Jennie Rigg has been doing some great work recently, posing questions to candidates for FPC and FCC in the upcoming Lib Dem internal elections. In an effort to compliment her efforts, I wanted to plug one of the gaps which this has left, however. In the light of Jon Ball’s response to Jennie’s question on police accreditation for conference-goers, it seems that it might well be very relevant to know what candidates for FE think about the subject, as well as candidates for FCC.
I have therefore emailed (or failing that, tweeted) as many of the candidates as I could find contact details for, either from within their statements for the election to FE, or via a quick Google. I did not include those who have already been asked to give their views as part of their responses to Jennie, as a couple of people who are also standing for FCC have been. You can see the responses which I received below.
For the sake of transparency, here is the specific email they were responding to (except for the ones who replied to a tweet, which was necessarily shorter!):
I realise you possibly weren’t expecting to field many questions on this subject in the course of standing for FE, but since Federal Appeals Panel has (apparently) ruled that police accreditation for federal conference is an FE matter, not FCC, I’m afraid I’d like to ask you about it! Apologies if I’ve missed a previous pronouncement of yours on the subject.
Could you tell me what your position on accreditation is?
-Has responded to Jennie here.
-Not emailed, since he will already have had the opportunity to respond to Jennie.
It needs to be evidence-based and to date I haven’t seen any that’s justified the policy.
In an ideal world accreditation would not be necessary. However, we don’t have an ideal world, so it is necessary. It is not realistic to suppose we could have a conference without it, because we wouldn’t get insurance and the venues wouldn’t take us. If someone could prove that is not true it would be great. But I think if they could prove it, they would have done so already, given the amount of upset accreditation has caused.
There are some issues for people who for whatever reason have not always had the same identity (or indeed, to a lesser extent, for people who have lives which don’t fit having passports or national insurance numbers or stable addresses) At the moment, this is being dealt with by a fudge involving a couple of people reviewing applications on a case by case basis. It relies on individuals knowing that the fudge exists, and trusting it. That is not brilliant. If you have a better idea, I’d be prepared to listen.
I don’t like accreditation, but you can’t always have what you want. Any ideas for improving it?
-No reply at this time.
In short, I’m opposed to conference accreditation. There is no evidence that accreditation makes people any safer. It is possible to enter Parliament, and major international events (such as the Olympics) and venues, with nothing more than an airport style security check at the door – something which we already have at conference.
Moreover, I think that the way the debate has been framed is unhelpful. There is a suggestion that insurance is not possible without accreditation, so no accreditation means no insurance.
I simply don’t believe this. If there are additional security concerns now that our party is in government, then there is a case for additional security measures, but these need not infringe upon our civil liberties. The insurance company could request additional scanners, increasing the distance between the scanners and the venue, and/or request additional security sweeps of the venue(s) in the preceding days of and during the conference itself. These kinds of measures would probably be more effective anyway!
-No reply at this time.
I have been a member of FFAC for the last four years, and so participated in FFAC’s decision to agree accreditation, which was then also agreed by FE.
FFAC did not call in this matter or seek to impose a decision on the Conference Committee. FFAC was told that whilst FCC considered that accreditation was unacceptable, FCC recognised given the potential issues for the party and the FFAC’s responsibility for financial issues, it was not a decision that FCC could take. A buck seemed to be being passed.
The Party has a duty to take reasonable care for the Health and Safety of its staff and the staff of many other organisations who attend conference. Faced with strong advice from the police that accreditation was a necessary precaution, I felt it would be very difficult, and in breach of the Party’s health and safety duties, not to accept that advice. Given the threat level to the high profile autumn conference, there’s an obvious strong security benefit in knowing the identity of everyone coming within the security cordon.
All my Liberal values make me come out against accreditation, particularly because I am not aware of any evidence that tells me that accreditation makes us safer.
My answer below is in a personal capacity.
The matter was referred to the Federal Finance and Administration Committee which is a sub committee of FE. Accordingly when they had reviewed the situation it then went to FE for acceptance.
I am already familiar with the requirements for visitors to government offices and indeed for meetings there now you need to be pre booked. This is based on an agreed security risk and I believe that as members of the government we have found ourselves in a position of accepting joint responsibility for our foreign policy even if it may not be our Lib Dem policy. I have also, in a professional capacity, visited the Labour party conference when they were in office and had to go through facial recognition. Given that I was representing an organisation campaigning on environmental issues my responsibility was to attend specific meetings in order to make the case with senior party members.
In Guildford I have strongly campaigned against the unnecessary collection of personal information, in particular children’s thumb prints used to authorise payments for school meals and library withdrawals.
I do believe that the party has a corporate responsibility to assess all risk to members attending conference – not only on a security basis, but the more usual risks – fire, health and safety etc and to ensure that we meet reasonable recommendations.
Regarding accreditation I am satisfied that although the police have access to the names of applicants for conference registration where a question has arisen about a particular individual, this has been referred to the party president and then enquiries are made locally to identify whether there is any supporting evidence which might be of concern. The final decision lies with the party and not with the police. In practice this is more likely to result in additional information being provided which supports the application going forward. Of course there are sometimes queries about change of name (for example an individual in a witness protection programme or escaping a violent past) or even gender which could be inconsistent with past information. The party has put in place separate procedures so that information provided is not held post registration.
I have not been able to ascertain how many, if any, people have been prevented from attending conference due to the accreditation process and of course would like to hear of any such cases from either people who have had their applications refused on the basis of security recommendations or who have had sufficient concerns that they have chosen not to apply for registration at conference. I am not aware of any.
In closing, I recognise that provision of such information is of deep concern to Liberal Democrats but as a member of the Federal Executive I also share a corporate responsibility for the safety and security of all members, staff and visitors. I feel that the arrangements at present are strong in terms of security, but the right balance has been made in leaving the final decision about individual registrations with the party and not with the police.
In principle, I hate any “big brother” intrusion on the party but I’m also aware of the police concerns and think we must be realistic about finding a working compromise. I also believe that if we are to suffer this intrusion, it could be handled with more respect and less bureaucracy.
I accept the need for a level of accreditation but this should certainly not contravene our own Liberal Democrat principles as it clearly did there.It was clear at the Birmingham conference last year, that the police had gone far too far in its demands and the party had acquiesced too easily. Since then, things seem to have improved but I was very unhappy with the party’s responses to complaints at the time and I would seek to change that culture if elected.
There are a few lines in the sand that should not be crossed…
It is absolutely unacceptable for the police to hold onto data beyond the conference.
Gender change or name change should never be a cause of denial of access.
The parameters the police use to recommend denial of access should be seriously re-considered if they have not been already.
These parameters should be made clear to the membership, so they can decide whether they wish to be put through it or not.
I was a BBC journalist covering the Tory’s 1984 conference in Brighton.
I’m afraid, therefore, I have little hesitation in accepting the need for additional checks on all
those attending our conference.
My liberal instincts are, in this instance, over-taken by a concern for all those attending the conference.
-No contact details, if you have any contact details for Sarah please let me know.
I wasn’t aware of an FAP ruling on this issue – which is odd as I am also the FE rep on FCC. Perhaps Monday evening’s FE will shed some light on this matter – it is also a shame as I am a great supporter of the notion that FCC has responsibility for conference matters.
Whatever the case FE’s involvement in this matter came as a consequence of the profound financial risk that not having a conference, or being open to challenge after the fact, would have on the Party as a whole. In that regard the FE was certainly right to note the decision of the FFAC.
In true Lib Dem tradition, the very acceptable compromise arrived at by the Party President made sure the accreditation system as applied to both Tory and Labour conference goers was amended. This compromise ensured that there is review by Party appointees and made possible the exemption of certain categories of Lib Dem Party members from the accreditation process.
I voted for accreditation (with the caveats) in order to ensure conference registrations could start for Party members (commercial ones etc had already started) to minimise financial risk, with regard to police advice, safety of both guests and staff etc.
On principle I believe that:
1) No-one outside the party should decide who comes to conference.
2) Those within the party who make decisions should be fully transparent about the decisions they make.
3) No-one should be obliged to reveal personal information unless it can be shown that there are security concerns.
I don’t like the police accreditation requirement, but it is always difficult to ignore or go against police advice. I’m not currently on FE so haven’t seen the detailed reports that FE (presumably!) had before agreeing to police accreditation, but the explanation that the financial risks of not going along with accreditation are too great strikes me as plausible – for example, I don’t know exactly what the implications would be with the party’s insurance policies for conference, but I would think that our insurer’s would be very unhappy and at the very least hike up the premiums, and maybe refuse to insure. So, with regret, I think we are stuck with some sort of accreditation for now.
However, back in May when the FE agreed to accreditation for Brighton, I understand that there was a commitment to work with LGBT+ and others with particular concerns about accreditation. I don’t know how far this progressed and whether any exemption or alternative arrangements were implemented but I do think there should be some way of providing an alternative process for those with concerns about police accreditation. When looking at the impact of accreditation it is not enough to simply consider the number of conference reps where the police raised a concern, we also need to remember that the use of a police accreditation process may itself deter some members from even considering going to conference.
Not related to accreditation, but very relevant to party democracy, is the cost of going to conference, and I think more needs to be done to reduce this, and to enable a greater range of members to be involved in the party’s decision making.”
-No reply at this time.
-No reply at this time.
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Bill Le Breton:
Totally unnecessary and an illiberal intrusion on the workings of the Liberal Democrat ‘family’.
Happy to field any question you have.
I recall that Paddy always refused unnecessary security.
Briefly, I am totally opposed to accreditation which I think is both illiberal and unconstitutional.
There is no evidence accreditation would make anyone any safer & I believe that we would be able to obtain insurance.
As a member of the Federal Finance & Administration Committee (as Scottish party treasurer), I was the only person to vote against accreditation.
I could go on about this all day as I feel very strongly about it. However, I’ll give you the choice about whether you read more. This is a link to a blog post I wrote on the subject in April.
You may be interested to know that our Scottish conference has as many Cabinet ministers as the Federal event with no accreditation.
Please feel free to come back to me if you have any further questions.
The FAP ruling and the FE discussion both seem to have passed me by, which is odd given that I haven’t missed a meeting.
I think there is a reasonable case, in terms of security and insurance cover, for enabling a check. I think that the Party botched the process, including safeguards and overall control.
I try not to make pronouncements, but I’m happy to comment.
I believe the accreditation system is over the top for the party’s security requirements. It has been a significant obstacle for a number of people who are perfectly safe and entitled to attend. However I am not clear that this is a battle we can win.
There is a broader question here, that the police are used to being in the position that they can give ‘advice’ and the practical consequence of this is that the recipient of the advice has no choice. This is due to a combination of factors including insurance, and the policies of partner organisations – “we always follow police advice”.
This is more about people covering their backsides than getting the right security system for our conference.
My position is that I voted in favour of accreditation because of the advice received by the FE accreditation was necessary in order to make sure conference could go ahead.
I was very much in favour of adopting additional safeguards that some individuals needed.
I believe the fundamental issue is that we have to make sure our conferences can go ahead successfully and safely.
I think it is now a good time to find out more about the background issues around conference accreditation and change/adjust this process depending on properly established facts.
If accreditation does prove necessary then we need to look again at how we can make sure that this is a fair process. If members are facing problems as a result of the accreditation process then we need to adapt it. Naturally LGBT (and any other relevant bodies) should be properly consulted about what needs to be done to safeguard individuals who may be put at risk by the process.
-No reply at this time.
My position, which I have had throughout, is that I want Conference to go ahead. The advice we have had from the police is that accreditation is needed for the autumn conference and we have also been told that if we refuse to comply with the police recommendations that might invalidate our insurance or mean that venues would refuse to host us. The police also require security checks to be made of all staff at conference venues, and all attendees who are not party members. It would seem deeply unfair if party members could claim special treatment (ie avoid accreditation) because of being members.
Of course this is deeply unsatisfactory, particularly because of the issues for some trans members who object to accreditation on grounds of personal safety. The measures that have been put in place for some trans members have not been enough and we need to do more to make sure members’ safety is not jeopardised through the accreditation process. However I am clear that I am not prepared to countenance Conference not going ahead, or exposing the party to levels of financial risk, and therefore I have accepted accreditation in the past.
The difficulty we face is the illogical arguments (unchanged) put forward by the police. Why is it we need accreditation for autumn, but not for spring, for example? As yet there does not seem to be any answer to this question from the police.
Not having been on FCC or FE before, my experience of this has largely been from a distance.
You can correct me if I am wrong, but the situation as I understand it is that Autumn conference is subject to full Police accreditation whereas Spring is not, and the reason appears to be because the Home Office will meet the cost of doing so for Autumn but not spring.
The problem with full accreditation is that some delegates find it deeply invasive with regard to their sexuality and gender, and many others simply find it incompatible with liberal values.
In addition, GMP were not exactly a model of efficiency the first time round, though I gather it was better this time.
Have I got that right?
I’m not sure there is an easy solution, because I can understand the arguments for both sides – what I think is absolutely ludicrous is having one set of rules for one conference and one for another, and that I think needs to be addressed first – it arguably endangers Spring conference goers as it is.
Beyond that I would need to acquaint myself more fully with the facts of the problem, though I would always advocate taking a very tough line with the police and home office.
-No contact details, if you have any contact details for John please let me know.
-No reply at this time.
I haven’t been heavily involved in this issue, but one of the things that has surprised me about the whole discussion on accreditation is how anecdotal the evidence appears to be in support of the restrictions.
I can’t believe it would be that hard to:
Get the Police request in writing – and any rules, guidance or policy used to justify it
Get the specific reaction of the venue and/or the specific terms of booking – again – in writing
Get the specific reaction of our insurers (and possibly the venue’s insurers) – also in writing
Of course, it is vital that Conference goes ahead – we wouldn’t want to jeopardise it to prove a point – but creating extra bureaucracy and intruding on people’s privacy should not be done unless there is a really clear evidence base to show that such steps are necessary and proportionate. I’ve not seen such evidence to date.
I have seen things about ‘accreditation’, and have yet to really understand what this issue, in particular, is. It would be nice to be able to turn up at the conference doors, show your membership card and walk in, or even have the conference open to the public, but then reality has to kick in. As the security guy said ‘the terrorist only has to get lucky once in order to wreak havoc, we have to remain vigilant at all times to stop them getting lucky’.
So my answer in relation to generic security, is that it must be realistic and proportionate, reasonable and workable. It should be no more than the minimum that is needed to protect us from the perceived risk.
In amongst that are personal and individual sensitivities, which need to be accommodated. But where those individuals form a small part of the whole their concerns should be dealt with on a personal case basis.
Whilst I know that concerns have been raised, perhaps I have been less bothered about understanding, simply because I have not had any problem myself, and have not been involved in having to make any decision about the matter. We elected a committee to run the Conference and as Reps we should have faith in their ability to do so. Yes, the FE take responsibility over FCC, and I would assume that they asked the relevant questions to satisfy themselves that security matters had been adequately dealt with. But, as an ordinary Rep coming and going I have accepted the security regime, as it has evolved, as being what those, in a better position to know than me, felt to be appropriate.
Having been a PPC, and having been at events with Nick when his close protection team were in evidence, I have been quietly impressed by their discreet and coordinated efficiency. The big expense of that provision is not for fun, nor to make Nick feel important. The point is, that we are in Govt, and whilst our Leader and his fellow ministers are known to us as normal people, with whom we are able to work and have contact with, they are now public figures who can attract the wrong sort of attention, if not from terrorists or political extremists, from the lunatic who just wants his moment of infamy, or whatever he just wants.
The big difference comes, if you decide to elect me to the FE, what I do then. In that event, I first want to know what my powers duty and remit are as a member of the FE(and, as an aside, to get the role more clearly defined than the woolly remit FE currently has!). But when coming to make a decision about or to scrutinise the work being done by others on our behalf, I shall undertake to gain a full understanding of the issues and any opposing points of view before forming a judgement.
I give you that statement as a solemn undertaking, as that is how I act when taking on a new role… determine exactly what the job is, and then do it to the best of my ability. ‘Wherever a decision is to be taken it must be taken objectively, on the basis of facts; where the facts are inadequate, go out for more information or consultation; where a choice is to be made, do so democratically; and throughout, remember on who’s behalf you serve.’
Thanks for your question, and for making me think it through. If I am elected, please come back to me.
-No reply at this time.
I have a feeling that my answer will not win votes but I ought to reply.
Initially the FCC mishandled the accreditation issue most specifically over identity issues ( I note transgender and spouse battering as the main ones).
I believe those to be satisfactorily settled now even if trust remains weak.
On the issue of who has the final say it remains with the party.
So I think the current position more or less OK.
I do for the record think it is stupid for the FAP to have passed this to the FE. Any issue including policy could have financial implications. But the constitution says the FCC decides about conference so responsibility belongs there.
I believe it is a necessary step with more than adequate safeguards built in to protect those who might be discriminated against. We have a duty to those who are not party members at conference and the idea that a conference could take place without it does not bear even distant scrutiny.
I have spoken on this matter at conference.
Sir David Williams:
-No contact details, if you have any contact details for Sir David please let me know.