It is a disgrace that the government delayed the announcement of its decision on granting the National Farmers’ Union permission to use neonicotinoid seed treatments until after parliament had gone into recess. No surprise, given it had already suppressed publication of the agenda and minutes of the expert committee on pesticides meeting on 20 May. This is a government that also ignores the advice of its chief scientific adviser. On 14 May he called a recent Swedish field trial on rapeseed treated with neonicotinoids – which showed a decline in both the number of wild bees and bumblebee colonies – “an important contribution to the evidence base” on their impacts. Lib Dems believe this derogation for farmers by our government undermines the welcome 2013 EU ban on these bee-harming chemicals. Kate Parminter Deputy leader, Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords
Mike Storey, Lib Dem Education Spokesperson, hosted a debate in the Lords yesterday on mental health services in schools and colleges. He opened the debate saying:
I think that this is the fourth or fifth time in almost as many days that we have talked about mental health, which perhaps shows how important the matter is to your Lordships and that there is a need for action. No doubt there has been and will be repetition in what we all say but, again, that tells me how important the issue is. I also put on record my thanks to the numerous organisations that feel passionately about the issue and have sent a whole series of briefings.
Despite having one of the most advanced health systems in the world, child health outcomes in the UK, including for mental health, are among the poorest. Just 6% of the NHS budget for mental health is spent on children and young people. I know we have heard them on a number of occasions in the various Questions and debates, but we should remind ourselves of some of the facts. One in 10 children and young people aged five to 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder, which equates to three children in every classroom. One in every 12 to 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm, and nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression. Alarmingly, all these figures are on the increase. Yet despite these figures, a freedom of information request from YoungMinds sent to every NHS clinical commissioning group and every upper-tier local authority in England found that 74 out of 96 NHS clinical commissioning groups have frozen or cut their CAMHS budgets in the last two years, while 56 out of 101 local authorities in England that supplied information to YoungMinds have cut or frozen their budgets, or increased them by less than inflation, during the same period. We ignore the situation at our peril.
The Tory selloff of Government assets along Whitehall will cause major security problems in the future Lord Wallace of Saltaire has warned today.
In a question in the Lords, William Wallace has asked the Government what assessment they have made of the potential security risks posed by the conversion of former Government buildings along major procession routes.
Lord Wallace has also highlighted that there remains a network of World War Two tunnels under Whitehall that link all these buildings together.
Roads regularly used by the queen and foreign dignitaries could soon be lined with “Horseguard Hiltons” that will make security operations much more difficult.
“In their ill thought through drive to cut everything the Tories are willing to sacrifice security to make a quick buck.
“It would be a lot harder to guarantee the protection of the Queen, dignitaries or foreign leaders if you have hotels lining the route.”
“The selling off of assets is something a business does before it folds, not something a nation does on the way up.”
Speaking in yesterday’s debate on the Anderson Report into investigatory powers, Paul Scrieven made the case for freedom and privacy.
My Lords, I note that I was not mentioned by the Minister at the beginning because I am not an expert on this matter. However, I am a citizen of this country and I want a safe country, but I also want to live in a country where my privacy and civil liberties are balanced with that security. That is vital. I do not think that anyone would disagree with the tone of the debate that we have had today but the crux of the matter is to ask how we can achieve that balance in the most effective way. That is why talking about technology and the balance between security and civil liberties is really important. When we discuss these issues it is also important to ask what type of country we want to live in and how we want our country to be perceived. Those questions are at the front of my mind when I address this matter. As I said, I am not a technical expert but a citizen asking those questions.
One of the key issues in getting the right balance between security and civil liberties and privacy is to judge not just what we do to the civil liberties of those who wish to harm us, but how we protect the civil liberties of 99% of the population who are law-abiding and wish to live in a secure country. The Anderson report talks about why we need to make changes, and we need to think very carefully about that balance. In particular, the report says that in its present form RIPA 2000 is undemocratic, unnecessary and, in the long term, intolerable. If that is the case, we need to think very carefully about what kind of country we want to live in, what kind of country we want to be perceived as and how we balance security with civil liberties.
Claire Tyler gave the William Beveridge Memorial Lecture at the Social Liberal Forum conference. The full speech can be read below.
May I start by saying what a great honour it is to have been asked to deliver this year’s Beveridge Lecture. I’m conscious that I’m following in some rather illustrious footsteps – Nick, Steve and Tim have all stood here before me – Tim – you set the bar very high indeed in your excellent and wide ranging lecture last year.
Joking aside, I think it is entirely appropriate to be revisiting Beveridge at a conference entitled ‘Rebooting Liberalism’. It’s neither regressive nor intellectually lazy to be looking to the past as we seek to move forward. Far from it – we are fortunate to have an incredibly strong intellectual tradition within the party and in seeking to both clarify and communicate exactly what we stand for, we could do much worse than draw on the ground-breaking work of one of the grandfathers of modern Liberalism.
My Lords, for decades, as a Liberal and Liberal Democrat candidate and MP, I supported campaigns to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into our domestic law. “Bringing Rights Home” was our call, and so understandably I welcomed the passing of the Human Rights Act 1998. However, it never occurred to me during all these years of campaigning that I would be the first government Minister in the United Kingdom to be on the wrong end of a decision under that Act—yet that is what happened on 11 November 1999.
As Justice Minister in the newly established Scottish Government, I had inherited a sheriff court administration which relied on temporary sheriffs to keep the system in working order. However, the Scottish Appeal Court ruled that because the Lord Advocate was involved both in their reappointment, or not, and was also head of the Public Prosecution Service in Scotland, temporary sheriffs could not be regarded as sufficiently independent of the Executive that an accused might have a fair hearing before an “independent and impartial tribunal”. As a result, I was forced to suspend every temporary sheriff in Scotland overnight.
I am not going to pretend: on that day I would much rather that the case had been won. Losing put significant pressure on resources and made for a time the operation of our sheriff courts more difficult. But here is the thing: in the cold light of day, the court was right. What was happening was wrong and, because of the Human Rights Act, it was put right. For all the difficulties this decision caused me, officials and, indeed, the public, I would rather live in a country were there is such a human rights check over decisions and actions of Ministers and the Executive than in a country where Ministers and the Executive can ride roughshod over basic human rights. This, I believe, shows the value of the Human Rights Act. As Liberal Democrats, we on these Benches are instinctively suspicious of government. We believe that the state has the power to improve people’s lives—but, equally, the power to damage them. Such power should not operate in a vacuum. There must be a check on the ability of the state to wield its power, even when its actions are carried out with the best of intentions, and there must be a check to protect individual citizens against the arbitrary use of state power.
This debate is about the challenges facing the culture of human rights and civil liberties in our country. My experiences as a Minister both in Scotland and in the coalition Government have given me some understanding of those challenges and the difficulties of balancing interests that sometimes compete with human rights and civil liberties, not least the need to keep the public safe. I do not pretend that it is always easy. The appalling events in Tunisia last Friday and our response to them have once again thrown into sharp focus the challenge of balancing liberty and security in an age when terrorism stalks the globe. The Prime Minister rightly argues that, armed with our values of justice, democracy, liberty and tolerance, we will prevail over hateful intolerance and its evil manifestations. But the challenge is to ensure that in doing so we do not undermine the very values that we cherish and seek to uphold.
During my time as Deputy First Minister of Scotland, I had the somewhat doubtful distinction of becoming the first government minister in the UK to be on the wrong end of a decision under the Human Rights Act. As a result I know first-hand of the value of that Act in giving British citizens the ability to challenge the state. The state has the power to improve people’s lives, but also the power to damage them. Such power should not operate in a vacuum – there must be a check on the state. The Human Rights Act provides this very powerful safeguard.
As the debate on the future of the Act progresses, it is essential that we do not focus only on the philosophical importance of our rights and freedoms, but that we also concentrate on the very real way in which the Human Rights Act has protected individual citizens against the arbitrary use of state power.