Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Goodbye Charlie

Westminster is in shock this morning over the death of Charles Kennedy. The former Liberal Democrat leader died aged 55 at his home in Fort William, his family said. Tributes have flooded in for the Lib Dem veteran, who took over from Paddy Ashdown in 1999 and went on to lead the party through its most successful period, winning 62 seats at the 2005 general election. Michael Wilkinson has the latest updates

"Charles was a fine man, a talented politician, and a loving father to his young son," his family said. Former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg led the tributes, saying: "Charles's untimely death robs Britain of one of the most gifted politicians of his generation. Charles devoted his life to public service, yet he had an unusual gift for speaking about politics with humour and humility which touched people well beyond the world of politics."

Figures from across the political divide have praised the late Lib Dem leader, who first entered the House of Commons in 1983 at the age of just 23. Former Tory leader William Hague said he was a "devoted public servant, a gifted Parliamentarian, and a man of great warmth", while acting Labour leader Harriet Harman said: "He was someone who fought for social justice and brought courage, wit and humour to everything he did". Ukip leader Nigel Farage added: "He was always a polite and decent man." Kennedy's final tweet, written the day after the election, said: "Thank you to the generation of voters, and then some, who put their trust in me."


Jeremy Hunt has told the NHS that it must improve patient care and stop making excuses about a lack of funding after the government committed to giving it an extra £8billion a year. In an article in today's Telegraph, Hunt says that the health service has the money it needs and must now "deliver its side of the bargain" and make "substantial and significant" savings in order to do more with less. The reaction has never been an easy subject to tackle, with one critical health blogger musing that Hunt has "picked a fight with the entire NHS". Former Conservative chancellor Nigel Lawson's assessment of the NHS in his memoirs lives on, after describing it as "the closest thing the English have to a religion" adding that "this made it quite extraordinarily difficult to reform". 

Hunt has zeroed in on an somewhere the NHS could rein in spending over - "exorbitant" fees for agency workers. New rules will introduce a maximum hourly rate for agency doctors and nurses, ban the use of agencies that are not approved, and put a cap on total agency staff spending for every NHS trust in financial difficulty. This comes after a Telegraph investigation revealed that the revenue of Britain's 10 biggest medical recruiters rose by more than 40 per cent over three years. Despite Hunt/s prescription, critics argue that the huge agency fees are a sign of a skills shortage in the NHS. The key question is how will the patient react to Dr Jeremy's medicine? 


David Cameron is using an in-out referendum on Britain's membership of the EU to permanently "dock" the UK to the 28-member bloc, Jean-Claude Juncker has claimed, as Cabinet ministers demanded that the Prime Minister delays the vote as long as possible. In a highly provocative statement, Juncker, the president of the European Commission, claimed that there is no chance of Britain voting to leave the union and suggested that Mr Cameron is using the vote to ensure Britain remains a member of the EU "permanently", Peter Dominiczak reports

This comes as France and Germany have called on the EU to revise its plan to admit asylum seekers landing in Europe, saying there was insufficient "balance". A leading QC and adviser to the Conservative Party has also warned that prisoners in Britain may be given the vote because of David Cameron's refusal to pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights, Steven Swinford reports


Britain must not disengage with the rest of the world, the foreign secretary has said, amid a growing row with the United States over Britain's level of future defence spending, Steven Swinford reports. Philip Hammond was speaking after Ashton Carter, the US Defence Secretary, warned Britain that its role in world affairs will be diminished unless it meets Nato defence spending targets.


Ministers will scrutinise whether it is appropriate for licence fee money to be used to pay Fifa for the right to televise World Cup games, in the wake of the corruption scandal engulfing the organisation, Chris Hope reports. The news came as MPs said the BBC should not bid for future football World Cups run by Fifa to avoid "rewarding corruption" with licence fee payers' cash.


Britain's biggest energy firms have been ordered to pass on the fall in wholesale gas and electricity costs and cut household bills, Camilla Turner reports. Energy Secretary Amber Rudd has written to the "Big Six" urging them to ease the pressure on families. This comes as environmental taxes hit a new record high of £44.6 billion in 2014, official figures show, as the bill for renewable energy levies rose to almost £3 billion. Emily Gosden has more


David Cameron once promised a free vote on repealing the Hunting Act, however it was absent from the Queen's Speech laying out his first planned year of legislation. As Oscar Wilde's pithy description of the foxhunters and the creatures they chase suggests, the rights and wrongs of the hunt have long inspired strong passions. Will campaigners get the Hunting Act repealed this Parliament? Rosa Prince has taken a look


Lib Dem leadership contender Tim Farron has been talking about his musical career, telling the Huffington Post UK last that he once fronted a group "written off as a fourth rate New Order". However, he refused to reveal the name of the three-piece as "you can find it on YouTube". His admission has set off a mini-hunt to find the band online. Back in 2011, he told Total Politics magazine that the group nearly made it big, saying it was offered a recording session with Island Records. "In the blur of all the stuff," he admitted sheepishly, "we didn't do it." 

Has Tim Farron's band finally emerged? A commenter on the Liberal Democrat Voice site has pointed to a mysterious video that has been online for a month showing a series of photos of a young Farron and his band, set to very fourth-ratey New Orderish music, under the title "Portfolio Experiment Indigo II". Is the band's name anything to do with the title? "I don't think so", a Farron spokesman tells me. 

Meanwhile, Shirley Williams, the founding member of the Social Democratic Party, has backed Farron's rival - Norman Lamb - for the Lib Dem leadership. In a statement, Lady Williams described Lamb as "a wonderful constituency MP [and] a man who has brought politics at its best to his county".


Nicola Sturgeon is expected to appear on The Daily Show, the satirical news programme, during a "charm offensive" trip to the US this month, Auslan Cramb reports. Asked on Monday if she was appearing on the show hosted by Jon Stewart, the First Minister admitted it was "possible", adding: "We'll wait and see."


Douglas Carswell, Ukip's only MP, is apparently a member of the "Westminster bubble", according to Nigel Farage, who responded to being criticised by his party colleague over his controversial comments on HIV, Steven Swinford reports. Carswell said on Sunday that Farage was "mean spirited" and "wrong" to suggest that foreign patients with HIV should not be treated on the NHS.


David Cameron has admitted he is a "bit greedy" and suggested that unlike his wife he is not "beach body ready", Steven Swinford reports. The Prime Minister said that while his wife Samantha is "very disciplined" with her diet he was brought up to "eat what is put in front of you".


Councils have been told to justify why they own hundreds of farms, golf courses and restaurants, as well as a nightclub, a cheese factory and even a wet fish stall, Chris Hope reports. Greg Clark, the Local Government secretary, said council tax payers had a "right to know, and demand, that every penny of their hard earned contribution is being carefully spent in the most effective way".

Meanwhile, Sue Berelowitz, the former deputy children's commissioner, has been forced to leave her lucrative consultancy job after it emerged that her £960-a-day contract breached government rules. Here are more details


Conservative plans to double free childcare for 600,000 families will cause "meltdown" due to a funding shortfall, childcare providers have warned, Emily Gosden reports. David Cameron announced on Monday that he would bring forward a Childcare Bill, to be published on Tuesday, enabling working parents to benefit from 30 hours of free childcare a week for three and four-year-olds a year earlier than expected.

This comes as David Cameron told Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions secretary, that he cannot cut child benefit as he seeks to cut billions from the welfare bill. Duncan Smith has been ordered to run the rule over his departmental budget to try to make savings of £12billion in 2015/16 and 2016/17, Chris Hope reports


@PaddyAshdown: Charles Kennedy. In a political age not overburdened with gaiety and good sense, he brought us wit, charm, judgement, principle and decency


From The Telegraph

Jeremy Hunt - It's time to crack down on rip-off NHS agencies

Norman Tebbit - What the Lords are whispering about Cameron's plans

From elsewhere

Jonathan Todd - Why on earth is Labour convening a "truth and reconciliation" commission?

Joshua Rozenberg - Breaking with convention


10:30 Shadow culture secretary Chris Bryant participates in a panel discussion at the Voice of the Listener and Viewer Spring conference in London on the future of public service broadcasting 

14:00 Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks at the European Policy Centre in Brussels on Scotland and the European Union 

15:30 Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers hosts a meeting of the Stormont House Agreement Review Group in Belfast. Representatives of all Northern Ireland parties as well as the Irish Government are expected to attend

18:00 The House of Commons vs House of Lords tug of war takes place in Westminster

Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond attends an international conference hosted by the French Government in Paris on Iraq and Syria

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is expected to make an announcement on agency staff

Home Secretary Theresa May attends the second day of a meeting of G6 interior ministers in Dresden

Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey speaks at the 2015 European Security Conference in Lisbon

Environment Minister George Eustice attends an informal meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council

5th anniversary of first PMQs with Lib Dems on government benches



Commons Chamber

11:30: Health questions (topicals at 12:15)

Queen's Speech debate on health and social care

Presentation of public petition: Protection of green spaces at Capstone Valley and areas around Ottherham Quay Lane (Gillingham and Rainham) by Rehman Chishti, Conservative MP for Gillingham and Rainham

Adjournment debate: Creation of a national institute for the study of the sexual abuse of children led by Graham Allen, Labour MP for Nottingham North


14:30: Oral questions, to ask the Government:

- Lord Spicer (Con) to ask Her Majesty's Government, in the light of the recent statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that Sir Howard Davies' recommendations for London's airports should be accepted, what assessment they have made of proposals to develop an airport in the Thames Estuary already discounted by Sir Howard's Commission.

- Baroness Thornton (Lab) to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they plan to give legal recognition to humanist marriages in England and Wales, and if so, by what date.

- Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab) to ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the United Kingdom's market share of international investment in the manufacturing and service industries under the European Union's existing regulatory regime.

Topical questions: presentation of Bill: - Childcare Bill

Main business: Queen's Speech debate on home affairs, local government, energy, environment and agriculture

Thanks very much for reading, I can be reached via email at asa.bennett@telegraph.co.uk, or on Twitter @AsaBenn