Nick Clegg in Control Orders U-turn

This post was written by Owen on January 5, 2011
Posted Under: Civil Liberties,Liberal Democrats,Terrorism,Tories

For all the Government’s many faults, one thing a lot of us could comfort ourselves with as the Coalition really got going was that at least they’d be better than Labour had been on civil liberties. They might be dead set on hacking chunks out of the State safety net for the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, they might be totally out of touch with the reality of life for millions of citizens, but at least they – and the Lib Dems in particular – didn’t give the impression of seeing habeas corpus as nothing more than an anachronistic joke. And there were some encouraging signs. The Vetting and Barring Scheme went in June, (to cheers from Reuben). ID cards followed, and restrictions on the fingerprinting of children and storing the DNA of the innocent were brought in.

And then there were Control Orders. The Lib Dems’ views on these were pretty clear before the election, and even then-Tory Shadow Security Minister Dame Neville-Jones said in March that “eliminating the control order regime” would be a Conservative policy. And it’s easy to see why. As things stand, this is what can be restricted – without charge and for an indefinite period of time, simply on the say-so of the Home Secretary – through a Control Order:

  • Possession and/or use of specified objects and substances.
  • Use of specified services and/or facilities.
  • Certain occupations and employment.
  • Carrying out specified activities.
  • Restriction on association and communications with specified people, or people in general.
  • Restriction of place of residence, and visitors to the residence.
  • Movements at certain times of the day, or to certain places.
  • Passport must be surrendered.
  • A requirement to admit specified persons to certain premises.
  • A requirement to allow specified persons to confiscate and/or scientifically examine any object on premises owned by the subject.
  • A requirement to allow electronic surveillance to be carried out and photographs taken.
  • Any other restrictions whatsoever for up to 24hrs, when it is deemed necessary.

It’s easy to understand why someone with even a passing concern for personal liberty would find all that pretty discomfiting. Big Brother Watch also point out that they haven’t even done what they were intended to: 7 of the 45 people who’ve been subject to Control Orders ‘absconded’ (and being under a Control Order didn’t stop them), while the other 38 Orders have been lifted, strongly suggesting that their imposition probably wasn’t justified in the first place. Lucky freedom’s an issue so close to Nick Clegg’s heart then really, isn’t it? But what’s this we read?

Faced by growing calls from senior former cabinet members to retain control orders, it appears that the Liberal Democrat leader is willing to seek a compromise, and will recognise that some form of replacement to control orders is necessary – even though in opposition he called for their outright abolition.

[Theresa] May is backing a two-tier system of control orders in which suspected terrorists regarded as less of a threat would be subject to travel bans overseas and inside the UK. The ban on overseas travel would require a beefed-up watch list at ports and airports. Suspects might be banned from visiting community centres, gyms, mosques or other places where young men gather. They would also be subject to tagging.

A second, more serious group would be subject to tighter restrictions.

Oh. Never mind then. Wonder if Clegg’ll go for the same “we didn’t know stuff was this bad until we got into government, honest” schtick he tried over tuition fees?

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