Liberal Democrats stand up for devolved Parliaments over professional qualifications

MP Wendy Chamberlain and above members of the legal profession at an event in Edinburgh.

By Bill Heaney

Wendy Chamberlain, LibDem Westminster spokesperson for Scotland and Wales, has tabled amendments to the Professional Qualifications Bill which will be debated in the Commons on Monday.

The new law is needed to regulate the professional qualifications of people – such as teachers, lawyers, engineers and doctors – coming to work in the UK after Brexit.

In the face of the Government’s refusal to acknowledge that these professions vary between the nations of the UK and inability to gain the consent of the Devolved Governments, Ms Chamberlain has tabled amendments with cross party support to ensure that the Devolved Governments are able to regulate their own industries and that the new advice body is set up to work for all those in the UK.

Ms Chamberlain said:  “This is nothing but the Internal Market Bill all over again. This Government is trying to take powers back to Westminster which belong to the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“My amendments will ensure that it is the Scottish Government who make sure that those practicing law in Scotland know the difference between not guilty and not proven; and that teachers who want to work in Wales get proper advice about the Welsh speaking requirements.” 

Meanwhile, responding to the publication of the Scottish Government’s delayed National Workforce Strategy for Health and Social Care, LibDem health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton said:  “This is the umpteenth workforce plan from this Scottish Government and each one until now has been riddled with holes, leaving services in a bad shape going into the pandemic.

“It’s why there are record vacancies, record long waiting lists for treatment and a social care crisis that is leaving people without the support they need. This plan lacks any sense of urgency in dealing with those monumental challenges. Humza Yousaf doesn’t seem to have listened to a word that health staff have been saying over the past two years.

“Over the past months, I have set out proposals for helping overworked staff with a burnout prevention plan to guarantee leave and for a staff assembly to allow them to share their valuable experience and give them a greater say over the future of our health service.

“Patients and staff desperately need new hope and deserve better than ministers who seem determined to turn their attentions towards independence.”

New figures published today show that the number of children aged 5-11 who have had a positive (combined PCR & LFT) Covid test this week jumped to 7,337 from 4,504 the week before (a 63% rise) and the number of 12-15 year olds testing positive jumped from 1,901 to 2,757 (a 45% rise).

LibDem education spokesperson Willie Rennie said: “Covid rates in schools have climbed significantly week on week and there doesn’t seem to be a plan in the works to turn things around.

“I’m glad the government are no longer threatening to chop up classroom doors but I am disappointed that they are still refusing to put air filters in every classroom. This would help not just with Omicron but with future outbreaks and education performance more generally.

“Teachers, parents and pupils will be watching these figures tick up with a degree of anxiety. If there is evidence to justify air filters for 2,000 classes there is evidence to justify them for all classes. No one should be left behind.

“The First Minister should announce fresh financial support so that schools can install air filters in every classroom, tackle Covid build up and make our schools safer for pupils and staff alike.”

Land loopholes to be closed 

LibDem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP has today urged the First Minister to tighten up tax and ownership laws to prevent foreign oligarchs stashing ill-gotten gains in Scotland.

The UK government has introduced the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill which includes a UK-wide register of beneficial ownership. This will require foreign owners of UK property to declare and verify their identities, with prison sentences of up to five years for failure to comply.

In Scotland, under provisions of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act) 2016 a new Register of Persons Holding a Controlled Interest in Land comes into force on April 1st. Under the new rules, any person who controls the affairs of an owner of land must declare their association with it. UK-registered companies are exempt from the regulations, but land owned by overseas businesses will have to declare who controls the company. However, unlike the UK legislation although there are criminal offences and a maximum fine of £5,000, there is no verification of the declaration so the declared beneficiary may or may not be person identified.

Mr Cole-Hamilton is now calling for:

  • A transparent process for the registration of beneficial ownership, especially for foreign buyers.
  • A system of verification to ascertain the end beneficiary of those assets.
  • Measures to make it illegal to register a title to secretive foreign jurisdictions.
  • A faster and more severe approach to sanctions to Russia and oligarchs with proven ties to Putin.
  • Ensuring our energy sector is completely independent from Russia and that no project will receive Russian funding
  • An end to Scottish Limited Partnerships, a tax scheme regularly associated with dirty money and obscure ownership structures.

Scot Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael has written to the Home Secretary demanding that the Government seize mansions and houses belonging to oligarchs linked to Putin’s regime, and use them to help house Ukrainian refugees. 

LibDems Alex Cole-Hamilton, Willie Rennie and Christine Jardine.

Mr Cole Hamilton said:  “We cannot let Putin’s cronies do whatever they please here. We must all categorically take a stand to limit Russia’s influence in Scotland and the UK.

“While it is well known that London has been a laundromat for dirty Russian money for decades, very little is known about oligarchs close to the Putin regime who have set themselves up as lords of the manor here in Scotland.

“If we want to weaken the regime we must hit where it hurts – their wallets. The First Minister needs to tighten up rules on tax and ownership to ensure that we are not a home for dodgy oligarchs to launder their cash. One simple way to do this would be to make it illegal to register a title to secretive foreign jurisdictions.

“We also need to better understand who ultimately benefits from these assets through an ironclad system of verification.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats stand in total solidarity with the Ukrainian people and in condemnation of Russia’s invasion. Edinburgh has been twinned with Kyiv since 1989 and in this, their hour of desperate need, that relationship has to mean something.”

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson and Edinburgh West MP Christine Jardine will use her speech to the party’s UK conference to attack the Conservative party’s failure to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and say that by working with everyone out there who yearns for progressive change this country needs this generation of Liberals can finish the job that previous ones started.  

Meanwhile, at Westminster,Jamie Stone MP and other Liberal Democrat representing rural constituencies across the UK have today urged Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to introduce a price cap on domestic heating oil, after prices more than doubled in a fortnight.

Currently, consumers heating their homes using gas or electricity have some protection from price rises under Ofgem’s energy price cap. However, there is no financial protection in place for the 1.5 million households that rely on heating oil.

The MPs are now calling on the UK Government to urgently extend the energy price cap to off-grid households. In a letter to the Secretary of State, they highlighted that the price per litre of heating oil has surged from 66.74 pence on 24th February to 148.25 pence on 9th March – a 122% increase in a fortnight.

In total, around 4 million UK households are not connected to the gas grid, with 1.5 million of those homes relying on heating oil.

Jamie Stone, MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said:  “From Shetland to Somerset, off-grid households across the UK are seeing astronomical rises in the price of heating oil, with absolutely no financial protections in place. Millions of predominantly rural households have been callously forgotten by this Tory government.

“People are already being forced to choose between heating or eating.  Ministers must urgently instruct Ofgem to extend the energy price cap to heating oil to prevent hundreds of thousands of households from being plunged into fuel poverty.”

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