Category Archives: Politics

Paul Tyler: A once in a generation decision

Tyler
Paul Tyler

Speaking ahead of the vote to give 16 year olds the vote in the EU referendum, Paul Tyler, Lib Dem Political Reform Spokesperson, warned that the “the people who will be most disappointed by this decision will be those who are excluded from it when it is their one and only chance to influence a vital decision for our country.”

In an otherwise very careful speech, the Minister implied that this was simply, but only, a once-in-a-generation decision. That is not what the Prime Minister said in his Chatham House speech on 13 November, when he said that the EU referendum,

“Is a huge decision for our country … And it will be the final decision”.

The Minister referred to disappointed voters; the people who will be most disappointed by this decision will be those who are excluded from it when it is their one and only chance to influence a vital decision for our country.

For the sake of brevity, I shall not rehearse all the arguments that I have so often used in this Chamber on the merits of extending the franchise for this vote.

I endorse absolutely what the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, said. It would be surprising if I did not; my colleagues and I have supported this increase in the franchise for young people for many years. It would be very inconsistent if we did not do so now. Instead, I want to highlight two wider issues that have been gently referred to already but have perhaps even greater salience for our House.

One of the oldest tricks in the Whips’ trade—I used to be a Whip—when you are losing an argument is to change the subject. That is, effectively, what the Government are now doing. They have moved from trying to defend the inconsistency of the franchise for the Scottish independence referendum compared to that for the forthcoming European referendum to insisting that a clear majority of your Lordships’ House should be ignored on the grounds that we voted in a way that will cost money.

In their letter to us on Friday, Ministers told us, and were at pains to emphasise, that what they termed the Government’s formal reason for disagreeing with the Lords amendment was because,

“It would involve a charge on public funds”.

The Motion and the Minister’s speech this afternoon confirm this statement. That suggestion—that they had no alternative—is simply specious. Elsewhere in the letter, they say:

“It is our view that should this significant change to the franchise be made, it should be debated seriously as part of a wide debate on the franchise, not done piecemeal for a one off electoral event”.

The Minister has already made that statement again in this afternoon’s debate. That has been a constant and respected theme of Ministers at all stages of the debate in both Houses, and indeed from their party’s supporters throughout all stages of the Bill. But it could have been perfectly well incorporated in an amendment in lieu in the other place in last week’s debate. That is what they could and should have done; that would express what is, apparently, the view of the Government. They did not do it. Instead, Ministers deliberately chose to trigger the financial privilege threat. Why?

We are now faced with yet another attempt to restrict the role, responsibility and sheer relevance of this House of Parliament. This time it is the franchise. What next? If in future we amend a Bill in any way that could incur additional expense—a “charge on public funds” as the Minister put it—the Government could use this as a precedent. Next time it could be international development, childcare, legal aid or NHS priorities. That is what they are trying to do—to clip the wings of your Lordships’ House. We should be under no illusion. This is not just a casual, minimalist tweak of the relationship between the two Houses. This is part of a much more insidious exercise to dilute our role—some would say to completely neuter your Lordships’ House.

I suggest to your Lordships that we should be very careful of any attempt to do that, particularly in those circumstances. Look at the wider context. Taken with this House’s effective exclusion from discussions on English votes for English laws, which is now going on—we were not allowed in—and with the Strathclyde review, we will have only ourselves to blame if we fail to note the way the wind is blowing. Please observe the words of Mr Stewart Jackson, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Peterborough, in last week’s debate:

“In conclusion, it is a constitutional outrage that the superannuated, unelected, unaccountable panjandrums in the House of Lords have told us what the elected House should be doing even though we have a settled view on this. They should learn their place. They must be subservient to the elected House, and it is high time that we had House of Lords reform”.

Amen to the last one. That is what is behind this: it is not to give new influence to this House, but to take away what little influence we have.

I take up in particular this issue of the elected House having a right to bulldoze through what they think is right for election law. I have been a Member of the other House. I have to tell your Lordships that it is not unknown for Members of Parliament to have a particular interest in the electoral arrangements that got them there. I reject utterly the idea that somehow your Lordships’ House is not allowed to have a view on electoral law. I have been here some time now—more than 10 years. I have been involved in revision of electoral law many times. No Government have ever sought to stop us.

In the very last minute of his speech in the Commons debate last Tuesday, the Minister suddenly introduced this financial privilege issue. However, he did not even mention the estimate figure that the Government were playing with. Perhaps he could not bring himself to give credence to the incredible. During previous debates there and through all stages of the Bill in your Lordships’ House, no Minister has ever advanced the argument that forecasted cost was a substantial reason for opposing this change to the franchise for this specific vote. The figure of 6 million has not even been hinted at any stage in either House.

When I heard about this I was reminded that, during my period in the other place, the Serjeant at Arms had to keep an opera hat, neatly collapsed, by his chair, so that, if a Member wished to raise a point of order during a Division, he could do so seated and covered. I once or twice used that essential accessory for that eventuality. It is sad that it was subsequently abolished. The opera hat disappeared on the initiative of the then Leader of the House, Robin Cook. George Young and I were accessories to its removal. Last Tuesday, the Minister would have made good use of that hat. Perhaps I should refer to him as the magician, because he pulled this extraordinarily large rabbit out of the hat as a suspiciously rounded total, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, said.

The following day, I was chairing a conference of electoral administrators. Nobody there seemed to know the basis of this estimate. So far as I can establish, neither the Electoral Commission, nor the Association of Electoral Administrators, has actually endorsed it. Moreover, we had a presentation at the conference from the convenor of the Electoral Management Board of Scotland, Mary Pitcaithly, who gave an extremely detailed, meticulous account of all the challenges she faced as chief counting officer for the whole Scottish independence referendum process in September 2014. She left nothing out of her remarkably comprehensive account of that very successful exercise. She did not identify any excessive additional expenditure on this scale as a result of the inclusion of 16 and 17 year-olds in the electorate.

I think the noble Lord will accept this, but if we have a difference of opinion, we can discuss it afterwards. The critical point about the process is that it is for the Government, first and foremost, to decide whether they want to table an amendment in lieu or simply reject the views of this House. That was the Government’s decision, not the Speaker’s. Whether there is advice or not, it is the Government’s decision that they wish not to pursue the idea of a more general review of the franchise.

They simply wanted to reject the view of the House of Lords. They then triggered the issue of financial privilege and it is indeed correct that neither the Clerks nor the Speaker could then gainsay them. However, this figure has now got common currency and it is thought that that somehow justifies this process. If your Lordships’ House was only proposing a little baby, they might have let it through; but they thought it was a big baby and they produced it in the way they did to try and scare us. This rabbit has been inflated by Ministers for their own political ends. We should be told exactly what the calculation is; what, realistically, it is as a proportion of the total referendum budget; and who now endorses this figure.

The issue before your Lordships’ House today is no longer simply whether the electorate for the EU referendum should or should not be expanded, important though that is. I have given a lot of time and effort to trying to make sure that this referendum is one that we can be proud of because it has the same electorate as the one that was so successful in Scotland on a similar issue of the future of that generation. However, this matter has now been deliberately escalated by Ministers into an insidious attempt to undermine the constitutional role and responsibilities of your Lordships’ House. We must stand firm, and reject this attack.

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William Wallace: Whitehall selloff will cause major security problems

Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Lord Wallace of Saltaire

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.

William said:

“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.”

Claire Tyler: High levels of inequality are at odds with a society in which everyone is free to develop their talents and fulfil their potential

Baroness Tyler of Enfield
Baroness Tyler of Enfield

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.

Continue reading Claire Tyler: High levels of inequality are at odds with a society in which everyone is free to develop their talents and fulfil their potential

Kate Parminter: We will work to make Britain less unjust, more liberal and greener (via Lib Dem Voice)

Baroness Parminter
Baroness Parminter

Writing for Lib Dem Voice, Environment Spokesperson and newly elected Deputy Leader of the Lib Dems in the Lords, outlined her plans in this parliament.

Last week I was elected as one of two Deputy Leaders (alongside Navnit Dholakia) of our group in the Lords.

We have many battles ahead of us and whilst I’m a supporter of an elected second chamber (and have long campaigned for one and will continue to do so) we Liberal Democrats in the Lords have a real opportunity to hold this Government to account. We can improve the laws that the Tories bring forward and campaign alongside others to make Britain less unjust, more liberal and greener.

I’m looking forward to working with Navnit & our Leader Jim Wallace as our 102 strong group in the Lords calls into question any illiberal moves by this Tory Government (and so far it looks like there will be many opportunities to do so). This will play a part in the Liberal Democrat fightback and keep the liberal voice loud in Westminster, helping re-build support for our party to win votes and seats right across Britain.

The full article is here

Jim Wallace announces Lib Dem spokespeople in Lords

Lord Wallace of Tankerness
Lord Wallace of Tankerness

The full list of Lib Dem spokespeople in the House of Lords has been announced today by Lord (Jim) Wallace of Tankerness, Leader of the Lib Dems in the Lords.

The new principal spokespeople will lead a strong team of Lib Dem Peers, operating in Parliament, the media and across the country.

Lord Wallace said: “Liberal Democrats are, and have always been, a formidable fighting force in the House of Lords. I will be actively leading a team of new Liberal Democrat Frontbench Spokespeople in protecting liberal values and promoting radical policies.

“There has never been a more important time for Liberal Democrats to be at the forefront of the fight against authoritarian and illiberal policies. Our Spokespeople will take every opportunity to champion Liberal Democrat priorities in Parliament and out in the country.”

Lord Wallace was re-elected unopposed as Leader of the Group and has re-appointed Lord Newby as Chief Whip.

The full list of spokespeople is below

Continue reading Jim Wallace announces Lib Dem spokespeople in Lords

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: “The House of Lords has the right to say no”

Lord Wallace of Tankerness
Lord Wallace of Tankerness

In his response to the Queen’s Speech, Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, will argue that the ‘importance of the House of Lords retaining “the right to say no”’ ensures that the Government must operate in Parliament ‘in a constructive frame of mind’.

Lord Wallace will say that the Lords “may wish to reflect on the strength of the mandate of a government which secured less than 37% of the popular vote on a turnout of 66%”. He will notes that “This House has demonstrated time and time again that it is the last bastion of defence of civil liberties and human rights. On these issues in particular, this House has a legitimate right to question the excesses of any government. It has the right to vigorously scrutinise and revise legislation.”

Lord Wallace also will criticise the agenda of the first Tory government in over 20 years saying that they “seem intent on taking up where they left off” from when they were last in power.

A full copy of the speech is below.

Continue reading Lord Wallace of Tankerness: “The House of Lords has the right to say no”

Tony Greaves: Can’t poll, won’t poll? (via Lib Dem Voice)

Lord Greaves
Lord Greaves

I wrote about prospects for a minority government if no party gets an overall majority at the General Election, and some of the things that might need to change at Westminster if it’s to work. Moves away from its majoritarian and adversarial culture to one based much more on negotiation and mediation, compromises and trade-offs, and an acceptance of a more dominant role for Parliament as against the government. But will it last?

Traditionally the Prime Minister asked the Sovereign for a dissolution. In the modern era such requests were always granted. Sometimes the government had lost the confidence of the Commons (1924 and 1979), run out of steam (1951), or politics had been turned upside down and the new arrangements needed popular endorsement (1931).

But in most cases in the past 100 years the decision was in the hands of a PM who was looking to call the election at the best time for their party, as when Harold Wilson in 1966 and 1974 went to the country for a bigger majority. That is no longer the case. The date of the election on 7th May was set down in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (FTPA) and, so long as that Act remains in force, all future elections will take place on the first Thursday in May in the fifth year after the last election – subject only to two special circumstances that are in the hands of the House of Commons.

The first is that MPs vote for an “early parliamentary general election” by a special two-thirds majority of the whole membership – 434 members or more. The second is a vote of no confidence in the government. If that happens there is a breathing space of 14 days in which an alternative government can seek the confidence of the House – if that occurs, the early election is off.

The question is this: if the numbers in the Commons are anything like I used as a basis for my previous piece (Con 275, Lab 275, LD 35, SNP 40, UKIP 5, Green 2, Speaker 1, all Northern Irish 17) what is the likelihood of the Commons voting for an early election?

The full article is here