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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.

Paddy Ashdown: It is the coalition being constructed in Vienna that will first of all defeat ISIL

Liberal Democrat Conference Bournemouth 2009 Portraits
Paddy Ashdown

Speaking yesterday in the Lords debate on Syria, Paddy Ashdown made the following speech:

I hope that today marks a watershed not just for the people of Syria but in our battle to remove the scourge and terror of ISIL and in the foreign policy of Her Majesty’s Government. In the last 10 years, since shock and awe, we have been obsessed by high explosives as our singular instrument of foreign policy. We have forgotten again and again and again the old dictum of Clausewitz that war is an extension of diplomacy by other means. So in Afghanistan we relied on high explosives: we did not build the relationships with the neighbours that we should have built, we did not build that diplomatic context, and we lost. In Iraq, we did the same. And we lost. In Libya, when it came to constructing the peace, we did the same. And we lost. And for the last three years we have been doing exactly the same. And we were losing. Maybe we will now give ourselves a chance to turn that around and make success.

Continue reading Paddy Ashdown: It is the coalition being constructed in Vienna that will first of all defeat ISIL

Jim Wallace responds to the Prime Minister’s statement on Syria

DSC03888
Jim Wallace

From these Benches we unequivocally condemn atrocities perpetrated by ISIL, be they in Paris, Ankara, Sharm el-Sheikh, Tunisia or Beirut, or indeed the day-in, day-out victimisation of people in the Middle East. We have also recognised that in defeating an enemy like ISIL the use of military force will be necessary, and indeed we have supported air strikes in Iraq. But the use of lethal force should never be used simply as a gesture—not even a symbolic gesture. It has to have effect. And to have effect, it must surely be part of a wider strategy, not least on the diplomatic front. So the challenge is not whether the Government have made a case to justify bombing but whether they have a strategy to bring stability to the region and lay the foundations for a peaceful future for Syria.

Continue reading Jim Wallace responds to the Prime Minister’s statement on Syria

Navnit Dholakia and Kate Parminter elected as deputy leaders of Lords group

Lord Dholakia
Lord Dholakia

Baroness Parminter
Baroness Parminter

Following today’s election for deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat group in the House of Lords, Navnit, Lord Dholakia will return to the role alongside Kate, Baroness Parminter.

Following a recently agreed structural change the deputy leadership has been expanded into two equal positions.

Commenting, Jim Wallace, the Leader of the Liberal Democrat in the Lords, said:

“I am very pleased to welcome both Kate and Navnit as my Deputies. Navnit has been my Deputy since I became leader and has served both our group and the wider party incredibly well over the years and I’m certain he will continue to do so in the future.

“I am also pleased that in Kate Parminter we have added a high calibre woman to the leadership team of the Lords group and the wider party.”

Roger Roberts: A step towards abolishing the Azure Card

Lord Roberts of Llandudno
Lord Roberts of Llandudno

Last November I wrote that we must abolish the Azure Card and secured a debate in the House of Lords to that effect.

For those who may be unaware, The Azure Card is a prepayment card provided destitute asylum seekers who require support because they are temporarily unable to leave the United Kingdom. It is a discriminatory and wholly inadequate system of support which the Red Cross – as well as many other refugee organisations have called to be abolished.

Azure card Features

– £35 per week
– Can only be used in 14 shops
– No ability to save: money over £5 left at the end of the week is removed from the card.
– Technical problems can leave users without food for days
– Only £3 extra p/w for pregnant mothers
– No access to transportation

In the debate, I called for a cash based system which provides enough to meet basic needs and for the right to work after 6 months in order to end the current cycle of poverty, hopelessness and destitution. The government declined to replace the Azure Card with a cash payment system but did make a number of important concessions which will alleviate the suffering of card users. These included;

  1.  Abolishing the cards punitive carry-over limit
  2.  Making it easier to access transport
  3. Making efforts to expand the number of retailers

I am happy to say that the first of these promised changes has now come into effect.

The full article is here

Susan Kramer appears on Radio 4’s Any Questions

Baroness Kramer
Baroness Kramer

Lib Dem Peer Susan Kramer appeared on Friday’s Any Questions on BBC Radio 4.

From the BBC blurb:

Jonathan Dimbleby presents political debate and discussion from St James’ Church in Emsworth, Hampshire, with Chairman of the Football Association Greg Dyke, Editor of Harper’s Bazaar Justine Picardie, Conservative MEP Dan Hannan and Transport Minister Baroness Kramer.

Listen to the full episode here

Roger Roberts: Exit checks and the Eurotunnel: A logistical nightmare (via Lib Dem Voice)

Lord Roberts of Llandudno
Lord Roberts of Llandudno

The Coalition Agreement included a commitment to reintroduce exit checks by the end of this Parliament.

But any means of noting or recording who enters and who leaves the UK was removed in 1998 by Labour, who considered the checks, ‘an inefficient use of resources … contributing little to the integrity of the immigration control’. Clearly, today’s debate on immigration has moved on considerably.

Since the early ‘Noughties’, successive attempts have been made to restore some form of border records, principally through the introduction of technology-based checks for anyone departing the UK as part of a new ‘e-Borders’ programme. It was hoped that these checks would limit the escalating numbers of people illegally entering and staying in this country. These e-Borders were originally scheduled to be fully implemented by March 2014, but the programme has, unsurprisingly, fallen behind schedule.

Full article here

Lord Roberts: Voter Registration Bill is the first step in tackling our youth democracy crisis

Lord Roberts of Llandudno
Lord Roberts of Llandudno

Last week, I was encouraged to see more political parties coming around to the (long-held Liberal Democrat) view that we need to make voter registration easier, accessible and engaging, and allow young people to register from an early age. Only then can we seek to inspire future generations to take a stake in democracy and truly make ‘politics’ open to all citizens.

To this end, today is the formal first reading of my Voter Registration Bill in the House of Lords. I very much hope that Members from all parties (and none) welcome and support its aims.

As honorary President of the non-partisan movement, Bite The Ballot – a fantastic organisation seeking to empower young voters – I know just how enthusiastic young people are about political issues when they are taught about the power they hold at the ballot box. It is this simple premise that forms the basis of my Voter Registration Bill, which has two parts. The first concerns the sharing of information between government bodies and electoral registration officers; the second concerns the duties of electoral registration officers.

Full article here

Jim Wallace new leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords

Jim Wallace
Jim Wallace

Lord Wallace of Tankerness was today elected as the new leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords.

The former Deputy First Minister of Scotland replaces Tom McNally, who stepped down earlier this month after nine years at the helm.

Lord Wallace was the only candidate to have put his name forward when nominations for the leadership contest closed at 12pm today.

Lord Wallace said today: “It is a great privilege as well as an exciting challenge to have been elected as Leader of the Liberal Democrat peers.

“As someone who has already led a parliamentary group in coalition in Scotland, I hope I can bring some of that experience to dealing with the challenges and opportunities which coalition government brings.

“Anyone looking at our list of peers will immediately recognise the depth and diversity of talent and ability in our ranks. That is why we make an impact in the House. And as we approach 2015 I want to ensure that as a team we play to our strengths in the work of the House and the election preparations of the party.

“I should also wish to pay a warm tribute to my predecessor and friend, Lord McNally. He has given great service to the group and the wider party, as well as to the House of Lords itself in his near decade as Leader. His experience will still bring value to our group’s discussions.”

Outgoing Leader Lord McNally said of his successor: “I offer my very sincere congratulations to Jim Wallace on his election as Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords.

“Jim is extremely well-regarded by the House of Lords, where he conducts himself with great skill and humour in the chamber. His record of leadership of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and record of delivering Liberal Democrat priorities during two coalition governments with Labour in Scotland speaks for itself.

“I have valued his friendship and advice for many years, and wish him well as he takes over the leadership of the Liberal Democrat group in the Lords.”

Published and promoted by Tim Gordon on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, both at LDHQ, 8-10 Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AE.

Singing for the Queen again, 60 years on

On Tuesday, Lord Wallace of Saltaire attended the anniversary service marking 60 years since the Queen’s Coronation. As he writes here, it wasn’t exactly a first for him…

Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Lord Wallace of Saltaire

This week I had the wonderful honour of attending the Queen’s 60th Coronation anniversary service. To be invited to such an occasion is quite something in itself. But for me it was also a walk down Memory Lane – because I actually sang at her Coronation, at the age of 12.

I was in the Westminster Abbey Choir. I’d sung in my church choir in a little town in Lincolnshire and one of the clergy suggested since I had a good voice I should apply to a choir school. So I joined the Abbey Choir when I was just nine and by the time of the coronation I was 12 and a corner boy, so I had in many ways the best seat on the front row. I was furthest east, closest to the high altar, when the Coronation came.

Because we were in the Abbey Choir we were used to doing ceremonial services of particular importance – funerals of field marshals and visiting heads of state. The Coronation was a grand event with lots of rehearsal – I can remember singing in the rehearsal to Vaughan Williams and William Walton and lots of people who’d written to the music for it, so that was all part of the tremendous build-up.

But when it came to the day itself… we didn’t get to see very much. We were there to sing. And we had a very fierce choirmaster who would have been really angry with us if we hadn’t been watching his beat all the way through the service. So I didn’t actually turn round to see much of what was going on at the high point of the Coronation service, although I saw an awful lot of the processions in and out when we weren’t singing.

There was a huge sense of occasion, of course, because we were there for more than four hours. We processed in after an awful lot of people, a great assortment of uniforms and dignitaries from Commonwealth countries, the Queen of Tonga –an extraordinary figure.

At the time it had never passed my mind that I would still be living 60 years later, never mind attending the anniversary service. It was tremendous to be involved. I’m still involved in the Abbey – I sing there several times a year and I help to give guided tours of the Abbey, for which we raise a certain amount of money for charity each year. But this was a particularly special occasion and I’m very happy that I was asked to represent Parliament  in the procession which took the oil up to the altar. And I got a much better view this time.

It was very cheerful. It was a very good service in that it provided a mix of the State, society and the country as a whole, and for me to be walking behind a teacher and a lollipop lady, together with a High Court judge… my first instinct when it was suggested was ‘this is going to look very silly’. Actually it looked a very good part of a cross-section of the country again.

And I was singing again. But I moved from being a treble to a deep bass when I was about 12-and-a-half…