Tuesday, March 31, 2009

MPs expenses

Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg yesterday wrote to Gordon Brown and David Cameron seeking an urgent meeting to reform the system of MPs’ expenses.

The full text of the letter is below:

I am writing to you to propose that our parties work together to agree an urgent overhaul of MPs’ expenses. The recent scandals make it clear we cannot continue with the current system any longer.
The upcoming inquiry by the Committee on Standards in Public Life will not report this side of a general election. This is far too long to wait. We owe it to the citizens of this country to ensure a fair deal for taxpayers before then.
The move to a principles-based expenses system is welcome but I believe several further reforms are needed to rebuild public confidence. Two in particular would be achievable immediately. First, in the name of transparency, every penny of public money claimed by MPs should only be reimbursed on production of a receipt: taxpayers have the right to know how their money is being spent. Second, the present rules on second homes are incomprehensible to millions of people who have to commute each day: no London MP should be able to claim for a second home.
I know that, by tradition and convention, these matters are dealt with by the House independently of party leaders. I believe passionately in the rights of the Commons, but our fellow citizens’ faith in politics is more important still. For the sake of restoring trust, we need to show political leadership, and act as party leaders to clean up the expenses regime once and for all. This is not a matter for party political point scoring: we must act together or all politicians will find themselves condemned by public opinion.
I therefore propose that we meet at your earliest convenience to agree a way forward. I have laid out my proposals, but I would of course welcome your ideas of other ways in which we can improve the system. I look forward to hearing from you.

Veteran Labour MP Sir Stuart Bell claims that an employee of the House of Commons has offered for sale the receipts of all the MPs at a price of £300,000.

Friday, March 27, 2009

London MPs expenses

The Conservatives have attacked Labour's Tony McNulty for his manipulation of the House of Commons rules on second homes to his benefit, even though his constituency is in inner London. (He is not the worst offender, by the way; top of the list is Harry Cohen, Labour MP for Leyton. Hywel Morgan has drawn up a table of comparisons of seven MPs in adjacent constituencies.)

Surprising, then, that Eric Pickles (the Tories' answer to Chris Rennard) should not only be exposed as another beneficiary, but is also prepared to defend the system, as he did on "Question Time" on Thursday night. There is no YouTube clip as yet (fear of BBC's copyright lawyers?) but at least one Liberal Democrat blogger has made a transcript.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Marvellous result in Berkshire

So it's only a hold, in a town council ward, but it's worth recording that the new councillor for Thatcham South is Liberal Democrat Marvellous Ford.

Plaid and Labour sell out Welsh students at Welsh universities

See story on Peter Black's blog.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Vince Cable on Question Time Tonight

Liberal Democrat Economic Guru, Vince Cable, will be appearing on Question Time this evening at 2235. However it will be aired on BBC Wales at 2305 (30 minutes later).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Post Office and Royal Mail: why Liberal Democrats will oppose government proposals

John Thurso, Liberal Democrat spokesman, has written to us to say that the party in Westminster will oppose the government's proposals to sell off part of Royal Mail. He says: "Our position on the Government's Bill is clear. As drafted the legislation would not secure a sustainable and competitive future either for the Royal Mail or the Post Office network. The Liberal Democrats will therefore be opposing it."

He goes on: "We have judged the Government's Bill against five tests –

1) Does it guarantee the Post Office’s future as a separate, public sector, public service organisation?

2) Does it deliver the substantial investment and plan which the post office network desperately needs to give it a sustainable future?

3) Does it guarantee a full six day a week Universal Service Obligation (USO) throughout the UK?

4) Does it ensure a competitive future for Royal Mail and not leave the company at a disadvantage to its rivals?

5) Does it provide for a fair ownership structure which properly reflects the interests of all stakeholders?

Additionally any proposals must be fair to Royal Mail employees on pay, conditions and pensions.

The Government's Bill fails to meet these tests.

In particular the proposals fail to deliver the investment our post offices need (test 2), fail to deliver on ensuring Royal Mail’s competitive future (test 4) and fail to deliver on the company’s ownership structure (test 5). We will therefore oppose the legislation as it stands.

It is important to be clear that we do recognise the need for reform of Royal Mail and the Post Office. Indeed we have recognised this for a long time. That’s why, three years ago, we developed a comprehensive policy to secure the future of both organisations by:

  • Separating the Post Office network from Royal Mail as an independent publicly owned organisation, with its own board of directors, an investment plan for the future, and significant investment to undertake those plans.
  • Giving post offices the opportunity to develop new business through the “postbank” concept and a prime role in delivering to citizens on behalf of government.
  • Placing the USO on a statutory basis six days a week throughout the UK.
  • Placing Royal Mail into shared ownership, with a majority of shares divided equally between the Government and a Trust for Royal Mail staff, and a minority of shares available for sale (with all revenue going into the post office investment fund).
  • Giving the regulator the power to place a levy on other operators who do not undertake the USO to pay towards its cost.

This is our vision for the Post Office and the Royal Mail. It was reaffirmed in a motion passed at Harrogate last weekend.

The Government have adopted some elements of our proposals (for example, placing the USO on a statutory basis), but overall their package falls well short of what is required.

As we always do, we will work constructively to improve the Government's Bill during its passage through Parliament. But given the Government's response to date I regretfully think it unlikely that we will be able to make any great progress in this.

So we expect to be voting against the Government's Bill when it comes to the House of Commons."

And, of course, we will join Liberal Democrats across Britain as we continue to highlight the dismal record of both Labour and Conservative governments who have closed thousands of post offices, and promote our plan for a reinvigorated post office network, delivering new services and opening new branches.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Further Step Towards Enfranchising 16 - 18 Year Olds?

Listening to Radio 4 today on my way home from work, I heard the announcement that the Youth Parliament will be allowed to debate in the chamber of the House of Commons. Of course, MP's voted on granting this privilege last night - in an overwhelming majority I might add.

Personally, I think it is great that the Youth Parliament have been granted this honour and privilege. This is a small but significant step in the right direction to begin the long awaited engagement process with the youth in society.

I hope for the day when our younger generation are granted the right to vote. Those 16 - 18 year olds who are deemed mature enough to join the Armed Forces, find employment and pay tax into a system in which they currently have no opportunity to express their opinion (at the ballot box) as to how that tax revenue is spent.

More details on the Youth Parliament can be found here.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Neath Port Talbot to Send £4.8m Back to London

Due to a complex system of subsidies, Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council will be forced to send £4.8 million of housing rent income back to the treasury.

Go to SouthWalesLibDems for further information and a Liberal Democrat response.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Major developments should include travel plan, says LibDem AM

Jenny Randerson, Liberal Democrat AM for Cardiff Central, has proposed a Legislative Competence Order which would enable the Welsh Assembly Government to insist that major land use developments include a travel plan.

Jenny explains: "It is essential that all new, large, planning developments take account of people's transport habits and adopt a transport plan within the development that could, among other things, ensure that there is adequate scope for accessible public transport provision, adequate parking provision, integrated cycling links as well as ensuring that the development is accessible by foot."

Sustrans has expressed its broad support.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Petition against sweeping powers of arrest

Lib Dem Cambridge City councillor, Colin Rosenstiel, draws the following to our attention:

From: David Gilbertson
Sent: 04 March 2009 14:02
Subject: Excessive Powers of Arrest by Police - Petition to the Prime Minister

Dear Friends and Colleagues,


Most people are unaware that in 2005 a fundamental change in police powers
was quietly passed into law; a change that directly affects the life and
liberty of you and every person in this country.

Section 110 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 was 'tacked
onto' an otherwise acceptable piece of legislation and allows ANY police
officer in England and Wales to arrest, (i.e. physically detain, handcuff
and take to a police station for a DNA sample), ANY person, for ANY
offence, no matter how trivial and whether or not a power of arrest
previously existed for that offence. People can now be, (and have been),
arrested and detained under Section 110 for not wearing a seatbelt;
dropping litter; shouting in the presence of a police officer, climbing a
tree, and building a snowman. Whereas police officers used to have to
justify every arrest and be aware of whether or not a particular piece of
legislation gave them power, they no longer have to do so. The power to
deprive someone of their liberty should only be exercised in the most
extreme circumstances, yet young and inexperienced police officers, (and
soon, PCSO's), are being trained that arrest and detention of a suspect is
the first option in most encounters with the public. This sweeping power
is being roundly abused on a daily basis in all of the 43 police forces in
this country and puts you, your wife, husband or partner, your children
and your friends at risk of arbitrary action by the police.

I spent 35 years of my adult life in the Police Service and am appalled by
what it has become, largely as a result of powers such as those granted
under Section 110.

Petitioning the Prime Minister will probably do little to stop the drift
of this country to what has been described as a 'Stasi State' but I would
nonetheless ask that you consider placing your signature on the petition -
if only to see how the government responds to genuine concern from
thoughtful citizens.

If you are sympathetic to this project, please forward this message and
link to other friends, colleagues or bodies concerned about civil

The link to the petition is below:


Thank you,

David Gilbertson QPM
(formerly Assistant Inspector of Constabulary
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary,
Home Office (retired 2001))

[There is also a Guardian article]

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Nick Clegg Speech to Conference 2009 - Part 2

Nick Clegg Speech to Conference 2009 - Part 2
Video sent by libdem

Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats addresses the Liberal Democrats Spring Conference 2009 in Harrogate.

Nick Clegg Speech to Conference 2009 - Part 1

Nick Clegg Speech to Conference 2009 - Part 1
Video sent by libdem

Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats addresses the Liberal Democrats Spring Conference 2009 in Harrogate.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader wins award

News of Kirsty Williams' latest accolade is at Freedom Central.

LibDem group leader endorses tax settlement

John Warman, councillor for Cimla, welcomed the efforts of Neath Port Talbot CBC leader, Derek Vaughan, and the council's officers in restricting the rise in council tax in 2009/10 to 3.9%. He agreed with Cllr Vaughan that the county borough had been handicapped by the initial apportionment of central support on set-up, and by below-inflation raises by the Welsh Assembly Government since.

He said that parents, as well as head and other teachers, would welcome the aim of protecting front-line education services.

John took the opportunity to point out the unfairness of the method of paying for local council services, and urged central government to review the whole system of local government taxation.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Job Centre Plus sponsored pyramid scam

BBC Radio 4's "You and Yours" has exposed a deception of the unemployed which involved advertising non-existent jobs in newspapers and employment web-sites, including that of Job Centre Plus.

The firm pretended to be a national company expanding into all regions of the countries. Applicants were initially told that they had been accepted to take up a post in the new office local to them, then informed that the job was no longer available. Instead, they could work from home in return for paying a fee for training. The training consisted of a mailed set of instructions on how to draw further applicants into the scheme.

The firm concerned has had its listing on the government site withdrawn, but the "You and Yours" team demonstrated how easy it was to get on the DWP's approved employer list without undergoing any practical check.

No doubt these pseudo-jobs are included in the DWP's statistics, thus making the job availability figures look better than they are.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Kirsty Williams calls for personal data security

Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for tighter controls on our personal data in the hands of our governments (see for instance the posting on the DNA database of last October).

Now the Welsh Liberal Democrats have tabled a motion for Wednesday that urges the Welsh government to identify what measures it is taking to safeguard the personal data it and the services it funds hold on people in Wales.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Carbon capture

Green Liberal Democrats are reporting that the UK government is ready to approve a new slew of coal-fired power stations, on the assurance by the generating companies that carbon-capture will be implemented when practicable. However, there are warnings that the technology is unlikely to be ready for nearly a generation.

The Lib Dem national position is that new coal-fired generating capacity - which has the capacity to completely derail any attempts to reduce our greenhouse gases - should not be commissioned without carbon capture and storage technology being fitted.