Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Welsh parliamentarians named in Tim Farron's first team

Baroness Randerson, former AM for Cardiff Central, will be new Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron's spokesperson for transport. Leader in the Assembly Kirsty Williams will speak for Wales.

The full list is as follows:

1. Leader: Tim Farron MP
2. Economics: Baroness Susan Kramer
3. Foreign Affairs/Chief Whip/Leader of the house: Tom Brake MP
4. Defence: Baroness Judith Jolly
5. Home Affairs: Alistair Carmichael MP
6. Health: Norman Lamb MP
7. Education: John Pugh MP
8. Work and Pensions: Baroness Zahida Manzoor
9. Business: Lorely Burt
10. Energy and Climate Change: Lynne Featherstone
11. Local Government: Mayor of Watford, Cllr Dorothy Thornhill
12. Transport: Baroness Jenny Randerson
13. Environment and Rural Affairs: Baroness Kate Parminter
14. International Development: Baroness Lindsay Northover
15. Culture Media and Sport: Baroness Jane Bonham-Carter
16. Equalities: Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece
17. Justice/Attorney General: Lord Jonathan Marks
18. Northern Ireland: Lord John Alderdice
19. Scotland: Willie Rennie MSP, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats
20. Wales: Kirsty Williams AM, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
21. Campaigns Chair: Greg Mullholland MP
22. Grassroots Campaigns: Cllr Tim Pickstone, Chair of the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors
Introducing the team, Tim Farron said:

“I am delighted to be able to announce my team of party spokespeople. The team I am announcing today is the Liberal voice that Britain desperately needs.
“It features some of the best campaigners that the party has, balanced with the experience and economic credibility that our party has developed over the last five years in government.
“It was important to me to be able to call on the advice and experience of people at all levels of our party and I believe we have an excellent team to lead the Lib Dem fight back.
“Together, we will take our ideas, our values and our liberal messages to every corner of Britain. We will make the case for housing, immigration, Europe, environmentalism and human rights.”

Hat-tip to Liberal Democrat Voice.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tim Farron's speech on the Welfare Reform And Work Bill

In the second reading debate on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill yesterday evening, Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said:

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): We are very clear: we cannot and will not support the Bill. If it did what it said on the tin, there might be much to commend it, but it does not. The Government pledge a living wage that even they know is not one, they want a welfare state that is anything but good for our country’s welfare, and they use the guise of economic necessity to cover up ideologically driven cuts. Tonight, we will vote against the Bill because we know that the depth and character of the proposals are unfair, unwise and inhuman, and anything but economically necessary.
In truth, the Government do not have to take £12 billion from the poorest families in the country, mostly working families, but are choosing to do so. No amount of political spin will protect the individuals who have to live with the reality, not the words. Calling something a living wage when it is not does not make it a living wage, calling housing affordable when it is not affordable does not make it affordable, and labelling the Bill as progressive does not make it progressive. In the end, the consequences of these actions for Britain will speak louder than the Chancellor’s attempts to change the definition of his words.
The proposals on employment and support allowance—support designed to help people who, through no fault of their own, face more barriers to work than most—will not help into work people with depression, fluctuating conditions, schizophrenia or physical conditions that make more difficult the ordinary tasks that many of us take for granted. In fact, they will act as a ridiculous disincentive. Almost 500,000 people will see their vital support cut by one third once they apply to the new system, meaning that if they are on the existing support, they will lose it as soon as they get a job, even on a short-term contract. It is a disincentive to work and will trap people on welfare, not liberate them.
The Chancellor has chosen to implement a counterproductive policy that demonises people with disabilities and mental health conditions. I am disappointed by Labour’s confusion over the Bill. To give in to the narrative that the answer to our country’s needs is to pit the working poor against the temporarily-not-working poor is shameful. Cutting tax credits, tightening the benefit cap and ramping up the right to buy is not just morally wrong but economically wrong; widening inequality is not just against British decency but economically stupid.
Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): Of course, we accepted some of the changes to welfare in the last Parliament, but this goes too far. Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the effect on young people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in need of housing benefit? Why should they be excluded from the same rights that any other citizen in this country has if they have need of the safety net?
Tim Farron: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. In many ways, young people are the biggest victims of the Bill. I think of young people being supported by housing benefit—for example, in the location of a Foyer, such as the wonderful Foyer in Kendal—and who thereby have access to work, training and further development opportunities. Taking housing benefit away from young people is not just morally wrong but utterly counterproductive, because it will prevent them from accessing work and other life opportunities.
We will stand for the thousands of people in work and yet in poverty, and for the millions of people who might not be personally affected but who do not want to see inequality grow in Britain. Instead, we want a direction for the country that combines economic credibility with truly socially progressive policies, which is why we will continue to make the case for using capital investment to build houses and strengthen our economy for the long term, and for a welfare system that understands the needs of people with mental health conditions and helps them back into work, rather than putting them under the kind of pressure that simply makes them worse.
The reduction in the incomes of poor families in work comes at the same time as the Government are giving inheritance tax cuts to millionaires, cutting corporation tax for the richest firms and refusing to raise a single extra penny in tax from the wealthiest people—for example, through a high-value property levy. We will continue to speak for the millions of people who are young, who suffer from mental health problems, whose parents have no spare rooms or spare income, who do not have parents at all, or who have more than two children. The Liberal Democrats will stand up for families, whether they are hard-working or just desperate to be hard-working. We will not let the Conservatives through choice, or the Labour party through their silence, unpick our welfare system.
All Liberal Democrat MPs voted for the official Labour reasoned amendment but also against the Bill after the amendment was lost.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

European Parliament rejects secret courts as part of TTIP deal

The European Parliament research service recently posted the following summary of its recommendations to the European Commission over the transatlantic trade deal negotiations. The parliament reasserts the need to maintain EU health and safety standards. It also demands an open mechanism for dispute resolution rather than the much-condemned ISDS. Finally, it emphasises that the treaty can in the end be blocked by the EP if its conditions are not met.

The European Parliament takes citizens’ concerns on TTIP very seriously. Thus it is following the talks very closely to ensure that the agreement’s benefits do not come at an unacceptable cost. That is why MEPs will scrutinise and debate any text that emerges from the negotiation process before approving or not the EU-US trade deal.

Recommendations to the European Commission

TTIP: EP recommendations for an EU-US trade deal
© Wolfisch / Fotolia
The European Parliament adopted on 8 July 2015 itsrecommendations to the European Commission on the negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). According to these recommendations an EU-US trade deal must open up US market access for EU firms, but must not undermine EU standards, as explained in the respective Parliament press release.
An EU-US agreement needs to ensure “the highest levels of protection of health and safety in line with the precautionary principle laid down in Article 191 TFEU, consumer, labour environmental and animal welfare legislation and of cultural diversity that exists in the EU”, MEPs write in their recommendations to the TTIP negotiators.

No to ISDS

Furthermore, the Parliament requests “to replace the investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system with a new system for resolving disputes between investors and states which is subject to democratic principles and scrutiny, where potential cases are treated in a transparent manner by publicly appointed, independent professional judges in public hearings and which includes an appellate mechanism, where consistency of judicial decisions is ensured, the jurisdiction of courts of the EU and of the Member States is respected, and where private interests cannot undermine public policy objectives.”

Negotiation process

From the very beginning of the negotiation process, Parliament underscored European values and standards that it wishes to see upheld in the course of the talks as outlined in its resolution of 23 May 2013, adopted before the trade negotiations started.
As with all free trade agreements, the European Commission is negotiating the agreement on the basis of negotiating directivesissued by the EU governments, which were finally declassified.
At the European Parliament’s insistence, the European Commission committed to enhanced transparency and agreed to publish the EU position documents. It also decided to grant all MEPs access to the restricted negotiating documents with the use of a special ‘reading room’. They are not allowed to share these documents publicly but they can get an insight into the progress of the talks.
The European Parliament does not take part in these negotiations, but there can be no final agreement without its approval. Parliament has to either approve or reject the final text, although it is not legally able to modify its provisions. However, by drawing up recommendations on agreements such as TTIP, Parliament sends a message on what it wants to see in the final agreement.

Further information

Parliament has launched the specialised webpages ‘The European Parliament and the TTIP‘ and ‘TTIP: risks and opportunities‘.
Working documents and information about the current state of play in the negotiations are available on the Commission’s TTIP webpage.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Some thoughts on the Summer Budget

For Liberal Democrats, this is obviously a difficult day. Our party spent five years preventing the Conservatives from implementing policies that we felt were unfair, as well as introducing distinctive Lib Dem policies that made our recovery fairer and more sustainable. Sadly, yesterday’s budget shows the real difference that Liberal Democrats made in government, and are no longer able to make after May’s elections.

Welfare Cuts – The first of an excessive £12 billion in cuts which will fall disproportionately on the poorest. Also, limiting child tax credits and universal credit payments to only cover the first two children in a family sets a worrying precedent for any future Tory changes to child benefit. Student 

Maintenance – We protected the maintenance grants for the poorest students and prevented any changes to this in the last parliament. Now the Tories are turning it into a loan and adding it onto students’ debt.

Green Energy – We created a system of subsidies for renewable energy production, funded by taxes on energy companies, to shift our economy away from our dangerous reliance on carbon. In government, we more than doubled the amount of energy the UK gets from renewable sources. Described by David Cameron as “green crap”, these taxes and subsidies are now being slashed. This is a tragically short-sighted cut that undermines the promising green energy foundations we have spent five years struggling to create.

Housing – The mass sell-off of housing association properties is a shameful example of short-term Tory electioneering at the expense of the social fabric of our communities. The plans for replacement of properties are threadbare and this whole plan has been ill thought-through. Now, these plans are being joined by the removal of housing benefit for Under-21s, which is going to make it even harder for young people and the less well off to find a home in our communities.

These are just four areas where the absence of Liberal Democrats in government will soon be felt. There will, no doubt, be more - such as protecting the Human Rights Act and fighting the Snooper's Charter.

Locally and nationally, we will continue to campaign for a fairer Britain. You can join us in this campaign by clicking here. Join us today, and help us continue the fight to protect our environment, our civil liberties, our housing and welfare systems, and fairness in higher education.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Welsh Government's Renting Homes Bill is a disaster waiting to happen

As reported on Wales Online, Liberal Democrat housing spokesman Peter Black has voiced the party's objections to a measure which purports to make it simpler to rent a home in Wales.

He has warned that the Lib Dems may vote down the Renting Homes Bill if changes aren't made.

He said: “This bill from Labour is a disaster waiting to happen, and we will vote it down unless there are significant changes."

Peter asserts that the Bill may even breach the Human Rights Act.

“Removing the 6 month minimum tenancy rule will put tenants in a much more uncertain and insecure position, especially given more and more vulnerable people are to be placed in the private sector under this bill.

“Housing is yet another area of abject failure for this Welsh Labour Government. With fewer than half the houses that Wales needs being built, Labour’s poverty of ambition is driving the dream of affordable housing out of reach of too many people.”

Monday, July 06, 2015

Welsh Liberal Democrats accuse government of casual attitude to domestic abuse

South Wales West Liberal Democrat AM Peter Black is concerned that the Welsh Government has given only part time status to a domestic abuse programme advisor.

He said: “This Bill was controversial from the outset as many people felt it did not go far enough to tackle domestic abuse and sexual violence.

“In particular, all three opposition parties were concerned that sufficient and appropriate mechanisms were being put in place to mainstream education on relationships in schools.

“I am shocked therefore that the recent advert for the National Adviser says: 'The hours expected to fulfil this role will be part-time'.

“It seems to me that co-ordinating the various bodies involved in delivering this service, advising ministers on important issues such as funding and overseeing the important education agenda is in fact a full time job.

“We need much more information and assurances on this matter. Will the national adviser have a team of staff for support, for example, or will they be expected to fulfil the role individually? The government must not backtrack on this vital role."