Simon Hughes Speech to Lib Dem Conference 2014

Speech by Rt Hon Simon Hughes MP,  Minister for Justice & Civil Liberties to Liberal Democrat Annual Conference 2014

Liberal Democrats:

I spent more than a quarter of a century fighting for our liberal values in parliament...

…but only ever in opposition.

And I can tell you:

It is much better, finally, to have the opportunity to put those values into practice in government.

I am proud of what Liberal Democrats have achieved.

We’ve begun to clear up Labour’s mess on the economy.

And we have also started to reverse Labour’s assault on basic civil liberties.

Not until Liberal Democrats went into government was there the greatest rolling back of state power and intrusion for generations.

Our party, in government, has:

Scrapped ID cards.

Ended child detention for immigration purposes.

Stopped fingerprinting in schools without parents’ permission.

Removed millions of innocent people from the DNA database.

And halved the period of detention without charge.

What a contrast to Labour:
the party of 90 days.

Only possible by being in government.

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Never forget the frustration we felt so often in opposition.

Watching liberties being discarded by Labour.

Yes, we campaigned hard….

Yes, we fought hard…

But then, yes, we lost vote after vote….

….
to an illiberal, controlling and authoritarian Labour government.

And now…

Liberal Democrats:

Repealing Labour’s illiberal laws.

Delivering liberal reforms.

Only possible by being in government.
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But Liberal Democrats have not fought to restore civil liberties eroded by Labour, only to see them stolen away again by the Tories.

We will always keep our country safe.

We will always protect our communities.

We are not naïve about the threats we face.

Liberty means living free from fear.

But Liberal Democrats also know that liberty means not destroying our own freedoms.

So, before the summer:

When our ability to protect the country from terrorist attacks was put at risk.

We were right to make sure that government continued to have the powers needed to keep us safe.

But we insisted on improving civil liberties too.

So we refused to return to the position inherited from Labour.

And instead we demanded:

Tough new oversight of the security services.

A full review of our existing powers and safeguards.

And a fixed time limit for new powers.

Safeguards only secured by being in government.

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And, let me make this very clear:

While Liberal Democrats are in government:

There will be no Snooper’s Charter.

Earlier this week, Theresa May claimed that by blocking her Snooper’s Charter, the Liberal Democrats put lives at risk.

Conference, let me make this very clear:

That was not true.

And for this shameless and completely unjustified claim, Theresa May owes every Liberal Democrat and the country an apology.

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There is one beacon of hope in the Home Office.

Yes conference, we can be proud of the role played by our outstanding Liberal Democrat Home Office Minister, Norman Baker.

Building on the great work of Lynne Featherstone and Jeremy Browne.

And let me also thank Julian Huppert for his tireless work:

Day in, day out - holding Ministers’ feet to the fire on justice and home affairs issues.

And not just Tory Ministers either.

And there’s someone else I want to thank:

The person who I have the privilege to follow as Liberal Democrat Minister in the Ministry of Justice: Tom McNally.

For all his work for our party - in government and in the House of Lords.

And now leading the Youth Justice Board.

Building on one of the greatest achievements of our Coalition government:

Since 2010: reducing by more than half the number of young people in custody in England and Wales.

So we can and must be proud of the huge progress we have made on civil liberties.

But, are we satisfied?

No, of course not.

Because we will not rest until we have a fair, free and open society.

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So, as we have pledged in our pre-manifesto:

A second Freedoms Bill - to protect citizens from excessive state intrusion and improve our right to access information.

A Digital Bill of Rights - to protect internet freedom and net neutrality.

An alternative to closed material proceedings.

Reduced and more effective stop and search.

And even tougher oversight of our security services.

Only possible by being in government

Only possible by remaining in government.


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Conference, I’m proud to have been your Deputy Leader.

Supporting Nick Clegg.
Our Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister.

As Deputy Leader, I was able to spend the first three and a half years of this parliament making sure that the voice of colleagues, members and supporters was being heard.

So when George Osborne announced plans to impose a 10 per cent cut in housing benefit on anyone unemployed for more than a year….

…..you said loud and clear that it was wrong.

And it was Liberal Democrats who blocked it.

Just as we have blocked so many other Tory plans:

Firing workers at will.

Running schools for profit.


Ending council tenancies for life.

Scrapping housing benefit for young people.


And as a London MP, representing communities where so many people are struggling to find a place to live…..

…..we should be proud that it is only Liberal Democrats who are committed to building 300,000 new homes each and every year.

One of the privileges of being Deputy Leader was to work with councillors, local party officers and activists all across the country.

Making sure that in government we never lost touch with you.

And always valuing the experience you bring.

Campaigning in our communities, week in and week out.

Like my hugely gifted, energetic and appreciated Liberal Democrat councillors, members, supporters and team in Southwark and Bermondsey.
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But I want to tell you today why I decided to join Nick’s team in government – serving in the Ministry of Justice.

I have to be honest with you:

Never in my dreams did I imagine being a government minister.

And never in my nightmares, even my wildest nightmares, did I imagine going to bed with the Tories.

And waking up with Chris Grayling!

Don’t worry, Chris….

….it’s only a metaphor!

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Conference, I accepted this job because there is a fight to be won.

It is a fight I have never shied away from.

It’s a fight I have been in all my political life.

It’s the fight for human rights.

In Britain - and around the world.

When I see the international agreements and the domestic laws which protect the human rights of the most vulnerable being threatened by the Tories….

That’s a fight I cannot sit out.

And just this week, the fight has really begun.

David Cameron and Chris Grayling have set out their goals:

Scrapping the Human Rights Act.

Undermining the European Convention on Human Rights.

The greatest single advance in the legal protection of human rights anywhere in the world.

Drafted by Britain.

Made in Britain.

Exported to 47 countries.

The Tories would ditch the Human Rights Act

Because they care more about losing votes to Ukip, than the rights of British citizens.

Yet the European Human Rights Convention is a British Convention, through and through.

Do you remember when the Tories used to be proud of exporting Britain’s best ideas?

Just think of the message we would be sending around the world - in Russia, Syria, and China - if we ripped up our own commitment to international human rights?

If we decided to distance ourselves from the Convention, why on earth should other countries not do the same?

And what would that mean for Britons travelling abroad?

This is an agreement which protects others, but crucially it protects our citizens, at home and abroad.

We must refuse to accept a future where, because of the Human Rights Convention, the rights of people from Bermondsey and all our constituencies would be protected more in all Greece or Spain or any other European country than in the UK.

I welcome Labour’s commitment to defend the Human Rights Act.

An Act for which Donald Wade and other Liberals had campaigned for decades before 1997.

But, be very clear:

In the present parliament, when the Tories wanted to set back human rights at home by axing the Human Rights Act….

When the Tories wanted to set back human rights around the world by weakening the European Convention on Human Rights…

It has been the Liberal Democrats who blocked them.

And I make this commitment to you:

We will always be the party of reform, including in Europe.

But, whatever the outcome of the next election, if Liberal Democrats are in government:

We will always stand up for human rights.

We will never agree to leave the UK without a Human Rights Act.

And we will never undermine the European Convention on Human Rights.

Don’t ever tell me that it’s not worth being in government.

Don’t ever tell me we should have let the Tories have free rein to run this country.

Let alone with 100 per cent of the power on 36 per cent of the vote.

And, Liberal Democrats:  as we defend human rights:

Don’t ever tell me that there is a better reason for making sure the Tories don’t win a majority at the next General Election.

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Now, Government isn’t just about reversing Labour’s failures.

Or stopping the Tories pursuing their right-wing ideological agenda.

It’s about putting our own values into action.

Liberal Democrats in government have cut crime.

In fact, we have delivered the lowest level of crime for a generation.

All our communities have been given simple, effective powers to tackle criminal and anti-social behaviour.

And now we need to make the police more responsive to our communities: so that if someone has their house broken into in Southwark, they can check what the police have done to find the culprit.

Only possible by being in government.

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Liberal Democrats are reforming stop and search.

Because everybody should be able to walk the streets without feeling they are being targeted because of their race.

And now we need to go further: insisting that judges oversee police applications for stop and search.

And making sure that police officers wear video cameras to help restore public confidence.

Only possible by being in government.

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Liberal Democrats are making sure that victims are put first in our justice system.

So money from offenders now funds vital projects, including to increase the use of restorative justice.

And we have delivered the commitment in the Coalition Agreement to fund new rape support centres, with 86 now in place across the UK.

And now we will enact a comprehensive Victims’ Law:

A new legal right for victims to tell the court how their crime has affected them.

And a new national Victims’ Information Service.

Only possible by being in government.

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Liberal Democrats are making sure that the family justice system is fairer.

With decisions made in the best interests of children, but with a process which is fairer and a decision which is reached more quickly.

So I have introduced the biggest reforms to the family court for generations:

Halving average case times and simplifying the system.

Guaranteeing children and young people a stronger, louder voice.

Increasing free mediation for separating couples, which reduces the stress on families and the pressure on the court system.

Only possible by being in government.

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Liberal Democrats are making sure that the most vulnerable are protected as we get the legal aid budget under control.

A budget which Labour have said they would have had to reduce and would not increase.

A budget under unprecedented pressure only because of the economic mess we inherited from Labour.

So on day one in the Ministry of Justice, I insisted that there must be greater protection
for children,
for those fleeing domestic violence,
and for those seeking asylum.

And I am working now to deliver more help and support for those who represent themselves in the family justice system.

And insisting that we review now how the protections for young people which we secured must be delivered better in practice.

Only possible by being in government.

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Liberal Democrats are opening up government.

We are now extending Freedom of Information to Network Rail:

A battle won against the Tories.

And our next challenge - to open up to scrutiny the other big institutions that have such a say in our lives:

The monopoly water companies.

The big six energy companies.

Housing associations.

And all those private companies delivering contracts paid for by the taxpayer.

Winning these arguments: only possible by remaining in government.

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And Liberal Democrats are putting rehabilitation at the heart of our justice system.

Because, for too long, the same offenders have gone round and round the system - over and over again.

Never breaking the cycle of offending.

Costing us hundreds of millions of wasted pounds on courts and prisons.

Creating more victims of crime.

We have thousands of excellent people working in our prisons, probation and courts services.

And I pay tribute to them all.

But that is not an excuse for no change.

Because we inherited from Labour a situation where seven out of every ten offenders serving a short sentence went on to reoffend within a year.

So, Liberal Democrats have taken action:

We are doubling the amount of education received by young people in prison.

Making it possible for prisoners to serve the last few months of their sentence near to where they will live.

And getting ex-offenders into work and training.

Helping to stop the cycle of crime and reoffending.

Labour kicked people back out into the community after a short sentence with no help.

We are the first government to guarantee support to everyone
after release.

These are plans straight out of our manifesto, agreed across the coalition.

They are plans that will cut crime.

And they are plans that every Liberal Democrat should be proud of having delivered in government.

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And one further reform which Liberal Democrats should be proud to have delivered:

For the first time since 1974: we have cut the period when offences, other than the most serious, have to be declared to employers.

Helping ex-offenders to get back into work.

Breaking the cycle of re-offending.

Cutting crime.

And these liberal reforms:

Only possible by being in government.

Only possible by remaining in government.

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And today I want to announce the next steps in our Liberal Democrat mission to put rehabilitation at the heart of our justice system.

I want to see fewer women in custody:

Keeping women with their families.

Helping to tackle drug, alcohol and mental health problems.

Rebuilding lives.

One of the most important things I’ve seen since becoming a Minister is the value of education to those who end up in our justice system.

The increased opportunities that can come from learning new skills.

From gaining new qualifications.

So today I can announce three new guarantees for all women offenders:

I will make sure that every woman going to prison has their English, Maths and wider education needs assessed within a week.

I will guarantee that we will provide tailored learning plans for every woman who needs one.

And I will guarantee that the Ministry of Justice will work with education partners to help women continue their education and training on release.

We must end the nonsense of courses left half-done.

Or prisons deciding that someone isn’t inside long enough to start one.

As the Minister responsible for women in our justice system, I’m proud to announce these guarantees.

It will make a difference.

But it isn’t enough.

I want to see improved education, training and support rolled out across the entire criminal justice system….

… and I will keep challenging my Tory colleagues to deliver this.
Liberal Democrat policies, put into practice.

Policies that work.

Policies that cut crime.

Only possible by being in government.

Only possible by remaining in government.

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Of course, we don’t get it all our own way.

There are things we would be doing differently in a majority Liberal Democrat government.

Like finding a way to be just as tough when it comes to the security of our prisons:

But making sure that, as well as access to prison libraries, all prisoners can also be sent books by family and friends.

Doesn’t that just make sense when we have placed education at the heart of our rehabilitation revolution?

But our disagreement with the other big parties on prisons is more fundamental.

Because neither the Tories nor Labour agree with us when Liberal Democrats say:

We have got to end the knee-jerk madness that says prison is always the answer.

Of course, prison is needed to keep the most serious and dangerous offenders locked up, unable to commit further, often horrific crimes.

Of course, there are offences so serious that a prison sentence is the right response.

But here’s where prison doesn’t work:

And this is where the Tories and Labour get it so wrong.

Prison doesn’t work when we lock people up for just a few weeks.

They are not inside long enough for us to change their behaviour.

But long enough to lose their job, their home, their relationship – all the very things which reduce the chance of them reoffending.

We need to challenge many offenders in their communities.

Not a slap on the wrist, but effectively to address their offending.

Getting them to pay back for the crimes they have committed.

And where appropriate, make them face their victims and apologise.

Prison doesn’t work when we lock people up for having drugs for personal use, when what many need is help to tackle their addiction.

Prison doesn’t work for many of those with a mental illness who actually need treatment, help and support.

And for whom being locked up is likely to hinder, not help their recovery.

And we know that there are still far too many women being sent to prison, even when they are no danger to society.

Breaking up families.

Destroying more lives.

If you listen to the rhetoric of Tory and Labour politicians, you’d think it was a record to be proud of that, by head of population, Britain has the highest prison populations in Europe, behind only Azerbaijan and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

I tell you: this is nothing to be proud of.

Ed Miliband and Sadiq Khan are wrong when they say the biggest problem is that we aren’t spending enough on our prisons.

Even though they don’t promise to spend more.

No, the problem is that we lock up too many people in the first place.

Which does nothing to reduce crime.

And costs us hundreds of millions of pounds which we simply do not have.

And Labour would make things even worse: locking up more people, for longer.

It’s why I say this:

Don’t ever, ever believe that it would have been a bed of roses to have gone into government with Labour.

So, conference:

If the tired old parties want to remain wedded to their evidence-free, headline-chasing, budget-draining, failed approach….

….
then it falls to Liberal Democrats to win the argument for how best to cut crime in our communities.

I want to thank every single member who took the time to contribute to our new crime and justice policy paper and I look forward to the debate tomorrow.

I particularly thank Geoff Payne and the members of the Working Group for all your work.

These Liberal Democrat plans set out the next steps in reforming our justice system:

Stopping the endless revolving door of short sentences.

Ending the imprisonment of people caught with small amounts of drugs for personal use.

Making the use of drugs a health issue, not a criminal one.

Strengthening the independence of the advisory council on the misuse of drugs.

Devolving the youth justice custody budget.

Establishing a Woman’s Justice Board to pilot alternatives to prison.


Liberal Democrats will continue to put forward a better, fairer vision of how we reduce crime in our country.

And if we want not just to win the argument, but then also to deliver this radical agenda….

We must remember:

It is only possible by being in government.

Only possible by remaining in government.

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Conference, the decision we took in 2010 was tough.

But it was the right thing to do.

It has made it possible for us to deliver liberal policies each and every day.

Freedom - increased.

The power of the state - rolled back.

Justice - defended.

We know our task:

Making sure we protect victims and the vulnerable.

Making sure that we focus on what works to cut crime.

Making sure that we protect civil liberties and freedom.

Here and around the world.

And the reason we must stay…

The reason Liberal Democrats must always aspire to be in government….

… is because we are the only ones who will always defend and promote  civil liberties, human rights and justice.

Liberal Democrats.

The guarantors….

Not only of a stronger economy.

Not only of a fairer society.

But the guarantors:

Of a free and a just society too.

Thank you.

Ends