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.

Simon Hughes

Simon Hughes is indeed in the tabloids today – as being gay or bi-sexual. Now, it is hardly news to anyone I know – but Simon has always protected his right to keep his private life private – and I support him on that. But the attack is because a week ago to three newspapers he denied he was gay. I guess he was cornered and the question was never going to go away – and he just made an error of judgement. The media say he lied. I think he just defended himself badly. So another roller coaster for the party to bear as this latest news works its way through the rounds of the media.

It is the first question Steve Richards asks myself, Ed Davey and Phil WIllis who are having a pre-recorded panel session which will go out Saturday at 11am – the Week in Westminster. This is a panel of the key supporters for the leadership – me for Chris Huhne, Phil Willis for Simon Hughes and Ed Davey for Menzies Campbell. So – whilst none of us would go on any media to discuss Simon – once they’ve got you there anyway, there’s no stopping the question. We all basically defended Simon’s right to privacy and right to be whatever sexual orientation he wanted. Then, thank goodness, we get on to policy areas and have a right good ding dong. Great fun!

I get a call last thing because we (Lib Dems) need to put out a statement on Sir Ian Blair’s attack on the media for being biased towards coverage of white murders. For bizarre reasons he chooses Soham as an example of their bias. I remember the coverage at the time – because first the poor girls were missing and we all went on that journey of anxiety as we moved toward the eventual horrific reality. It would have been the same what ever colour the girls were. It was a huge story and the press were bound to follow that one.

However, Ian Blair is right to highlight the issue of bias in coverage. But when I think back I can remember examples both ways – when two murders occur when sometimes the black murder will be covered and sometimes the white. So methinks we need proper examination of this issue – as it is a very important one. We need to look at the way information about a murder gets to the press. Which stories originate from the police forces themselves. What are their policies in terms of media liaison over murders. Let’s have an analysis of all murders and their coverage over the last few years and see what led to what. I am not happy about statements that are not backed up by factual analysis on this. So I welcome the opening up of this as an area for concern – but let’s get it right and based on factual information.

Get home late – just in time for Question Time and Simon Hughes is on tonight. I don’t know if it’s good or bad to have such a media opportunity at this point when there is a feeding frenzy around him. It did give Simon the chance to put his case – which he did as well as he could under the circumstances.

Police reform

There is a lobby of parliament today by the Association of Police Authorities (APA). The Government wants to merge the current police forces into fewer but larger police forces. Almost everyone is against this.

Labour state that it is to plug a gap that appeared during the Soham murders where a local force did not have the specialist capability to deal with the investigation – and argue that a larger police force would have the capacity. But a smaller force can always bring in such specialist skills when needed. And what we know is that Safer Neighbourhood Teams and local policing work – work in terms of intelligence, in terms of public visibility and so on. In other words – local services, delivered close to the people they are meant to serve, work best. Labour’s proposals centralise the controls of forces – just going the wrong way. And as ever – this nonsense will cost millions and millions and millions.

So the APA have come to see me to put their case against the Government proposals. I am with them on this. There will be an opposition day debate on this next week in Parliament.

The Lib Dem leadership contest rolls on – an my boy Huhne is definitely coming up on the rails – overtaking even Simon Hughes now in the betting. Having taken an hour’s questions from Stroud Green Residents’ Association I get home just in time to listen to the special Any Questions being held in Richmond. They all did pretty well I thought. What is very striking is that following the first hustings, where Chris laid out some key themes around eco-taxes, taking the low-paid out of tax, localism and so on – the others are now singing the same song. I guess this is how it goes. I remember the Mayoral contest in London last time – where Ken and Steve (Norris – in case you’ve forgotten) apart from a couple of issues largely took our ideas.

In fact, it made me laugh today when I heard that Ken is going to allow an extra day to pay on the congestion charge. I first floated that one even before the Mayoral contest – and Ken pooh-poohed it publicly at many an Assembly. But now it will happen! So – look out for Oxford Street to be humanised and for GPS to come to bus management instead of CountDown and AVL!

Simon sounded a bit lacklustre – probably explained later by a text around 10pm saying Simon would be in the tabloids next day. Who says Liberal Democrats are dull?

Meeting Ken Livingstone again

Ring Peter Hendy to congratulate him. He has been chosen as the one (out of the two applying) for the job as Transport Commissioner for London, taking over from wiley Kiley. Peter was bus supremo – and we have argued across the transport spectrum for years now. And I still want a full time service on the hard fought for 603! What I always really like about Peter is his hands-on approach.

Whenever I put out a press release that he didn’t like – be it about the ‘free’ bendy buses or the ‘bursting into flames’ bendy buses – or whatever – he would phone me on my mobile and give me hell. Despite our opposite positions – we always got on well and I think he will be a great Commissioner. Look forward to seeing his negotiating style with the government. And – on the occasions when he was wrong – eventually he would admit I was right.

My favourite was over AVL – the system of countdown which tells passenger when the bus will be along and is plotted on a computer. Terrible system – never worked properly. I always told Peter that it was pointless finishing implementing an outmoded useless system across the rest of London (it was half in). Have to say – gave me great pleasure the day he told me I had been right all along. Anyway – he is a good thing and I hope to see London improve under his stewardship.

Sonia from the LSE is shadowing me today as part of ‘LSE Women in Westminster’. She and Mette, my researcher, come to Home Affairs Team meeting. We always run through all the Home Affairs Bills with each of the team responsible for that Bill – both Lords and Commons. Mark Oaten (Shadow Home Secretary) heads the team. Updates on Religious Hatred Bill – coming back for another row I think to the Commons soon; ID cards in trouble for the Government – as may be the Terror Laws soon. The Government seem to be having a go at getting back to 60 days on detention without charge. I trust the Lords will stick to the 28 we conceded in the Commons.

Rush off to Prime Ministers’ Questions (PMQs) next. Will Ming pass the test? Well – his question was on the Soham murders – so the House fell silent. And he was absolutely fine – not that in my view PMQs should have any sway. It’s just a blood sport. I do wonder why jeering, leering and making rude gestures is rated so highly by the boys and the media!

I race to City Hall for a London Day event with my old sparring partner – Ken Livingstone. He gives me a double peck on the cheek and I observe that he is clearly missing me since I left. He denies this assertion and tells me what a terrible thing we have done to that nice Charles. And what’s wrong with a drink anyway? Well – this from the man who claims to get bored at parties and only drank three glasses of chardonnay! Hey, Ho.

The lunch was fine – and then Ken orated. He is a good speaker – something to do with nasal tones and trying to shock. I learned a lot from Ken during my five years as an Assembly Member (only the good bits) so have a lot to thank him for in as much as I learned to keep in mind when I speak the audience outside the room as well as those present. And to be direct!

Ken wittered on for some time about water and desalination – but his surprise announcement was his endorsement of Simon Hughes as LibDem leader. Not sure if that’s the kiss of death for Simon!