Featherstone and Hughes defend Coalition record on civil liberties in letter to Independent on Sunday

The coalition’s record on civil liberties took a bit of  a pasting in last week’s Independent on Sunday. Today, Justice Minister Simon Hughes and Home Office Minister Lynne Featherstone defended the Liberal Democrat record in a letter to the paper. Their missive rather felt the sharp edge of the editor’s pen, but the full version (via the party website) is below. They have a good go at both the Tories and Labour.

Dear Sir,

We are writing in response to your editorial Common-sense rights (Sunday 4thJanuary).

We are intensely proud of the coalition’s record on civil liberties. The presence of the Liberal Democrats in coalition has guaranteed that this has been the first government for a generation to restore lost freedoms and safeguard our civil liberties for the future.

In 2010, one of our first acts was to abolish Labour’s ID cards scheme and physically to shred the 500 hard disk drives which made up the National Identity Register. This was the database which was going to hold our photos, fingerprints and iris scans, along with detailed records of our everyday movements and activities. In 2011, we abolished Control Orders. In 2012, the first ever Freedoms Act rolled back many of the authoritarian policies of the Labour government, including the reinstatement of the historic right to jury trial; made sure that innocent people have their records deleted from the national DNA database, and introduced regulation of CCTV for the first time.

It is true that as the coalition has progressed, the Tories have lost any interest in upholding civil liberties. We have therefore had to block a whole series of proposals which would reduce civil liberties.  These include the so-called ‘Snooper’s Charter’, secret inquests on the say-so of the Home Secretary and ‘banning orders’ which would have criminalised a whole group of people exercising their right to free speech.

Where we have needed to act to safeguard national security, we have done so. Attentive observers will note big differences between the way this government has legislated and the way that Labour behaved. With Liberal Democrats in power the police and security services have had to present clear evidence to persuade us of the case for any new powers. Unlike the other parties, we have only agreed to legislation that is proportionate, targeted and justified. We will never compromise on public safety, but equally we will make sure that we do not overreact.

It is not true that the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill grants the power simply to remove the passports of suspected foreign fighters. There were calls from some during the summer for the power arbitrarily to strip suspected foreign fighters of their citizenship. Liberal Democrats opposed this potential breach of international law and, in fact, the new legislation provides something very different – a managed return process. This will enable the police to speak to those who have fought abroad, and make sure that if they try to return to the UK this is done safely and with support – to divert them away from extremist groups.

There has never been a need to balance freedom and security. Liberal Democrats in government have taken action which shows that it is clearly possible to protect both.

Yours,

Rt Hon Simon Hughes MP, Minister of State for Justice and Civil Liberties

Rt Hon Lynne Featherstone MP, Minister of State for Crime Prevention

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6 Comments

  • Peter Hayes 11th Jan '15 - 8:48pm

    Would have expected a better edit from Independent, a bias perhaps but where?

  • Little Jackie Paper 11th Jan '15 - 10:49pm

    Well…OK. But I do have to ask whether all of this is a strangely limited vision of what liberties are, and whether it has produced an equally limited set of libertarian goals. There seems to be, running through this letter, an idea that crimps on liberty are exclusively something done by the state. Sure, the limits of the state are an important argument to have. But where is, and I do apologise if this sounds somewhat old-fashioned, the liberal analysis of oppression by capital?

    BTL housing for example has allowed landlords all manner of power over those that rent/are priced out. Zero hours contracts surely can (stress, CAN) crimp liberty. What about rights for organised labour? Are large internet companies really accountable to anyone?

    Fine – debate the limits of the state. But as we do that we should at least remember that freedom does not start and stop at the limits of the state.

  • Tsar Nicolas 11th Jan '15 - 11:19pm

    Since we have such a good record on civil liberties and since we are all now Charlie Hebdo, will I now be permitted to watch Press TV live on my telly?

  • Julian Tisi 12th Jan '15 - 9:23am

    This is a very well written letter. Lovely!

  • Denis Loretto 12th Jan '15 - 2:01pm

    The essential thing now is to “stick to our guns” (if you’ll excuse the expression). The appalling Charlie Hebdo crime will inevitably lead to increased pressure upon the Lib Dem leadership to go along with the kind of measures which we know will make the situation worse rather than better. It was heartening to see several of the marchers in Paris warning in street interviews against taking measures in France which would seriously threaten the very liberties which the marchers had turned out in their millions to defend. Nick Clegg is being increasingly named as the man who has stood in the way of the “Snoopers’ Charter”. He must take pride in that and stand his ground.

  • suzanne fletcher 13th Jan '15 - 3:42pm

    and we have legislated and put into action the ending of child detention for immigration purposes

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