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  • 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:
  • Mar 3, 2015:
    • Maternity Services (Morecambe Bay) | Royal Assent | Commons debates

      I, too, want to the thank the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State for their entirely appropriate contributions, both the statement and the response, on this immensely sensitive and deeply personally upsetting series of circumstances. I want especially to pay tribute to the families who lost loved ones as a result of what Dr Kirkup referred to as

      "serious failures of clinical care".

      He refers to the report as a damning indictment.

      The dignity and determination of parents such as James Titcombe and Carl Hendrickson have led to this awful truth being laid bare today. Those parents are an inspiration to me, and they should be to all of us. I want to pick up on one point in particular that was raised during the Secretary of State's statement. Dr Kirkup expresses disquiet that the NHS and the parliamentary ombudsman chose not even to investigate what has now been shown to be the needless deaths of at least 11 babies and at least one mother. May I press the Secretary of State to go further than he has in his statement and do everything in his power to ensure that the watchdog for patients is not a lapdog for senior managers? Patients need a powerful, effective independent investigator who listens to those who grieve, like the Morecambe Bay families, and not one who dismisses them without even an investigation.

    • EU Membership (Renegotiation) | Oral Answers to Questions - Foreign and Commonwealth Office | Commons debates

      The Foreign Secretary has kindly shared with us that he has spoken to 23 other member states and that they all support the United Kingdom's remaining in the European Union. Can he tell us whether he supports Britain remaining in the European Union? Does he understand the damage that his policy is doing to British business and British interests in order to maintain a temporary peace in his party?

  • Mar 2, 2015:
  • Feb 26, 2015:
    • National Parks | Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs | Written Answers

      To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what discussions she has had on the inclusion of proposals to introduce direct elections to National Park authorities through the draft Governance of National Parks (England) and the Broads Bill; and with which people or organisations those discussions have taken place.

  • Feb 23, 2015:
  • Feb 12, 2015: