Nick Clegg: “A liberal approach to freedom, a British approach to freedom”

Nick Clegg today set out the principles which will drive the Coalition’s plans to uphold civil liberties while protecting national security, and outlined reforms to Freedom of Information laws and English libel laws. You can read the full speech below — here’s the conclusion:

So, to sum up: the restoration of every day liberties; counterterrorism measures that uphold liberty while protecting security; free citizens able to see into, and speak out about, the organisations that affect their lives. It is a liberal approach to freedom; a British approach to freedom. It forms an important part of our programme to rebalance the relationship between the state and its citizens. Our Labour predecessors will be remembered as the government who took your freedoms away. We want to be remembered as the ones who gave them back.

And here’s the BBC News report in which Nick talks about the ‘dilemma’ the Government faces in working through how to replace Control Orders:

As promised, here’s Nick Clegg’s full speech on civil liberties:

This morning I want to talk about freedom. About the hard-won liberties that we in Britain hold so dear.

This nation is built on a faith in fair play. On a historic hostility towards those who seek to impose their will on others.

Innocent until proven guilty. Equal before the law. Each individual able to think and speak without fear of persecution.

These are the standards instilled in us. They are the hallmarks of a civilised society. They are the reason that victims of oppression worldwide still look to us as proof that there is a better way.

Yet recent times have seen those traditions badly damaged. Under Labour our civil liberties have been undermined, eroded, lost.

It isn’t just the politics that makes me care about this so much; although my party has long campaigned on these issues. It’s something I was brought up with too.

My family, like so many others, was marked by the extremes and conflicts of the last century. My mother spent part of her childhood in a prisoner of war camp. My father’s mother fled the Russian Revolution and found refuge here.

That family history made sure that my brothers and sister and I grew up certain of one thing: you must never take your freedom for granted. And you must treasure and love this country for precisely that reason.

So the Coalition Government is going to turn a page on the Labour years: resurrecting the liberties that have been lost; embarking on a mission to restore our great British freedoms.

We aren’t wasting any time, and we are ambitious about what we want to achieve. In the next twelve months we want to undo the damage of thirteen years. 2011 will be the year we give people’s freedom back.

We’ll do it in three key ways.

One: by reversing the widespread, everyday assaults on liberty that swept across Britain during the Labour years.

Two: by restoring the right balance of liberty and security in the measures taken to tackle terrorism – recognising we can and must have both.

Three: by ending the practices of closed and secretive government; giving people the information and freedom they need to hold us and other institutions to account.

Liberty under Labour

Before I elaborate on those, I’d like to just pause on the state of play the Coalition Government inherited.

Ed Balls has admitted that, when it comes to civil liberties, Labour got the balance wrong. Ed Miliband has conceded that his Government seemed too casual about people’s freedom.

But there was nothing casual about introducing ID cards. Nothing casual about building the biggest DNA database in the world, and storing the DNA of over one million innocent people.

Nothing casual about their failed attempts to increase the time a person can be detained without charge from what was then 14 days up to 90; something Labour’s new leader voted for.

Labour wasn’t laissez faire about liberty. They presided over the most aggressive period of state interference in this country in a generation.

They turned Britain into a place where schools can fingerprint your children without their parents’ consent. Where councils use surveillance powers designed to tackle crime to check if you’re cleaning up after your dog. Where thousands of new criminal offences have amassed on to the statute book. Where you are 7 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police if you are black or Asian. Where, in one year, we saw over 100,000 terror-related stop-and-searches, none of which yielded a single terror arrest.

They made Britain a place where you could be put under virtual house arrest when there was not enough evidence to charge you with a crime. And with barely an explanation of the allegations against you. A place where young, innocent children caught up in the immigration system were placed behind bars. A Britain whose international reputation has been brought into question because of our alleged complicity in torture.

That record is an affront to everything we stand for.

It has created a fundamental imbalance between British citizens and the British state; disempowering individuals, criminalising innocent people, fuelling mistrust between communities, and diminishing this nation’s moral authority too.

It would be easier to forgive Labour if it had simply been a lack of diligence on their part.

But the problem ran much deeper. There is a divide in politics between those of us who trust people and those who trust only government.

It is a line that divides progressive politics into two camps: old progressives, who value a powerful state, and new progressives, who value powerful citizens. Labour is on the wrong side of that divide.

Because, if you believe that the state has all the answers, you will always be pessimistic about citizens.

If you believe everything must be controlled from the centre you will protect central power at all costs. Even when that cost is basic British freedoms.

Liberals, and this Government, take a wholly different approach.

Liberals believe in the dispersal of power: in the raucous and unpredictable capacity of people and communities to make the right decisions for themselves.

We believe that social progress is driven not only by government, but also by confident, free individuals and communities, able to seize opportunities and take risks.

People cannot do that when the state is forever on their back; when their freedoms are denied and their autonomy is undermined.

So this Government is going to restore British liberties.

It is part of our wider project to resettle the relationship between people and government. Our political reforms, decentralisation, changes to public services, rebalancing growth, our focus on social mobility – these are all geared towards shifting power away from its traditional centres.

And it is that fairer dispersal of power that will guarantee British liberties in the long run. We want to empower individuals and communities so comprehensively, so irreversibly, that no future Government will easily be able to behave in ways that are authoritarian or illiberal.

It’s a power shift even a casual Labour party would struggle to reverse.

Everyday freedoms

Turning to our plan to restore British liberty.

One: dismantling the many limits on freedom that have crept into everyday life.

Two: reforming specific measures used to counter terrorism.

Three: giving people the information and power to hold the state and other institutions to account.

The British people have become accustomed to a vast array of infringements on their freedom.

Widespread and indiscriminate surveillance; Their DNA being held, unnecessarily; The proliferation of new criminal offences, and the growing number of reasons state inspectors can barge into their homes; The needless restrictions on people who want to work as volunteers.

The list goes on.

These didn’t happen overnight. They accumulated gradually, bit by bit.

Some have attracted high profile campaigns, like ID cards. Others slipped into our lives. Many now feel normal, even mundane.

And it is in that chipping away of our freedom that the real danger lies. Because it distorts our perception of what level of state interference we should tolerate.

Over time, it makes us less vigilant about our freedom. And we risk our children growing up too complacent about theirs.

So this Government is restoring British liberties with the same systematic ruthlessness with which Labour took them away.

None are too big or too minor, and we want to leave no stone unturned. I hope our record so far is proof of that.

Our very first piece of legislation halted ID cards and scrapped the National Identity Register.

ContactPoint – the Government database containing the personal information of every child in England – has been switched off.

We set up Your Freedom, a website to gauge people’s views on their liberties, and they flooded-in in their thousands. Views that are now directly shaping Government policy, like work we are doing on reforming the vetting procedures for volunteers and criminal records checks.

The Secretary of State for Justice now carefully scrutinises all proposals to create new offences to make sure that they are absolutely necessary. This Government won’t criminalise behaviour lightly

And we made sure that, by our first Christmas in office, not a single innocent child was under lock and key. In Labour’s last year alone over 1000 innocent children were locked up for immigration purposes. We have drawn a line under that scandal.

Over the next twelve months, that momentum is only going to build.

In the coming weeks we will be publishing our review of counter-terrorism, and I will talk more about that shortly.

By next month we will be putting forward a freedom bill: legislation that will bring together a number of measures, for example to better regulate CCTV; to properly control the way councils use surveillance powers; to limit the powers of state inspectors to enter into your house; and to end the indefinite storage of innocent people’s DNA.

We will also be publishing a draft defamation bill to enhance freedom of speech. Again, that is something I will come on to.

In September, the independent review of the UK’s extradition arrangements we commissioned will report.

And Ken Clarke will continue to work on putting together a Repeals Bill to wipe unnecessary and obsolete laws and regulations from the statute book.

Counter-Terrorism

The second strand of our programme on civil liberties centres on counter-terrorism; on upholding civil liberties while we defend our national security, strengthening both.

Recent weeks and days have seen quite a lot of commentary about the Government’s plans. Some of it wildly speculative. Some of it even suggesting that I or others see these vital issues of national security and liberty through a party political prism.

That is utter nonsense. This Government’s duty – our first duty – is to keep the British people safe.

The threat we face from terrorists is very, very real. That is something that weighs heavily on my mind, on the Prime Minister’s mind, and on the Home Secretary’s too.

And we are clear: those who seek to hurt this nation will be rooted out; they will be punished with the full force of British justice.

But, the question we must ask ourselves is this: are the tools we have to combat terrorism effective? And do they help rather than hinder bringing to justice those who seek to destroy our way of life?

We believe, each of us in this Government, that Labour got the balance between liberty and security wrong. The created a regime that was both disproportionate in design, and ineffective in practice.

If you need any proof of that just look at control orders – the subject of much recent commentary.

Remember how they originally came about: as an ad hoc and rushed response to a number of court rulings; the creation of virtual house arrest for people who could not be tried in court; a departure from our long-held commitment to open justice.

And what is worse – as the Prime Minister pointed out earlier in the week – they didn’t even work properly.

John Reid himself described them as full of holes. Suspects have absconded. They were repeatedly and successfully challenged in the courts.

And the long running arguments around control orders have distracted from the real objectives – preventing the planning of terrorist acts and the gathering of evidence to secure prosecutions.
It was precisely to address this ineffectiveness and imbalance that the Government decided, in the Coalition Agreement, to review counterterrorism measures.

The Home Secretary deserves huge credit for the leadership she is showing on that. And I will not, today, second guess the precise outcome of that review.

Some people say we are taking too long to present our findings. But what is most important here is that we get this right.

Because this it not, as some suggest, a straightforward trade-off between liberty or security, as if one must come at the expense of the other.

It is about how we balance the two. How we underpin both. And how we can make sure people who break the law and seek to do us harm are charged, convicted, and put in prison.

The Government has not been consumed by some sort of almighty row between peaceniks on the one hand and securocrats on the other. We are determining, together, with painstaking care, how to keep people safe in a way that upholds our values and traditions.

And I believe the British people would prefer we do that properly. They have had enough of bad decisions, made in the heat of the moment, by the New Labour soap opera. This Government makes its decision through open and careful debate.

While the full details of the review are still to be decided, there will be significant reform.

Both Coalition partners believe that, at 28 days, the period terror suspects can be detained without charge is too long and we should seek ways to reduce it.

Control Orders cannot continue in their current form. They must be replaced.

And we will introduce a system that is more proportionate, in line with our long-held commitment to due process and civil liberties; that seeks to disrupt and impede would-be terrorists from carrying out their heinous crimes; and that continues to focus on bringing terrorists to justice.

Information/Freedom of Speech

The third and final strand of our civil liberties agenda is about openness, about scrutiny.

Free citizens must be able to hold big institutions and powerful individuals to account.

And not only the Government. There are a whole range of organisations who, for example, benefit from public money and whose activities have a profound impact on the public good, yet who cannot be properly scrutinized.

Citizens must know what goes on in these institutions. And they must be at liberty to speak out about the things they discover.

It is a modern right to information combined with traditional freedom of expression.

Recent years have seen some progress on transparency. Most notably through the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act.

But that progress has stalled. The Freedom of Information Act was a good start, but it was only a start. Exceptions remain far too common. And the available information is too often placed behind tedious bureaucratic hurdles.

The previous Labour Government knew this but chose to respond to repeated calls for the extension of freedom of information by kicking the issue into the long grass.

We still live in a society where important information is hoarded by the few. And, as we know, information is knowledge, and knowledge is power.

And yet, where information is available, people use it in innovative and empowering ways.

They use it to keep tabs on Government. Last Summer the Treasury began publishing what’s called the COINS database, detailing public services expenditure.

The Open Knowledge Foundation has now converted that information into an easy-to-use website that makes it possible for people to see how much is spent, where, on what, and how that is changing over time.

There are extremely impressive examples of people using public information to help their businesses. Of people using information to scrutinize public services too; something which drives up standards.

And none of this should come as a surprise. Because we live in an information age. But what is surprising is the barriers that remain.

So the Government is going to transform the access citizens have to the information we believe is their right.

Francis Maude has been doing an excellent job on this. He has imposed stringent new transparency rules on Whitehall Departments, ensuring they publish, for example, much more data on the money they spend and the private companies awarded government contracts.

Working with Ed Davey, Francis is also developing plans for a new Public Data Corporation.
It will bring existing government bodies together into one organisation, responsible for disseminating a wealth of data.

Businesses, social enterprises and individuals will find it much easier to get hold of the information they need.

As well as opening up Government, we want to go further. We believe that if an organisation’s behaviour and decisions have clear consequences for the public good, people must be able to see right into the heart of them.

So I can also announce that we are extending the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to cover potentially hundreds more bodies; including UCAS, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Financial Ombudsman Service and many more.

As part of that, we are ending the anomaly that exempts organisations owned by more than one public authority.

And, as we shake up FOI, we are also getting rid of the 30 year rule. Let’s not forget that the previous Government commissioned a review of this back in 2007 – the Dacre Review – but then characteristically dragged their feet. So we will finish the job.

Where sensitive Government records can currently be kept secret for 30 years, we will cut that back by a decade.

Surely it can only strengthen our democracy if we reduce the time people have to wait in order to find out the full truth about the governments they have lived under, and the events they have lived through.

We’ll continue to look at how freedom of information is being implemented to ensure the public interest is put first. And to guarantee this process is itself transparent, we will use post-legislative scrutiny, asking the Justice Select Committee to carry out the work.

Of course, governments do have a duty to protect some kinds of information, in everyone’s wider interests. It’s obvious that the benefits of transparency have to be balanced against important objectives, like national security and crime prevention. And that governments must be very respectful in handling personal information – that’s why we felt so strongly about getting rid of the National Database.

But our starting point is always maximising transparency in the public interest – moving from a closed society to an open society.

Beyond providing greater access to information, we also need to make sure that, where people discover injustice and bad practice, they can speak out against it too.

That is why the Government is changing the law to restore rights to non-violent protest. And we are taking other big steps to enhance freedom of expression.

In opposition my party made clear that we wanted to see English libel laws reformed.

Almost exactly a year ago I made that case in a speech to the Royal Society. I argued that English libel laws are having a chilling effect on scientific debate and investigative journalism.

Of course, individual citizens must be able to protect their reputations from false and damaging claims; and we can’t allow companies to be the victim of damaging, untrue and malicious statements.

But, equally, we want public-spirited academics and journalists to be fearless in publishing legitimate research. Not least when it relates to medical care or public safety.

The test of a free press is its capacity to unearth the truth, exposing charlatans and vested interests along the way.

It is simply not right when academics and journalists are effectively bullied into silence by the prospect of costly legal battles with wealthy individuals and big businesses.

Nor should foreign claimants be able to exploit these laws, bringing cases against foreign defendants here to our courts – even if the connection with England is tenuous.

It is a farce – and an international embarrassment – that the American Congress has felt it necessary to legislate to protect their citizens from our libel laws.

This Government wants to restore our international reputation for free speech.

We will be publishing a draft defamation bill in the Spring. We intend to provide a new statutory defence for those speaking out in the public interest, whether they be big broadcasters or the humble blogger. And we intend to clarify the law around the existing defences of fair comment, and justification.

We believe claimants should not be able to threaten claims on what are essentially trivial grounds. We are going to tackle libel tourism. And we’re going to look at how the law can be updated to better reflect the realities of the internet.

Separately, we are also going to address the high costs of defamation proceedings. As part of that we have published a consultation paper on proposals by Lord Justice Jackson to reform civil litigation funding – and in particular no win no fee arrangements – to make costs more proportionate, more fair.

Our aim is to turn English libel laws from an international laughing stock to an international blueprint.

Conclusion

So, to sum up: the restoration of every day liberties; counterterrorism measures that uphold liberty while protecting security; free citizens able to see into, and speak out about, the organisations that affect their lives.

It is a liberal approach to freedom; a British approach to freedom.

It forms an important part of our programme to rebalance the relationship between the state and its citizens.

Our Labour predecessors will be remembered as the government who took your freedoms away.

We want to be remembered as the ones who gave them back.

Thank you.

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33 Comments

  • So, Nick.

    Are Control Orders being abolished?

  • iWhere councils use surveillance powers designed to tackle crime to check if you’re cleaning up after your dog.

    It is a crime not to clear up after your dog – Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act 1996 – passed by a Tory government incidentally.

    I worry that ‘liberties’ will mean less restrictions on criminal offences that appeal to certain types of voter – e.g. making it easier to speed, to pollute, to let ones dog defecate on the pavement, to skimp on health and safety, and so on…

    He’s right about libel laws though, and lets hope that all the parties agree on this and that the coalition don’t try to be sneaky in putting legislation they know Labour could never vote for in with libel reforms for political reasons.

  • On the day that Nick Clegg has planned to make his speech the Terrorist Threat level is raised to “SEVERE” for transport hubs and police are to provide a visible presence.

    What an amazing coincidence? Hmmm

    So – is he going to abolish control orders?

    I don’t think so. He’s going to shuffle it all around, tweak it here and there, and re-name them something else.

    This is just a softening up exercise.

  • @g: Do you really, really think that councils should use surveillance powers to monitor whether or not people are cleaning up after their dog? Thank goodness Labour and its dreadful authoritarian tendencies were well & truly booted out last May.

  • @Stuart
    @g: Do you really, really think that councils should use surveillance powers to monitor whether or not people are cleaning up after their dog? Thank goodness Labour and its dreadful authoritarian tendencies were well & truly booted out last May.
    As it happens, no I don’t. I would like people who do it to be fined though, so they don’t do it again. You could have people called ‘park wardens’ under the employ of local councils to watch out for and issue tickets for offences, much like traffic wardens do for parking offences. Is this surveillance? Because this is what happens, even if not often enough. Do you, like Nick Clegg, think it shouldn’t?

    I also don’t think Deputy Prime Ministers should pretend that crimes are not crimes for the sake of rhetoric, or worse, have speechwriters who are ignorant of such things.

  • Grammar Police 7th Jan '11 - 4:07pm

    @ Red Rag, apart from the fact that the percentage of people who think he’s doing a good job are more than 3 times the percentage the Lib Dems are currently getting in YouGov opinion polls . . . ;o)

    The important thing is, as Nick says, “how we can make sure people who break the law and seek to do us harm are charged, convicted, and put in prison.”

    The objectionable thing about Control Order is that they’re a permanent sanction against those who’ve never had a fair trial.

  • @ Matt

    “Now it is being delayed further still, until after the election results at the bye-election …”

    Yep. You’ve got. it.

    “All 57 Liberal Democrats have been opposed and voted against the renewal of control orders every year since 2005, when they where 1st introduced. What does it say about the party when they take 1 stance on policy whilst in opposition, to then abandon their principles the moment they are in Government.”

    Exactly!

  • So what is the policy. There seems to be a lot of rhetoric here and nice words but nothing concrete. There was never a grey area in the LD opinions on civil liberties but they seem to be preparing for a compromise on this as well.

    I have always though that the Tories were less liberal than they were making out at the election and I would not be surprised to see little movement on this in the coming months. The big test will come if there is a terrorist attack. Labour responded very badly to increased threat and it would be interesting to see how the Coalition would react to the same pressure. See the Telegraph headline on the control orders position of the Coalition. Not quite as benign as the Guardian

    Any changes to libel laws would be welcome and there are some things proposed which I would support – would this make up for the backtrack on cuts – probably not just like the good things Labour did will not easily make up for Iraq.

    Civil liberties is the last thing left for the LD to hang on to – any compromise here and they will have abandoned all the things that gained them my vote

  • Why so few comments? Is it that people don’t really care that much on this topic no matter how much Clegg would like them to.

    Might make his future u-turn a little less damaging though

  • @Grammer Police
    “The objectionable thing about Control Order is that they’re a permanent sanction against those who’ve never had a fair trial.”

    I totally agree, but I fear the “replacement” will also be a permanent sanction without trial.

  • >Why so few comments?

    Maybe because a large percentage of the commenters on here only show up to say: “you are all rubbish, you are all doomed, you have sold out, your poll figures are dismal (repeat on every thread, whatever the topic)” – and most of them can’t think of a relevant way to get that in on this thread 😉

    Or maybe because Labour were a disaster when it came it to civil liberties, which puts all the Labour supporters in an embarrassing position? They can’t claim any moral high ground.

    Plus there’s nothing in the speech to argue against. Hence few comments.

  • >somehow there is this eerie silence on civil liberties.

    Agreeing with the speech is a given. I doubt many Lib Dems feel the need to say so.

    >It is striking the lack of debate on this matter from Lib Dems

    What’s to debate? All you’d get is: “I agree”; “I agree”; “It’s a good speech”; “Sooner the better”…

  • In all the arguments over the control order issue what is continually ignored is that the evidence against the people subject to the orders often comes from under-cover security personnel who are part of our first-line against future terrorist atrocities in the UK.

    The evidence can’t be used in open court as it would identify them or reveal the extent to which their network has been penetrated or provide infornation about our techniques that would be useful to terrorists.

    It may well be that there could also be community information that provides evidence and that obviously has to be tested and weighed to ensure that it isn’t part of pursuing personal vendettas. I would assume that this scrutiny is carried out but, if not, it should be built-in to safeguard those subject to orders.

    Some people might not like this or agree but, on occasion, the national self-interest trumps that of a few individuals.

    Every one has to search their own heart and soul on this issue, especially if they are elected representatives, and decide whether the prices to be paid for individual liberty is worth the mangled bodies of hundreds or thousands of innocent citizens who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    I have stood in the utterly desolate emotional wasteland that comes to any normal person surrounded by bits and pieces of broken bodies that follows a terrorist atrocity. To be unable to walk without standing on bits of flesh that once belonged to another human being. To survive emotionally you have to have faith that everything that could have be done, to prevent the atrocity, was done.

    That is the issue that our political leaders have to personally confront before they make policy on control orders or their replacement.

    I have been astonished at the child-like argument of civil liberties leaders and some politicians who say let’s scrap control orders and instead we’ll have hands-off surveillance. For gawd’s sake, have they any idea how many dozens of people it takes to mount round-the-clock surveillance of someone let alone people trained in evasion.

    Of course people can evade control orders quite simply because they haven’t been locked-up. But the beauty is that it’s quite easy to check whether they are where they should be or not – if not then they are probably up to no good. I would make any breach of a control order a criminal offence with a very heavy jail sentence – after trial of course.

    Waken-up, we are in a war for our democracy against the most ruthless of enemies that we have ever faced and who want to totally remove everyone’s personal freedom in this country and not those of just a handful of people. If that is what you want then carry on and let them go free to carry out their cowardly acts while you sit smug in the knowledge of how liberal you are.

    Just don’t switch on the TV and tut tut at the next UK terrorist atrocity without recognising your own culpability – and it isn’t ‘if’ it’s ‘next’ because there will be plenty of others and some might have been stopped with control orders.

    I have tried not to bring party politics into this but I watched a rambling Minister today on TV who terrified me with his naievety and his willingness to pin all political blame on Labour – at least we weren’t being blamed about the economy this time which is a first.

  • A correction to my previous post.

    I said: ‘The evidence can’t be used in open court as it would identify them or reveal the extent to which their network has been penetrated or provide infornation about our techniques that would be useful to terrorists.’

    I should have said: ‘The evidence can’t be used in open court as it would identify them ( the undercover operatives) or reveal the extent to which a terrorist network has been penetrated or provide infornation about our techniques that would be useful to terrorists.’

  • Best to listen to someone who knows what they are talking about instead fo trying to spin Orwellian attacks on our Freedoms with the kind of emotive tubthumping that Bush and Blair used to fool the naive into the Iraq War.

    Shami Chakrabati —

    There should be no grounds for hesitation. If control orders were wrong as a “temporary” and “emergency” measure (as the Blair government called them) in 2005, they are even more offensive five years on, now we have seen their working in practice. They are perverse: while they can destroy families and drive the innocent insane, they provide no protection against a determined terrorist who has no intention of staying behind his unlocked door. At last count (it is extremely difficult to gain public information about this secret non-justice system), seven out of 45 controlees have absconded from their anti-terror Asbos.

    In 2009, Liberty staged a conference in Westminster’s Methodist Central Hall, attended by Nick Clegg, Jack Straw, Scotland Yard’s assistant commissioner John Yates, a host of other luminaries and 500 members of the public. Halfway through the day, a man a few rows from the stage began heckling. He had spent years in Belmarsh, and was living under a control order, yet even though his home office “watchers” had deemed him dangerous, he had been free to come to a populous target in Parliament Square, rich with senior politicians, journalists and civilians.

    So not only are control orders, in the words of the current attorney general Dominic Grieve, a “departure from our established principles,” they are also dangerously ineffective.

  • I quite agree that control orders are not as effective as jailing in a high-security unit but that option was removed through legal action.

    I really just don’t get the argument – if control orders aren’t effective in their current format how can they be made more effective by relaxing them. And please don’t use the infantile excuse of hands-off surveillance.

    The amount of personnel required for that would seriously hinder the wider responsibilities of the security services in other areas of the war against terror through reduced manpower.

    Also, people on control orders will, from time to time, be subjected to close surveillance to pick-up intel and it wouldn’t surprise me if some individuals subject to control orders are allowed to go on the run to again gather intel and in particular to uncover new links in the terrorist network or to validate exising information.

    Of course once they run and go to certain areas of the world they can easily end-up dead as has already happened and that removes them as a future threat to the UK and to its citizens and their human rights not to be blown up.

    We face extreme times and extreme measures are called for and that is what the majority of the electorate want – it’s another issue that it’s easy to take a ‘principled’ stance on while in opposition but once in government and responsible for the safety of EVERY UK citizen it’s a different issue and the public will never forgive any politician or party seen to be soft on terrorists if a major atrocity takes place.

    On a political note it seems astonishing that Clegg is left holding the parcel on this one as well with May being championed as the supporter of the security services.

    If there is another attack it looks to me as though Cameron will walk free, virtually unscathed, from public anger which will firmly be focussed on Clegg.

    These things are never over – it’s like tuition fees with the latest attack from the universities today saying that the 2 year free tuition fees scheeme for FSM kids is unworkable as the universities just can’t afford it.

  • Those of us who campaign for sexual freedoms are disappointed that the government is to retain the extreme porn legislation. This government has decided that the engineered evidence commissioned under Labour has some validity, when in fact it’s a prime example of how government misuses science to justify policies based on ideology. So otherwise law abidding citizens will continue to be persecuted essentially because they fail to conform to sexual norms. With Britain’s hang ups with sex, Nick Clegg is entirely correct in saying this is a “British approach to freedom”.

  • They simply don’t work and it wasn’t just Clegg who opposed them it was Cameron too.

    We’ve lived through far more extreme times than these with the IRA.

    The idea of an infallible security service who ‘deliberately’ let people disappear from control orders is I’m afraid not very credible.
    Matt is correct. We know their manifest failings from the 7/7 inquiry, the Charles De Menezes case as well as the Iraq intelligence fiasco. They are as prone to mistakes as every other branch of Government.

    “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

  • @mat

    Yea I do take an overall civil liberty line on this rather than an individual one – I didn’t use to – I instinctively knew that there could be no civil liberty for all unless there was individual civil liberty.

    Surrounded by the bits of bodies of hundreds of dead from a terror attack I changed my mind nad realised with a burning clarity that actually for the civil liberty of the majority to be retained then sometimes an individual will lose their’s and on a small percentage of these cases we will get it wrong.

    I hear what you say abour retaining anonymity in a closed court situation with identity hidden – but when you have someone undercover embedded in a cell then they will be recognised by their voice or if it is a family member or someone close to the suspect they will also be identifiable.

    There is also the risks that arise from cross-examination which can identify a witness – often this may be accidentale but some defence lawyers may be sympathetic to the beleifs of the accused and may wish to elicit the ID of the witness – this is not a game it’s life and death that’s involved.

    I see what you say about a group of judges – well do we go back to the Diplock Court system which was a ‘liberal’ alternative to internmnent in NI. Worth rememebering that the architect of the system, Brigadier Kitson stated: ‘…the Law should be used as just another weapon in the government’s arsenal, and in this case it becomes little more than a propaganda cover for the disposal of unwanted members of the public. For this to happen efficiently, the activities of the legal services have to be tied into the war effort in as discreet a way as possible…’

    Well I’m sorry mat but I think those under control orders might suffer more from our judges than control orders so I would be loth to go down that road.

    I have no problem with the use of intercept evidence but it must always be remembered that its use provides all sorts of intel to the accused and the terrorist organisation they may be a part of – that’s why the secret service don’t want it made public. I hear everything you say about a fair trial and in 99.99 per cent of the time I agree but when it comes to sophisticated terrorist groups then any tiny scrap of info you give then might be used by them to make sure their next attempt is succsessful. The stakes are enormous and it would appear that even Clegg has now accepted that certain people can never be brought to trial.

    The murder of Jean Charles De Mendes was a farce of an operation but showed the pressure that security personnel were under because of the 7/7 attack and subsequent terrorist activity . Luckily, the vast majority of us will never have to face making instantaneous life or death decisions where the wrong choice could lead to the death of thousands or, in the De Mendes case, the death of an innocent Brazilian going about his business.

    I fully realise mistakes can be made and innocents can be found guilty so how do we determine who is guilty or innocent and how do we ensure that a politician who makes the wrong judgement isn’t destroyed, possibly along with their party, for making the ‘right’ decision which is closely followed by an unconnected serious terrorist outrage. There are no easy answers to this issue. In fact there may never be a right answer and it’s possible that as a society we need to come to a decision as to whether individual civil liberty is more important than collective civil liberty, or not, when dealing with terrorist suspects who may or may not be guilty.

    But if we decide that individual liberty is more important then we cannot then attack politicians for getting it wrong and ending up with thousands of dead and maimed citizens even if the perpetrator was a suspect but not made subject to a control order or whatever new name is used because the politician involved decided there wasn’t enough evidence.

    @George M.

    Anywhere or anything where human beings are involved is open to error – that’s a sad fact of life. No wish to fall-out with you George but, with respect, I doubt if you have a clue about what security services get up to in their murky world.

    “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Fine words as long as you’re not one of the innocent maimed or dead or a relative or friend. The words also offer no means of reaching a position that is acceptable to the Brirish people as a whole – I seriously believe we ask too much of our politicians to make the decisions on this while we bury our head in the sand and avoid taking the hard decision that is necesssary.

    The dead and maimed could be the price that has to be paid to maintain individual civil liberty – that is the harsh reality and perhaps we should have a referendum on the issue or would the advocates of individual civil liberty balk at allowing the British public to make the choice – always remember this isn’t a hanging vote.

    As a democrat I will accept the majority decision on this matter and blame no-one if we collectively get it wrong – that’s the price to be paid for democracy and freedom – let’s just make sure we are prepared to pay it.

  • @matt

    I honestly think that control orders and suchlike are one of the thorniest problems we face because of the intrinsic civil liberties issue. I don’t see it as a party political one either and I really do believe we ask too much of any politician to shoulder this burden on a lose lose basis.

    I’m not out to change individual positions on this but more to find a national consensus based on the collective responsibility we all have to carry if we relax the restrictions and are then hit by major terrorist atrocities.

    I want politicians to be able to make balanced decisions on this issue without continually having to look over their shoulder worrying about their personal or party’s political survival. I disagree with a lot that the LP did in this area but I fully understand why they did it and it wasn’t as simple as showing how tough they were on terrorism.

    A lot was to do with genuinely trying to disrupt terrorist activity and also to reassure the public. At the time we had little insight into the Pakistani community and few intelligence operatives who were part of that community or even moslem. There was a lot of panic when the size of the gaps were recognised.

    Things are much better now in terms of embedded operatives and we have a much deeper ‘reach’ and understanding of the community and have had quite a bit of success in nipping things in the bud. But it really would be criminal to squander our undercover intelligence assets and then have to start all over again from scratch because agents were compromised through court proceedings.

    And sod’s law being what it is, that’s exactly the time that something big would go down and we could miss the advance warnings.

    And I should have picked George up on his comment about control orders ‘that they simply don’t work’. Well, as I’ve said before, how does that justify weakening them and making them even less likely to work – should we just execute all suspects because that would certainly ensure that they worked 100 per cent although there might be some innocents in there like the Brasilian.

  • @matt

    matt – it is very easy to be emotive about control orders and btw I include myself in that observation but I think as we both accept it’s a very difficult balance to strike between protection and liberty.

    The major problem with control orders is that for them to be effective in the public mind there has to be trust in the decisions reached and I’m afraid that trust just doesn’t exist for a whole variety of reasons – people know longer trust politicians.

    I have to say that Clegg appeared to offer a way forward to ‘new’ politics but that particular beacon has become a spent match and it’s difficult to see it being relit.

    As a journo I have a lot of respect for Andrew Marr’s ability – today I watched him give Cameron and absolutely free ride to have a Conservative Party Political broadcast. I despair sometimes about the objectivity and ability of our journos.

    I smiled at the false passports issue which would have been instantly removed by ID cards with inbuilt fingerprints and other biometric data including dna. I firmly believe that ID cards will return within a decade and be compulsory for every citizen. And I will never alter my opinion on them which is: If you’ve nothing to hide then you’ver no probs with ID cards. They would also instantly curtail tax dodgers and benefits cheats as well as providing border protection.

    The problem with a trial is simple – the undercover guy or informant gives their evidence say by videolink from a secret location their face isn’t visible and the voice is distorted and no personal details are given.

    Great, there should be no problem with national security or identifying the witness. Problem is these cases are essentially ones involving conspiracy which are notoriously difficult to prosecute successfully – even in non terrorist situations – because they usually involve a small group of people and the evidence is very concentrated in who was at what meetings, what the date was and who said what or did what.

    Any cross -examination of the witness would identify them to the accused within a few questions and this couldn’t be stopped as the accused would be entitled to have these questions asked to receive a fair trial.

    We could get round that by having a situation where a senior security officer states under oath that on evidence held that the accused is a threat to the state and that this evidence has been shown to the Home Secretary who certifies that they agree by certificate. There could be a security-sanitised precis of the evidence and possibly oversight from an all-party HoC Committee which reports matters to parliament. I would not allow press coverage of the proceedings and I know that many may think that strange given my background but it is precisely my experience that brings me to the conclusion as journos, like the normal population, have individual beliefs and axes to grind.

    But would a ‘secret’ court held in camera be acceptable to some of the civil liberty lobbies – I doubt it.

    Again matt I have to observe that if you feel control orders aren’t working how can they be made to work more effectively by weakening or scrapping them. People have ended up with tunnel vision on control orders – they aren’t the be all and ens all of our security screen – they are just a part of it and not used purely to control the actual foot soldiers or jihadists. They are as likely to be used for the ‘brains’ the top plotters with the intent to actually disrupt planning.

    As to those who leave the country whilst under a control order – well that’s actually a bonus in security terms as they are no longer on the ground here planning atrocities. They know they are a busted flush once they are control order material and their superiors know that as well and cut them out of the information loop as they realise that their cell is compromised.

    This is a helluva long-term process and we have no idea how long it will last – probably decades so we have to get our act together or we will see and increase in attacks and that will affect civil liberties especially with the involvement of more home-grown terrorists.

    The political consequences from that scenario is almost too frightening to contemplate.

    I also happen to believe that the chance of ‘rehabilitating’ anyone on a control order might be a laudable aim but snowball and hell or should it be paradise and virgins come to mind.

    I also don’t think we need harsher laws as we can already jail a terrorist for life without parole. You can’t stop convicted terrorists from having visitors or external communications which breaches their Uman Rights. Even if you did it is always possible to communicate with the outside world through a variety of methods.

    I would also disagree that the decision not to review a control order shows that the system has failed. On the contrary, it shows to me that the system works and is flexible. Our problem is that we don’t know why the orders weren’t renewed – we don’t know if they were a mistake in the first instance or whether there were changes in individual circumstances that meant a control order was no longer seen as the most effective security measure. What it doesn’t mean is that those involved are no longer of interest to the security services and they may well be subject to scrutiny in other ways.

    Matt you say: ‘everybody has a right to a fair trial, somebody accused of a terrorism should at least know what it is they are being charged with, be entitled to know the evidence that is being alleged against them, and should be entitled to form a Defence.’

    If we are talking about terrorists like say those at Glasgow Airport yea I would agree there is no real problem in putting them on trial and it would be fairly simple to sanitise the evidence to ensure no risk to National Security or security personnel.

    On intercept evidence there is no real problem in legally allowing this – again the problem comes in the surveillance intel that the terrorists can glean from the evidence. Tiny nuggets of info can thwart future security ops and the problem is that sometimes the security services can’t identify what info might be of enormous use to an enemy and just have to pay a future price in terms of public death and injury.

    But the foot soldiers are the easy ones to bring to trial – the plotters are much more dangerous and much more difficult to tie-in to a specific atrocity as often there is absolutely nothing to link them directly at least in terms of evidence which can be used in court. But the security services know who they are so should we just ignore them or should we have the SAS arrange an ‘accident’ or as a ‘liberal’ alternative do we have some form of more effective control order under another name.

    We will have to wait and see what May announces for the replacement and I really hope that this decision is taken in the National Interest and not to shore-up the LibDems who may need extra support after next Thursday. I don’t think that any right-minded LibDem member would disagree with me on that.

    And if the new system retains enough power to disrupt the handul of people – mainly the matermind plotters – we are actually talking about then I for one won’t attack the Tories or especially Clegg on not fully adhering to one of his Manifesto Commitments although he needs to learn a lot more about the difference between the dreams of Opposition and the reality of Government.

    But if the Control Orders are watered down to protect the Civil Liberties of a handful of top terrorists whose aim is to destroy our way of life and extinguish all our Civil Liberties then it must be opposed and any politician who supports the change must be made well-aware that the political fall-out for political misjudgement on this issue will make tuition fees look like a pleasant walk in the park.

  • There are thousands of people dead and maimed from bloody carnage on our roads every year.
    Should drivers be subject to control orders ?

    It isn’t complicated it’s simple. You have a trial and you bring evidence.
    That’s how it works in a democratic society that respects the rule of law and civil liberties.
    If it needs phonetap evidence or disguised witnesses so be it.

    The security servies are the servants not the masters but they have to earn the trust of the public as much as the politicians. They have failed that trust with Iraq, De Menezes and 7/7, so no, they don’t get the benefit of the doubt and they don’t get over-reaching powers that don’t work.

    Why someone has to ask why we should get rid of something because it doesn’t work and is an affront to the civil liberties escapes me.

    And don’t worry EcoJo, I doubt if you have a clue about what security services get up to in their murky world either.
    Which is why the 7/7 inquiry was so illuminating as the secrecy they cloak themselves in is used to protect themselves from embarrassment as much as from the terrorists as the inquiry proved.

    There’s a reason internment was a counterproductive failure when we were under the far more serious threat of almost constant IRA attack.

    I have heard a 7/7 survivor speak eloquently and at great length against control orders and the Iraq War so lets also not pretend being a victim of terrorism automatically disposes a person to an authoritarian point of view.

    “Nothing to hide nothing to fear” has been used by despots and tyrants for centuries to justify all manner of outrages, and after the expenses scandal and Wiki-leaks it just sounds grimly ironic.

  • @matt

    Who knows about the reliability of a source – I know of plenty of journos who just invent sources to make a story ‘stand-up’ – Over the last decade I would say it is something that has become more prevalent as more and more pressure has been put on journos from editors faced with falling circulation and advertising revenue and the bean-counters cutting expenditure and staff with often the best and more experienced being a prime target because they earn more.

    Jounos know that they are only as good as their next story and often their last is only good for an awards submission.

    I’ve enjoyed the discussion on this because you’ve actually discussed and not sloganised and I have been struck by an ominous silence in actual debating terms from LibDems who appear not to want to enagage in the ‘meat’ of the issue. I accept Clegg is in a difficult place over this but so were previous LP leaders precisely because it is such a difficult area for anyone who genuinely believes in civil liberty and I happen to believe that I do although I make no bones about it when I say that sometimes, for me, the wider civil liberty trumps that of the individual.

    I recognise that hanging would win the popular vote probably anytime but I oppose hanging pure and simply because mistakes are made and can’t be reversed. I do not go down the cruel and unnatural punishment route because I personally believe that anyone who, with malice aforethought, murders someone should lose the protections that are extended by a civilised society.

    So I won’t use the argument that the public, when polled, overwhelmingly supports control orders and wants to strengthen and widen them.

    @George M

    I don’t actually believe that it is possible to equate road deaths from careless or dangerous driving with the actions of terrorist plotters and the deaths they bring about. Drivers can be brought to court and be dealt with by our legal system – but that’s what we cannot do with a small minority of terrorist plotters or foot soldiers. That is the problem George and even Clegg has admitted that for some there cannot be a trial and I applaud him for shifting his ground on the issue – indeed he is more likely to be under attack for this from within his own party than from myself.

    I have also repeated on a number of occasions why we can’t actually bring these people to trial and until you specifically deal with my points on this I am unlikely to change my position. Of course the security services are our servants and I have never stated anything different – they act in our name. I have made clear that their has to be oversight and there is through the Home Secretary and I have also suggested the establishment of an all-party HoC Committee to regularly review the cases of those held under control orders with a duty to report to Parliament. When we withdraw civil liberty from any citizen it should only be done in the most serious of cases and we must ensure independent assessment.

    You say that the security services have failed with Iraq, De Mendes and 7/7. We had little or no intel from inside Iraq and what we had came from poorly sourced Iraquis who had fled their country and UN Weapons Inspectors. Not surprising we got it wrong especially with the political spinning that took place and I personally don’t hold the security services responsible. I think it also worth remembering that Sadam had previously used biological weapons and repeatedly claimed he would use them again as well as nuclear ones. I think any government sending troops to invade would be very jittery about deciding there was no such threat and would err on the side of caution.

    Of course that doesn’t excuse any government sexing up the evidence which is totally wrong. I often wonder if Blair had told the truth ie that the invasion was to secure future oil supplies whether there would have been a fraction of the public opposition that happened.

    De Mendes was a tragic accident at a time when the Metropolitan police was under enormous stress – I personally will not attack the brave men and women who out their lives on the line to protect us when they make a mistake. We have to learn from these incidents and if procedures have been wilfully disregarded then disciplinary and/or court action should follow.

    George neither your nor I have a clue as to how well control orders have worked or not and as I’ve said repeatedly that if they end up forcing actual terrorists to flee to other countries then that can probably be regarded as a security victory.

    7/7 – no security service can stop every attack – that is a fact of life because the people we are dealing with operate in secrecy and often the evidence which emerges can be highly contradictory because true intentions and targets are routinely obscured. There is also the age-old dilemma with all surveillance ops and not just of terrorists – how long do you let it run before you make arrests. Too soon and there might be little evidence useful for a lengthy conviction or for penetrating deeply into the network and too late and you might have a bloody atrocity on our streets. It is very easy to criticise our security services but I always ask people before they do so to ask themself the question: ‘Do you want to do their job and do you actually have what it taked to do it and never make a mistake?’

    As to the detail of what our security services get up to, you are quite correct I haven’t a clue. But I do understand in general what they are required to do to keep the rest of us safe and I sleep a little easier at night knowing they are out there doing the impossible job we ask them to do to keep us safe and able to go about our life and work in a free and democratic society.

    You state George that there’s a reason why internment in Ireland was a failure but don’t actually provide the reason. My understanding of the issue was that, rightly or wrongly, the Catholic Irish population of Northern Ireland believed internment was a device to force them out of NI by the Unionist Government.

    As a direct consequence of internment in 1971 – and the previous year’s West Belfast curfew and violent raids by the British Army at the behest of the Unionist NI government against Catholic homes – there was a further massive increase in support for PIRA and in active service volunteer numbers as the Catholic populace felt they had no alternative to fight for survival. It should be remembered that the rationale behind internment was to disrupt PIRA’s command structure and reduce their capacity to mount attacks by taking the leadership off the streets.

    I accept the reasoning behind the move but the political failures of Ulster Unionists meant the policy was doomed to failure as the Catholic population abandoned the praceful Civil Rights movement and actively supported PIRA. I do not believe there is the slightest possibility that British muslim communities will overwhelmingly support terrorists or their aims and I believe they are coming more and more to understand how important th community is in resisting the twisting of their holy word to justify acts of terrorism and the educational role that is required. But they suffer the same lethargy and possibly fears of every community in that sometimes it is easier to walk by on the other side of the road and ignore the extremists.

    But I am reassured by the fact that many younger muslims feel empowered enough to speak-out against extremism in a way that a lot of the older first-generation didn’t – not out of personal fear but by trying to keep a lid on it within the confines of the community so as not to provoke a backlash. It is a good sign that later generations feel able to become involved in the debate because only through this can the misused religious facade of terrorist justification be stripped away and the ideological underpinning of the zealots, who wish to impose their fanatical beliefs on the majority, be exposed for what it is.

    The year after internment began saw Bloody Sunday in January 1972 and within a couple of months the Stormont Unionists had been stripped of power and Westminster ruled directly and they ended internment.

    I therefore don’t actually see the parallels between control orders and internment but if I’ve missed something perhaps you could further advise George.

    I have never ever suggested that exposure to a terrorist act makes someone automatically disposed to an authoritarian position. In fact I am often humbled when I listen to surviving victims show immense levels of humanity, compassion and forgiveness to the perpetrators. However, I personally don’t take that position and if I thought there was anything, and I mean anything, that I could do to prevent an atrocity that I would have the courage to act. It must be remembered also that a lot of people who go through a near-death experience do find in their survival a deeper inner-strength, belief and direction in their life and also in the courage and innate goodness in people, usually strangers, who come to their rescue and often put their own lives at risk in the process.

    It is my observation that tyrants and despots don’t actually need the assistance of ID cards to terrorise and butcher innocent civilians and I fail to see any relevance in your point as I have enough faith in our democracy to believe that as I have nothing to hide then I have nothing to fear with regard to my civil liberties. I also see no real connection with the MP expense’s scandal and Wiki-leaks with control orders so I will refrain from any comment but, again, if you wish to clarify your thinking I will respond further.

    My understanding of despots and tyrants is that they operate with a cloak of secrecy

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