Police accreditation for Liberal Democrat Conferences
Two problems: data protection and selection of representatives other than by local parties.
Andrew Wiseman’s response inadequate. Fundamental issues for Liberals, not mere concern.
Questions for FCC now and, if unanswered, at conference.
1) Members provide ID info now on explicit condition of guaranteed deletion not retention.
2) FCC arrange such guarantees.
3) FCC arrange offsite facilities for representatives excluded from main building.
4) MPs raise questions of Home Office re conduct of police re party conferences.
The introduction of this procedure raises two sets of problems, the first about data protection and the second about the interference of the state in party democracy. The first concerns all members who attend conference, the second only elected representatives. Andrew Wiseman, Chair of Federal Conference Committee, claims that the committee was very reluctant to increase security but it appears that most members of the committee were not involved in negotiations with the police, nor necessarily fully informed about them and in the end nor did they challenge the new requirements. It is only now that party members have learned what FCC has agreed to that Andrew is considering any changes. These issues are not just “some concerns” a phrase beloved of civil servants and junior ministers playing down a problem, they are bloody great breaches of liberal principle and Liberal Democrat party democracy. I suggest questions to be put to FCC now and at conference if not answered satisfactorily now.
3. Data Protection
The guidelines say that this information will then be passed onto Manchester Police who are operating the checks on behalf of West Midlands Police. The information will be retained and/or passed to other police forces in the future to assist with the accreditation of subsequent political conferences only. Details of the data stored may be obtained in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act.
3.1 Questions to FCC
1. Why do the police require passport, driving licence or NI number ? What will they do with the information ? What are the checks they will carry out ? What sources of information will our identities be checked against ? Will these include CRB, County Court judgements, credit reference agencies, Sex Offenders List, anti-terrorist intelligence obtained through interception of signals or undercover officers or word of mouth from informers ? Has FCC asked these questions yet ?
2. What arrangements, if any, has FCC made for people who have none of these items ? Will they be able to attend ?
3. What arrangements has FCC made for people whose identities have changed in some way, e.g. transgender people ?
4. If an elected representative is unable or refuses to provide this information, will they be able to attend ?
5. Why do the police need to retain the information after they have carried out their checks ? Did FCC consult anyone else in the party to see if they would object to such retention ? Did FCC consider making arrangements to allow members to provide the information on condition that it is not retained ? If such an arrangement happens now, what guarantees will there be that the information has been deleted ?
6. How many organisations will actually hold the data ? Just Manchester Police or West Midlands Police or the Home Office or ACPO ? Is Events Force a separate organisation able to see and hold the data ?
7. Section IV of the Data Protection Act has exemptions for various purposes including crime and tax. Has FCC enquired of the police whether they would wish to use the information provided by members, for any of these exempted purposes ?
Members wishing to go to the Autumn Conference should not withhold the identity information on this occasion as we then risk having a conference composed only of people who don’t care about the issue. Instead, we should provide the information on the explicit understanding that it is for one time only and must be deleted after checks have been carried out. FCC should negotiate with the police to ensure that there are guarantees for members who make this stipulation.
4. Selection of representatives at conference
4.1 Andrew Wiseman’s response
This is a more serious matter. Andrew Wiseman maintains that Liberal Democrats remain in control of the conference. He says “There has been some suggestion that this means the police will decide who can come to conference. This is absolutely not the case as the final decision will rest with the party.” He adds, “Can I guarantee now, in advance that whatever information is given us, we would never agree that a particular individual would pose such a severe personal security threat that for the safety of all our conference goers they should be excluded? Of course not – and I can just about conceive of circumstances in which there was very strong evidence relating to an individual that we might feel we had to take that view. But I think it unlikely this will happen, and you know how seriously we will approach any such decision.” Perhaps Andrew can tell me where the party's constitution provides for FCC or anyone else to override the choice of local parties.
4.2 The insurance and venue argument
An FCC member has told me that the police insist upon this accreditation procedure and that if we refuse to follow police advice, we could lose our Public Liability Insurance or be refused admission by the venue. These are serious points but they need testing. They do perhaps give the lie to the idea that we remain in control of our conference. If in fact either venue managers or insurers would refuse us if we refused to exclude an individual on police advice, then we need to take up the issue in parliament because we cannot accept a situation where an organ of the state decides who may attend any party conference. Meanwhile, we have a problem for our Autumn Conference this year and must work out how an elected representative could take part if excluded from the building.
4.3 The Party Constitution
Just for the record, our party constitution says:
Article 6: The Federal Conference
6.1 The conference will consist of
(a) Representatives of Local Parties...
6.3 Representatives of Local Parties shall be elected by all members of the Local Party concerned...
6.3a provides for circumstances when a representative shall cease to hold office. Strangely, it does NOT say when the Manchester Police advise against, nor even when Andrew Wiseman “might feel we had to take that view”.
1. Did FCC or anyone negotiating on behalf of the party raise with the police or the Home Office the provisions of our constitution ?
2. Has FCC established what information the police will give to the party to back up any recommendation to exclude someone from attending conference ? The police are unlikely to disclose information obtained through secret surveillance or intelligence sources. In that situation how will FCC “approach any such decision seriously” ?
3. If a member learns that FCC has excluded him or her form attending conference (without of course any constitutional power to do such a thing), what reason will be given and what, if any, appeal process will be available ? How can a member appeal against an allegation if the police will not tell the party what it is ?
4. Does FCC have a timetable for the accreditation process ? When will the police give their advice ? When will FCC consider it ? When would an excluded person have a chance to appeal ?
5. Has FCC or anyone negotiating on behalf of the party actually asked either the venue or the insurers whether they would refuse us if we did not accept any particular point of police advice or has this possibility been assumed ?
FCC must make preparations to allow any elected representative excluded on police advice to participate fully in the conference. This should include provision of a video link to the chamber permitting any such person to listen to debates, to put in a speaker’s card and speak if called and to vote and have their vote counted.
Some may argue that this is an absurd amount of work but it would enable us to respect our own constitution whilst coping with police advice, venue and insurance problems. Given that Andrew Wiseman and others regard the eventuality of someone being excluded as unlikely, they should be able to make provisional arrangements which result in little or no cost to the party.