Sarah Ludford MEP writes…Conference must debate Miranda detention

I was not initially planning to get particularly involved on the David Miranda Schedule 7 issue except as a concerned, nay horrified, spectator. After all, I’m an MEP not an MP nor (at present) able to be active as a peer, and I have plenty on my plate in Brussels.

But from early Monday morning, as I read the admirably vigorous response from the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation David Anderson QC – and the immediate if deeply hypocritical reaction from Yvette Cooper – I did start to wonder who from the party was going to be vocal. So I tweeted cautiously:

I realised Julian Huppert must be away and indeed as soon as he was in signal range he was, as you would expect, on the case, so I tweeted onTuesday morning:

Others such as Jonathan CalderMark Pack, Richard Davis and Simon Titley on Liberator’s blog have commented on the absence of a Liberal Democrat response. Thus when the Guardian reported a Liberal Democrat  statement, I searched eagerly but in vain for it on the party website but it was not there and despite requests is still not. I am now reliably informed however that it read:

The Coalition government inherited a number of over-broad and draconian terrorism powers from Labour. Liberal Democrats have long stood up for the civil liberties of British citizens, especially in the face of Labour’s authoritarianism. In Government we led a review of these powers. Some have already been changed and the Coalition is currently pressing Parliament to tighten up these laws further to avoid abuses. The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation has already asked for more information on this incident and we will wait to hear his conclusions.

As I was worriedly thinking that ‘someone’ needed to prepare a conference emergency motion, I read the Home Office statement which – especially the appalling last sentence – goaded me into action:

The Government and the police have a duty to protect the public and our national security. If the police believe that an individual is in possession of highly sensitive stolen information that would help terrorism, then they should act and the law provides them with a framework to do that. Those who oppose this sort of action need to think about what they are condoning.

This compounds the familiar but scorned warnings ‘no innocent person has anything to fear’ used shamefully by William Hague in July and ‘if you knew what we knew’, and does so in an outrageous way. For me it was the last straw. As I write this, the BBC’s home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw has tweeted that

My intention is to circulate a first draft of the motion next Tuesday Aug 27th to all voting reps who have by then emailed me with expressions of interest, invite rapid comments, and then circulate the version for signature by Thursday for submission by Saturday to HQ. I don’t see any room for doubt as to satisfaction of the criterion of ”a proposal which relates to a specific recent development which occurred after the deadline for submission of motions.’

It is tempting to stray widely into the whole matter of NSA/PRISM/GCHQ, especially in the light of the  astonishingly complacent ‘all is fine and dandy’ clean bill of health issued by the Westminster Intelligence and Security committee. But I think it best that the motion stick pretty much to the question of the proper ambit and application of counter-terrorism powers and in particular Schedule 7, and the need for reform and safeguards going beyond that contained in the current Antisocial Behaviour Crime and Policing Bill and broadly as recommended by David Anderson, most recently in his latest report.

So email me at officeATsarahludfordmepDOTorgDOTuk if you are an interested voting rep and I will get back to you next week. I will need name, email address, membership number and local party, so be prepared to supply those.

* Sarah Ludford is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords and was MEP for London from 1999-2014.

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35 Comments

  • Good. Nick Clegg is not a liberal. Get him out now.

  • thank goodness an MEP is speaking out about this

  • Given that there will either be an alternative “Shirley Williams emergency motion” (Spring 2012) or the leadership will ignore it (Spring 2013) what is the point of a conference motion?

  • Richard Whelan 21st Aug '13 - 8:40pm

    I am of the view that this issue raises a serious dilemma for the Liberal Democrats which needs careful thought through the policy making processes of the party before a substantive motion is brought to a future conference for debate.

    The dilemma is this: How is it best to protect civil liberties at the same time as you maintain national security? We cannot overlook national security as an important factor in this debate because, whether we like it or not, there are people out there who want to cause this country, and the people who live in it, harm. The security services mostly do an excellent job in keeping us safe, but at the same time they cannot be allowed to ride rough-shod over hard won, and very easily lost, civil liberties. Finding the right balance is difficult and I don’t know myself how this can best be done in a way that maintains our basic values as a party.

    That’s why FPC needs to set up a working group urgently that will examine this dilemma and come forward with practical liberal solutions to it. These solutions can then be debated within FPC before a substantive amendable motion is brought to one of our Federal Conferences next year where red lines and areas for negotiation are set. Once passed the new policy can then feature in our 2015 manifesto and debated with the country at large during the next General Election campaign.

    I would therefore seriously caution against tabling an emergency motion on the back of this particular issue at Glasgow this year. They are often viewed rightly or wrongly as a mechanism for kicking the leadership on the morning before the leader’s speech at the end of conference, and while it may register a protest, it does little else.

    Far better that we formulate considered policy on a very complex set of issues that civil liberties and national security are then make great headlines only for the issue to be forgotten about by the morning after conference.

  • I appreciate the effort – there’s been a troubling silence from most of the Lib Dem MPs, so it’s good to see someone other than Julian speaking up.

  • Clear Thinker 21st Aug '13 - 9:00pm

    I am with Richard Whelan on this, except for two things. One is that the motion would give hotheads in the party an opportunity to let of steam without doing much damage, if any. Also, without the motion, the party might seem out of touch with current affairs.

    But any working group is going to have an incredibly difficult task. Addressing it is about growing up from being an energetic idealist to a stable realist, from focusing on individual freedoms to embracing of population security, from being a party able to protest to a party able to realistically take on the responsibilities of government.

    And like every working group, its outcomes are likely to depend crucially on its composition. Which will be another tricky problem if its task will essentially include one of transforming the party in the way I suggest.

  • I am significantly less enamored of Richard’s plan, which can be summarised as: “let’s punt on the issue until we’re no longer in government”.

  • Richard Whelan 21st Aug '13 - 9:27pm

    Phil,

    No it’s not. Indeed as I said in my initial piece I would like to see this debated in full at one of our federal conferences next year before the next election when we are still in government. I just think that the issues that this case highlights are too complex to be dealt with by an emergency motion. If an emergency motion is to be used, the motion has to make clear that this is the start of the process, not the end of the matter.

  • Tony Greaves 21st Aug '13 - 9:30pm

    Perhaps “Clear Thinker” will tell us that position and role s/he holds/plays in the party?

    Tony Greaves

  • I’m glad that Sarah Ludford sees this for what it is. A thuggish authoritarian Securitate over-reaching it’s electoral mandate, acting outside of all acceptable legal norms (detaining family members of journalists to ‘teach them a lesson’? Smashing the Guardians equipment? Threatening any of us who condone human rights as being what? Aligned to terrorism?) and threatening the democratic liberties of all through the gross and illegal (at least I am not aware of it ever being voted through in Parliament?) GCHQ powers to siphon, retain, and share our most private communications.

    I wish Sarah the best of luck with her progress on this.

    ‘roo

  • Richard Wingfield 21st Aug '13 - 9:46pm

    Sarah is absolutely right to act on this issue, and I’m delighted that she’s stepped up to the plate.

    No-one, as far as I am aware, is suggesting that there should be no powers for police to detain and question people at ports or border areas. I would not want to see Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 repealed. However, in 2011/12, over 69,000 people were detained under Schedule 7 yet only 24 were arrested. And the average annual number of convictions between 2004 and 2009 for terrorist activity following Schedule 7 detentions? Just 7. When over 69,000 people are detained and only around 7 have actually committed any offence, it is clear that the power is either too broadly drawn or too readily used or both. My hope is that Sarah’s emergency motion will tackle both these problems by (1) calling for a tightening up of the power so that it can only be used when there is a reasonable suspicion that the person has information on terrorism; and (2) mandatory recording of all questioning so the public can be sure that the power is only being used to question people about terrorism and not, as is the case with David Miranda, about other issues.

  • Evening Richard,

    Your suggestion is to put any proposed new policy in the 2015 manifesto for debate at the next general election.

    The Liberal Democrats are in government for twenty more months. You don’t want to do anything during that time. Instead you wish use all that time to carefully formulate a policy which – as an opposition party – the Lib Dems will be in no position to implement.

    This is why I summarised your plan as “let’s punt on the issue until we’re no longer in government”.

    You feel that’s unfair because you want to come up with (but not implement) a policy while still in government. I think it’s entirely fair because you don’t want to implement a policy while still in government.

  • Clear Thinker 21st Aug '13 - 10:06pm

    Perhaps “Tony Greaves” should worry about the issues? But I am happy that he has apparently dropped his previous rabble- rouser style. Not particularly respectful to LDV participants, was it? I wonder if Linda Jack might have a choice phrase or two here?

    I hope I have succeed in teaching Tony something, but regression is common.

    I am an ordinary party member, which ought to worry you a lot Tony. You’re not connecting well with ordinary people like me. Ha, there are many of us! What I wonder would you have done if I had specified a particular office? Witch hunt them?

  • A Social Liberal 21st Aug '13 - 10:25pm

    Clear Thinker

    We will see in September if your view is more predominant amongst ‘ordinary’ party members on this matter – although I don’t think you should be too hopeful given the number of posters speaking out both in the public and members forums

  • Clear Thinker: Richard Whelan is calling for a reasoned debate (one in which I personally would come firmly down on the side of liberty), wheras you have simply called those who disagree hot-heads and unable to be involved in Government. Please could you refrain from insults.

    On your more substantive point: Do you think it not possible to have a radical centre? Or stability based on an ideology? Can you cite any evidence that the radical energetic reforming zeal of our party makes it unable to Govern? I believe that a party can govern, defend national security, and not infringe citizens’ liberties at the same time.

  • @Clear Thinker :

    “I am an ordinary party member, ”

    But which Party?

  • Liberal Neil 21st Aug '13 - 10:50pm

    I agree with Richard Wingfield.

  • Clear Thinker 21st Aug '13 - 11:14pm

    @Tony Dawson. Surely you can do better than that?

  • Iain Coleman 21st Aug '13 - 11:21pm

    Richard:

    “The security services mostly do an excellent job in keeping us safe”

    How do you know?

    ” Finding the right balance is difficult”

    The idea that there is a balance between liberty and security is a fundamental, if widespread, fallacy. A balance implies the following:

    (a) When the state reduces our liberty, it is necessarily increasing our security

    (b) To increase our security, the state must necessarily reduce our liberty

    Neither of these propositions is true. The Balance Fallacy is convenient for securocrats, but we should not fall victim to it.

    The balance idea is also unable to take account of state actions that decrease both our liberty and our security, such as a national identity database.

  • Clegg must go.

  • 1. Tony Greaves – seriously, enough with the petty attacks on those of us who do not wish to publish our full names. You’re being silly.

    2. Richard Wingfield – I would love to see Section 7 repealed. Won’t happen, sadly.

  • Eduardo Goncalves 22nd Aug '13 - 7:42am

    Amendment to the motion. “The Lib Dems are no longer the party of free speech. What’s left?” Discuss (sigh, yes I’m still forlornly hanging onto my party membership card..)

  • Disillusioned 22nd Aug '13 - 9:40am

    It is hard enough for disillusioned voter like me, who supported in the party in 2010, to find reason to continue to vote for it in 2015, after five years of a right-wight Coalition that would make even Thatcher green with envy. If the Lib Dems do not stand for civil liberties, what do they stand for?

  • “… stakeholders …”

    I never hear that silly bit of jargon without thinking of Professor Van Helsing.

  • Clear Thinker – from what you’re saying, you seem to believe it’s impossible to enact liberal principles when in government, so why are you a member of the party? (if you actually are)

  • Cllr.Nigel Jones 22nd Aug '13 - 11:27am

    I’m pleased with Sarah being willing to express shock at what has happened. The issue is not whether the Guardian should keep the data, it is about government thinking it can instantly order the paper to destroy it. In that respect, Nick Clegg has not spoken correctly for the party and therefore the party needs an opportunity to express its view at conference.
    If that is different from Nick Clegg’s view, then so be it; yet another message that many of us are not happy that Nick speaks for the grass roots and another message that we are so different from the Tories that the coalition no longer serves Liberal Democrat purposes.

  • Richard Wingfield 22nd Aug '13 - 12:35pm

    If we were talking about an emergency motion on terrorism legislation generally then I would agree with those who suggest that we need to take our time and have a specific working group looking at this issue. However, this emergency motion – as Sarah states quite clearly – is focused on Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000 and its application. There is a wealth of research on this issue already, not least of all the annual reports by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. The recommendations made by the current Independent Reviewer, David Anderon, are not radical. They are sensible measures which would introduce a “reasonable suspicion” test before people could be detained, the repeal of the criminal offence of not answering questions, and the introduction of safeguards when data from mobile phones and other devices is downloaded. I would also like to see a requirement that all questioning be recorded so as to be sure that questioning only relates to finding out whether the person is involved in terrorism. These simple measures do not need a review beforehand to justify introducing them.

  • Sadie Smith 22nd Aug '13 - 1:39pm

    Very pleased with Sarah’s initiative. I do think the narrow focus for an immediate response is what is wanted.
    The idea of shunting this off into our complicated policy system just would not work. We would miss the swift response which is needed. And we would get a policy too late to be useful.
    I am dismayed by some of the comments on this string, particularly from people not clearly identifying themselves.

  • From past experience, most people who comment saying they’re a party member are, but not all of them actually are. Which is why I think it’s sensible for genuine party members to make use of the facility to have their comments marked as being from genuine verified members (details at http://www.libdemvoice.org/comment-policy ).

  • Clear Thinker 22nd Aug '13 - 6:55pm

    Perhaps we should all have ID cards?

  • A BIG ‘well said’ to Sarah Ludford and all posters who have supported her.

  • There is no reason why conference could not both set up a thorough review of security policy AND express it’s emergency view on the Miranda/guardian controversy. Otherwise those advocating only the former may be suspected of merely trying to cover the leadership’s back, which I am sure Richard Whelan (and others) will confirm was not their intention at all.

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