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Liberal Democrats

The Weekly Whip

Liberal Democrats stand-up for Universal Credit uplifts, carer allowances, access to remote education and free school meals. MPs also debate the ‘genocide amendment’ and Parliamentary scrutiny in the Trade Bill.

By Peter Munro, Jan 22, 2021 7:01

Palace of Westminster.

Welcome to the Weekly Whip. Your one-stop shop for Lib Dem Parliamentary updates, covering the week that was and the week to come. 

For up to date information from the Lib Dem Whips Office, follow us on Twitter: @LibDemWhips 

Weekly Whip w/c 18th January

Monday 18th January

Over the weekend, it emerged that more than 400,000 of fingerprint, DNA and arrest history records were accidentally wiped from police databases, because of “human error” and “defective code”. The Home Secretary was warned that the mistake could put the public at risk, but Priti Patel ducked the direct responsibility and sent Policing Minister Kit Malthouse instead.

Alistair Carmichael was on hand to question the Minister on previous reports that the Home Office was warned in July 2019 that their databases were “creaking”  and were operating on unsupported, end of life hardware and software. Surely this is unacceptably carelessness with regards to public safety? The Minister acknowledged problems with Home Office technology and assured the House that projects have been undertaken to fix these issues.

The main business for Monday was opposition day, where the official Opposition choose topics and a motion for debate which are then voted on. This week, the Opposition chose:

  1. That this House believes that the Government should stop the planned cut in Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit in April and give certainty today to the six million families for whom it is worth an extra £1,000 a year.
  2. That this House believes that families need more support during school and college closures; and that those eligible should be guaranteed to receive the full value of free school meals for the duration of the school year, including during all holidays; and calls on the Secretary of State for Education to set a deadline to ensure that every learner has the resources required to learn remotely, and provide a weekly update to Parliament on implementing this.

Liberal Democrats voted to support both of these motions. The Conservatives abstained on both. Wendy Chamberlain sought to table a last-minute amendment to the motion on Universal Credit:

“…recognises that many carers and disabled people do not receive Universal Credit or Working Tax Credit and so did not see the benefit of the 2020-2021 £20 a week uplift; therefore calls on the Government to uplift legacy benefits in line with the Universal Credit uplift, backdated to April 2020; further recognises the remarkable and important job which unpaid carers are doing in very difficult circumstances; notes that many carers are facing extreme financial hardship but the current rate of Carer’s Allowance at £67.25 is the lowest benefit of its kind and not nearly enough; and calls on the Government to immediately raise Carer’s Allowance by £1,000 a year in line with the uplift in Universal Credit.'

Daisy Cooper took part in the debate on education, highlighting the contrast between Kirsty Williams, the Liberal Democrat Education Minister in Wales, and the Government’s failure in England. Wales was the first UK nation that guaranteed Free School Meals for the summer holidays and has delivered IT kits for the most disadvantaged pupils.

Tuesday 19th January

Of the many issues surrounding the UK’s exit from the European Union, including empty shelves in Northern Ireland and fishermen up and down the country unable to sell their catch, many did not think about the impact on touring musicians. The creative industries contribute £13 million to the UK economy every hour, and it’s a huge own goal to hinder our successful musicians from touring in Europe. 

Our DCMS Spokesperson, Jamie Stone, took part in an Urgent Question on the matter. Officials in the EU and UK Government’s are playing the blame game with each other. Jamie called for the end of the ducking of responsibility and for the government to work towards a practical solution. Minister’s reassured the House that the door is still open for a solution.

The main business for the day was the Trade Bill, where MPs considered the important amendments that the House of Lords have inserted into the Bill. Despite 9 important votes on the Bill including trading standards and protection of the NHS, which Lib Dems supported, the central topics of debate were the amendments that would improve Parliamentary scrutiny on any future trade deals and make it illegal for the UK to trade with a country that has committed genocide. Of course, even this was too much of an ask for the government to support. Layla Moran spoke to the genocide amendments.

Wednesday 20th January

You probably do not need reminding, but Wednesday was Inauguration Day for the new administration in the United States. The last 4 years have been damaging for institutions, democracy, decency, and global cooperation on existential issues such as climate change. The Liberal Democrats welcome President Biden and Vice-President Harris to their new roles and hope to see an improved working relationship with one of our key allies.

Wednesday = PMQs. This week, Sir Ed Davey questioned the Prime Minister on his previous responses regarding calls for an inquiry into the government’s handling of the Coronavirus crisis.

A huge area of concern, as a consequence of the pandemic, is the backlog of serious criminal justice cases that are yet to be heard. Justice Spokesperson, Wera Hobhouse, spoke to the Minister regarding Domestic Abuse Cases.

Thursday 21st January

The final sitting day of the week started with Alistair Carmichael asking the Electoral Commission representative in the Commons about the May Elections and what steps are currently being taken by the Commission to make sure the Elections can go ahead safely. The MP gave assurances that the Commission is working to ensure that citizens will be able to express their democratic right and campaigners will be able to safely make their case to the electorate.

There were a few other bits of business that needed to be addressed before the weekend.

Munira and Daisy attended an Urgent Question on an update on the vaccine rollout.

This was followed by Wera asking about the government’s actions to ensure that Black and Minority Ethnic communities are being reached out to regarding the vaccine after worrying statistics about the vaccine uptake in these communities so far.

Following a statement from Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, on ‘Skills for Jobs’, Daisy Cooper reminded the Secretary that Liberal Democrats have been calling for a Skills Wallet that would give ample opportunity for mature students to adjust to the fast-changing job market.

What next?

On Monday, the Opposition will have debates and votes on the hike in council tax and employment rights. The Environment Bill continues its way through the Commons, and the awful Cover Human Intelligence Sources Bill comes back from the Lords with important amendments to look out for.

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