Liberal Democrats outline plans to build 300,000 new homes a year

At their Autumn Conference next month, the Liberal Democrats will outline plans to tackle the housing crisis, stimulate the economy and generate jobs.

The proposals, outlined in housing policy paper Decent Homes for All, would see up to 300,000 homes being built annually. They would also increase protection for private tenants by promoting longer tenancies and cracking down on rogue landlords.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader, Simon Hughes MP said:

“Successive governments have failed to address what is now a housing crisis. A shortage of homes has made it impossible for many to get on the housing ladder and has seen rents, especially in big cities, rise to historic and unaffordable highs.

“That’s why Liberal Democrats have outlined our most ambitious ever proposals for building the new homes Britain needs. Building 300,000 new houses a year will ease demand, stimulate the economy and generate jobs. It’s a win-win.

“Everyone is entitled to a decent and affordable roof over their head and Liberal Democrats are committed to delivering it.”

Lynne Featherstone, Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green welcomed the news:

“Haringey has long faced an acute housing crisis, and has the fourth largest homeless problem in London. Every week, dozens of people who are either homeless, or in fear of becoming homeless, contact my office asking for help.

“Yet again, I am glad to see the Liberal Democrats attempting to clear up the mess of previous Governments. We have already cut taxes for working families. I hope now, starting with this policy paper, we can also go some way to addressing the housing crisis.”

Freedom of Information

It’s an indictment of Private Members Bills really – the fact that Tory and Labour MPs mustered (although whipping is meant to be forbidden) enough support on Friday to stop MPs being subject to Freedom of Information legislation. We now have to rely on the Lords to put a spoke in this wheel.

For the uninitiated – Private Members Bills are read on a Friday when the vast majority of MPs have a constituency day for surgeries and meetings, so Parliamentarians are normally scattered all over the country on a Friday. So if you were watching Parliament on TV (I hear some do!) or the news coverage, you would have seen empty benches barring the few speakers.

(As it happens, I was off sick on doctor’s orders, though had I not been, I’d have had the dilemma to choose between important constituency engagements, such as meeting people who have casework to raise with me, or being in Parliament to vote; that’s often a difficult choice to make and it’s a daft one to be forced into making so frequently).

On the previous occasion this Bill came to the floor of the Commons for debate, Liberal Democrat MPs Simon Hughes and Norman Baker have used a tactic of ‘talking out’ the Bill – meaning filibustering until the House runs out of time and the Bill falls, though – as you see – sometimes it comes back another day. This time, unusually, some old and rarely used rules were invoked to allow a vote to be forced.

All in all – not a very satisfactory way of doing business. MPs are there to be vote on legislation and to do work in their constituencies. Using Fridays like this forces them to choose. And having the progress of a bill depending on who can talk for longest or invoke the most obscure rule … well, full credit to Simon and Norman for doing all they could to block this legislation, but wouldn’t it be more sensible if we’d all been debating the bill on its merits (or rather lack of them!)?

I would prefer to see a change in the way Private Members Bills are done. They should be accorded proper debate on a normal sitting day. And if the Government says there is not enough time during the rest of the week – then perhaps if we a) had a government that stopped producing legislation in order to look active or sound tough and b) only spoke for as long as necessary rather than because they like the sound of their own voices – there would be plenty of time.

There are several MPs who pride themselves particularly on going in on a Friday and talking out any Bill that comes forward and I don’t really think it is right to use such tactics on a regular basis as a matter of normal business. Imagine if in your place of work decisions were simply made on the basis of whether or not someone could keep speaking until the end of a meeting? I don’t think people would stand for that for very long!

So full credit to Simon, Norman and the others for doing all they could in these exceptional circumstances to block this awful piece of legislation – but next time, surely, we should have more sensible rules in place. Gordon Brown is talking about being about substance and giving more power to Parliament. Let’s see how serious he and his colleagues turn out to be about the rules under which Parliament operates…

Newroz celebrations

Campaign Newroz Celebrations 2007 with Mustafa Topkaya, Lynne Featherstone MP, Simon Hughes and Akif Rizgar Wanteam meeting and door knocking to start off and then off to Shoreditch Park in Hackney to speak at the Newroz celebrations. Thousands of members of the Kurdish community come together to celebrate the year’s ‘renewal’. With bands, dancers and political speakers – the sun shone and the fun goes on. Simon Hughes and I were the Liberal Democrat contingent – and Simon is clearly an old favourite with the Kurdish community with whom he has done a great deal of work.

David Rebak's funeral

Very, very sad today. Went to David Rebak’s funeral. David died aged 82. David is one of those unsung heroes that you get in all parties. A man who is totally and utterly committed and passionate to the values of the party and spend their life in the party structures – organising, supporting, galvanising and encouraging others to continue the good fight.

Such an interesting man with a history of serving in the British Army, and then the Israeli Army before coming back here in 1960 to a lifetime of activism in the Liberal Party and then the Liberal Democrats.

He did serve as a councillor and he did stand for Parliament – but his real gift to our party was this lifetime of working to keep the flames of liberalism alight and advancing. He was deeply involved in Simon Hughes’s original campaign to get elected in Southwark and was loyal to him through the years in his leadership and Mayoral bids.

Loyalty was his strong suit – to his family first and foremost (and they are the sort of family you envy – warm and loving and close); loyalty to the way he believed you should conduct yourself and live your life (i.e. have principles and live by them) and loyalty to the tenets of liberalism – freedom, fairness, internationalism and equality.

Being next door to me almost in Enfield, over the years we had quite a lot of contact and overlap. He was overjoyed when I got elected. I suppose the idea that a Lib Dem might storm Labour Haringey was so remote over the years – must have seemed like an impossible dream. But hey – nothing’s impossible.

I remember David sitting in my lounge and asking me how I would manage standing for Parliament (this was before my first outing in ’97) given I was a single parent with two children. Never politically correct (you just don’t ask that of potential candidates) he was quite determined to make sure that family considerations were taken into my equation.

It is impossible to imagine seeing his wife Maurine (also a lifetime Lib Dem activist) at party conferences without him. For so many years wherever you saw David you saw Maurine. But I am sure she will go on fighting for this party comforted and supported by her two sons and daughter Marianne. There closeness as a family made me almost envious. We are losing the matriarchs and patriarchs of that era – an era where the family was all.

Marianne, who is a teacher (and Deputy Head) in a local primary school in my constituency, read out a letter from ‘Uri’ who had met David when he (Uri) was fifteen. David didn’t just teach Uri, but he left such an impression that clearly this relationship had been so strong and so important to him. And that had stayed with him all these years to be written down in a letter of condolence to his family.

As I said – a very sad passing of a man of principle.

ID cards

Education! Education! Education! Labour, supported by the Tories, push through their dreadful Education Bill this week – the one that moves the deckchairs, that will allow McDonalds to run a school and which does nothing to address standards within schools or meet children’s needs. There are a few Labour rebels – but with the unwavering and pretty uncritical support of the now cuddly Tories – our school system moves nearer to disaster.

Liberal Democrat MPs campaign against ID cardsNick Clegg, myself , Roger Williamsand Mark Hunter (the Home Affairs Front Bench Team) joined by Simon Hughes, party president, go to the Passport Office to hand in our old passports and apply for new ones. This is to illustrate our protest at the Government forcing all of us to go onto the National ID database at the point at which we get a new passport. It doesn’t start for a while – but is against their manifesto pledge that the ID card / database would be voluntary. They’ve broken that promise (surprise, surprise) – by linking it to renewing passports are basically making it mandatory. But if you renew your passport before these rules come in – you can put off joining the register for 10 years. But which time who know who will have won an election and maybe scrapped the whole scheme.

I truly don’t think this will hit home with the public until they twig when and as they renew – but as the nation wakes up to the cost and the consequences – I am still hopeful that it can be stopped. The big problem will be how much has already been spent by the time this happens – too many billions that could have gone on effective crime-fighting measures – like more police – and there will be no turning back.

You can sign the Lib Dem petition against ID cards and also find out how you can renew your own passport (if you have one) before the Big Brother database kicks in at the Lib Dem website.