Control orders: ineffective but a blow to freedom

“Ineffective in the fight on terror – but a devastating blow to freedom” – that’s the pithy and accurate summary of control orders by Mary Riddell over in the Daily Telegraph. And the newspaper in which the piece appeared is are reminder of how civil liberty issues cut across the political spectrum in not always expected or neat ways.

Riddell points out,

Within the next few days, Mr Cameron and his deputy must reach agreement on the future of security in Britain and, in particular, on control orders and how long to hold terror suspects without charge. The “car crash” foreseen by the Prime Minister is now imminent. The question is who will end up in A&E.

Nick Clegg has publicly deplored the orders, which can use secret evidence to place people under house arrest, force them to move home and decree whom they may see. Punishing suspects over unspecified allegations without giving them the chance to defend themselves has appalled MPs of all parties. None has been more outspoken on this “fundamental” breach of liberties than Mr Clegg.

Meanwhile Jonathan Evans, the head of M15, deemed the control-order regime vital to guaranteeing public safety. Theresa May is said to have swung, as is the way of home secretaries, behind the security services. This impasse will shortly be tested by the six-part national security review, which is being drafted by a Home Office team for publication next month.

The review may come out clearly against control orders, in which case the political issues within the coalition will fall by the wayside as that will provide an easy route for Cameron to keep not only the Liberal Democrats but also people such as David Davis (another vocal opponent of control orders) on board. However, if the review comes out with a more nuanced view, for example by offering a range of possible options, then the political battle within the Coalition is likely to be intense.

Full credit to Jo Shaw for setting up the Facebook Cause Liberal Democrats Against Control Orders to mobilise opposition to them within the party (and you can sign up to it here), but signing a Facebook cause is only one step. You can also lobby Nick Clegg directly via the contact details here.

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  • Leviticus18_23 16th Nov '10 - 10:47pm

    I feel a u turn coming on…

  • Following this morning’s report from the Home Office we know that the alarming state of our security is even worse than we thought. In many ways the challenge is bigger; the dangers are more acute; and the need to set out how we’re going to put things right, is even greater than we realised. Today, I am going to highlight five points:

    One: we will not allow terrorists to destroy our freedoms.

    Two: why it is essential to have measures in place to protect out freedoms.

    Three: that there is nothing illiberal about protecting the most vulnerable in our society from the threat of terrorism.

    Four: that this Government understands the need to balance liberty with security.

    Lastly, that action to tackle known threats must be guided by our values, not just by out-dated notions from the past that couldn’t have understood the threats we face today.

    But make no mistake: this is not a task we relish. Nor was it our choice. This is the legacy that we, as a new government, and we, the British people, were left.

    That is why we will do everything we can to make sure the difficult decisions we take are fair and just.

    It is the only way we can get our freedoms on a sound footing. And – and this is the absolutely crucial point – to do anything else would not only be irresponsible, it would be a betrayal of our progressive values.

    The choices that were available to us just six months ago are no longer available. We have to complete a plan that was set up by the last goverment so that we can still be in control of our future. By taking action, by being responsible, by not denying the reality we now face, there is still room for manoeuvre in how we tackle threats to our democracy.. By taking action, we do something hugely important: we give ourselves the chance to shape outcomes and to protect those who travel on our buses, on our trains and from our airports. That is why we will be adopting the measures that have been recommended to us for the sake of our children and the generations to come..

  • Clegg must stand firm on this, and must get libertarian Tories onside to win the battle.

  • John Pollett 17th Nov '10 - 8:00am

    in the past few days I’ve read of:
    Plans to allow MI5/MI6 to keep evidence secret to avoid any more embarrassing revelations about torture or rendition becoming public
    Using unmanned drones to monitor demonstrations
    Support for control orders

    Is there no principle that can’t be ditched ?

  • John Pollett 17th Nov '10 - 8:05am

    I agree. We should not allow terrorists to destroy our freedoms.
    Unfortunately it undermines the rest of your comment and the argument for control orders quite deciseivly.

  • um, Richard’s post is satirical…

  • Three observations:

    (1) The Orange Bookers, though Thatcherite on economic matters, differ from most Conservatives in their enthusiasm for the European Union and their belief in civil liberties.

    (2) In order to get the Liberal Democrats to join the “coalition” (indeed, to help get his party elected) Cameron was forced to suspend the prosecution of the control agenda for the lifetime of this Parliament.

    (3) The Americans are likely to insist that once the Conservatives have an outright majority, or the Orange Bookers have merged part of the Liberal Democrats with the Conservative Party, the control agenda must be given priority once again – certainly with a Romney Presidency from January 2013.

    In view of the above, I agree with those who believe that Control Orders are more likely to fracture the “coalition” than student tuition fees, mass unemployment, stealth privatisation of the NHS, hammering the poor, etc.

    Are Control Orders necessary? To answer that question, I would draw readers’ attention to the example of internment without trial in Northern Ireland from 1971 to 1972, which was arguably successful militarily, but was catastrophic politically. The same could be true of Control Orders, which are a blunt instrument, and fundamentally illiberal, and are likely to contribute to the further radicalisation of younger Moslems. They are basically a lettre de cachet signed and executed by unaccountable servants of the government. Not something a Liberal Democrat, or any kind of democrat, should support. Can these suspects not be kept under surveillance rather than incarcerated without charge or trial?

  • Andrew Wimble 17th Nov '10 - 4:07pm

    While I understand that we have to make compromises as part of a coilition and that will sometimes meaning accepting unpalatable tory policies, the ideal of restricting peoples liberty without a charge or trial goes so totally against core Liberal Democrat principles that no true liberal can support them. I will be very angry if any Liberal Democrat MP speaks in favour of, or worst still votes for, the continuation of control orders in any form that does not involve the rigourous examination of evidence by a court.

  • TheSpiderplant wrote –
    “If Clegg backtracks on Control orders he will have no credibility left as either our Leader or a Liberal Democrat. Its another red line that we simply cannot cross”.

    I wonder just how many times this sentiment has been expressed in the last few months? only for the poster to be either disappointed or swayed in their view
    And I wonder how many times will this happen in the future before any sort of action is actually taken?

  • There’s lots of nuances to be considered in the issues if tuition fees or benefits cuts. But as far as civil liberties are concerned, compromise is not an option and a massive red line for all libdems and one I for one cannot tolerate being crossed!

  • >I wonder just how many times this sentiment has been expressed only for the poster to be either disappointed or swayed in their view

    Where people have been swayed so far is by arguments of economic necessity. “The country’s skint, so…”
    Or the need for compromise, given the Lib Dems are so much the junior party in the coalition and it’s hard to punch too hard above one’s weight.

    Disappointed? I hope not. Because then civil liberties are stuffed (Labour wrecked them in the first place, so no point voting them in instead).

    Swayed? The trouble for home secretaries is that if they let someone go and that person then commits mass murder, they are really in the mire. And that’s an easy action/consequence connection to prove. Whereas the fact the illiberal laws make things worse isn’t.
    ‘Terror suspects allowed to roam free’ isn’t a brilliant headline for any minister to read.
    ‘Freed terror suspect blows up packed train’… you can see why ministers might dither.
    (And I’m not saying for a minute that control orders work: it’s about the illusion of Being Seen to be Doing Something Like being Tough on Crime).

    I hope it doesn’t sway of our MPs. If they don’t at least put up a protest on this, there’ll be no party to vote for at all in 2015. (If the Greens ever had power, their principles would tumble like dominoes as totally unworkable. And I’ve been a member of a few green organisations).

    >The Americans are likely to insist

    We could tell them where to get off 😉

  • >”The Americans are likely to insist

    We could tell them where to get off 😉 ”

    Yep! that’s the spirit 🙂

  • “If the Greens ever had power, their principles would tumble like dominoes as totally unworkable. And I’ve been a member of a few green organisations”

    That’s a rather irrelevant, strange and unnecessary tribal swipe at the Green Party – I’m not quite sure why you felt the need to introduce it into this thread. I certainly don’t think the Green Party should be taking any advice about sticking to principles from the Liberal Democrats!

  • >That’s a rather irrelevant, strange and unnecessary tribal swipe at the Green Party

    Just clarifying the “there’ll be no party to vote for at all in 2015” (pre-empting anyone responding “vote Green” as an option. Which is being touted elsewhere as an alternative for disaffected Lib Dems and would largely lead to the Tories actually taking the seats, I suspect).

    This isn’t the place to go into it in depth. Read their manifesto (some of it’s good, sound stuff and plenty of it is admirable) and decide for yourself how much is achievable and how much is worthy wish list they’d have to drop in office.

    Some principles are fundamental. Civil liberties for sure.
    Others, sadly, can turn out to be a luxury when any party gets into power and reality gets in the way.
    Or when a party or person gets some power, but finds that’s not enough to bring about what it wants – ask Mr Obama how easy it is for ‘the leader of the free world’ to achieve any of his election pledges.

  • Parliament would be a much better place with fifty Green MPs.

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