Parliamentary answers “abbreviated for clarity and brevity” (Otherwise known as “Wrong”)

In response to a Freedom of Information request about Prison Service consultations, an odd discrepancy arose: Caroline Lucas MP asked the same question in parliament and received a different response.

This doesn’t sound like a major issue as the differences between the two lists – organisations consulted over a particular policy change – seem minor, being just one organisation missing from the parliamentary answer. Still, the Trans community is not that large. How comprehensive a consultation can be regarded as can easily turn on if a single organisation, particularly one the size of GIRES, has been included in that consultation.

So, an internal review was requested and in due course a reply is received: The Freedom of Information request was handled correctly in the first place. Despite the discrepancy with the parliamentary answer, “Both responses are accurate“.

How exactly does that work? “The response provided to parliament was abbreviated and formatted for clarity and brevity.

I wonder how many other answers to written parliamentary questions have been “abbreviated for clarity and brevity”. Particularly where the “clarified” version hides information the minister concerned would rather not reveal?

(P.S. I am still not clear if the answer to my FoI request is accurate – it may be that the parliamentary version is the correct one. I shall check with GIRES as I believe they were not in fact consulted)

Illiberal conference: Blog post roundup and things you can do!

In the heat of the moment yesterday, I did not explain the issue well so here’s the story. If you already know the issues, scroll down and there’s a list of things you can do to help!

West Midlands Police have imposed a “security vetting” procedure on attendees of the Liberal Democrat Autumn conference this year, which the Federal Conference Committee have (After some wrangling with WMP, it appears) agreed to. This is new and hasn’t been in place before and there has been no reason given for the increased security measures or what threat they are designed to deal with. Briefly, as I see it there are four issues:

1) Members may be barred from attending without due process. There is an established and open process for barring members from the party and it should not be left in the hands of the police.
2) Police will be keeping the information gathered indefinitely and share it with other police forces. (Yes, they’re keeping a database of political activists’s passports, NI numbers and driving licences)
3) It creates problems for various marginalised groups: Anyone under the age of 16, (No driving licence or NI number) anyone foreign who has never worked in the UK (No UK passport or NI number) and anyone transgendered or who might otherwise have ID in multiple names. (Anyone who thinks that being trans doesn’t cause problems with the police really should try it some day)
4) We can hardly defend our position on being against ID Cards if we give in to this. We’re basically admitting that the database state is required to ensure our security. I, and many others, do not believe it is necessary.

Dave Page has a post up on LibDemVoice that goes into more detail. There are also many other blog posts on the issue – here’s a random selection. (I apologise to anyone I haven’t included, there are so many – I’ll add a few more here shortly)

Caron’s Musings: My Federal Conference Dilemma – do I submit to illiberal police veto? and Episode 2: The Petition and The Letter
Spiderplant Land: Liberal Democrat Conference 2011 – The most ‘illiberal’ yet and Keep Liberal Democrat Conference Liberal
Liberal England: Do the police now decide who can attend the Liberal Democrat Conference?
Miss SB: So the problem is apparently not the poor HQ staff, but the police.
Stephen’s Liberal Journal: I may be approved, but I may not accredited #ldconf
Disgruntled Radical: Police can veto who goes to Lib Dem Conference ?!!?
Liberal Ramblings from Petersfield: Conference time and I’m not happy
Daniel Furr: The great liberal police state
Emma Brownbill: Wanted: A Fair, Free and Open Conference – for all of us.

And of course, the twitter hashtag, #ldconf.

What can be done?

Firstly, there’s a petition you can sign. More importantly, please pass this on to other members of your local party who might not otherwise see it! There’s a very active LibDem blogosphere and twitter community but it’s only a small fraction of the party as a whole.

Secondly, there are T-Shirts to wear at conference itself, featuring the design above designed by Sarah Brown.

And thirdly, there’s a letter a few of us put together that you can circulate and hopefully get your local party to pass on up the chain. The more grass roots pressure there is on this, the more chance there is of the FCC going back and looking at the security arrangements again:

Dear colleague,

We wish to make clear our disappointment at the way in which the registration process for the Liberal Democrat Conference in Birmingham is being carried out as agreed by the Federal Conference Committee in conjunction with West Midlands Police.

The new registration process requires that those who wish to attend conference provide Greater Manchester Police (on behalf of West Midlands Police) with their personal information such as passport and NI numbers.

As a liberal party with a strong history and record of protecting civil liberties, we are gravely concerned that such an illiberal registration process has been allowed to take place by the party’s Federal Conference Committee without direct consultation with those directly affected, i.e. members.

We also wish to make clear our disappointment and disagreement with the declaration that “These details will be passed onto the police to carry out their own accreditation procedures.” For a party which has consistently fought to protect and re-instate civil liberties and freedoms, we cannot support a decision which removes our right to keep our private information private.

We strongly disagree with the decision that West Midlands Police have the power to disallow any member of the Liberal Democrats from attending conference should they wish to do so. It is every party member’s right to attend conference and only the federal party has the right to refuse access with justifiable reason. Furthermore the federal party’s constitution states that local parties shall elect local representatives for conference. We feel it is unacceptable to allow the Police to over-ride the wishes of local parties by having a power of veto over attendance. This new requirement may also restrict other members from attending due to their personal circumstances such as;

  • anyone under 16 will not have an NI number or Driving Licence
  • members whose membership is in a different name from their official ID. (Pseudonym, transgendered or just plain got married)

We ask that the registration process for conference be urgently re-evaluated by the Federal Conference Committee and that they consider with immediate effect the removal of such an illiberal requirement on its members.

First, the US no-fly list. Now, the UK no-politics list

I’m finding some of the debate over the LibDem conference attendance disappointing and not what I expected of the party.

There’s a small but significant number of people who don’t see what the fuss is about. That’s fine, but how about letting those that do care campaign on it without labelling people as hysterical or overreacting? Some of us have good reasons to be wary of the police and when statements like “your passport details… will be retained and/or passed to other police forces in the future” appear in the terms and conditions, that’s bound to set alarm bells ringing.

And secondly, should we not lead from the front? It does not do much for our argument that ID Cards were unnecessary and draconian if we are unable to protect our own conference without resorting to similarly draconian measures, particularly given that bags are already searched and, in the case of Autumn conference, X-Rayed before admission to the venue.

What has not been made clear is what happens to those that are refused? Some have said that it’s unlikely anyone will be refused. If so, why bother?

But if someone is denied entry, do they have any right of appeal? Will they even get to know the evidence against them? Even US Senators had trouble appearing on their no-fly list.

“Sorry mate, you can’t come in. You’re on our no-politics list”.

(Edited to add: For those not familiar with the issue, West Midlands Police are insisting on some quite heavy-handed vetting of attendees for “security” reasons and it looks like the Federal Conference Committee have caved in.)