Category Archives: Parliament

Anything connected with business in the Houses of Commons or Lords (eg, PMQs).

Make time for football! The social impact of participating in culture and sport

As a professional musician and the mother of a keen athlete, I was interested to learn that the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee are looking into the social impact of participating in culture and sport.

On Tuesday they took evidence from three people: Darren Henley, Chief Executive, Arts Council England; John Herriman, Chief Executive, Greenhouse Sports; and Deborah Williams, Executive Director, Creative Diversity Network. The questions asked were around the power of culture and sport to address deep-seeded social issues.

Deborah Williams made the point that we need a broader understanding of what culture is, that it is not elitist, but that there are a breadth of cultural opportunities available and space for all to participate. She highlighted the need for education to be for the whole child.

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What’s happened to the “Official Opposition”?

We have all got used to the Labour leadership opting out, abstaining, even penalising their MPs who actually vote to oppose the Conservative Government. So I suppose we should not be surprised when they stay mum, sit on their hands and pretend it is not important to investigate whether the Russians interfered with the 2016 EU Referendum.

This was the issue I raised with the Minister in a Topical Question in the Lords on Tuesday. I warned that the “piecemeal approach” currently adopted could prove dangerous; I had in mind the lack of effective protection of our electoral system if …

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60 years of women in the House of Lords

The Mother of Parliaments had seen many fine sons, not least those who sat on the Liberal benches, but the number of daughters was far too few for the health of the nation.

Elizabeth Shields, Liberal MP for Ryedale (1986-87)

Today is the 60th anniversary of the Life Peerages Bill, which enabled women to sit in the House of Lords. Since that time 250+ women have sat on the red benches in Parliament, this represents something like 18% of all life peer appointments since 1958. The House of Lords is currently 26% female, so things are (slowly) improving, but the House …

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From our Lords Correspondent: 18 April – Brexit rears its ugly head again…

The Lords return after their Easter Recess, and one can only hope that they’re well rested, because this week sees the debate on the EU Withdrawal Bill become properly serious, with Day 1 of the Report Stage scheduled for Wednesday.

And the battle will be joined immediately, with the very first amendment sponsored by four peers from each of the main groups in the Lords, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (Crossbenchers), Lord Patten of Barnes (Chris, not John, from the Conservatives), Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Labour) and our own Sarah Ludford.

The amendment is …

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From our Lords Correspondent: 20-23 February – you might want to think about this… and this… and that…

Yes, the Lords was back after its usual February recess (think half-term but without the need for childminders), and ready to do battle with the EU Withdrawal Bill. Bearing in mind the agreement on all sides of the House that the intention was not to reject the Bill but to improve it, the Committee Stage has become a marker of the likely problems that will get a thorough airing over the coming weeks.

With three hundred and seventy-one amendments already tabled at the beginning of the week, it was clear that the Government’s …

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Christine Jardine: What happened to our humanity, our open arms and our desire to give children the best start in life?

Christine Jardine spoke movingly in a parliamentary debate this week about the plight of refugee children separated from their families. She called on the UK Government to make it easier for refugee children to find their families and to reunite these families.

Here’s her speech in full.

Imagine having to say goodbye to your child, or finding yourself suddenly separated from them without knowing what will happen to them, whether anyone will look after them or whether they will find the rest of your family, if you still have one. That is the situation facing parents among the 22 million refugees across the world. Families are fleeing war or persecution, looking for nothing more than safety and somewhere to live together in peace. Recently, I visited the Red Cross in Scotland and met families who came to this country looking for that very peace and sanctuary. They are now living together in Scotland and making a valuable contribution to their communities. However, we know that it is not the same for all families; for many, things have become impossible.

As a nation, we have been moved by photographs such as the one mentioned by the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney)—pictures of children who have lost their lives or been orphaned because of the conflict in Syria. In the Holocaust Memorial Day debate, we heard moving stories from hon. Members about the flight of their families from Nazi persecution and the sanctuary they found here, yet our approach to reuniting refugee families and immigration procedures is one that I, for one, find depressing. What happened to our humanity, our open arms and our desire to give children the best start in life, regardless of geography?

As we have heard, the EU’s Dublin III regulation determines which EU state decides a person’s asylum application. In 2016, under the regulation’s criteria, 700 children were transferred from other European countries to join family members in the UK, but none of us knows what the situation will be after Brexit. We need the UK Government to improve the system to make it easier for children to find their families. They need to amend the immigration rules on refugee family reunions to make it easier for close family members—siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles—with refugee or humanitarian protection status to sponsor children in their family to join them in the UK. They also need to lessen the conditions that must be met by non-refugee sponsors, and help with legal aid for refugee family reunions.

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From our Lords correspondent: the Bill cometh, but will the building fall down before it can be passed?

And so, the EU Withdrawal Bill came to be debated in the Lords over two days. One hundred and eighty-seven speakers, all heard courteously enough but, at the end of it, it was just the hors d’oeuvres before the real work on the Bill begins.

It seemed to be broadly accepted accepted across the Chamber that the House of Lords does not see its role as stopping Brexit – the lack of an electoral mandate hangs heavy on all corners – and as Dick Newby put it, opening for the Liberal Democrats;

I should

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From our Lords Correspondent: the Government see sense, and the Brexit Bill comes…

Last week saw the fallout from the previous week’s defeat of the Government over the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill and, all credit to the Minister, Lord Ahmed of Wimbledon, he had returned with a series of amendments designed to remedy the Bill’s original flaws. At the forefront of the cross-Party collaboration were Sharon Bowles and Susan Kramer, both of whom bring vast amounts of expertise to the table. As Sharon Bowles explained;

When we started out with the Bill, there was no policy in Part 2, yet it gave sweeping powers

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From your Lords correspondent… the Government falls foul of Lord Judge…

As noted earlier, a change to the format, in that I’ll be looking back at the highlights of the last week in the Lords and briefly pointing out the likely big issues in the week ahead. I may not get it all right…

As the noble lord, Lord Greaves, is watching, we’ll start with last week’s major Government defeat on the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, over the issue of ‘Henry VIII powers’. Lord Judge, from the cross-benches, and the former Chief Justice of England and Wales, was ‘disappointed’ to see the Government again attempt to gain the power to create …

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A progressive alliance for decency in the news media defeats the Government in the Lords

In writing my preview of last week’s events in the Lords, I rather glossed over the debate on the Data Protection Bill on Wednesday. That will rather teach me to do more research, as it turned out that there was to be an attempt to set up a new Leveson-style inquiry into the nefarious activities of some of our news outlets…

As the noble Lord Greaves pointed out last week, Wednesday saw the Government defeated on a vote to require them to set up and inquiry into issues arising from data protection breaches …

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This week in the Lords: 8-11 January – prod, prod, prod…

Yes, they’re back after all of that leaping, and we’re back to offer you a preview of events in their Lordship’s House.

We start on Monday, with two Liberal Democrat Oral Questions. Floella Benjamin raises the question of an official commemoration of the arrival of the SS Windrush in June 1948, whilst Roger Roberts seeks clarity on post-Brexit arrangements for supporting child refugees.

Most attention though, I suspect, will be on the debate on the Government’s Industrial Strategy and the case for boosting earning power and productivity across the UK with investment in the …

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Lib Dem Amendment for people’s vote on Brexit deal defeated

Last night, the House of Commons voted on Amendment 120 of the EU Withdrawal Bill, whether people should be given a vote on the final Brexit deal.

It was defeated, with 23 for and 319 against – most of Labour didn’t vote!

You can watch Wera Hobhouse’s passionate speech for giving people a say on the Brexit deal here.

And Tom Brake’s speech here.

Commenting on the vote, LibDem Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake said:

This is a shameful showing from the Labour party. They are meant to be opposing the government, but instead they

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This week in the Lords: 11-15 December – probing away on Brexit…

Yes, we’re back, with our regular preview of the week in the upper chamber, following last week’s absence. Apologies to those of you who take an interest in the more elegant end of the Palace of Westminster. No time to hang about though…

The very first item of business after prayers on Monday is an oral question from Robin Teverson, whose will be seeking a Government view on whether UK citizens will be able their EU citizenship post-Brexit should they wish. Whilst this was originally an idea of Luxembourg MEP Charles Goerens, it …

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Lack of Services for Disabled Children – Parliamentary Campaign Launch

Yesterday, the Disabled Children’s Partnership campaign was launched in parliament. Lib Dem Leader Vince Cable came along to show his support, as well as many other MPs, peers, charities and family representatives. I was also pleased that former Care Minister Norman Lamb MP, was also able to come meet families. 

The Disabled Children’s Partnership (DCP) is an exciting new coalition of over 50 disability and children’s charities. I sit on their Public Policy Group as a member of the Fragile X

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This week in the Lords: 27-30 November

Welcome once again to our regular preview of events in the Upper Chamber, and it’s another low-key week for the denizens of the red benches.

The only legislation up for consideration on Monday is the European Union (Approvals) Bill, which has its Third Reading. Now, to give you an idea as to how uncontroversial this is, the Committee Stage lasted just one minute, with a solitary intervention by the relevant Minister, Lord Henley.

There are two debates and a short debate, with Malcolm Bruce leading for the Liberal Democrats on DfID’s Economic Development Strategy, …

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Brexit and Welsh Devolution….

Martin Thomas attacked the government over their poor planning for devolution around Brexit. This is the speech Lord Thomas gave in the House of Lords.

Paragraph 20 of the Memorandum of Understanding of October 2013 states:

The UK Government will involve the devolved administrations as fully as possible in discussions about the formulation of the UK’s policy position on all EU and international issues which touch on devolved matters.

The annexed Concordat on Co-ordination of European Union Policy issues – Wales reads:

B2.5 ..the UK Government wishes to involve the Welsh Ministers as directly and fully as possible in

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This week in the Lords: 20-24 November… how much is that doggy in the window?

It’s a long week, although we’re not expecting much drama in terms of voting until the New Year. The next few weeks are about clearing the decks whilst the EU Withdrawal Bill weaves its increasingly uncertain way through the House of Commons.

Monday sets the tone, with only Day 5 of the Committee Stage of the Data Protection Bill on the legislative agenda. There is an oral question from Dee Doocey on the impact of the UK’s exit from the EU Open Skies Agreement on the UK’s tourism industry. Will the Minister have …

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Tackling the taboos – Alex Cole-Hamilton leads Holyrood debate on incontinence

As we reported last month, Alex Cole-Hamilton brought a motion calling for a National Continence Strategy to the Scottish Parliament. It was debated yesterday. Here is Alex’s speech. He is pictured here with Elaine Miller, his constituent whose show Gusset Grippers highlighted the issue at this year’s Edinburgh Festival.

If we ask anyone in this chamber or beyond it what their top five fears of age or infirmity might be, we can be sure that the subject of this debate will sit right up there. However, I state from the outset that, if we, as legislators, assume that incontinence is a condition only of the old or infirm, we are mistaken and are part of the problem. I called for the debate because women and men of all ages suffer in silence. It is high time that they are made aware of, and given, treatment, support and—most important—hope.

Incontinence is still taboo. Patients are shy and embarrassed to talk about it or to seek medical help, and many of them assume that nothing can be done for them. This may be the first time that we have debated the problem with such a focus in the Parliament. I am glad that members from all parties are present today and are prepared to put aside our hang-ups on the issue and look collectively towards relatively straightforward solutions.

Here are the facts: one in three women and one in nine men leak urine. A remarkable 30 per cent of women who have given birth vaginally will have damage to their pelvic floor, while those who sustain a third or fourth-degree tear during childbirth are likely to have problems with faecal incontinence. Statistics show that incontinence has a bigger impact on a person’s quality of life than nearly any other condition, and a recent survey of those over the age of 60 and in hospital characterised incontinence as a fate worse than death.

We do not know the true cost to Scotland of incontinence, associated products and the causal impact on physical and mental health. However, in 2010, Australia made a stab at researching the scale of the problem. A study there examined the cost not only of sanitary wear, medication and surgery, but of dealing with the depression and anxiety that can arise from the condition. It amounted to $43 billion dollars annually, which is astronomical. Our two countries have similar societies and face similar health challenges, so we can extrapolate that to around £5,000 for every Scot with the condition every year.

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Cut the Electoral Corruption!

“Follow the money” has always been a good tip for an investigative journalist or politician.

 In recent weeks and months there have been plenty such trails to follow.  In reverse order:

  • “Arron Banks faces EU referendum finance investigation” (BBC 1/11/2017);
  • “Trump, Assange, Bannon, Farage … bound together in an unholy alliance” (Observer 30/10/2017);
  • “Who paid for the leave vote?” (Guardian 28/6/2017);
  • “Labour MP calls for probe into Tory use of voter data” (Guardian 27/5/2017);
  • “Watchdog can’t stop foreign interference in election” (BBC 17/5/2017);
  • “No Conservative election charges from 14 police force inquiries” (Guardian 10/5/2017);
  • “The

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Launch of All Party Parliamentary Group on Land Value Capture

In July of this year ALTER floated the idea of a Progressive Alliance round Land Value Taxation and put out a call for the formation of an All Party Parliamentary Group on Land Value Tax in advance of our fringe at Bournemouth on this theme.

In a pre-budget speech in the City of London this week, Sir Vince Cable laid out Liberal Democrat proposals for tax reform including investigating the feasibility of Land Value Taxation (LVT).

He said;

Authoritative analysis of the British tax system, notably the Mirrlees Report, makes it clear that the taxation of land is the

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This week in the Lords (13-16 November) – the preview…

Parliament returns after the short November recess, and whilst some members of both chambers have been on Parliamentary delegations, the majority of Peers will still be wondering what might happen next. It’s a busy enough week though.

Monday sees the Committee Stage of the European Union (Approvals) Bill (don’t get excited). Despite our taking the road towards Brexit, there are still bits of business to transact, and in this case it is permitting the participation of Albania and Serbia in the work of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, plus the signing …

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Roger Roberts on bringing hope to the most vulnerable

Lib Dem peer Roger Roberts spoke powerfully in the House of Lords this week on the subject of child refugees. He pleaded with the Government to reinstate the Dubs 3000 refugee children commitment. Here’s his speech in full.

My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity. First, I will quote a friend who was there when the bulldozers came to demolish the camps in Dunkirk and Calais 12 months ago. He said that,

“after I visited the Calais refugee camp, I still have an image in my head, which I’m sure will be with me for the rest of my life. When I arrived at the camp, there were police in riot gear everywhere. There was a pastor standing, holding what was left of two religious buildings—a blue cross, which once stood atop the camp’s church. The look of complete despair. This was a man who had had the last bit of hope ripped away from him. To remove a religious symbol, a place of hope and prayer, from people who have only the clothes they are wearing and a shelter that is surrounded by mud, must be one of the worst, most inhumane things that I have ever witnessed”.

The demolition is not only of the camps, but of hope—replaced by despair. The refugees housed there were dispersed to different locations in France. The agreement was that the UK Home Office would go to all the “welcome centres”, as they were called, and do proper assessments of the young people and their claims. However, the evidence is that the interviews lasted no more than five minutes, and no interpreters were present. A few of the claimants were brought to the United Kingdom in the winter period, but those who qualified under the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, were ignored. Many who had a strong Dublin III claim were also overlooked. People who backed Brexit must realise that the Dublin EU regulations will no longer be there for the UK if we come out of the European Union. Another strand of hope will be gone.

There is evidence, reported by Professor Sue Clayton in her film, “Calais Children”, that in the welcome centres facilities were mixed. Some were good, but others not so, with no medical facilities, not enough food, opposition from local populations and many other problems. Hope was not rebuilt. Calais Action and other refugee organisations are still active in Calais; they are back there. Many refugees returned to Calais and, this very day, sleep in fields, forests and ditches. They dream of being physically present in the United Kingdom, where they have family—and they have the language. They gather at points of transit, in Calais itself, Dunkirk, Brussels and Zeebrugge. They risk their lives on illegal routes.

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Burns Commission proposes a smaller House of Lords, and how to get there

It’s time, once again, for another attempt at House of Lords reform. Late last year, the House debated a motion aiming to reduce the size of the House from its current 800-plus, and the Burns Commission, chaired by Crossbencher Lord Burns, a former mandarin, set to work. So, what are the proposals, and what are the potential issues?

Size

Six hundred peers is the figure that the Commission have alighted on, equivalent to that of the Commons if Boundary Commission proposals are adopted but, in any event, no more than the number in …

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This week in the Lords (30 October – 2 November) – the preview…

Welcome, once again, to Liberal Democrat Voice’s preview of the week in Parliament or, to be more precise, the (usually) more dignified end of the Palace of Westminster.

It feels a bit like a phony war at the moment, with the Lords to some extent killing time until the EU Withdrawal Bill finishes its passage through the Commons, but there is still plenty to interest the connoisseur.

Diving straight in, Monday sees the first day of the Committee Stage of the Data Protection Bill. Leading for us will be Tim Clement-Jones, accompanied by Brian …

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WATCH: Liberal Democrat MPs slam Government’s contemptuous approach to Parliament

This afternoon, Alistair Carmichael led an emergency debate, which he had secured, to raise the many ways in which the Government is marginalising Parliament. From ignoring Opposition Day debates to curtailing debate on legislation to the Henry VIII powers.

His speech introducing the debate was excellent. Watch it here.

My favourite bits are this:

The best Governments—and if ever there was a time in our country’s history when we needed the best possible Government, this is surely it—are those that are tested by Parliament, by the Opposition parties and by their own Back Benchers. Time and again, our system fails when the Government and the Opposition agree and arguments remain untested. How different might the debates on the case for going to war in Iraq in 2002 and 2003 have been if the then Opposition had been prepared to take a more questioning approach to Tony Blair’s case? I am sad to say that this Government, however, do not welcome scrutiny by Parliament, but rather seek to avoid it.

and the bit where he challenged MPs to get assertive:

In one sense, the Government have done us a favour by bringing this issue to a head, because it forces us as a House to decide what our role in the future of this country is going to be. Is it to be an active participant, with a strong voice and a decisive say, or is it to be a supine bystander as the Government continue to do as they wish, regardless of their lack of a mandate and, as is increasingly obvious, their lack of authority.

I have been a member of many debating societies over the years. They have all been fine organisations that provided entertainment and mental stimulation in equal measure. I mean them therefore no disrespect when I say that I stood for Parliament believing I was doing something more significant than signing up for a debating society. The difference is that in Parliament—in this House—we can actually effect change. Whether we choose to do so is in our own hands.

I loved the fact that the Tories responded by slagging off the Liberal Democrats in the most immature way as they clearly had no defence.

Christine Jardine said that MPs were there to serve the electorate, not to play games. She talked about seeing Parliament as others see it and the impression it gives to people outside who were not involved in politics.

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It’s Swinson vs Lamb today

Today, MPs elect their Select Committee chairs. The Liberal Democrats are to chair the Science and Technology Committee. The House will have the chance to choose between two of our MPs, Norman Lamb and Jo Swinson.

Each has produced a statement in support of their candidacy:

Jo Swinson

Statement

“more collegiate than tribal” – Telegraph

Collegiate

Even the Telegraph said I’m collegiate, and they’re not known for their love of Lib Dems.  If you’ve been in Parliament for many years, I hope you agree that I engaged constructively with MPs regardless of party when I was a Minister: from pubs to payday lending, employment rights to equalities.  If you’re newer, you don’t need to take my word for it, do ask your colleagues.  And feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or ideas.

Fair

Select Committees are about the art of asking good questions to get to the heart of an issue.  It’s a wonderful privilege – and fascinating – to be able to quiz experts on any given subject, and I hugely enjoyed my time on the Environmental Audit Committee from 2007-2010.  Every member of a Select Committee has an important role to play.  In creating reports and recommendations for Government, Select Committees should be both challenging and constructive: giving credit where it’s due, and being bold about where change is needed.

Enthused by science and technology

Science and technology offer hope for the advancement of society, as an engine of growth for the economy, and to solve the big problems we face as humanity, from climate change to disease.  The UK has a pivotal role to play, with a well-respected scientific community that should be supported and celebrated.  I’m enthused by these opportunities, as an early adopter of technology for democratic engagement, a former Vice-Chair of the Prime Minister’s Digital Taskforce, and having served as a Non-Executive Director of a data science start-up.  My constituency is home to the Beatson Institute, a world-class science facility focused on cancer research.

Can v Should

Science rightly pushes the frontiers of knowledge, and asks “Can we?”.  In public policy terms, we must also ask “Should we?”  Ethical questions range from balancing online privacy with security to preventing artificial intelligence entrenching current inequalities, from how to assess the benefit of new pharmaceuticals to understanding fully the impact of drones and driverless cars on employment.  The Select Committee should play a crucial role in exploring these dilemmas and finding a path forward.

Norman Lamb

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What have our lot been up to in the Commons this week?

We’ve had Jamie Stone’s maiden speech, but what else have our MPs been up to in Parliament this week?

Jo Swinson  intervened on Emily Thornberry to make a point about the recognition of Palestine.

I am interested in and listening with great care to what the right hon. Lady is saying about recognition of Palestine, and particularly about what the Government’s position was some years ago. Does she share my concern that, given the Minister’s comments today, it seems that that position has moved and that recognition is being ruled out until the end of talks on a peace process rather than

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WATCH: Jamie Stone’s maiden speech

Jamie Stone completed the quartet of Liberal Democrat Commons maiden speeches today. Watch it here:

Note the tribute to Charles Kennedy and the illustrious people who contested the seat in centuries gone by.

Thank you for calling me to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker, and may I congratulate you on your appointment?

It is a great honour to speak in this House. I am the first member of my Stone family ever to be elected as an MP, and standing here I like to think of my mother and father looking down on me with pride. I also owe sincere thanks to my wife Flora and my three children. Without their support and great help, the likelihood of my being elected to this place would have been rather smaller.

It is customary for new Members to mention their predecessors. Dr Paul Monaghan is a passionate nationalist and while here he took a close interest in middle east matters, the welfare of former inhabitants of the Chagos islands and, in particular, animal welfare. That is his record. I acknowledge it and thank him for it.

In addition, I really must mention my great friend who once represented part of my constituency, the late Charles Kennedy. He is much missed and will never be forgotten, by me in particular. I was for a time his constituency chairman.

Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross is the second largest and most remote constituency on the UK mainland. For that reason it presents special challenges to the Scottish and UK Governments. Sparsity of population, distance and severe winter weather all necessitate taking a different approach to the delivery of vital services. What works in Surrey or Glasgow is not necessarily going to work at all where I come from.

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WATCH: Layla Moran’s maiden speech

There is a plot afoot for all the newbies to make their maiden speeches during the Queen’s Speech debate. We’ll bring them to you. Here is Layla Moran’s from yesterday. The text is below:

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++Second government defeat – Lords vote for parliamentary veto on final Brexit deal

The BBC reports:

The government has suffered a second Brexit defeat in the House of Lords as peers backed, by 366 votes to 268, calls for a “meaningful” parliamentary vote on the final terms of withdrawal.
Backing the move, former deputy PM Lord Heseltine said Parliament must be the “custodian of national sovereignty”.

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