Much as I enjoyed all the “tainted Prime Minister” stuff in Ed Miliband’s speech this morning to the Labour Party National Policy Forum, I was struck by the enthusiasm with which he spoke about local government and the contribution being made by Labour councillors:
“Labour Birmingham. Labour, in whom the people of Birmingham placed their trust in May. A Labour council changing the way we do politics with a manifesto built on 12 months of conversations with the people of this city. A Labour council improving our society with 5,000 new homes a year. And a Labour council changing our economy by paying at least £7.20 to every city council worker. A decent living wage.
And let us recognise the work of every Labour council making a difference in tough times. Liverpool’s new Mayor Joe Anderson and h is council that is building 2,500 homes. Manchester keeping open its Sure Start Centres. And Newham, standing up for tenants against unscrupulous landlords.
Labour councils whose examples will inspire our next manifesto. And let us applaud them for their work.”
Here at last is a recognition that Labour local government can be in the vanguard of delivering effective public services that meet the needs of their communities, that Labour local government is not something to be apologised for but is Labour’s future, and that the platform for winning future General Elections will be found at local level.
Yesterday there were five votes in the House of Lords on the competition sections of the Health and Social Care Bill. The amendments were all defeated by the Government and, despite all the LibDem huffing and puffing over the last few weeks, not a single LibDem Peer voted for any of them.
The first amendment which would have placed a duty on the Secretary of State in respect of standards of adult social care was defeated by 261 votes to 203 – with 66 LibDems voting with the Tories against the amendment.
The second amendment which would have protected the NHS from the worst effects of competition (and was originally moved by a LibDem peer) was defeated by 275 votes to 188 with 66 LibDems voting with the Tories.
The third amendment which would have retained Monitor’s role as the independent regulator of NHS Trusts was defeated by 255 votes to 183 with 65 LibDems voting with the Tories.
The fourth amendment which would have tried to limit “anti-collaborative” behaviour in the NHS was defeated by 221 votes to 171 with 58 LibDems voting with the Tories.
The fifth amendment which would have enabled NHS commissioners to determine the most effective way of delivering NHS services without necessarily putting them out to the market was defeated by 203 votes to 157 with 52 LibDems voting with the Tories.
In none of the divisions did a single LibDem vote with Labour to protect the NHS.
Dave Hill’s London Blog in The Guardian can usually be relied on for serious comment and analysis of London issues. And last week he posted two important posts on the issue of serious gang-related violence in London.
The first highlighted the post-code rivalries between gangs in North-West London:
“Page 81 of my London A-Z shows the streets, parks and stations at the intersections of north Westminster, north Kensington and Brent. But it offers no clues to the alternative cartography that shapes the lives of many people living there – an unofficial map of an urban landscape scarred by violence and divided by fear. …
Territories have been defined and the borders between them guarded and sometimes breached. Incursions resulting in chasings, beatings and robberies are frequent. …
Some who live in the area concerned, including some who are young, are barely touched by this wired, short-fused youthful world. They and it are largely invisible to each other: people move freely and routinely to and from work, local schools, community facilities and places of worship just like anywhere else. Yet an awareness of that other side of neighbourhood life has filtered down even to primary school children. And on the streets young people in particular, even if they have little or no direct connection with it, are acutely conscious of it: at worst, cowed, menaced and controlled. …
There was a general frustration that funding for anti-youth crime and violence projects is too often short-term and under threat, making the sustained action required far more difficult to implement. Outreach work, personal development and gang mediation schemes were all thought to have beneficial effects, so why couldn’t they be backed with more consistency and on a larger scale?”
Normally any late change to the order of business in the House of Lords is agreed through the “usual channels“. This is to make sure that the relevant spokespeople are available.
I understand that the Government are trying to schedule a vote on the Welfare Reform Bill for late on the evening of Wednesday 29th February. This is part of the “ping pong” procedure and will be when the House of Lords considers the reversal by the House of Commons of the Lords’ amendment on the so-called “bedroom tax“.
Normally Consideration of Commons Amendments is given priority in the order of business and is usually taken immediately after Question Time, when the House is at its fullest. This, of course, is the second time that the Bill has been returned to the Lords by the Commons, which means that, if the Lords rejects the latest Commons amendment, the two Houses are moving firmly into constitutional crisis territory. All the more surprising therefore that the Government are trying to take this vote late on Wednesday.
However, is it surprising?
Or is it yet another cynical manoeuvre by the Conservatives and LibDems to make major changes in the benefits system without proper debate and adequate scrutiny?
I was in meetings most of the day and did not get a chance to catch up on Prime Minister’s Questions. Having seen the letter that Ed Miliband has sent to the Prime Minister, I am not sure I’ll bother.
The list of inaccurate claims made by David Cameron is extraordinary. If any other politician was this “misleading” in their answers, they would be pilloried in the newspapers the following day. However, I am not holding my breath.
Here is the text of Ed Miliband’s letter:
“Dear Prime Minister,
I wanted to write following this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions to draw your attention to some inaccurate claims you made today.
In an answer to me, you said that “There are more people in work today than there were at the time of the last election”. In fact, the most recent employment figures from the Office for National Statistics show that total employment between May-July 2010 and September-November 2011 fell by 26,000.
In an answer to Lindsay Roy MP, you said that the Merlin agreement “actually led to an increase in bank lending last year”. In fact, the latest Trends in Lending report from the Bank of England, published last Friday, said that “the stock of lending to SMEs contracted between end-April and end-November 2011”.
In an answer to Paul Maynard MP, you spoke of “the real shame… that there are so many millions of children who live in households where nobody works and indeed that number doubled under the previous government”. In fact, according to the Office for National Statistics, the number of children living in workless households fell by 372,000 between April-June 1997 and April-June 2010.
In an answer to Rt Hon Anne McGuire MP, who said that your Government was planning to cut benefits to disabled children, you said that “The Hon Lady is wrong”. In fact, according to page 28 of the Department for Work and Pensions’ own impact assessment on the introduction of universal credit, your policy of mirroring for disabled children the current adult eligibility for Disability Living Allowance means that the rate paid to those disabled children who do not qualify for the highest rate of the DLA care component “would be less than now (£26.75 instead of £53.84)”.
I am sure that you will want to take this opportunity to correct the record.
And - just for the record – here are the sources:
1) Employment statistics: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lms/labour-market-statistics/january-2012/table-a02.xls And see also: http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/factcheck-cameron-nailed-on-job-claims/9250
2) Bank lending – Bank of England “Trends in Lending” report (see p.4): http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/other/monetary/TrendsJanuary12.pdf
3) Figures for children in workless households: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lmac/working-and-workless-households/2011/table-k.xls
4) Disabled children’s benefits – DWP impact assessment on universal credit (see p. 28): http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/universal-credit-wr2011-ia.pdf
The Government Chief Whip in the House of Lords is the Baroness Anelay of St Johns and she was wearing her best Steel Magnolia visage this afternoon when she moved that the Welfare Reform Bill should be committed to a Grand Committee.
I should explain that committal to a Grand Committee means that the Committee Stage of a Bill is not taken in the Chamber on the floor of the House and that the detailed line by line consideration of the Bill takes place in a Lords’ Committee Room (usually the Moses Room – so named after the rather magnificent picture in it of Moses handing down the tablets of the law). Procedurally, it also means that there can be no votes on amendments during the Committee Stage and the Grand Committee procedure is usually only used for comparatively non-controversial or highly technical Bills.
However, the Welfare Reform Bill is hardly uncontroversial.
And Grand Committee proceedings are less high profile than sessions in the Chamber of the Lords.
But there is an equally important access point as Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, herself a wheelchair user, pointed out:
“My Lords, normally I would not come in on the next day after participating in a very lengthy and big debate the night before. I generally need 24 hours at home to recover. However, this morning I was woken by several phone calls from disabled people who told me of this proposal and urged me to come in to speak to you. I feel compelled to be here. I am deeply concerned at the noble Lord’s proposal. I had understood that the technical parts of the Bill would happen outside the Chamber—and we can live with that. However, the new proposal that takes us completely away from the Chamber unfortunately makes it tremendously difficult to have access, not just for disabled Peers to participate effectively—it is much easier in here—but for disabled people who are following this debate online or on the TV and who come here to brief us. It will be almost impossible for them to do this. Yes, a few can come into the room, but it will be more difficult.
Perhaps more importantly, not to be able to test the opinion of the House—I know it is not often done in Committee—on one of the most significant pieces of legislation for disabled people in my adult life is deeply disturbing. I ask the noble Baroness the Chief Whip please to reconsider.”
The problem for the Government is that they have got into a frightful mess with their legislative programme. Most of their Bills are deeply controversial and, despite having the longest Parliamentary Session since the Great Reform Act of 1832, the Government is running out of legislative days to deal with all of them before the Session ends next Spring and Bills that haven’t been through all their stages fall.
Negotiations through “the usual channels” between the Government and the Opposition on how to manage the Bill had broken down – the first time in at least a decade that it has not been possible to reach an agreement. As a result, the Chief Whip was bringing a motion to the House to refer the Bill to a Grand Committee that would have to be voted on, whereas normally such procedural questions are approved without dissent because there has been an agreement on the procedure to be followed.
During the course of the debate it transpired that there had been some serious negotiations. It had been agreed in principle that the Bill could be split into two parts with one part being considered on the floor of the House and the rest being considered in a Grand Committee – this in itself would have been pretty unusual. However, while the Government was prepared to concede four days of debate on the floor of the House before moving into Grand Committee for perhaps another twelve days of consideration there, the Opposition was seeking eight days on the floor of the House.
Most people would have thought that maybe a compromise might have been possible – like six days on the floor of the House.
However, the Government Chief Whip broke off negotiations, withdrew her offer and ploughed ahead with a proposal for the whole Bill to go into Grand Committee.
Her negotiation style is clearly based on that of a traditional mafiosi school: “If you don’t do as I say, the baby gets it”.
In this case, the baby did get it and the Government won the day with a majority of 52: 263 votes in favour (159 Conservatives, 74 LibDems and 30 Cross-benchers and others) and 211 against (167 Labour, 4 Bishops and 40 Cross-benchers and others).