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  • Sep 9, 2015:
    • Humanitarian Crisis in the Mediterranean and Europe | Opposition Day - [6th allotted day] | Commons debates

      I will not give way.

      We expect our Governments to lead and not to follow, but over the past week we have found that this Government have followed. I am glad that they have, but it is a great shame that it took months, and the public outcry after that tragic photograph, to bring them to the table. In the past 24 hours or so we have seen the Government commit to what I suggest-forgive me if you think this is cynical-is the least they think they can get away with in the face of public opinion. I want to encourage us all to commit to the most we can do, for the benefit of our collective humanity, for those refugees and for our nation's standing in the world.

    • Humanitarian Crisis in the Mediterranean and Europe | Opposition Day - [6th allotted day] | Commons debates

      I will not give way; I want to make progress.

      By limiting the number of refugees we will take to a maximum of 20,000 over five years, the Prime Minister lets down many thousands of refugees. As others have said before me, we support Jean-Claude Juncker's proposals for an EU common plan. That makes sense and would add to the UK's stature in these matters. As was mentioned earlier, the UK's response has been tardy and has not been good, although it is better today than it was a day or two ago. However, there are others whose contribution is utterly risible, not least Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. They are wealthy countries that our Government have close connections with. What moral authority do our Government have in banging those countries' heads together to get them to play a role when they themselves have been dragged to the table so reluctantly? This is about moral authority as much as anything else.

    • Humanitarian Crisis in the Mediterranean and Europe | Opposition Day - [6th allotted day] | Commons debates

      I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. It was exactly the reason why I raised the issue of the DFID funding. It is right that

      funds should be given to local communities to allow for that resettlement. My key concern is that we are taking from the DFID budget, and therefore taking from that 0.7%, in order to fund this work. That money should come from other sources. We ought to remember that the 0.7% commitment to international aid is about conflict prevention, to make sure that the refugee crisis does not get worse in the years to come. It is short-sighted to raid the DFID budget in order to fund refugee settlement; the money should come from other sources.

      I am bound to decry the fact that this Government refuse once again to co-operate with others in the European Union on a collective approach. That affects our standing in the EU and the world. We are seen as a country that turns its back on its neighbours, that is not a good team player and that is not able to roll up its sleeves collectively to try to make a difference. The Prime Minister will spend time over the coming months in the capitals of Europe trying to build the case for concessions so that he can make the case for a yes vote in an EU referendum. What chance has he now of getting concessions from people who believe he has been such a non-team player over this most critical issue? He has damaged Britain's standing and he has potentially put at greater risk Britain's membership of the European Union.

    • Humanitarian Crisis in the Mediterranean and Europe | Opposition Day - [6th allotted day] | Commons debates

      My right hon. Friend is correct. It is a great shame. The story of the coalition on this issue is that all the Liberal Democrats and all the Conservatives who were in Government positions supported that target, but there were dozens and dozens of Conservative Back Benchers who, if they had had their way, would have taken that money away.

    • Humanitarian Crisis in the Mediterranean and Europe | Opposition Day - [6th allotted day] | Commons debates

      I pay tribute both to the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), who is not in his place at the moment, for his speech and to the Scottish National party for its collegiate approach to this debate; it is massively to its credit. The language of this debate has been thoughtful and positive. We must acknowledge that over the past couple of months the language has not always been so conciliatory or so thoughtful. Only six weeks or two months ago, we heard people, including the Prime Minister, use phrases such as "migrants swarming through Europe".

      I took the opportunity at the beginning of August, during the recess, to go to the Jules Ferry camp in Calais and spend some time there. That does not make

      me an expert, but I discovered a number of things. First, I found that these "swarms of economic migrants" included far fewer people than the media presented. They were not economic migrants, not that there is anything disgraceful about that, but were by any sensible definition refugees from Syria, Eritrea, Sudan and Afghanistan-from places that meant they were fleeing war, tyranny and instability. It was clear to me that although the vast majority of the people were men there were far more women and children than appeared from what was being presented.

      I took the chance to talk to about 20 or so refugees and quiz them about their desire to come to the UK. Their answer was that they wanted to come to the UK because it represents the good life-"Ah!" I hear from some on the Tory Benches, "They are coming here to sponge off us." But no, when I drilled down about what the good life meant to those people I found that it meant stability, peace, an absence of conflict, civilisation and being able to bring their kids up and work their socks off without the fear of losing their home or their family. That is what Britain's good life is and that is why we are an attractive place to be. Let us not decry that; let us be dead proud of the fact that we have that reputation.

      Volunteers in the camp are painfully aware of where Britain stands, and of the fact that, when it comes to asylum applications, France takes more than twice the number we do every year and Germany five or six times the number. The thought that we are being targeted to be sponged off by economic migrants swarming through Europe is dishonest and not true. I came away from Calais with the overall impression that the Prime Minister, the Government and indeed others were reacting not to the reality-they have no excuse not to react to it as they have far better access to research than I do-but to the political story. That is shameful. When they react with dogs, tear gas and fences, that is a political reaction and not the way to solve the problem and make things better.

      I said that language is important, but a picture is important too. A week ago, the decision by The Independent, in particular, to print the absolutely heartbreaking picture of the body of Alan Kurdi was one of the most powerful things any journalist could choose to do. There are times when we are critical of the media, but we should be dead proud that that newspaper and others chose to print the picture. It was edgy, it was appallingly hard to look at as a father-I find it hard even to imagine it now-but it changed the tone of the debate in this country. A week ago, there was no plan whatsoever from those on the Government Benches to make the kind of proposals that were made yesterday. They were made because they were led by British public opinion and I am proud of the British public and how they led that change in the debate.

      We all have our own stories, but we should all be proud of the values shown in the response of the British people, whatever part of the United Kingdom we come from. In my patch, hundreds of people have offered accommodation, food, money and other things, and that is a reminder that this is not accidental, not a rare thing. It is true to our character as a nation and as a family of nations. It is 70 years since half of the children from Auschwitz arrived-where? It was on the banks of Windermere, believe it or not, in probably the least diverse constituency in the country. Between Windermere and Ambleside, on the banks of the lake,

      were 350 survivors from the camps at Auschwitz and elsewhere-mostly 13, 14 and 15-year-old lads, including the great Ben Helfgott, who went on to lift weights for Britain in the Olympics in the 1950s but came as a little lad from Auschwitz. The reception of the people in the south Lakeland area to those people was immense. It was true to their character then and the response to today's refugee crisis is true to their character today. I am proud of them.

      I also share a sense of admiration, and even a little envy, when I look at the German response and leadership of the response to the refugee crisis. For what it is worth, I am always up for Scotland, and that support is always repaid, I know, when Scots are so fervently up for England when we play games of various sorts.

      Germany's response to the refugee crisis has added to its standing in the world, it has made it more relevant in the world, and it will clearly be of economic value in the years to come. The Liberal Democrats welcome the plan set out by the Government yesterday to take up to 20,000 refugees, but we are bound to criticise many of the details, not least the fact that we are proposing to take up to 20,000 over five years, so over five years we will take, at best, as many people as the Germans will take in a weekend. We are also critical of the fact that no hope is offered for those in transit. Those are many of the people who are in most danger, under most threat, and for whom we should have most concern.

      I am one of two people in the Chamber who would make the point that the commitment of 0.7% of GDP to international aid was achieved with the Liberal Democrats in government, with our unanimous support. Although the Secretary of State and others rightly claim credit for it too, I can point out that there was nobody on my Back Benches decrying the Government commitment to that 0.7%.

    • Her Majesty the Queen | Commons debates

      It is a great honour to be able to pay tribute to Her Majesty on this very important day. I have only managed to meet Her Majesty on two occasions; obviously in the years to come I expect an audience more regularly. On the first occasion I met her, she gave me advice on how to cope with casework. On the second occasion, on her visit to Kendal in Westmoreland, there was very nearly an incident when a very well-meaning local councillor, Councillor Walker, decided to-I can only say-lunge across a crowd of 30 or 40 people carrying a bar of Kendal mint cake to offer to Her Majesty, which she accepted with great grace, looking forward, I am sure, to enjoying it. I have to say that the security services were less excited-or rather very excited-by that lunge. I also thank Her Majesty for the occasion of her silver jubilee in 1977, when she gave me my first, and so far only, experience of being able to dance around a maypole.

      We are, as a civilisation, very keen to categorise ourselves by our generations. Are we baby boomers; are we Thatcher's children; are we generation X? The fact is that all of us here are New Elizabethans. We have all have lived through that age-those 63 years and 216 days -when Queen Elizabeth II has reigned over us all. The values that she has embodied, which stand for all of us here, are about decency, about service, about civilisation, about stability, and about family. They are things that underpin our civilisation. It is all the more important that we recognise that Her Majesty occupies the most senior position in our society-indeed, the most privileged position in our society-but her conduct is marked by humility and service, not claiming the grandeur of office. On this great day, on behalf of my party and my county, I pay tribute to her service and her humility. Long live the Queen.

  • Jul 20, 2015:
    • Welfare Reform and Work Bill | Commons debates

      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.

    • Welfare Reform and Work Bill | Commons debates

      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.

  • Jul 6, 2015:
  • Jun 3, 2015:
    • Tributes to Charles Kennedy | Oral Answers to Questions - Prime Minister | Commons debates

      I was elected to this House on 5 May 2005, and Charles Kennedy was my party leader. In the weeks running up to that election, he was meant to pay a visit to Westmorland and Lonsdale-to the University of Cumbria, Ambleside-but in the event he had a very good excuse for missing that appointment, which was the birth of Donald. I remember

      the immense pride we felt in having Charles as our leader, and the immense pride he felt in becoming a father.

      I won my seat at that election by 267 votes. When a candidate wins by that small amount, everything counts. I am quite sure that the additional publicity of Donald's birth contributed to the capturing of Westmorland after 96 years of Tory rule.

      As the months went by, I did not get a phone call. There were a good number of us and many were appointed to positions in junior shadow ministries and junior junior shadow ministries. Then in September I got the phone call from Charles. He said, "I'm sorry I haven't given you a job. I just completely forgot about you." He asked me whether I would like to be the youth affairs spokesperson, which was obviously an entirely natural fit. That was the only time I ever felt forgotten by Charles. A year before that, I lost my mother-she was a year younger than Charles at his passing-after a long and pretty horrific illness. I remember seeing him when I was among dozens of other candidates, and he knew exactly about the situation that I and my family were going through, and he showed immense compassion. He never stopped asking me about the situation. When she passed away, he asked me how I was. That was the measure of the man. He went through some very difficult things in terms of his personal health, but he was always primarily concerned about the wellbeing of others.

      Charles was a persuader; he was able to reach people in their gut. People make up their minds on the basis of all sorts of things, but generally speaking we can only move people if we can get them in the gut. He was the only Social Democratic party MP ever to gain his seat in a general election. Four years later, when the SDP and the Liberals merged, he argued on the conference floor against his own leader, David Owen. We could see the faces of people in that hall as they changed their minds. Charles Kennedy had reached into their hearts and turned them.

      To my mind, what Charles was so good at was his ability to communicate and get to people, and it was not contrived. People say that Charles Kennedy was human. Yes, he was, but he was not contrived. The first time that I went on, I think, "Any Questions" a few years ago, he gave me a piece of advice. He just said, "Be yourself." Charles was successful because he was himself. If any hon. Member is ever invited on to "Have I Got News For You", my advice is, "Say no, unless you want to be made out to be a prat or unless you are Charles Kennedy."

      Charles had a natural ability to communicate with people, because he was absolutely himself. That humanity is one thing; his principle has been spoken of several times, but it cannot be said enough that his stance against the Iraq war seems like the populist and right thing to do today. Twelve years ago, it was not. He was surrounded by people baying at him as though he was somehow Chamberlain or an appeaser of Saddam Hussein, and The Sun had a front-page picture of Charles Kennedy the anti-patriotic rattlesnake. By golly, someone must be doing something right when that happens!

      Charles Kennedy was principled and he changed people's minds, and he was right. He was human; he was principled; and he was effective. He led our party to the largest number of Members of Parliament since

      Lloyd George's day. I suggest that that humanity, that principle and that effectiveness-those three things-are connected. If we want to understand why Charles Kennedy was great, we should realise that it was because he was himself. People say that politicians should have a life outside politics before they become Members of Parliament. Maybe. Charlie was elected at 23. It is hard to argue that he did. The reality is that it is not what you have done, it is who you are, and Charles Kennedy was a very, very special man. Donald, you should be really proud of your daddy. I am proud of your daddy. I loved him to bits. I am proud to call him my friend. God rest you, Charlie.

  • Mar 17, 2015:
    • Backbench Business - Shaker Aamer | Oral Answers to Questions - Justice | Commons debates

      I add my congratulations and thanks to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) for bringing this matter to the House. The quality of speeches on all sides, the power of the points made and, more importantly, the unity in the Chamber are a source of encouragement and underline the level of frustration and incredulity that something so self-evidently wrong and outrageous should continue in the face of such incontrovertible evidence. Along with right hon. and hon. Members on all sides, I want to state our conviction that Shaker Aamer is an innocent man and is being treated unjustly. We stand resolutely with his family, who continue to endure the separation and division of their family, awareness of Shaker Aamer's ill health and the realisation of the appalling treatment that he has unjustly and inhumanly received for all these years.

      We say sometimes that a person is innocent until proven guilty. We should clarify that and say "unless proven guilty". In this case, there is no guilt to be proven. As a number of colleagues have said, two US Presidents, Bush and Obama, have both in effect cleared Shaker Aamer for release, yet here we still are. Shaker Aamer's incarceration, his being subjected to torture, and the length of time involved-13 or 14 years now-is an outrage. The man has not seen his youngest child. This is an absolutely immoral outrage. It is perhaps even more outrageous that this blot on our collective conscience occupies so little space in the consciousness of people in western society.

      I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says about the reasons the United States has given, or continues to give, for the failure to release Shaker Aamer, yet the reality is that no excuse would be good enough. We understand that there is a dispute over whether, as the Americans want, he is released to Saudi Arabia or whether, as we want, he is released to the United Kingdom. That is not an acceptable excuse. This man belongs here; his family are here. There is no just reason whatsoever why he should not be released now, and released to this country. I hope that the United States takes some notice of what is meant to be its strongest and most loyal ally, the United Kingdom, and what is said here in the Parliament of that country. Will it take notice of the fact that, in our eyes and in the eyes of many other people in the civilised world, this is the behaviour of an extremist regime-the kind of behaviour that we would expect the United States to castigate, as the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) so rightly said?

      Speaking as somebody who counts himself as a Liberal Democrat and has a habit of instinctively lionising President Obama, may we somehow communicate to him the fact that this is an appalling stain on his legacy, on his record, and even on his character? Either he is not sufficiently important and powerful to make sure that these things happen, or he is a man who is not of his word. We should be appalled by this and say to him, as strong friends, that this is a stain on his legacy and on his record. It is also a massive strain on UK-US relations; perhaps it should be an even greater strain than it is.

      I want to make three brief points. First, the justice and humanitarian arguments are incontrovertible. We would like to hear from the Minister what the United States Government have been saying to our Government. Secondly, as I am sure Members on both sides of the House will testify, when one is a UK citizen, one has, all over the world, a sense of shared responsibility about the actions of other western nations. The moral authority of "the west", if we can call it that, is undermined by the continued presence of Guantanamo Bay itself, and by the continued incarceration of the innocent man, Shaker Aamer.

      Thirdly, as the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) said, there is the issue of American self-interest. This continued action is absolutely not in America's self-interest. The Americans may well fear that Shaker Aamer has things to say that they would consider to be against the American interest if they came into the public domain. Well, tough-if those things have happened, they must be known and we must hold this United States Administration, and previous ones, to account for them. The continued incarceration of this innocent man is far more of a threat to America's interests.

      America has already-perhaps we are culpable too-acted in ways that have demonstrated a lack of understanding of some of the geopolitical problems that we face, not least the rise of ISIS. America has failed to understand what territory means to ISIS, and that it is not just another guerrilla Islamist extremist outfit but has an immense sense of theological destiny. We must understand its ideology, because if we fail to do so, it will become an even greater threat to world peace and security. We must also understand that while the motivation of al-Baghdadi and many others at the heart of that regime is theological and ideological-even apocalyptic-those who are going to help him and it have very different, much more political motivations. Many of those motivations come from the sense that western countries, and America in particular, specifically in relation to Guantanamo Bay, are acting in ways that deserve a response and a resistance-an insurgency-with ISIS as its torchbearer. It is not in America's interests to continue to pour petrol on that fire.

      The incarceration of Shaker Aamer is unjust, wicked, and fundamentally counter-productive to America's self-interest and ours. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

    • Mediterranean Sea | Home Office | Written Answers

      To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what her estimate is of the number of deaths amongst refugees in the Mediterranean in the first two months of (a) 2015, (b) 2014 and (c) 2013.

  • Mar 16, 2015:
  • Mar 10, 2015:
    • Mediterranean Sea | Home Office | Written Answers

      To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what estimate her Department has made of the number of migrants who have drowned in the Mediterranean since the end of Operation Mare Nostrum and the start of Operation Triton.

  • Mar 6, 2015: