Standing room only at Liberty fringe as Lib Dems renew opposition to control orders

22 September 2010

Author: 
Mairi Clare Rodgers, Liberty Media Director

A packed hall at this year’s Liberty Liberal Democrat conference fringe meeting witnessed a firm restatement of the Lib Dem promise to dismantle the unsafe and unfair control order regime.

The lively discussion, chaired by Shami, included Deputy Leader Simon Hughes, Minister for Justice Lord McNally and Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone and covered a range of topics from elected police chiefs, gay rights and anti-terror legislation to legal aid and children in detention.

McNally was on top form: 'don't call me Minister' he joked with our director, ' My Lord will do'. Crucially, he couldn't have been more explicit about his commitment to the Human Rights Act. Any commission, he told the meeting, could only build on the Act and this would be established 'in due course'. He was well aware that not all Conservatives share his support for universal rights and freedoms, but he stressed the need to 'educate' people away from the myth that these values have been imposed by Europe rather than home-grown over centuries.

Simon Hughes was categorical in his opposition to control orders and extended pre-charge detention.  He appreciated that coalition Government cannot run by a checklist of one party’s policies, but reminded the audience that scrapping control orders was a clear Lib Dem manifesto pledge.  He understood that there would sometimes be resistance from other politicians with their own democratic mandate but warned against the siren voices of the unelected security establishment. 'When do they ever ask for less powers?' was his clear warning to ministerial colleagues about defending liberal values in Government.

Lynne Featherstone was proud to serve in a Home Office that had promised not to deport gay people to places of persecution. In answer to a question she confirmed the Government commitment to end the detention of child asylum seekers.

All in all, this warm gathering of Lib Dem and Liberty supporters reminded me that the coalition is glued together with promises on rights and freedoms. This autumn’s counter-terror review will be its first big test. 

Mairi Clare Rodgers, Liberty Media Director