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:
We lost that one 227-295 … That’s it for the night. Ah well, at least we tried!
— Julian Huppert (@julianhuppert) March 4, 2013
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.