Tag Archives: Parliament

SNP stunt kills off chance of devolution debate

Well, I suppose a bit of drama at PMQs brightens up the day, but what exactly was the point of the SNP’s mass walkout and their leader depriving himself of a vote as one of the most crucial pieces of legislation ever to go through the Commons. Not only that, but he had an application in for an emergency debate on the devolution related issues that everyone except the Scottish Tories are livid about. That fell because he was no longer allowed to be there. Presumably the SNP decided that a walkout would get them more attention on the news than a 3 hour debate. It did, but when this news cycle is over, what have they actually achieved? The square root of bugger all, to be honest.

At the heart of all the fuss is the issue of what happens to powers that were enacted by the EU when/if we leave. There is no agreement between the two governments about what should come to Westminster and what should come to Holyrood. The Scottish people don’t seem to give two hoots either way, to be honest. However, the Scottish Parliament voted by a large majority (everyone except the Tories) for the Scottish Government’s Continuity Bill rather than give consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill. This means that the two Governments are not in agreement and the Tories think that the way to resolve that is for Westminster just to dictate what happens. That is simply not acceptable.

However, there isn’t likely to be a settlement that satisfies the SNP. Their prime motivation is to drive as many wedges as they can between the two Parliaments. The clue is in their name. Everything they do is about trying to get independence.

So today, Ian Blackford, the SNP leader, had a justified go at May at PMQs and then pulled one of the biggest diversionary Parliamentary stunts in the book – moving a procedural motion for Parliament to sit in private. That would have meant that the public galleries would have been emptied and that the broadcast would have been stopped, but only if MPs had voted for it. Speaker John Bercow decided to flambe the situation rather than calm it down. He was all over the place on the procedure. First of all he said that the vote should happen straight away. Then he said he was minded to have it at the end of PMQs. Then he gave the SNP a choice. They all said they wanted it there and then and he insisted it would happen later. If he had just held the vote in the middle of PMQs, the SNP would have lost it and normal service would have been restored. Instead, Bercow went over the top and threw Blackford out. I know I’m always saying that Bercow should be throwing people out, but not like this. I meant the people who jeer and behave like toddlers.

The result was that Bercow’s dithering gave the SNP much bigger headlines than they were expecting. The Speaker isn’t usually so ignorant of procedure. You might be forgiven for thinking that he knew exactly what he was doing. He certainly seemed quite chuffed with himself.

But this excitement will die down. And we’ll be no further forward.

Tim Farron has form for this sort of stuff and he thought they’d made a mistake:

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Will MPs finally get parental leave?

Jo Swinson is expecting her second baby this Summer. As Minister, she made sure that everyone else had the option to share their parental leave with their partner in a way that suits them.

Men and women will no longer be tied to what history dictates their traditional roles should be with mum holding the baby while dad goes out to work.  Parenting is a shared endeavour and now dads have the opportunity to spend more time with their new baby in those vital early weeks.

Shared parental leave is my proudest achievement in government, and I’m delighted that it is

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60 years of women in the House of Lords

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

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

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

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Layla Moran: Public Accounts Committee report shows Government in Brexit chaos

In a report published today, the influential Commons Public Accounts Committee slams the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s approach to Brexit. The Chair, Meg Hillier, had this to say.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy appears to be operating in a parallel universe where urgency is an abstract concept with no bearing on the Brexit process.

The Department is responsible for around a fifth of the work streams the Government must complete as the UK leaves the EU. It is an extremely important, challenging and time-sensitive workload.

Yet the Department told us it had not re-prioritised its overall programme of work, had not begun procurement for around a dozen essential digital systems and could not provide vital information about its workforce.

We have grave concerns about this apparent complacency, compounded by the lack of transparency on the Department’s progress with what in some cases will be critical projects.

Our Layla Moran is a member of the Committee, said that all that BEIS had done was add to the sense of chaos surrounding Brexit:

A functioning business and energy department is crucial to the future success of our economy, the fact that there is no confidence about its preparedness for Brexit is deeply concerning.

The Liberal Democrats have asked BEIS on several occasions how it will spend allocated funds on Brexit but so far we have not been given any substantive information.

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Christine Jardine on how a liking for curly fries can influence the ads you see

The Data Protection Bill is going through the House of Commons at the moment. Christine Jardine and Ed Davey were leading for the Liberal Democrats.

The best speeches in the Commons are those where rather than stick to their carefully prepared and researched notes, the MP gets incensed by the twaddle being spouted by the other side and just goes for them.

Christine had intended to concentrate on personal data, but the former journalist was so annoyed by the Tories’ abandonment of Leveson 2 and their lame justifications thereof that she just went for them. She understands perfectly well that it is possible to do both good investigative journalism and follow good practice.

She then touched on how use of our personal data impacts on us. I’m slightly alarmed by what she said because I loathe and detest curly fries, yet, apparently, those who like them apparently have higher IQs and, if they express a preference for them could end up with being bombarded with adverts for MENSA. She used this and a deeply personal one to illustrate the extent to which our innocently expressed preferences can be used.

Here’s the whole speech.

It is fair to say that my party broadly supports much of this Bill, which is a vital component in our continued and smooth co-operation with the EU, should Brexit go ahead, but that support is not without qualification, which I shall come to shortly. As an EU member, we are assumed to be compliant with the requirements of the Union, but as a third party we will be required to demonstrate a suitable standard of protections. Failure to do this would jeopardise the co-operation that even the most zealous Brexiteers, I should imagine, want to maintain in defence and security.

The Data Protection Bill and the general data protection regulation bring existing best practice into law. This is not an onerous burden; it is a natural progression for information rights in the digital age. However, we have reservations about some aspects that we will discuss later. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) intends to speak about the proposed immigration exemptions. I had ​intended to concentrate on areas that deal with our personal data and the help that industry and charity organisations will need to cope with this regulation, but as the debate has progressed, I have become increasingly concerned about the Government’s intention to overthrow the amendment by the House of Lords. The Data Protection Bill is an important vehicle through which to bring forward recommendations from the Leveson inquiry, as this House promised to do. Data processing for investigative journalism purposes must strike a balance between press freedom and the individual’s right to privacy.

As a journalist, I value freedom of speech and freedom of the press as much as any other person. As a journalist, I was always impressed by and proud of colleagues who uncovered miscarriages of justice, political corruption or malpractice in India, for example. The freedom of the press to scrutinise and hold to account those in power—as the hon. Member for Dudley South said, the relationship between journalists and politicians should not be an easy one—is vital in a democracy. It must not, however, be at the cost of the individual—to their privacy in times of grief or hardship, to their hard-won personal and professional reputations—or mean chasing them when they have done nothing wrong other than perhaps disagree with the stance of a newspaper. That cannot be the way.

Newspapers in this country are not free of regulation. Broadcasting has to apply the standards set by Ofcom. Newspapers have to abide by the law of libel, contempt of court and the criminal code. All those things are necessary, but in an increasingly digital age it is necessary to ensure that all publications abide by data protection regulations. It is more than 20 years since Calcutt warned the press that they were drinking in the last chance saloon. Well, they have had their drink and frankly they have been thrown out. The Press Council failed, the Press Complaints Commission failed, and this House promised to bring forward a statutorily underpinned body. Self-regulation with statutory underpinning—it is good enough for every other industry, it is good enough for the Law Society, so why are we not prepared to follow through for the press? The vast majority of journalists are honourable. As the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) said, we are talking about a small minority, but that small minority can do immense damage to individual’s lives—we saw it with the McCanns, with Milly Dowler and with the Hillsborough inquiry—and it is not good enough for us to say they are doing a good enough job; they patently are not, which is why I hope the House will uphold the amendments passed in the other place.

I turn now to what I had intended to speak about: the rights of individuals and the problem many have in talking about data and regulation. It sounds like a technical issue—something that does not affect them directly in their everyday lives. Algorithms are a mystery that many of us have no desire to investigate, never mind solve, yet they are a major influence in our increasingly technology-driven and social media-driven lives. Data harvesting can sneak into every corner of our existence, undertaken by public and private organisations—those we deal with and many that just want to deal with us, or use what they know about us. The information we provide tells them how to sell us everything from cars and mortgages to life insurance and funerals. As more and more information about our daily lives is digitally recorded, ​it is important that individuals have more control. With the passing of the Bill we should all be able to rest assured that the information is being used both ethically and responsibly, including by the national and regional press, and that we have access to ensure that it is accurate, whether it is available to individuals or public or private bodies.

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

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

Here’s her speech in full.

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

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

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

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A rare bright spot in the Brexit nightmare

There have been precious few bright moments since the Brexit nightmare started. In fact, I can’t really remember any that didn’t involve being at an anti Brexit protest with other pro-Europeans.

I seriously didn’t expect the Government to lose tonight.  I thought that Tory rebels would express concern but ultimately line up behind Theresa May and David Davis. I felt it was more likely given that May is on the up at the moment. Maybe I was wrong, though. It’s probably easier to rebel on a good day than inflict what may be a fatal act on a government that you support.

I’d got in from work just as the vote was being called and the commentary was all about people thought to be certain Tory rebels now abstaining. My heart sank. But then when the tellers lined up, the opposition side started cheering. A tight vote had gone the right way.

The Government lost by 4 votes. 309 people backed Dominic Grieve’s amendment, 305, including Labour MPs like Kate Hoey and Frank Field, voted with the Government.

My reservation is that there is very little point in Parliament having a meaningful vote if Jeremy Corbyn simply lines up his people to support the Tories in implementing a really unpleasant and painful brexit. Labour did what it was supposed to do tonight, but every time it’s had the chance to do something it says it believes in, like back the single market,  its MPs sit on their hands.

Will they do the right thing as the issues kicked so deftly into the long grass have to be confronted and resolved? Who knows? At least they have the chance, I suppose.

And what of the Lib Dem reaction to the Government defeat? Tom Brake used some novel phrase we’ve never heard before about taking back control:

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Sanctuary in Parliament

iving a voice to those with no voice that anyone in a position of power will listen to, is surely one of the key things we believe in as Liberal Democrats.

There was the opportunity for just this at Sanctuary in Parliament last week.

Asylum seekers and refugees from throughout the country were able to go to Parliament to meet with their MPs, and tell them of the impact on their lives of living in poverty, or being destitute, and not having the right to work.

I had gone, with a non-political hat, with a team from Tees Valley, including 2 people seeking asylum who are awaiting decisions, one asylum seeker who is destitute, 2 refugees.

The MPs had been invited to attend beforehand, and with a fair bit of chasing up nearly all of those from Tees Valley did.

Also four Lib Dem Peers, Brian Paddick, Roger Roberts (and his researcher Helen Byrne), Sally Hamwee and Shas Sheehan came along, and we met Sal Brinton there too.  Ed Davey sent his caseworker as he was unable to attend himself, and Layla Moran’s researcher came as she was unwell.

One of our delegates spoke from the platform with a very moving and beautifully delivered speech.  All met with the parliamentarians, and told their stories, specifically relating to the theme, and generally got involved.

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Cut the Electoral Corruption!

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

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

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

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Christine Jardine MP writes…We are simply the temporary guardians of their future

‘No taxation without representation’ was the call to arms which shook Westminster to its very core, and drove the American Revolution.

And yet nearly 250 years later here we are again. In this country today 16 and 17 year olds can pay tax and national insurance, and yet they have no say, no representation in how that money they contribute to the public purse is spent.

They can also get married and join the armed forces, but they cannot vote and have no say in our society’s decisions on their future. Yet, nobody has provided a reasonable explanation as to why. There have been plenty of excuses but no explanations.

It frustrates me because I have witnessed first-hand what a difference it makes to our politics, and what a contrast there is when sixteen and seventeen year olds join the debate.

On the eve of the European elections in May 2014, I spent the evening with a group of my daughter’s friends.

It was her 16th birthday. They knew I was involved in both the European elections and the forthcoming Scottish Independence Referendum campaign and wanted to chat.

The conversations I had that night were some of the most enlightened, challenging and informed of the entire European or Independence referendum campaigns.

At one point, I noticed that even though there was a constant stream of questions a few of the people were also all on their phones.

I was on the brink of being disappointed, when I discovered that they were actually texting other friends who were sending back their own questions to ask.

Imagine that? Young people so desperately keen to understand and be involved in the democratic process.

All of them engaged, all of them informed, all of them keen to make a positive difference and yet none of them entitled to vote the next day.

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Brexit, due process and the role of Parliament

Liberal Democrats should be leading the fight in both Houses of Parliament by demanding that a proper legislative process is followed which assesses the benefits, costs and risks of Brexit but also ensures that Brexit, if there has to be one, can only occur if, concurrently, the pitfalls in the constitutional framework exposed during the last 18 months are satisfactorily addressed.

A specific set of overarching rules would need to be put in place ideally before any Brexit can reasonably be implemented.

We should explain to the general public that Brexit is not only bad for the economy, our jobs and our rights but that it would be inappropriate to impose Brexit unless it is done alongside constitutional reform.

We are confident that voters will understand and support us if we tell them that our mission is to oppose Brexit and to ensure that Brexit, if there has to be one, is dependent upon due process and on a new constitutional framework.

The lesson learnt from Brexit: which constitutional reform

The Brexit process has exposed the pitfalls and deficiencies in the role of Parliament and the current constitutional framework.

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What’s going on in our Parliaments this week?

So MSPs and MPs head back to Holyrood and Westminster this week. For MPs, it’ll be a short-lived two week session before another three week break for Conference recess. AMs in Cardiff have another two weeks off. MEPs have their plenary session in Strasbourg next week.

To say that the agenda was light for this week would be to over-estimate things.

On Tuesday, we have all the remaining stages of the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from non domestic rates) Bill. I might be wrong but I can’t see this being too hotly controversial.

Wednesday has questions, including PMQs and an adjournment debate on knife crime. Thursday gets a bit more contentious when we come to the Repeal Bill which has the first day of its second reading.

There are some interesting Westminster Hall debates including one on banning letting agency fees to tenants – a long-standing Lib Dem policy pushed for by, among others, Lib Dem peer Olly Grender.

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Alistair Carmichael MP writes…The truth about those “secret Tory talks”

A couple of weeks ago I was due to meet with one of my counterparts in the Conservative whips office. These meetings are routine and are not normally the subject of comment.  This particular meeting was intended to deal with allocation of offices between the parties for MPs to use. In fact the meeting did not go ahead although I DID meet the Government Chief Whip’s Private Secretary (known inside the bubble as the usual channels).

The meeting that did not happen (mundane though it was) somehow found its way into the Daily Mail who proceeded to speculate wildly about whether the meeting was indeed a sign that the Lib Dems were now cosying up to the Tories to stitch up a secret coalition deal.

Of course at that time the Conservatives were trying to negotiate a deal with the DUP, negotiations were going badly (due mostly to their own mismanagement).  Briefing the press in this way was a mark of the desperation with which they were seized.

So when I read in the Times yesterday that Tim Farron’s chief of staff Ben Williams had met with his No 10 counterpart Gavin Barwell last Thursday I took it with a pinch of salt. Not least because I knew that Ben was in Leeds on Thursday.

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Christine Jardine finds a way to raise concerns about job losses

Last week, the Royal Bank of Scotland announced that it was cutting 443 jobs in Britain. This is of great concern to our new Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West, Christine Jardine, for three reasons. First of all, the bank’s HQ is in her constituency, secondly local businesses might be affected by the quality of service and, thirdly, could this be yet another effect of Brexit.

She wanted to find a way to raise this in the House, but how? She wasn’t down to make her Maiden Speech until Wednesday and it couldn’t wait until then. Back in the day, you couldn’t say anything until you had done that, but there was a way. She used the device of a point of order. That way, it is on the Parliamentary record that she raised it quickly. Speaker John Bercow knew exactly what she was up to but both he and Brexit Secretary David Davis praise her ingenuity. Watch the exchange here. The text is below.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As a new Member, I wonder whether the Chair can advise on the most effective way of raising the worrying news from my constituency today that the Royal Bank of Scotland has announced more than 400 job losses, to ascertain the potentially serious economic implications and whether this is in any way connected to the uncertainties surrounding Brexit.

Mr Speaker: The hon. Lady is undoubtedly a new Member, but she is clearly not a novice in finding very public opportunities to air her concerns on behalf of her constituents. The short answer is that she has of course already aired that concern through the device—or ruse in this case—of a perhaps slightly bogus point of order. However, my advice to her is that she should seek to question Ministers either orally at the appropriate time—there are many such opportunities, on which her colleagues can advise her—or through written questions. If, however, she wishes to dilate on the matter more fully and to hear a Minister do so in response, the mechanism available to her is an Adjournment debate. She should wend her way to the Table Office, where she will find highly qualified and very conscientious staff, who are only too happy to advise her. I just have a sense that we are going to hear further from the hon. Lady on this matter, and probably before very long.

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Tom Brake’s quiet revolution – but there’s so much more that should change about the Commons

Tom Brake achieved a bit of a baby step towards the 21st Century for MPs this week when he had the audacity to ask a Minister a question while not wearing a tie. Heaven forfend!

Conservative MP Peter Bone grassed him up to the Speaker and asked if the rules had changed. John Bercow replied that as long as the attire was “business-like” it was fine. No tie was necessary.

 So far as the Chair is concerned, I must say to the hon. Gentleman, although I fear this will gravely disquiet him, that it seems to me that as long as a Member arrives in the House in what might be thought to be business-like attire, the question of whether that Member is wearing a tie is not absolutely front and centre stage. So am I minded not to call a Member simply because that Member is not wearing a tie? No. I think there has always been some discretion for the Chair to decide what is seemly and proper. Members should not behave in a way that is disrespectful of their colleagues or of the institution, but do I think it is essential that a Member wears a tie? No. Opinions on the hon. Gentleman’s choice of ties do tend to vary, and it has to be said that the same could be said of my own.

This is of course not the first time that Lib Dem MPs have been at the forefront of such change. It was Duncan Hames who took his baby son through the division lobby back in 2014.

So that’s all well and good, but what about addressing some of the bigger issues about the way the Commons operates? There is so much else that needs to change to bring the Parliament closer to the people. Anyone watching the proceedings for the first time would not feel that they had any relevance in the real world.

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WATCH: Christine Jardine’s maiden speech

Christine Jardine made her maiden speech this afternoon. The text will follow when it is available.

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WATCH: Layla Moran’s maiden speech

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

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Time for a coalition…of common sense

The General Election has left most Liberal Democrats feeling flat and hugely disappointed. We had hoped to create a springboard in the earlier Local Government elections, but fell short. (In many cases, like mine, frustratingly close, but still short.)

So now, with our commitment to enter no deals with either Theresa May nor Jeremy Corbyn, the party will continue to struggle to find any independent influence.

A weak and wobbly minority government, with its damaged, exposed Prime Minister and with an official opposition living in financial La-La Land, mean that the Liberal Democrats should be at least seen as a viable alternative opposition.

Instead, we have (in sad circumstances) lost our leader, and don’t have a universally appealing candidate with which to replace him. The Tories are likely to change their leader before their conference in October, but only have appalling candidates with which to replace her. Bizarre, isn’t it, that Corbyn is the most stable party leader!

And if there is another General Election, what likelihood is a vastly different outcome? Labour would say they would get elected. But that ignores that many former Labour supporters held their noses at the Polls to stop May, not to support Corbyn. Who wants another Election, only to return another hung parliament? (Not Brenda from Bristol, that’s for sure.)

There is one key issue for this Parliament – Brexit. We now have Phillip Hammond, with increased influence, proposing a much “softer” approach. Indeed, between him and Keir Starmer, there is now little to differentiate.

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It’s Jo v Bo as Lib Dems announce Shadow Cabinet

Tim Farron has tonight announced a new Shadow Cabinet to make use of the talents of the newly expanded Parliamentary Party

Jo Swinson was always going to get one of the big 3 jobs, and it will be her mission to bring Boris Johnson down to earth from his flights of fancy.

Vince, predictably, is back in his role as Shadow Chancellor and Tom Brake has an incredibly tough act to follow as he takes on the Brexit brief which was formerly held by Nick Clegg.

Ed Davey gets Home Affairs and Norman Lamb sticks with his field of expertise of Health.

One big omission is someone in the Commons to speak up on Welsh matters as we lost our only Welsh MP last week. Christine Humphreys will be in charge of this portfolio from the Lords.

The new MPs are playing to their strengths, too. Former journalist Christine Jardine gets Culture, Media and Sport. Former teacher Layla Moran gets education and Jamie Stone gets Scotland. Wera Hobhouse will be speaking on Refugees, Communities and local government.

The team also has a majority of women – 16 out of the 30.

Here is the full list:

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Alistair Carmichael is to be the Lib Dem Chief Whip

In an interview with his local paper The Orcadian, Alistair Carmichael ruled himself out of standing for the leadership, saying:

“It is difficult enough juggling the demands of having a family in Orkney and living between there, London and Shetland, without making it more complication.

“I think there are other things that I can do that add value to the party’s efforts, rather than be leader.

He revealed what that would involve, too. He’s going to go back to the role he had during the early Coalition years – as Chief Whip.

That role will be very different now. Then, he had to …

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Lib Dems to vote against Article 50 “stitch up”

Unsurprisingly, the Liberal Democrats have confirmed that the party’s MPs will vote against any motion which backs the unconditional invocation of Article 50. Tonight’s vote will be a test for the SNP, too. Will they back the Liberal Democrat amendment calling for:

 the Prime Minister commit to a referendum on the final deal following the negotiations and prior to the UK departing the EU.

Tim Farron said:

We cannot support a parliamentary stitch up that would deny the people a vote on the final deal.

An amended motion would fail to include any meaningful commitment from the Conservative Brexit government to produce the equivalent of a White or Green Paper setting out its position on such fundamental questions as to whether it wants Britain to remain in the Single Market.

I call on the Labour Party to remember it calls itself the Official Opposition. It should not cave in to Conservative attempts to deny the public a final say on the most important question facing the country in a generation. It is appalling that a so-called opposition could allow itself to be muzzled by the Government on an issue that will face this country for years to come.

It is now clear that the Liberal Democrats are the real opposition to the Conservative Brexit government, striving to keep Britain open, tolerant and united.

At the moment, the SNP seems to be revelling in the constitutional mayhem. Willie Rennie called on them to back a referendum on the deal:

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Why would Alex Salmond nominate a key Brexiteer for Commons Brexit Committee chair?

This afternoon, we’ll find out who will be leading the Parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit as MPs vote for the chairs of the new select committee on Brexit.

It’s a race between Labour’s Hilary Benn, who campaigned for Remain, and Brexiteer Kate Hoey who does not think that membership of the single market is an achievable outcome.

From the Herald:

Labour’s Hilary Benn, the former shadow foreign secretary, is tipped to become chairman of the committee, which will have 21 members, including 10 Tories and MPs from six opposition parties; the average committee normally has 11 members.

But Ms Hoey, who represents Vauxhall in London, has also thrown her hat in the ring and, among those nominating her, is the former SNP leader. The onetime sports minister has said she wants Britain to have the fullest possible access to the single market but argues that taking back full control of immigration is incompatible with membership.

It is quite bizarre that Alex Salmond has chosen to nominate Kate Hoey given that the SNP has (rightly) been very vocal about the importance of continuing membership of the single market for the whole UK and for Scotland in particular. Why on earth would be support someone who doesn’t support that outcome?

Lib Dem Peer Jeremy Purvis had this to say on the matter:

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Towards a new, radical and distinctive LibDem platform

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I would like to contribute to the ‘radical and distinctive’ LibDem platform of the Radical Association.  We should be proud of our devolution process, freely achieved without unrest and violence.  But it has created inconsistencies underlined by the Scottish and EU referendums:

  • We are a Union of four countries, each theoretically equal within the Union…
  • Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have a Parliament and First Minster
  • England does not have a Parliament of its own, or a First Minister
  • England does ‘host’ the ‘national Parliament’ to which the others also send

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What’s on in our Parliaments this week? 12-16 September 2016

Scottish Parliament 3What are our MPs, MSPs, MEPs and AM’s going to be talking about this coming week?

Holyrood

On Tuesday, MSPs hear a statement on how the SNP government intends to resolve the mess they’ve made on agricultural payments.

There is also a debate on housing. Given that the government moved the goalposts on house building and the number of houses built for social rent has fallen well below both need and target, there is a great deal of jelly to be nailed to the wall.

On Wednesday there is a debate on Brexit and the UK’s negotiating position.

Domestic abuse law comes under scrutiny on Thursday

The Senedd

The Welsh Assembly is back this week.

On Tuesday they will debate substance misuse, implications of Brexit and First Minister Carwyn Jones will face his first question session.

Wednesday is an opposition day, with Plaid, UKIP and the Tories each having an hour for debate on a subject of their choice.

Westminster

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What’s on in our Parliaments this week? 5-9 September 2016

Scottish Parliament 3So, it’s term-time again. After a frenetic and dramatic end to the last parliamentary session, everyone has done their best to make sure it looks like nothing is happening over the past 6 weeks.

That’s all over now, though. The Westminster and Scottish parliaments are back in session this week.  Wales has another week off.

It’s time to get to grips with the major issues around Brexit. That’s going to be the only game in town for quite some time.

Holyrood

There are three major items of business this week. The first is a two day debate on the SNP Government’s plans for the year ahead.

They will include a Social Security Bill to take account of the new powers coming to Holyrood. The government has also stated that its key priorities are educational attainment (which it intends to tackle by national testing rather than more resources) and the economy. They will also be introducing measures on warm homes and climate change.

Nicola Sturgeon will be making a statement on Scotland’s place in Europe. Last week, Willie Rennie said that she was talking too much about independence. Will she offer any other approach?

Finally, there will be an update on the controversial named person scheme which was ruled illegal earlier this Summer. How will the government tackle the requirements of the court judgement?

Westminster

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Tom Brake fights for the rights of EU citizens in the UK

The 3 million EU citizens currently resident in the UK must not be bartered over in this country’s exit negotiations with the EU. They must not be treated as political pawns, or like children caught up in their parents’ divorce. So said Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake as he introduced his “EU Citizens in the UK (Right to stay) Bill to the Commons this week. The Bill has support from MPs from Labour, SDLP, SNP and Greens.

I’m glad to see Lib Dems calling the Brexit vote for what it is – a disaster. Someone needs to point out that we are on the edge of a massive precipice and the tanking of the pound is just the start. Already business is starting to feel the pinch as investors delay investing in the UK. The collapse of the travel firm Lowcostravel is just one example of jobs being lost as a result of the Brexit vote. People haven’t yet even begun to experience the effects of Brexit and when they do, they need to see who was speaking out from the start.

I’m very proud that it is our lot who are working to preserve the rights of people who are already worrying about their future. It is only fair that those who have made their lives here are allowed to stay and not have the goalposts moved. Imagine if you have moved here, fallen in love, established a social network, a family, a career, in this country. Would you like to be treated that way?

Here is Tom’s speech in full:

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Should Parliament put a stop to Brexit?

Most suggestions for resolving the “What the (insert expletive of choice) do we do now?” conundrum tend to involve various degrees of access to the Single Market or a General Election. Few are brave enough to suggest that Parliament simply declines to invoke Article 50. Until now.

Professor A C Grayling, Master of the New College of Humanities in London, has written to all MPs telling them that they have a responsibility not to support any such motion. He lists several reasons, not least the paucity of the campaign, the likelihood of the break up of the UK if we leave the EU and the fact that the threshold for such a huge change was set way too low. He has a point. You can’t change the number of places on a toddler group committee without a 2/3 majority. When the party conference considers a vast swathe of constitutional amendments in September, they will need a 2/3 majority to pass. With hindsight, you have to wonder why on earth we let such a major change through on a simple majority.

Harvard’s Professor Kenneth Rogoff agrees that the threshold is too low:

In terms of durability and conviction of preferences, most societies place greater hurdles in the way of a couple seeking a divorce than Prime Minister David Cameron’s government did on the decision to leave the EU. Brexiteers did not invent this game; there is ample precedent, including Scotland in 2014 and Quebec in 1995. But, until now, the gun’s cylinder never stopped on the bullet. Now that it has, it is time to rethink the rules of the game.

Grayling isn’t a fan of referenda anyway:

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Tom Brake MP writes…It’s time to reform renting

Recently at my surgery I met a distressed young woman who came to see me with her mother. Repairs are outstanding on their rented property. The landlord is refusing to sort them out while at the same time putting pressure on them to leave their flat. She didn’t know where to go or what to do.

This is a familiar story and it is no exaggeration to say that we have a national emergency in housing. There are vast numbers of people living in fear and uncertainty and in 2016 that is simply unacceptable.

We clearly have a rental sector which is broken. Many people are spending over half their disposable income on rent and yet a third of homes fail to meet the Government’s decent homes standard, with over 60% of renters having experienced either damp, mould, leaking roofs or windows, electrical hazards, animal infestation or gas leaks, according to a recent survey commissioned by Shelter.

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Does a perceived distrust of politicians justify redistributing an image meme that was discredited 14 months ago?

Meme debatesThe image meme above went the rounds of social media in November 2014. It was roundly and conclusively fisked by Isabel Hardman on the Spectator Coffee House blog. I noticed that the meme was getting re-distributed a week ago. I pointed out to the people sharing this meme that it had been thoroughly discredited well over a year ago. Interestingly, several replied saying that “most people” think that’s how parliament behaves so it’s not a problem distributing it.

My indignation hit about twelve on the Richter scale.

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What’s on in our Parliaments this week?

Scottish Parliament 3What are our MPs, MSPs, MEPs and AM’s going to be talking about this coming week?

Holyrood

Women will be a key focus of the Scottish Parliament this week with a debate on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against women on Wednesday which starts 16 days of activism lasting till Human Rights Day on 10 December.

There is also a debate on how welfare reform affects women on Thursday.

On Wednesday, controversy about the SNP Government’s decision to tender for the contract to run Clyde and Hebridean ferry services will be highlighted in a Labour Opposition Day Debate. No doubt Liam McArthur and Tavish Scott will want to mention the fundamental unfairness which has seen the Scottish Government cut ferry fares for islanders off the west coast, but not for the northern isles.  

The Senedd

AMs will be debating affordable housing, with North Wales Lib Dem Aled Roberts tabling some radical amendments calling for the planned rate of housebilding to be doubled. 

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