PolLaw Express: 21st July 2015 edition.

Your daily dose of politics and the law. NI intrigued? Covered. UK focused? Sure. US-centric? You got it.

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Welcome to the daily news round-up via my e-newspaper. Here are the top stories from today:

1. Iraq Inquiry: Chilcot turned down help says top official (via BBC News)
~ As we are waiting for Chilcot a la Vladimir and Estragon, just this piece of news today.

According to the head of the Civil Service Sir Jeremy Heywood, the chair of the Iraq Inquiry has consistently and repeatedly declined offers of extra assistance to help speed up the report. Rejecting claims that he had all but ‘washed his hands’ of the inquiry (which has been going nearly six years) he told MPs that he had offered Sir John Chilcot help at a recent meeting. He said that there was nothing he could do to accelerate the process, after his offers of help were rejected.

David Cameron has said he is ‘fast losing patience’ over lack of progress, and Sir John has said he still cannot set a deadline for when the report into the UK’s involvement in the 2003 Iraq invasion and its aftermath will be finished.

The last public hearings of the Inquiry occurred  in 2012 but progress has been delayed. Firstly, by laborious negotiations over what documents can actually be published, and then by ‘Maxwellisation’: where those likely to be subject to criticism in the report are given a right to respond.

Who knows, maybe we will finally see this report published in our own lifetimes.

2. Government defeated in Lords over English votes plan (via BBC News)
~The House of Lords are at it yet again, proving that the government are going to have many a battle on its hands when it comes to the second chamber in the UK Parliament.

Yes, this would be the news that the government was defeated in the House of Lords over its plans for ‘English votes for English laws’, otherwise known as ‘EVEL’. The Lords further defied the government, by backing calls to establish a joint parliamentary committee to scrutinise the proposals.

Rubbing salt into the wounds for the government, Conservative peers rebelled, including Lord Lawson and Lord Forsyth. The government lost by 320 votes to 139.

Embarrassingly enough, the Conservatives had made a manifesto commitment to give English MPs a decisive say over legislation which exclusively affects England but proving that plans do not always run smoothly, have run into trouble over the details of the plan and how exactly it will be introduced.

The plan is for a new Commons stage to be introduced for laws passing through Parliament, with England’s MPs being asked to accept or veto legislation only affecting England before it passes to a vote of all UK MPs at third reading.

Ministers say this will address the long-standing anomaly known as the ‘West Lothian Question’ by which Scottish MPs can vote on issues affecting England, but English MPs have no say on similar matters relating to Scotland, which has its own devolved Parliament at Holyrood.

3. Welfare vote will ‘haunt’ Labour says SNP (via BBC News)
~ What a day it has been for Labour in a series of bad weeks.

After the Chancellor’s welfare proposals from the Budget passed their first hurdle in the Commons yesterday night, Labour’s problems with infighting and indecisive leadership were evident after 48 of the party’s 232 MPs voted against the reforms – contrary to the order from Harman, acting leadership, to abstain from voting. Scotland’s sole Labour MP, Ian Murray, followed the party whip and abstained.

Speaking of Scotland, the SNP has said Scottish Labour will pay a heavy price for not voting in greater numbers against planned welfare cuts by the UK government. The SNP MPs themselves voted firmly against the controversial proposals in the Welfare Reform Bill.

 Proving that the party is currently the living embodiment of Murphy’s Law, Labour’s woes were doubled (or rather, quadrupled) by the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, the Democratic Unionists and Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, all voting against the bill. These four parties are apparently eager to exploit Harman’s decision to abstain, seeking to prove that Labour has forsaken its ideological roots.

To read my own take on Labour’s many woes, why not see my blog post here.

4. Poorest graduates ‘will owe £53,000’ after grants cut (via BBC News)
~ Cheerful news for students in England today. It has been revealed after close scrutiny of the Budget (which is still ongoing) that students from the poorest backgrounds in England will graduate from university owing as much as  £53,000, after maintenance grants are set to be replaced by loans.

These changes to student finance , which were announced in the Budget, will mean an initial £2 billion annual saving for the government, says the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). However, what is good for the government’s accounting books will make for painful reading for students.

The IFS estimates that only a quarter of these loans will be repaid, and the long-term annual saving will be £270 million.

The government says it is committed to ‘widening access in higher education’, naturally converting grants to loans will enable so many more students to study at universities (obviously).

More than half a million students from poorer backgrounds currently receive a maintenance grant, at a cost to the taxpayer of about £1.57 billion a year. From 2016, these grants will be replaced with loans, which these students will be expected to repay in addition to loans for their tuition fees.

The IFS believes the new loans will mean up to £550 more ‘cash in pocket’ per year for those students. However, they will consequently graduate owing up to £53,000 in total – compared with £40,500 prior to the scrapping of maintenance grants.

(My thoughts on this can be found here at number three on the list.)

To read these headlines and more besides, why not visit PolLaw Express?


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