Tag Archives: House of Lords

Snoopers’ Charter: Lawyers’ have been fighting to protect legal privilege

court

The article quoted below is from July. Does anybody know what happened with this?

In yet another case of lawyers vs politicians, the legal profession’s concerns about the Snoopers’ Charter are going to be debated in the House of Lords today.

The legal profession has long resisted the controversial Investigatory Powers Bill, dubbed the Snoopers’ Charter, which will allow the government to ‘snoop’ on our communications.

The fear is that the anti-terrorism legislation will end up undermining legal professional privilege (a client’s right to talk to his lawyer in confidence), something solicitors and barristers alike feel very angsty about.

Source: Snoopers’ Charter: Lawyers’ fight to protect legal privilege reaches the House of Lords – Legal Cheek

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Don’t believe the critics – Labour’s plans are good for Britain

What do you think of the Labour Party conference this year? It’s a loaded question and one that is bound to elicit loaded answers.

The propaganda machines of the other parties have been working overtime to discredit Her Majesty’s Opposition, with Scottish people who wanted independence (the minority, let’s remember) claiming Labour lied to them, UKIP supporters adamant that the party is full of child abusers (based on a BNP propaganda website, which should tell anyone with a brain all they need to know), and of course the Tories doing what they usually do – blaming all the country’s problems on the last Labour government while stealing the family silver.

You never hear ‘No’ voters saying Labour lied, do you? You never see UKIP supporters complaining about racism in their own party. You never see Tories calling for genuine reform that helps the 99 per cent, rather than the tiny minority that they represent.

So let’s look at what Labour is proposing. Let’s make a list – because, you know what? Mrs Mike was watching coverage of the conference yesterday, and even she tried to tell Yr Obdt Srvt that Labour wouldn’t keep its promises. If we have a list, we’ll be able to check the promises against what they do, after a Labour win next May.

So let’s see what Ed Miliband promised. He outlined six “national goals”, and he called for 10 years in which to hit them. You may very well ask: Has he been reading Vox Political? Recent comments questioning Labour’s intentions have been answered with the simple observation that it takes time to change the direction in which a country is travelling (or in the UK’s case, lurching), and Miliband’s words echo that sentiment. He can’t do everything in one day. It does take time. Let’s look at those goals.

They were:

Halve the number of people in low pay by 2025, raising the minimum wage by £60 a week or more than £3,000 a year.

Ensure that the wages of working people grow with the economy (something that is glaringly missing from the Conservatives’ ‘economic recovery’, meaning that – for the vast majority of us – it isn’t a recovery at all). Miliband said: “What’s amazing… is that statement, that goal is even controversial. It used to be taken for granted in our country that’s what would happen.” He’s right – look at today’s article from Flip Chart Fairy Tales that Vox Political re-published.

Create one million jobs in the green economy – neglected by the Conservatives – by 2025, committing to take all the carbon out of electricity by 2030; start a Green Investment Bank; devolve powers to communities to insulate five million homes by 2025, saving energy and heating costs

By 2025, ensure that as many young people will be leaving school or college to go on to an apprenticeship as currently go to university. It really is as though he’s been reading Vox Political. A long-standing gripe of this blog is that governments have concentrated on academic achievement while neglecting the education of people who have more practical aptitudes. This is a very welcome change.

By 2025, be building as many homes as we need, doubling the number of first-time buyers in the UK. Vox Political would prefer to see far more social housing; perhaps this will come as well but it wasn’t part of Miliband’s promise. Nevertheless, the pledge to build 500,000 new homes should make housing more affordable again for people who aren’t spectacularly wealthy or don’t have wealthy family members.

Finally, to create a world-class 21st century health and care service, funded by a clampdown on tax avoidance including tax loopholes by hedge funds that will raise more than £1 billion, proceeds from a mansion tax on homes above £2 million, and money from tobacco companies. Total: £2.5 billion (per annum, it seems). Some have said this is not enough when the NHS is facing a £20 billion shortfall but we must remember that this deficit only appeared recently and could be the result of Tory scaremongering, or the private companies introduced by the Tories leeching money out of the system to fatten their shareholders. More details were due from Andy Burnham today (Wednesday).

Oh yes, you see Andrew Lansley’s hated – Yr Obdt Srvt really cannot find the words to show how vile this diseased piece of legislation really is – Health and Social Care Act will be repealed by a Labour government. If you don’t care about any of the other measures, you should vote Labour for that reason alone.

So those are his six goals. But what’s this?

“It is time we complete the unfinished business of reform of the House of Lords so we truly have a Senate of the nations and regions.” Considering the way Cameron has been packing it with Tory donors, rather than people of any expertise (as it is intended to contain) this can only be a good thing.

“And it is time to devolve power in England.” What a blow against the Tories who have been claiming Labour want to delay or destroy such a process! Miliband is talking about “devolving power to local government, bringing power closer to people right across England”. That seems to be an indication that he wouldn’t create a new, expensive English Parliament but would give power back to the current councils – power that has been leeched away from them by centralising Conservatives and the previous, neoliberal, incarnation of Labour.

There’s more. He wants constitutional reform. But unlike David Cameron, who wants to impose changes from above, so that they only benefit people who are already rich and powerful, Miliband wants to make it a matter of public discussion. Those who can’t be bothered to take part will only have themselves to blame if they don’t get what they want.

There were promises on foreign policy – to stand up for the UK in Europe, in contrast to Cameron’s strategy which Miliband blasted: “When David Cameron comes calling, people don’t think he’s calling about the problems of Britain or the problems of Europe. They think he’s calling about the problems of the Conservative Party. And here’s the funny thing… If you’re elected the Chancellor of Germany or the Prime Minister of Italy or the President of France, you don’t really think you were elected to solve the problems of the Conservative Party.”

More solid was the promise to recognise the state of Palestine and actively seek a solution to the problems of that part of the world we might call – in an attempt to be fair – the Holy Land: “I will fight with every fibre of my being to get the two state solution, two states for two people, Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side.” Many detractors have wrongly claimed that Miliband is a Zionist, determined to support the Israeli government’s use of vastly superior firepower to eliminate Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank; they had better think again – and look very hard at David Cameron, whose government has done as little as possible to protest at what has been happening.

And Miliband also said he wanted Labour to fight discrimination against same-sex relationships around the world. That may not seem as important to some people, but in some places it is just as easy to be killed by homophobia as it is to be killed because of your religion. Personally, Yr Obdt Srvt finds same-sex relationships unattractive – but it takes all sorts to make a world.

That makes six more goals! Double the value.

These are all good aims. All of them, if seen through, will be good for the UK.

So there’s your checklist, with 12 – not six – goals on it. If you support Labour next year, you’ll be able to check Miliband’s progress against them and you’ll have a chance – halfway through his 10-year plan – to stop him if he’s not making it happen.

Alternatively, you can say to yourself – as Mrs Mike did last night: “He doesn’t mean it. They’re all the same. It’s not worth voting,” or any of the other things the Tory campaign chief Lynton Crosby would like you to believe, and you can sit on your thumbs at home. That would be a vote for the Conservatives to carry on raping your country and ripping you off.

If Labour win in spite of people like that, then they will still benefit from the changes Miliband wants to introduce, along with the rest of us. If the Conservatives win because of those people, then we will all lose – apart from a miserably small band of super-rich, super-selfish, super-arrogant and entitled exploiters who tell Cameron what to do.

Framed that way, it isn’t really a choice at all, is it?

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Protest against Assisted Dying Bill, in Westminster, on Friday

assisted dying

The next debate on the controversial Assisted Dying Bill is to take place in the House of Lords on Friday – and all those opposed to the Bill are invited to attend a planned public protest outside the House while the debate is taking place.

An online petition has also been raised on the Change.org website. This states:

Lord Falconer’s bill aims to make it legal for doctors to end the lives of those they judge to be terminally ill, if the dying individual requests this intervention. This issue affects everyone, but our experience as disabled people informs our belief that the law should not be changed.

Not Dead Yet UK opposes this because:

  • It would be unacceptably dangerous to make it legal for one individual to end the life of another, because statutory safeguards cannot be made effective;
  • Clear evidence from other countries, where assisted dying has been introduced, shows that people are being assisted to die when they are not terminally ill. This is not the intention of the legislation, but there is evidence to show that it happens and when it does it is often to disabled people. In the light of this, Not Dead Yet UK takes the view that ‘Assisted Dying’ would be more accurately described as ‘Assisted Suicide’;
  • People can be led to perceive themselves as a burden, especially when support services are cut, and this may contribute to their decision making;
  • We believe that a positive approach to the lives of disabled people, old and young, should be a priority for society;
  • This means appropriate support for living and an accessible environment;
  • Disabled people are being hit harder than many by the recession, which gives us the clear message that our rights and opportunities are low priority when times get hard. ‘Assisted Dying’ is often linked with the cost of disability, particularly Social Care and Continuing Health Care, which are becoming increasingly unavailable. We find this a legitimate and relevant cause for concern;
  • In a recent poll by the Royal College of GPs, 77 per cent voted against legalising assisted suicide and many doctors acknowledge that it is very difficult to accurately predict when someone will die and they often get this wrong.

If you oppose the Bill and can make it to Westminster, please join the protest.

(Thanks to Mo Stewart for this information.)

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Will ‘independent’ study whitewash the Bedroom Tax?

Doesn't he look like a puppet? In fact the correct term is 'marionette' - for a puppet on strings, worked from above. But who's pulling Nick Clegg's strings this time?

Doesn’t he look like a puppet? In fact the correct term is ‘marionette’ – for a puppet on strings, worked from above. But who’s pulling Nick Clegg’s strings this time?

The Government is running an independent study into the impact of the Bedroom Tax, in order to find out if it is really possible for social housing tenants to move into smaller accommodation to escape its effects. The result should more likely be feared than welcomed.

Nick Clegg announced that the study was taking place in response to a Parliamentary question from Harriet Harman – but was immediately undermined by the Department for Work and Pensions. A government spokesman said the DWP routinely commissions research on new policies and an independent consortium was already carrying out evaluation work.

Clegg had to say he was taking action after his own party voted to change its policy on the Tax – the Liberal Democrats now oppose it – but this is not cause for celebration.

Who will carry out this independent study? We are told it is an “independent consortium” but what does that mean? What will be their terms of reference? What questions will they be asking and will they be the questions that need to be asked?

Observers should be raising serious doubts about all of these because this is not a government with a good track record on evidence-led policy.

We all know what this is about – the government’s hugely flawed scheme to claw back Housing Benefit cash from social housing tenants, taking 14 per cent of payments from those with one spare bedroom, and a quarter of the benefit from anyone with two. The Discretionary Housing Payment scheme for local councils was boosted to £60 million in anticipation of extra demand from struggling tenants.

It is true that evidence about the policy is conflicting. Lord Freud, introducing it in the House of Lords, apparently refused to listen to arguments that there were too few single-bedroom properties into which under-occupiers could downsize. Now he is blaming local authorities for the shortage.

The government said the policy would save £480 million, but the increased cost of DHPs must be subtracted from that, and also the costs of people who do manage to downsize. This could range from just four per cent of the 660,000 affected households to 20 per cent, depending on who you believe – a recent study by the University of York suggested that 20 per cent of households intended to move (which isn’t quite the same as actually doing it), but this was based on evidence from just four housing associations.

It seems unlikely that one-fifth of everyone affected nationally is moving to a different property – but even if they were, this would not create a saving for the government because it would have to pay out, not only increased Housing Benefit for those who have moved into smaller but more expensive private rented housing, but also Housing Benefit for people moving into the now-vacant larger social housing.

And then there are the people who cannot downsize but cannot afford the rent if their Housing Benefit is reduced. Recent reports had 50,000 households facing eviction – around one-thirteenth of the total number affected.

If they become homeless, local councils will have to find temporary accommodation for them – and this is paradoxically much more expensive than putting them in social housing, because they have to go into bed-and-breakfast rooms. Homelessness was already on the increase before the Bedroom Tax was introduced, rising from 44,160 households in 2011-12 to 53,540 in 2012-13.

Not only that, but there has been a sharp increase in complaints about this accommodation, according to the Local Government Ombudsman.

Finally, let us not forget that at least one suicide has been attributed to the Bedroom Tax – that of Stephanie Bottrill.

So definitive research is certainly desirable. There’s just one problem: The Coalition Government is very good at commissioning ‘independent’ reports that say exactly what ministers want them to.

Look at the report on culling badgers to get rid of bovine tuberculosis. A seven-year study during New Labour’s period in office concluded that this would be useless, and in fact could worsen the situation. The Coalition came in and a new study appeared advocating a cull.

With no knowledge of who is carrying out the report it is hard to predict whether its findings will be accurate – or just what the government ordered.

NHS stealth-privatisation – get an email in to the Lords!

n4s_nhs1

This is a quickie because there isn’t much time.

I just received notification from fellow blogger Steve Walker that today is the deadline for submission of evidence and concerns to the House of Lords ‘Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’ (SLSC) to ask for a full Lords debate on the undemocratic attempt to force privatisation on the NHS via the new Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).

Steve has written an excellent analysis of the redrafted SI 257/2013 regulations, explaining why they are a minefield likely to push CCGs further into the privatisation trap than any other outcome. You can read it here.

Rather than waste time trying to do the same job twice, I have emailed the Lords to ask for a debate, referring them to the same articles. Here’s a copy of what I have written. I would suggest that anyone who has strong feelings on the subject could use this as a template to email the Lords themselves. Here’s the email address:

[email protected]

And here’s the text of my email:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I understand that you are looking for submissions regarding the government’s ‘section 75’ secondary legislation. May I add my voice to those asking for a full Lords debate on this undemocratic attempt to force privatisation on the NHS via the new Clinical Commissioning Groups?

I do not intend to provide supporting arguments myself but instead would like to refer you to an excellent blog article – http://ccgwatch.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/revised-section-75-regs-mire-ccgs-in-a-legal-minefield/ – by Steve Walker, written following a careful reading of the government’s revisions to SI 257/2013.

It identifies serious concerns with the legislation, which does nothing to change the substance of the original instrument – and in fact uses uncertainty as an additional tool to tie the hands of CCGs to include private bidders for health service contracts.

With regards.

Over to you.

We will all pay for the raid on Legal Aid

lord bach

The House of Lords: The more one hears of the debates there, the more one is impressed by them.

One side of them, at least.

For example the debate on the Benefits Uprating Bill, that took place on Tuesday, including a fascinating interlude by Lord Bach, in which he made explicit the meaning of the government’s planned withdrawal of Legal Aid for benefit claimants.

The government claims the intention is to save money, but Lord Bach (pictured) made it perfectly clear that there will be no saving at all, in the end.

One is left with the only possible alternative – that this vindictive government of millionaires intends to make it impossible for the poorest and most vulnerable in society to seek legal redress against cruel and unwarranted decisions that will withdraw from them the money they use to keep themselves a hairs-breadth away from destitution.

It is a decision to attack the poor for the fun of it.

Don’t take it from me; here’s how Lord Bach put it:

“What is so often left out of the arguments about welfare reform… is what potential real remedy the citizen will be left with if the department’s [of Work and Pensions] decision is wrong. Surely the fact that it is wrong in many cases is not in question. We all know that, with the best will in the world, decisions made by the department are often wrong and very much to the disadvantage of those who want to claim them.

“For a long time, this has not been a pressing problem. For those requiring legal advice on their benefit entitlements, Legal Aid has been available – if, of course, these people came within the criteria for Legal Aid, and many did.

“For a small amount of Legal Aid, quality advice has been available, having the effect of both stopping – this is important in cost terms – hopeless claims and establishing good claims where appropriate. It is a system that worked. Putting it at its highest, it has allowed access to justice for all.

“At a slightly lower level, it has meant that tribunals have not been faced with an impossibly large number of cases, many of which should never have been brought in the first place.

“It has cost a fraction of the total Legal Aid budget and is paid to lawyers who are not by any standards well paid. Yet from April 1, as a deliberate act of government policy, this legal help will no longer be available for anyone in cases relating to welfare benefit entitlements.

“Thus, people will not be able to get the advice to which they are entitled. Their access to justice will be gone. The department will get away with wrong decisions and tribunals will be overburdened with what I can only describe as rubbish cases – all to save £25 million per year on welfare benefit advice.

That is one-tenth – I repeat, one-tenth – of the amount set aside by the Department for Communities and Local Government so that there can be weekly rather than fortnightly collections of rubbish. Is this really a proper sense of priorities for a time of austerity?

“Further, everyone who knows anything about this agrees that this is not likely to be a saving at all in the end.

“The state… will eventually have to pick up the pieces when things get much worse than they need to. How can the Minister or any government justify this either in terms of common decency, which should appeal to this House and normally does, or even under the rule of law?”

We all thought the Tories would be left heartbroken after the Hunting Act took away their favourite extracurricular pastime.

It seems they have found another blood sport to replace it.

Who is this overprivileged loon who thinks senior citizens are a burden on the state?

So some gangrenous cadaver calling himself Lord Bichard reckons pensioners should do community work or lose their benefit, does he?

He thinks this will stop them from being a “burden on the state”, according to the BBC website.

If I were a pensioner, I would have got straight on a bus for the House of Lords to demand that he be de-throned, de-frocked or dis-ennobled – whatever it takes to strip him of the title he so clearly doesn’t deserve.

These “burdens on the state” have contributed something like a quarter of their earnings to the state, throughout their entire working lives!

They have helped build up the state, maintained it, and defended it.

They receive a pension – and a meagre sum it is, too – because the state owes it to them in return for all that they have contributed to it!

Now, who wants to talk about how much the state should pay to useless life peers who only turn up at the House of Lords to pick up their allowance and spend the rest of their lives with their heads up their own backsides?

The worm(tongue) turns – and not a moment too soon

I would like to apologise in advance to fans of JRR Tolkien’s epic fantasy Lord of the Rings for the content of this blog.

You see, it occurred to me today that – in Nick Clegg and David Cameron – we can see a real-life parallel with the relationship between Grima Wormtongue and Saruman, the evil wizard who plots to be a dark lord.

Can Clegg be compared to Wormtongue? I think he can. For much of LOTR, Grima spends his time telling the people of his country that the best policy is to put themselves at Saruman’s mercy and let him ride roughshod over them, their homes and their livelihoods – much as Clegg has advised us to let Cameron ruin the UK.

Can Cameron be compared to Saruman? I think he can. In LOTR, Saruman plots to be a Dark Lord, as powerful as Sauron (who, as everyone knows, is the principle villain of the piece, portrayed memorably in the film version by a flaming, computer-generated eyeball). However, it turns out that Saruman just doesn’t have the ability to be a successful Dark Lord. He’s bad – but he isn’t very good at it.

In reality, Cameron wanted to be the Prime Minister because he thought he’d be “good at it”. After two years, we can look at his back catalogue of failures and U-turns and see how wrong he was.

As the novel has it, Grima finally turns on Saruman and stabs him in the back, killing him – which brings me to this week’s events concerning House of Lords reform.

Clegg has long cherished the idea of delivering constitutional reforms to the British Parliamentary system. Deprived, by referendum, of the opportunity to change the voting system to the Alternative Vote (which would have improved his party’s chance of getting Parliamentary seats), he fell back on reform of the House of Lords – a scheme which, his party claimed, had nothing whatsoever to do with Cameron’s plans to change constituency boundaries, cutting the number of of seats in the Commons down to 600 (which would have improved HIS party’s chance of getting seats).

This week, that idea was dealt a fatal blow – more because Conservative backbenchers refused to support it in principle than because Labour took issue with the scheduling of the debate. Lords reform has been dropped.

In retaliation, Clegg has announced that he will be instructing his MPs not to support boundary changes when the vote takes place – stabbing Cameron in the back, just as Grima stabs Saruman.

And the parallel can be drawn closer still, because both incidents hinge on side-issues. In the book, Saruman is causing trouble in the heroes’ homeland, out of nothing but spite, when he is killed. In reality, the boundaries issue is about making it harder for Labour to win Parliamentary seats – a spiteful attempt, by the Conservatives, at punishment for being kept in Opposition for 13 years.

But will the wound prove fatal? Cameron was doing his best to play down its significance immediately after, claiming that both Coalition parties would continue to work together to rebuild the nation’s economy. That’ll be a hard slog, because it is under the Coalition that the economy has slipped back into a recession that has grown deeper with every month that passes – fuelled, as we saw demonstrated in the Workfare case (see the immediately preceding post), by Coalition policies.

Commentators have already suggested that one way out for Cameron would be if Scotland secedes from the Union. That would deliver a cut in the number of Parliamentary seats and an increased likelihood of Conservative victory, given the current state of voting intentions in the seats that remain. So it seems unlikely that the Conservatives will fight very hard to keep Scotland in the UK.

Even then, though, what will the voters do? We’ve had a little more than two years of the Coalition and already the vast majority of the population are feeling the pinch, while having to watch the Coalition’s leaders and their big-business friends getting their snouts in the trough.

Future developments could be stranger even than fantasy fiction.

Carving up the NHS is Cameron’s vanity project

The more we find out about Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill – his bid to privatise the NHS – the more childish it all seems.

This has been a week of shocks for the architects of the Bill, starting with the revelation that a Conservative ‘insider’ had described Mr Lansley as “a disaster” who, far from winning over critics of the Health Bill, has managed “to further annoy and alienate NHS staff”, and that a Downing Street briefing had called for him to be “taken out and shot”.

“Health reform should have been carried out by stealth,” said one strategist, according to an article in The Times.

It seems that many of Mr Lansley’s changes could have been carried out without primary legislation, thereby avoiding the glare of the public spotlight and all the adverse publicity that has come with it. Nevertheless, the idea of fundamental changes to our greatest national institution taking place covertly is outrageous and Jon Trickett MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, has written to Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, seeking reassurance that “there will be no such covert attempt to bring about fundamental change in the ethos or the care offered by our National Health Service”.

In fact, changes have already been implemented by the government – at considerable cost to the taxpayer – without waiting for the Bill to finish its passage through Parliament and get Royal Assent. Apparently these things are mere formalities for our Coalition leaders (who, let’s not forget, are composed of members of two political parties who could not win the confidence of a majority of the electorate on their own).

But a judicial review, to establish the legality of these moves, is now a distinct possibility.

The decision to implement as much as he has without waiting for the bill’s royal assent is a “flagrant flouting of parliament”, according to Polly Toynbee in The Guardian. But while a U-turn would be embarrassing, failing to do so would be worse, she argued.

Andrew George, the Lib Dem MP and member of the health select committee, put it like this: “It will now cause havoc either way, but going ahead is even more catastrophic”.

Even Tory commentators have turned on the Bill. Craig Barrett, writing in Tory blog Egremont, said: “The fact that many of the reforms do not even require primary legislation makes the resulting headache look embarrassingly self-inflicted. Without a proper mandate, it looks undemocratic.

“For the good of the NHS, Andrew Lansley must admit defeat and head to the backbenches.”

Hundreds of thousands of doctors, nurses, midwives and others have called for the government to abandon this proposed legislation before it does great harm to the NHS. The British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing have voiced concerns, and the Royal College of GPs wrote last week to Mr Cameron to ask for the bill to be scrapped. The Faculty of Public Health became the latest healthcare body to call for the Bill to be dropped, “in the best interests of everyone’s health”.

Downing Street has insisted that Mr Lansley and his reforms have the Prime Minister’s full support, though.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Cameron said his government was increasing its spending on the NHS, while the Labour administration in Wales was making cutbacks. It is easy to dismiss this criticism, though – the cutbacks in Wales are entirely due to cuts in funding from Mr Cameron’s own Westminster government.

The government has offered more than 100 concessions in an effort to get the Bill passed, but this did not stop the House of Lords passing another amendment when peers discussed it on Wednesday.

So – as one can see – there’s a huge amount of opposition to this Bill. It is seen as undemocratic. Only a tiny minority of healthcare professionals want to see it implemented, and they tend to belong to the administrative side – the bean-counters and pen-pushers, rather than the medical practitioners themselves. And Mr Lansley’s time as Health Secretary has been a “disaster”.

Why, then, do both he and our comedy Prime Minister persist with it?

Well, it’s their vanity project, isn’t it?

It’s their attempt to write their names into the history books – the biggest change to the National Health Service since it was created in 1948 and, they hope, the blow that will lead it into a long-drawn-out death, to make way for private health companies and block millions of people from receiving health care of any kind in the future. You just won’t be able to afford it.

In short, they want to graffito “David and Andrew were here” across the face of Britain’s biggest and best-loved national institution, and they’ll do it at any cost.

Childish.

Show your contempt for this arrogant dictatorship

Does anybody reading this still think the UK is a democracy?

I dare say most people are aware that the government, in the House of Commons, has reversed all seven amendments made by the Lords to the Welfare Reform Bill. This means the new benefits cap of £26,000, per family, will include Child Benefit.

The Bill will also:

  • Require cancer patients to undergo a means test for Employment Support Allowance – if they fail, they have to look for work
  • Reduce the lower rate of the ‘disabled child’ element of Child Tax Credits
  • Means test other ESA claimants every year
  • Stop young disabled people who have never worked from claiming ‘contributory’ ESA
  • Impose ‘under-occupancy’ penalties on social tenants with one spare room
  • Force single parents to face Child Support Agency charges, even if they have taken steps to reach a settlement

There is no mandate for these changes, or any of the other changes in the Welfare Reform Bill. The Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition does not have permission from the electorate to do this, because it was never part of either of their manifestos. This is undemocratic.

The House of Lords, in amending the Bill to prevent the measures I mention above, had been contacted by many people on benefits, and made their decision in the knowledge of the financial trauma it will cause if allowed to go ahead unchanged. This was the only opportunity the people affected by the Bill had to plead a case, and the government’s pig-headed refusal to pay attention (let’s call it a ‘not-listening’ exercise, in recognition of the sham that was carried out in respect of the Health and Social Care Bill, which is likely to cause even more harm to the honest people of the UK). The reversal in the Commons therefore flies in the face of the will of the people. This, too, is undemocratic.

Furthermore, the government has announced it will use a rule known as ‘financial privilege’ to prevent the Lords from sending the same amendments back to the Commons when they consider the Bill for the final time.

Now, Parliamentary convention has long stated that the Lords do not deliberate on “money” Bills, such as the Budget – but such legislation is never introduced to the Lords in the first place. As the Welfare Reform Bill was, there is a strong argument that this rule does not apply.

It is highly unusual for a government to introduce a Bill to Parliament with the intention of it being considered by both Houses, only for it to declare the Bill beyond the auspices of the Lords at this relative late stage in proceedings – and for this reason the whole process could end up in a judicial review.

In other words, for this to happen, it must normally be decided before a government is humiliated over its unsound policies – not after. This, again, is undemocratic.

Let’s not forget that the government falsified the results of its own consultation process about this bill. More than 90 per cent of those taking part opposed the changes in the bill but this was ignored in the report, which was intended to show that the public supported the change. It does not. This, yet again, is undemocratic.

This break with precedent could have further implications for other major government bills going through the Lords, including the Legal Aid and NHS Bills, both of which are highly controversial. Need I point out how undemocratic all of this is?

Finally, none of these measures are necessary. If the government taxed big businesses properly, instead of excusing them from paying the vast sums of money they owe, then there would be enough in the Treasury to keep benefits as they are and pay off some of the national debt. This is what the majority of the people in my country want and their refusal to do it is totally undemocratic.

If you’re not living in a democracy – and if you’re in the UK, you are definitely not living in a democracy any more – then you’re living in a dictatorship.

It is a dictatorship ruled by two parties that did not even gain a majority in the last General Election.

We have another three years of this agony, as matters stand at the moment.

All I can suggest right now is that we make our contempt for this arrogant cartel known at every opportunity. If any of the above makes you angry, make sure you’re on the electoral register and then get out and vote against them every chance you get.

There are elections in May. They’ll be a good place to start.