Tag Archives: Parliament

LibLink: Vince Cable: Ministers must properly address the Special Educational Needs and Disability funding crisis

Vince Cable is holding a Westminster Hall debate on funding for special educational needs and disability this afternoon.

In an article for Politics Home, he outlines the impact on families when they don’t have the support that they need…

A single mum in a small flat with a child who needs constant attention while she tries to look after other children, and hold down a job to make ends meet; a couple who have sacrificed careers, holidays and a social life to care for a child with severe, complex needs, seeing the child growing up to an adulthood of continued dependence while they themselves are ageing and their own relationship is falling apart. There are numerous variations of these.

Of course, there are also happier stories.  Stories where support provided in school or via the local authority or health service makes all the difference.  But for every family who does not get the support they need, there is an unacceptable impact for parents and children alike.

Local authorities are under huge financial stress, however:

At a human level a painful conflict results between parents who want the best for their children (and have the law on their side) and local authorities who want to do their best but are under financial stress after years of painful cuts. More and more requests for EHCPs are being declined or delayed, and funding cuts have led to reductions in the specialist teachers and educational psychologists who provided expert advice to schools teaching SEND pupils. Rationing has taken the form of foot-dragging over ‘statements’, now ‘care plans’.  And attempts to mandate adequate local schooling rather than what parents consider to be superior specialist schools, often leading to tribunals, with additional cost, emotional stress and anger.

So is it just a question of more money?

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Brexit votes open thread

I’ve come home this evening with a very heavy heart. It’s more like the Spoilt Brat of Legislatures than the Mother of Parliaments, isn’t it? The debate this afternoon has been profoundly depressing, particularly the early stages which was more of a bunfight than anything else. Good job they weren’t debating anything absolutely essential to our existence, isn’t it?

There are only a few willing to talk about how the Emperor is stark naked.

While our lot are fighting the good fight inside, Welsh Lib Dem Leader Jane Dodds is in Parliament Square:

On Facebook, I discover that several of my friends have received literature from Wetherspooons spouting nonsense about Brexit. There is a bit of me that is pleased that Tim Martin’s money will be wasted in Edinburgh.

Anyway, I’ve opened a bottle of red and am watching the events of the evening unfold.

Key votes will be on Yvette Cooper’s amendment to extend Article 50 for 9 months and Graham Brady’s to find some unicorns to patrol the Irish border.

It’s going to be a long night evening of votes – but there is some hope at the end. Layla Moran’s bill to repeal the Vagrancy Act will be debated when it’s all over.

So this is the Government’s motion:

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Confidence trick

There were many times during this afternoon’s Vote of No Confidence debate when I wanted to throw something at the television. I didn’t, because the only things close by were expensive and belonged to my employer.

This country is facing the biggest crisis since World War 2 and the Government and Opposition spend the afternoon slinging insults at each other, pantomime style. When we face a no-deal fall off a cliff which will kill people. Fiddling and burning or what?

It was hardly the stuff of Gladstone, of Lloyd George, of Churchill as Jeremy Corbyn finally moved his motion of no confidence. The Government happily gave it five hours of debate. It was only obliged to give an hour and a half, but wasting time is all it’s got at the moment. The Conservative benches also got to be the most united they have been since last July.

I know that Vince signed Corbyn’s motion of no confidence. He kind of had to. I mean, if you’re asked if you have confidence in the government that brought you Windrush, the hostile environment, the rape clause, the benefit freeze, the disastrous implementation of Universal Credit and that’s before you even get to the Brexit clusterbourach, then the only possible answer is “no flipping way.”

However, I’d have amended it to say I have no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition either. I can’t actually remember a time when the Government and the Opposition have been so simultaneously useless.

Apparently, Corbyn is going to keep laying down motions of no confidence as a distraction from having to take a position on the People’s Vote and May thinks she can get away with putting tweaked versions of her deal to the Commons. Does anyone get the irony here? They are happy to keep asking the same questions while stubbornly denying the people the chance to mark the Government’s homework.

Alistair Carmichael confronted Corbyn beautifully on the issue during his speech:

What should we do if Corbyn keeps putting down vexatious motions of no confidence? Well, to be honest, we have to vote for them. If we don’t, that’ll be the one time Corbyn will have got the DUP on side. After that disaster in the Summer we simply daren’t give Labour the chance to say that we backed the Tories.

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Christine Jardine presents bill to allow asylum seekers to work

Yesterday, Christine Jardine presented a Bill which would allow asylum seekers to work after 3 months.

From The Guardian

Jardine’s asylum seekers (permission to work) bill, if passed into law, would allow asylum seekers to work after three months of lodging their claim.

It has the backing of the Lift the Ban coalition, which has published research showing asylum seekers blocked from working in the UK could make a net contribution of £42m to the economy if restrictive rules were lifted.

Jardine said: “Right now, banning the vast majority of asylum seekers from seeking employment costs the taxpayer millions in housing and support payments. It also forces people who have risked everything to come here to live on the very periphery of society.

“Being denied the right to work, and to put food on the table for you and your family, is cruel and undignified.

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LibLink: Layla Moran: MPs should not get Christmas off in the middle of this Brexit crisis

MPs should be in Parliament sorting out the Brexit crisis, argues Lib Dem MP Layla Moran in an article for Times Red Box (£). She put up the text on her Facebook page:

It’s time to cancel Christmas. Well, for MPs at least.

I’ve been struggling to put into words my anger and frustration at this clustershambles of a government and this inept official opposition over the past few days.

In the real world outside this Westminster bubble, any company facing such an existential crisis would not allow its executives time off. Let’s not forget that we are less than 100 days away from an event so theoretically cataclysmic in the case of no deal that soldiers have been put on standby to prepare for it.

People understandably expect us to be in the office and sorting things out — Christmas or no Christmas. It is time for MPs to step up and get this national crisis sorted.

Leaving this crisis unresolved until January makes parliament look so inept and out of touch to the voters who rightly expect better. Billions of pounds is being spent by the government on preparing for a no deal and as businesses, the NHS and other public services start to put in place no-deal contingencies, parliament could not look any more out of touch — taking weeks off for Christmas while the fire burns all around us.

Liberal Democrats demand better — by having these debates and the meaningful vote now. If that means we have to vote between Christmas and new year, or even on Christmas Day itself, then so be it.

It is worth saying that claims that the choice is between Theresa May’s deal or no deal are a lie. A no-deal scenario can and will be stopped. We can move to a public vote on the deal at any time and moreover parliament can revoke article 50 if necessary. The government needs to stop trying to hoodwink us into believing that no deal is still on the table.

But to get to that point there are hoops we need to jump through first. Let’s get the inevitable defeat out the way so we can move on and find a way forward.

Let’s get on with the vote of no confidence (if Jeremy ever decides to do some opposing). Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid and the Greens have put down a proper confidence motion compliant with the rules of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. All it takes is for Jeremy to add his signature.

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Updated: Why is the People’s Vote campaign sidelining Lib Dems?

It’s fair to say that some party members have been expressing concern on social media about a perceived detachment between the Liberal Democrats and the People’s Vote campaign.

Why is it that Caroline Lucas is representing the campaign on the Channel 4 debate tonight? Why was Vince missing from the petition event in Downing Street? It’s not a great way to treat the party who kicked off the campaign for a final say on the deal in the Summer of 2016.

Late last week, Liberal Democrat MPs were criticised by the campaign for putting down an amendment to Labour’s amendment calling for a People’s Vote.

The People’s Vote campaign is not backing the move because they want to wait until the deal is rejected because they think that they will have a better chance of securing a referendum then.

They may be right. But in a febrile and unpredictable environment, why wouldn’t you make sure that you have the option of putting it on the agenda?

Paul Waugh is wrong in this report when he says that:

Crucially, it adopts the prime minister’s proposal and just makes it conditional on a second referendum. Unlike other amendments, it does not reject May’s deal.

It doesn’t. It is an amendment to Labour’s amendment so if both were passed, the motion passed by the House would read:

This House declines to approve the negotiated withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship because itfails to provide for a permanent UK-EU customs union and strong single market deal and would therefore lead to increased barriers to trade in goods and services, would not protect workers’ rights and environmental standards, allows for the diminution of the United Kingdom’s internal and external security and is likely to lead to the implementation of a backstop provision in Northern Ireland that is neither politically nor economically sustainable; declines to approve the United Kingdom’s leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement; and therefore resolves to pursue every option, including a public vote as endorsed by the Labour Party Conference 2018, that prevents the United Kingdom’s either leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement or leaving on the basis of the negotiated withdrawal agreement laid before the House.

We don’t know yet if our amendment will be debated or even put to the vote but we have at least got a People’s Vote on the order paper so that the House has a chance to get it into the mix.  I think we need to trust our people to know what they are doing. They are the ones having the conversations in Parliament and they will know what is possible. 

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28 November 2018 – today’s press releases (part 2)

  • Davey: Brexit deal leaves police in the dark (see tomorrow morning)
  • Lib Dem victory on tackling ‘Sex for Rent’
  • Lib Dems accuse Govt of contempt over Brexit legal advice row
  • Labour must give “unequivocal guarantee” they will back a People’s Vote
  • Bank of England confirm any Brexit will hurt the economy

Lib Dem victory on tackling ‘Sex for Rent’

After pressure from Liberal Democrat MP, Wera Hobhouse, the Crown Prosecution Service have today confirmed they will be conducting a review to update their guidelines on ‘sex for rent’.

After speaking in the Westminster Hall Debate on the issue, Wera Hobhouse said:

It is great to see progress is

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Parliament must restore national unity

700,000+ marched Saturday in London to ask for a second vote concerning Brexit. They marched for many more who could not come. How many is a guess but probably several million. The nation is hence divided and it is the duty of the government, if not most likely Her Majesty’s wish, for the UK to recover national unity. Every learned politician knows of its importance and what history shows to happen sooner or later when there is a lack of it.

Independently of its prospects, positive or negative, a consensus for Brexit is required before proceeding, as the project now shows itself offering dangers greater than the economic arguments at its origin. A programme not only putting civic peace at risk but now even threatening the very unity of the Kingdom.

The problem is that Mrs May’s cabinet is more interested in implementing a divisive Brexit than preserving national unity. It hence falls logically to Parliament to walk in and seek it.

Parliament is sovereign and could declare that it is in the supreme interest of national sovereignty and unity that Brexit be abandoned. With the position of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to consider Scottish independence if the UK would leave the European Union or the statement of some Irish politicians that Ireland would unite under the same circumstances, I have asked myself if Brexit could now be anticonstitutional as threatening territorial integrity and hence national security.

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Lord William Wallace writes…Heading towards a real crisis?

When I first read a commentator in a serious newspaper saying, in the early summer, that the UK was heading towards a potential political and constitutional crisis, of the sort that we have not faced for a century, I thought that was an exaggeration.  Now I’m not so sure.  In the course of the next few weeks, if the Prime Minister’s attempts to achieve a deal to leave the EU which will at once satisfy enough members of her party, appeal to a number of Labour MPs as well, keep the DUP on board, and not provoke a run on the pound and a slump in business confidence, collapse, with less than six months to go before the UK is due to leave, British politics – and the British economy – will be in unknown territory.

The atmosphere in Westminster is surreal.  I ran into two senior Conservatives with whom I have worked this week, both of whom remarked bitterly to me about the behaviour of colleagues within their own party.  Confusion, bitter rivalries, and for some despair, grip many MPs within the Labour Party as well.  Neither House is busy; legislation is thin, while we all wait for the government to send us the weight of bills and statutory instruments needed to arrive at an orderly transition at the end of March.  It’s now almost too late to manage that without emergency sessions and extended sittings.  Even the  trade bill, which has been through the Commons and had its second reading in the Lords, is now stalled until some clarity emerges on what sort of future relationship it needs to cover.  And behind that stretches a succession of bills and statutory instruments, promised for last Spring and postponed by the government’s own failure to agree.

The government statement on Tuesday, as Parliament returned, talked of a possible ‘delay between the end of the implementation period and the entry into force of the treaty on our future relationship.’  That suggests that the current uncertainty, which is leading banks and companies to start moving investment and staff out of Britain, could lead after the 21-month transition period, to a void without an agreed framework. Most trade experts say that it will take 3-5 years to negotiate a treaty which will then require ratification by 27 EU states as well as the UK.  The battle within the Conservatives about whether any ‘temporary’ arrangements should be strictly time-limited is about what happens in 2021, with the ideologues determined that we drop out of current arrangements then, and the pragmatists within the government (yes, there are still a few) recognising that our economy – and our security and foreign policy – need certainty about some continuing framework.

Meanwhile, panic preparations are underway to prepare for a ‘No Deal’ outcome, which begins to look quite possible.  You will have heard of the start of work on lorry parks stretching back for Dover – for up to 10,000 lorries, potentially tying up a significant part of the freight transport fleet.  Stories from Whitehall say that officials are being pulled out of their regular duties into emergency teams to prepare for a No Deal scenario.  Across the water, the DUP is threatening to bring down the government, while the SNP is preparing to campaign for a second independence referendum if the UK crashes out of the EU – which they would probably win. The possibility that the UK might break up, with Northern Ireland opinion moving towards favouring unification with Dublin and Scotland going it alone, looks real.

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LibLink: Tom Brake: Parliament must be recalled to introduce People’s Vote legislation

Tom Brake has called for Parliament to be recalled in the wake of Theresa May’s statement yesterday.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister, published on Politics Home, he argued that a People’s Vote was the only safe exit to the chaos over Brexit.

The purpose of recalling Parliament would be to enable the Liberal Democrats, other parties and Parliamentarians from across the House to work with you to ensure that legislation for a final say on the deal or People’s Vote is drawn up immediately. A People’s Vote could then be held before the European Elections in May.

With the EU and your own MPs lined up against Chequers, Chequers has no future. No Deal, which you persist, wrongly, in claiming is the only alternative that could be offered to Parliament will not command a majority in the Commons.  In these circumstances, a final say on the deal, so that people can choose between any deal the Government do eventually secure or staying in the EU is the only safe exit from the chaos the Conservative and other Brexit supporters have inflicted on the UK. Such a final say on the deal will of course require an extension to Article 50 so the legislation can be drafted, the question considered and the election conducted, but our EU partners have indicated an extension would be granted for this purpose.

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Layla Moran: We must stop wasting opportunities to improve cycling infrastructure

This week, Layla Moran held a Commons debate on cycling:

Here’s her speech in full:

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Dinosaur found at Westminster

The BBC’s Nicholas Watt seems to have been trawling the bars of the Parliamentary Estate looking for dinosaurs. And he struck gold.

Oh.My.Days.

I have a list of suspects, although that grows exponentially if we’re including Lords.

I have been saying for a while that we should paint in primary colours, that we should say what we really feel and not be too subtle.

Our Press Office stepped up to that plate tonight. Do not read on if you are easily offended.

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Baroness Shas Sheehan writes…Lib Dems lead the opposition to Brexit

This week I was chatting to a (pretty senior) press person about the forces of gravity holding Lib Dem polling figures below the double-digit mark. 

Their response was that we were playing it too safe and needed to do something alarming. This was whilst waiting for the Commons’ votes on Monday night. Neither of us thought for one moment that that event might be our current leader and our former leader missing a Commons vote on a Jacob Rees-Mogg amendment designed to make the cobbled together Chequers agreement even less palatable to the EU. The Government won the vote by a whisker – just 3 votes in it. 

So, the fact that 17 Labour MPs went awol and 4 (if you include Kelvin Hopkins) voted with the Government, was lost in the excitement of Vince and Tim having been let off the whip by prior arrangement at a point when it had been deemed safe to do so, and Jo had been paired.

Of course, had it been realised that Labour were going to, unexpectedly, oppose the Government (a rarity when it comes to Brexit legislation) and the vote was going to be a close one, then our arch-remainer leader and former leader would have been in the lobbies. So, the expected, comfortable, Government victory margin was reduced to three. 

It’s a shame they missed this vote, but let’s not despair – we are nowhere near the end of the long Brexit road. There are opportunities aplenty coming up when Vince will be leading our Commons team trying to stop the Government taking a wrecking ball to our economy for a pipe dream.

It’s becoming clearer by the day that the only logical end to this sorry saga will be for the public to have the final say. This has been the Lib Dem position from the start.

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Tories cheat like a Vote Leave campaign over crucial customs union vote

This country is currently on a path to economic self-destruction because of a narrow vote to leave the European Union in 2016. Today we discovered that the Vote Leave campaign had cheated. And, by the way, that monumental news isn’t even on the BBC’s front page any more.

Tonight, this country was helped along its path to economic self-destruction  because of a narrow vote – 307-301 against an amendment which would have kept us in a customs union with the EU after Brexit. The desperate Tory government pulled a particularly dirty trick to win that vote.

The pairing system has long been a civilising feature of our Parliament. When an MP is indisposed for some reason or needs a night off, they can be paired with an MP who would vote the opposite way. Imagine the sorts of circumstances that you might need that in – maybe a dying parent, or a sick child, or your own illness, or being on maternity leave. Tonight, Jo Swinson, whose baby is just two weeks old, was paired with Conservative Party chair Brandon Lewis. He voted in the crunch votes. He didn’t vote in the earlier votes.  Jo was justifiably furious:

The incident even got a Twitter moment.

After a couple of hours, Lewis tweeted that it had been an honest mistake:

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Help our MPs choose their Commons debate – last chance to have your say

Lib Dem MPs have a relatively rare opposition day debate this week. They are approaching it a bit differently by giving you a chance to decide the subject.

What’s particularly brilliant is that you get to vote preferentially too. That’ll be useful for next year’s Ashdown Prize organisers to note.

An email from Alistair Carmichael landed the other day:

On Tuesday 10th July, our MPs have an opposition day debate in Parliament.

This means that we can pick one topic and have MPs debate and vote on it in Westminster.

And we want to hear what you think MPs should be

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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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