LIB DEM QUESTIONS IN THE COMMONS w/e 7/7/17

The following contributions came from Lib Dem Mps this week.

 

Jo Swinson  intervened on Emily Thornberry to make a point about the recognition of Palestine.

I am interested in and listening with great care to what the right hon. Lady is saying about recognition of Palestine, and particularly about what the Government’s position was some years ago. Does she share my concern that, given the Minister’s comments today, it seems that that position has moved and that recognition is being ruled out until the end of talks on a peace process rather than being something that the Government would be able to do at any time?

She was also able to question Sajid Javid meticulously on domestic appliance safety in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster – because she had commissioned a review when she was Minister – and the Tories had kicked it into the long grass:

The safety of domestic appliances is a vital element of fire safety in tower blocks—and, indeed, in all homes. This horrendous fire started with a fault in a fridge, so will the Government revisit the decision of March last year to dismiss or delay many of the recommendations of the Lynn Faulds Wood review into product recall, which I commissioned in 2014? In particular, will the Secretary of State recognise that funding for the enforcement of safety regulations through trading standards is inadequate and must be urgently addressed?

She also tried to intervene in the WASPI debate.

Norman Lamb, however, succeeded, making an important point:

I am very grateful. Is it not part of the problem that all those women who have given up much of their adult lives to caring responsibilities then face real discrimination when seeking work at this age? They are therefore left in unacceptable poverty.

Norman also asked a question on social care:

I hope the Minister will agree that these widespread failures of care are intolerable in a civilised society. Does he share my view that we will have to confront the need to increase taxes to ensure that we have an efficient, effective and compassionate system, and will he embrace a cross-party approach to come up with a long-term settlement?

We’ll not hold our breath waiting for the Tories to do something so sensible.

And he also intervened to ask about seasonal agriculture workers and what on earth we’d do post Brexit.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that the soft fruit industry in this country is a big success story. One of the major producers in my constituency is 77 staff short at the moment. That means leaving fruit unpicked. There is a real risk that this major success story could be undermined unless we get a good new seasonal agricultural workers scheme deal in place for the post-Brexit situation.

Wera Hobhouse made two interventions on different days on the Grenfell Tower disaster. On Monday she asked Sajid Javid:

Given what the Grenfell Tower fire has exposed about the combustibility of external cladding in the UK, can the Secretary of State confirm that appropriate tests are being conducted at non-high-rise as well as high-rise buildings?

And she asked what was being done to build trust with the families:

Does the Minister agree that the uptake of temporary accommodation by only 14 families is disappointing? If he thinks that this is to do to with a lack of trust rather than the quality of the housing, will he tell us what is being done to build that trust?

Alistair Carmichael made a number of points

You know, Mr Speaker, that I do not often hanker after the days of Tony Blair, but if we had reached this state of affairs under his premiership, we would have seen not just involvement by the Prime Minister, but active leadership, and he would probably have made the statement to the House. With all due respect to the Secretary of State, it is a matter of regret that the Prime Minister is not here today.​

The Secretary of State is right when he says that we need greater transparency on political donations, but he must be aware that the House has already expressed its view on that matter. The Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014 set the relevant date as being 1 January 2014. Why is he now seeking to change that?

Later he asked about the NHS workforce post Brexit given the fall in doctors and nurses:

The Secretary of State will be aware that that figure represents in excess of 5% of the total workforce in the NHS. This matter will have to be addressed, engaging with the recruitment sector, the employment sector and, indeed, the devolved Administrations. Is that how he will handle it

He also found time for a Westminster Hall debate on renewable energy in the islands:

I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and I am pleased to welcome the Minister to his new role. He is one in a fairly long line of Energy Ministers during my tenure in the House—I am not entirely sure how many I have seen—but he brings with him a reputation for being a diligent and effective Minister, and I wish him well in his time in the Department. It is the convention on these occasions to say how pleased we are to have secured the debate. Although I will keep my tie on, I will break with convention by saying that I am not particularly pleased; I have been around this course for the past 15 years and I am immensely frustrated that debates of this sort are still necessary.

I think it will be helpful for those who might be watching our proceedings from elsewhere to be quite clear not only what the debate is about but what it is not about. It is not about individual projects that may be under consideration; there are a number in my constituency, including in Orkney and with Viking Energy in Shetland. To say that we need a strategy to unlock the potential of renewable energy generation is not to say that any individual project in itself is right or should go ahead, nor is it to be confused with the consultation currently being undertaken by Ofgem on replacing Shetland’s power station with a 278 km, 600 MW high-voltage direct current cable. That is exciting some comment at the moment, but it is a proposal of which I remain to be convinced; having been around this course for many years, I do not regard it as quite so difficult or challenging for that particular project to get a cable on the seabed.

The debate is about how Government and the forces of government can unlock the potential for renewable energy generation that we all know is there within our island communities. A study commissioned jointly by the then Department for Energy and Climate Change and the Scottish Government in 2013—the “Scottish Islands Renewable Project”—estimated that the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland could between them supply up to 5% of Britain’s total electricity demand by 2030. That is a quite significant prize and it is within our grasp. However, it is something that we already know will only happen if we can get everybody working together.

In that connection, I welcome the intervention this morning from Councillor Donald Crichton, chair of the Sustainable Development Committee in the Western Isles Council, calling for cross-party consensus building on this. As he said, the Conservative party’s manifesto commitment at last month’s general election to “support the development of wind projects in the remote islands of Scotland, where they will directly benefit local communities”

is an important and welcome step. Similarly, I also place on the record my appreciation of the efforts of Lord Dunlop of Helensburgh, who, in his time as a junior Minister in the Scotland Office and before, did a lot to push this particular issue.​
That manifesto commitment was welcome, and I am pleased that it has survived the cull of so many other commitments from that unfortunate document. However, we are looking to the Minister for some outline of what the commitment will actually mean in practical terms. If you will forgive me, Sir David, there is quite a history here, and it is important that we remind ourselves of some of it. A lot of the issues that underpin this history come from the fact that Ofgem—for reasons that are understandable in relation to non-renewable technologies—has for some time adhered to a system of locational charging. For renewable projects, far from the centres of populations and the ultimate points of consumption, that does not necessarily make the same sense, so we have looked for different ways around that over the years.

Back in the days of the late Malcolm Wicks, we tried the idea of a cap on transmission charges. That was brought in by him and the then Labour Government, and was then extended by Chris Huhne when he was Secretary of State for Energy, but that in itself did not provide the solution we had hoped for. We then moved on to the new contracts for difference regime, and within that it was suggested that we could have a dedicated islands strike price. Unfortunately, at the point that that was being submitted to the European Commission for state aid approval, it was felt that it could be delayed by the islands element, so it was removed for later submission. It was resubmitted at a later stage and went through the pre-approval application process, which concluded some time around the end of 2015.

In the meantime, we had a general election, and the Conservative Government that came in in 2015 had a manifesto commitment to have a moratorium on onshore wind developments. The point at which the Government decided to go ahead with the CfD auction round that we are currently part of, without any provision for the islands, sticks in my memory for two reasons. First, it was the morning after the American people had elected President Trump, and secondly, I remember very clearly taking the call from the Secretary of State on my mobile phone while I was going through Edinburgh airport. However, a consultation period followed, which should have ended in the early part of this year and to which we I think we still await the Government’s formal response.

I remind the House of that history at this point because it is germane to the debate. Although the commitment in the Conservative party’s manifesto from last month is new, the issue is not—it has been within the machinery of government for some considerable time. Although we hope that that commitment will be given the green light, it is far from the case that the work needs to start from scratch. What is now needed is the degree of political commitment to implement the commitment and to tell us exactly what it means, because time is not in plentiful supply.

If provision for the islands of Scotland is to be included in the next round of CfD auctions, we are looking at something that has to go through the machinery of government and possibly even the state aid consent procedures in order to be in place by the end of next year, so there is a need for some degree of urgency in the approach to this. When the industry hears from the Minister later, it will be looking for a degree of clarity. We are not looking for the blueprint on everything that ​is meant by the manifesto commitment, but we want to hear some sort of outline or framework through which this can be turned into a reality.

What are we looking at here? Are we revisiting the idea of an islands strike price, or are we looking at something that might, somehow or another, find a mechanism for including onshore island generation with offshore wind? I do not know just how doable that would be, or how workable it would be from the point of view of the industry, but those are some of the ideas that have been floated. Alternatively, does the Department have some new mechanism that is going to be brought forward?

In any event, when in all those processes will the work start in order to obtain state aid approvals? I understand that the Government will proceed on the basis that, regardless of what happens with Brexit, state aid regulation compliance remains a feature of our regulatory landscape for the foreseeable future. Is it the Government’s aspiration that any projects that would be brought forward under this new scheme would be eligible for the next round of CfD auctions? If that is the case, will the Minister at this stage consult within Government to get a commitment that the next auction round will not go ahead unless and until this scheme is in place and island-based projects are able to compete?

Tim Farron managed to get an assurance from Jeremy Hunt about his local hospital:

The boundaries of the sustainability and transformation partnerships are bound to cause concern about the future of A&E and other acute departments given the nature of them. My area, south Cumbria—relatively sparsely populated and rural—is lumped in with Lancashire, which is largely urban. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the voices of rural communities will not be dwarfed by those of the larger urban ones, and in this week, as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Westmorland general hospital, will he give guarantees that it will not be closed and will indeed not receive any downgrading as a result of the STP process?

 

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