Tag Archives: house of lords

Tony Greaves writes…”There really is no Planet B” Scenes from the Schools 4 Climate action demo

Fantastic atmosphere in Parliament Square today as some thousands of mainly school students gathered to protest against what is happening to our climate and our planet. This was one of the most extraordinary demonstrations I have witnessed.

There was none of the usual organisation, attempts at order and regimentation, agenda of speeches and actions. No stewards and precious few police, who were clearly taken unawares by the scale of the protest and were standing around looking a rather lost at how to cope with quite a big disruption with no organisers to talk to! People just turned up, often in school groups, and did their own thing as they felt fit.

Some just stood about with their placards. Some sat in a circle, chanted or sang or made impromptu speeches – at first on the grass, later on in the road. Some stood in the streets or marched off down Whitehall or towards Westminster Bridge. Parliament Square was completely blocked, partly by the young demonstrators but also – by a curious bit of serendipity – by the black cabs whose drivers were staging another protest against being kicked out of London bus lanes.

For once, the young people were being allowed to stand on the plinths of statues and hang placards on Mr Churchill and his friends. One glorious incident happened when a big red open-top tourist sightseeing bus, blocked on the corner of Bridge Street and the Square, was commandeered by a group of young people waving their placards and leading the chants. What any tourists thought about it, I know not!

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13 February 2019 – (the rest of) today’s press releases

Welsh Lib Dems welcome enhancement of MyTravelPass young persons’ discount scheme

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have welcomed the announcement from the Welsh Government that the MyTravelPass young persons’ bus discount scheme is to be enhanced.

The initial pilot scheme was secured by Welsh Liberal Democrats in opposition during the last Assembly.

The scheme, which has evolved and improved since its pilot in 2015, now offers a third off the fares for all journeys taken by young people aged between 16 and 21 – right up until their 22nd birthday.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds commented:

It’s encouraging to see the MyTravelPass scheme continue to

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Celia Thomas: Every disabled person should be able to live a life of dignity and respect

Last week, the House of Lords debated the future essential services run by local authorities. As local government is so important to Liberal Democrats, it’s no surprise that several Lib Dems took part in the debate.

Celia Thomas talked about two critical issues – social care and, first the provision of public toilets and the impact that cuts have on isolation of people with continence problems.

She warned against the idea that we need to provide support for disabled people so that they can work as this can promulgate the idea that there are deserving and undeserving disabled people. Every disabled person, she said, should be able to live a life of dignity and respect:

My Lords, I shall concentrate on the provision of social care but, before that, I want to mention something that I would call an essential service but which turns out to be discretionary. Here I shall lower the tone of the debate so I hope noble Lords will not mind; I am talking about the provision of public conveniences, lavatories, toilets or loos throughout the country. Those that are left are now often maintained by town or parish councils, but for how long? In 2010, there were over 5,000 public toilets; now, there are 4,486. Is it right that fast-food chains, supermarkets and coffee shops have now virtually taken the place of public toilets? What happens when these places are closed, when managers are reluctant to let everyone use their facilities or when there are no accessible toilets? We should not forget the silent number of people trapped in their homes because of continence problems.

I turn now to social care. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, said, we are no nearer to seeing the Government’s Green Paper; as late as October, we were told it would be with us by the end of the year. The funding issue is a fiendishly difficult problem because social care encompasses so much and is so little understood. We need a different term; I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Patten, about language. The word “social”, according to the dictionary, means,

“marked by friendly companionship with others”.

But, in local government terms, it has a much sterner face to cover the state’s obligation to help care for children, including those with mild or severe learning difficulties, as well as disabled and elderly adults. It may have to cover playschemes for disabled children, personal assistants, aids and equipment, care at home and residential care.

Not only are we all living longer, but there is now a better survival rate for people with serious health conditions. I believe that the dictionary definition of the word “social” is one reason why so many people think the service is free for council taxpayers rather ​than means-tested, or partly means-tested. Anyone who thinks the answer for even quite severely disabled people is NHS continuing care should think again as it is very difficult to get. As for delays in hospital discharges, these are still causing a problem due to care packages having to be negotiated or re-negotiated. Can the Minister say how the Government have evaluated the impact of health and well-being boards in tackling the increasing number of these delays?

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Paul Scriven: We need to fund Councils properly and give them the powers to create great communities

Local Government is an issue of paramount importance to Liberal Democrats. Last week in the Lords, Liberal Democrat peer Paul Scriven led a debate on the essential services that local authorities provide. He outlined how chronic underfunding of local government, combined with rising demand for services was creating unsustainable problems.

Here is his speech:

I am very pleased to be leading this debate because to me it is a vital issue that affects every village, every town, every city and every region: local government has a positive power to change people’s lives. Just think of the older person who is becoming vulnerable and possibly losing their independence. With good public health, good housing services and good social services that person can continue to lead an independent life with dignity. Just think of the young man who might be on a crossroads between violence and going forward to have a fulfilling life. With good youth services and education services that young person can be supported to make the correct decision and have a successful life.

Local government can facilitate enterprise and business locally with good business development services, planning and support services provided by local authorities. They can help to create vibrant, successful and sustainable communities: libraries, parks, clean air, shared spaces and bringing people together to give them opportunities to achieve. That is the vision that I think most people have of a good local service: bottom up and delivering for people—not just a service provider of last resort but a local democratic hub that facilitates and brings opportunities for people and businesses to succeed.

I will mention my own journey in Sheffield in the local authority, first as a back-bench councillor helping individual constituents, then as leader of the opposition, ​many times clashing with the then chief executive, the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake—I am not sure whether he will raise that—then as chair of scrutiny, holding the executive to account, and then having the great pleasure of leading that great city and that great council. I was then put on early retirement when I lost my seat and am now back again as a local councillor. I saw the power that local authorities can have to affect individuals and communities and make a real difference to people’s ability to succeed in their life.

That is what the situation should do, but we must look at what it has now become in many cases. Sadly, in some cases local authorities have not just become the provider of last resort but are struggling to be even that—we only have to look at Northamptonshire, Somerset, Norfolk and Lancashire County Councils, and the National Audit Office warning that reserves are running out. In some cases they are not just unable to provide the opportunities that I talked about but are unable to provide the very statutory services that they are there to provide in an emergency as a safety net.

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Lib Dems vs Brexit: Malcolm Bruce – Time to modernise our democracy

My Lords, across the UK, Scotland and London voted most strongly for remain, which is somewhat ironic given the nationalists’ antipathy towards London and London-based government. ​Northern Ireland voted clearly for remain, only to find its hard-line Brexit party tweaking the tail of a Brexit-traumatised Conservative Government. A lot has been said, I think rightly, about Theresa May’s and Jeremy Corbyn’s cavalier disregard for those who voted remain. “You lost. Get over it”, they say, but they have been unable to come up with anything that can unite a majority. When the DUP is challenged for representing a minority in Northern Ireland, it asserts that remain voters are predominantly nationalists and can therefore apparently be discounted—second-class votes.

Membership of the EU resides with the United Kingdom and it is not possible for parts of the UK to be in and parts to be out. I suggest that raises the question as to whether we should ever have sought a simple binary majority, or one that was qualified by the views of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom as well.

During a recent visit to Derry, I was able to see and hear how differences already affect what is located on which side of the border and how people and services operate. Moderate unionists who voted remain are beginning to consider whether the complexities of Brexit might make the prospect of a united Ireland unexpectedly attractive, especially now they see a much more liberal Republic and a frozen conservative Province in the north. The polarisation of Northern Ireland politics has left the Province without a democratic voice. Disillusioned young people at an integrated school that I visited in Derry told me that they thought that violence would return to the Province. I was quite shocked that they were unanimous in their view.

For a long time—the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, referred to this—many people thought that nationalism could be contained within the European Union or at least under its umbrella. That is kind of logical given that the raison d’être of the European Union was to find mechanisms to avoid conflicts getting out of control and leading to war—which has been one of its great achievements.

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Lib Dems vs Brexit: Martin Thomas on how Brexit adds to instability

The text is below:

My Lords, in my youth, the union was strong. Not only had the four nations survived two world wars side by side but there was a community of interest that bound people together. ​Coal miners faced the same hazards in pits across Britain. The Gresford hymn is still played and sung annually at the Durham Miners’ Gala to commemorate the 266 miners killed underground at the Gresford pit in 1934. Steelworkers from Merthyr to Shotton, Sheffield and Motherwell had common interests, and workers in the shipyards of Belfast and Glasgow, Liverpool and the Tyne shared common dangers.

However, as those great UK-wide industries declined and departed, the solidarity of the union weakened. Devastated communities were left isolated—high and dry. Then the European project got under way. European development funds underpinned the economies of areas in decline, and nowhere has benefited more than Wales. European structural funds have invested more than £4 billion in supporting many thousands of jobs and creating new enterprises. Europe helped to stabilise the union at a time of profound economic and social change.

Devolution has played an important part in creating stability. In Wales we regard Sir John Redwood not so much as the architect of devolution but as its cause. As Secretary of State between 1993 and 1995, two years before the 1997 referendum, he attacked the non-governmental organisations delivering services in Wales with Thatcherite zeal, halved public funding to the Welsh Development Agency and cut his own Welsh Office staff, outsourcing to the private sector. He banned the use of the Welsh dragon on a leaflet entitled Wales in Europe and refused to second staff to ensure a Welsh presence in Brussels. He boasted that he had returned £100 million of the funding allocated to Wales, unspent, to the Treasury. He travelled home to Wokingham every night to avoid staying in Wales, refused to sign documents in the Welsh language because he did not understand them, and his rendition of the Welsh national anthem remains a YouTube classic that is very dear to our hearts. Therefore, we thank him for ensuring for us the slim majority of 0.3% that brought devolution to Wales two years after his regime, and we wish him a similar outcome for his dreams in the ERG.

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Liz Barker’s tribute to Paddy Ashdown

In a House of Lords debate on the Western Balkans this week, Baroness Liz Barker paid tribute to Paddy Ashdown:

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, for this debate, which, sadly, is timely and appropriate. I thank her for giving me the opportunity to tell your Lordships’ House about an event that took place in Sarajevo on 27 December. Joseph Ingram wrote a report of it and he said this. Citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina held a spontaneous commemorative service in the “iconic, reconstructed city hall”. The hall was,

“filled to capacity, and despite being nationally televised, had people lined up outside trying to be part of it. The ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’, a group that represents survivors of the most horrific massacre of innocent civilians on European soil since World War Two, had announced that they too intend to honour the work of this extraordinary human being”.

The event was dedicated to one man. He was born in India. He grew up as a lad in Northern Ireland. He left school, joined the marines and became a captain, a diplomat and spy. Then he gave up everything and, after a period on the dole, went on to become a youth worker and eventually the gallant MP for Yeovil. In this House, we knew him as Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, but he was always Paddy.

He had a wide range of interests. He had forgotten more languages than most of us have ever learned. He could quote the poetry of John Donne at will. He was an informed and passionate supporter of activists for democracy in Hong Kong, when nobody else took any notice, and he packed more achievements into a lifetime than most of us could imagine, but he was always first to admit that the source of his great strength was Jane. In public she was a quiet figure, but to those of us who know her she is a charming, funny and formidable woman.

I will give you one vignette which sums up both of them. Like all good leaders, Paddy used to invite people in to advise him, talk to him and argue with him. In 1992 I was one of the small group. Early one morning, he posed us the question: should I go to Bosnia? We went round the room and we all said no. We gave him all sorts of reasons why it was a really bad idea, and I left the meeting certain of only one thing. He was going to go. We all saw the TV pictures recently, but what we did not know until we read his autobiography was that he had come under fire, as the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, told us. But he went because he saw a group of people being treated unjustly, and he thought that he could and should do something.

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LibLink: Olly Grender: The sooner the Renters’ Rights Bill becomes law, the sooner tenants get a fair deal

A bill going through its final parliamentary stages cuts letting agents’ fees for tenants. This is down to the hard work of Lib Dem Peers, mainly Olly Grender. She writes for Politics Home about what this will mean for people:

When I first proposed this change in 2016 through a Private Member’s Bill, it was a flat “no” from the Conservative Government.  However, they could not keep ignoring the overwhelming evidence that people on low incomes or benefits who were renting privately were being ripped off with shocking admin fees.

The worst part is that families who are evicted or cannot afford a rent rise are pushed into homelessness by the astronomical up-front admin fees.  The option to move is not feasible, as even when they try to move to a cheaper home, agents were charging both landlord and tenant these up-front fees. With homelessness continuing to rise, and the leading cause being the end of a private rented sector tenancy, it is clear reform is needed – and fast. This is why this Bill is so vitally important. The double dip with both landlord and tenant being charged these extortionate fees will soon be a thing of the past and this change in the law cannot come soon enough.

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18 December 2018 – today’s press releases

Brexit is coming, the hedge fund’s growing fat, who will put a billion in Phil Hammond’s hat? If you haven’t got a billion, 3,000 troops will do, if you haven’t got 3,000 troops, then God bless you…

But at least we’re giving some opposition to this wastrel administration…

  • Lib Dem peers defeat Government to force Prevent review (this one arrived late last night)
  • Cable: Decision to ramp up no-deal is psychological warfare
  • Dropping migration target an admission Brexit won’t control immigration
  • Lib Dems: Putting troops on standby is simply scaremongering
  • Lib Dems table no confidence motion in Government

We’ve also received a press release from Tower Hamlets

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Tony Greaves writes…Home rule for the north

The North of England is the second English region after London and the south-east together, and has 15 million people—three times as many as Scotland and five times as many as Wales. It shares considerable cultural, economic and social cohesion and history, and many current problems. This is about the North as such because the North should stand together as a whole.

What we have is asymmetric devolution. Scotland, and to a lesser extent Wales have increasingly become functioning units of a federal system, except there is no federal system for them to be the units of. This is not a system that is sustainable in the long run. We still have a highly centralized state, not least in England, with a number of peripheral anomalies. If I call Wales and Scotland peripheral anomalies, I do so with admiration that they have been able to break free from the grip of London to the extent that they have. Then we have gimmicks such as EVEL (English Votes for English Laws in the House of Commons).

Some people believe the answer is a federal system with an English Parliament, but the result of that would in due course be the complete detachment of Scotland and Wales. And it would do nothing to change the concentration of economic and political power within England. We have had a series of feeble initiatives such as the attempt by John Prescott to set up a North-east Assembly with no powers, which was rightly rejected. Labor set up government regional offices in which civil servants from different departments sat in the same buildings and talked to their bosses in London rather than to each other. There was the coalition’s regional growth fund and its local enterprise partnerships—nobody really noticed them.

The North is being fragmented into city regions but it is not devolution: it is almost entirely the reorganisation of local government. It is the concentration of power within local government, with all power going to the big cities, but what is that except the power for those involved to carry begging bowls on the train to Whitehall and Westminster and, if they are lucky, to go home with their railway fares? As power is concentrated in big cities through city regions and mayors, the people who suffer in the North of England are those in the areas on the edges, and the places in between. Particularly towns, which have lost so much of their civic culture, power and society in recent years.

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Roger Roberts: Are we to be known as the Canutes of History?

Here is Roger Roberts’ speech to the House of Lords on the Brexit deal. His theme was what sort of life are we setting up for future generations?

Leave and Brexit are about   my seven grandchildren, all your Lordships’ grandchildren and all the children in our country. Will it be better for them to have fewer benefits than we have had, or should we think first of them when we vote on this deal?

Just after the Second World War, the community of Llangollen in north Wales established the international musical festival, which has brought people from many countries together. It still goes on; I spoke only this morning to its press office. This past year it brought applications from 3,919 competitors from 64 locations; it brought together people who had been at enmity ​with one another. As people who have been fighting each other, we suddenly find ourselves in a situation where we either stretch out to one another in friendship or say we want to carry on building a wall.

When the first eisteddfod was held, one choir hitchhiked from Hungary to reach Llangollen—I find it difficult to think of a choir hitchhiking. The following time, a German choir from Lübeck came over to Llangollen. Members of the choir were not sure what sort of reception they would get because we had been at war. They were going to sing to those who had been their enemies and they were very uncertain. But the compère at the eisteddfod on that day was Hywel Roberts, who greeted them by saying, “We are now going to hear from our German friends”. It has taken a long time to build this: to build relationships and get over the enmity of the past. But it has been done, in many different ways. Will we continue with these feelings of friendship? Will we continue building bridges and not walls?

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From our Lords Correspondent: 22-26 October – explaining how things work…

Welcome to the review of a rather longer week in the Lords…

Our review starts, where else, with Monday, which was opened, after prayers, by Meral Ece, who wanted to know what steps the Government are taking to reduce youth crime in London. The answer, unsurprisingly, was that the Government are giving funds to support various small-scale projects. The decline in police numbers due to the loss of central support, not so prominent.

The debate on the Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill has already been covered in these pages, and the other legislation …

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House of Lords questions: Young mental health, the post-Brexit Promised Land and the interloper in the dining room

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House of Lords “Oral questions” don’t get a lot of publicity. However, they happen every weekday when the House is in session. All the seats tend to be full – most of the peers are “on parade”. Some pithy debates do take place.

It is very easy to dismiss the House of Lords but it is one half of our bicameral parliamentary system and has a lot of influence. There is a form of civility in the Lords which does not come over in the Commons during its more active sessions (e.g. PMQs). There is reasonably intelligent debate and some passion. There is also collegiate teamwork. There is very little intervention from the Lord Speaker.

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From our Lords Correspondent: 15-18 October – the phoney war continues…

It increasingly appears as though the Government is a rudderles hulk, limping towards a harbour of dubious safety, and business in the Lords is reflecting that, as a series of Bills, related to Brexit, either are delayed in the Commons or await publication.

Monday‘s main business related to the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to “amend the Mental Capacity Act 2005 in relation to procedures in accordance with which a person may be deprived of liberty where the person lacks capacity to consent, and for connected purposes”. In other words, it …

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The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill reaches the Lords…

Parliament returned to Westminster on Tuesday after the conference recess, and the Lords was immediately presented with one of those challenges it so often rises to, another anti-terrorism Bill, the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, which received its Second Reading.

From the Liberal Democrat benches, Jonathan Marks outlined the four key tests against which the proposals would be judged;

First, what is the purpose of the measure and what is the mischief it seeks to address? Secondly, is the measure necessary to achieve that purpose? Thirdly, is the measure a proportionate response to the mischief, having regard to the restrictions on liberty

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From our Lords Correspondent: 9-11 October – as the summer draws to a close, a young Peer’s thoughts turn to Brexit…

Yes, it’s back, as the end of the Peer show returns to a Parliamentary chamber near you. And this time, I’m going to try to produce a column every week…

The ninety-eight strong Liberal Democrat group returned to battle this week, having shrunk by one more just before the Summer Recess. Ronnie Fearn, after two terms as the MP for Southport, and seventeen years in the Lords, retired under the terms of the 2014 House of Lords Reform Act on 11 July at the age of eighty-seven. No doubt the wear and tear …

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EU Withdrawal Bill: This isn’t over yet

Anyone feeling a bit jaded after today’s events in Parliament?

I mean, honestly, you have at the start of the day a very smug Arron Banks blithely telling anyone who would listen that Leave.EU “led people up the garden path” (that’s lied to you and I).

A few hours later, at the other side of the Parliamentary Estate, MPs fail to adequately hold the Government to account on their atrocious, democracy-undermining, devolution-busting disaster of an EU Withdrawal Bill.

The day had started quite promisingly with the resignation of a Government Minister who then proceeded to buy the Govenrment’s concession and abstained …

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Vision, compassion and inspiration: Roger Roberts’ essential elements for immigration

Roger Roberts spoke in the House of Lords this week on resettling vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers.

Here is his speech:

I appreciate very much the opportunity to take part in the debate introduced by my noble friend Lord Scriven. We all know that, ultimately, the answer lies in Syria and the Middle East, and somehow bringing together a new understanding there. The whole area is the victim of history. Countries like ours, France, Turkey and now Russia want to impose the most individually advantageous solutions on this part of the world. The United Nations appears impotent in the face of

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Christine Jardine introduces Bill to rename House of Lords on International Women’s Day

If Lib Dems had our way, the House of Lords would be reformed into an elected House. Nick Clegg had plans to do this but they didn’t survive the vested interests in the Tory and Labour parties.

There’s no immediate chance of it becoming elected, but a small but significant reform could be enacted.

Today Christine Jardine presented a Bill to change the name of the House of Lords to the House of Peers to better reflect the contribution of women in the chamber.

The current gender-specific House of Lords title is no longer appropriate. It feeds into an outdated and unacceptable narrative that political decision-making is a man’s job.

In this centenary year of female voting and election rights, it is surely time to recognise that our upper chamber is not a male preserve.

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Lib Dems help win Lords concession on citizens’ rights after Brexit

Regular Lib Dem Voice contributor and Lib Dem peer William Wallace has won a major concession from the Government as the EU Withdrawal Bill makes its way through the House of Lords.

Don’t get me wrong, the words EU Withdrawal Bill send a cold shiver through my heart, but anything we can do to make the legislation less awful has to be welcomed.

Under pressure from peers the government stated that they will commit to upholding the rights won from our membership of the EU. This includes upholding key parts of existing rights such as the EU Working Time Directive.

Speaking last night in the Lords on behalf of the government, Lord Duncan of Springbank,

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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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Anthony Lester steps aside from Lib Dem Lords group amid allegations of sexual harassment

Many newspapers report this morning that 81 year old Lib Dem Peer Anthony Lester has stepped down from the Liberal Democrat group in the House of Lords while an investigation takes place by the Lords Standards Commissioner into allegations of sexual harassment.

From the Guardian:

The commissioner for standards lists the peer as the subject of one of its current inquiries. It says an investigation is being carried out into an “alleged breach of the code in relation to personal honour”.

A spokesman for Lester, a prominent QC, said: “Lord Lester has a long and distinguished record as a champion of human

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Sal Brinton talks of being stuck in House of Lords as peer refused to move to let her past

The House of Lords debated the proposed works to the Palace of Westminster this week.

Sal Brinton took advantage of the opportunity to make a plea for the refurbished Parliament to be properly accessible. She highlighted some of the ways in which the current set-up fails disabled people. She also spoke of an experience where one peer wouldn’t actually let her past to leave a Lords debate, making her late for a meeting.

My Lords, in the wonderful elegance of parliamentary language, we have talked much already about “patch and mend”. The restoration and renewal of the buildings and the facilities in the Palace of Westminster are vital and urgent and I believe that we need to use much franker language given the neglect of the past. I support the Motion and oppose the amendment. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, that 20 years ago I was bursar of Selwyn College, Cambridge, when we needed to renew and restore our main court that had seen little—frankly, virtually no—maintenance and progress since it was built a century before. Student rooms still had gas and electric fires and the electric cabling was on its last legs, with much of the urgent work not visible or easily accessible. Does this sound familiar?

Since Selwyn was the poorest college and had very little resource to invest over the years in the buildings, the “patch and mend” approach was clearly failing us. We knew we had to do the work in one go, no matter how disruptive it was. We were also clear that we had to ensure it did not happen again, and that maintenance must be built into the future life of the buildings. This is also true for the Palace of Westminster after this major work. What steps are being taken to ensure that detailed maintenance costs of the building, and not just the ordinary life of the building, are being built into the baseline budget and then ring-fenced? The future of this historic and important building is just too important to get wrong.

When my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester, who cannot be in her place today but I hope will soon be able to rejoin us, gave evidence to the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster, she spoke for many of us who face accessibility issues in the Palace. I am grateful that the Joint Committee has taken the evidence on accessibility from a number of people, but I seek reassurance that there really will be a step change under the full decant option. It is not a “nice to have” option, and now is the best time to do the core work. So I am pleased to see in paragraph 7 of the Motion that there will be,

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Floella Benjamin on trouser suits, pioneering pregnancy at work and fighting for gender and race equality

As recently as 1981, Floella Benjamin was a trailblazer at the BBC. It wasn’t the done thing to be pregnant and be a tv presenter. She did it. In a fascinating speech in the Lords on Monday, she talked about her life and various careers and campaigns. I actually can’t believe where she started off her working life. Enjoy.

My Lords, I rise to speak in this important debate and declare an interest as a woman who, like other noble Baronesses speaking here today, has had a long journey to reach this Chamber. Many of us, as we stand on the summit of life’s mountain looking down at the valley of experience, think, “Who would have thought?”.

In 1966 I started my journey as a lowly clerk in the chief accountant’s office of Barclays Bank, a place dominated by men in grey suits and bowler hats. At that time it was my ambition to become the first black woman bank manager in the country. Sadly, it did not take me long to realise that there is a difference between ambition and fantasy. I did, however, cause uproar when I dared to go to work wearing a trouser suit instead of the obligatory skirt. Many of my female colleagues soon copied me, much to the consternation of our male counterparts.

In 1981, at the height of my career as a regular presenter on BBC children’s programmes, getting pregnant was considered a serious error of judgment. In those days it was almost certain that it would be the end of your career, as you were expected to disappear gracefully, with babe in arms, to a life of wifely domestic servitude. Pregnant women were certainly not to be seen below the waist on television when their pregnancy started to become evident. Fortunately for me I had a visionary producer, Cynthia Felgate, who at one time was in the Guinness book of records for producing the most television programmes in the world. She allowed me to continue working and presenting until I was eight months pregnant. This was unheard of and made national and international news. I was seen by millions of viewers fully pregnant, and once I even stopped mid-dance to declare, “I can feel the baby kicking”—the children watching loved that moment. Other female presenters were grateful for this pivotal moment, because they, too, could become pregnant and carry on working onscreen throughout their pregnancy.

It was around 1968, living through the civil rights movement and the race riots here in Britain, when I started to become conscious that more women’s voices were needed in politics. So I organised political meetings and events for fellow Caribbeans in London who felt excluded from society—something that the legendary Claudia Jones had earlier fought against by establishing the West Indian Gazette and the creation of what we all know now as the Notting Hill Carnival. Because of these influences, over the years I began to speak out more and more: I wrote letters to political leaders and campaigned on issues such as seat belts on school ​buses, diversity in publishing and in the media, and, for 20 years, for a Minister for Children—until we finally got one. It is such a shame that that position has now been downgraded from a full ministerial post. I hope that the Government will reconsider this change and correct this short-sighted mistake.

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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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Dick Newby: Withdrawal Bill exhibits Government’s arrogance and incompetence

As the EU Withdrawal Bill hits the House of Lords, here is Dick Newby’s speech in full:

It is now a year since Your Lordships House began its debate on the Bill triggering Article 50 and 10 months since the Article was triggered.

It is generally agreed that both the withdrawal agreement and the agreement on our future relations with the EU have to be concluded before the end of the year and so we are approximately half way through the entire period available for our exit negotiations. What has been achieved so far?

My Lords, Virtually nothing.

The Government has formally agreed on the future rights of EU citizens living in the UK, but this was something which from day one it said was going to do. It has agreed on a divorce bill – but again the Prime Minister had long been clear the Government was going to do so, even if some members of her Cabinet were not.

And on the status of Northern Ireland it has agreed a form of words which, far from settling the matter, are interpreted in a completely different way in Ireland from the gloss put on them here in London, as I discovered in a range of discussions I had in Dublin last week.

On our future relationship with the EU, beyond bland and meaningless platitudes, we have nothing.

In December we were told that the Cabinet would have agreed on our future trading relationship with the EU during January. Well January has come and virtually gone and there is still no sign of such a decision, or anything approaching one.

And the Prime Minister is now so cowed by a fractious and disunited Cabinet that she daren’t even make a speech on the subject. My Lords there are many Noble Lords in Your Lordships House with longer experience of governments than me, but I doubt whether any of them will have seen a Prime Minister and a Government in such a state of paralysis.

And in the real world, our growth rate has fallen from the highest in the G7 to the lowest, the head of the OBR describes the economy as “weak and stable” and the Government’s own assessments of the impact of Brexit on the economy are uniformly negative.

It is against this background that we begin our consideration of the Withdrawal Bill.  Of course it was never intended to be the Withdrawal Bill. It was supposed to be the Great Repeal Bill. That is until the Commons Clerks object to the use of the word Great. They could equally have objected to the word repeal, because this bill is not a repeal bill. It is a transfer bill, taking the whole bulk of existing EU legislation and turning it into domestic legislation.

ML whilst it is easy to dismiss the kerfuffle about the Bill’s title with a smile, it is very revealing of the Government’s overall approach to the Brexit process. It can be characterised as a combination of arrogance and incompetence which is now threatening the future of our country. And the background ticking of the clock is getting louder by the day. 

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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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Ben Stoneham writes: Lib Dem Lords will hold Government to account on EU Withdrawal Bill

The first major stage of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill will reach the House of Lords next week. I thought this would a good time to explain what the next few weeks will look like in this often ignored corner of Westminster.

Second Reading

The Second Reading of the EU Withdrawal Bill will take place early next week. This is a chance for peers to discuss the issues in the Bill and the processes that the Bill, if passed, would enable – namely, the transcribing of EU law into UK law.

The Second Reading stage is just the first of many in the Lords, and it is not where the bulk of work is done on attempting to change and improve the Bill. Unlike in the Commons the Lords do not traditionally vote on the Second Reading of a Bill.

Some have accused the Liberal Democrat leadership in the Lords, along with the Labour leadership, of guillotining debate on the Bill because we are not supporting Lord Adonis’s call to extend the Second Reading from 2 days to 4 days.  To be very clear about this, I, along with my Labour counterpart, secured early starts on both days of debate next week, giving us an extra 7 hours of debate during Second Reading.  This stage is not where the real work is done on scrutinising the detail of the Bill.

Committee Stage

This is where we will start to consider a whole raft of amendments to the Bill.  We will have many cross-party amendments and we have many Liberal Democrat amendments on issues including on the Single Market and Customs Union, getting people a final say on the deal and clearing up the attempted Tory power grab through Henry VIII powers.  There will be at least 10 days of Committee Stage on the Bill – this is about 70 hours – and the Liberal Democrats will be fighting for more days if more are required.

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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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My Grandad – A tribute to Liberal Party president Lord Evans of Claughton

Growing up, the subject of politics was often on the agenda at family gatherings. However, it was not until I was older that I realised how important and influential my Grandad was within the political arena.

Gruff Evans was brought up in a Welsh-speaking family who resided in Birkenhead on the Wirral. Despite being offered a place at Oxford University, he chose to study law at Liverpool University where he graduated in 1948. After completing National Service as a pilot officer in the Royal Air Force, he established a solicitor’s practice in Liverpool.

Both Gruff’s parents supported the Liberal Party, however they were notoriously divided as his mother was an ‘Asquithian’ Liberal, while his father was a supporter of Lloyd-George. Gruff upheld this Liberal tradition, and to the surprise of the local Tory party, he successfully gained a seat on Birkenhead County Council in 1957 which he subsequently held for twelve years. He then went on to win a seat on Wirral Borough Council in 1973 and led the Liberal Group from 1977 to 1981. Unfortunately, Gruff was less successful in national politics, failing to win at seat in the House of Commons (see here, pg. 22, for more information).

My Grandfather was prominent in the Liberal Party from the 1950s through to the early 1990s. He worked his way up the party ranks, from Chair of the National League of Young Liberals 1960-61, to Chairman of the party’s National Executive, Assembly Committee, and General Election Committee, to attaining the Presidency of the Liberal Party in 1977. During his time as President, Gruff had to confront the controversy surrounding the former leader Jeremy Thorpe which unintentionally brought him into the media spotlight and he subsequently found himself being a familiar figure in the national news during the week of the Liberal Party annual conference.

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarSean Hagan 21st Feb - 9:08pm
    @Jen: well said! However, Richard O’Neill clearly has his own - poorly concealed and strongly pro-Brexit - agenda.
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  • User AvatarPeter Martin 21st Feb - 9:00pm
    @ Ian Hurdley, Well, if the UK is out then you can start planning to get us back in I suppose! Good luck with that!...
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  • User AvatarEd Shepherd 21st Feb - 8:36pm
    A lot of commentators on politics are overestimating the appeal of individual MPs and underestimating the staying power of long established political parties. These defecting...
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    A group of LD peers had a meeting last summer with top Honda management at UK/EU level, as part of the discreet lobbying of politicians...