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The Weekly Whip

March 25, 2020 3:02 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

parliamentWelcome to our third edition of the weekly whip, your one-stop shop for what your Lib Dem parliamentarians are up to in 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: @LibWhips

Weekly Whip w/c 23rd March

In the last week ahead of Recess; Westminster Hall debates were suspended, and select committees will now continue over video conferencing. Given the ongoing pandemic, we went early to Recess on Wednesday.

With Parliamentary pass holders being declared 'key workers' the business of both houses continues. However, access to the parliamentary estate has been restricted and social distancing measures put in place.

Monday 23rd March

On Monday we passed all stages of the Coronavirus Bill in one day! You can find what the Lib Dem approach to the bill was here, in a blog post from Ed Davey.

This is an usual Bill in a number of ways.

  • To start with, this Bill is long. It's over 330 pages long. For context the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill (now Act) was over 160 pages long.
  • As mainly a health matter, this Bill would usually only apply to England and Wales. However, last Friday the House of Commons agreed to disapply Standing Orders 38J and 38O, meaning the Bill will apply to the whole of the UK and will not have to go through the EVEL (English Votes for English Laws) process[1].
  • The Bill completes all Commons stages in one day. This is highly unusual for a Bill of this size. However, given the exceptional circumstances, MPs across the house agreed to the timetable.

In the Commons, we tabled 8 amendments to the Bill. Click on the tweet below to see the amendments in full.

The Government, with pressure from the Liberal Democrat's and other opposition parties, backed down on a number of aspects in the Bill.

The biggest concession was to reduce the length of time the powers apply to the Bill. The Government conceded that Parliament should be able to review the powers after 6 months.

The Coronavirus Bill was amended 48 times in the House of Commons, these were all Government amendments. Some of these were concessions, but a number were also technical changes (inevitable when you draft such a large Bill at such pace). The Bill passed through both Houses without any opposition amendments.

Tuesday 24th March

The biggest moment of the day, was an Urgent Question from Ed Davey demanding help for the self-employed during this crisis.

This urgent question, led by the Liberal Democrats, sparked calls from all political parties in the House of Commons for the government to bring forward an economic package for those that are self-employed. Ed, Wendy Chamberlin and Alistair Carmichael all gave passionate speeches on the subject.

You can show your support for the Liberal Democrats campaign on helping the self-employed through this crisis. By signing our petition to the government here: https://www.libdems.org.uk/support-self-employed

This was followed by all stages of the Contingencies Fund Bill (Ed Davey speaking for the Lib Dems). The contingency fund allows the government to dip into reserves (through amending the Contingencies Fund Act 1974) to fund unforeseen event for departments. In the statute however, this is a relatively small amount (2% of approved dept spend). This is being temporarily increased to 50% to meet the needs of this crisis. The Bill will allow the Government to draw on an extra £260 billion in extra spending.

The Contingencies Fund Bill was followed by another spending bill. Completing its final stage before moving to the Lords, The Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Bill give authorisation for the Home Office to spend the necessary funds to compensate those caught up during the Windrush scandal. If this bill passes (it has cross party support) these funds will be paid out through the Windrush Compensation Scheme.

Wednesday 25th March

This was the final day that the House of Commons sat before the Easter recess.

Unusually PMQs was one hour today.

The speaker allowed PMQs to be extended in absence of other Covid-19 statements in the House. Both Alistair and Wendy were selected to ask a question. Alistair again showed the Lib Dems leading the fight for the self-employed by asking again what support they will be given. Wendy raised the issue of those with rheumatic autoimmune diseases being included on the shielded list of people with underlining conditions being protected and offered extra support.

See you back in Parliament after the Easter recess on Tuesday 21 April 2020. At which point the Weekly Whip will return.

[1] Usually under EVEL, a bill would have to get a majority of the whole house and a majority of those MP representing English and Welsh constituencies.