Welcome to the Weekly Whip. Your one-stop shop for Lib Dem Parliamentary updates, covering the week that was and the week to come.
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Weekly Whip w/c 14th December
Monday 14th December
Monday Morning = Hancock Statement.
This week opened just like any other, a Matt Hancock update on Covid-19. Cases are on the rise as we head into the Christmas period and the Lib Dems have long called for a joint approach between the four nations. No one wants to be ‘the Grinch’, but Munira Wilson and Tim Farron called on the government to at least review the Christmas rules in light of warnings from medical journals and scientific advisors that we could see sharp rises in case numbers in January and February, critical months for the NHS. Unnecessary deaths in the new year, as we inch closer towards the light at the end of the tunnel, would be a preventable tragedy for this country.
The main business of the day, before the general debate on Covid-19, was more consideration of the Lords Amendments to the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. This has been an extraordinary process of ‘Ping-Pong’ between the two Houses. As the Lords continue to seek to protect the powers of devolved nations, as agreed in the common frameworks process post-Brexit, the government continues to remove their important provisions which have received cross-party support. This has been an ongoing fight for months. The government’s ignorance towards devolution, the SNP’s ignorance towards separation, and Labour’s pure disinterest in anything that doesn’t concern their own internal politics, has left the Lib Dems as the only reasonable voice in the Chamber.
After a quick hour debate on the same issues that we’ve been going back and forth on for weeks, the following business was the general debate on Covid-19, attended by Layla and Tim. Watch what they had to say below.
Like all of us, I want everyone to have the best possible Christmas. But, regrettably, relaxing restrictions over Christmas in the current circumstances threatens a third spike in January. Yesterday, I called on the Govt to rethink their plans. Today, it seems are. Watch 👇 pic.twitter.com/7d0UgyH53f— Layla Moran 🔶 (@LaylaMoran) December 15, 2020
The Government has a clear choice:— Tim Farron (@timfarron) December 15, 2020
It can continue to refuse to give hospitality, tourism and leisure businesses the support they need to survive the winter
It can introduce a new round of £10k support grants so those businesses are ready to lead our economic fightback. pic.twitter.com/MxJtyvS1vR
Tuesday 15th December
Tuesday was a strange day as it was relatively quiet. The whispers about deal or no-deal continued within Westminster, but we had to focus on legislative duties in relation to the end of the transition period. The big theme this week was the government’s poor leadership and mismanagement of the legislative process.
Parliament has needed to legislate for the dry technical details ahead of 31st December, the deadline for any trade deal with the EU to be ratified, but the government only suddenly realised this now. On Tuesday, the government introduced an entire Bill (the third Bill they have suddenly introduced in the last couple of weeks) for the House to consider the next day.
How are MPs supposed to do their job if legislation is sent to them one night before it is due to be passed into law? I will leave it to Gromit to sum up the government’s performance this week.
Wednesday 16th December
Two important Urgent Questions started us off on Wednesday: the effect of new changes to immigration rules on asylum seekers, and the UK’s response to evidence of the Chinese government’s use of slave labour in Xinjang.
Alistair Carmichael virtually called into the first UQ, and asked a question about the proposed ‘safe and legal’ routes to sanctuary for unaccompanied refugee children.
Raising concerns in Parliament today about the Government's plans for a refugee system after December 31st. Deeply concerning that ministers had to be dragged to the House by the Speaker - it is vital that we have safe, legal routes for vulnerable people in need of help. pic.twitter.com/4Ei2nm8olq— Alistair Carmichael (@amcarmichaelMP) December 16, 2020
Layla Moran also virtually joined for the second UQ, noting that citizens across the country would be abhorred to know that their products were made with slave labour. She pushed the government to create watch lists for companies of concern and further asked for the government to consider banning all products associated with human rights abuses.
None of us want to buy Christmas presents made from slave labour.— Liberal Democrats (@LibDems) December 16, 2020
The Government must do more to help people shop ethically. pic.twitter.com/Oo6zEUUuLq
After this, the government slammed through the Bill they published the day before. Christine Jardine, along with others on the opposition benches, noted the government’s complete contempt for the Parliamentary process. This is no way to govern.
The Bill, along with other clauses, gave the Cabinet Office the relevant powers to communicate border and customs information between the four nations. The Lib Dems recognise the need for this and did not vote against its passage, but it would be nice if there was some sort of plan so Parliament doesn’t have to rush through things before recess.
Thursday 17th December
The last day of business (maybe) for the year of 2020 was quiet. It is usually called ‘taking out the trash’ day, as the government seeks to sneak things out the door without Parliamentary scrutiny. There were 25 written statements, as our colleagues in Labour tweeted.
🎶 It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas🎄. . . dozens of announcements the Government are trying to slip out the back door . . . pic.twitter.com/163AKF0AcA— Labour Whips (@labourwhips) December 17, 2020
It was Michael Gove who was due to answer oral questions this morning and he faced many angry MPs from all sides who slammed him on Brexit. It was the last day of Parliament and we still don’t have answers over Brexit. This was the most common theme of the questions. With lorries piling up and uncertainty for businesses everywhere, you can imagine the grilling he received. Christine Jardine virtually called in to note the concerns of her own constituents in Edinburgh.
Afterwards, Matt Hancock came before the House to give another update ahead of the Christmas period, noting the Christmas rules and the shifting of areas into different tiers. Munira took the chance to challenge the Secretary of State on the vaccine rollout, citing a response from his department after she asked about how many people do not currently have a GP. This information is key to any success of the vaccine rollout. See below.
Really concerned about how those who aren't registered with GPs will get #COVID19 vaccine. This includes vulnerable populations such as the homeless. @MattHancock's answer suggests the Govt doesn't seem to have a plan how they will be reached (1/2) pic.twitter.com/FQbxfl2beq— Munira Wilson MP (@munirawilson) December 17, 2020
A special mention needs to go to Gavin Williamson who announced, on the last day of term, that teachers will need to teach online for the first week of term in January and test their students for Covid. A union stated that the suggestion that schools can safely run testing stations on their premises by the start of the new term is simply not realistic. Deputy Leader and Education spokesperson, Daisy Cooper, has been following the announcement.
The Lib Dems are sure that the Secretary of State accidentally announced this now, as he will not be able to be put under any scrutiny due to the rising of the House. We know that he would have loved to come before Parliament to explain himself.
Govt treating #schools with utter contempt. New rules today give exhausted Heads little time to plan. Also I’m hearing #COVID19 tests will have to be done by teachers (already overstretched) &volunteers not pros, when BMJ says amateurs miss 50% of cases! https://t.co/d8M6cQHVAw— Daisy Cooper MP 🔶 (@libdemdaisy) December 17, 2020
What you may have missed!
Sarah Olney hosted a debate in Westminster Hall about the White Paper on Planning.
In today's #PlanningDebate I stressed that the Planning White Paper is a missed opportunity to embed a net zero carbon ambition into our planning policy. Only through the constraints applied through the planning system can we hope to see net zero carbon homes built. pic.twitter.com/V7IyXIKY8G— Sarah Olney (@sarahjolney1) December 15, 2020
Well, Parliament is now in recess until January 5th, however, there are so many questions left unanswered. Depending on whether the UK and the EU reach an agreement on a trade deal, MPs may be recalled to Parliament to legislate, so watch this space.
Also, look out for a special edition of the Weekly Whip, as we round-up the year that has been for the Lib Dems.