Nick Clegg’s Letter from the Leader: And now for something else… Childcare, Lobbying and HS2

Last week, Syria dominated. This week Nick Clegg uses his Leader’s letter to promote a just-announced initiative – 15 hours’ free nursery care to children from the poorest families – and defend another two currently under attack: the Transparency and Lobbying bill and HS2. On lobbying, he dismisses as ‘nonsense’ the idea the Government was ever wanting to gag charities and says the Coalition will accept amendments that make this crystal clear. While on HS2 he argues it is vital to increase capacity, and adds it’s just one of many improvements planned to the railways.

libdem letter from nick clegg

A few weeks ago I asked you to let me know what you wanted me to cover in this letter and one message came back more clearly than any other: anything and everything! The winning choice, by far, was “something else” – with suggestions from bees to tax avoidance.

In many ways that makes perfect sense: government does take you from topic to topic with great speed – and from place to place.

I started the week at a fantastic nursery in East London, launching our new scheme that gives free nursery places to two-year-olds from the poorest families: 15 hours a week, which all the evidence shows is really important for child development. And I announced that next year, this scheme will double to help nearly half of all two year olds – more than a quarter of a million toddlers.

Of course, in the longer term, I’d love every parent of a two-year-old to get a free nursery place. But we’re starting with the poorest families because they’re often the most in need and yet the least able to afford early education.

The next couple of days, back in Westminster, were dominated by debate on the Lobbying Bill, which seeks to better regulate the influence of business and unions on our politics. There’s been a lot of hysteria whipped up by Labour on this, because as well as regulating lobbyists, the Bill will limit the amount of money non-party campaign groups can pour into individual constituencies to swing the result Labour’s way.

But it’s also been alleged that we’re trying to “gag” charities and prevent them from campaigning on important issues. Nonsense: that has never been our intention, and we have agreed to accept amendments from my colleague John Thurso MP that put this beyond legal doubt. Any charity that acts as it did in 2010 or 2005 will not be affected in the slightest.

And I’m writing this note on the late train back from Sheffield after a trip north, starting in Glasgow and ending in my constituency. The focus of my attention was on High Speed Rail: our plans to invest in a world-class train link from London to the Midlands and beyond. Building this rail link will create jobs and boost the economy north of the Watford gap. Too many governments have complained about the north-south divide without doing anything about it: not this government.

HS2 is going to happen because, frankly, we need it. Not only will it transport people more quickly from north to south, it will also free up much-needed capacity elsewhere in our creaking rail network. If HS2 were all we were doing, perhaps some of the criticisms of it would be valid: but it’s just the jewel in the crown of a massive rail investment. From local branch links and station improvements, to electrifying railways that hadn’t seen investment in decades: this government is committed to improving our whole rail network.

Giving children the best start in life, cleaning up politics and investing in our national infrastructure to help rebalance our economy: not a bad week all round!

It’s not too late to register to come to Conference next weekend and join the debate on these – and many more – achievements of the Liberal Democrats in government.

Sign up here.

Best wishes,

Nick Clegg

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  • Tony Greaves 8th Sep '13 - 8:05pm

    I am sorry that Nick says that the “hysteria” over the Lobbying Bill has been “whipped up by Labour”. If he really thinks this, he has not spent time reading and understanding the Bill as introduced, nor listened to what so many people are saying about it. And the idea that all the non-party campaign groups are wanting to do is to “tilt the balance towards Labour” is just a bit daft really.

    If you don’t want to do something, you should not introduce a Bill which – by any ordinary reading of the words – does that thing.

    Nick is however absolutely right on HS2!


  • Martyn Williams 9th Sep '13 - 7:55am

    I’m encouraged Tony finds the idea that “non-party campaign groups” will will pour money into constituencies to swing seats Labour’s way is “a bit daft”, Personally though I think it extremely daft – and also slightly offensive.

    For 16 years I ran Friends of the Earth’s parliamentary team and was repeatedly involved in collecting pledge cards, organising hustings, rating the green policies in manifestos whenever a General Election came round. All of that work would have been put under threat by this Bill. It is simply not true to say that, having slashed thresholds and spending limits by more than half – then compounded that by insisting a far wider range of expenditure is included in them, anyone who acts as they did in 2010 will be unaffected.

    The idea that FOE did this to pour money into seats to guarantee that any party won is ridiculous. We took enormous care to be rigorous and fair in our assessments, and so provide people with information on policies that they could consider when voting. We would never have dreamed of telling anyone who they should vote for: the fact one party has a better policy on climate change must of course to be weighed up against other issues, and many people would also consider who in their area is most able to win.

    It is also hard to square the claim that such campaigns are all some massive pro-Labour slush fund needing to be controlled with the inconvenient fact that the Liberal Democrats topped the ratings of the major parties on environmental policy every time I did this. NGOs are not a pro-Labour undercover army, they are organisations who are passionate about the issues they think are important and determined to make a difference by presenting fair and well assessed information for voters who may share their concerns, and want to know what parties and candidates think before going to the ballot box.

    It is time to stop the name calling and get this Bill withdrawn.

  • Andrew Colman 9th Sep '13 - 9:52am

    Agree With Tony. Nick Clegg & Government is right about HS2 but “badly” wrong about lobbying. The Lobbying bill is looking in the “wrong direction”. The lobbying bill should concern itself with inappropriate cosy relationships between ministers and business moguls such as Murdoch which was clearly going on prior to the hacking affair and may still be happening. It is good that organisations like 38 degrees are campaigning more and more, bringing otherwise excluded people into the political process. The number of non-voters greatly exceeded the number of voters for any political party at the last election. All democratic politicians should be concerned about this and not just blame the electorate as some lazy ones are doing. Organisations like 38 degrees are re-awakening the electorate and bringing people back into the political process,. They should be applauded for this, not censored!!!

  • David Evershed 9th Sep '13 - 11:04am

    HS2 is wrong

    a) because there is no business case for spending £50bn, and

    b) if the problem is capacity then far more capacity would be provided by having intermediate stations along the route, for which high speed trains are not suitable.

  • David Blake 9th Sep '13 - 1:14pm

    So what does Nick Clegg say to the Public Accounts Committee report?

  • I’m not sure whether the complaints on lobbying above are targeted at the pre- or post-amendment version of the Bill.

    And I think we do need to have some controls. A local charity at the last election produced and distributed to every voter a glossy leaflet comparing Labour and Conservative policies on childcare, while completely ignoring the Lib Dems, even though we had come second in 2005.

    And I do wonder why charities such as Oxfam should want to spend millions of pounds on “lobbying” instead of channelling their donations into the charitable purposes for which they were established!

  • I have taken the trouble to read a long and complex legal opinion on the so-called Transparency Bill and I am convinced it is a highly illiberal and anti-democratic piece of legislation as drafted. Nick Clegg apparently thinks that taking the trouble to look at and understand the impact of a piece of legislation based on what it says, rather than the words of legislators, constitutes “hysteria.” Nor was the response “whipped up by Labour”. I don’t think the Countryside Alliance, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the Electoral Commission, Amnesty International or the Salvation Army are Labour front organisations and all are extremely concerned by the Bill. For that matter, I don’t want my union (not affiliated to any political party) to be prevented from making public points of concern to its members for a year before the General Election. I’m also a Quaker; the Bill as drafted may also attempt to silence Quakers as a body when they speak on matters which have concerned them since their foundation in the C17th. I also choose, as a citizen in a democracy, to join campaigns which are relevant to my political concerns. If I choose to join a campaign group, a union or a church I think that body should be able to speak and campaign on behalf of its members. Free speech should not be limited to party politicians and journalists in mainstream media.

    Please drop the Bill and come up with legislation which is properly drafted and fully discussed. Badly-drafted and rushed legislation can have dreadful effects. I hope the probable results of this Bill are not actually intended – I would like to believe that Lib Dems in parliament are not supporting this Bill in order to silence their critics. However their continued support for it lays them open to that very serious criticism.

  • Andrew Colman 9th Sep '13 - 10:01pm

    If the lobbying bill was to restrict partial headlines in newspapers. Eg the infamous Sun headline saying “last man out of UK , close the door”, then It might deserve consideration. After all the costs of producing and distributing the millions of sun copies that day in April 1992 must have cost in excess of £390000, even in 1992 prices. The fact that newspaper moguls are not complaining suggest that there has been a serious misunderstanding by 38 degrees, countryside alliance etc, or it might mean that the press has some how been given exemption. If the latter is the case, then this truly is a scandal of mammoth proportions.

  • tony dawson 9th Sep '13 - 10:55pm

    @Martyn Williams:

    “I’m encouraged Tony finds the idea that “non-party campaign groups” will will pour money into constituencies to swing seats Labour’s way is “a bit daft”, Personally though I think it extremely daft – and also slightly offensive.”

    While few charities may attempt to do this, I can assure you from personal experience that certain Trades Unions have been more than happy to spend a small fortune to do this.

  • Sorry all those against HS2 – your arguments make you sound as if, in the pursuit of local economic health, you would rather downgrade transport links! Now, I can accept that environmentally we should be using as little energy as possible to transport people around, but surely you need low energy surface transport to do that? Rail is still good at that. What you also need, is to reduce air transport, and I find it extremely difficult to follow the arguments of those like Simon Oliver, who suggest that air traffic will not (?cannot?) be reduced by more high speed rail.

  • Simon Oliver 9th Sep '13 - 11:30pm


    Never in the history of transportation has additional capacity lead to a reduction of overall traffic, Jevons paradox has operated every single time. And people shift from one mode to another only when it is either cheaper or more convenient, or both. HS2 does not offer either (or do you think a return train ticket to London will get cheaper after we’ve spent £80Bn?).

  • “Giving children the best start in life, cleaning up politics and investing in our national infrastructure to help rebalance our economy: not a bad week all round!”

    Great stuff. But he forgot to mention that we’ve always been at war with Eastasia.

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