Liberal Democrats conference rejects plan for secret trials for torture compensation
Angry delegates accuse Clegg of abandoning liberal values for privileges of power
Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, delivers his keynote speech at the party’s spring conference in Brighton yesterday. Photograph: Luke MacGregor
During a fiery debate, one of the leading opponents to the legislation, Jo Shaw, a former party Commons candidate, said the party’s leadership had “abandoned liberal values for the privileges of power”.
Under pressure from MI5 and MI6, Conservatives have backed the change, arguing that the UK has to pay millions in compensation in claims because it cannot reveal intelligence sources in open court.
“I am a Liberal and I am a democrat and I am against this sort of thing,” said Ms Shaw as she announced her resignation from the podium– echoing words uttered in 1951 by a Liberal who refused then to use an ID card.
She was joined in her exit from the party by human rights barrister Dinah Rose, who represented former Guantánamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed two years ago when he and 15 others received substantial compensation.
Lawyer David Howarth told delegates
the secret courts would create “secret law” and be used in habeas corpus cases, not just those dealing with compensation.
On Saturday, Liberal Democrat leader and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said he had tried to improve the legislation rather than reject it because the Conservatives and Labour supported it.
It passed its third reading in the House of Commons last week with the support of many but not all of the party’s MPs, but is expected to face strong opposition in the House of Lords.
The conference vote does not bind Mr Clegg’s hands, although few of the delegates have been appeased by declarations that he will seek further changes in the legislation in coming weeks.
Insisting on his liberal values, Mr Clegg made clear that growing Conservative demands for the UK to quit the European Convention on Human Rights would not be accepted during the lifetime of the coalition.
Such a move, he said, has been made only by Belarus: “The Conservatives would actively take away rights enjoyed by British citizens just to appease their backbenchers,” he said.
The push against the ECHR illustrates the Conservatives drift to the right in the wake of the Eastleigh byelection, even if prime minister David Cameron knows he “needs to stay on the centre ground”, he said.
Meanwhile, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Justin Welby led scores of Church of England bishops in condemning welfare benefit changes due to come into force next month.
From then, UK welfare payments will rise by 1 per cent in each of the next three years, a reduction in real terms after inflation.
The changes would drive up to 200,000 children into poverty, said Dr Welby, while another bishop said they had resorted to a public letter of condemnation “because we have tried everything else”.