mind is how to ensure that we as reps properly enable the representation of those who cannot afford conference.

  • Sarah Brown 3rd Jun '11 - 5:42pm

    Richard – thanks for your excellent explanation of the issue. It’s spot on, apart from one small detail:

    Sarah is a transwoman. Her birth certificate has a man’s name on it. That name is not hers. She doesn’t use more than one name – she uses one name. All of her identity documents (now) show that one name.

    My birth certificate actually has my proper name on it now, but in order to do that I had to suffer the indignity of state-mandated divorce. This was the case when the botched CRB check happened – despite my old identity supposedly being comprehensively erased, they dredged it up anyway.

    A minor point of pedantry perhaps, but it does highlight that even when you do everything the state asks of you, they still let you down.

  • “The second is the potential for people to “fail” the accreditation. The published language has been really misleading here. I really do not expect this to affect a single person – and if it does, then I am satisfied that it would only be when a very senior Liberal Democrat (not the police) has made a fully informed and considered judgement that there really is very strong evidence that the individual would pose a very severe security threat.”

    And the more I think about this, the less sense it makes. If the accreditation is unsuccessful, what’s going to happen? Will the police pass on all the details they have on this person to the party? Surely not. So how can this senior Liberal Democrat make a “fully informed” judgment? I am very sceptical about the line we’re being fed here. It doesn’t make sense.

  • Susan Ashton 3rd Jun '11 - 6:22pm

    Under Data Protection law, data on individuals should only be kept for as long as needed for the purpose collected.

    Therefore the data for any individual not registered for a future conference should be deletd after ther conference has ended, (There could be an opt-out provided for this maybe?)

  • Sarah Brown 3rd Jun '11 - 6:31pm

    Thanks Jeremy,

    To be clear, this is why I was so solidly against ID cards. With the database link I faced the very real prospect that minor officials such as traffic wardens would end up knowing my status. The best bit is when complete strangers start asking questions about my genitals, and by “best” I mean “most humiliating”.

    Of course, I’m out anyway – as a district councillor and LGBT rights campaigner I pretty much have to be. The biggest extra risk to me from this vetting is humiliation, and that’s enough to persuade me to not go to conference this year. For those who aren’t out, one bad background check could literally wreck their lives. If they want to go to conference, that’s now the risk they apparently have to take.

  • James Baker 3rd Jun '11 - 7:46pm

    @Jeremy There have always been risks with attending conference, but lets be realistic the biggest risk many of us will face at conference is crossing the road to get there. I think you are falling into the trap of reacting disproportionally to threats. Probably because you have had to sit through many hours of meetings where the Police and Home Office. Your intentions are obviously very well-meaning but you have to shake this fear of security threats that seems to grip any person placed in a position of responsibility. This debate is a microcosm of the wider debate surrounding security vs freedom. Many of us think society has become too concerned about ensuring safety and security. Realistically we live in one of the safest times ever, where most of us will die at a ripe old age in our sleep. This myth that things are somehow different now and we live in dangerous times doesn’t stand up to objective scrutiny.

    You can provide security by ensuring that no weapons enter the venue. You can also provide checks without the police being allowed to retain everyone’s personal information indefinitely. Ensuring the later happens would seem a sensible compromise that helps resolve some of the objections. Again there is a wider issue here about how little control we have over our own personal data. We need a new privacy law to protect personal information, and a revision of the data protection act.

    It’s a deeply worrying sign when politicians won’t even meet those who are supposed to be its own people without police checks. With that level of disconnect, fear and mistrust what hope is for the wider population?

  • “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

    Is there any provision in the constitution to force FCC to allow a confidence vote to remove the FCC and hold elections to a new committee?

  • Perhaps we need a better insurer?

  • Despite what Jeremy Hargreaves said about people spending “many many hundreds of unpaid hours talking through line by line precisely what is required,” it’s obvious from his comment that the members of the Conference Committee took the decision without even being told why the police wished to retain the data – and without apparently thinking it important enough to enquire about.

    It’s a shame they didn’t show the same acuity as those in the blogosphere, who picked it up immediately.

  • Evan Harris 3rd Jun '11 - 9:29pm

    I have a great deal of respect and the work of the FCC who always get in the neck when people are unhappy about things at Conference. But.

    Andrew says “To be blunt, if us taking the wrong decisions on security leads to loss of life or limb, then we have not discharged our responsibility to anyone.” That line was used by successive Labour Home Secretaries to justify all sorts of things by Labour Govt. It is best not to make such assertions without identifying that a balance is needed.

    We already put up with long queues to get in, as security staff empty the handbags of old ladies – so we are not objecting to inconvenient security measures, just intrusive ones that do not seem to represent any real increase in security. Are we saying that searched, scanned, frisked, approved and elected conference reps might cause a “very serious security threat” to the conference while unapproved, unknown, unsearched, un-scanned and un-frisked demonstrators just outside the secure area do not?

    The real reason for the accreditation – to get insurance

    Andrew says the new arrangements are “necessary this year to increase security”

    But in fact as he goes on to say, “Our insurers want to know that we act on police advice and if we do not we run the risk of invalidating our insurance. Without the necessary insurance no conference venue will accept our booking.”
    And
    “We as a committee are clear that it would be seriously irresponsible with … the party’s financial liability. In fact if we do not take these matters seriously then we will find that venues will not accept our bookings.”
    As Jeremy Hargreaves confirmed when he says
    “There is also one key point in Andrew’s article which I don’t think is mentioned in any of the comments below. If we don’t do something like this system of accreditation, then we won’t have a building to hold our conference in, as no-one will have us. This may be just, unjust, whatever, but it is surely a relevant consideration.”
    So when Andrew says
    “As a committee we have taken the view that, taking into account the advice of the police and the Home Office, as a party to secure our conference for our members and observers, we do need to do this” he really means “As a committee we have taken the view that to secure our conference for our members and observers, because of the need for insurance we have to accept the police bottom line”.
    And when he says “FCC, from a very sceptical position, has become convinced that the measures I have outlined above are proportionate to the real threats which do now apply to us,” he’s alluding to the threat we would not be insured or accommodated.

    Data storage

    It should be possible to provide that (i.e. insist that) data is not stored or shared by the police. Has this been requested?

    Transgender people

    I am President of DELGA and was a member of the Gender Recognition Bill Committee and the Parliamentary Transgender Forum. I can see that accreditation is a sensitive issue for some Transgender colleagues commenting here. Now for those who are transitioning and have not yet got new documentation (for whom any activity requiring use of a passport or any document with a name and gender that does not match appearance is a problem) I can see the problem with sending in documents. But for those with a Gender Recognition Certificate and the documents and protection that flows from that, I am not sure that I can see a specific problem with accreditation per se, other than a lack of trust in the system of checks and police confidentiality. Is this right? It’s a problem but it is not the main issue which is one of the principle of the party needing to comply with intrusive data gathering by the police in order to get insurance for conference with no clear added security benefit.

    Overall it seems best to do what Lib Dems always do, which is engage in seeking to change to law, the police policy, insurance rules or the FCC approach. But not to come to conference, where we can make the point on the agenda itself, seems self-defeating and a less effective approach than engaging with the issues at the conference itself as well as before and after.

  • Sarah Brown 3rd Jun '11 - 10:02pm

    Thanks Evan. You are, as always, very wise. I do want to take slight issue with one thing:

    But not to come to conference, where we can make the point on the agenda itself, seems self-defeating and a less effective approach than engaging with the issues at the conference itself as well as before and after.

    I would love to come and debate this at conference, but I am genuinely frightened by the vetting procedure, and want nothing to do with it. I don’t feel that not going is a choice. Perhaps I would be cutting off my nose to spite my face if I did feel that way, but I don’t. I can’t come while this police vetting is in operation, because previous experience has taught me not to trust them.

  • Simon McGrath 3rd Jun '11 - 10:07pm

    @Gareth “I’m sorry, Andrew, but this just isn’t good enough.
    In my 11 years on FCC I had to listen to enough shaggy dog stories from the police about why extra security was needed at Conference. That which we saw at Liverpool was about right; at Sheffield we were all made to feel like prison visitors”
    Of course there was the small difference that at Liverpool there were a very small number of good humoured demonstrators whereas in Liverpool there were thousands of ranting Trots. So perhaps the different security arrangements were appropriate

    As a general point can those against this explain what they would have done faced with the likelihood of having no venue without any insurance?

  • Sarah Brown 3rd Jun '11 - 10:14pm

    As a general point can those against this explain what they would have done faced with the likelihood of having no venue without any insurance?

    Raise a stink in the media and in parliament over a police force using undue pressure to prevent the conference of a major political party taking place for a start.

    And work from there.

  • Andrew Wiseman 3rd Jun '11 - 10:51pm

    Many thanks for the various posts. I will try and pick up on some of the themes.

    Transgender –there is a clear issue that we need to look at, I‘m in touch with the chair of DELGA to assist with this important issue. We will find a way round this sensitive issue.

    Data storage – I’m in touch with the police about how we can arrange that sensitive data eg passport number is deleted from their system after conference if an attendee wants it deleted. The procedure they currently use is to store the information on a standalone system that is only used for party conferences. This saves time for everyone concerned if accreditation is required in the future. Having said that there is no reason why those that want their personal details should not be able have it deleted, and then re-enter it next time they come to conference where accreditation is required.

    Why is accreditation required now – once we have the both police and the Home Office saying that accreditation is required we are really left with no option. It is not something I or the rest of FCC wanted. In the run up to Liverpool it was suggested as an option by the police but we resisted it. This time it became more than a suggestion, following a security briefing with various agencies present a risk assessment was carried out that required accreditation. I was part of that process and as much I would prefer our conference to go back to the informal security we had prior to going into Government the threats and the risks have changed. Once accreditation becomes a formal requirement we run into significant problems over insurance if we go against those requirements.

    Andrew

  • Andrew
    Dont forget about students who may not be old enough to have a driving licence ,passport or NI No

  • Andrew Wiseman 3rd Jun '11 - 11:26pm

    -Paul – thanks we did raise what happens to those that don’t have a passport, NI number or driving licence and although it will take slightly longer we’ve been told it will not stop accreditation.

    Andrew

  • Andrew Suffield 4th Jun '11 - 12:32am

    Raise a stink in the media and in parliament over a police force using undue pressure to prevent the conference of a major political party taking place for a start.

    With a majority in Parliament, sure. Problem is that the other two parties use exactly the same system so they would both shoot down any attempt to reject it. And they control most of the media so the same thing would happen there.

    It’s just not a winnable fight.

  • Andrew Suffield 4th Jun '11 - 12:35am

    I have huge respect for the unpaid work that Andrew and his colleagues on FCC put into organising conference, but this is clearly a battle in which he has been outmanoeuvred.

    Pretty much this. The FCC can’t win this one. They just don’t have enough political firepower to pull it off.

  • This is madness such ‘security vetting’ provides no extra security at all. If someone is going to commit a first time offence then the police will know nothing about it before hand. The security checks on entry should be sufficient to prevent any attack. I see no earthly reason for storing any such info at all either as all the background checks will presumably have to be redone anyway inputting a few passport/drivers licence/NI numbers again is trivial in comparison.

    Getting around all these checks would be trivial anyway. For example if I had a criminal record that might bar me (although as Jeremy Hargreaves accidental makes clear there seems to be no such thing if no one is expected to be barred anyway) I could very easily provide my brother’s identity info, we live at the same address and look enough like each other that it wouldn’t be picked up on.

    If as seems likely the real reason behind this is insurance because you have to follow police advice then its time to tackle the police advice head on and get it changed (why has the advice changed since Liverpool and Sheffield anyway? Is it just a case of different police force so different advice?). If the police can provide one single example of how such information will improve security then I would be very surprised.

  • @Radical Liberal:

    Good point. More people probably die every year through car accidents than have died from domestic terrorism in the past 20 years.

    The Police and the FCC need to get a bloody grip. The LibDems either stand for or against a police-vetting state. As an ex-Labourite I can assure you that their choice to stand *for* a police state was one of the many reasons why I left them and started voting LD.

  • Why is accreditation required now – once we have the both police and the Home Office saying that accreditation is required we are really left with no option.

    How very sad a justification that is.

  • Emsworthian 4th Jun '11 - 8:18am

    The party’s tanking it in the polls as we limp from one disaster to another and now this. Why do the Lib Dems insist on taking themselves so seriously when so many real people think we’re a joke? The tele beckons for addicts otherwise I would rather weed my garden.

  • I am not a member of the Liberal Democrats, but I’ve voted Liberal Democrat for years and this thread is a very good example of why. I’m very pleased to see Liberal Democrat members getting worked up about this. The LibDems have long been the only part in Britain where the grassroots have any understanding of civil liberties. That’s why I’m pleased to see LibDems finally taking part in government.

    If you put on pointless security theatre at a labour or conservative conference it just makes them feel important. (remember Walter Wolfgang?)

    There’s no need for these checks and they are highly offensive. I hope those in charge get the message. And tell the police and the home office to get stuffed.

  • Clare Blair 4th Jun '11 - 9:10am

    I am puzzled by the difference in what Amdrew says about having control of decision making and what Geiff Payne said yesterday in his email “:I should stress that no-one has been denied access to anything at this stage. There are about three or four people who were denied access to the Labour Conference and their event is several times the size of our conference and their membership contains more militant elements. There is a very real prospect that no-one will have any issues thrown up so far as we are concerned. If there are, then there is a procedure to deal with it and we will be pushing as much as we can to ensure that those who are democratically elected are able to take part.”

    ‘Pushing as hard as we can’ implies that the end decision is taken elsewhere?

  • James Baker 4th Jun '11 - 9:35am

    “Why is accreditation required now – once we have the both police and the Home Office saying that accreditation is required we are really left with no option. It is not something I or the rest of FCC wanted. In the run up to Liverpool it was suggested as an option by the police but we resisted it.”

    I find this statement very worrying, obviously Andrew and the FCC have been doing what they can but this is a much wider issue to tackle. The Home Office and the Police should not be in control of situations like this, their role is to offer security advice that we as a free and democratic party can either take heed of or ignore. They shouldn’t be able to lay down requirements on a democratic gathering, and insurance companies shouldn’t have to insist you follow unreasonable requirements. Unless something is done to tackle that the police have extraordinary powers to censor public events. Seeing as the police benefit from the increased budgets of providing all this security, have they not got a rather vested interest? The assessors of risk need to be separated from the providers of security.

    Hopefully some headway could be made on the data retention by the police. It might be the case that they only keep this information in a conference database, however the current legislative framework under the DPA allows them to share it for other crime prevention methods. Given the track record of the police on collecting and sharing personal data people have little faith in promises or assurances.

  • Keith Browning 4th Jun '11 - 10:33am

    Firstly let me apologise for suggesting in an earlier comment that this was not an important point of debate.

    It certainly is and I see no point in this accreditation exercise other than for the police to find out whether the LibDems have been infiltrated by ‘subversive’ elements. I expect they will find thousands of those – people who want a fairer more democratic country and not run by an authoritarian police state.

    I dont see what any of this can have to do with security, as whatever my thoughts and motivations, if I’m in the conference hall and am not armed with a weapon than I am NOT a security threat. End of story.

    A perhaps relevant story is from the 1970s when the IRA were an active threat. My father broke down in his car at Marble Arch. No mobile phones in those days and so he went to the nearest shop to get help. He returned to get a very frosty reception from the boys in blue, who had arrived to find an abandoned vehicle. He was questioned and his driving licence kept for verification.

    These were the days before computers and photocopying and driving licenses were issued by the local county council. He received his license back a few days later.

    Several months later, a knock on the day of his suburban Surrey home revealed two men from Special Branch, and my father was grilled for two hours. They were most interested in his driving licence, which he still had in his possession. A member of an IRA bombing cell had been caught and was carrying an exact duplicate of my father’s license.

    Luckily my father’s identity was easy to verify as he worked as a senior manager for a London Borough, and after they left he never heard anything about the matter again.

    In those days duplication was only possible by the forger actually having access to the license and the only time it had ever been out of his possession was when it spent three days in a central London police station !!

  • David from Ealing 4th Jun '11 - 10:48am

    I see this issue has now appeared in the Daily Mail, along with Chris Huhne’s taxi fares:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1394058/MPs-expenses-Chris-Huhne-spends-46k-taxis-just-6-months.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

  • “I see this issue has now appeared in the Daily Mail, along with Chris Huhne’s taxi fares:”

    The article concludes:
    “Even Phil Reilly, the Lib Dem deputy head of media, ridiculed those complaining: ‘You can only get out of fairyland with a biometric passport.'”

    I don’t really understand the implication of that remark, but considering that some of the most serious concern has come from LGBT party members perhaps this “deputy head of media” needs more training in tact.

  • Andrew- firstly thanks for posting this and engaging with people’s comment over what is a very difficult issue (whatever your views).

    In part this is a situation which develops from the power the party has to exclude people from conference (which includes members and legitimately elected conference reps). That power AIUI is devolved to the Chief Steward and I think it has been used on rare occasions, so some of the comments about representatives “having the right to attend conference, you can’t stop us” to attend conference have been verging on the hyperbolic. In practice I suspect that FCC would be consulted at least after the fact if such action was taken and the advice of the police on excluding a particular person would be given a strong weighting. I also think that someone so affected would have an internal party right of appeal (to the Federal Appeals Panel if nothing else).

    There are a some specifics that do occur to me in this situation:
    1) Security at Liverpool was actually very lax. There were no badge checks on people going in and out of the main conference hotel just across the way from the conference centre. That was actually less than the previous conference I attended at Blackpool in 2005 where there were routine badge checks by stewards on people going in and out of the conference hotel.
    Were there any specific security incidents at that conference even with this low level of security.

    2) Providing data is one issue. However my real concern in this instance is that data provided will be retained “for future use”. This seems to fly in the face of government advice that NI numbers should be kept secure and only provided when strictly necessary.

    Has any consideration been given to obtaining data from people on a “use and destroy” basis. That would seem to meet the police requirement for identification and if someone attends a future conference they can provide the information again.

    3) Is a blanket requirement for information strictly necessary for all conference attendees. Many people (eg Parliamentary staff) will already have undergone security clearance. Has any consideration been given to collecting this information and only providing it to the police on an “as required basis” for individuals they need to conduct further checks on.

  • Duncan Borrowman 4th Jun '11 - 12:36pm

    One thing I didn’t mention in my earlier posting was that among several bombings I attended in the 1980s working in TV News was the Brighton bomb. I would rather know that the FCC have arranged to keep me safe.

  • James Baker 4th Jun '11 - 12:44pm

    It’s been suggested to me that the following statement on how data for the conference is processed differs from Tory conference in that it states the data won’t be used for other purposes, just conferences. It is possible that having made that declaration they cannot lawfully process it for law & order purposes/exceptions. Can someone from the FCC clarify that with the Police? Has a request been made allready to restrict the terms for data use?

    Deleting the data once it had been processed for those that desired would be the best soluition. I’m sure some people wouldn’t have a problem with the police handling their data, but others like myself do on principle. Control over personal information is an indivdual matter.

    “The information supplied by you will be provided to the relevant Constabulary for storage on a computer system in connection with the policing arrangements for the Party Conference. The information will be retained and/or passed to other police forces in the future to assist with the accreditation of subsequent political conferences only. Details of the data stored may be obtained in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act.”

  • “I would rather know that the FCC have arranged to keep me safe.”

    Apart from the fact that it’s been pointed out about half a dozen times now that vetting party delegates would have done absolutely nothing to prevent the Brighton bombing, the uncanny thing is how closely the arguments to support these measures resemble those that the last government used to support ID cards and so on.

    Any minute now someone is going to say that being protected from terrorism is a freedom too …

  • Andrew Wiseman Caron Lindsay 4th Jun '11 - 2:16pm

    Thanks for this, Andrew.

    I appreciate the dilemmas and tensions that FCC face on this. However I don’t agree with both the decisions of the FCC on this issue, and the manner in which it was taken.

    The Conference will be attended by many of the people I care most in the world about. Of course I want them to be safe. However, I feel that this new system is disproportionate to the risk, particularly when there is already bag and scanner checks at Conference. I think most people accept that that, unfortunately, is necessary for a Federal Conference.

    I do see a major flaw in your argument that the police won’t have the final say in who comes to Conference. I’ve been on protest marches on my time, and I’m bound to have been photographed by the many police cameras at those events. Imagine I end up in the same shot as someone they suspect – and if it’s only a suspicion that there may not even be evidence against that individual. Now, I may be in the same frame as a “suspect”, but in reality I may never ever have spoken to them or had anything to do with them.

    They then come to you and tell you that I, who have been a party member all my life and leads a law abiding peaceful life, is a security risk. What do you do? Do you say well, actually, we know her, she’s fine. Or do you think “yikes, if we let her in we lose our insurance.” How far will you fight for me if I am wrongly accused in that way?

    I don’t think the police should have that sort of power of veto over our party members who have certain constitutional rights.

    I also think this has been very poorly communicated. I think that some of the stuff you are saying about security risks could have come out of the mouth of a Labour home secretary – and we would have totally opposed those sentiments.

    I think the FCC should have anticipated the concerns of the party and been a bit more empathetic with the way it presented these changes. I believe that the concerns expressed as regards the police veto (which is very clearly worded on the website as a police accreditation process, not a party one), the transgender issue and the data retention issue are entirely legitimate. And of course liberals are going to question things. And the more they are attacked for doing so by having their motives questioned or ridiculed by the party establishment, the louder they are likely to shout. And rightly so.

    I’m afraid that your explanation, welcome though it is, has not convinced me.

  • It seems obvious to me that the FCC have had confidential briefings from the Police and Home Office that the anarchists that wanted to disrupt the Sheffield conference have realised that by joining the party they are entitled to attend conference ( but not vote) .
    Therefore Everybody has to be accredited – in the name of equal treatment for all, and the said persons ‘known to the police’ will be excluded. No doubt intelligence services are involved.

    FCC had to decide whether they wanted to risk the disruption , hijacking of the conference media exposure, and risk to life and limb that could be caused by determined wreckers. Think hoax bombs, false fire alarms, panic and stampede in crowded places.

    I do think that blanket advance accreditation is OTT, surely official constituency delegates and MP’s should only have to prove their identity at the door, along with membership card.

    Lefthandedlondoner is absolutely right , There are no checks of identity when people join , as secretary/chair I always tried to meet the non active members face to face – I was surprised how many I found that did not live at the address on the party records – or had never lived there! sometimes even with up to date subs still being paid.

  • I don’t think anyone here would argue with the fact that normal security arrangements need to be in place, as at previous Conferences. We are all accustomed to the usual security checks at Conference venues. I honestly don’t believe enough people are at all bothered about us being in a minority and in subservient position as Junior Partners in Government enough for us to be under any threat from terrorists.

    The main objection which almost everyone does have is the demand for and the retention of unnecessary personal information by the West Midlands Police Force, which they intend to share with other Police Forces in the UK (maybe even beyond?) for an indefinite period of time. As has been stated this will also be retained by Lib Dem HQ at Cowley Street (and presumably wherever they move to after that).

    It has not yet been made clear whether or not these are demands from the WMP or are just advice from them. If what they have said is only advisory, then we are not obliged to conform – if this information is being demanded then we, as a Party of Liberalism and Freedom, need to block it right here and now and stop it in its tracks – it is not on! The Party MUST make a stand in the interests of individual and corporate freedom.

    1) From past experience I have a problem with providing original copies of any of my identity documents on the grounds that they have been frequently lost in the past. “Photocopies are not acceptable” (in many cases of demands for ID) do not satisfy official bodies. OK – we have not been asked for these – yet!

    2) Have people honestly forgotten the number of times that “sensitive data” from databases on CD-ROMs, USB sticks, even paper documents have been stolen, left on trains and in public toilets for any Jo Bloggs to pick up and make fraudulent use of? Have people forgotten the massive amount of privileged data from the MOD, Armed Services & the NHS about people’s records and private, personal information have been found in briefcases in abandoned cars, car parks etc. etc. etc.? Do I need to go on?

    3) When Lib Dem HQ relocates to Great George Street (or wherever) how do we know if our information which is being held will be secure? We all know what happens to documents, books and important papers when people move – too often they become “mislaid” either euphemistically or in reality. At worst – we may be told that “we never received your information” – this is a common excuse in many public bodies.

    I am not prepared to submit to these demands either by the Party or by the WMP (even if I was in a position to afford to go to Conferences at all).

    Peter made a very good point when he said –
    “The biggest issue to my mind is how to ensure that we as reps properly enable the representation of those who cannot afford conference”.

    He is so right – our Conference Reps are there to represent us and the views of those who are unable to go to Conference, for whatever reason. If these measures are demanded, then not only are those of us not present disenfranchised, so are the Conference Reps! this is unacceptable!

    The “Big Fuss” as someone has put it is the matter of our personal information being demanded and the possible use which may be made of it. That is the major issue – the rest, as they say, “is Commentary”!

    As I have blogged and posted elsewhere on Social Networks – the grass roots activists are the people who matter, not the Party Machine – listen to us. If you do not listen to your grass roots activists, it will be at your peril!

    I have also suggested to people that, if they are delaying their registration until the matter of the retention of personal information is resolved, then they should ONLY pay the “Early Bird” fee level and not the full fees, on the grounds that the original Terms and Conditions were unacceptable to the Membership!

    We get enough emails out of Cowley Street justifying the actions of this that or the other politician in government – why not a poll or a request for opinion before this? -It is now too late for most people, especially if they wanted to pay the cheap rate.

    IF the FCC has been discussing this matter for months – WHY have the members not been consulted about it or had their opinions sought?

    OK – the FCC have worked very hard to put everything into place for our security, and for that we thank them. But for goodness’ sake, get real and get this matter sorted – quickly!

    If you do not, you will find yourselves very embarrassed by having an empty Conference Hall, which will give rise to a media comment of, “Is Dat All of Dem?” as we saw in Scottish newspapers several years ago when only the front row of seats was occupied!

    Such a headline would be justified!

  • The “invisible post” should have read –

    Is our President – Tim Farron – out of the country? We have not heard from him. What does he have to say?

  • Paul Trollope 4th Jun '11 - 4:28pm

    @Rebekah Not quite – but Tim is on a remote Scottish island without much in the way of mobile phone reception.

  • @Paul Trollope – OK fair enough at this moment in time, but he’s not been there for months not knowing what has been going on, surely!

  • Paul Trollope 4th Jun '11 - 4:54pm

    @Rebekah Sorry, I presumed you were asking why you hadn’t heard from him since this all became public earlier this week. The reason why is he is on holiday, and not very easy to get hold of (as I found out yesterday when I needed to get hold of him to let him know about Andrew Reeves).

    He obviously attends meetings of various Federal committees and chairs FE, but I’ve never spoken to him about this, so wouldn’t know his views on it.

    I know a number of people have contacted him directly by email, and I’m sure he will reply when he’s back next week – feel free to drop him a line at [email protected]

    Cheers
    Paul

  • Richard Huzzey 4th Jun '11 - 5:45pm

    Dave Page – Brilliant idea for an alternative conference.

  • Mike Galloway, MK 4th Jun '11 - 8:59pm

    To Andrew Wiseman and the FCC

    Andrew

    Whilst your attempt at explaining is welcome, and I do not wish to belittle the difficult situation you find yourselves it, you only have yourselves to blame for not raising this with the MEMBERSHIP before now. Your replies do not really go anywhere near enough to answer the points raised.

    In particular:

    In brief, fundamentally (a) there has been no explaination of what this has to do with security; and (b) no justification for the data harvesting by the police (or party) and long term retention of the data.

    1. You have only just announced this to the party membership although it appears FCC agreed to this many months ago. Why have you not consulted about this or had their opinions sought beforehand? Given the need for FCC to review this decision will you now change the time periods for “Early Bird” bookings until after you have been able to either get these crazy requirements lifted, or can demonstrate to the membership why the new arrangements are justified? You are claiming this is a party accreditation process but the website clearly states it is a police accreditation – which is it?

    2. What exactly is the perceived security threat the WMP are seeking protection from? The scanning and bag checks etc deal with anything physically being brought into the venue so clearly this is only about people and not what they may attempt to bring into the venue. In you original posting you said what the accreditation process was not aimed at preventing and said it is aimed at “preventing those who are intent on causing serious harm”. What do the accreditation checks actually involve and why do the FCC consider these to be necessary?

    3. You are attempting to sell this to the membership on the basis that it has been used for years by Labour and the Conservatives so somehow must be correct. However, explain what happened with Walter Wolfgang who presumably passed the accreditation to get into the Labour Conference?

    4. Why should the data be retained at all, even if for now we assume that the accrediation is necessary, why not simply that the party records once and for all that someone is accredited – or have the police said they do not trust the parties data systems?

    5. Indeed why is the data to be held and processed by the police rather than the party, what secret or otherwise databases are they going to be checking against? The computer system may be standalone, but as all accesses to the PNC are logged then presumably it will show a check for a party conference! How are you going to ensure the references on the PNC are deleted?

    6. Why not publish the actual advice from WMP and the Home Office and what the insurance company has actually asked for and what if any alternative insurance options have been explored? In your later posting you have said “Once accreditation becomes a formal requirement we run into significant problems over insurance if we go against those requirements.” Running into significant problems is not an answer – the whole point of risk assessment is to weigh up risks.

    7. Why not publish what the venue have actually said – have ICC in fact said they will not accept a booking with out verification?

    8. You said that “The data is securely handled in accordance with the Data Protection Act and only used for the purposes of accreditation at party political conferences.” This reveals a lack of knowledge both about what the Data Protection Act actually says and the very wide powers of data sharing that the police and others actually have. What if any advice has been sought from the Information Commissioner on this?

    For those that do not know, which currently seems to include the FCC, the Data Protection Act states that anyone who processes personal information must comply with eight principles, which make sure that it is:
    1. fairly and lawfully processed
    2. processed for limited purposes
    3. adequate, relevant and not excessive
    4. accurate and up to date
    5. not kept for longer than is necessary
    6. processed in line with your rights
    7. secure
    8. not transferred to other countries without adequate protection.

    I’m not really sure we have heard how data principles 3, 4, 5 and 7 in particular will be complied with.

    In your later posting you have said “Having said that there is no reason why those that want their personal details should not be able have it deleted, and then re-enter it next time they come to conference where accreditation is required.” The default position should be that data is not retained without consent as to do otherwise is in breach of the 5th data principle.

    9. Mention has been made about the Brighton bombing, but has been equally well made that was outside the conference venue. Not as young as some others I lived in Birmingham at the time of the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings and can very vividly remember what it was like then. We should not make little of such events, but at the same time we should remember that what we now know is that those arrested and found guilty were subsequently cleared many years later, it being accepted that amongst other things the police had fabricated and suppressed evidence. It is very disppointing that those making this point do not acknowledge that physical security is not what the FCC is trying to deal with as this is more than adequately dealt with by the physical security measures – so it would help if you would disassociate yourself and FCC from these claims.

    Mike

  • Duncan Borrowman 4th Jun '11 - 10:24pm

    Dave Page. Go and hold your own alternative conference. Frankly the only people you will be a target for are those you are offensive to.

  • @Paul – many thanks for the explanation, much appreciated.

    @Mike Galloway, MK – Excellent open letter to Andrew & the FCC.

    I don’t think anyone here had any intention of belittling the efforts of the FCC – its members are in an invidious position and Andrew has tried to address our concerns. However, this situation should never have been allowed to arise and it has obviously caused major concerns amongst the Members.

    I think that the Membership

    a) has a right to question what has happened
    b) had a right to be consulted in the first place.

    Your suggestion of moving the “Early Bird” date is an excellent one and one which should be enacted.

  • I’m shocked

  • Reading back on the comments, there’s a few questions I have.

    Firstly, this seems to hinge on the “acting on police advice” clause in the insurance contract. That seems a bit woolly to me. You could in theory act on police advice, and do nothing. Following police advice would be more appropriate.

    Secondly, this does appear to have been a problem with West Midlands Police, and will continue to be if we have conferences in their area. How does this compare with other forces’ approach? Could we effectivley say to Birmingham that, because of WMP’s position on this, we’re not coming back?

    Thirdly, nobody has addressed the point of whether anyone rejected has the right to know why. I’d assume this was key in understanding the position.

    Finally, the communication of this has been abysmal. I’m actually surprised that the FCC didn’t anticipate this – but then I tend to think that party committees are often out of touch with the views of members (despite being elected by them) so probably shouldn’t be. Once the issues are ironed out, could someone from FCC come back to Lib Dem Voice with the definitive position?

  • Cllr Colin Strong 6th Jun '11 - 7:34pm

    I’ve sent a strongly worded e-mail to Nick Cleg copied to Tim Farron.
    This is wrong. Very wrong. A fundamental principle of our party as a liberal party is at stake.

    This security issue reminds me of a security seminar at work when the security expert says “Don’t worry. They will not blow up your place of work because your security is very good. They will simply cause a fire alarm and when you all gather outside at the designated fire assembly point that is when you and your staff are totally vulnerable.”

  • Steve James 6th Jun '11 - 11:26pm

    “we have the power to overrule the police” This phrase sums up what is wrong with this whole process. It is an admission that the police now have first say in who can attend our conference.

  • Andrew / Jeremy, thanks for your thorough explanations.

    My understanding of the need for passport numbers etc. is to be sure people are who they say they are. This seems wholly sensible. And as has been said there is flexibility (it just takes longer) if people don’t have some of the relevant info (and hopefully if they have particular confidentiality needs too).

    To the extent I have any grumbles it is that the security procedures for the three parties – while all rigorous – seem to be subtly different for no explicable reason. E.g. Labour require a reference from my employer, the Tories one from someone who has known me for two years! I rather wish all my data was kept and I didn’t have to fill it in again every year!

    Anyway, thanks again for engaging on here.

    George

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