Author Archives: Dick Newby

Dick Newby: We will not rest until we have stopped Brexit

In the final throws of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, MPs were left focusing on just one issue – the significance of just two words in relation to a parliamentary Motion that the Government would bring forward in the event of ‘no deal’ with the EU on the term of Brexit.  

The two words were “neutral terms”—a phrase, incidentally, which most of us have never heard before. The view of the Lords was that “neutral terms” would prevent the Commons having the opportunity to express a view on the merits of the Government reaching no deal in the Brexit negotiations, and on what should be done next. The Government argued that their formulation was necessary to preserve the constitutional role of Parliament and that anything else would mandate the Government in completely unacceptable ways.

Between the Bill leaving the House of Lords on Monday evening and it returning to the Commons on Wednesday afternoon, the Government clearly thought deeply about this matter and realised that their understanding of parliamentary procedure on Monday was flawed. They produced a Written Ministerial Statement which, in lay man’s terms, says that it will be up to the Speaker to ​decide whether or not any government Motion would be amendable, and that, in any event, there is nothing to stop the Commons debating any Motion that they want to on this issue. We have since seen a battle of spin as to whether this represents a significant climbdown by the Government or whether winning the vote represents a victory. 

I sincerely wish that Dominic Grieve had supported his own amendment on Wednesday. But if I am disappointed, neither the Government nor Parliament can take any satisfaction from what happened. 

This week’s events demonstrate the contempt in which the Government hold Parliament. First, they try to muzzle it by putting “neutral terms” into the Bill. Then, fearing defeat, they publish a Written Ministerial Statement just minutes before the debate in the Commons which rips up their earlier justification for using the “neutral terms” ploy. At every turn they demonstrated their only consistent characteristic: the determination to survive to another day. If there were a World Cup in kicking the can down the road, the Government would win it hands-down. But the can cannot be kicked down the road for ever.

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Lord Dick Newby writes…We have more chance of breaking the mould of British politics than we had in 1981

House of Lords chamberIt was a great honour to be elected Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group in the Lords earlier this week. The challenge facing me and my colleagues is straightforward. How do we help the Party occupy as much as possible of the centre and centre left of British politics – ground which is currently vacant?

Obviously we can do our bit by trying to defeat or amend the worst of the Tory legislation. We face a Tory government unrestrained, Labour are not doing their job as the opposition. It is the Liberal Democrats who have to step up to the plate and be the real voice of opposition. We held the Government to account last session on tax credits, trade union reform and refugee children. We will seek to do so in coming months, for example on Investigatory Powers. And if we ever see any legislation promoting grammar schools, we can guarantee it a rough ride in the Lords.

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Dick Newby responds on Lib Dem peers and social media

As our Chief Whip in the Lords, I want to respond briefly to the article that was posted yesterday about our Peers and social media.

Firstly some facts – the Lib Dem group in the Lords has more Peers on Twitter than any other party or political group there, and between them they have over 100,000 followers. What they say online therefore is clearly reaching a lot of people. We also have a new Facebook page (www.facebook.com/LibDemLords)  which highlights the work done by our Peers.

Every week the Letter of the Lords is sent out – this is a email which highlights the work of the Peers both inside and outside the Lords (you can sign up here); it looks ahead to the following week and reviews the week that has just gone. It is an excellent way for anyone who wants to keep up with our work in the Lords in a very accessible way. It goes to parliamentarians and lobby journalists, as well as party members, local party leaders and other journalists across the country.

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Lord Dick Newby writes: A simple solution to an otherwise blurred vision

adjustable spectacles

Yesterday, I introduced a Bill in the Lords to permit over-the-counter sale of adjustable focus spectacles. At present only reading glasses can be sold in this way, with all other types of eyewear requiring a visit to a qualified optician or optometrist.

The spectacles in question achieve the required focus for each eye by turning a dial found at the side of each lens. They are produced to a very high quality and are useful for both to deal with some medical issues – eg types of diabetes where sight varies from day to day – and more generally as a spare or temporary pair of glasses. They are manufactured by an Oxford-based company, Adlens. They are sold in 57 countries worldwide including Japan and the US, where 500,000 units have already been sold, many without prescription.

However, in the UK, the only glasses which can be sold without a prescription are reading glasses. Although technically the Department of Health could just amend the legislation, it relies on advice from the General Optical Council (GOC) – the opticians’ regulatory body. Despite supportive expert opinion, the GOC has come up with a raft of issues – some of which are entirely spurious and none of which are decisive – to prevent the Adlens glasses being readily available.

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What would a truly Liberal Britain look like and what improvements would it bring to people’s lives?

Your Liberal BritainA truly Liberal Britain would be based on the concept of freedom of the individual and the understanding that this freedom can only be fully realised if everyone is supported to maximise their potential.

So.

It would celebrate diversity rather than stigmatising it. This would enable everyone to develop without suffering from the fears, frustrations and indignities which discrimination brings.

It would continue to skew spending on education towards poorer pupils, improve support for childcare and make it easier for children from modest backgrounds to get the best possible higher education or vocational training. This would give the best chance for every individual to fulfil their potential not just in terms of their career but also as participating members of society.

It would have comprehensive public health programmes and treat everybody needing medical help equally. This would reduce the life expectancy gap between rich and poor and, for example, greatly improved support for people with mental illnesses.

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Dick Newby writes….Limehouse at 35

2016-01-20 13.51.09

35 years on from the Limehouse Declaration and the launch of the SDP it’s easy to see the similarities. We have a Labour Party with a very left wing leader pushing ideologically driven policies and zero prospect of winning the next election. And we have a Conservative Party which is pursuing harsh economic policies at home and is split down the middle over the UK’s relationship with the EU.

But if there are similarities with 1981 there are even more differences. Britain is now a very different place socially and economically. It is much more ethnically diverse, particularly in the large cities. It is far less deferential and far fewer people have a strong party loyalty. It is also much more affluent – the average household is now earns twice as much as it did in 1981 – and unemployment and inflation are both much lower.

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Lord Dick Newby writes…How to get a Lib Dem peer to visit your local party

Earlier this week, Liberal Democrat Peers completed 100 constituency visits undertaken since the General Election. Visits have included AGMs, new member meetings, Lib Dem Pints, and discussions on specific subject areas. Their aim has been to explain to members what we’re doing in Parliament and, more generally, how the Party can play a crucial role in shaping politics between now and 2020. For the Peers involved it’s an invaluable way of finding out what’s going on in the Party outside the confines of Westminster and we find it invigorating.

Between the summer and Christmas, we’ve set ourselves the tasks of attending all AGMs where we’re invited, to attend new member meetings and to participate, either via visits or telephone canvassing, in key local by-elections. In a few days’ time, I will be leading a team of Peers to Oldham West and Royton, and between now and 3 December several groups of my colleagues will also be visiting the seat.

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Lord Dick Newby writes…Action on employee ownership shows Liberal Democrat values in action

Westfield Stratford City - John LewisI’ve just returned from the second of two events marking Employee Ownership Day. Employee ownership is one of those worthy but rather dull sounding policy ideas which has been in our Manifestos from time immemorial, but like motherhood and apple pie, has a comforting rather than inspiring air.

What this Government has done about employee ownership however, deserves rather more attention. In 2012 Norman Lamb appointed Graeme Nuttall,

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Dick Newby writes … revisiting the Limehouse Declaration

William Rodgers, Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins & David Owen with funds from SDP supporters, Feb 1981On the wall of our downstairs loo is a framed copy of the Limehouse Declaration, issued at the inception of the SDP on 21 January 1981.

In the light of Matthew Oakeshott’s parting contention that Nick has led us as a party without roots, principles or values, I have re-read it to test his contention.

On international affairs the post-2010 Lib Dems have followed Limehouse to the letter – not just by being rooted and principled over Europe, but by our record on international development – underpinned by giving 0.7% of GDP in aid for the first time ever.

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Lord Newby writes… Pick a Peer

Almost a year ago, I laid down a challenge to the Liberal Democrat group in the House of Lords – probably the largest group of Liberal Democrats in any legislature in the world.

I felt strongly that we needed to do more to work with constituency parties to tell the story of how we are influencing legislation and debate on a daily basis, both to members and to wider groups.

So it was with that in mind that I set the group the target of making 1,000 constituency visits between now and the General Election. And today I can report with some …

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Opening up public sector procurement, creating opportunities for local enterprises

This coming Friday I will introduce the Second Reading of a Bill which has the capacity to permanently change the way in which public sector bodies procure services – whether local authorities, NHS trusts or Government Departments. It will require them to consider how what is being procured will improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area in which the services are being provided. This means that, whilst they will obviously still have to take price very much into account, they will have to assess the social value which different potential suppliers can add to their performance of …

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Dick Newby writes… Banking – a Lib Dem win

As I write this, the top headline on the BBC online news reads Acclaim for Bank Shake-up Plan. The report states that there is broad support for the Vickers’ report’s proposals to separate domestic retail banking and global wholesale and investment banking operations. This support extends to the Chancellor and the Prime Minister.

What the BBC doesn’t point out is that this a complete victory for the Liberal Democrats – particularly Vince Cable. When the banking crisis broke , we quickly decided that we had to ensure that the state couldn’t be put in the position again where it …

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Opinion: The Lib Dems on tax – progressive, distinctive and popular

The Liberal Democrat conference tax policy motion is based on the report of the Tax Policy Working Group, which I chaired. The Group was established by the Lib Dem Federal Policy Committee after last year’s conference had approved a pretty comprehensive policy covering the principles which we wanted to underpin our tax policy and specific policies to bring these principles to life. We summarised that approach under the heading “fairer, simpler and greener”.

Last year’s policy paper did however leave some issues unresolved. And we also had to respond to the Budget.

The first issue we discussed was property tax. Here we have fleshed out proposals to move from the uniform business rate to site value rating for business property. On domestic property, we reiterated our support for Local Income Tax (LIT) and also propose that, in the longer term, a system of land value taxation should also be introduced.

We looked at simplifying the system and we make three proposals: –

1. We would replace the extremely complicated rules against tax avoidance by introducing a General Anti-avoidance Rule which would make it illegal to structure transactions for the principal purpose of avoiding tax. This would allow us to tear up about 500 pages of tax legislation

2. We would replace the highly complicated system of capital allowances with one based on tax deductible depreciation. This would simplify the system and raise enough revenue to allow us to reduce corporation tax by a further 1%.

3. And we would reduce the size of the tax return for the majority of those whose tax affairs are straightforward – over six million taxpayers – by cutting out all the irrelevant questions. All they would need to complete is a form the size of a postcard.

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