7 ‘rebel’ Lib Dem MPs back party policy as rest vote for secret courts

After the excitement of Friday’s Eastleigh by-election result, it’s back to earth with a bump for Lib Dems, after most of our MPs last night ignored the party conference’s overwhelming opposition to ‘secret courts’ and voted into law a measure that flies in the face of natural justice.

Here’s the BBC report:

MPs have voted to back plans to allow more civil courts to examine secret intelligence in private, despite calls for more safeguards. MPs from all sides had tried to press for so-called secret courts to be used only as a last resort. But the government successfully saw off the challenge. … Two Labour amendments, which attempted to introduce extra safeguards, were defeated by 297 to 226 and by 298 to 225 – government majorities of 71 and 73 respectively. … Seven Liberal Democrats MPs rebelled to support Labour’s amendment, which would have put in place this public interest test, including president Tim Farron, deputy leader Simon Hughes and former minister Sarah Teather. But several former Labour ministers chose to back the government’s position, including former Home Secretary Jack Straw and former counter terrorism minister Hazel Blears.

The seven Lib Dem rebels last night were:

    Mike Crockart
    Tim Farron
    John Hemming
    Simon Hughes
    Julian Huppert
    Greg Mulholland
    Sarah Teather

Sarah Teather posted on her Facebook page:

“I rebelled on a series of votes this evening on the Justice and Security Bill. Having spent most of my time in Parliament campaigning against rendition, guantanamo bay and torture I take a close interest in matters like this. My Libdem colleagues Julian Huppert and Mike Crockart have done a great job getting changes to the bill during the committee stage and there is no doubt it is a better bill, but I still didn’t feel the safeguards the Government has given on the use of secret courts were convincing enough.”

Though the Government hurriedly brought forward yesterday’s debate to spare the Lib Dem leadership’s blushes at this weekend’s Spring Conference, campaigners against secret courts will push for the party to renew its pledge to repeal ‘secret courts’. Here’s the concluding text of the motion conference voting representatives will be asked to approve:

Conference repeats its call for:

1. Liberal Democrat parliamentarians to vote to delete Part II of the Justice and Security Bill
2. Party policy to remain that the Liberal Democrats will repeal Part II of the Justice and Security Act (if so enacted) as soon as we are in a position to do so.

Let’s see if the will of conference helps our MPs remember their liberal principles.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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60 Comments

  • We need to get our vocabulary right here. The people who would imprison others on the basis of so-called ‘evidence’ that they daren’t actually produce in an open court are the terrorists in our society.

  • Martin Lowe 5th Mar '13 - 8:24am

    Where do we get the full list of MPs votes on this matter?

  • Andrew Suffield 5th Mar '13 - 8:32am

    Annoying, but I note that even if every LD MP had voted against it, we’d still have lost.

  • jenny barnes 5th Mar '13 - 8:42am

    Conference? I’ve heard of that. It’s a LibDem talking shop, isn’t it? Nothing to do with actual policy.

  • Is it not even more Kafkaesque, when those Lib Dem MPs that adhered to the spirit of a Lib Dem Conference motion, by standing up for justice, are the ones considered to be ‘rebels’.?

  • Anthony Hawkes 5th Mar '13 - 9:02am

    It is all a bit of a puzzle. What have the LibDem parliamentarians gained by backing this rather odious bill? It goes against core party principles and does not feature at all in the coalition agreement. I really do not understand.

  • Appalling. This finally removes any lingering thought in my mind that I might be able to bring myself to vote for my Lib Dem MP.

  • Tom Snowdon 5th Mar '13 - 9:27am

    What is the point of conference if the parliamentary party just ignore its decisions ?

  • There are also at least some abstentions.

  • This is not the will of the party and not in anyway liberal!

    If the government feels it cannot submit evidence because they feel our security agencies would be compromised then that is a price they have to pay to maintain an open and transparent justice system. The danger of future governments abusing this legislation is real and too great.

  • “Conference repeats its call for:

    1. Liberal Democrat parliamentarians to vote to delete Part II of the Justice and Security Bill
    2. Party policy to remain that the Liberal Democrats will repeal Part II of the Justice and Security Act (if so enacted) as soon as we are in a position to do so.”

    What a pointless motion. Conference already voted on this and the MPs ignored Conference. As for “as soon as we are in a position to do so.” – words fail me!

    Conference has proved it’s impotence.

  • Down with a bump is right…

    The triple lock procedure is there to ensure party consent for coalition. But in this instance it was clearly framed – not least by the leadership – as being consent for a coalition to enact an agenda based on the coalition agreement published prior to the special conference.

    Now, obviously no one expects a document drawn up over a few days to contain absolutely everything the government might do. But the more departures there are from the coalition agreement without fresh backing from conference, the less the coalition can really be considered to have the consent of the party. This is the second major issue (after the NHS bill) that wasn’t mentioned in the agreement and was explicitly opposed at conference.

    The most worrying thing about secret courts is that I have no faith in a future Labour government to repeal them. If we of all parties don’t fight this who on earth will?

  • I have no problem with making compromises in coalition. But as this isn’t in the overall coalition agreement, what are we getting for letting this through? If the leadership could point to a specific win we are getting which the Tories don’t like then I’d feel more comfortable.

    But the radio silence suggests the leadership actually agree with secret courts, and see the protesters as the awkward squad. Not good at all.

  • David Evans 5th Mar '13 - 10:36am

    “Leader bonkers” is closer to the truth.

  • Jonathan Featonby 5th Mar '13 - 10:41am

    Mike Thornton hadn’t been sworn in in time to be able to vote last night, but he should be sworn in by Thursday, which is when the rest of the Report Stage and the Third Reading will take place.

    I find it deeply worrying that Tories such as David Davis and Andrew Tyrie voted for the amendments when the majority of Lib Dem MPs went through the lobbies with the likes of Jack Straw and Hazel Blears – who aren’t exactly known for their liberal stances when it comes to civil liberties.

  • Interesting to note that no MPs have come on here this morning to explain / justify themselves.

  • What I find very depressing is that the Leadership would not meet with Jo Shaw to discuss. I’m just baffled that those at the top should treat their own members with such contempt and collude with the Tories to change the timetable of the vote so that it cannot be discussed at their OWN Conference. I mean, is this behaviour rational ? It’s only going to alienate the very people who are needed on the ground to get the votes in. .

  • Peter Andrews 5th Mar '13 - 11:29am

    I am proud that my local MP Greg Mulholland voted against this.

    I think it very telling that both the Lib Dem MPs that were on the Committee for this bill voted against as well

  • David Evans 5th Mar '13 - 11:41am

    The key is what we choose to do at conference to tell Nick, in public because that’s the only time he pays attention, that what he has done is unacceptable. Last time we were only just outflanked by the “Shirley Williams’ motion” on an issue that was much less clear.

    If we bottle it this time, we will have no-one to blame except ourselves for the road crash that will be 2015 and beyond.

  • paul barker 5th Mar '13 - 12:21pm

    Conference should also make it clear that this issue should be part of any future Coalition negotiations & should be one of our “red line” issues. I am, in general a supporter of Cleggs leadership but on this he should be told hes got it wrong.

  • Geoffrey Payne 5th Mar '13 - 12:24pm

    It should be pointed out that the Parliamentary party that voted in favour were the rebels, whilst the 7 who voted against were abiding to Lib Dem policy.

  • @ paul barker and David Evancs
    Yes, I agree – conference should take the opportunity to make a clear public statement on this, and if we can push the parliamentary party into making this a key future negotiating plank then so much the better.

    And I’m also someone who is usually fairly loyalist (and on the whole I think Nick Clegg has been a good leader). But the right of a defendent to hear the evidence against them is a sine qua non of justice and I’m very angry to see Lib Dem MPs voting to surrender that right, apparently so that the government can more easily avoid financial damages.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 12:48pm

    I expect that the behaviour of the majority of LibDem MOs has impressed the electorate, and that LibDems will gain votes as a result. This is a good thing. Everyone knows that CMPs are not there to handle traffic offences. People need to stop allowing their chains to be pulled by meaningless mantras like “secret courts”. As for conference, it really needs to get a grip. MPs are elected by constituents and their primary loyalty is to those constituents. The idea that a party conference is anything other than an advisory body is simply not democratic.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 1:06pm

    MOs -> MPs !

  • Grammar Police 5th Mar '13 - 1:26pm

    I do think that the relationship between parliamentarians and conference/policy does have to be sorted. We are in government now, and we expect our elected representatives to conform to policy.

    There are a number of issues. Firstly, policy may not be directly applicable, and so we need to leave them some discretion; second, managing any government requires vast quantities of compromise, both within and between departments, ministers etc – and coalitions add to this by adding parties – and often this trade-off is obscured. And it’s not all about legislation, but policy, guidance and even ministerial decisions. IMO communication is the key here. Ministers and MPs need to be open and accessible to the membership about how and why they’re doing something – we haven’t got used to doing this properly yet.

    I signed the letter against CMP. But we should know what they are and what they’re not.

    Part II of the Justice and Security Bill would apply closed material procedure (CMP) to certain civil actions (they’re not to do with locking people up – not in this instance anyway!) where there was felt to be a national security issue.

    Ostensibly this is to allow the Government to defend certain civil actions brought against them. Apparently, there are some that they fail to defend because they don’t want to put particular evidence into the public domain.

    Now, the question is (a) is it fair to ever have any kind of court proceedings where one party can’t really see all the evidence; and (b) can we trust the government always to use CMP only in the ‘right’ cases.

  • Grammar Police 5th Mar '13 - 1:28pm

    @ Catherine ” right of a defendent to hear the evidence against them ”

    This Bill isn’t about people being prosecuted by evidence they’re not allowed to see (we already have this!).

    CMP in the context of this Bill is actually about the Government using evidence to defend itself, that the claimant party isn’t allowed to see directly (and is only allowed to “see” through a special advocate).

  • If I’ve read it correctly Nick and the majority of our MPs even voted against the requirement for these provisions to be subject to an annual renewal

  • David Evans 5th Mar '13 - 1:48pm

    @ Richard Dean “I expect that the behaviour of the majority of LibDem MOs has impressed the electorate, and that LibDems will gain votes as a result. This is a good thing. ”

    It’s an interesting position for a liberal to take. Could you explain where you reconcile this with “… no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.” Or do you believe that establishing a law that allows the government to keep its citizens in the dark, and particularly those wanting to expose its wrongdoings in a civil court, is a really good liberal principle?

  • I expect this will have the chilling effect of discouraging litigation to which the government will be or might be or might become a party — because few attorneys will willingly take cases where the table is tilted against their clients and the prospect of victory is hardly in view.
    Which then raises the question: why not simply ban litigation against the government, or give government the right to unilaterally quash proceedings in any case where they declare an interest? The effect would be much the same.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 1:58pm

    Personally I would not like to be enslaved by Abu Qatada!

    I would also like my democratically elected government, in the many cases where it has right on its side, to be able to defend itself against spurious claims. I would also like my government, in the few cases where its officers may have done wrong, to be held to account. CMPs look like a way to achieve these two objectives in sensitive cases.

    The idea of both defending a democratically elected government, and calling it to account, is, in my view, a classically liberal and democratic stance.

  • Dominic Curran 5th Mar '13 - 2:04pm

    Richard Dean – I would be personally very happy for Abu Qatatad to do that.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 2:10pm

    Then you are clearly not interested in LibDem values, Dominic. May I point you in the direction of http://www.totalitarian.state.and.women.have.no.rights.com. It’s probably more to your liking.

  • David Evans 5th Mar '13 - 2:40pm

    @ Richard Dean
    Thanks for the classic politician’s answer.

    1 “Personally I would not like to be enslaved by Abu Qatada!”

    Change the subject.

    2. “I would also like my democratically elected government, in the many cases where it has right on its side, to be able to defend itself against spurious claims. I would also like my government, in the few cases where its officers may have done wrong, to be held to account. CMPs look like a way to achieve these two objectives in sensitive cases.”

    Ignore the evidence.

    3. “The idea of both defending a democratically elected government, and calling it to account, is, in my view, a classically liberal and democratic stance.”

    Enter a inarguable clarion call, which is the exact opposite of your position in the matter.

    4. Move on.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 3:30pm

    What evidence, David Evans? There is none that supports your view. Blogs are not evidence. Self-serving opinions are not evidence. Perhaps it is you who are the classical politician, since none of your points actually relate to what I wrote? :-)

  • So, we now have a wholesale shift of justice. “Guilty until proven innocent” – and how does one prove oneself innocent please tell?

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 4:03pm

    That’s correct, Giselle. The people who oppose the bill want the government to be guilty until proved innocent. That is not the way forward at all.

  • David Evans 5th Mar '13 - 4:09pm

    @Richard Dean

    Thanks for accepting points 1, 3 and 4.

    Now as for your response to point 2.

    “What evidence?” Well how about the fact that in a court action, the state can hide its evidence, or do you really think that your “government, in the few cases where its officers may have done wrong, to be held to account.” when it can hide its evidence. As for few cases: Hillsborough? Tell that to the parents and listen to them laugh.

  • Simon Bamonte 5th Mar '13 - 4:36pm

    So, @Richard Dean, are you so afraid of terrorists that you are happy to give away hundreds of years of established legal precedent so you can feel “safer”? I, personally, refuse to let nuts like Qatada make me afraid just like I refused to be afraid of the IRA. And we didn’t need secret courts for the IRA threat. As the great Benjamin Franklin once said: “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” I happen to agree with him. Giving up freedoms and letting the state act in even more secrecy, thus chipping away at our way of life, is exactly one of the things terrorists want.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 5:02pm

    David, you presume too much. A response to one point does not imply acceptance of others. Perhaps you ought to ask yourself whether you are also presuming too much about this bill? For one thing, this is about national security. A judge would hardly accept national security as a factor in the Hillsborough case.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 5:04pm

    Benjamin Franklin is dead. Those who ignore Safety nowadays end up with no Liberty at all!

  • Simon Bamonte 5th Mar '13 - 5:27pm

    Your attitude towards civil liberties, safety, and the “right” of the government to hold secret trials, @Richard Dean, sounds rather compatible with the attitudes once held in the former Soviet Bloc and other current authoritarian regimes. We didn’t need “secret courts” when the IRA was attacking us and we certainly don’t need them now. I’d rather keep our centuries-old tradition of open justice and die in a terror attack than continue down this worrying slope of ever-decreasing civil liberties and the security/surveillance state.

    But that’s just me. I refuse to be scared of terrorists and I am disgusted that so many LDs voted for these measures. This is simply playing into the terrorists’ hands and giving them what they want.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 5:36pm

    This bill is about justice. Those who eulogize we responded liberally to IRA injustice may like to Google “internment” and the “Maze prison”.

  • David Evans 5th Mar '13 - 6:11pm

    @ Richard Dean.

    David Kelly is also dead, so are most of the Birmingham Six, and the Bloody Sunday enquiry does not make pleasant reading either, but at least the truth is a lot closer to being known now. But you support something that will shift the balance even further away from liberty to authoritarianism.

    Sadly those who ignore Liberty end up with no safety! It’s a balance and your balance is seriously off the scale for those who call themselves liberals.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 6:37pm

    Yes, David, it’s a balance, and your position is not balanced at all! Mine is. :-) But I feel there ought to be an emoticon that sticks its tongue out! Is there one? This part of the debate seems to have descended to that kind of level.

  • Martin Pierce 6th Mar '13 - 8:03am

    Well done Julian Huppert. Proud he is my MP

  • Nigel Jones 6th Mar '13 - 9:48am

    Well done to Julian Huppert; it is people like him that make me feel there is hope that in the future we really will be making clear to the public what our Lib-Dem principles are. I hope he rises in the party and the sooner the better.

  • Great to see who the real Lib Dems are.

  • David Evans 6th Mar '13 - 4:12pm

    Richard Dean,

    It’s disappointing when a Liberal finds he is not as liberal as he or she would like to believe. You want a stronger state, I as a liberal know the state is always too keen to make itself ever more powerful. I wonder if you were one of those liberals who swallowed wholeheartedly the arguments in favour of id cards being an answer to terrorism, benefit scroungers, etc. etc.

  • Nom de Plume 6th Mar '13 - 8:15pm

    I thought to myself, “power corrupts”. A quick Wiki search later and I have Lord Acton. I recommend the article, especially the extract from the letter written to Mendell Creighton. Incidentally, Acton was a Catholic and a Liberal.

    I am sure the MPs have their reasons for voting the way the did; possibly something to do with ‘National Security’. I don’t know enough about the bill to comment, but would like to share a thought on the nature of power.

    Does anyone remember Icesave? Or the allegations against Lord Rennard or Jimmy Savile. They have one thing in common: the abuse of power. For those of you with a bad memory, Icesave was the Icelandic bank which collapsed. It’s British assets were frozen by the government using anti-terrorism laws (again Wiki). Iceland is not a terrorist state.

    For this reason I have similar fears to the judges and Lord Acton: I worry the laws will be abused. Some themes are perennial.

  • Richard Dean 6th Mar '13 - 10:10pm

    David Evans,
    I applaud your self-discovery, and I am sure you will be a better liberal as a result. As a liberal, I recognize both the benefits and the dangers of a state, and I also recognize that many individuals are keen to make themselves ever more powerful. The state is one guarantor that this natural desire does not end up enslaving us all.

    I also observe that individuals conceptualize the state in many different ways. Some see it as an autocratic parent that must be resisted. Some equate it to their own guilts, which they seek to expunge. Others see it simply as an ad-hoc and partially organized organization of fallible individuals trying to do their best for a population in a confusing and uncertain world. Some of us liberals wish to defend that type of state, and improve it. One way to improve it is to allow people to challenge it. CMPs help that, by removing from government any excuse that information cannot be provided to a court..

    Anyway, balance is essential, as indeed the famous Preamble says, and I am happy that you are beginning to accept the views of myself and the majority of LibDem MPs. Well done!

  • Again, our parliamentarians ( largely) let down the party and liberal values.
    Again, members must take back control and MPs and others should come down from their little pedestals and start building bridges, fast.

  • David Wilkinson 7th Mar '13 - 6:19am

    It will not be long before our so called Liberal Democrat MP’s call themselves National Liberals next, the list of sell outs to the Tories gets longer by the day.
    What’s next abolishing the right to a defence.

  • Richard Dean 7th Mar '13 - 10:52am

    David, isn’t that what the objectors to CMP want, to abolish the government’s right to a defence?

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