Late work in House of Lords to endorse campaigners

Early this morning the SKY news published a piece online that is available here with the headline Peers vote down government’s attempt to control protests and so I went onto Hansard to find out a bit more information which can be obtained from here. In total on Hansard there are a total of 14 Divisions that took place and the first one was voted for yesterday afternoon at 4.26pm and there were 13 more the last one was voted for at 12.28am this morning. The details will take some time to understand but there were several that were opposing the Government call for less campaigning and as it happens my conversation with Sussex Police has made it clear that they are also opposed to this part of the piece of law. So back to the amendments.

The first six were endorsed by the House of Peers, these are amendments 114a, 114c, 114f, 115, 132, 133a, all of which were opposed by the main Conservative Peers but supported by a wide range of other Peers including some Conservatives.

The seventh vote related to amendment 148 which was supported by the Conservatives and was opposed and indeed blocked by the others.

Amendment 150a was endorsed by the Peers and it was opposed by the main Conservatives and it was approved by the House of Lords.

There were another five that were proposed by the main Conservatives and each of them was rejected by the House of Lords. They were amendments 151, 152, 154, 155 and 159.

The final item which was opposed by the main Conservatives and was approved by the others was amendment 160 which took place at nearly thirty minutes into today.

We should be very grateful for the Peers that have worked so long yesterday afternoon into the early part of this morning.

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Last week several serious issues emerged

At the beginning of each week there are reasons for us to try to achieve a good outcome for ourselves and our family, our friends, neighbours and for other people around us. The results or challenges are of course much less evident from most of us than is the case for people in high profile situations in our communities and in our Nation and beyond. Last week proved to be very disturbing in the context of our Nations Politics and the Royal Family than many of us may had appreciated at the beginning of that week. There were of course also issues such as in Australia with their response to a Tennis event and China in its challenge to our political setting. No doubt there are challenges from many other Nations. During last week our current Prime Minister, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and Prince Andrew who is now known as simply Andrew Albert Christian Edward both reached a place in their public roles that appears to be at the end of their positions. The response by the Queen and her office to her son was very clear and very public after several months of public uncertainty. If Andrew Albert Christian is not guilty as he claims, then his position will be very difficult after the Court case as he is no longer a formal member of the Royal Family. It was certainly very clear that the actions and claims from people at senior levels in the Conservative Party within the Government was very different. The very clear admission by Alexander Boris de Pfeffel last week of his activity 20 months ago should have led to his own resignation arguably many months ago but certainly last Wednesday. However, he is currently calling for the formal assessment to be completed before he is willing to stand up again and make a decision. He stated at the beginning of his Prime Minister’s Questions last Wednesday

“All I ask is that Sue Gray be allowed to complete her inquiry into that day and several others, so that the full facts can be established. I will of course come back to this House and make a statement.”

If he does not act before the Sue Gray inquiry is published, the Prime Minister will clearly need to resign after his statement based on what he has already admitted he has done. Perhaps if he had stood up in May 2020 and admitted what had happened and apologised for his mistake he could have committed for him and all of us to adopt those rules from that point forward. The fact that he has only just admitted about it now and yet is still not acknowledging that he broke those rules which he demanded everyone else to adopt is deeply disturbing. Indeed, the news that arose at the end of last week of an event that took place last April inside his same building needs to be added to the list of serious mistakes carried out by him and his team. It is deeply disturbing how people like Priti Patel who is responsible for Police Services and Jacob Rees-Mogg who is responsible for Parliament have both spoken up to support the Prime Minister in the last few days. In the case of the Police Service, a great deal of activity is now needed for Number 10 Downing Street to be held to account for the laws they have made and then broken. In the case of Parliament, for the leader to criticise a few senior Conservatives who have spoken out against the Prime Minister, given his bad decisions is very disturbing. It is of course very positive that a few Conservatives have called for Johnson to resign. These people are primarily Northern based Council Leaders and Scottish MPs or MSPs. Let us hope that in due course other MPs and Councillors and eventually Ministers will add to that call.

It is very hard to know who will be the next Conservative Prime Minister, and of course under the current system it will be a few thousand members of the Conservative Party that will have the power to decide who will be their next leader. In the meantime, perhaps all of our nation can reflect on how they would vote at the next Council election that is due in many locations to take place in May this year. In due course there will be more Council elections and then currently in December 2024, so less than three years away there will be a General Election. It may get organised more quickly, if the law gets changed as the current Government had proposed, or indeed if the Parliament agrees to an earlier election which many of us would hope will happen given the behaviour of our current Government.

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We need a radical change to Parliament

A couple of days ago a friend of mine posted a comment on Facebook which is shown below. His comment reflects on the way that Boris Johnson has behaved. He is one of many people who has a view based on the recent information of the behaviour of Johnson over the last 20months.

Boris is a shambles, a liar, corrupt and a complete tosser… But they are all the same and we would all be in lockdown or restricted like the rest of Europe & the UK with anyone else. I don’t no if watching the witch hunt is funny because he deserves it or sad because the people he stood by are ratting on him. Be carful what you wish for, sometimes it’s better the devil you know!!

Many other people I am close to appear to want Johnson to go and indeed I am calling for that as I will in tomorrow’s blog here and in the Brighton Argus Column. However as my friend has called out, there will be many challenges if he goes out of Number 10. What is clear is that we need a very different approach moving forward. One of the aspects is that the UK Prime Ministers, like US Presidents are not held to account when they in power which is clearly a major threat to our Nation based on the current activity by Boris Johnson. Although he can be removed by his Political Party there is no way for his Party to be removed from controlling the Government until they decide to hold a General Election. We clearly need a major change, both nationally and at a local level via Proportional Representation.

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Protect students – don’t withdraw BTEC funding

Back in July Noemi Csogor set out this very significant petition and it achieved 22,000. signatures within 2 months. Since then it has reached nearly 74,000 signatures and it has another 9 days before it reaches its end point. If we can work to support it by reaching 100,000 signatures by its deadline on 23rd January there is a opportunity for Parliament to discuss it. That means we need to get 26,000 signatures over the next 9 days. The following information is the content for the petition. Please consider signing it. It is available here.

Protect student choice: do not withdraw funding for BTEC qualifications

Reverse the plan to withdraw funding for most applied general qualifications such as BTECs and guarantee they will continue to play a major role in the qualifications landscape. Students should not be forced to choose between studying A levels or T levels from the age of 16.

For many young people, studying BTECs will continue to be the most effective way of accessing higher education or skilled employment. These well-established, high quality qualifications are popular with students and respected by employers and universities. They can be studied alongside, or instead of, A levels and provide an important alternative to T levels. Removing BTECs will leave many students without a viable pathway after their GCSEs, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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A number of calls, but no response

Yesterday in the Prime Minister’s Questions there were several very clear calls directed to Boris Johnson for him to resign and his response was simply for the nation and Parliament to wait for the answer from the inquiry by Sue Gray. Given his admission and indeed vague apology words it seems very strange that the assessment of what has happened in his setting by numerous people needs to be published before an action from him can take place. He began his session with “Mr Speaker, I want to apologise” and a few words later he stated

I know the rage [millions of people] feel with me and with the Government I lead when they think that in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules.

Though I cannot anticipate the conclusions of the current inquiry, I have learned enough to know that there were things that we simply did not get right, and I must take responsibility. No. 10 is a big department, with the garden as an extension of the office, which has been in constant use because of the role of fresh air in stopping the virus. When I went into that garden just after 6 o’clock on 20 May 2020, to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a work event, but with hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside. I should have found some other way to thank them, and I should have recognised that even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance, there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way—people who suffered terribly, people who were forbidden from meeting loved ones at all, inside or outside—and to them, and to this House, I offer my heartfelt apologies. All I ask is that Sue Gray be allowed to complete her inquiry into that day and several others, so that the full facts can be established. I will of course come back to this House and make a statement.

The starting point from Keir Starmer included these words

The Prime Minister’s defence that he did not realise that he was at a party is so ridiculous that it is actually offensive to the British public. He has finally been forced to admit what everyone knew—that when the whole country was locked down, he was hosting boozy parties in Downing Street. Is he now going to do the decent thing and resign? Hon. Members Resign!

And the a response from Johnson

I want to repeat that I thought it was a work event. I regret very much that we did not do things differently that evening, as I have said, and I take responsibility and I apologise. As for his political point, I do not think that he should pre-empt the outcome of the inquiry. He will have a further opportunity, I hope, to question me as soon as possible.

Later on another element from Keir Starmer was

When the Prime Minister’s former Health Secretary broke the rules, he resigned and the Prime Minister said he was right to do so. When the Prime Minister’s spokesperson laughed about the rules being broken, she resigned and the Prime Minister accepted that resignation. Why does the Prime Minister still think that the rules do not apply to him?

And then a bit later

So we have the Prime Minister attending Downing Street parties—a clear breach of the rules. We have the Prime Minister putting forward a series of ridiculous denials, which he knows are untrue—a clear breach of the ministerial code. That code says:

“Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation”.

The party is over, Prime Minister. The only question is: will the British public kick him out, will his party kick him out, or he will he do the decent thing and resign?

There were a number of other people who followed the Keir Starmer comments and here are some of the words each of them used. Next was Ian Blackford of SNP

The Prime Minister cannot “get away with it” again. Will he Prime Minister finally do the decent thing and resign, or will his Tory MPs be forced to show him the door?

Trust has been lost; the public will not forgive or forget. If the Prime Minister has no sense of shame, the Tory Back Benchers must act to remove him. They know that the damage is done. This weak and contemptuous Prime Minister can no longer limp on.

The message from the public is clear: remove this unfit Prime Minister from office, and do it now.

Stephen Farry of Alliance in Northern Ireland

Today’s apology is too little, too late. If the Prime Minister were sincere, he could have apologised at any stage over the past 18 months, rather than waiting until he was found out.

For once, can the Prime Minister do the honourable thing and resign, for the sake of the public health message, and for standards in our democracy?

Steven Bonnar SNP

Figures released just last night show that 79% of people in Scotland think the Prime Minister should step down. Does he realise that it is now clear to all that, although he may not understand how to be socially distant from others, there is no doubt that he is morally distant from the rest of us across these nations, and that the best thing he can do now is to go? Resign, Prime Minister! 

Toby Perkins Labour Chesterfield

We all know that the Prime Minister was sacked from two previous jobs for lying, so can he explain to the House why he believes that the great office of Prime Minister can be held to a lower standard than those previous jobs that he was sacked from? 

Chris Bryant Labour Rhondda

The Prime Minister did not spot that he was at a social event. That is the excuse, isn’t it? Come off it. How stupid does he think the British people are? The worst of it is that he has already managed to completely destroy Allegra Stratton’s career and tarnished the reputation of Lord Geidt, and now he is making a fool of every single MP who cheered him earlier and everyone who goes on the radio and television to defend this shower of shenanigans. Would it not be absolutely despicable if, in the search for a scapegoat, some junior member of staff ended up losing their job while he kept his?

And the final person was Ed Davey as leader of the Liberal Democratic Party

After another shameful week for the Prime Minister’s Government, this has been a shameful attempt to apologise to the House today. Can the Prime Minister explain why the only person to have resigned so far following this scandal is Allegra Stratton, a woman, while he, the man who sanctioned and attended at least one party in 10 Downing Street, still sits in his place? Advisers advise and Ministers decide. So will the Prime Minister, for the good of the country, accept that the party is over and decide to resign?

And the response from Johnson for Ed Davey was consistent with his responses to all of the other MPs including Keir Starmer

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I respect the point he is making, but I must say I disagree. I would ask him to wait and see what the inquiry says. I will be very happy to talk to him then.

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Will today be a significant day for our Politics?

It is clear that when people in senior political positions make very poor quality decisions that there needs to be a way for both their party, and for the Parliament and for the public who pay them for the work they are supposed to be doing to be able to challenge and indeed remove them, just as much as we may have selected them. The poor actions of Boris Johnson have taken place over many occasions but the current theme is clearly a very challenging issue under our current pandemic. Last week in his Prime Minister Questions he made claims that were clearly wrong and yet there did not seem to be any way for those to get challenged? When he has criticised people who are working well or approved people that were not working well there should be some way of raising challenges. No doubt he will make a range of comments today that will not move things in the right direction as he will be protecting himself. Sadly the damage he created 18 months ago will continue to raise challenges for our Government and indeed for Politics for many years. A similar example for the Tony Blair mistake back in 2003 now that he is being approved to become a member of the House of Lords. Yet my view is that Blair was far less damaging than Johnson in many senses although of course causing wars and people getting killed is very much more serious than some of the problems that Johnson has created. However his actions took place when many people died and that is one of the reasons why this current position is going to go very deep into society. Another element that will arise in the next few months as it has in the past year is his approach to the EU departure.

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Sussex agencies that are called to promote STEM

Last Thursday in the House of Lords a statement was made by Diana Barran who since September has been the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for the School System). She referred to her announcement that she had made on 17th December. She stated that “adults and young people will benefit from more high-quality and flexible education and training – levelling up opportunities and supporting more people into higher skilled, higher wage jobs” and she went on to explain that a further nine Institutes of Technology had been announced and that will join the 12 that were already up and running. She then went on to state

The government’s network of Institutes of Technology are unique collaborations between employers, further and higher education providers – backed by £290 million of government funding – that specialise in delivering high-quality Higher Technical Education and training across a range of STEM occupations and industries, in subjects such as advanced manufacturing, digital and cyber security, aerospace, automotive engineering and healthcare to train people for technical careers that will plug skills gaps.

Now clearly here in Sussex which is one of the areas that was included in that statement, the majority of businesses are small or micro enterprises and so we will need the colleges that are involved to work with small businesses. The total information from both the December and the earlier announcement can be found here in this website page. It includes the Sussex reference which is listed as follows

Chichester College Group (covering the Coast to Capital LEP area)NatWest Group, Wates Group, Roche Diagnostics, Gatwick Airport Ltd, Ricardo, Southern Water, Irwin Mitchell, Pearson, Gatwick Diamond Business and Gatwick Diamond InitiativeCrawley College, Brinsbury College, Haywards Heath College, North East Surrey College of Technology (NESCOT), Worthing College

and also

University of Brighton, University of Sussexconstruction, engineering and manufacturing, technologies, information and communication technologies

So clearly these two Universities and the Chichester College Group need to work alongside agencies such as Sussex Chamber of Commerce and the other local Chambers of Commerce as well as the other business network groups to ensure that the opportunities are made as accessible as possible. Another comment from Diana Barran was as follows

People looking to upskill or retrain will have access to more than 100 short courses starting from September 2022, lasting between 6 weeks to a year, helping to fit training around their lives. More than 20 universities and colleges will offer the courses in subjects where there are skills shortages such as digital, Net Zero, Education, STEM and Healthcare, and offering an alternative to studying a traditional three-year degree. Student finance will be available to students taking the courses, marking the next step in the development of the government’s Lifelong Learning Entitlement which, from 2025, will provide individuals with a loan entitlement to be the equivalent of four years of post-18 education they can use flexibly over their lifetime.

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Some appalling calls and some very good calls

It appears as if in the last few days that several people inside the Government and Parliament are seeking to move us forward but sadly the Prime Minister has made several destructive comments. The people I have spotted are focusing on themes such as the rewilding farm proposals since Brexit and the need for improving how to move goods between us and the EU and also the costs through elements such as National Insurance. Sadly, these themes which clearly need a bit more work are being promoted far less than would be possible due to the publicity of the leader of the Government. Last Wednesday when Parliament opened up for a couple of days two of the disturbing items were during the Prime Minister Questions that take place most weeks.

Boris Johnson began by stating that when the Labour Party was in power, they had left with higher unemployment levels than when they arrived. Based on the data that Parliament supplies over the last 50 years, there have been two Labour and two Conservative periods with the current third period. The data did not indicate the start of the first period with Edward Heath but he probably did avoid increasing unemployment. It is clear that both Labour sessions and the Conservative session involving Margaret Thatcher and John Major did all end up with higher unemployment than when they began. However, the overall level of unemployment during the current Conservative Government period and the huge level during the Margaret Thatcher period were both higher than the two Labour Party periods. Along with this misrepresentation that he referred to on several occasions during his session in Parliament last week he also made another incorrect claim twice. He stated

what the Government are doing is supporting people throughout the pandemic: 2.2 million people supported with the warm home discount, worth £140 per week, which we introduced

Now no one would be opposed to the Government providing additional provision for people with the warm home discount scheme. Many people would be thrilled if they were benefiting from more than £140 over the Winter period or even £140 a month. However, to claim nearly £600 a month is so disturbing that he needs to be challenged on this as well. Then finally there has been a very appalling public discussion on his funding for his flat at No 10 Downing Street. That has been the most high-profile theme from our Prime Minister in the last few days. Again, it needs to be dealt with and for three major problems in one short period is very concerning from our current Prime Minister.

The more positive themes that have arisen in the last few days on the other hand do need to be promoted and indeed expanded. One of them is an early call but it involves a debate that will take place on 1st February in the House of Lords. The person who is organising it is Alan Howarth who was a Conservative MP from 1983 till 1995 when he switched to Labour and he remained as an MP until 2005. He is setting out a discussion under the title of “Facilitating imports from the EU”. Perhaps some of his colleagues in the Labour Party and in the Conservative Party could also raise this theme in the House of Commons as it would be fantastic if it could become a priority from our government this year.

There has also been a very public response from Jacob Rees-Mogg on the subject of National Insurance and the call for that to remain reduced for the immediate future. Let us hope that he can achieve this within his government for our communities.

The final theme that I spotted emerged from George Eustice, the Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in a statement he made last Thursday at an Oxford Farming Conference. There was clearly a requirement for our nation to come up with a rewilding policy for Farmers as we left the EU and indeed Michael Gove back in 2018 had claimed that when we left the Common Agricultural Policy that our nation would focus on protecting our nature rather than being extensively producing short term gain. So, the announcement last week is clearly a move in the right direction. We have a number of settings such as Knepp which is a significant estate south of Horsham which has become devoted to a pioneering rewilding project since 2001. They use grazing animals as the drivers of habitat creation and have had extraordinary increases in wildlife with species like turtle doves, nightingales, peregrine falcons and purple emperor butterflies. There is a lot more work to be done to make the EFRA claim a reality and we need our Sussex MPs to promote settings such as Knepp within the Government.

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Rewilding with up to £800m a year from Government

On Thursday there was a presentation at the Oxford Farming Conference by George Eustice who announced that there was to be a rewilding strategy set out by his Government. This is a call that has been promised for several years since the EU departure was being proposed. According to this piece in Channel 4 there will be up to £800m a year from the Government. Another piece came from National News here which stated

Britain’s ancient woodlands and wetlands are to be revived under a national rewilding scheme with farmers paid for environmental restoration in a major overhaul of the industry. In the biggest agricultural reforms in 50 years, landowners and farmers will be given state financing to plant trees and restore natural habitats under the new Local Nature Recovery project devised after the break from the European Union.

Here in Sussex one of the locations that is already well ahead of this idea is Knepp Wildland which is a 3,500 acre setting South of Horsham. We clearly need to promote the Knepp setting in Sussex and ensure that along with Knepp that other locations will be able to benefit from the funding.

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Education: Return in January – the Government call!

On Wednesday in the House of Commons a statement was made by Nadhim Zahawi who is now the Secretary of State for Education. The statement referred to several aspects but it included two volunteers who are assisting in education settings, one of whom is Caroline Ansell the Eastbourne MP. I met Caroline several years ago before she became an MP and I was aware of her interest in educational issues. It seems vital for this to be promoted and indeed perhaps other groups of people could assist Schools, particularly if the call could become a bit more widely understood. The whole of the statement from Nadhim is available here and along with his statement there is also a response from a number of MPs including Bridget Phillipson who is the Labour shadow secretary for Education. I have focused on the aspect about the volunteering but there are other themes such as equipment that is being used to try to keep classrooms less challenging for COVID and indeed there are a number of challenges of that element which will be worth exploring.

Nadhim Zahawi: Although we are beginning the transition from pandemic to endemic, covid has undoubtedly been the greatest threat to our way of life since the second world war, but just as we did then, we are going to get on with the job. I know that our teaching communities have been adversely affected by the omicron variant, which is why I issued our recent call to arms, urging any teachers who have stepped away from the profession or who have retired to return, even if it is for just a few hours a week, so that we can keep children learning. I am glad to say that we have already seen the first volunteers heading back to our classrooms, including at least two of our own, my hon. Friends the Members for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell) and for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), as well as staff from my Department who have answered that call. They do this House great credit, and I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say that we thank them and wish them well. I will have a better idea at the end of this week of the exact number of former teachers who have come forward to lend their support.

A few minutes later the Labour shadow secretary mentioned this aspect

Bridget Phillipson: Can he explain why he is unable to tell the House today how many retired teachers and others have come forward to help in classrooms following his last-minute call?

And so here is the element of his response

Nadhim Zahawi: On retired teachers, again operationally, it is a bit difficult to say as we have had only one day of school. I need to wait until the end of the week at least before I can talk to the agencies and hear exactly how many teachers and temporary staff have been needed. I will happily share that information with the House, but, alas, the hon. Lady has clearly not had much experience of operationalising.

Clearly it is very good if the Schools in our communities need additional provision that the Government will provide them with some resources to enable people to come in and assist them.

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