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Alistair Carmichael MP writes: Snoopers’ Charter debate was a circle of Hell even Dante could not have imagined

This week in Parliament we debated the Investigatory Powers Bill or, as some would have it, the Snooper’s Charter take 2. It was two days of my life that I will never have back and, after fifteen years as an MP, it was two of the most depressing days I have known. Being an MP is a great job and when parliament works as it is supposed to it can be exhilarating. When it fails to do what it is elected to do, namely to hold the government of the day to account, then it is hell. The debate on this bill took us to a new circle of hell that even Dante could not have imagined.

The Bill is rotten to its core and I wish we could have blocked it as we did in Coalition when faced with the Communications Data Bill. Dealing with Tories in government was difficult. Dealing with Tories in government and Labour in opposition is impossible.
We had two days to debate hundreds of amendments in the House of Commons. The government alone brought forward one hundred and four amendments on the first day and a further twenty on the second. After all the amendments the provisions on bulk data collection and the retention of “internet connection records” are not even half-baked. They are raw.

You would have thought that this would be grist to the mill of any decent opposition. You would be right in that. Unfortunately we don’t have a decent opposition, we have the Labour Party. There was not a single amendment in the whole two day debate on which Labour considered worthy of voting. For two days they were absent from the voting lobbies. We did get a little excited on day two when we heard through the usual channels that they were “going to vote on something”. We need not have got our hopes up – it turned out that “something” was a third reading of the bill (ie on the bill as a whole) and the vote they cast was to support it.

For our part, despite our overarching opposition to the Bill we had tabled a raft of amendments in an attempt to make the Bill a little less awful. The SNP took the same approach. I will not bore you with them all but give you a flavour below.

First, I proposed – and pushed to a vote, an amendment which would have deleted provisions in the Bill for the introduction of the collection and storage of Internet Connection Records (ICRs). Now, I’m not yet 100% clear what an internet connection record is. Nobody is – even the Home Secretary. I surmise that it will probably be your web history. This will then be stored for 12 months just in case you ever come under suspicion. Meanwhile, that information can be hacked and stolen revealing an enormous amount of detail about your life, activity and even your state of mind. I knew that when I pushed the amendment it would not pass. Andy Burnham the shadow Home Secretary had already said that whilst he accepted that ICRs were incredibly intrusive and might not even be helpful in solving crime he supported their collection in principle (God alone knows what the principle was but by this time I had given up on trying to understand the Labour Party’s position).

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Referendum polling day is fast approaching and the polls are narrowing

Pledge card00The result is going to be decided by whichever side can get their supporters out to vote.

As the Chief Executive of ALDC and the Deputy Director of Campaigns (as well as us both being local councillors in Bury and Hull respectively), we know Lib Dem campaigners are the best in the country at driving up turnout.

That expertise and experience is what the referendum needs – and has been recognised by a £30,000 donation given specifically to incentivise Lib Dem activity in the next few weeks to win the referendum for Remain.

We’re using that money to fund the Referendum Pledge Challenge.

In short, here’s how it will work:

– Every local party will receive 1,500 pledge cards in the post this week. A Riso-friendly version is available on the Google Drive now, so you don’t have to wait for the printed cards to arrive. In the meantime, you can print on the riso or even a laser printer. If you don’t have access to the Google Drive, you can get access to it by emailing [email protected].

– Use the target pools in Connect that identify the most likely Remain voters to pick which doors to knock on. When you speak to a Remain voter, ask them to sign on the dotted line and pledge to vote on June 23rd. Make sure they give you an email address so we can keep in touch with them about our campaign. When someone signs their name to say they will do something, extensive research has shown they’re more likely to go on to do it.

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Time for tougher regulation of the Arms industry

The UK’s arms industry is one of the most prolific and lucrative in the world. From fighter jets to armoured vehicles to small arms, our arms dealers have a lot to offer the world by way of military equipment.

No one will deny the power this industry wields in Britain. Until as recently as 2002, UK citizens and companies could arrange the transfer of arms between any other countries in the world (apart from those under a binding UN arms embargo) with complete impunity and no oversight. It took decades of campaigning and the undeniable involvement of UK dealers in bloody conflicts in Rwanda and Liberia to change that, but we still have a long way to go to open ensure full oversight of this still very shady industry. You only need to look at the UK’s supply of military equipment to Saudi Arabia now being used indiscriminately on civilians in Yemen to understand how far.

That’s why I have been working with our Defence Spokesperson Judith Jolly on her Private Member’s Bill to introduce a UK Register of Arms Brokers. Despite progress made on licensing individual arms deals, there is ongoing risk that unscrupulous arms brokers operating under the radar may engage in unlicensed arms brokering beyond the knowledge and reach of UK export control enforcement. Such is the risk that it has prompted a significant number of countries, including Australia, South Africa, the United States and 18 EU Member States, to introduce a requirement that arms brokers first register with national authorities before applying for a transaction licence.

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Cameron should make way for people capable of making a positive case for Remain

Last night I spent an hour of my life I won’t get back listening to two men who, respectively, don’t much like and loathe the EU, take questions separately from an ITV audience.

It was every bit as dire as you would expect and then some. Watching Cameron head up the case for Remain is a bit like watching that kid (who would have been me at my school) with no hand-eye co-ordination being forced to captain the netball team. Except, of course, that nobody forced Cameron into that position. He chose to pander to the right wing of his party and UKIP.

What was worrying is that the worm thing on the Times Red Box website was mainly pro Farage, but I did wonder if that was because the sort of demographic who would be using it would be more predisposed to Leave. Matt Chorley’s email this morning confirms that, saying that 80% of those using it were pro Brexit to start with.

The problem is that he sounds half-hearted in his arguments for the EU. There is no positivity, nothing in his demeanour or his words to inspire people to vote his way.

During the Scottish referendum, for all he increased the Yes vote every time he opened his mouth, he did at least appear sincere about wanting the UK to stay together. Don’t, he said, vote Yes to hammer the f-ing Tories. He seemed genuinely worried, at least until the result was declared and then he was quick to put party before country and pointscore on English Votes for English Laws.

Last night, Cameron did a lot of Leave’s job for them, legitimising their anti-immigration lines rather than spelling out the many positives of immigration. The whole programme centred round the economy and immigration. That was it. Nothing on human rights, nothing on workers’ rights. The latter is the one argument that I’ve found can switch people. Very few people actually think that the Tories would preserve their hard-won employment rights, particularly if they move substantially to the right post Brexit.

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Norman Lamb MP writes…Disastrous A & E figures emphasise need for independent commission on NHS future

Every day seems to bring new crushing evidence of the immense strain facing the NHS and social care. Missed key targets have become the norm rather than the exception; A&E is bearing the brunt of cuts to preventive and community services; and few were surprised when NHS trusts recently revealed a record deficit of £2.45 billion.

After hearing anecdotal accounts of ambulances queueing up outside A&E departments due to a lack of available beds in my own county of Norfolk, I decided to investigate the true scale of the problem across the whole country by submitting Freedom of Information requests to each Ambulance Trust in England.

What I discovered was far more shocking than I had feared. More than 10,000 patients were stuck in an ambulance for more than two hours waiting to be handed over to hospital staff last year – a staggering four-fold increase over just three years. The number of people having to endure waits of more than an hour before being admitted has almost trebled in the same period.

In total, almost 400,000 hours were wasted in the last year alone due to handover delays of more than 15 minutes, the national target for getting patients out of the ambulance and into the care of A&E staff. That’s equivalent to 16,554 days of patients waiting in limbo while ambulance crews and vehicles are unnecessarily tied up, unable to respond to new emergency calls.

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The Tories, not the EU, are responsible for VAT on domestic fuel

So, the latest salvo from the Leave camp is an assertion that the EU is stopping us from cutting VAT on domestic fuel.

There is one man amongst the ranks of the Brexiters who knows all about VAT on domestic fuel. That’s right. Step forward former Chancellor Norman Lamont. It was he who decided to put VAT on domestic fuel at the rate of 8% from April 1 1994. The EU didn’t force him to do this. He was doing it to cut public spending, something Tories have a bit of an obsession with. Not only that, but he would have been quite happy to raise it to 17.5% the year after.

Here’s a story from the Independent at the time where Mr Lamont is doing his usual Je ne regrette rien line.

Fellow now Brexiteer Michael Portillo, then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, added his twopence worth:

And in an atmosphere of growing confusion, a damaging Commons row broke out last night after Michael Portillo, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, suggested that poorer people would not suffer too much because of the ‘swings and roundabouts’of the Income Support system.

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How to help refugees in Calais

 

Some may think that this may not be the best of moments to draw attention to the refugees on our doorstep, at a time when we are fighting for Britain to remain in the EU – but I disagree.

It is inevitable that the press will now focus almost exclusively on the in/out debate, but that focus is increasingly being targeted at migrants – the leave campaign having conceded the economic argument, for the moment.

The issue of migrants from the EU is being wilfully conflated with the issue of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria and surrounding regions. But there is no correlation or causation link between the two; whether Britain stays or leaves the EU will have no impact on numbers arriving in Europe.

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Recent Comments

  • User Avatarmatt 25th Jun - 4:45pm
    What utter nonsense these constant pleas and articles are for trying to reverse the decision. Especially from Libdems who scream about democracy. The Turn out...
  • User AvatarDavid Evans 25th Jun - 4:34pm
    A thoughtful piece, well written, and worthy of careful consideration. Nigel has great experience, experience we all benefit from. The only thing I would add...
  • User AvatarSue Sutherland 25th Jun - 4:31pm
    I think the free movement of people is a glorious ideal between countries of roughly equal economic success. Not enough attention has been paid to...
  • User AvatarHelen Dudden 25th Jun - 4:29pm
    Graham Watson. Hello Graham, many years later I am the only one that visits my grandchild. That's what drove my family to vote out. You...
  • User AvatarThe Professor 25th Jun - 4:20pm
    Fair comment re accounts being signed off. I stand corrected.
  • User AvatarNick Baird 25th Jun - 4:14pm
    Nigel - I agree, and am particularly worried about your point 2. On the EU, immigration, climate change and many other issues, significant numbers of...