Thursday, December 24, 2009

Brown should face Iraq inquiry music

Commenting on today’s statement from Sir John Chilcott which reveals that Gordon Brown, David Miliband and Douglas Alexander will not appear before the Iraq inquiry until after the election, Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary, Edward Davey said: “Giving special treatment to Labour ministers not only undermines the perception of independence of the inquiry but will damage the public’s trust in politics further still.

“This looks like a deal cooked up in Whitehall corridors to save Gordon Brown and his ministers from facing the music.

“Gordon Brown signed the cheques for the Iraq war, and he should explain that decision before polling day.

“British soldiers will not be impressed by a Prime Minister unwilling to step into the firing line.”

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lib Dems will fight for fair bank charges in Parliament

Commenting on the OFT’s decision to drop its investigation into the fairness of bank overdraft charges, Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg said:

“This is extremely disappointing and a blow for millions of bank customers.

“Having come so close to overhauling an unfair system of charging that penalises vulnerable groups of people, I know that the campaign will not just stop.

“The Liberal Democrats will continue the fight for fair bank charges in Parliament and push for a change in the law if necessary so that high street banks cannot keep ripping off their customers.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Significant local by-elections

Frank Little writes:

I was waiting for one of the sites which I regularly visit to comment on these results, but surprisingly none of them picked up on them.

By-Election Results: Thursday 10th December 2009.

Bedford BC, Kingsbrook
LD Andrew Gerard 661 (49.4; +3.1)
Lab 370 (27.6; +3.5)
Con 150 (11.2; -9.2)
Others Ind 85 / Ind 73 (11.8; +11.8)
[Green (0.0; -9.2)]
Majority 291
Turnout 13%
LD hold
Percentage change is since June 2009.

East Dunbartonshire UA, (Ward number 3) Bearsden South
LD Ashay Ghai 1110 (29.4; +3.0)
Con 1261 (33.4; +9.0)
SNP 783 (20.7; +1.6)
Lab 626 (16.6; -2.7)
[Green (0.0; -5.1)]
[Others (0.0; -5.7)]
Turnout not known.
LD gain from Con.
Percentage change is since May 2007.

[STV process details redacted ;-)]

Hastings BC, St Helens
Con 609 (40.7; -17.9)
Lab 550 (36.7; +12.5)
LD John Tunbridge 210 (14.0; -3.2)
BNP 93 (6.2; +6.2)
Others (English Democrats) 36 (2.4; +2.4)
Majority 59
Turnout 37.4%
Con hold
Percentage change is since May 2008.

Nuneaton and Bedworth BC, Camp Hill
Lab 670 (47.1; +17.0)
BNP 478 (33.6; -2.6)
Con 275 (19.3; -9.7)
[Others (0.0; -4.7)]
Majority 192
Turnout 27.6%
Lab gain from BNP
Percentage change is since May 2008.

Peterborough BC, West
Con 1252 (58.4; +4.1)
Lab 341 (15.9; +0.9)
LD Virginia McDermid 224 (10.4; +7.4)
UKIP 177 (8.3; +8.3)
Others (English Democrats) 93 (4.3; -20.1)
Green 58 (2.7; -0.5)
Majority 911
Turnout 34%
Con hold
Percentage change is since May 2008.

Rushmoor BC, Heron Wood
Lab 437 (41.6; +11.6)
LD Philip Thompson 354 (33.7; -8.1)
Con 259 (24.7; -3.5)
Majority 83
Turnout 22%
Lab gain from LD
Percentage change is since May 2008.

West Devon BC, Tavistock South
LD Kirstie Clish-Green 523 (45.8; +33.5)
Con 450 (39.4; +13.6)
Ind 170 (14.9; -47.1)
Majority 73
Turnout not known
LD gain from Con
Percentage change is since May 2007.

Westminster LBC, Queens Park
Lab 814 (62.6; +10.2)
Con 211 (16.2; -13.7)
Green 152 (11.7; +11.7)
LD Mark Blackburn 123 (9.5; -8.1)
Majority 603
Turnout not known
Lab hold
Percentage change is since May 2006.

Weymouth and Portland BC, Wyke Regis
Lab 579 (40.1; +3.9)
Con 486 (33.7; -30.1)
LD Trefor Morgan 268 (18.6; +18.6)
Citizens Party 111 (7.7; +7.7)
Majority 93
Turnout 33.41%
Lab gain from Con
Percentage change is since May 2008.

Wyre Forest DC, Areley Kings
Lab 544 (38.3; +5.5)
Independent Community Health Concern 421 (29.6; -2.4)
Con 394 (27.7; -7.5)
UKIP 63 (4.4; +4.4)
Majority 56
Turnout 30.96%
Lab gain from Con
Percentage change is since May 2008.

Goole TC, North
Lab 358 (42.0)
LD Brian Knight 322 (37.8)
UKIP 172 (20.2)
Majority 36
Turnout 17.7%
Lab hold

Hythe TC, West
Con 556 (54.4)
LD Neil Matthews 466 (45.6)
Majority 90
Turnout 34.6%
Con hold

Ivybridge TC, Ivybridge Woodlands
Ind 226 (55.7)
Ind 180 (44.3)
Majority 46
Turnout 11.87%
Ind hold

Rustington PC, East
LD Jamie Bennett elected unopposed.
LD gain from Con.

Stourpoint TC, Areley Kings West
Independent Community Health Concern 294 (41.9)
Con 238 (33.9)
Lab 136 (19.4)
UKIP 34 (4.8)
Majority 56
Turnout 33.86%
Ind gain from Con

This was the first Thursday for many weeks on which so many by-elections took place. It is therefore possible to get a better picture of what is happening out there than from the usual ones and twos.

The first thing to note is that there is no consistent swing to the Conservatives. Indeed, their vote share went down in twice as many contests as it went up. Secondly, Labour is making gains once again, while we are continuing to hold our own (two gains, one loss, in this batch of results).

These are real polls, not newspaper opinion surveys. The professionals are aware of this, hence the increasing confidence shown by Gordon Brown at PMQs, the exhortation by Eric Pickles to Conservative party workers to redouble their efforts and the attempts by both parties to woo Liberal Democrat voters. This may also be the reason for the speculation about a general election earlier than the generally accepted date of May 6th.

Of course, national media coverage will be more important at the general election. The money flowing to the Conservatives (only a few years after it looked they might have to sue for bankruptcy!) and away from Labour is going to enable them to raise their profile. Even so, it looks increasingly unlikely that Labour's overall majority of 60-odd is going to be reversed by the Conservatives.

But for me the most significant result was the BNP failing to hold Camp Hill in Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough. This did not seem to register with the national press, who delight in talking up the BNP. To be fair, one Sun reader drew attention to the fact that BNP has great difficulty in holding on to council seats.

Monday, December 21, 2009

1,000 children held at detention centres for more than a month

Nearly a thousand children have been held in detention centres for longer than 28 days in the last five and a half years, research by the Liberal Democrats has found.

The information, revealed in a Parliamentary answer, shows:

889 children from 488 families were referred to a Minister for authorisation to be detained beyond 28 days between 2004/05 and 2009/10

A record number - 212 children from 122 families - were detained last year (2008/09)

Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne has also written to Alan Johnson to raise the plight of children in detention centres.

Commenting, Chris Huhne said: “These are the most extreme and most worrying cases out of nearly 500 children who appear to be detained at any one time.

“It is a moral stain on this country’s proud reputation in accepting refugees that we are routinely locking up children for months at a time even though they have committed no crime.

We are physically and psychologically harming children completely unnecessarily, as Sweden, Canada and Australia have shown there are a host of alternatives to detention.

“It is astonishing that Ministers can say this only happens in exceptional circumstances when they have personally signed off hundreds of cases.

“It is profoundly un-British to lock up innocent children at any time, but particularly poignant at Christmas.

“The Government must find its long lost moral compass and end the detention of children in immigration centres.”

Update 2009/12/22 The "Free Movement" web-site which comments on asylum and immigration law reports that the United Kingdom Borders Agency is already operating a more draconian procedure which does not officially come into force until 11th January 2010. "The new policy is, of course, couched in the weasely words and siren sounds one comes to expect of UKBA press releases and policy documents. The section that most sticks in the throat (there is competition) is about a so-called ‘best interests’ policy for not giving children any notice of their impending removal. Apparently it is in their best interests only to find out when they rock up at the airport. The modern UKBA tendency to dress up way they want to do as what they should do in the best interests of children is a disgraceful development."

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bandying around big numbers no substitute for just climate agreement

Commenting on Hillary Clinton’s announcement that the US might cooperate in a $100bn-a-year climate fund as talks in Copenhagen appeared close to deadlock, Liberal Democrat Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Simon Hughes said:

“For all the diplomatic brinkmanship, it is alarming that ministers in Copenhagen are increasingly pessimistic about the chances of a comprehensive agreement.

“World leaders should not be tempted to sign a watered-down declaration in order to save face.

“Poor and developing nations have the right to insist on generous and guaranteed adaptation funds to help deal with the harms that they will suffer most from climate change.

“Bandying around fine words and big numbers is no substitute for a just agreement. This must include mechanisms that put the world firmly on course for a low-carbon future."

Aberavon & Neath Liberal Democrats response to boundary change proposals

Speaking in the Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council debate last Wednesday, Cllr Frank Little (Cadoxton), said:

"I apologise on behalf of our group leader, Cllr Keith Davies, who cannot be with us today, but he has left me a bit of a history lesson.

"We must not forget the changes that were made at the 1983 district elections, breaking up large multi-member wards, with the specified aim of an improvement in accountability. This was reinforced when the former West Glamorgan County Council was reorganised for the 1989 election.

"We also draw attention to the letter to the Boundary Commission from the Minister for Social Justice and Local Government. Dr Gibbons stresses 'the need to fix boundaries which are easily identifiable and which recognise local community ties'.

"These local ties have worked well, giving greater accountability and democracy here in the county borough, and the county before it, for twenty years.

"The changes proposed by the Boundary Commission increase the number of multi-member wards for no good reason other than fitting a mathematical formula, which the leader of our group on the Welsh LGA claims they do not understand anyway. Some of the resulting boundaries are ridiculous and result in wards being divided by geography.

"Madam mayor, I accept that change is inevitable in ward boundaries, as some communities grow, and some shrink. I also accept that one or two of the existing wards , where there are none of the special circumstances identified in the council's original response, are probably too small to justify a councillor to themselves.

"However, the Commission's proposals disregard the clearly-expressed opinion of the elected minister and would set back local democracy for a generation. I personally prefer negotiation and compromise to confrontation. If the Boundary Commission's proposals were reasonable, I would suggest responding with reasoned amendments. But they are so unrealistic that I have no hesitation in supporting the Council's proposal to reject them outright, and the terms in which Mr Graham's letter of rejection is couched."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Disastrous fire at Afan Lido

The Afan Leisure complex was severely damaged and surrounding homes and facilities disrupted by a fire which started last night. There is more news, with comments, here. We note that the Neath Port Talbot cabinet has given a virtually open-ended commitment to a complete restoration.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Who rates the rating agencies?

Chris Huhne asks the question on Liberal Democrat Voice.

Cameron’s tax plan is a sham – Huhne

 Commenting on David Cameron’s plans to bar people who do not pay full UK tax from Parliament and the Government, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne said: 

“David Cameron’s plan is a sham. The super rich like Lord Ashcroft, Zac Goldsmith or Labour’s Lord Paul can be fully resident for tax purposes in the UK, but if they are able to opt for non-dom status they will not pay a penny in UK tax on their main fortune outside Britain.

“David Cameron has still failed to answer the key question: is Lord Ashcroft a non-dom, yes or no? If he is a non-dom, Cameron’s tax plan will not catch him.

“The only reason David Cameron is putting forward this plan now is because of the revelation that his high-profile candidate, Zac Goldsmith, has avoided an estimated £5.8 million in British taxes over the last ten years.

“It is the height of hypocrisy for the Tories to suggest a new law when they opposed Liberal Democrat Lord Oakeshott’s bill to stop non-doms sitting as peers.

“Someone who wants to pass laws about tax in this country ought to pay this country’s full taxes, and not hide behind the special offshore status of non-doms.

“Zac Goldsmith, even on the most conservative estimates, has avoided vast amounts of British tax by deploying the non-dom tax dodge. If he challenges our estimate of how much tax he has dodged, then I put to him a simple challenge: publish your tax returns for the last ten years, and I will publish mine.”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Change of top officers

The Chair of Aberavon & Liberal Democrats for the coming year is Helen Ceri Clarke. Frank Little assumes the Secretaryship. Other posts remain unchanged.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Double-counting even afflicts Labour expenses

A correspondent from a neighbouring constituency has spotted (on this site) that Huw Irranca-Davies, MP for Ogmore and Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made a single donation to the Royal British Legion and claimed for it twice on expenses.

Lib Dems push to delete Henry VIII clause in Digital Economy Bill

Liberal Democrat peer, Tim Clement-Jones has tabled an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill to delete controversial Clause 17 which would allow the Government to change copyright law in the future without further debate or scrutiny.

Lord Clement-Jones said:

"This clause would give the Government carte-blanche to change all copyright law relating to the internet as and when they please.

“Such powers are unnecessary and over-reaching and we have tabled an amendment to delete Clause 17.”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Small businesses let down by Government’s cavalier attitude to investment

Commenting on today’s National Audit Office report on the Government’s venture capital support schemes for small businesses, Liberal Democrat Shadow Business Secretary, John Thurso said: 

“The report’s findings make shocking reading.

“The Government has created 28 different funds using taxpayers’ money for nine years without any idea of what it wants to achieve. No private investor would demonstrate such a cavalier attitude to investment.

“Funds created by Government are performing significantly worse than their private sector equivalents. The £74m invested in Regional Venture Capital Funds has lost 92% of its value.

“We need to connect private investors with promising businesses by creating Local Enterprise Funds and Regional Stock Exchanges so that Government facilitates investment rather than squandering it.”

Vince Cable on the PBR

Vince Cable's statement on the Pre-Budget Report is here, and he imitates The Man in Black on video here.

Those parliamentary expenses

The latest report is here.

If you're a student, make sure your vote counts

Matthew Smith has advice at Freedom Central.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Conservatives reduce target seat expectations

Liberal Democrat Voice reports that Cheadle MP Mark Hunter is one of those cheering as the Times asserts that the Conservatives have realised that many of the seats they hoped to win at the 2010 general election are beyond their reach, and have therefore scaled back their campaigns in the less marginal ones.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Government misled us over rendition

Commenting on Reprieve’s claims that the Government misled Parliament over the rendition of two suspects from Iraq to Afghanistan, Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary, Edward Davey said: 

“The Government appears to have misled Parliament over a number of facts that were central to its attempted defence of the rendition of these prisoners. 

“Parliament was never given enough detail on this incident in the first place. Bob Ainsworth must come to the House of Commons and set the record straight. 

“This is clearly an area that Sir John Chilcot should consider as part of his ongoing inquiry. The public will be very disappointed if he does not tackle the matter of detention and treatment of Iraqi prisoners head on.”

Liberal Democrats on public sector pay

Speaking ahead of Wednesday's pre-budget report by Chancellor Darling, Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, Vince Cable announced Liberal Democrat proposals for restraint and fairness in public sector pay. 

The proposals would cap public sector pay rises at £400 per person to limit the growth of the public sector pay bill while ensuring fairness for teachers, nurses, police officers and other public sector workers.

The progressive measure will save taxpayers about £4bn a year while reducing pressure on front line services and protecting jobs.

Commenting Vince Cable said:

“Public sector pay makes up a quarter of all public spending so any serious and credible attempt to limit spending must include proposals on pay rises. 

“Unlike the Tories who would freeze the salaries of millions of teachers, police officers, nurses and firemen while cutting taxes for millionaires, these proposals would ensure pay rises for key frontline services that are fair and economically realistic.”

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesperson, Jeremy Browne addressed Gordon Brown’s speech on efficiency savings in Government. He said that efficiency savings  were useless without fundamental reform . 

“Gordon Brown has spent over 12 years signing the cheques for an increasingly inefficient and centralised system of Whitehall bureaucracy.

“Greater efficiency is always welcome, but we will not get the improvements we need until there is fundamental reform in Whitehall.

“Central Government is too big, too powerful and too expensive. The Liberal Democrats would scrap entire departments and introduce massive decentralisation, making politics better, cheaper and more accountable.”

Monday, December 07, 2009

Lack of clarity in Labour and Tory approaches to banks – Cable

Commenting on Alistair Darling’s warnings that he will not be ‘held to ransom’ by the banks and George Osborne’s assertion that he wouldn’t rule out a windfall tax on bonuses, Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, Vince Cable said:

“There is a complete lack of clarity at the heart of the Labour and Tory approaches to banks.

“The simple and correct approach, since many banks are returning to high levels of profitability, is for banks to pay for the taxpayer guarantee that they currently enjoy.

“A 10% levy on bank profits would raise around £2bn in current conditions and would go to paying down the deficit.

“This is a much more effective solution than a one off levy and recognises the debt that the banks owe to the taxpayer.”

Cameron must stop avoiding the tax dodge question - Huhne

Commenting on David Cameron’s Politics Show interview, in which he tried to distinguish between the Commons and the Lords on whether non-dom tax status is acceptable, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne said:

“Cameron’s talking nonsense to say that the Lords has no responsibility for the economy. Many Lords votes really matter for public spending and therefore tax.

“David Cameron must stop dodging the question of whether Lord Ashcroft is a full UK taxpayer.

“If it is wrong for a legislator in the Commons not to pay full UK tax, it is equally wrong for a legislator in the Lords not to pay full UK tax.

“David Cameron must answer the simple question: is Lord Ashcroft a non-dom or not?”

NHS IT programme has been disastrously flawed from the start – Lamb

Commenting on reports that the multi-billion-pound NHS IT programme is to be dramatically scaled back in the Pre-Budget Report, Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, Norman Lamb said:

“This whole programme has been disastrously flawed from the start.

“It has held back the development of IT at a local level, cost billions and is running years behind schedule.

“Labour has been in denial for years and this is a belated and partial recognition of the scale of their failure.

“The truth is that the national programme should be abandoned in its entirety, subject to existing contractual obligations, and instead we should start building from the bottom.”

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Up to 4,800 Aberavon people will benefit from Lib Dem tax plans

The Liberal Democrats have unveiled radical new tax plans to help millions of people across the country.

The party’s new tax plans will see tax cuts for millions of people, paid for by closing tax loopholes, making polluters pay and introducing a ‘mansion tax’ on homes worth over £2million.

Prospective parliamentary candidate for Aberavon, Keith Davies, said: "These are ambitious plans which will mean that up to 4,800 people in Aberavon pay no tax at all.

"In addition to this, a further 18,960 people in Aberavon will save £700 a year - giving them an extra £60 a month in their pay packets. The vast majority of taxpayers in Aberavon will benefit from our fair tax plans.”

Kirsty Williams, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said: “This will help more people who are feeling the pinch at the moment to get by – and boost the economy by making sure ordinary hard-working people are better off.

"It is time for a more fair and simple tax system - and it is clear that the Liberal Democrats are the only party with the plans to do this."

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

NHS drug shortages: over to you, Carwyn

In one of his last appearances as First Minister in the Welsh Assembly yesterday, Rhodri Morgan did not deny the difficulties the NHS in Wales had in supplying drugs. Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams put it to him at First Minister's Questions that suppliers were diverting even some essential medicines from Wales because they were able to receive better prices elsewhere. Far from disagreeing, Mr Morgan even added the example of New Zealand, another country which had a tough drug pricing regime. He did not propose a way out of the trouble, clearly preferring to leave it to his successor-elect, Carwyn Jones, to find a solution.

Hain solution to Barnett completely ignores the funding problem in Wales

Kirsty Williams dismisses empty promise by the Secretary of State.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Huhne condemns police DNA "fishing expeditions"

Commenting on the Human Genetics Commission’s review of the Government’s DNA database, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne said:

“The Government’s cavalier attitude towards DNA retention has put us in the ridiculous situation where people are being arrested just to have their DNA harvested.

“Ministers make no distinction between innocence and guilt and as a result everyone is treated like a suspect.

“Innocent people should be removed from the database and there should be a frank discussion about its effectiveness.”

Nick Clegg did not say he preferred the Conservatives

The Lib Dems’ director of election communications, Jonny Oates, states categorically that Nick Clegg did not express a preference for dealing with the Tories over Labour. In rebutting yesterday’s inaccurate press reports, all Jonny had to do was to reproduce the transcript of what Nick actually said:

"In view of today’s press reports about a balanced parliament, I thought it would be useful to provide the text of what Nick said on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday. As you will see, these comments do not indicate any preference between the other two parties in the event of no party having an overall majority:

'I think it is an inevitable fact, it is just stating the obvious, the party which has got the strongest mandate from the British people will have the first right to seek to govern.

'I start from a very simple first principle – it is not Gordon Brown or David Cameron or Nick Clegg who are kingmakers in British politics – it’s the British people.

'So the votes of the British people are what should determine what happens afterwards.

'Whichever party have the strongest mandate from the British people, it seems to me obvious in a democracy they have the first right to seek to try and govern, either on their own or with others.'"

Those in a position to know also rebut the assertion by Mr Hain's office that Nick Clegg has been talking to the Conservative leadership about post-election arrangements. If Mr Hain has evidence to back up his claims, then let him produce it.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Government must reinstate funds for small charities – Willott

Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Charities, Cardiff Central MP Jenny Willott, has called for the Government to reinstate the £750,000 it has diverted from a fund for small charities. She will be tabling an Early Day Motion on the subject. She explained:

“This decision is a major blow to many small charities who had been promised the money and made plans based on those promises.

“What is so appalling is the manner in which this has been done, with no warning or consultation. How does the Government expect to convince other public bodies to abide by the Compact when they treat charities in this way?

“The charity sector warned the Government that the Hardship Fund was too small when it was first set up. But to increase funding for one set of charities, by such a small amount, at the expense of so many other charities is shameful.

“The Government should reinstate these funds immediately.”

Friday, November 20, 2009

Valleys Plaid leader switches to "party of principle"

Mike Powell and the Pontypridd Liberal Democrats welcome Chris Rosser, town councillor and former chair of the local Plaid Cymru branch, to the party.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Prison officer strikes a failure of Government – Howarth

 Commenting on the wildcat prison officer strikes taking place at several prisons, Liberal Democrat Shadow Justice Secretary, David Howarth said: 

“Because of the unique position prison officers are in, the Government has a responsibility to ensure serious grievances are dealt with before officers feel they have no choice but to strike.

"Whatever the rights and wrongs of a particular strike action, the very fact that it has reached this point is a failure of Government.”

Welsh Liberal Democrats lead Assembly into cross party consensus on Copenhagen

Mick Bates, Assembly Member for Montgomery, relates how cross-party resolution was obtained over Wales' commitment to reduce our impact on climate change.

Kirsty calls for referendum action now

Kirsty Williams, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, says that the sooner the decision is taken to hold a referendum on the basis of the Report of the All Wales Convention, the better. Full story on Freedom Central.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Government has failed to audit state-owned banks' investments

Liberal Democrat Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Simon Hughes will today host a meeting in Parliament with campaigners against the extraction of oil from tar sands in Western Canada.

He will reveal documents showing that the Government has made no attempt to carry out any form of environmental or social audit into its investments in the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

Commenting ahead of the meeting, Simon Hughes said:

“The Government’s failure to assess the social and environmental impacts of its investments in RBS demonstrates stunning negligence.

“As a majority shareholder the Government should use its power to ensure destructive environmental investments are not made.

“World leaders must work towards a treaty that will outlaw tar sands extraction, in the same way they came together to ban land mines, blood diamonds and cluster bombs.”

Shameful selling of personal mobile phone data

Commenting on the news that one of the UK’s major mobile phone companies has sold on millions of customer records, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne said:

“This shameful incident shows the disdain with which some companies treat sensitive personal data.

“Stiffer penalties for those involved in serious data breaches, whether in the public or private sector, cannot be introduced soon enough.

“This sorry episode questions the Government’s wisdom in getting communications providers to hoard increasing amounts of information about us.”

Welsh Lib Dem challenges nationalists over council tax

Government figures show that local authorities have more than doubled the amount of money raised from Council Tax in the past decade.

Frank Little, prospective Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Neath, challenged Plaid Cymru to say whether they still supported the move to fair local taxation, or whether they had abandoned the policy with which they entered the last two elections. "Is keeping on the right side of Labour, and therefore ministerial seats in Cardiff, more important than axeing a regressive tax?" he asked.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, Julia Goldsworthy said:

“Millions of families have struggled with Council Tax bills that have soared while Labour has tinkered at the edges.

“Both the Tories and Labour offer no serious alternative to a tax that has skyrocketed this decade.

“The Liberal Democrats would move to a fair system of local taxation based on people’s ability to pay.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Spare us from preposterous ID cards promotion – Huhne

Commenting on the Government’s announcement that people from Manchester can now apply for an ID card as part of the pilot scheme, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne said:

“Where once we were told ID cards would fight terrorism, crime and illegal immigration, they are now being touted as a billion pound way of helping students get into bars.

“The discredited ID cards scheme should be scrapped immediately and ministers spared from having to come up with ever more preposterous ways to promote them.”

Vince Cable says a banking levy would produce a fair deal for the taxpayer

The UK banks owe their very existence to the British taxpayer with the Governor of the Bank of England estimating that they have received the equivalent of £1 trillion in taxpayer support.

But it does not stop there. The banking industry is unique in having the taxpayer acting as a safety net. Until the banks can be successfully broken up, the Liberal Democrats believe that they should pay for the explicit guarantee that they receive.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, Vince Cable has today proposed creating a new levy on bank profits at a rate of 10%, with all the revenue raised (estimated next year to be around £2bn) going towards tackling the structural deficit.

Commenting, Vince Cable said:

"One trillion pounds worth of taxpayer support has gone into keeping the British banking industry afloat.

"We must find a way to split the banks so that the British public no longer props up ‘casino’ banking.

"Meanwhile, it is only right for the taxpayer to get a fair deal for the guarantee that they provide to the banking industry.

"A 10% levy on bank profits would be used to pay down the structural deficit that they are partly responsible for creating.

"The Government should use next month’s pre budget report to put forward this proposal so that banks recognise the explicit guarantee that they currently enjoy.

The draft budget

The budget settlement is being debated in the Assembly this afternoon. Freeview Channel 81 is showing the proceedings live until 18:30, with presumably a repeat at the weekend.

Welsh Liberal Democrats have published their outline budget, aimed at helping, not hindering, Wales during the recession.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Clegg calls for abolIition of pointless Queen's Speech

Speaking to the Independent, the Liberal Democrat leader called for an end to the charade of a Queen's Speech at the beginning of a "rump" parliament, which can last no more than 70 days before a general election is called, and has no chance of passing any worthwhile legislation.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Roger Roberts calls for fair voting rights for servicemen

Lord Roberts of Llandudno has drawn attention to the long-standing electoral discrimination against personnel serving in HM Forces. It has been calculated that as many as one-third of HM forces are not registered to vote.

The government has known about this problem for a long time, but has declined to do anything about it.

Johnson must apologise for misleading the Commons over Nutt sacking – Harris

The Liberal Democrats have formally asked the Home Secretary to apologise to the Commons for misleading statements concerning Professor David Nutt and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and to apologise to Professor Nutt for the unfair damage done to his reputation for the incorrect and unjustified allegations made about him.

In a formal complaint to the Home Secretary, Liberal Democrat Science Spokesperson, Dr Evan Harris accuses him of misleading the Commons and calls for him to make a quick apology and correction.

Commenting, Evan Harris said:

“Lord Drayson, the science minister, has now publicly criticised the Home Secretary for not consulting him over the matter and signalled that the Government would endorse a Code of Practice for ministers under which Professor Nutt would still be in his position.

“Yet three days after writing neither Professor Nutt nor I have had a sniff of retraction or apology from the Home Secretary.

“I will now be raising this in the House tomorrow.”

Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne said:

“This letter sets out a series of errors that the Home Secretary made in his statement to the House on Monday. He needs urgently now to address those.”

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Olympic contracts must be spread across regions – Foster

Commenting on the news that organisers of the 2012 Olympics are putting £700m of contracts out to tender, Liberal Democrat Shadow Sport Secretary, Don Foster said:

“Increasing opportunities for businesses from across the UK is a key part of the Government’s Olympic Legacy plan.

“The information released today shows that so far a disproportionate number of contracts have been awarded to businesses based in London and the South East.

“It is great that so many contracts are still up for grabs but officials need to make sure that more is done so that all areas of the country benefit.”

Billions lost through benefits fraud and error staggeringly unfair – Webb

Commenting on Government figures showing that £3bn in benefit expenditure last year was overpaid because of fraud and error, Liberal Democrat Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Steve Webb said:

“The Government’s failure to get to grips with the over-complex benefits system is appalling, especially when so much is down to official error.

“It is staggeringly unfair that the taxpayer is forced to stump up billions of pounds just because officials are unable to administer a system of their own creation.

“The benefits system is crucial to help people in a recession. It cannot afford to lose money because of poor administration.

“The benefits system needs to be much simpler, not least so officials can understand it properly.”

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

£1,000 for a UK train journey is scandalous

Commenting on the first £1,000 train fare in Britain being revealed in a survey by the Evening Standard, Liberal Democrat Shadow Transport Secretary, Norman Baker said:

“This is a very unwelcome landmark and will do nothing to encourage people to travel by train.

“When you can fly half way across Europe for £30, the idea that you can end up paying £1,000 for a train journey in Britain is absolutely scandalous.

“Not only are passengers being encouraged off the trains and into their cars, some considering this journey may decide they’d rather fly to Australia and back for half the price.”

(It was revealed that a walk-on first-class return from Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands by Cross-Country now costs over £1000)

Monday, November 02, 2009

Government should not rush to sell off banks

Commenting on Government plans to break up state-owned banks, Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, Vince Cable said: 

“It is obviously right that British retail banking becomes more competitive in order to stop the continual ripping off of customers.

“But there’s no justification for a rapid sell off of state assets in the current depressed environment when the taxpayer will get a very poor deal.

“This is a long-term project and the most important priorities are to make sure banks lend to good customers, especially businesses, in order to stave off deepening recession and growing unemployment and that the taxpayer gets value for money.

“What is particularly worrying is the indication that Lloyds is trying to wriggle out of its agreement to maintain lending to good business customers. If it achieves its objectives this would be an appalling example of the short-term interests of banks being put ahead of national interests.”

It should be noted that the Swiss government made a profit of over 20% when it returned its shares in UBS to the private sector.

Johnson risks undermining Government science advice – Huhne

Commenting on the further resignations of Government drug advisers following the sacking of Professor David Nutt, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne said: 

“These are high profile and damaging resignations. If Alan Johnson does not backtrack quickly, he runs the risk not only of destroying his own Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs but also of undermining the integrity of scientific advice across Government.

“It is absurdly thin-skinned to suggest that a critical editorial in a peer-reviewed learned journal involves campaigning against Government policy. If ministers behave like this, no self-respecting academic will want to advise them.

“The most convincing recipe for bad policy-making – in the drugs area as in mad cow disease – is for politicians to insist on scientific advice that meets their prejudices rather than the facts. If Churchill had taken that view when listening to Lord Cherwell, we would have lost the war. Scientists must be able to tell truth to power.”

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Government still breaching ECHR ruling

More than 90,000 innocent people have been added to the National DNA Database since the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the practice was illegal, according to Liberal Democrat research.

The figures, contained in Parliamentary answers, show that:

· 433,752 DNA profiles have been added to the database since the ECHR ruling on 5 December last year – 1,480 per day;

· 5.5m profiles on the database relating to 4.8m people (13.3% are replicates);

· if we apply the Government’s 2008 estimate that 20.8% of people on the database are innocent to the current total, there are now more than 1m innocent people whose DNA is currently held, including 90,220 since the ruling;

· only 611 profiles have been removed from the database over that period.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, Jenny Willott said:

“It is appalling that the Government has allowed over a million innocent people to be added to the DNA database.

“Despite the European ruling that the practice is a breach of human rights, for every innocent DNA profile removed from the database, around 150 new ones are added.

“The Government’s attempt to store innocent people’s DNA for up to 12 years has been categorically slated by experts, forcing it into an embarrassing climb-down in Parliament.

“The Home Office needs to put an end to this scandal by removing all innocent people from the database once and for all.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

TA too important for political football – Harvey

Commenting on Gordon Brown’s U-turn over funding for the Territorial Army, Liberal Democrat Shadow Defence Secretary, Nick Harvey, said:

“The state of the TA is much too important to be used as a political football in this way.

“It was a shocking error of judgement for the Government to have contemplated this cut in the first place.

“It is a sad fact that Gordon Brown’s moral compass has only managed to kick in in the face of opposition across the board.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Not all Muslims are the same

There is a prompt demonstration of Nick Griffin's poor grasp on religious knowledge coming up this Saturday. The hard-line intolerant factions within Islam in Britain are a minority, as the British Muslims for Secular Democracy hope to show in London.

(What can we expect from a man who seems to believe - Question Time, last Thursday - that Christianity in Britain goes back to the Ice Age.)

Tory banking proposals are short term stop gap – Cable

 Commenting on the Tories’ call for High Street banks to ban the payment of bonuses of more than £2,000 in cash, Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, Vince Cable said: 

“The Tories have been deeply ambivalent on the much more fundamental question of what we do about the future of the banking system. 

“They have not given full backing to Mervyn King’s proposals on splitting up the banks and these bonus proposals are short term, stop gap solutions designed to stem public anger but which fail to get to the heart of the problem. 

“The bonus pool in the banking system derives from the fact that the banks are making profits on the back of taxpayer guarantee. Until a properly regulated structure can be established, banks should be paying the taxpayer a premium for this guarantee.” 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Welsh conferences

The Welsh Liberal Democrats' autumn conference begins this weekend at Glyndwr University, Wrexham.

Next year's spring conference will take place between the evening of Friday, 5th February and the afternoon of Sunday, 7th Febuary in the Grand Theatre, Swansea.

Not all parties are the same

Liberal Democrat Voice has started a web page, which is being updated on the fly, devoted to the response of each Liberal Democrat MP to the Legg letters. So far, the total is less than that which just one Conservative MP, Ken Clarke, is adjudged to have been overpaid.

Speaking on Channel 4 news Nick Clegg called for a ban on MPs using public money in the property market. In an interview with Jon Snow, he said: “I have been saying for months, well before the expenses scandal even hit the front pages of the Daily Telegraph that one of the only ways to really fix this is to get MPs out of the property game altogether make sure they cannot use a penny of taxpayers money to buy or sell properties.”

“The most serious abuses in the system are those MPs that turn themselves from servants of their constituents into sort of spivvy property speculators where they are flipping from one property to the next for very, very large personal profits sometimes hundreds of thousands of pounds of profit and also the systematic evasion of capital gains tax.”

Update 2009-10-20: Ken Clarke was the victim of an arithmetical error in Sir Thomas Legg's office, and his true indebtedness is just over £1000 rather than £4000. It's still substantially larger than any amount a LibDem MP is accused of overclaiming.

Monday, October 12, 2009

BNP must face tougher questioning – Huhne

Commenting on reports that the BBC had subjected members of the BNP to ‘soft’ questioning, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne said:

“The BBC must make sure that it is as quizzical and demanding of the BNP as its presenters are with everyone in politics.

“Now the BNP have got a foothold in elected office, the standard of questions into their position has to increase.

“There must be no soft rides.”

Neath Labour MP Peter Hain would prefer BBC not to give BNP any exposure at all. The Independent reports that his complaint to the corporation about Nick Griffin's imminent appearance on "Question Time" has prompted "a bitter split" with colleagues.

Wrong time to sell assets- Cable

Likening the Government's plan to sell off £16bn worth of assets in an attempt to shore up public finances to a "car boot sale", Vince Cable added: “It may well be that the sale of some assets is a sensible thing to do, but this is not the time to do it, because markets are very depressed. All our previous experience of government is that they sell off at the wrong time.”

Local Authorities are also angered that they will be expected to supply the bulk of asset sales (£11bn of the total), the government clawing back the money by reducing support grant. It is not clear at this time how the plans will affect Wales.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Britain can’t afford a new generation of dirty coal

Commenting on the admission by E.ON’s UK boss that a new coal power plant at Kingsnorth in Kent would be unlikely to install clean coal technology in time to meet the Government’s 2014 deadline, Simon Hughes said:

“Kingsnorth II is now a dead duck. This disclosure should put it out of the running for Government funding. If Kingsnorth doesn’t withdraw itself from the CCS pilot shortlist, it should be removed.

“We need to have a carbon capture demonstration plant up and running by 2014 in order to roll out the technology across the sector by 2020. The Government has already repeatedly dithered over this project, the last thing we need is yet more delay.

“The UK has a great chance to lead the world in the development of carbon capture technology. Kingsnorth must not be allowed to get in the way.”

(In its environment statement - section 3 of this document - E.ON states merely that "Deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) [...] will be considered as an option for GHG emission reduction at the Kingsnorth site by E.ON UK at a later date."

In the mean time, the French have beaten us - and probably the rest of the world - in fitting carbon capture and storage facilities to an operational power station. The Guardian had the story in April. - FHL)

Thursday, October 01, 2009

So, farewell then, Port Talbot & Neath Guardians

Today's issue of the Neath and Port Talbot Guardian is the last. We may have criticised local media on occasions, but we feel this is a sad day for local democracy. An outlet for local news and opinions has been lost.

For large areas of the county borough, there is now no newspaper with even nominal links to the area. The South Wales Guardian continues to serve the north-western towns and villages, it appears, but favours Carmarthenshire. The Evening Post is Swansea-orientated and printed in England. The Western Mail is edited in Cardiff.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fair deal for the "No" campaign

Huw Pudner, a prime mover of the campaign to get Neath Port Talbot tenants to vote "No" to transfer of the council's housing stock, asked for a list of tenants. His claim was that the council provided its officers with a list so that they could put the council's case.

The council rebuts the suggestion. Officers are neutral. Officers call only to check that tenants have received the official documenation. They say that officers never overstate the benefits of transfer. Nevertheless, Pudner demanded equal treatment.

He was given a list. It had no personal names on it. This was perhaps a sensible precaution. The Data Protection Act has things to say about release of personal data for purposes other than that for which they were gathered. Unfortunately, the list is in alphabetical order of names - not very useful for someone wishing to go door-to-door.

We hold no brief for Huw Pudner's militant socialism. Nor do we take a stand on how the tenants should vote. However, we do think the council should avoid any charges of partiality and provide the "No" campaign with the same format of list as officers have.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Campaigning a century ago!

From the Cambridge Daily News of 1909:

A gramophone meeting was held at Fen Ditton in support of the Government's
budget. Some delay was caused by the gramophone having gone wrong but Mr
S. Mallyon lent his machine. First a musical selection was rendered and
then recordings of speeches by the Prime Minister (H.H. Asquith),
Chancellor of the Exchequer (Lloyd George) and President of the Board of
Trade (Mr Winston Churchill) were heard.

Thanks to Colin Rosenstiel for this example of Liberal high tech.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fresh Start for Britain

The Lib Dem Conference in Bournemouth last week saw the party set out
clear priorities for the country:
  • Build a sustainable economy
  • Make society fairer
  • Reform our broken political system
Key policies agreed by the Lib Dems include:
- Investment in green jobs
The Lib Dems will switch Government spending into environmental projects that will create jobs and build a greener future. This will include investment in public transport infrastructure and major energy efficiency schemes.

- Fairer tax system
The Lib Dems will raise the basic allowance to £10,000 - taking millions of people out of paying tax altogether and saving low and middle income earners £700 a year. This will be paid for by closing many of the tax loopholes which benefit the best off.

- Reform politics
The Lib Dems agreed a range of measures to reform the political system. They want to give voters the right to sack MPs who have been shown to be guilty of fraud. They also want to curb big donations to political parties so that no-one can ‘buy’ our political system.

Friday, September 25, 2009

What has David Cameron been smoking?

That was Matthew Oakeshott's response to the Conservative leader's assertion that you couldn't get a cigarette paper between our policies.

Tony Greaves picked up a Guardian leader on the same subject: "You are right to suggest that David Cameron is a 'false friend' (Editorial, 21 September). His suggestion that the Liberal Democrats should join with the Tories to create a 'national movement' is as ridiculous as it is sinister-sounding. But it's a significant moment, because it suggests the Tories have given up hope of winning lots of Liberal Democrat seats at the general election, and are now frightened they won't win an overall majority." (Guardian letters)

Nothing will change unless:

Adrian Sanders MP supports a Bill of Rights

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Vince Cable's speech to conference

Have a look at this page on the Liberal Democrat website.

It is to be hoped that Matthew Oakeshott's contribution to the manifesto debate today will also be put up on the party web-site. His cutting down to size of the Conservative Treasury team had 'em rolling in the aisles.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Coverage of Liberal Democrat federal conference

Peter Black's video diary of the first day is here.

There are also views of other Welsh Liberal Democrat representatives at Freedom Central.

Official bulletins are on the main party web-site.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Last chance in Afghanistan, say Nick Clegg and Paddy Ashdown

"The crucial question on Afghanistan today is not whether this war is important. It is. It is not whether the consequences of failure are serious. They are. It is a much more brutal question: can we win? And the answer is no. Unless we change both our current policies and our present attitudes, failure is inevitable."

Read the full article here.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

European Liberals do not want a super state

Reacting to an op-ed in the Wall Street journal, Liberal International (to which UK Liberal Democrats are affiliated) Deputy President Hans van Baalen MEP has defended ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt against accusations of being a “ideological European federalist who wants to impose heavy European taxes on [citizens] and who wants Europe to become a super state”. Van Baalen states that the ALDE group consists of moderate political forces that combine a “passion for the free market and private enterprise with political freedom, human rights and civil liberties.” He continues, “We European Liberals do not want a European super state but a careful balance between what should be done by the member states of the EU and the Union itself.” Mr van Baalen was elected leader of the VVD (Netherlands) group in the European Parliament in 2009 and sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee as well as the Security and Defence Committee.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Call for nominations for the Liberal International Prize for Freedom 2010

Each year, Liberal International presents the Prize for Freedom to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the promotion of freedom and human rights.

Previous laureates include the late Benazir Bhutto, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Vaclav Havel, Mary Robinson, Aliaksandr Milinkevich and Lord Avebury (Eric Lubbock).

The next Prize for Freedom will be awarded in the year 2010, under the following criteria for the nominees:

1. Individuals who fight for liberal values, promoting freedom of conscience, human rights, democracy and peace
2. Individuals who are key contributors to significant changes in a country or region
3. Individuals to whom this award might offer protection from extreme forms of political persecution
4. LI member party leaders or groups may not be considered except for extraordinary circumstances as the Prize aims to stand behind those who fight for democracies without political protection.

Details at the Liberal International web site.

Question the Leader without going to Bournemouth

Duncan Brack explains how party members can put questions to Nick Clegg and other key figures in the party for answering at Conference in September, without actually attending.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Banks should not be bailed out by credit unions

Join Peter Black AM and Ali Goldsworthy in campaigning to change the government's mind on this.

If like Peter and Ali you think that Credit Unions shouldn’t be bailing out failing banks here are three things you can do to help get the Government to change its mind.

1, In just 1 minute, join the newly established Facebook group

2, In just 3 minutes, once you have joined encourage others to do the same from your friends list. Make sure you include any elected representatives

3, In just 10 minutes, write a note to your MP, saying why you object. If you have a blog publish it on there too.

Remember the Government needs to change its mind by September 1st so this really is urgent.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Taxation without representation: bank money and larceny

Conall Boyle, a member in Margam, writes:

Can I draw your attention to an excellent article in an obscure place?

“The scandal of taxation without representation
George Gabriel, 12 - 08 - 2009
In a modern financial economy where private profit is founded upon and embedded in the social unit, the public must decide what value we will see it create."

The full article can be found at

At last! An excellent article, the first article I've seen which gets to the nub of the matter -- that we need to ‘begin to prize open a topic normally subject to the tightest of technocratic seals’: that it is fractional reserve banking which lies at the heart of the out-of-control money system. I love the description that this is 'taxation without representation', or to put it more bluntly larceny on a grand scale. No wonder they can pay such huge bonuses! They have control of our money, and can in effect make as much of it as they want.

But how did the author stumble on this great wisdom? Most of us ‘money reformers’ are people at the margins. How soon can we have street demos demanding that we get back control of our money?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Liberal Democrat MP calls for greater deaf awareness in Parliament

Liberal Democrat MP Malcolm Bruce (far right in picture) is calling on MPs to lobby the Government on deaf related issues as part of this year's deaf awareness week campaign.

Malcolm wants to strengthen the voice of the deaf community in Parliament further

He is currently Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Deafness, and spoke ahead of the group's annual general meeting later this month. He will update the group on the year's activities and look forward to the year ahead. The group currently has over 100 Parliamentarians from both Houses.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pontardawe Craft Fair

Because of technical difficulties, South Wales West Liberal Democrats will not after all be able to have a stand at the Fair in Pontardawe the weekend after next.

Young people and body images

Liberal Democrat shadow foreign affairs minister (and previously shadow to women's and young persons' portfolios) Jo Swinson's proposals are:

1. Protect children from body image pressure by preventing the use of altered and enhanced images in advertising aimed at under 16s, through changes to Advertising Standards Authority rules. We would work with industry regulators and professionals to find ways to ensure that children have access to more realistic portrayals of women (and men) in advertising.

2. Help women make informed choices by requiring adverts to indicate clearly the extent to which they have been airbrushed or digitally enhanced and altered.

3. Encourage the British Fashion Council and design schools to ensure students are taught to and judged on their ability to cut to a range of sizes and body types.

4. The fashion industry should implement all the recommendations in the Model Health Inquiry, including introducing model health certificates for London Fashion Week.

5. Require cosmetic surgery advertising and literature to give surgery success rates by collecting and publishing Patient Reported Outcome Measures. This would assess whether the surgery had the desired effects.

6. Ensure age-appropriate modules on body image, health and wellbeing, and media literacy are taught in schools.

There is more information and comment in Jo's posting on Liberal Democrat Voice.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Assembly Member to hold advice surgery in Briton Ferry

The Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West, Peter Black, will be holding two advice surgeries this week.

Mr. Black will be in Briton Ferry Library on Friday 7 August from 3pm to 4pm. He will then be available at Gorseinon Library from 4.30pm to 5.30pm.

No appointment is necessary.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Grand Designs on Refurbishment

Thanks to Green Liberal Democrats for putting us on to the demonstration house put up in Westminster by the Great British Refurb campaign.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Willis wants new royal commission on higher education

Being a devolved matter, a forthcoming report by the Commons innovation, universities, science and skills committee has no direct effect in Wales.

However, the last report from the committee tracking the former Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills is expected to be highly critical of universities. That in turn is going to have implications for higher education in this country.

Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrat MP for Harrogate and a former headteacher, is the chairman of the committee. In an interview with The Independent's Lucy Hodges, he said he would like a royal commission to investigate higher education. "The whole system needs a radical rethink because it is not sustainable," he said. "We require another Lord Dearing project."

The whole article is here. One impression should be corrected: Phil announced his decision not to stand at the next election well before the series of Telegraph articles on MPs' expenses claims appeared.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Vince Cable on allowing banks to fail

The government has yet to grapple with the challenge posed by the Governor of the Bank of England: that if a bank (or other institution) is too big to fail it is too big. One approach is to make it easier for big institutions to fail. Resolution powers could be put in place such that large and complex financial institutions can be wound down in an orderly manner. The key assets required to continue the operation or provision of the ‘public service’ would be easily and quickly extractable from the organisations that currently supply the service. Banks would be required to operate in such a way that this separation is possible. Importantly these plans for orderly wind down and separation must be produced by the institutions themselves and subject to approval by the regulator. This will dramatically strengthen the position of the regulator in the event of failure. Sharing information across borders where the bank is operating internationally is vital to ensure that large cross-border banks could be wound down. This approach is however untested and long term at best.

Another approach is to break up the existing big banks so that large scale systemic risk is removed; banks become small enough to fail; and more competition is restored. One version of this argument is that investment banks should be split off from what is called ‘utility’ banking. Various counter arguments, often self serving, are advanced in reply. It is said that small banks (like Northern Rock) as well as big banks (like RBS) collapsed in the latest crisis: true. Also that risk is not necessarily correlated with structure: some investment banking is low risk; some small business and mortgage lending is high risk. Also true. But size matters; if Barclays Capital continue their ambition to be the world’s largest investment bank the British taxpayer will be left footing the bill for any future collapse. This is wholly unacceptable.

We believe big banks must be split up but are open minded about the mechanisms involved. The essential point is that within a realistic time frame the British taxpayer has to be totally disengaged from the risks involved in global investment banking. For existing publicly owned institutions, RBS and Lloyds they should be broken up before they are returned to private ownership. The European Trade Commissioner has already warned of over concentration in the UK market for - for example - mortgages. The Lloyds-HBOS merger should be unscrambled as part of this process and RBS should also be split with its investment banking operations floated off.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Vince Cable on remuneration and bonuses

Just as politicians were very slow to grasp the public reaction to duck islands, moats and house ‘flipping’, the financial community has been extraordinarily obtuse in failing to appreciate why the public is angry about bankers. Without the taxpayer, many bankers would be without a job let alone the huge bonuses that they are enjoying. It could be argued that pay for top footballers is similarly disproportionate but Chelsea and Manchester City do not depend on British taxpayer guarantees. And we know both from experience and economic research that remuneration structures in banking have given incentives to excessive risk taking leading to financial collapse.

What should be done? We can’t do much about Goldman Sachs beyond noting that it was rescued by the American taxpayer a few months ago and is growing fat on the semi-monopoly in investment banking following the collapse it helped to create. But the British authorities can and should do something about financial institutions which are their responsibility. The principles were clearly set out in Lord Turner’s excellent report in March. The problem is that we are getting a lot of talk and no action.

Remuneration policy of regulated financial institutions must be approved by the FSA as a check to ensure that short term risks are not being incentivised that may affect long term stability. The FSA should make publicly available the outcome of assessments made of banks’ remuneration policy and the action taken. Increasing capital requirements could be one tool to enforce this but a fine would send a more powerful message and would provide greater transparency. It should start with the big institutions which incubate systemic risk, not the small fry.

The issue of remuneration in relation to the nationalised or semi-nationalised banks should be more straightforward. The UKFI has direct responsibility and it should exercise it whilst showing an understanding of the need for qualified staff as well as restraint. Despite all of its protestations its role seems largely passive.

Transparency is a minimum requirement. We have argued for highly paid staff, not just Directors, in regulated institutions with a compensation package - say - in excess of the Prime Minister’s £200,000 to publish details of their remuneration. They would also have to confirm that they are normally resident and domiciled in the UK for tax purposes. I see that the Walker Report is adopting a very similar approach to ours, but it is too timid. A voluntary code is pointless. Unless disclosure is mandatory it won’t happen. And we will be back to where we started.

Ultimately, however, regulators can’t and shouldn’t try to manipulate pay like 1970s incomes policy. Progressive taxation has to address the issue of fairness in rewards. The government’s flag waving approach to top tax rates is not a serious approach to this problem. As long as there are huge disparities between top tax rates in earned income and capital gains any half competent tax accountant will arrange for big bonuses to pay 18% on stock rather than 40% or 50% tax on income. Leading tax firms are already drawing up plans to facilitate large scale tax avoidance. We have made it clear that we support a return to the policy of the last Conservative government of taxing income and capital gains at the same rate.