In support of robust and respectful debate at conference

“It’s a disgrace that someone can say something outrageous like that in a debate at Conference! They should be thrown out of the Party! How can I put in a complaint? I want them expelled!” I have heard this question time and time again over the years during Federal Conference.

The answer is simple. If you believe you need to make a complaint about the behaviour of a member of the Liberal Democrats, go to the party website and put in a formal complaint to the Lib Dem’s Independent Complaints Process. A decision will then be made by the Senior Adjudicators about whether the complaint should be heard, or whether it should be dismissed.

In debates things are often said that are downright annoying and may be deeply upsetting to hear, especially from another Party member. 

However, we must remember that the very nature of a debate is to invite opposing views. The Lib Dems are a Party which values free speech. Therefore, we cannot invite debate at conference and then routinely discipline our members, because of what they say on the platform.

People do put in complaints after Conference about things that were said in debates. The reality is that unless you can demonstrate in your complaint that a person may have broken the Members Code of Conduct or is likely to have brought the Party into disrepute, the complaint will be dismissed. 

If you can demonstrate a possible breach of the Members Code of Conduct, such a complaint would almost certainly be accepted for consideration by an Independent Panel of Adjudicators.

It is worth noting that any Panel will look at the recording of the debate in order to come to their decision. 

The outcome will be unrelated to what the Debate Chair might have said or done to maintain order in the Conference Hall.  The actions of the Debate Chair have no bearing on whether a complaint is heard, or what decision a Panel might make about such a complaint in front of them.

It’s also not the Debate Chair’s role to moderate the participants in a debate. They are there to facilitate the session and ensure the smooth running of the debate.

In conclusion, if you decide to speak in a debate at any Federal, State or Regional Conference I urge you to go and look at the Member’s Code of Conduct first. We want to support robust debate. But please try to avoid saying anything deliberately hurtful or disrespectful to or about others.

 

* Candy Piercy is Chair of the DSG (the Disciplinary Sub Group of the Federal Board) The DSG are responsible for ensuring the independence, effectiveness and efficiency of Complaints Process, raising awareness of how it works and training our volunteers. However, we have no involvement in or indeed knowledge of any live cases, or in any of the decisions made by the Senior Adjudicators team or the decisions made by the Independent Panels of Volunteer Adjudicators.

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2 Comments

  • Wise words from Candy, as ever

  • Well said. Just because someone gets angry or offended by an opinion doesn’t mean they are right to do so. I’ve always seen support for free speech within the law as central to liberalism, and associated censorship with the Conservative right. That seems to be turning on its head a bit.

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