As it happened: Tuesday at the Lib Dem conference

Key points

  • Energy Secretary Chris Huhne vows to "get tough" over energy bills and to strengthen the regulator Ofgem
  • Baroness Williams promises a tough fight in the Lords for the government's NHS Bill
  • Party leader Nick Clegg says Britain will not join the euro "in my political lifetime"
  • Pensions Minister Steve Webb pledges that reforms to the system will ensure fairness

    Hello and welcome to our live coverage of the 2011 Liberal Democrat conference from Birmingham. Energy Secretary Chris Huhne takes centre stage today, but there will also be a debate on NHS reform, which should be pretty lively.


    First up in the main hall this morning, though, is a motion calling for an end to the ban in England on blood donation from men who've had sex with men.


    Leader Nick Clegg has already taken to the airwaves this morning, trying to explain his stance on the banks and the euro - a thorny subject for the Lib Dems, given their track record of campaigning for Britain's entry to the single currency.


    Mr Clegg told BBC Radio 4's Today the eurozone could have avoided its current difficulties if the member countries had exercised more discipline - but he conceded that the UK would not join up to the euro during his political lifetime.


    Conference is currently debating whether the restrictions on gay men donating blood should be lifted.


    Lib Dem West Lothian member Dij Davies says it is time to "end the blood ban" on donations from gay men, the BBC's Emma Griffiths reports. A few weeks ago it was announced that the lifetime ban would be lifted - although men who want to donate must not have had sex with another man in the past 12 months. Mr Davies, who tells the floor that he was stopped from giving blood when his mother needed a transfusion because he is gay, says the new rules are "simply a ban by another name". "It stigmatises male same-sex contact by perpetuating the myth they can't be trusted in matters of sexual health," he says.


    Returning to phone hacking - which was the subject of a debate on Monday - Nick Clegg says no amount of money can absolve News International from listening to messages left on the phone of murder victim Milly Dowler. Rupert Murdoch is set to donate \u00a31m to charity from his own pocket, while the Dowlers themselves are expected to receive in the region of \u00a32m from the company. Mr Clegg said the invasion of the Dowlers' privacy had been "grotesque".


    The conference votes in favour of ending the "ban" on gay men donating blood. There are a couple of dissenters.


    Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes says the plans to be outlined Chris Huhne's speech on energy prices will make the "big six" providers more responsive to consumers.


    Simon Hughes agrees with Nick Clegg that Britain is unlikely to join the euro any time soon, but adds that a strong eurozone is in the country's interests.


    Conference is debating a policy motion on adult social care in England. It calls for the creation of an Older People's Commissioner.


    Liberal Democrat MP John Pugh is opening the debate in the main hall. He is recalling his time as a youth working in a geriatric ward with patients suffering from dementia. He tells conference that doing nothing to improve adult social care "is not a defensible option".


    There is one amendment to the main motion. It calls for action to protect older people from abuse.


    Urging support for the motion, Christine Tinker, from Stone, says: "Where abuse [of older people] is identified, it has to be stamped out."


    Lib Dem health minister Paul Burstow is on his feet. He pledges that the government will put adult safeguarding the elderly on a statutory basis for the lifetime of the current Parliament.


    Mr Bustow says the Liberal Democrats have shown "passion" and "commitment" to ensuring the NHS reforms in England are right. He urges the same energy and commitment to improving adult care.


    Just a little reminder that delegates will take part in a Q&A session on the coalition's NHS reforms at about 1130 BST.


    More on Chris Huhne's energy speech. Adam Scorer of the Consumer Focus group thinks any more power for the regulator, Ofgem, is "to be welcomed".


    In the conference hall, Faith Ponsonby, from Havant, says a better system of inspection of care homes is needed.


    Adam Cain, Clwyd West, says regional differences in adult social care "blight" the system. He adds that more people should be encouraged to make private provision for their care.


    Delegate Dan Sear makes a moving speech to conference on how adult social care affects his disabled sister. He welcomes the Dilnot report on how to reform the system of funding social care in England.


    An Oasis of dissent? On Twitter, Lib Dem MP Tom Brake reports from a fringe meeting with the Police Federation. He describes relations between Home Secretary Theresa May and forces as being "as good as those between the Gallagher brothers".


    In the hall Robson Brown, a young carer, says the \u00a335,000 cap on lifetime social care costs recommend by the Dilnot report is "far too high".


    Liberal Democrat Pensions Minister Steve Webb takes to the despatch box to address the conference in the main hall.


    By the way, delegates have approved a policy motion on adult social care in England, which includes a call for the creation of an Older People's Commissioner. It has been passed with an amendment to protect older people from abuse.


    Giving his speech, Mr Webb starts by thanking organisers for scheduling his it immediately before Baroness Williams - Liberal Democrat grande dame, ex-cabinet minister and renowned academic - comes to the stage. "For the first time in my life there will be more people at the end of my speech than at the start," he jokes.


    Mr Webb is talking about plans to equalise the state pension age. The coalition wants to raise the pension age for women from 60 to 65 by 2018 as a prelude to both female and male pension ages rising to 66 in 2020. He assures delegates the government will do all it can to make the transition for women most affected by the proposals "as fair as we can".


    Steve Webb's tie - a sort of blue-ish colour - is a little glary on TV.


    He says much of the talk on cuts to the work and pensions budget is "exaggerated". He says cash spending on housing benefit will be the same at the end of this parliament as it was at the start - around \u00a322bn.


    Mr Webb finishes by telling delegates: "It is a privilege to be in government, but I never forget whose side I am on." He adds that the coalition's agenda is one the Liberal Democrats can be "proud" of.


    Now for the panel on NHS reform. Baroness Wiliams is introduced to loud cheers.


    A no-nonsense first question to the panel: "Have we got the NHS reforms right?" Minister Paul Burstow steps in to answer. He says the government hasn't stopped listening and is keen to make further changes to the Health and Social Care Bill if needed.


    Retired academic Dr Graham Winyard - part of the panel - praises the listening exercise, which paused the passage of the Health Bill through Parliament. But he says the reforms still haven't been sold to the NHS or the public.


    Baroness Williams describes the NHS as one of the "outstanding human endeavours of all time", adding that it was a "great shame we had to go through this process".

    Paul Waugh, Politics Home

    tweets: Latest gag from Lib Dem minister: "Q: What does Tim Farron want to be when he grows up? A: Simon Hughes".


    Dr Graham Winyard welcomes the fact that commissioning of services will be driven by clinicians, as this will be "more sensitive to patients' needs". But he warns of "acute dilemmas" when measures such as the quality premium are introduced as this will create "financial incentives" for GPs. This needs to be looked at when the bill goes through the House of Lords, he adds.


    Baroness Williams agrees with Dr Winyard's comments. GP practices should not be profit-making as this would be "rather dangerous", she says.


    Baroness Williams raises the constitutional importance of the secretary of state's responsibility for the NHS. On that point, Paul Burstow says the secretary of state needs to retain legal and and political accountability for the health service.

    Alastair Campbell, ex-Labour spin doctor

    tweets: Keep thinking I ought to blog on Lib Dem conference, then overwhelming feelings of underwhelmedness kick in, so the moment passes


    Paul Burstow is looking quite the thing today. He has co-ordinated his socks and tie - both purple.


    More criticism from the Lib Dems on the NHS Bill. John Pugh MP describes it as a "huge strategic mistake".


    comments: It's about time someone decided to get tough with energy companies. Time and time again I read about their record profits, and then them saying they need to raise prices due to reduced revenue.


    Steve Webb, appearing on the BBC News Channel, says the main thing he wants to achieve via his pension reforms is "fairness".


    Baroness Williams suggests the NHS Bill will come up against stiff opposition in the House of Lords from a "very powerful" and "influential" medical group of peers. She promises the Lords will scrutinise the proposals in "vast detail", expressing anger that the House of Commons set aside only three days to consider more than 1,000 amendments to the bill. John Pugh urges peers to "purge" the bill.


    tweets: Clegg: no-one predicted that some EU govts wd cook books + wreck euro. That's right, Nick, no-one - apart from *every eurosceptic*


    We're coming to the end of the Q&A now. Next up is a speech from Lib Dem Energy Secretary Chris Huhne.


    Mr Huhne is on his feet addressing delegates in the main conference hall, pledging that the government will be the "greenest ever".


    Climate change is one of the biggest challenges we face, the energy secretary says, insisting it can't be ditched as a priorioty when the going gets tough.


    Mr Huhne is extolling the virtues of a low-carbon economy. He says it is the route to economic recovery.


    "Energy investment will be \u00a3200bn in the next 10 years," Mr Huhne says. And the coalition's electricity market reforms will mean three quarters of our electricity comes from low-carbon sources by 2030, he adds.


    comments: If you want energy prices to fall Mr Huhne then end your ill-advised and ignorant opposition to nuclear power.


    Mr Huhne is moving on to energy prices. He says he is determined to "get tough" with the six biggest energy companies to ensure customers get the best possible deal.


    comments: So that's what he calls tough is it. To me it sounds more like a mouse attacking a sabretooth tiger with a feather. The only way to control the greedy energy suppliers is to re-nationalise the whole lot and maintain that service industries should be for the benefit of the whole country not just a few with very large pockets.


    We want simpler tariffs, Mr Huhne says. He calls for more powers for the regulator Ofgem to force companies to give money back to consumers for "bad behaviour".


    Now there's tough talk on a crackdown on "predatory pricing", when big energy companies push their prices up for the majority of their consumers, who do not switch, while introducing cut-throat offers for new customers that stop small firms entering the market. "It must and will stop," Mr Huhne demands.


    Friends of the Earth's Donna Hume says: "Chris Huhne is right to target the Big Six [energy firms], but his fighting talk must be matched with bold action to slash energy waste and cut our dependency on expensive fossil fuels."


    Mr Huhne turn his attention towards his Conservative coalition partners. And there's a stark warning to the Tory right. "We need no Tea Party tendency in Britain," he says to applause.

    Peter Henley, BBC politics reporter

    tweets: Huhne's joke about winning an unpopularity contest falls a bit flat in half-empty hall


    tweets: Chris Hunhe's speeches are pretty old, they tend to be always the same.


    In a strong message to the Conservative Party Mr Huhne warns it will "wreck the nation's economy and common purpose" if it fails to seek "common ground that unites us", keeps "beating the anti-European drum" and slavers over tax cuts for the rich.


    It's lunchtime for the Liberal Democrat conference now. The afternoon's business kicks off at 1430 BST with a debate on a policy motion on green economic growth. There will be a speech by communities minister Andrew Stunell, at 1550 BST, followed by a debate on a motion endorsing a Lib Dem policy paper on the quality of life.


    Former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell tells BBC Two's Daily Politics there is "great resistance" among the German public to help the bail-outs of failing eurozone economies.


    John Cridland, CBI director-general, responds to Chris Huhne's speech, saying: "Energy customers should be helped to get the best deal and we support easier switching of accounts." He adds: "But we do need ministers to be crystal clear on energy policy if vital business investment is to be secured."


    Chris Huhne's speech packed the delegates in.

    Chris Huhne

    Party president Tim Farron, one of the more outspoken parliamentary critics of the coalition, says it "depends on the arithmetic" whether the arrangement with the Conservatives will continue after the next election, expected in 2015. He also tells BBC Two's Daily Politics he has no ambition to lead the Lib Dems. Asked if he would refuse the job, if offered, he replies: "Yes."


    Nick Clegg, who has said he wants to go on leading the Lib Dems for a long time yet, chats to his fellow frontbenchers.

    Nick Clegg

    UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage responds to Chris Huhne's remark that "being part of Europe is not a political choice; it is a geographical reality". He says: "Yes, the people of Britain have no issue with Europe, but with the European Union, and he knows it. Nobody is suggesting that we dynamite the Channel Tunnel."


    Chris Huhne denies that his speech, in which he criticised the Conservative right, was "conference grandstanding". He tells BBC Radio Four's World at One: "What it's pointing out is that a coalition government has to represent the views of all of the votes that support that government in the House of Commons and of the Lords."


    tweets: Huhne's "getting tough" with the energy companies doesn't seem to amount to much more than a wish list. Hope I'm wrong.


    We disagree: Protesters outside the conference hall make their feelings known on the coalition's pension reforms.

    Pension protesters

    Dale Vince, founder of the Ecotricity energy company, says he is sceptical over Chris Huhne's claims that a beefed-up Ofgem can deal more effectively with consumer needs and improve the environment. He says: "The big six [energy firms] behave badly and everybody knows it. Yes, this is about people getting a fair deal but it's also about ensuring Britain gets the green revolution that it needs."


    Here's the Daily Politics interview with Lib Dem president Tim Farron, in which he denies any ambition to lead the party.


    Lift off: The Lib Dem glitterati rise to applaud Chris Huhne.

    Lib Dem front bench

    The lunch break is coming to an end at the Liberal Democrat conference. First up for this afternoon's session is a debate on green economic growth policies. Delegates will be voting on a motion that calls for a reduction in the UK's reliance on financial services, with more investment in manufacturing. Some delegates will try and get an amendment passed that would call for operators of nuclear power stations to pay a windfall tax to fund energy efficiency projects.

    Julian Glover, Guardian commentator

    tweets: Clegg being strengthened in B'ham by weak performances from everyone else apart from Cable. Party lacks stars, Tim Farron overreaching self


    Party grandee Baroness Shirley Williams makes her point on NHS reforms

    Baroness Williams

    Nick Clegg responds to Chris Huhne's comments criticising a "Tea Party tendency" within the Conservative Party. During a visit to a Birmingham hospital he says: "All political parties have different wings. And the point that Chris was making, whether you like the choice of words or not, was a very simple one - which is, in a coalition government compromise is the glue that holds the government together."


    Bristol West MP Stephen Williams launches the afternoon session of the conference with praise for the coalition's Green Investment Bank, describing it as a "world first".


    Lucy Care, a delegate from Derby, urges conference to support an amendment that calls for the UK to become a "zero-waste economy".


    Neil Stockley, a delegate from from Greenwich, south-east London, accuses the Treasury of offering "can't-do conservatism". He calls instead for "will-do green liberalism" through the introduction of green financial products, such as so-called green ISAs.


    A first-time speaker from Worcestershire, Jennifer Treen, urges her party colleagues to end the "myth" that environmental policies are a hindrance to business and economic growth.


    Paul Zukowskyj, who stood for his party in the Welwyn Hatfield constituency in the 2010 election, attacks the green economic growth motion. He describes it as "motherhood and apple pie", without any real meaning or structure. Urging delegates to go further in tackling climate change, he tells them to vote against the motion. "Liberal Democrats support what's right", he says, "not what's easy".


    The Liberal Democrats are traditionally seen as being against nuclear energy - but a delegate from Essex, Stephen Bolter, speaks out in favour of a new generation of nuclear power stations, saying they are "vital" to create a low-carbon economy and avoid further climate change. The applause at the end of his speech could best be described as polite.


    Mike Crockart, the MP for Edinburgh West, says "only the Liberal Democrats will push the agenda of green growth", and describes David Cameron's pre-election "vote blue, get green" pledge as "husky rhetoric".


    Baroness Parminter wraps up the debate with a call to put green growth at the heart of all coalition policies. She reminds colleagues of the party's commitment to rejecting any form of public subsidiy to the nuclear industry.


    Delegates overwhelmingly back the green growth motion and all the amendments. Up next, Local Government Minister Andrew Stunell will be addressing the conference on the coalition's policies on housing.


    "Housing is one of the most important issues facing the entire country", says Mr Stunell, with an attack on the previous Labour government's record on social housing. He tells the conference that 4.5 million people are on housing waiting lists.


    Mr Stunell gets an enthusiastic response to an announcement that the government will consult on giving powers to local authorities to charge extra council tax on houses that have been empty for more than two years.


    To applause from delegates, the minister says the coalition will build 170,000 new social homes over the next four years. He says it will be the first government for more than 30 years to deliver an increase in social housing.


    Hoodie with a cause: Someone takes a bench break from campaigning for Equitable Life victims outside the conference centre.

    Protester in Birmingham

    Mr Stunell's address is over. That's the last of the set-piece speeches of the day by Liberal Democrat coalition ministers. Up next, delegates debate a policy paper on "quality of life".


    Lord Marks - a member of the party's federal policy committee - opens the debate with an attack on the "consumer excesses" of previous years. He urges government to have "a deeper central purpose than economic success", especially during times of austerity. One of his suggestions is a wellbeing index, to investigate the impact of government policies on quality of life.


    Conservative MP Peter Bone - not a man renowned for his love of Lib Dems - hits back at Chris Huhne's criticisms that the Tory right is a UK version of the US Tea Party. He says of the energy secretary's speech: "I thought it was a leadership bid and not a very subtle one." He goes on: "But I'd be quite happy for Tea Party politics to be in the Conservative Party: tax cuts, coming out of Europe, cutting the public debt, returning power to the people. They're all good Conservative ideas and he's showing his true colours by attacking the entrepreneurs who actually are the wealth creators and create the jobs. He's closest to the Socialist Party and I'm quite happy to be associated to the Tea Party."


    Peter Bone widens his attack on his party's coalition bedfellows. He says: "I think there's a genuine problem with the tail wagging the dog. Here are these liberal ministers who are claiming and, rightly so, having influence on government - and perhaps too much influence - and I think they should shut up a bit and actually get on with governing the country and support the prime minister. "


    In the hall, Jill Hope from Northamptonshire attacks the wellbeing motion as "fiddling whilst Rome burns". She paints a bleak picture of rising unemployment, rising student debt and struggling small businesses and describes the debate as "self-satisfaction". "We need to talk about real issues," she says. "Not pap".


    Chris Huhne says he's never accused consumers of being "lazy" in looking for the best price on energy costs. But he says the measures he outlined in his speech will make it easier for them to change deals to get better value.


    Some real debate is developing among the delegates. Richard Flowers from inner London describes wellbeing as "a string of warm-sounding fuzzy policies joined up by wishful thinking. Liberalism is not a soggy security blanket." However Lord Alderdice - now a Lib Dem, but once the leader of Northern Ireland's Alliance Party - says the party needs "the intellectual rigour to develop new policies", even while in government. He tells the conference that wellbeing should be an integral part of the next party manifesto.


    Don't forget me. Minister Andrew Stunell reminds delegates that he took part in the coalition negotiations - not just the "big three" of Chris Huhne, David Laws and Danny Alexander.

    Andrew Stunell

    Pensions minister Steve Webb strikes a pugnacious pose as he promises fair pensions.

    Steve Webb

    Delegates are making short speeches from the conference floor on the "quality of life" motion. One, from Berkshire, warns that a wellbeing index could lead to an excess of league tables and targets, while one from Barnet in north London says it could reduce the gap between rich and poor.


    The party's deputy leader, Simon Hughes MP, calls for a "distribution of work". He calls on directors of the top financial service companies to take a more "reasonable" pay packet, with the money saved being used to create new jobs. "It is not justifiable that so many people are out of work," he tells the conference.


    Euan Cameron, from Islington in north London, tells the conference that the party will be "laughed at in council estates" if the quality of life motion is passed without any concrete policies on employment and working conditions. "We need something more ambitious, not platitudes," he says, to applause from delegates.


    comments: Let us remember that energy companies provide the investment, effort, expertise etc to provide us with power. Politicians like Huhne contribute absolutely nothing positive. Huhne's posturing is a smokescreen to disguise the real reason why our energy bills are so high - the unnecessary expense of the government's insane green energy programme.


    In the main hall, Jeremy Hargreaves from the party's Croydon branch wraps up the debate. "It's not just airy-fairy blue sky thinking," he insists. He urges delegates to support the motion, saying it will help people improve their quality of life by making them "free to make their own choices".


    tweets: What's wrong with the Tories with tea party tendencies? We have been taxed enough already Chris Huhne


    tweets: This quality of life policy motion is a bit silly and a touch embarrassing. "Cabinet-level champion for wellbeing" - Do me a favour


    A lively debate comes to an end, as delegates narrowly approve the quality of life motion. It's so close that party stewards are walking round the main hall physically counting the number of votes, as a show of hands proves inconclusive.


    There's one day left for the Liberal Democrats' gathering in Birmingham. Tomorrow will be dominated by the keynote speech by party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg at around 1445 BST. However there could be some lively debates earlier in the day, with a morning session on the controversial NHS Reform Bill. It's also the day for Scotland and Wales to take centre stage, with keynote speeches by the Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore, and the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams.


    We're going to call it a day now - thanks very much for joining us and for all your contributions. We'll be back bright and early to do it all again tomorrow, but in the meantime, there'll be plenty of Lib Dem action on BBC radio, TV and elsewhere on the website.


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