LIBERAL REFORM CONFERENCE BRIEFING
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Inside The Coalition Drinks Reception
13:00 – 14:00, Saturday 9th March 2013. Hall 8 B, The Hilton Metropole Brighton. Olly Grender chairs a panel of political insiders who will discuss how the coalition really works behind the scenes. 20.00 - 21.15, Saturday 9th March 2013. Osborne Meeting Room, The Hilton Metropole Brighton. Come and meet us and hear about what we are planning in the next few months.
We support the emergency motion which has been put forward on secret courts and urge the FCC not to use procedural niceties to stop it being taken.
It of course possible that Lembit woke up one day, read the Constitution and thought that there seemed an anomaly in the arrangements for calling a leadership election. Or not. Our view on this is simple – there are already two ways of calling a leadership election: if our MPs lose confidence in the Leader or 75 constituencies call for an election. The Leader is not elected by Conference; they are elected by the members, who should be the ones with the power. The reality is that if this is passed, at If Lembit wants to fulfil his aspiration of deposing Nick Clegg he should persuade his former colleagues in Parliament or party members in 75 constituencies of the merits of his argument, not start messing about with the constitution. virtually every conference the FCC will have to decide whether or not to table a motion calling for a leadership election, which will inevitably be the focus of media attention.
Lib Dems support good teaching! Not exactly revolutionary news. Much of this motion is perfectly sensible, but we have some concerns over lines 35-37 regarding Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). We agree in principle that having an objective standard for all teachers is important, and the current system, with different requirements for teachers in the state sector, independent state sector and independent sector is clearly rather bizarre. However, it seems to us that the current QTS regime needs improvement before it is applied to more teachers, and we are supporting an amendment - which we hope will be accepted for debate - which calls for a thorough review on improving the system before it is rolled out more widely.
Revitalising the rural economy
This is yet another motion which mainly consists of platitudes, with no real specific solutions. Lack of affordable housing is quite correctly flagged up as a key issue in rural areas, but the difficulty of actually building new housing due to planning restrictions is nowhere mentioned. Indeed, having raised the issue there are no proposals at all to deal with the issue apart from a meaningless call for ‘affordable rural housing that cannot be used for second homes, ideally run by housing associations’. An amendment has been submitted on the topic of planning, which we hope you will support if it is accepted.
WAYS TO STAY IN TOUCH
Social Security Tribunals
This is a very sensible motion. Anyone who has had experience of the benefits system knows how fiendishly complicated it is. The statistics on the number of appeals allowed by Tribunals speak for themselves on the level of errors made in the decision process. Simplifying the benefits system while maintaining access to justice for claimants should be key aims for Liberal Democrats.
Corporate Tax Avoidance
Much of this motion sets out sensible moves on transparency and enforcement. However, we have some concerns about lines 18-19 which call on tax authorities to automatically share information relating to UK citizens and corporations. This seems very disturbing – what controls would there be on such information? Who and what would be shared, and with which countries? We believe that this section needs to be either amended or deleted. Tax avoidance is a significant issue for fairness for many people: when they believe that it is easy for companies to avoid tax in a way which the government did not intend, confidence is lost in our economic institutions. However, we must remember that every instance in which tax is avoided, a sin of commission or omission has occurred on the part of our legislators, who must not be let off the hook for improper scrutiny of shoddy finance bills. We should also remember that one of the best ways to reduce avoidance is to have a simpler, more broadbased tax system.
We should not forget that Britain has a vibrant manufacturing sector, which accounts for around 13% of national output (compared to around 20% in Germany). We are particularly successful in the automotive, aerospace, chemical and pharmaceutical industries. But if we are to achieve the sort of balanced, sustainable economic prosperity that has been absent in recent history, manufacturing must play a greater role. The challenge is how government can sensibly help achieve that. Subsidising industries which ministers deem desirable is not sensible. But Liberal Reform does not think government should just stand idle. Government’s primary role is to make the UK an attractive place to invest, with the infrastructure, skilled workforce, commitment to free trade and competitive tax rates that companies require. We support this motion as well as an amendment that has been submitted calling for the party to play a leading role in the push for an EU-US trade agreement, which can provide a significant boost to the UK manufacturing sector.
Two for one
We were amused to see in the Conference Agenda that the Hilton Metropole is offering a 2-4-1 offer on drinks in the Cambridge bar. Ironic really given that the Coalition (with what appears to be enthusiastic support from many Lib Dems) are busy making poor people pay more for their alcohol and banning exactly these sorts of deals in supermarkets.
Transparency in selection of motions
There has been a lot of controversy about motions which have not been taken for debate – particularly the one on Secret Courts. We believe that the FCC needs to be much more transparent about its process and decision making. All motions submitted should be published and the FCC should state their reasons for not taking them.