Tag Archives: house of lords

Parliament’s second chamber – and the weakness of its first

The House of Lords is indefensible in its current form of appointment patronage and bloated size.  Yet the failure of the Commons to check the way the executive governs or to ensure that Bills presented don’t become law until that make sense has made the current Lords, flawed as it is, essential to British democracy.  Yes, that’s deeply paradoxical: an appointed chamber standing up for democracy against ‘the elected House’.

We’ve just seen with the Rwanda Bill the Commons voting repeatedly to allow the government to declare that Rwanda ‘is a safe county’ without reference to evidence or changing circumstances.  Cross-benchers in the Lords, led by retired judges and distinguished lawyers, insisted that it is an offense against the rule of law to legislate that what we say is true whatever the evidence suggests.  On Monday the Lords, reluctantly, backed down, after sustained cross-party cooperation in resisting in which Liberal Democrats had played an active part.  30-40 Conservative peers had refused, in the more loosely-whipped Lords, to vote against amendments to what they accepted was an unworkable Bill.  But after the longest series of ‘ping pong’ exchanges that Parliament has seen for many years both crossbenchers and Labour accepted that the government had to prevail, and Liberal Democrats could do no more..

Parliamentary democracy is supposed to be about representative institutions (and courts) carefully limiting the power of the executive.  But the Commons provide almost no effective checks on executive power, as opposed to the theatre of staged confrontation that is Prime Minister’s Questions and major debates.  The size of the government payroll has steadily increased over recent decades.  Junior ministers have spread, moving from one post to another before they’ve finished learning their brief, to a point where most Lords ministers are now unpaid – since there’s a statutory limit on paid ministerial posts.  Parliamentary private secretaries were limited to senior Cabinet minister 50 years ago; they’ve proliferated, attracting ambitious MPs who hope that loyalty will bring promotion.  Trade envoys, deputy chairmen of the party, ‘tsars’ with allocated tasks, all subject to dismissal if they disobey the whip.  The Labour opposition maintains a shadow team almost as large, which means that in total almost a third of the Commons behave like front-benchers rather than concentrating on holding the government to account.

Worse than this, the government whips have adopted the practice of blocking MPs who are expert but potentially independent-minded from appointment to Bill committees.  The result is that government bills sail through the Commons at speed, often unamended and as often with significant sections unexamined due to ‘guillotines’ on time allocated.

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Welcome to my day: 12 February 2024

My apologies for today’s late start – a minor technical glitch locked me out of the site this morning but, now that that’s remedied…

A big election, far away…

The world changes, even if nobody seems to want to tell us, as Indonesia goes to the polls this week. Two hundred million eligible voters will determine who will be the President of one of the world’s fastest growing economies and an increasingly influential player in Asia-Pacific politics. And Indonesia isn’t just a country with a large population, it stretches across thousands of miles, the equivalent of from the west of Ireland to Turkmenistan.

I’m increasingly of the view that, as a country with declining influence in the world – Brexit and nine years of increasingly English nationalist government really haven’t helped there – we should be looking to build new relationships in order to establish a new relevance, yet our foreign policy is constructed on the basis that we’re still major players, welcome participants everywhere. That’s hard to reconcile with our diminished military capacity and an attitude towards emerging economies that is unhelpful at best.

Indonesia is a prime example of that, a key producer of important materials, in particular nickel, needed in manufacture in many of the new technologies our economy will rely upon going forward. Trade deals will require a quid pro quo, as the negotiations with India demonstrate, with calls for visa-free access or, at least, easier access to visas. Are we willing to make the case that, as part of building those new trading relationships, we’re going to need to make compromises about who comes here?

Michael Gove claimed that we’d had enough of experts…

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15-18 January 2024 – this week in the Lords

Back for the second week in a row – and who said that I couldn’t manage that? – our (aspirational) regular review of the week ahead at the more genteel end of the Palace of Westminster.

After last week’s easing back into the routine, it’s a more normal week for the Peers, although there is one relatively unusual session included.

But Monday starts with the usual round of Oral Questions – there are usually four each day – and two come from Liberal Democrats. Malcolm Bruce opens with a question regarding Government plans to promote the end of absolute poverty through international development aid. I suspect that the answer might be a bit vague, given that “no” is far too honest. Jenny Randerson is asking about the possible introduction of a graduated driving licence for young and newly qualified drivers. The other two questions are about the use of engineered stone, given allegations of links to silicosis, and on what consultations the Government propose to have before the next renewal of the BBC’s Royal Charter about news and current affairs programmes, in the light of cutbacks to Newsnight.

Day 2 of the Committee Stage of the Automated Vehicles Bill takes up the remainder of business in the chamber. So far, Sharon Bowles has been seeking assurances that automated vehicles will undergo suitable real-life testing before being cleared to use our roads, and that the impact on road environs, i.e. on pedestrians, will be considered. At this stage, most of the amendments are likely to be probing in nature, seeking reassurances that the Government have taken various factors into account, and Day 2 will see more of the same, as will Day 3, scheduled for later in the week (Wednesday).

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10-11 January 2024 – this week in the Lords

Whilst the Commons returned today, the Lords has a little longer to recover from any Christmas/New Year excesses, resuming its work on Wednesday.

There are three items of particular interest as far as the Liberal Democrat benches are concerned, all of which are scheduled for Thursday.

Wednesday, however, sees Oral Questions on levels of mould in social housing, HMRC’s processing of tax returns (a topical one, I’d suggest), NatWest branch closures and account terminations, and, most topically of all, potential Government proposals to reverse convictions of sub-postmasters linked to the failed Horizon software.

The Automated Vehicles Bill reaches Day 1 of its Committee Stage, with Sharon Bowles leading from our Benches.

As already noted, Thursday sees a rather strong Liberal Democrat influence with an Oral Question from Mike German, seeking an answer from the Government as to what consideration they have given to the findings of the Brook House Inquiry, published on 19 September 2023, in particular its recommendation for a 28-day time limit on immigration detention.

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House of Lords calls for better use of community sentences

Whilst the House of Lords doesn’t return to formal action until Wednesday, the work of its committees continues. And, between Christmas and the New Year, the Justice and Home Affairs Committee published its report “Cutting crime: better community sentences“.

With our prisons overcrowded to the extent that inmates are being sent home early, and with the Probation Service still recovering from a botched and wholly unnecessary reorganisation, the Committee’s timely call for better use of community sentences, with their required punitive element, will hopefully receive a welcome from an incoming administration following …

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Why I spoke for 30 seconds at Conference

Party members at Autumn Conference may have noticed my slightly breathless, short interjection towards the end of the debate on the pre-manifesto paper “For a Fair Deal”. I spoke briefly on House of Lords reform after it had been mentioned by earlier speakers. I submitted a Speaker’s Card barely 30 minutes before the end of the debate, saying “I will speak for only thirty seconds”. I had done similar five years ago, speaking for one minute precisely when the Chair at the time, Zoe O’Connell, knew me well enough to gauge that I’d do as promised. It gave me an equally warm feeling to be trusted by Nicholas de Costa, squeezing me in to make my “elevator pitch” as he called it, even though the conference session was overrunning.

There are two facets of this I thought worthy of a write-up, so this is the first of two articles. The second will expand on my surprise that almost all members choose to fill (or overrun!) their allotted three minutes simply because they are given three minutes, and my feeling that our debates, especially the shorter ones, are therefore limited to too few speeches and possibly a lack of variety of opinions. I think we should introduce a more flexible system in all our debates, regardless of length. More on that later.

Firstly, though, please indulge me in my policy geekery. Political reform is of course only a small part of “For a Fair Deal”, and members who are aware of my involvement in “England within a Federal United Kingdom” as passed at Autumn Conference 2021 will know that I immensely pleased with the outcome. So why did I interject for thirty seconds? In a nutshell, when speakers at the podium say “Lib Dem policy is for an elected House of Lords” as happened the other day, this statement is both true and false. Is this some sort of quantum policy? Well, yes it is. We want the House of Lords in our current unitary state to be replaced by a representative body. It is standing party policy. Simultaneously our more recent policy is for a federal United Kingdom; this implies some form of senate as the upper house.

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By-election result – House of Lords

We covered the announcement of the candidates to fill a hereditary peer vacancy on the Liberal Democrat benches in the Lords a fortnight or so ago and we now have a result.

212 Peers voted as follows:

  • Lord Belhaven and Stenton – 34 votes
  • Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor – 55 votes
  • Earl Russell – 123 votes

Accordingly, John Russell is the newest member of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party in the Lords, and we wish him well.

* Mark Valladares is the Lords Correspondent of Liberal Democrat Voice.

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12-16 June: this week in the Lords

I haven’t done this for a while now, and really ought to get back into the habit. But, as all is relatively quiet in terms of Commons business, and the opposite is true in the Lords, perhaps it’s time to take a stab at it…

Monday‘s main piece of business is Day 4 of the Committee Stage of the Illegal Migration Bill. Hopefully, noble Lords won’t be in the chamber until 4.16 a.m., as they were on Thursday morning. It probably won’t be a short day though, as the Opposition benches (and the Bishops) continue their efforts to mitigate some of the more egregious proposals, led by Sally Hamwee, Paul Scriven and Mike German (amongst others). These will include moves to protect victims of trafficking and/or sexual exploitation who, as the Bill currently stands, risk being returned to the very people who have made their lives so desperate already.

Other than that, the House will be asked to appoint three new members to the panel of Deputy Chairmen of Committees, one of whom is Ros Scott. The job is, effectively, that of Speaker, sitting on the Woolsack and steering debate as required. She replaces Monroe Palmer, who should be thanked for his work in the role.

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By-election news: House of Lords

It’s been a very long time since a new Liberal Democrat peerage was created, in fact, my perhaps sketchy research suggests that the last Liberal Democrat life peer to take their seat was Andrew Stunell on 26 October 2015, whilst the last by-election for a Liberal Democrat hereditary peer was in April 2016, when John Thurso was elected to replace Eric Avebury.

But, following the retirement of crossbench peer Viscount Falkland in March, a vacancy has arisen. As he was one of the hereditary peers elected to be a Deputy Chairman of the House in 1999, the vacancy is to be filled by an election of the whole House. And, as he then sat on the Liberal Democrat benches, the expectation is that his replacement will sit on the Liberal Democrat benches.

Accordingly, three candidates have emerged, two of whom come from undoubtedly liberal backgrounds; Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor and Earl Russell (Conrad’s son, John), whilst the third, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, has offered a perfectly acceptable manifesto.

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Sue Miller highlights falling breastfeeding rates in Lords International Women’s Day debate

Back in the day, I spent a few years as a breastfeeding counsellor, doing what I could to support parents when they hit trouble and helping them find solutions that worked for them.

I got involved in that because I wanted to give something back after my breastfeeding journey was helped back on track by a lovely and patient volunteer called Louise who came to my house and sorted me out with great empathy.

Her help motivated me to help other women who desperately wanted to breastfeed but hadn’t been able to overcome their problems but hadn’t had the support that they needed. The guilt that comes along with that is huge, but misplaced. It is not their fault. Those running the health services failed to provide it.

I also became very interested in the implementation, or lack of it, of the International Code for the Marketing of Breastmilk substitutes and the ways that formula manufacturers got round it and how their powerful lobbying of governments kept regulation at bay.

I was also struck by research at the time that, in this country that showed  a poor breastfed baby had better long term health outcomes than a formula fed baby from an affluent background.

You would hope that we might have made some progress with providing support and regulating the manufacturers in the intervening 15 years.

Unfortunately, Lib Dem Peer Sue Miller, in her contribution to the International Women’s Day debate, highlighted that we are actually going backwards. You can read her whole speech here, but here are the highlights:

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Liz Barker highlights attacks on women’s rights worldwide

This week, Liz Barker spoke in the International Women’s Day debate in the Lords. She highlighted the orchestrated attacks on women’s rights worldwide in all its forms. She particularly focused on the treatment of trans women. She added that an attack on the rights of one group of women is an attack on the rights of all women.

She also criticised the Government’s reduction in international aid and the impact that has on things like HIV research – and which could leave us unprepared for future pandemics.

Finally she talked about women’s health care, in particular the under-reporting of mental health, particularly if they have learning difficulties or autism. And she cited some very troubling data around the availability of contraception.

Here is her speech in full.

My Lords, I too wish to pay tribute to Baroness Boothroyd. Because of the proximity of our offices, we often used to bump into each other in the lift. One day I complimented her on one of her fabulous outfits—she was always beautifully turned out—and in that unmistakeable voice she said, “give it brass and go big.” I have always thought that I will for ever hold that as my phrase: give it brass, go big.

The theme of today’s International Women’s Day is “Embrace Equity”. It is a very good phrase, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, has just said, because it carries within it the implication that we are, as women, diverse—very diverse. Women have different life experiences, different economic circumstances and all sorts of differences between us, yet we have common aspirations for safety, health, autonomy and prosperity. It is important to bear that in mind as we have this debate, because it takes place against the background of a campaign originated and orchestrated by Christian nationalists in the United States, Europe and across Russia, which is very definitely about curbing the aspirations and autonomy of all women.

In the United States and places like Poland and Hungary the focus is on anti-abortion activities. In Africa, the focus is against equality and LGBT rights. In the US and UK, the key focus of this campaign is anti-gender. We are beginning as we go through, to see a greater emphasis on unpicking this campaign and understanding the motivations behind it. The Council of Europe, for example, in 2022 produced a thematic report on legal gender recognition in Europe, which began to show what this campaign is about. Ultimately, it is about the rolling back of human rights and the destruction of human rights legislation and the organisations which are there to protect and promote it. That is a key concern for all women because human right lies at the basis of our equality and equity.

In the UK we know that there is a daily campaign against trans women. We see it day after day in our media. It is a campaign that seeks to pit women against women. It portrays trans women as a significant and systemic threat to other women. I have to say that, after six years, it is a campaign that has yet to provide evidence of that, and it is yet to win significant approval. That is not to say that some politicians have not been taken in by this and have been ever ready to use it to their political advantage. I have to say today that some of us will always reject playing with human rights, because if you play with the human rights of some people, you play with the human rights of all, and if you jeopardise the rights of some women, you jeopardise the rights of all. I hope that politicians in this country will look again at some of the aspects of this campaign and will desist in the demonisation of a very small minority of people in this country. They are at the moment under attack and very frightened, and today, on International Women’s Day, it is important to give them some hope and solidarity.

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The Real Problem with Constitutional Reform

Despite being a Labour MP, House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle is opposed to Labour’s plan to replace the House of Lords with an elected chamber. His view is that it would undermine the authority of the House of Commons. This has always been the problem with attempts to reform the Upper House. Change it into something democratic and accountable, and you are bound to ask why it doesn’t have more power. Leave it as a Ruritanian collection of robed elders, and you can defend putting limits on what it can do. For Hoyle it has a part in ‘tidying up bills.’ Like the cleaners, it plays a useful role that should not be criticised.

This will not do, but Labour’s plans for reform (so far lacking detail) may not do either. The trouble is their view of devolution, which has been focused on giving power away rather than sharing it. Yes, giving power away may be necessary to avoid too much centralisation. But often the most important thing is to allow authorities outside Westminster to participate in joint decision-making.

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A plan for electing members to a second Chamber (Senate)

Given that Labour is proposing to replace the House of Lords with an elected 2nd Chamber but, as yet, have no plan at to what form that 2nd Chamber will take.  Here is my plan.

1. The election of Senators will be by the Nations and Regions of the UK as used for European Elections.

2. Each Nation or Region will initially elect three times their MEPs in 2019 to the Senate. That is:

  • East Midlands 15
  • East of England 21
  • London 24
  • NE England 9
  • NW England 24
  • SE England 30
  • SW England 18
  • West Midlands 21
  • Scotland 18
  • Wales 12
  • Northern Ireland 9

Total    219

These numbers will be reviewed every 10 years by the Boundary Commission and adjusted as needed to match population changes.

3. Members will be elected in thirds except in the initial election with elections every two years. No other election may take place in the same day.

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The Independent View: Groundhog Day in the Lords?

Paul Tyler’s recent letter to the Guardian about reforming the House of Lords raises at least two meta questions about British politics.

He suggests Keir Starmer revives the 2012 Lib Dem legislation but before we do that should ask why did that initiative fail and why should things be different in 2024.

The truth is it, it failed for the same reasons that every previous attempt failed, starting in 1911 but most conspicuously in 1999 when a cohort of counts and their ilk managed to stay on in the second chamber.

Britain is very good at self-sabotage, at not learning from its previous mistakes. This is because its guiding constitutional principle is tradition, which is both infallible and a way of predicting the future.

There are 18 reasons/obstacles (maybe more) why reform failed in the past. If Starmer’s team is serious, it will have to dismantle these obstacles first.

There is not space to explain all the hobbles on Lords reform but I will give you three of them.

As soon as anyone progressive announces that they really are going to finish off the Lords, no ifs and buts, a stock objection will be made: there are more urgent priorities to deal with. The economy, stupid. The next government will inherit a crises in living standards; the NHS and the environment. These will take up all its time and money.

Related to this is a second objection: it is never a good time for constitutional reform which is widely seen as both unnecessary – if it ain’t broke you can’t fix it: unbelievably the Lords in its present form has its apologists – or risky. Throw out umpteen centuries of trial and error and there is a good chance that you’ll make things even worse.

Thirdly, the interests of a party in Opposition are very different to the those of a party in government. Win an election and you go from outsider to insider. The system is yours for a while; you can do what you want.  You lose interest in changing even the tiniest aspect of the system that has put you where you are. Why would you want to share or devolve power that you have just won unfairly and unsquarely?

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Antidisestablishmentarianism

Yesterday’s report from the ONS showed that less than 50% of the population of England and Wales identified as Christian in the 2021 Census. This had led to calls for the disestablishment of the Church of England. It also gives me the opportunity to use the longest word in the English language. The fact that the word dates back to the 19th century shows that there is a long history to the call to reduce the formal role of the Church of England in public life – and opposition to it.

Note that disestablishment only relates to the Church of England. It does not refer to the worldwide Anglican communion, which includes the Church in Wales, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Church of Ireland. To confuse things further, we all noticed that at his Accession King Charles sign a declaration of protection of the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian and not Anglican.

A personal disclosure – I am an active member of the Church of England. However, as you will see, that does not mean I support its current political role.

I imagine we all know the 500 year history of the origins of the Church of England. Henry VIII enacted the Brexit of his day, and separated the English branch of the church from its Roman “masters”. Of course, the English Church had existed for over a thousand years before that, in its former Catholic form, and had had a huge impact on the culture, from its amazing buildings, its ancient learnings, its art and music, to its moral direction. However, Henry politicised the church in a way that hadn’t happened before.

Whilst the history is fascinating it has led us to a situation which in some ways is not in tune with today’s values.  The established church in England is central to many aspects of our cultural life including major public ceremonies from Remembrance Sunday to Coronations, and there is a question mark over all of these. In August the House of Commons Library published a briefing paper on The relationship between church and state in the United Kingdom. It covers all the attempts at reform over the past century.

However the current arguments for disestablishment tend to focus on two areas – membership of the House of Lords and compulsory worship in schools.

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28 November – 2 December: this week in the Lords

It’s a full week ahead for the Liberal Democrats in the Lords, with business on all five days but, before I start, I should note the sad loss of Nigel Jones, who passed away three weeks ago. Max Wilkinson has written movingly about him, and our Leader in the Lords, Dick Newby, offered his own thoughts. Our belated condolences go out to his family and friends.

Sally Hamwee chairs the Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee and, on Monday, introduces its report, “Technology rules? The advent of new technologies in the justice system”. The report looks at the use of Artificial Intelligence by police forces and draws some worrying conclusions. Tim Clement-Jones, Sarah Ludford and Brian Paddick will also be reflecting their concerns during this Grand Committee debate.

In the main Chamber, the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill, sponsored by Green peer, Jenny Jones, reaches its Report Stage, whilst the Government’s Procurement Bill also reaches its Report Stage.

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7-9 November – this week in the Lords

A short week in Parliament, with the short November recess starting on Thursday, but there’s plenty of Liberal Democrat interest.

Monday starts with the usual oral questions, this time including a question from Shas Sheehan regarding Government steps, as President of COP26, to acknowledge and address greenhouse gas emissions by developed countries, in the light of recent flooding in Pakistan.

The Seafarers’ Wages Bill receives its Third Reading, with Ros Scott from our benches expected to pursue the issue of how the legislation sits with international agreements in the maritime sector. So far, there’s been little sense that the Government gets this, but given their persistent disregard for such things, it’s unlikely that they’ll change their mind at this stage. And there’s Day 4 of the Committee Stage of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, with Jeremy Purvis, Alison Suttie, Sarah Ludford and Dee Doocey attempting to prevent a blatant power grab by the Government, allowing them to, effectively, rewrite the legisaltion as they go along.

In Grand Committee, the Electronic Trade Documents Bill has its Second Reading, with Chris Fox up for our benches.

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31 October – 3 November – this week in the Lords

I used to do this regularly, primarily because the party’s press releases seldom mention the work of the Lords Parliamentary Party. Perhaps it is time to reincarnate this feature…

Time once again to return to the red benches at the more dignified end of the Palace of Westminster, for a preview of events this week, and in particular the Liberal Democrat highlights.

Monday is a relatively low-profile day for the Liberal Democrat peers, with the Third Reading of the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill and the more controversial Northern Ireland Protocol Bill reaching its Committee Stage. Incidentally, it’s a sign of the rapidly changing makeup of the Government that the sponsoring Minister in the Commons on behalf of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is someone called Elizabeth Truss. Whatever happened to her, I wonder?

There is also a debate on plans to review the powers and functions of Police and Crime Commissioners, something that Liberal Democrats opposed at the time of their introduction. Brian Paddick, unsurprisingly, will be speaking from the Liberal Democrat benches.

In Grand Committee, the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill starts its Committee Stage, intended to enable the sort of people that you’d cross the street to avoid to have the freedom to be unpleasant on campuses. Think of it as part of the culture war that some people think we really need.

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Welcome to my day: 25 April 2022 – perhaps it doesn’t need to be so bad?

It’s always nice to see some positive news, and the re-election of Emmanuel Macron to the French Presidency yesterday was reassuringly clear cut. Mind you, given that 42% of those who voted chose such an overt friend who of Vladimir Putin, one should remain alert in terms of what happens after Macron’s second term ends, especially given the current weakness of France’s traditional “big two” political parties. But that’s a problem for another day.

Slovenia also had elections yesterday, and a political party formed only a year ago, the Freedom Movement has swept to power, defeating the outgoing Prime Minister, Janez Janša and his Social Democrats. The Party names might give the impression that this is not good news, but whilst the Social Democrats lean very much towards a Victor Orban style of politics, the Freedom Movement are social/Green liberals.

So, not a bad night for liberals across Europe.

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Brian Paddick: the Lords takes up cudgels against the Nationality and Borders Bill

I am sure we have all been appalled by the scenes in Ukraine and share a feeling of helplessness.

Over the weekend the Home Office have said that Ukrainian nationals, without close relatives in the UK, fleeing the war in Ukraine must apply for a visa to come to the UK “in the normal way” and one Minister went as far as to say people could come here – on the condition they agreed to be seasonal workers picking cabbage and kale.

Today in the House of Lords we vote on the Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill.

In recent times, only 6% of immigrants to the UK have been refugees and yet 94% of the Bill is aimed at making it more difficult for those fleeing situations like Ukraine to come to the UK.

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What’s on in our Parliaments this week?

Holyrood and Westminster are back from their half term break this week and the Senedd starts its break. Here’s what to watch out for.

Westminster

The Lords get to grips with the Elections Bill. Unlock Democracy have written to peers expressing their concerns with the measures it contains.

The bill gives this Government, and future governments, unprecedented power over the way our elections are run.

I want to give you one clear example of this.

Elections in the UK are overseen by an independent watchdog, the Electoral Commission. This bill would give the power to the Government of the day to set the commission’s policy and strategy. Furthermore oversight of the Commission’s work is carried out by the Speaker’s Committee, which now, for the first time, has a Government majority.

Put simply, this leaves the fox guarding the henhouse.

It means that a Conservative Government could tell the Electoral Commission to focus its efforts on investigating union funding of Labour. It could mean that a future Labour Government tells the Commission to focus investigations on Conservative donors.

This power shouldn’t be in the hands of any Government – it should stay in the hands of the independent watchdog.

Most readers of this site will agree and you can sign up to support this here.

On Wednesday Lib Dem peer Mike Storey has a question on the effect of Covid-19 on school children in the most deprived communities and Sarah Ludford will be leading for us on the Refugees Family Reunion Bill.

On Thursday, Don Foster has a debate on the link between gambling advertising and gambling related harm.

On Friday Alison Suttie has a debate on “An Electoral System fit for Today”

In the Commons, Munira Wilson has a Westminster Hall debate on the future of the old Teddington Police Station. She and local Council Leader Gareth Roberts want it to be used for affordable housing and wrote to the Mayor to express that view recently:

Munira Wilson MP and Cllr Gareth Roberts, Leader of Richmond Council, have written to London Mayor Sadiq Khan calling for the site of the former Teddington Police Station to be retained for community use. The site is currently being advertised for sale on the open market.

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What’s going on in our Parliaments this week? 17-21 January 2022

Lib Dem highlights in our legislatures this week include Jamie Stone holding a debate on gas and electricity costs while Lib Dem peers take on some of the Government’s nastier Bills. Watch out for Brian Paddick on the Police Bill and Sal Brinton on the Health and Care Bill.

In Wales, Jane Dodds has a debate on free public transport for young people on Wednesday

So what’s happening?

Westminster

Monday kicks off in the Commons with Priti Patel and the Home Office ministerial team answering questions from MPs.

They then go on to debate the Elections Bill, which would disenfranchise many people from deprived backgrounds, who are less likely to vote Conservative, by requiring voter ID. It’s sickening voter suppression.

The Lords take on the dreadful Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and you can read our take on that here.

On Tuesday, MPs question Sajid Javid and then go on to debate the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill and a money resolution on the Charities Bill.

Jamie Stone has a Westminster Hall debate on the cost of gas and electricity.

Peers have the first of two days this week on the Health and Social Care BIll.

Commons business on Wednesday kicks off with questions to COP 26 President Alok Sharma, then you have to wonder what PMQs will throw up this week. MPs then turn their attention to the Building Safety Bill

The Lords deals with the Northern Ireland Bill and the Subsidy Control Bill. Several Lib Dems, including Malcolm Bruce and Jenny Randerson, are down to speak.

Thursday sees  international trade questions in the Commons followed by two general debates, the first on a motion relating to the Uyghur Tribunals and the second on Lawfare and the UK Court System.

Meanwhile the Lords have another day on the Health and Care Bill.

Holyrood

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Paul Tyler’s valedictory speech: The Tories and integrity

I chose to initiate a short debate, on the integrity of our electoral process for my final “valedictory” speech in the House of Lords.

After so many years of working with leading reformers in other parties – Robin Cook and Ken Clarke, for example – I deplored the lack of cross-party co-operation that this government have created. They have made few attempts to conserve the union, the reputation of Britain around the world or the rule of law, but also the traditional purpose of their own party. Ministers even wish to opt out of the European Convention on Human Rights, that Churchill worked so hard to create.

Of the Johnson Junta I summed up:

It is this cavalier relationship with the truth that divorces today’s Conservative Party from its past and betrays the legacies of Macmillan, Heath, Major, and, yes, even Thatcher.

Their Elections Bill will increase elusive foreign investments, being deliberately partisan, overturning work done since 1883 to prevent the rich buying constituencies. This aims to reverse the judgement of the Supreme Court in 2018 that reinforced those safeguards. The Bill also attempts to remove the Supplementary Vote from the PCC and mayoral elections, replacing it with First-Past-The-Post (FPTP). This move makes a mockery of the government’s own manifesto pledge making sure that every vote counts the same – a cornerstone of democracy.”

I ended with a challenge:

I plead with true Conservatives – in both Houses and beyond – to reclaim their party.   For many years, I have had staring at me on my desk the reminder of Edmund Burke: ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing’.

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Lord Paul Tyler writes….Reflections on 65 years as a party member

As with so much else in politics, our conference this year was by turns very different and strikingly similar to the first I attended some 60 years ago. This year’s conference was beamed into my living room; my first Liberal Assembly took place in the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. This year’s conference took place in the shadow of Western humiliation in Afghanistan. My first took place when Britain was still reeling from the Suez scandal.

Either way, this year’s was my last as a Parliamentarian. The House of Lords is a place of many anachronisms, and I wouldn’t like to risk becoming one of them. Since I turn 80 at the end of October, the moment has come – after 65 years as a party member – to take a back seat.

Don’t despair: this is not just a forlorn trip down memory lane, but a reflection on how the present and future should be faced, after that experience. In the 1950s and 1960s the UK political landscape was remarkably two dimensional. In General Elections a large majority voted for – and against – the two major parties. In the former decade that total was regularly well over 90%. Even in my first parliamentary contest in 1966 some 89.8% of those who voted supported Labour or Conservative candidates.

Canvassing experience reflected that dichotomy. “My husband is in the union, we’re Labour” or “We’re in business, we’re Conservative”. In Cornwall and Devon there was a very welcome variation: “Our family have always been Methodists, we’re Liberals”. Only very much later, during my 1982 Beaconsfield by-election campaign, did I encounter the show-stopping response “We are not interested in politics, we’re Conservatives”.

All that has fundamentally changed. The population, and especially the regularly voting component, are nowhere near so consistently aligned. Their motivation is far from that previous clear economic/social divide. Their support churns around between elections, and even during the last few days of a campaign.

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Liberal Democrat staffer wins award!

At a time when there are so few things to celebrate – no shock by-election wins to enjoy, and the prospect of delay of the elections currently scheduled for May – it’s nice to be able to congratulate a fellow Liberal Democrat for winning an award.

Naimah Khatun is a Parliamentary Assistant in the Liberal Democrat Whip’s Office in the Lords, and today she’s been announced as The House magazine’s Westminster Staffer of the Year (Crossbench, Independent, Liberal Democrats and Other Parties). Here’s the announcement of the award, and her response.

And here’s the response from the Parliamentary Party in the Lords…

Congratulations …

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Sarah Ludford summarises our argument against the Future Relationships Bill

The task of summarising the Liberal Democrat argument against the Brexit deal fell to Sarah Ludford, former MEP for London and our frontbench Brexit spokesperson…

The wisest comment on the Johnson deal came from his Conservative Party colleague — if not friend — the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, somewhat puncturing the bluster and self-congratulation. He said:

“We must welcome the news that Brexit does not end in the chaos of no deal, but only with the sense of relief of a condemned man informed that his execution has been commuted to a life sentence.”

What was promised in 2016 was “the exact same benefits” as EU membership and “frictionless” trade. That was a cruel deception then and it is a very bad joke now. No wonder Mrs Thatcher was so keen to promote the single market; this threadbare Tory deal betrays her legacy, and it is not — I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Lamont — membership of the Common Market.

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Lords speeches against the Future Relationships Bill (part 4)

Here are the last group of excerpts from Liberal Democrat interventions during the debate on the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill…

Tim Clement-Jones

We have been assured by Ministers countless times of the value they place on the arts, but they have now abandoned one of our most successful sectors, already heavily battered by Covid lockdowns, to its own devices. The noble Baronesses, Lady Bull and Lady Bakewell, are absolutely right. In the trade and co-operation agreement, our hugely successful audio-visual sector is specifically excluded. They represent 30% of all Toggle showing location of Column 1881channels in the EU, but if they are not to be subject to the regulators of every single country, they will need to establish a new hub in a member state.

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Lords speeches against the Future Relationships Bill (part 3)

This morning, we bring you the third tranche of excerpts from Liberal Democrat speeches against the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill in the Lords…

Jenny Randerson

The automotive industry is also at the sharp end. Today’s vehicles comprise parts from many countries. Although there are some useful provisions on rules of origin, it will still require additional paperwork and data gathering, and that means additional costs. The timescale is hopelessly short; the industry believes that a phase-in period is critical, but we are not getting that. Of course, businesses are not ready.

There are huge uncertainties built into this deal, because it is based on today’s standards, and standards change, particularly in vehicle manufacture and aviation, as technology advances. Each change needs a complex approval process, with potential penalties. Of course, this is just a framework deal, subject to endless reviews and supplementary agreements.

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Lords speeches against the Future Relationships Bill (part 2)

We pick up where we left off earlier

William Wallace

This Bill, and the agreement it transposes into domestic law, commits us to continuing negotiations across a very wide range of issues, in which the UK will be the dependent partner. I mention two issues only out of the many that remain unresolved. The issues of data access, and the adequacy of data protection, are vital to the future of our economy. Three-quarters of UK data exchanges flow between here and the European continent. Sovereign independence on data regulation for the UK is not on offer; our choice is between closer alignment with American or European regulation. We will pursue the Government on this.

Mutual recognition for cultural professionals, musicians, actors and artists is left out of the agreement, as has already been mentioned. I declare an interest as a trustee of the VOCES8 Foundation. Many of us will seek written assurance from the Government that mutual recognition will be negotiated.

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Lords speeches against the Future Relationships Bill (part 1)

And, for completeness and, indeed, because they were excellent, we bring you excerpts from the speeches of our Parliamentary Party in the Lords during the debate on the Future Relationships Bill

Jeremy Purvis

Liberal forebears joined together to ensure the widest benefit of free, fair and open trade well over a century ago. We fought relentlessly against Conservative protectionism at the turn of the last century. We split from the Conservative and National Government over their imposition of tariffs all round. Now, a century on, we need to try to militate against the worst elements of this poor agreement. We will have to be in the vanguard of supporting women entrepreneurs in the service sector to tackle the new barriers, helping our businesses export against the new burdens and supporting those wishing to seek advantage not by moving out of the UK but by staying in it and working with others to reconnect with Europe. I never thought we would need to rejoin this fight, but we do—we must, and we will with vigour.

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