9-10 March 2019 – the weekend’s press releases (part 1)

There’s no doubt that the Press Team have been busy over the weekend, and we’ll spread the press releases over two posts accordingly… Lib Dems: Javid’s judgement has had tragic consequences Lib Dems: We must now eradicate period poverty from society Swinson: UK must help secure release of Egyptian woman Amal Fathy Jardine reveals “embarrassing” […]

There’s no doubt that the Press Team have been busy over the weekend, and we’ll spread the press releases over two posts accordingly…

  • Lib Dems: Javid’s judgement has had tragic consequences
  • Lib Dems: We must now eradicate period poverty from society
  • Swinson: UK must help secure release of Egyptian woman Amal Fathy
  • Jardine reveals “embarrassing” gender balance of the Privy Council

Lib Dems: Javid’s judgement has had tragic consequences

Responding to the reports that the baby son of Shamima Begum has died, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Ed Davey said:

The news that a little baby has died will touch the vast majority of people’s hearts – regardless of the crimes of his mother.

Many of us feared this tragic outcome when the Home Secretary washed his hands of Britain’s responsibility for a British citizen and a British baby.

The Home Secretary’s actions were highly questionable on legal grounds anyway – and his pathetic attempt to claim there was a security risk only undermined his case further.

If the courts eventually show he has acted illegally in making a British citizen stateless, we will remember this baby in holding him to account.

Lib Dems: We must now eradicate period poverty from society

Commenting on reports that Chancellor Phillip Hammond is to commit to investing funding to eradicate period poverty in English schools in next weeks Spring Statement, Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson Layla Moran said:

This move is long overdue and comes after years of campaigning.

With 1 in 4 women saying they have experienced forms of period poverty, adding schools to hospitals as places where you can get free tampons and pads is a welcome second step down the road to a real solution to this problem.

Liberal Dememocrats will continue to press the case for the full eradication of period poverty across the whole of society.

Swinson: UK must help secure release of Egyptian woman Amal Fathy

The Liberal Democrats have demanded the UK Government help secure a presidential pardon for Amal Fathy, an Egyptian women’s rights defender who is currently under house arrest after spending seven months in prison last year on false charges.

Following her jailing, Amal Fathy was designated a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, who see her treatment – having been punished for her bravery – as part and parcel of a wider ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders in Egypt.

Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Jo Swinson has written to the Foreign Secretary urging him to ensure that the Foreign Office make clear to the Egyptian Government that UK investment must be matched by real efforts to improve the treatment of women in Egypt and to uphold and protect the human rights of all Egyptians.

Jo Swinson said:

It is appalling that women such as Amal Fathy who have fought to protect and enhance human rights are being subjected to persecution and imprisonment on false charges.

British foreign policy has a long and proud history of promoting human rights and equality. The Conservative Government must continue this legacy.

Jeremy Hunt must make it clear that, in exchange for our economic investment, we expect to see significant improvements in the treatment of women and protection of human rights in Egypt.

Jardine reveals “embarrassing” gender balance of the Privy Council

Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine has used International Women’s Day to call on the Government to end the gender imbalance in institutions like the Privy Council.

The Edinburgh West MP – who already has a Bill before the commons calling for the House of Lords’ name to be changed to the House of Peers – this weekend highlighted that there are five times as many male privy councillors as female ones.

The council, which is an advisory body to the Queen, grants Orders of Council and regulates specific public bodies. It currently lists a total of 680 members, only 109 of which are women.

The House of Lords has a similarly poor gender balance, with twice as many men as women.

The MP, who is also currently campaigning against the so called ‘Pink Tax’, said:

These figures are an embarrassment and throw back to the outdated and unacceptable narrative that political decision making is man’s job.

The Privy Council is just one example of how we are failing to move on quickly enough. It’s embarrassing that so many of this country’s most prestigious institutions continue to give off the impression they are an old boy’s club.

There is no justification for such a significant gender balance to exist anywhere in 21st century Britain. It’s high time our institutions were brought up to date.

More than 100 years on since the first women in this country won the vote we shouldn’t have to be making the case for every governing body to have equal representation.

It is time to end the narrative that political decision-making is a man’s job. We can take a step towards that later this month with my Bill to rename the House of Lords.

We’ll bring you the rest in about three hours…

6 March 2019 – yesterday’s press releases

PM fails to stand up for rural communities over bank closures Cable: Catastrophic no-deal would push economy into recession Davey: Britain must be far more ambitious on offshore wind Lib Dems: Yet another embarrassing rejection of May’s Brexit PM fails to stand up for rural communities over bank closures Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron today […]

  • PM fails to stand up for rural communities over bank closures
  • Cable: Catastrophic no-deal would push economy into recession
  • Davey: Britain must be far more ambitious on offshore wind
  • Lib Dems: Yet another embarrassing rejection of May’s Brexit

PM fails to stand up for rural communities over bank closures

Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron today used Prime Minister’s Questions to urge the Prime Minister to properly compensate communities that have been abandoned by the banks and forced to use online banking instead.

According to the consumer group Which? around 3,000 bank branches have closed over the past three years.

Meanwhile over the same time period, innocent customers have lost an extra £2billion in online and financial fraud.

Speaking during Prime Ministers Questions, Tim Farron asked:

Will she agree that the banks have taken without giving for too long?

Will she meet with me to force the banks to compensate victims of fraud, to compensate the communities they have abandoned and to prevent banks closing the last branch in town?

In response, the Prime Minister refused to help abandoned communities and victims of financial fraud, instead saying that banks are “commercial organisations and those are decisions that they take.”

Following the exchange, Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron said:

It’s absolutely staggering and hugely disappointing that the Prime Minister has decided to turn her back on communities like Grange in my constituency that have been abandoned by the banks.

People who have been victims of financial fraud and those who have been let down by the banks deserve better than the Prime Minister shrugging her shoulders.

Cable: Catastrophic no-deal would push economy into recession

Commenting on the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s report into the implications for economic growth as a consequence of Brexit, Leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable said:

The economy has been bumping along the bottom in the wake of Brexit uncertainty. This analysis by the OECD, while focused on a slowing global economy, picks out the UK as one of the worst performers among developed countries due to our weakening economic growth and falling business investment.

Not only have our growth forecasts for 2019 and 2020 been severely downgraded, but the OECD expects our economy to suffer even if the Conservative Government gets its Brexit deal through, undermining claims of a so-called “deal dividend”. A catastrophic no-deal would push our economy into recession, inflicting great damage on jobs and living standards.

Davey: Britain must be far more ambitious on offshore wind

Commenting on the Government’s announcement of a new Offshore Wind Sector deal, Ed Davey, former Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change said:

Britain must be far more ambitious on offshore wind, and build on the huge breakthroughs Liberal Democrats achieved on renewable power.

The UK is now the world leader in offshore wind, and the green power auctions Liberal Democrats pioneered have seen the cost of offshore wind tumble.

With renewable power costs now way below nuclear, it must be right to capitalise on this fabulous British success story – so we can tackle climate change faster and see more green jobs created.

Lib Dems: Yet another embarrassing rejection of May’s Brexit

Following further Brexit-related defeats for the Government in the House of Lords this evening, on parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals and membership of a customs union, Liberal Democrat Leader in the Lords, Dick Newby said:

The Conservative Government’s defeats this evening are yet another embarrassing rejection of Theresa May’s Brexit. The Lords has insisted on parliamentary scrutiny on future trade deals rather than letting Liam Fox decide what’s in our national interest.

We have also insisted on remaining in a customs union because we will not accept a Tory Brexit deal that wrecks supply chains, causes chaos at UK borders and leads to massive jobs losses.

Being inside a customs union but outside the EU would however still leave the UK poorer and deprive us of any say over the rules that govern the way we trade.

Both Theresa May’s and Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit plans have now been resoundingly defeated. The only real alternative and way out of this chaos is a people’s vote, with the option to stay in the EU.

Lib Dem Lords vs Brexit – Dick Newby “Purgatory has its limits”

Yesterday, the Lords debated the Brexit shambles. Here is our Dick Newby’s contribution. This is the 11th debate or statement on the Government’s withdrawal bill and political declaration. During the three months which these debates have spanned not a single ting has changed. ML, the purgatory continues.  For a number of months, when my colleagues […]

Yesterday, the Lords debated the Brexit shambles. Here is our Dick Newby’s contribution.

This is the 11th debate or statement on the Government’s withdrawal bill and political declaration. During the three months which these debates have spanned not a single ting has changed. ML, the purgatory continues. 

For a number of months, when my colleagues have become exasperated that Jeremy Corbyn appeared to set his face against supporting a referendum on the Brexit deal, I have sought to reassure them by using the analogy of the 5-year-old schoolboy, who doesn’t want to go to school. As he is being dragged to school by his parent, he stamps his foot and says, “I don’t want to go to school”, “it’s not fair”, “I’m not going to school”. He knows, of course, that he will have to go to school but his amour propre won’t allow him to admit it. Only when he crosses the school threshold does he stop his wailing and runs to join his schoolmates. Mr Corbyn has now crossed the threshold.

I think that the analogy is a fair description of what Jeremy Corbyn has done, but until yesterday I didn’t think of applying it equally to the Prime Minister. Yet, this is exactly what she has done in relation to an extension of Article 50. She has said publicly all along that 29 March was a sacrosanct departure date. She has stamped her foot – as late as the weekend – to repeat this mantra. But she has now proposed giving the Commons a vote to extend Article 50 for an unspecified number of months.

She must have known for some time that she was going to have to shift her position, but she has done so with the greatest reluctance and in a manner which will enable her to blame the Commons for the decision, which she will have flunked.

She should herself be advocating a short extension, on the basis of her conviction that her deal will succeed, for without one it is simply impossible to get the necessary legislation through in an orderly fashion

When I debated this with Brexit Minister Chris Heaton-Harris at the end of last week, he said that everything would be on the statute book on time, but apparently only by dropping half the primary legislation which we had previously been told was necessary, and the by implying the use of emergency powers to get the rest through. Could the Noble Lord Lord Callanan tell the House in his wind-up which pieces of legislation the Government believes it will need to pass before 29 March, if the Government’s deal is approved by the Commons. Specifically, does it include the Agriculture Bill, the Fisheries Bill, the Trade Bill and the Immigration Bill?

Yesterday the Noble Lord the Leader of the House said that, in col 148, in respect of Brexit -related primary legislation, we “need to ensure that this House has adequate time to scrutinise it in the usual manner”. Could the Noble Lord  the Minister explain how we are going to be able to scrutinise the Withdrawal No 2 Bill in the usual manner? We will not know until 12 March whether the Government’s deal has been approved, which gives the Bill a mere two weeks to pass all its Parliamentary stages. Will he acknowledge that we would have to break our normal rules in considering legislation if we were to get this Bill through on time? And will he apologise to the House on behalf of his colleague the Leader for giving a misleading impression yesterday?

So,  the Prime Minister refuses to contemplate extending Article 50 to give time for her deal, if passed, to be implemented in an orderly manner. But she has been forced to concede a vote on an extension of Article 50 if – as is highly likely – it does not. And the purpose of any extension, as is clear both from the Cooper/Letwin initiative and the possible rebellion of members of her Cabinet and Government more generally, is that there is a clear majority against crashing out without a deal. And if any MP had any doubts about why they should avoid no-deal  the Government’s damning document of yesterday – “Implications for Business and Trade of a no deal exit on 29 March 2019.” The Noble Lord, Lord Livingstone of Parkhead summarised the position yesterday brilliantly when he described no-deal, and I quote, “not a negotiating card but an act of wilful self-harm.” 

So, there are going to be votes on the 12 March which are likely to lead to a further rejection of the Government’s deal and a rejection of no-deal. The following day there will be a vote, which is likely to pass, to ask the Government to request an extension of the Article 50 period. 

There is a danger that everyone then relaxes, but that would be a big mistake. 

Because the clock will still be ticking – just for slightly longer. And the Government – whatever the vote on 12 March – will still argue that no-deal is on the table.

So, what are the options going forward beyond 13 March if an extension is approved?

There are, in reality, very few. We now know that Labour will be supporting a people’s vote on the Government deal versus remain, as the way or breaking the impasse. So will we.

We know that a mere extension does nothing to make resolving the backstop issue easier. And in the meantime, we are no clearer about our future relationship with the EU were, by some miracle, the Government to get its deal through the Commons. And as the Noble Lord, Lord Kerr demonstrated last week, the lack of substance in the political declaration condemns us to years of wrangling, during which time investment, businesses and jobs will leech out of the UK.

In these circumstances, what will those Conservatives – both inside and outside Government – who are fiercely opposed to no-deal and believe that remain would be in the country’s best interests actually do.

We have watched with fascination as, week after week, there has been a growing chorus of members of the Government discussing circumstances in which they might resign and follow the examples of Philip Lee and Sam Gyimah. So far, they have all teetered on the cliff edge.

If Ministers remain in the Government after 13 March, they will, according to the Prime Minister’s statement of yesterday, still be working in support of a Government which has kept no-deal on the table for the end of the extension period. Liam Fox, Chris Grayling the Noble Lord Lord Callanan and the Leader of Your Lordships House might not find that offensive to their beliefs. But many – most – of the Government front bench in both Houses do. Yet they seem willing to keep going along with it? Why? What greater good than an aspiration to keep the Tory Party in one piece can possibly motivate them?

Might I suggest that they heed the statement by Duff Cooper who resigned as First Lord of the Admiralty in October 1938 in opposition to the Government’s appeasement policy:

“I have ruined perhaps, my political career. But that is of little matter. I have retained something which is of greater value – I can still walk about the world with my head erect.”

Can kicking remains the Prime Minister’s defining attribute. But this is now no longer a credible strategy. Purgatory has its limits. For every Parliamentarian, the day of judgement really is now at hand. 

  

Mark Francois: The voluntary party must now save us from ourselves

I welcome the suggestion that local Associations should follow the lead that the National Convention took last weekend.

Mark Francois is a former Defence Minister, and is MP for Rayleigh and Wickford.

Last weekend, the National Conservative Convention, sometimes described as the “Parliament” of the Voluntary Conservative Party, passed the following motion, by an emphatic majority of five to one.

“The National Convention supports the commitments the Prime Minister has made to the country to honour the European Union referendum result of 2016, that having triggered Article 50 we will leave the European Union on the 29 March 2019.

Another Referendum, a delay beyond the European elections, taking ‘no deal’ off the table or not leaving at all would betray the 2016 People’s Vote and damage democracy and our party for a generation.”

It is unusual for the National Convention to debate any substantive motion at all, so this was an event of significance for the Conservative Party as a whole.  Moreover, the voluntary party is arguably its heart and soul. If Conservative MPs are the Party’s “Officer Corps”, then the voluntary party, the Association Officers, councillors, activists and rank and file members are the Party’s “poor bloody infantry.”

They go out in all weathers, sometimes accompanied by their Conservative MP (where they have one) knocking on doors, delivering leaflets in the pouring rain, and engaging with the electorate, in good times and in bad. When the Party is doing well nationally, they tend to do well in local elections as well. When the reverse is true, they are the first to brutally cop it each first Thursday in May.

As an activist and councillor under John Major in the mid-1990s,  I well remember having doors slammed in my face, even in affluent areas. I also clearly recall hard-working, dedicated, local councillors being wiped out each May, simply because of the unpopularity of the party nationally.

In the 1993 County Council elections for instance, we lost every single county in the whole of England, save Buckinghamshire. A few more years of Conservative voters abstaining in their millions during the mid-90s led to our local government base being severely eroded. This was closely followed by one of the worst defeats in our Party’s entire history in 1997, which ushered in the Blair/Brown era. I believe we are now facing much the same fate this May if we carry on as we are.

The People versus the Establishment

However, the situation is even worse than that. The Government’s EU Policy is being dictated, at least day-to-day, by a small coterie of highly pro-EU inclined civil servants, led by the Prime Minister’s Chief Negotiator, Ollie Robbins, who have never really accepted the result of the 2016 referendum and who clearly believe that the British public, having made an obviously thick/bigoted/racist mistake, must now be saved, by their “betters”, from themselves.

Of course these civil servants care not a fig for the thousands of Conservative council candidates who could be wiped out in May; they are meant to be politically neutral after all. Amidst this burning desire effectively to keep Britain in the EU at all costs, they are aided and abetted by a number of senior cabinet Ministers, from Phillip Hammond through to Amber Rudd and a number of equally fanatical junior Ministers, who constantly threaten to resign (but never quite summon up the moral courage to actually do so), plus a relatively small number of ardent Europhile backbenchers, three of whom have recently moved on to pastures new.

Personally, I believe that the division in our country is now morphing, from “Leave” versus “Remain” to “The People” versus “The Establishment.” Put simply, the People voted to Leave and the Establishment, from the senior civil service and some traditional elements of the media, with many fellow travellers in the Commons and the Lords, now formally including the Labour Front bench as well, are doing absolutely everything in their power to stop them from leaving.

This is all despite the expressed wishes of 17.4 million UK citizens – the largest vote for any proposition in British history. The motion above is an expression of the growing anger of the rank and file at this trend but, as the sell-out continues and becomes ever more obvious, I believe that the public will grow increasingly angry too.

The collapse of collective responsibility within the Government

Meanwhile, in Parliament, the Government’s position is becoming increasingly shambolic. Pro-Remain Cabinet Ministers openly defy the Prime Minister – including ambushing her in Cabinet to rule out “No Deal” – and nothing happens. Supposedly Eurosceptic Cabinet Ministers, theoretically greater in number and several of them with future leadership ambitions, mumble disapprovingly into their coffee – but again nothing happens. Meanwhile, junior ministers write polemnical articles, openly opposing policies to which they are signed up as a consequence of the posts they hold – and yet again, absolutely nothing happens.

As everyone in the Commons now knows, any concept of collective responsibility has now completely broken down. Ministers of all ranks basically do whatever they like, without any fear of sanction from Number Ten whatsoever.

This reached truly farcical proportions yesterday, when Alberto Costa, a popular PPS, tabled a motion for yesterday’s European debate seeking to guarantee the future rights of EU citizens living in the UK. This was actually a statement of the Government’s existing policy, as demonstrated by Sajid Javid when he gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee shortly before the debate itself.

However, Alberto was then unceremoniously sacked as a PPS for tabling an amendment , as a PPS, without permission – even though the Government effectively then adopted his amendment several hours later at the end of the debate without a division. This is, to use a technical Parliamentary term, stark-staring bonkers.  In short, A Government which cannot impose discipline on its senior Ministers who oppose Government policy, none the less sacks a popular PPS instead for backing Government policy.

I have been an MP for 18 years and I have never seen anything even remotely like this. It is one rule for Europhile Ministers and another for everyone else. Boris Johnson, David Davis, Dominic Raab, Esther McVey, Steve Baker, Suella Braverman, Shailesh Vara and a host of honourable PPSs all resigned, in accordance with constitutional convention, as they could no longer support the European policy of the Government. By stark contrast, Europhile Ministers now break ranks on a virtually daily basis, but no-one ever resigns – and no-one even attempts to discipline them either.

In the midst of this maelstrom sit the poor, dispirited Whips Office, staffed by dedicated colleagues and led by a fundamentally decent man, Julian Smith, who is desperately trying to somehow keep the show on the road, amidst a near impossible situation.

However, the whips clearly appreciate that, when collective responsibility has already blatantly disintegrated, it is practically impossible to discipline understandably anxious backbenchers, who see Ministers doing whatever the hell they like without any meaningful sanction whatsoever. Do as I say, not as I do, does not generally impress Conservative MPs (or anyone else either).

The Voluntary Party must now save the Day

This brings us back to the Voluntary Party motion, which opposes a second referendum, which would be highly divisive for the country as a whole and which now very clearly distinguishes us from Corbyn and Labour.

The motion also says that “No deal” must stay on the table – which only makes sense. It is the one thing the EU are really frightened of, so why should we throw away our best negotiating card – for nothing? What sensible businessman or woman entering a tough negotiation would ever do such a crazy thing? The National Convention motion offered no qualification about not leaving in the event of No Deal. Indeed, the Manifesto on which I,  and virtually every other Conservative candidate stood at the 2017 General Election, declared that “we continue to believe that no deal is better than a bad deal for the UK.”

I welcome the suggestion, advanced on this site and supported by Jacob Rees-Mogg and others, that local Conservative Associations should now follow the clear lead of their senior Voluntary Party colleagues by debating and passing the same motion, at their Annual General Meetings around the country, most of which will take place during the “AGM season” next month.

This would send a powerful signal to Downing Street and to CCHQ that the Voluntary Party is resolved – and can no longer be taken for granted. It is, after all, the necks of voluntary party members that will be on the block in May if this unforgivable shambles continues and so they should be allowed their say, from Hastings and Rye and Runnymede, right through to Portsmouth North and Bromsgrove.

Summary

In summary, collective responsibility has self-evidently broken down in Parliament and the Government is staggering from one daily crisis to the next. Yesterday’s events in the Commons made that undeniably apparent.

If we extend Article 50, and just kick the can down the road – yet again –  we are likely to see our local government candidates massively punished in the May local elections. Even leaving aside the so-called “Brexit Party” (with which I have absolutely no truck) this punishment will likely be administered by a mass abstention of Conservative voters, over 70 per cent of whom voted to Leave, but who are increasingly incensed by Conservative MPs, including Cabinet and junior ministers, blatantly doing all they can to try and stop us leaving the EU, despite the clear verdict of the 2016 Referendum.

So speaking purely for myself, and not for the ERG, I believe it is time for the rest of our local associations around the country to follow the clear lead of the National Conservative Convention and stand up and be counted before it is too late.  We have spent nearly three years waiting for Brexit. Now is the time for our party members, the poor bloody infantry, to ensure that we finally succeed in delivering it.

Finally, today, February 28, is also D-29.  If we hold our nerve as a Party then in under one month this country will be free. This is a great prize that 17.4 million of our fellow countrymen voted for – and is surely well worth fighting for.

Tony Greaves writes…”There really is no Planet B” Scenes from the Schools 4 Climate action demo

Fantastic atmosphere in Parliament Square today as some thousands of mainly school students gathered to protest against what is happening to our climate and our planet. This was one of the most extraordinary demonstrations I have witnessed. There was none of the usual organisation, attempts at order and regimentation, agenda of speeches and actions. No […]

Fantastic atmosphere in Parliament Square today as some thousands of mainly school students gathered to protest against what is happening to our climate and our planet. This was one of the most extraordinary demonstrations I have witnessed.

There was none of the usual organisation, attempts at order and regimentation, agenda of speeches and actions. No stewards and precious few police, who were clearly taken unawares by the scale of the protest and were standing around looking a rather lost at how to cope with quite a big disruption with no organisers to talk to! People just turned up, often in school groups, and did their own thing as they felt fit.

Some just stood about with their placards. Some sat in a circle, chanted or sang or made impromptu speeches – at first on the grass, later on in the road. Some stood in the streets or marched off down Whitehall or towards Westminster Bridge. Parliament Square was completely blocked, partly by the young demonstrators but also – by a curious bit of serendipity – by the black cabs whose drivers were staging another protest against being kicked out of London bus lanes.

For once, the young people were being allowed to stand on the plinths of statues and hang placards on Mr Churchill and his friends. One glorious incident happened when a big red open-top tourist sightseeing bus, blocked on the corner of Bridge Street and the Square, was commandeered by a group of young people waving their placards and leading the chants. What any tourists thought about it, I know not!

There were remarkably few mainstream politicians around which was a pity. Someone said they had seen a Miliband (presumably Ed) but the only people I saw were Jo Swinson and Siobhan Benita mixing and chatting with the throng. The whole event reminded me a bit of the late 1960s (I chatted to a visiting couple from San Francisco who had come down to Westminster expecting anti-Brexit protests!) and we reminisced about anti-Vietnam demos and slogans from that time).

And the home-made posters and slogans, many scrawled on brown cardboard! Last Wednesday in the Lords I asked the Government to guarantee that no-one would be punished who had made a conscious personal decision to cut school today to demand a future for themselves and all their generation. I got a typical Tory stuffed-shirt “these people should be in class” response. But if anyone does suffer retribution I’d like to know.

Today was a wonderful, peaceful, disruptive but completely positive manifestation. Well done to everyone who took part. Let’s make sure the powers that be take note. And that the young people do not lose hope, or their anger, or their determination to do everything to sort out the complete mess that their elders (but not betters) have made of their planet. In the words of my favourite placard from today, there really is “no planet B”.

13 February 2019 – (the rest of) today’s press releases

Welsh Lib Dems welcome enhancement of MyTravelPass young persons’ discount scheme The Welsh Liberal Democrats have welcomed the announcement from the Welsh Government that the MyTravelPass young persons’ bus discount scheme is to be enhanced. The initial pilot scheme was secured by Welsh Liberal Democrats in opposition during the last Assembly. The scheme, which has […]

Welsh Lib Dems welcome enhancement of MyTravelPass young persons’ discount scheme

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have welcomed the announcement from the Welsh Government that the MyTravelPass young persons’ bus discount scheme is to be enhanced.

The initial pilot scheme was secured by Welsh Liberal Democrats in opposition during the last Assembly.

The scheme, which has evolved and improved since its pilot in 2015, now offers a third off the fares for all journeys taken by young people aged between 16 and 21 – right up until their 22nd birthday.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds commented:

It’s encouraging to see the MyTravelPass scheme continue to be improved. This will make it cheaper and easier for young people to use the bus to get to school, college, university or work.

Our young people have enough stresses and financial pressures to face without having to worry about how they’ll get where they need to be. This step will make their lives just that little bit easier.

But this scheme isn’t just helping young people. By encouraging more young people to use public transport, this scheme is reducing congestion, improving air quality and helping combat climate change. This benefits every member of our society.

We’re proud to have secured the initial pilot for this scheme whilst in opposition in the last Assembly. This latest enhancement shows the benefits the scheme has created in just a few short years.

Govt falls to heavy Lords defeat

Responding to tonight’s Government defeat in the House of Lords by 86 votes, Liberal Democrat Leader in the Lords Dick Newby said:

The defeat of the Government this evening undoubtedly demonstrates the House of Lords has no faith in their ability to deliver on any of its promises. Their recklessness as they gamble with crashing out in bid to scare MPs into voting for Theresa May’s deal is a dereliction of duty.

Ministers’ assurances that we can get all the Brexit related legislation through Parliament by 29 March are insulting.To pretend that the Lords can pass bills on trade, healthcare, agriculture, fisheries, immigration and the supposedly amended Prime Minister’s deal as well as the 600 strong mountain of Statutory Instruments is nothing short of ridiculous.

Peers across the House are aware of this but simply all those voting with the Government represent a willingness to put party and personal interest before that of the country.

The Liberal Democrats are clear, that as the effects of Brexit become more apparent, the only way forward is for Theresa May to take no deal off the table and offer the people a final say, with the option of remaining in the EU.

Chris White: Time is getting extremely tight to pass all the required withdrawal legislation

With 45 days left, unless workarounds or extra time can be found, uncomfortable decisions may have to be made on which Brexit Bills to prioritise.

Chris White was Special Adviser to Patrick McLoughlin, when the latter served as Chief Whip, as well as to Andrew Lansley and William Hague when each served as Leader of the House. He is now Managing Director of Newington Communications.

The clock is ticking. We’re running out of runway.  Whatever metaphor you wish to use, Parliament has an awful lot of legislating to do before 29th March if it wishes to complete the passage of the seven Brexit Bills, along with a large amount of secondary legislation.

Today, the Prime Minister will update the Commons, setting out the Government’s progress in negotiating with the EU following the passage of the two advisory amendments last month.  They instructed, though not mandated, the Government to seek to both remove the backstop (Brady) and avoid a No Deal scenario (Spelman/Dromey).

Since then, the negotiations have been less than productive, revealed in striking language in the Prime Minister’s letter to the Leader of the Opposition over the weekend.  In it, she stated that she was still seeking alternative arrangements to the backstop without specifying in detail what they were, and that negotiating a free trade deal as a third party outside of the Single Market was a “negotiating challenge”, which is somewhat of an understatement.

A month on from the meaningful vote on 15th January, whilst significant column inches are dedicated to the possibility of the Malthouse Compromise we are no closer to knowing if the EU is prepared to alter the existing deal.  Parliament is running out of time before 29th March, either to pass a Bill implementing an agreed deal, or to pass legislation ensuring the UK is ready for a No Deal Brexit.

The scale of the challenge

On 31st January, the Leader of the Commons quite rightly cancelled the February half-term recess, yet also scheduled a range of business in the Commons that, whilst important, didn’t progress No Deal legislation in any way.  This risk-averse programming is almost certainly down to the fact that, with negotiations ongoing with the EU, the Government doesn’t wish to give any opportunities in the House to amend legislation to include unhelpful and challenging amendments.  For example, there have been strong hints that amendments could be tabled to the Trade Bill in the Lords that would seek to keep the UK in a Customs Union.

If this is the case, and with reports suggesting that the next ‘meaningful vote’ is in around three weeks, in the week commencing 25th February, we may not see any more progress in the Commons on much needed No Deal legislation until a deal is reached that the House can agree on.

In terms of readiness, a number of No Deal preparation Bills have already received Royal Assent, including the Customs Act, the Nuclear Safeguards Act, the Road Haulage Act and the Sanctions Act.  However much more needs to be done. For a start, winning the meaningful vote is only the first step – the Government must then pass a European Union Withdrawal Agreement Implementation (EU WAIB) prior to 29th March to give legal effect to the Withdrawal Agreement.  However the Government must not put all its eggs in one basket, and in order to provide security in the event of No Deal should pass a further six Bills, and additional secondary legislation.

These Bills range from allowing the UK to enter into trade deals, creating a domestic agriculture and fisheries market, maintaining our healthcare agreements, giving powers to implement financial services regulations, to bringing EU citizens under UK law.

The current state of play is as follows:

As you can see from the above table, agriculture, fisheries, and immigration are well behind schedule and will need considerable work to pass before 29th March.  Equally, Trade has its own issues as outlined above.

The Government also has to pass around 600-700 statutory instruments, or secondary legislation, before 29th March to be ready, in addition to the above Bills.  The timetable for their consideration has increased in recent weeks and the Government might just be on track, but around 200 still have to be considered in the next few weeks. Certainly the SI committees are working overtime, and have significant reading ahead of them.  The Times’s Esther Webber reported one SI from BEIS was “636 pages long, weighs 2.54 kilos and covers 11 matters that would be expected to go in separate documents.”

Will the UK be ready in time?

There are 45 days left until 29th March, and Parliament will sit for 26 of them (not counting sitting Fridays), unless it chooses to add more sitting days to the calendar or change the business on Fridays from Private Members’ Bills to Government business.  If the deadline of 29th March remains in place, it is unlikely that the Government will be able to pass both the EU WAIB and the six remaining No Deal preparation Bills.

This will mean uncomfortable decisions about which Bills it has to prioritise, and whether workarounds can be found through alternative means.  The Trade Bill is probably the highest priority for the Government aside from the EU WAIB, but failing to set up domestic agriculture and fisheries markets prior to exit day, for example, will cause severe concerns and uncertainty in those sectors.  If Government, Parliament and the EU reach consensus about an amended deal, or agree to the existing deal, then it’s likely that there will need to be a short extension to Article 50 as passing the EU WAIB inside a month, whilst technically possible, would be extremely challenging.  However, the Government must continue to progress with the No Deal Bills over the next few weeks, or the UK faces running out of runway before 29th March.

The ‘Meaningful Vote’ is yet another backfiring constitutional innovation

If the United Kingdom’s negotiating position appears incoherent, much of the blame rests with those who put the legislature in charge.

It has become something of a truism – albeit not one widely acknowledged by its advocates – that constitutional reforms seldom if ever have the effect intended by their architects.

Rob Ford sums it up nicely: devolution didn’t stabilise the constitution, improve governance, or weaken nationalism; the EU referendum hasn’t settled the issue (yet?); and the Fixed-term Parliaments Act has perversely strengthened the executive.

To this sorry list of ill-judged innovations, which might also compass Lords reform and, in time, the establishment of the Supreme Court, we must surely now add the ‘Meaningful Vote’, and by extension the broader idea that the executive’s traditional authority to conduct foreign relations should be usurped by the legislature.

Of course, this can seem counter-intuitive from the immediate perspective of a Brexiteer. Had Europhile MPs not extracted the Meaningful Vote from the Government, Theresa May would have been at liberty to conclude any deal she liked with the European Union. In tactical terms, the European Research Group certainly owe them thanks.

But as a rule it is best to avoid basing constitutional judgements on whatever immediately benefits your own team (*ahem*), and the charge that the UK’s negotiators aren’t being taken seriously is worth thinking about as we head towards a future which involves negotiating lots of new trade agreements and other treaties.

For all that Twitter likes to mock the Prime Minister for trying to ‘tear up her own deal’, her doing so is the logical consequence of the new regime MPs have imposed upon her. Yes, her team negotiated the version of the ‘backstop’ she then whipped Tory MPs to seek to scrap via the Brady Amendment. But the House of Commons had just overwhelmingly rejected her deal in terms which made clear that the backstop was the sticking point. What was she supposed to do?

And if the need to get the deal ratified by Parliament – not just through the Meaningful Vote but then through a specific Withdrawal Agreement Bill – didn’t completely undermine the Government’s position as negotiator, the Grieve/Cooper bid to have the House of Commons somehow take direct control of the negotiations would have finished the job. Such a move would effectively have given us a parallel, single-issue executive with whom Brussels would, presumably, have ended up negotiating instead.

Unlike some, I don’t believe that much of the political chaos of the last couple of years is necessarily a bad thing. The country is undergoing a jarring political adjustment, and there’s nothing wrong with a constitution which lets that process play out in the political arena rather than masking or smothering it.

But we should not allow the horror of the executive branch which seems to be nurtured by many constitutional reformers to leave us with arrangements which straightforwardly don’t work.

MPs can scrutinise and defeat Government legislation, investigate issues through select committees, and hold ministers to account in the Chamber. But there are some matters, including war and the conduct of foreign relations, to which the legislature is simply ill-suited, and where it performs badly when it oversteps its traditional role. It is not the case that any increase in the power of the legislature is a good thing.

Likewise, the supremacy of the Commons in our constitution comes from its ability – sadly hindered in fact, if not in theory, by the FTPA – to sack the Government. It has never rested in an ability for the mere balance of opinion amongst MPs to carry the day on an issue-by-issue basis – just as ‘parliamentary sovereignty’ applies to the will of the whole institution (Lords, Commons, and Crown), and does not imply that MPs alone must have a binding vote on this or that specific measure.

The Government can only be held accountable by the voters – or taken seriously by foreign counterparts, whether we be offering trade or armed intervention – if it has the powers to pursue its agenda.

The case for the executive must be made, and an urgent scheme of constitutional repairs (including, finally, the repeal of the FTPA) should be part of any post-Brexit Conservative programme. “Absolute monarchy regulated by regicide” is an analogy familiar to Tories in the context of our own leadership, and a similar principle remains the best means of reconciling effective government and democratic accountability in our constitution.

Celia Thomas: Every disabled person should be able to live a life of dignity and respect

Last week, the House of Lords debated the future essential services run by local authorities. As local government is so important to Liberal Democrats, it’s no surprise that several Lib Dems took part in the debate. Celia Thomas talked about two critical issues – social care and, first the provision of public toilets and the […]

Last week, the House of Lords debated the future essential services run by local authorities. As local government is so important to Liberal Democrats, it’s no surprise that several Lib Dems took part in the debate.

Celia Thomas talked about two critical issues – social care and, first the provision of public toilets and the impact that cuts have on isolation of people with continence problems.

She warned against the idea that we need to provide support for disabled people so that they can work as this can promulgate the idea that there are deserving and undeserving disabled people. Every disabled person, she said, should be able to live a life of dignity and respect:

My Lords, I shall concentrate on the provision of social care but, before that, I want to mention something that I would call an essential service but which turns out to be discretionary. Here I shall lower the tone of the debate so I hope noble Lords will not mind; I am talking about the provision of public conveniences, lavatories, toilets or loos throughout the country. Those that are left are now often maintained by town or parish councils, but for how long? In 2010, there were over 5,000 public toilets; now, there are 4,486. Is it right that fast-food chains, supermarkets and coffee shops have now virtually taken the place of public toilets? What happens when these places are closed, when managers are reluctant to let everyone use their facilities or when there are no accessible toilets? We should not forget the silent number of people trapped in their homes because of continence problems.

I turn now to social care. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, said, we are no nearer to seeing the Government’s Green Paper; as late as October, we were told it would be with us by the end of the year. The funding issue is a fiendishly difficult problem because social care encompasses so much and is so little understood. We need a different term; I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Patten, about language. The word “social”, according to the dictionary, means,

“marked by friendly companionship with others”.

But, in local government terms, it has a much sterner face to cover the state’s obligation to help care for children, including those with mild or severe learning difficulties, as well as disabled and elderly adults. It may have to cover playschemes for disabled children, personal assistants, aids and equipment, care at home and residential care.

Not only are we all living longer, but there is now a better survival rate for people with serious health conditions. I believe that the dictionary definition of the word “social” is one reason why so many people think the service is free for council taxpayers rather ​than means-tested, or partly means-tested. Anyone who thinks the answer for even quite severely disabled people is NHS continuing care should think again as it is very difficult to get. As for delays in hospital discharges, these are still causing a problem due to care packages having to be negotiated or re-negotiated. Can the Minister say how the Government have evaluated the impact of health and well-being boards in tackling the increasing number of these delays?

My next question is: where will councils or outsourced companies find enough carers or personal assistants after Brexit? There is increasing worry among people with neuromuscular conditions, for example, about the long-term status in the UK of personal assistants from EU countries, particularly if there is no deal. PAs provide invaluable support to enable disabled people to go about their daily routine, as well as in the working environment through, for example, the Access to Work scheme. A Skills for Care report in 2017 estimated that around 95,000 workers in England’s adult social care sector are from EU countries, and that excludes personal assistants. What steps are the Government taking to incentivise all care workers from EU countries to stay in the UK? There are already about 7 million unpaid carers in the UK, with this figure rising, so we cannot rely on any more. Many family carers are facing serious mental health problems of their own, as the Guardian pointed out last week.

As for funding, the movement for independent living for disabled people has been giving the matter a lot of thought. I am particularly grateful for a discussion paper written by Gerry Zarb at the SPECTRUM Centre for Independent Living, who makes the point that people simply do not rate the provision of social care as anywhere near as important as health, which is why the Government find it so difficult to contemplate solutions that cost money. It is not universally understood that they are both inextricably entwined.

We need to know exactly what value the Government place on the whole social care system. The shortfall in funding is thought to be over £2 billion just to meet existing demand, and we know demand is going to increase each year, but disabled people of working age who may or may not have paid work must not be overlooked. It is sometimes said that the importance of appropriate care for this group of disabled people is that they can potentially become part of the taxpaying workforce, but there cannot be deserving or undeserving disabled people. I hope the Green Paper will make that clear by saying that every disabled person—employed, self-employed, unemployed or retired—should be able to live a life of dignity and respect. Many disabled people active in the independent living movement are keen to help with the whole process of designing, commissioning and delivering support, with co-produced solutions and partnerships between public bodies and service users. I hope that offer is taken up.

Paul Scriven: We need to fund Councils properly and give them the powers to create great communities

Local Government is an issue of paramount importance to Liberal Democrats. Last week in the Lords, Liberal Democrat peer Paul Scriven led a debate on the essential services that local authorities provide. He outlined how chronic underfunding of local government, combined with rising demand for services was creating unsustainable problems. Here is his speech: I […]

Local Government is an issue of paramount importance to Liberal Democrats. Last week in the Lords, Liberal Democrat peer Paul Scriven led a debate on the essential services that local authorities provide. He outlined how chronic underfunding of local government, combined with rising demand for services was creating unsustainable problems.

Here is his speech:

I am very pleased to be leading this debate because to me it is a vital issue that affects every village, every town, every city and every region: local government has a positive power to change people’s lives. Just think of the older person who is becoming vulnerable and possibly losing their independence. With good public health, good housing services and good social services that person can continue to lead an independent life with dignity. Just think of the young man who might be on a crossroads between violence and going forward to have a fulfilling life. With good youth services and education services that young person can be supported to make the correct decision and have a successful life.

Local government can facilitate enterprise and business locally with good business development services, planning and support services provided by local authorities. They can help to create vibrant, successful and sustainable communities: libraries, parks, clean air, shared spaces and bringing people together to give them opportunities to achieve. That is the vision that I think most people have of a good local service: bottom up and delivering for people—not just a service provider of last resort but a local democratic hub that facilitates and brings opportunities for people and businesses to succeed.

I will mention my own journey in Sheffield in the local authority, first as a back-bench councillor helping individual constituents, then as leader of the opposition, ​many times clashing with the then chief executive, the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake—I am not sure whether he will raise that—then as chair of scrutiny, holding the executive to account, and then having the great pleasure of leading that great city and that great council. I was then put on early retirement when I lost my seat and am now back again as a local councillor. I saw the power that local authorities can have to affect individuals and communities and make a real difference to people’s ability to succeed in their life.

That is what the situation should do, but we must look at what it has now become in many cases. Sadly, in some cases local authorities have not just become the provider of last resort but are struggling to be even that—we only have to look at Northamptonshire, Somerset, Norfolk and Lancashire County Councils, and the National Audit Office warning that reserves are running out. In some cases they are not just unable to provide the opportunities that I talked about but are unable to provide the very statutory services that they are there to provide in an emergency as a safety net.

In 2010, as leader of Sheffield City Council, I was not in total opposition to some financial reductions. At the time, I did see wiggle room and that changes could be made. I must say, it has now gone too far and is damaging not just institutions but the very people in those communities whom local authorities are there to serve. Some local authorities are finding it nearly impossible to keep their head above water, and are struggling to provide the minimum statutory services. This is not good for local communities; it is not good for democracy; and it is not good for either the people or the country.

The Local Government Association predicts a £3.1 billion shortfall by 2019-20, rising to £8 billion by 2024-25. Adult social care will see a £1.3 billion shortfall, predicted to be £3.6 billion by 2024-25. Children’s care—some of the most vulnerable young people in our country—will see a £949 million shortfall, predicted to be £3.1 billion in 2024-25. Homelessness support is predicted to have a £110 million shortfall in 2019-20, looking to rise to £241 million by 2024-25. SOLACE, which I thank for its briefing, has said that one in three councils in the country has had to make a reduction in the minimal statutory service offer. Two-thirds of social care authorities have drawn down reserves since 2016—if they keep doing so at the same rate, the reserves in the system will last only three years. We are talking about being at the bone, and in some cases going into the bone.

This is coupled with rising demand and need: 1.27 million homes for those in greatest housing need; 1.17 million homes for young families who cannot afford to buy; 690,000 homes for older private renters struggling with high housing costs beyond retirement. One thousand new children’s cases are on the desks of social workers every day. Looked-after children’s demand is up 11% over the last few years. The demand for homelessness services is up by 34%. The need for care of the over-65 year-olds is up by 14%. The areas in which councils can make a huge impact—helping create economic growth and vibrancy—are the ones that have been hardest hit, because in many cases they ​are not statutory. Transport services are down 37%. Housing services are down by 46%. Planning services are down by 53%.

I must tell the Minister that back in Sheffield and across communities north, south, east and west, the situation is becoming untenable and unsustainable. Warm words from the Dispatch Box that reserves are there will not help young men needing youth services. It will not help elderly mums needing social care services. It will not help families going into homelessness to get a roof over their head. It will not help local businesses get the support they need to create enterprise and jobs in their area.

It is time to stop the short-term sticking plasters, and to start thinking about what is needed strategically. We need a much more long-term and strategic partnership of equals between Whitehall and local government if the latter is going to return to its true role in communities—unleashing the opportunities of businesses and people across the country. This must start with more direct cash to local authorities’ budgets to deal with the higher demand. It must be able to concentrate on the here and now in basic services. The £8 billion gap will not be closed by council tax and business rate changes.

We must accept that the council tax model is not fit for purpose and needs change. We need to look at other forms of wider tax revenue-wielding powers that local government has, and look at money that is held by Whitehall which should be devolved by design and right down to local authorities, not held with strings by Whitehall while it tells them how and what to spend it on.

The new fairer—or rather very unfair—funding formula must not be driven by political dogma but must be based on need, including a deep and central place for deprivation at its very heart. It cannot just be on a per capita basis. You cannot solve the economic and social problems of the UK if you leave the left behind even further behind.

The jiggery-pokery of social care precepts and referendums on council tax show why Whitehall has got this wrong. Financial freedoms to raise what is needed locally should be the norm, with local people deciding through the ballot box whether a local authority is doing the right thing and charging the right amount, not an official or Minister sat in Whitehall. This must be backed up by a strong and fair tax distribution system from the centre—again, driven by deprivation and need.

We need a social care funding solution which deals with the issue of an ageing population. We cannot leave it to short-termism or in the “too difficult” tray. The dignity and independence of too many of our older people rely on that—and we all have a vested interest to make sure that that happens.

We clearly need a proper, open and transparent discussion about social care funding, including looking at models such as those of Japan and Germany to see how this can be done. We also need to have clear, open and transparent five-year funding deals for local government, with no extra strings attached, which will allow local government to plan with some stability for its local area. As I said, we need to move away from ​the strings-attached Whitehall model of funding that stifles local innovation and undermines local democracy and accountability.

We also need a new partnership between local and central government on housing. The housing crisis is a national disgrace. The new homes bonus needs to be stable, not short term. We also need to build a large number of social homes—3 million, according to the latest report by Shelter, produced just a few days ago. This will not be done just by raising the borrowing limit for local authorities. A new style of partnership is needed between local and central government and the private sector which delivers good, stable, well-designed and environmentally friendly housing. This cannot be done with a silo approach and different departments working in different ways.

Local authorities also need to be involved much more in Brexit planning. We feel as if we are on the edge, completely ignored, yet we will have to deal with some of the major issues that a no-deal Brexit will potentially cause, and some of the social and economic problems that it will cause for local people—and the £35 million mentioned by the Secretary of State is not enough to deal with the problems.

In the long run, rather than devolution to local areas by consent, we need devolution by design: a new system of federal government in the UK where we have devolution, with power and money nearest to the people at a local level so that they can design local solutions. The power of Whitehall should be about key strategic issues. We need to move to a much more bottom-up, democratic way of allocating resources and governing the country and rise to the challenge of improving local economies and dealing with social or cultural advancement.

After all, it is only back to the future. We can see from previous generations how local authorities can and do shape areas, improve people’s lives and create a system and a framework for enterprise and local businesses to flourish, deliver vibrant local areas and offer opportunities and hope to local people and businesses. We must stop talking about local authorities in silos and stop talking about them being just the provider of last resort. We should fund them properly and give them the powers and the space to create great communities.