Friday, January 29, 2021

Deaths in prisons soar to record numbers


The coronavirus crisis has pushed the overall rate of prison deaths to a record high, new figures have revealed.

The Liberal Democrats are calling for the Government to release all low-risk prisoners serving short sentences to tackle the spread of Covid-19 in prisons. 

The latest Safety in Custody statistics, released yesterday by the Ministry of Justice, show that 109 prisoners died between October and December 2020 – a 70% increase on the previous three months and the highest quarterly total on record.

Since March 2020, 71 prisoners have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid, and 51 of those deaths are suspected to be due to Covid.

Figures released in September showed that just 316 people were released under the Government's Covid early release schemes since the start of the pandemic – far short of the “up to 4,000” announced by Government in April.

Responding to the figures, Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said:

“Far too many people are dying in our prisons. It is clear the Conservative Government hasn't done nearly enough to protect prison staff, prisoners and our communities from the spread of Covid.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Liberal Democrats have been calling on the Government to release all low-risk prisoners serving short sentences and suspend any new short sentences to alleviate the severe overcrowding, so that prisoners and staff can practice proper social distancing.

“The Government must finally listen to prison governors, public health experts and the Liberal Democrats, and take real action now to end overcrowding in prisons and combat the spread of this cruel virus."


Thursday, January 28, 2021

How the Food Standards Agency could be given a 'licence to kill'


Conservative MPs yesterday voted to overturn safeguarding amendments to a controversial Bill that could give the Food Standards Agency a licence to kill.

The Government’s Covert Human Intelligence Services Bill would create a legal basis for certain public bodies, including MI5, the Food Standards Agency and the Gambling Commission, to give undercover agents complete immunity to commit crimes in the UK.

A cross-party amendment inserted in the House of Lords to rule out murder, torture and sexual violence from being authorised was overturned by Conservative MPs in the Commons this evening. All Liberal Democrat MPs voted to keep the amendment.

Four other amendments were also overturned by the Government, and the Bill will now return to the House of Lords.

Alistair Carmichael, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Home Affairs, said:

"Voting in favour of state-sanctioned murder is another new low in the Conservatives' assault on the rule of law.
"I recognise that not everyone shares my views on every issue. But surely we can agree that the state should not be commissioning murder, torture or rape?
“This is a dangerous Bill from a Conservative Government that is careless with our rights and freedoms. Liberal Democrats will continue working cross-party to try and fix it."

Monday, January 18, 2021

Universal Credit must be extended to carers


The Liberal Democrats are calling for the increase in Universal Credit to be extended to anyone caring for a friend, family member or neighbour who cannot cope without their support. 

Parliament is due to vote today on a motion to scrap the planned £1000 cut in Universal Credit.  Liberal Democrat Work and Pensions Spokesperson Wendy Chamberlain MP is pushing for an amendment which would see unpaid carers as well as others who rely on ‘legacy’ benefits to be awarded the increase too. 

Over 900,000 people across the country rely on carers allowance of less than £70 a week, the lowest paid benefit of its kind.  Many struggle to make ends meet, often relying on foodbanks for themselves as well as those they care for.  Liberal Democrats have led the campaign to support the country’s unpaid carers many of whom are facing extreme financial hardship during the pandemic.

She said:

“On Monday, MPs have the chance to right a huge wrong in our society.  Not only can we vote to scrap the planned £1000 cut in Universal Credit but we can also do more to support the country’s carers.  Just calling for this cut to be cancelled is not enough, carers need help now.

“If Conservative MPs choose to blindly back the Government line then they will have to explain to the country why they can find hundreds of thousands of pounds for their mates and party donors but can’t find an extra £20 a week for our nation’s army of carers.”

Fishing anger should be no surprise - Carmichael

Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland, Alistair Carmichael, has said there should be “no surprise” that seafood exporters have taken to the streets to protest against the disruption they are facing.
Dozens of HGVs have been reported around Whitehall in London demonstrating against the blockages they are facing in trade with the EU. Some reports suggest that protestors intend to dump unsailable seafood cargo in the streets.
Commenting on the protests, Alistair Carmichael said:
“I suspect that it will be a pleasant change for these lorry drivers to be able to drive instead of sitting waiting in a depot or at a port somewhere. It should be no surprise to anyone in Whitehall that our seafood exporters are angry.  That anger will only rise in the coming days if these issues are not resolved.
“Talk of 'teething problems' looks more and more ludicrous with every hour that passes.  Fishermen feel betrayed by those who used and abused their support – they deserve better. The Government has a duty to make good the harms caused by their complacency and incompetence.”

Friday, January 15, 2021

Supreme Court ruling is a lifeline for small businesses

Responding to the news that a Supreme Court ruling is set to force insurers to pay out on disputed coronavirus claims Sarah Olney, Liberal Democrats Spokesperson for Business, said:

"This is an excellent result and will provide a lifeline for many small businesses who have been plagued with worry and financial hardship throughout this pandemic.

"Businesses across the UK paid out thousands of pounds in premiums only to be let down by insurance companies when they needed to claim. 
"Now they will finally be able to get the money they deserve and are entitled to."


Police database blunder is a fiasco


Reacting to the news that 150,000 records were accidentally deleted from the Police National Computer, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Home Affairs Alistair Carmichael, said:
“People will rightly be alarmed that a blunder on this scale is even possible. The Home Secretary must take responsibility and come forward to explain exactly what went wrong, how it went wrong, and what she is doing to make sure it never happens again.
“It’s already the case that far too many crimes go unsolved and too many criminals are never identified. This fiasco risks making our communities less safe and the police’s job even harder, at a time when they are already under enormous pressure.
“Instead of spending her time coming up with ever crueller and more impractical asylum policies, Priti Patel should focus on getting the basics right and keeping people safe.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Tories kill bid to guarantee NHS heroes the right to live in the UK

Lib Dems have vowed to fight for healthcare workers’ rights after a Bill to give them the indefinite leave to remain was effectively axed by the Tory government.

Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine tabled the Immigration (Health and Social Care Staff) Bill 2019-21, which was due for its second reading on Friday.

But the Government have decided to axe all sitting Fridays until the end of March, meaning dozens of Private Members Bills will effectively be killed off.

Ms Jardine’s Bill proposed that all health and social care staff from outside the EU would be granted indefinite leave to remain, giving the peace of mind about their immigration status and granting them rights enjoyed by British citizens.

Christine Jardine said:

“Like the rest of our wonderful NHS and care staff, hundreds of thousands of people from other countries are on the frontlines of the Covid pandemic, putting themselves in harm’s way to make sure we get the care we need.

“The UK should say, loudly and unequivocally, that those who have put their lives at risk for our country are welcome to live in it. That’s what my Bill would do, and I am deeply disappointed that the Government is not even letting it be debated in Parliament.

“I am not giving up. I will urge Ministers again to make Government time available to pass this urgent legislation, which has cross-party support.

“The idea that anyone who has worked so hard to save lives during this emergency might one day be forced to leave should be unthinkable.”

Small businesses need postal subsidy to help them take on Covid


The Government should introduce subsidised postage for small businesses to help them cope with the cost of trading online, according to the Lib Dems. 

Christine Jardine, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for the Treasury, will call for it to be included in a government support package for businesses in an adjournment debate she has secured in Parliament tomorrow (Wednesday).

Christine will also call for the Government to come up with a long term strategy to help businesses cope with the enormous burden of debt that many will now face.

Previously, Christine met Minister Paul Scully and wrote to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak about the postage issue, and has called for an extension to the furlough scheme until at least the summer and support for the millions who are still excluded from Government packages.

Following Mr Sunak’s lacklustre statement in the Commons on Monday, she said:

“It's time we had more than this patchwork approach which does not provide the long term strategy businesses, particularly the retail sector and creative industries, are crying out for.

“I want to see independent shops and companies getting the same sort of financial lifeline that hospitality received, by helping them meet the costs of online and postal services so they are on a level playing field with their giant web-based competitors.

“This government has left millions behind and almost a year into the pandemic, is still deaf to the appeals for action which are now coming from their own backbenches.

“This debate is a chance to air these arguments and demand answers from the Government.”

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Lib Dems: Government must back visa-free tours for musicians

Responding to the news that the UK rejected the offer of visa-free tours for musicians in the EU, Liberal Democrat Culture spokesperson Jamie Stone said:
“The government must provide urgent clarification on what was offered by the EU to enable visa-free touring by UK artists and their crew. Once Covid restrictions are lifted, British artists need to be able to work across the EU with the same ability that has been negotiated for other sectors.
"The Government’s rampage to end free movement will damage our economy, our creativity and our standing in the world. This trade deal is the first trade deal in history to put up barriers to trade instead of tearing them down.
"These new restrictions are a blow to the music industry, which has already suffered so much during the pandemic, and will disadvantage young aspiring musicians the most and may make touring financially impossible for some.
"Live music transcends cultural boundaries and brings people together. Making it more expensive adding overheads further damages an already devastated arts and culture sector which contributes £10.8 billion to the UK economy and is respected throughout the world.”

Lib Dem peers fight to fix Govt’s crimes bill


The House of Lords will vote tomorrow [Monday 11th January] on Liberal Democrat amendments to add crucial safeguards to the Government’s Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill.

The Bill puts into law for the first time powers for various public bodies – including the police and MI5, but also the Environment Agency, the Food Standards Agency and three Government Departments – to authorise undercover informants to commit crimes.

As it currently stands, informants would be given complete immunity for crimes authorised under the Bill, rather than it being for prosecutors to decide that prosecution is not in the public interest. A cross-party amendment co-sponsored by Liberal Democrat peer Brian Paddick [Amdt 1] would remove immunity from the Bill, preserving the status quo.

A separate Liberal Democrat amendment [Amdt 32] would ensure that victims of crimes authorised under the Bill can seek redress through the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. It is backed by the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation Lord Anderson QC, as well as former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd.

The Lords is also expected to vote on another Liberal Democrat amendment [Amdt 6] to raise the threshold for a public body to authorise criminal conduct, from “believing” to “reasonably believing” that it is necessary and proportionate to do so.

Ahead of the debate, Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Home Affairs Brian Paddick said:

“It is undesirable but necessary that police rely on informants and, on occasion, those informants need to be tasked to commit crime. If all this Bill did was to provide the legal authority for that and preserve the status quo, the Liberal Democrats would have no argument with it.

“But the Government’s Bill goes much further than that – unacceptably far. It would allow police officers to give informants total legal immunity to commit any type of crime, with no prior independent authority or oversight, to combat even minor offences.

“The Government has been unable to provide any evidence that such a monumental change in the law is necessary. Parliament should reject it, and that’s exactly what the Liberal Democrats will be voting to do.”


Thursday, January 07, 2021

Lib Dems back high standards for British food and farmers


Liberal Democrat Lords helped defeat the Government by backing a cross-party amendment to the Trade Bill ensuring that future trade agreements meet the UK’s high standards of animal welfare and the environment.

The Conservatives have consistently failed to support such a measure, risking that future trade deals could permit the import of food that fails to meet the UK’s high standards. This puts significant pressure on British farmers.

Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Farming said:

“Farmers across the country are worried about their future - they’re worried that the UK will be flooded with poor quality food that undercuts the food they produce to high environmental and animal welfare standards. 

“The Conservatives have continually failed to protect our farmers from these risks. This amendment will ensure that our farmers are protected and can continue to produce high quality food for our tables. That’s why Liberal Democrats in the Lords supported this amendment. 

“Liberal Democrats back British farmers and will continue to fight to protect our food standards and their livelihoods. British farmers have a vital role to play in helping us tackle climate change and protect our natural environment, driving them out of business will be damaging for everyone. 

Lib Dems slam exaggerated Tory boasts on South Wales police funding as ‘smoke and mirrors’


Local Liberal Democrats have attacked local Conservative boasts about police funding as “smoke and mirrors” that dress up a potential Council Tax rise as if it were extra funding from the Government.

Local Conservatives have claimed that South Wales Police are set to receive an additional £18 million in their funding, thanks to the Conservative Government’s increase to police budgets. However, detailed Home Office figures reveal that the Government is only giving South Wales Police an extra £9.4 million for the financial year 2021-22.

The Conservative figures assume that the local Police and Crime Commissioner will raise the extra £8.4 million through an increase in the Council Tax precept.

Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats say:

 “Too many people feel unsafe in their own homes and walking down their own streets. Our police are overstretched, and most parts of Neath and Port Talbot see no visible policing.

“The Conservatives are desperate to seem tough on crime, but are failing to do enough to actually prevent crime. Their unnecessary cuts to police numbers and youth services contributed to the rise in violent crime.

“And now the Tories are exaggerating the funding they are providing. People in Neath Port Talbot deserve better.” 

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said:

“The Tories’ boasts about police funding are nothing but smoke and mirrors.

“At a time when our police are under enormous pressure, Priti Patel has abrogated her responsibility and passed the buck to local police chiefs.

“It’s just not good enough. The Government must give forces the funding they need to restore proper community policing and make us all safer.”