Part 1: Reports to Conference from Nick Clegg, Diana Wallis, Lord David Shutt & David Ward.
The Yorkshire and the Humber Regional Autumn conference was held on 5th November 2011. The heavy losses in May’s council elections were still in the consciousness of speakers and members but there was an optimistic feeling that the Liberal Democrats were on the rise again.
Delegates were welcomed to the conference by the regional President, Lord Phil Willis who introduced the party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (MP for Sheffield Hallam).
Nick Clegg opened the conference with a speech championing the work that the Liberal Democrats have done both in the region and nationally and condemned Labour’s record, in particular on Manufacturing. He told the conference that ‘there is nothing progressive about debt’ and that cuts were the right thing to do and praised how the Liberal Democrats were working with the Conservatives in government, stating that if the party hadn’t decided to go into the Coalition, Britain would have found itself in a situation similar to Greece.
There was a variety of questions posited at Clegg but the one that stood out was his response on the unions and the upcoming strike. He criticised their scaremongering and the false information they have distributed to union members. Clegg spoke of the surgery he held the day before: where he had teachers screaming at him about information presented to them by unions on pension reforms, only for them to calm down after he explained the reforms properly.
Following Nick Clegg’s talk Diana Wallis MEP, Lord David Shutt of Greetland (Deputy Government Chief Whip in the House of Lords) and David Ward (MP for Bradford East) gave their Parliamentary reports to the conference.
Diana Wallis in her role as Vice-President has continued her work improving the transparency of the European Parliament. She finished negotiations on a Brussels Transparency Register with the Commission. She was an influential member in the group for setting up a Code of Conduct for MEPs, and establish firmer rules on their financial declarations. This should come into effect after January 2012. She is also working on a reform of Question Time to Commissioners, making the question and answer sessions more spontaneous and more accessible for spectators. In light of all of this Diana has improved her transparency and will keep a regular log of her meetings on her website.
Working on the Legal Affairs Committee Diana worked on the European Parliament’s report updating EU consumer rights legislation, finalised in June. Many of elements of Diana’s report made it into the final agreement. Member States will have until September 2013 to adapt their legislation to the new rules. Her report on European contract law won a large majority in Parliament. Diana is also jointly responsible for a report on the European Sales Law which would give small businesses the option to choose an EU-wide sales law to apply to their contracts; this law would mean that translation and legal costs would be reduced when making cross-border sales. Her report on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in Europe was voted by Parliament in October and encouraged the use of ADR for civil disputes in complicated cross-border cases. Diana is also responsible for the report on reforming the working of the European Court of Justice. The main proposal: increase the number of judges of the lower court to deal with backlogs of cases and introducing means to allow judges to work with greater efficiency. An agreement should be expected in early 2012.
Diana is part of the Petitions Committee and continues to support citizens facing problems with property laws in Spain and Cyprus. She has also worked on championing the European emergency number (112) which most UK based travel companies now give to British customers, making them aware of the universal service and helping keeping them safe during their trips throughout the EU.
Lord David Shutt’s report was relatively short, commenting on work the Lords have done reducing the Localisms Bill.
David Ward reported on Liberal Democrat activity in the Commons. There are difficult issues Liberal Democrats are facing on welfare reform; they are going to introduce energy standards in the private sector. He criticised the recent vote for a referendum on the EU as a ‘massive distraction’ and reported that in the Postal Services bill there will be no program for closure for Post Offices. Finally he concluded that the Coalition was a good thing as there has been much more open debate in the House of Commons.
By Louis Gill, Leeds Liberal Youth President