Sunday, 11 January 2015

Liberal Democrats in government have safeguarded civil liberties for the future

Writing in today's Independent on Sunday Liberal Democrat Justice Minister Simon Hughes and Crime Prevention Minister Lynne Featherstone explain how the presence of Liberal Democrats in government has safeguarded our civil liberties for the future.

Simon and Lynne's letter comes in response to a letter published on Sunday 4 January which criticised the coalition's record on civil liberties.

A full copy of the letter is below.

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