Writing for The Scotsman, Jim Wallace, Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords and a cross-party champion for Britain Stronger in Europe, has laid out the issues facing Scotland and the wider UK.
Turning the page and seeing another article about a referendum campaign, readers will be forgiven for experiencing déjà vu. But as minds turn towards the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, voters will face a vital choice for the future of our country. And we must be in no doubt about the magnitude of the choice we face.
As a Liberal Democrat, I have always believed that by working together, countries can achieve more than if they work alone. Britain’s membership of the EU is essential for creating a stronger economy and increases our influence in a more global economy. This has real, tangible benefits for everyone in Scotland.
Being part of the world’s largest market supports jobs and businesses in Scotland. It is estimated that 330,000 Scottish jobs are linked with trade with the EU, and major employers such as BAE Systems, Diageo and Shell have declared that Europe helps Scottish business to thrive and invest.
Speaking in the Second Reading of the EU Referendum Bill Paul Tyler, Lords’ Political Reform Spokesperson, used his speech to highlight the need to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the EU Referendum.
Last Friday, as part of the Lord Speaker’s outreach programme, I spent an extremely interesting hour with the sixth form at Sir Thomas Rich’s School in Gloucester. The students were articulate, informed, inquisitive, mature, enthusiastic, committed and challenging—above all, they were clearly ready and willing to be full citizens in our democracy. In short, they were typical 16 and 17 year-olds. They were more knowledgeable than many of their 60, 70 or 80 year-old fellow citizens and they were quite ready to compete in debate with Members of Your Lordships’ House. Indeed, I think they would well match the noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby.
I see that the noble Lord is in robust good health but I venture to suggest that the young citizens in Gloucester are likely to have longer experience of the outcome of this vote than he will. That is the big difference. When it comes to the referendum on the future of this country—as part of the European partnership of nations or adrift in the Atlantic—this age group will have a far greater personal, long-term interest than most of us here. It is unthinkable that they should be refused a vote.
The EU Referendum, Sir William Cash declared during the passage of the Bill providing for it through the Commons, is of fundamental importance to the future of this country over the next generation and more.That is why Liberal Democrats have been arguing, regardless of the broader issue of lowering the voting age, that on this occasion 16- and 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote. We agree with Eurosceptics like Bill Cash that this is a vital, long-term decision; so those that have the longest stake in the future of this country should not be denied a say.
Probably nothing is more important than the Government’s primary responsibility of security of the realm and its citizens. The Prime Minister acknowledges that in his Statement. Clearly, we do not have the evidence, nor would it be appropriate to share that evidence publicly, and therefore we must accept the judgement of the Prime Minster in responding to perhaps one of the most serious calls that has been made on him. However, it would be interesting to know whether this is a matter that the Intelligence and Security Committee will be able to look at.
There is also reference in the Statement to the legal basis. Having worked closely as a law officer with the present Attorney-General, I know that his judgement would be made with considerable rigorous legal diligence and bringing to bear his considerable personal and professional integrity. I do not call for the publication of law officers’ advice; that is not something that, as a former officer, I would readily do. However, the noble Baroness will remember that before the House debated chemical weapon use by the Syrian regime and a possible UK government response, and before we debated last year the position on military action in Iraq against ISIL, the Government published on each occasion a statement setting out the Government’s legal position. If it is felt possible to elaborate on what was said in the Statement by a similar note, I think that we would find that very helpful.
It is a disgrace that the government delayed the announcement of its decision on granting the National Farmers’ Union permission to use neonicotinoid seed treatments until after parliament had gone into recess. No surprise, given it had already suppressed publication of the agenda and minutes of the expert committee on pesticides meeting on 20 May. This is a government that also ignores the advice of its chief scientific adviser. On 14 May he called a recent Swedish field trial on rapeseed treated with neonicotinoids – which showed a decline in both the number of wild bees and bumblebee colonies – “an important contribution to the evidence base” on their impacts. Lib Dems believe this derogation for farmers by our government undermines the welcome 2013 EU ban on these bee-harming chemicals. Kate Parminter Deputy leader, Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords
Mike Storey, Lib Dem Education Spokesperson, hosted a debate in the Lords yesterday on mental health services in schools and colleges. He opened the debate saying:
I think that this is the fourth or fifth time in almost as many days that we have talked about mental health, which perhaps shows how important the matter is to your Lordships and that there is a need for action. No doubt there has been and will be repetition in what we all say but, again, that tells me how important the issue is. I also put on record my thanks to the numerous organisations that feel passionately about the issue and have sent a whole series of briefings.
Despite having one of the most advanced health systems in the world, child health outcomes in the UK, including for mental health, are among the poorest. Just 6% of the NHS budget for mental health is spent on children and young people. I know we have heard them on a number of occasions in the various Questions and debates, but we should remind ourselves of some of the facts. One in 10 children and young people aged five to 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder, which equates to three children in every classroom. One in every 12 to 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm, and nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression. Alarmingly, all these figures are on the increase. Yet despite these figures, a freedom of information request from YoungMinds sent to every NHS clinical commissioning group and every upper-tier local authority in England found that 74 out of 96 NHS clinical commissioning groups have frozen or cut their CAMHS budgets in the last two years, while 56 out of 101 local authorities in England that supplied information to YoungMinds have cut or frozen their budgets, or increased them by less than inflation, during the same period. We ignore the situation at our peril.
The Tory selloff of Government assets along Whitehall will cause major security problems in the future Lord Wallace of Saltaire has warned today.
In a question in the Lords, William Wallace has asked the Government what assessment they have made of the potential security risks posed by the conversion of former Government buildings along major procession routes.
Lord Wallace has also highlighted that there remains a network of World War Two tunnels under Whitehall that link all these buildings together.
Roads regularly used by the queen and foreign dignitaries could soon be lined with “Horseguard Hiltons” that will make security operations much more difficult.
“In their ill thought through drive to cut everything the Tories are willing to sacrifice security to make a quick buck.
“It would be a lot harder to guarantee the protection of the Queen, dignitaries or foreign leaders if you have hotels lining the route.”
“The selling off of assets is something a business does before it folds, not something a nation does on the way up.”