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RayCollins.jpgRay Collins on the current generation of politicians’ opportunity to eliminate aid dependency for good

“The truth is that UK development influence is massive, greater than our foreign policy, and this isn’t just about money, Britain is saving lives and bringing stability and security, and that’s good for our economy”.

Not my words but those of Priti Patel in an interview with The Guardian this week. And worth repeating as the first of five days debate on the Queen’s Speech focuses on Britain’s part in creating a just, safe, secure and sustainable planet free from the fear of hunger and poverty.

While welcoming the political consensus on spending 0.7% on development, I’m concerned that the Conservative manifesto challenges the internationally agreed definition of what constitutes Official Development Assistance. The government must undertake the widest consultation process with NGOs and development charities before talks commence with so called ‘like-minded’ countries.

The universal nature of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the principle of ‘leave no one behind’ are vital tools. ‘Decent jobs’ is a key part of Goal yet DfID’s recent review of this made no mention of the role of trade unions.

In holding the government to account, Labour will put human rights at the heart of our work. By supporting trade unions, women’s associations and other civil society groups we give them a voice in mounting their own advocacy challenges to their governments, including the defence of workers’ rights.

We shall be urging the UK government to tighten the rules on corporate accountability for abuses in global supply chains. We need to stop clothing made by people working in horrendous conditions from reaching our markets and demand action from major companies. Labour will also be pressing for a fairer tax system for the world’s poorest people and countries, demanding decisive action on tax havens including crown dependencies and overseas territories ensuring a public register of owners.

On global trade agreements there are opportunities. But these must be governed by principles, the most important of which is a pro-poor, pro-development policy. Hard Brexiteers advocate a bonfire of regulations threatening millions of jobs. We will demand the maintenance of high social and environmental standards in trade agreements post-Brexit, to guarantee continuing access to the EU market.

This government has a poor record when it comes to respecting parliamentary sovereignty, failing to meet Labour's commitment to an International Trade White Paper. We demand provisions for proper parliamentary scrutiny of all proposed trade deals and treaty obligations.

A multilateral approach to global engagement, working with our allies, is essential to counter and confront terrorism. Britain has a proud tradition of leadership in the world. Despite the government’s focus on Brexit, must do more to evidence its commitment to ensure we are a major player on the world stage.

The challenges are great: securing peace and stability in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine, defeating ISIL, and addressing Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programmes. In the Middle East, we need to continue to press for a two state solution but we have also seen ongoing tensions in the Gulf. The government must act with Gulf countries in the region to deescalate the situation and encourage Qatar to engage with its neighbours over their concerns about extremism. 

Leaders cannot act with impunity, the use of chemical weapons in Syria is a crime and those responsible must be held to account.

The government’s commitment to passing new legislation, setting a framework for the UK to implement sanctions after we leave the EU, is both necessary and welcome. It also provides us with an opportunity to debate more fundamental questions, about the purpose and scope of our future sanctions regime, and about how we can make sanctions work more effectively.

Human rights are universal and mature democracies must support the development of free societies everywhere, while upholding their own legal and moral obligations. We are now seeing a world where LGBT+ people are facing not only discrimination and anti-gay laws but increased violence. The killing, torture and arbitrary detention of people in Chechnya, due to their actual or perceived LGBT status is the most horrendous example. According to the Russian LGBT network most detainees are now released due to the wide spread media coverage of the atrocities.

Labour is calling on the government to make regular inquiries regarding the progress in the investigation of the anti-gay purge in Chechnya and demand they publicly demonstrate support for journalists and human rights defenders working to expose and counter abuses by Chechen authorities. It is also time for the government to appoint a minister with cross departmental responsibilities for the Human Rights of LGBTI persons.

The current generation of politicians has the power to eliminate aid dependency for good by empowering the powerless. That is Labour's vision and that is what we will press the Government to do.

Lord Ray Collins of Highbury is both Shadow FCO and Shadow DfID Minister in the House of Lords

Published 22nd June 2017

Queen’s Speech debate 2017 – Day 1

Ray Collins on the current generation of politicians’ opportunity to eliminate aid dependency for good

Angela_outside_Oct2016.JPGBaroness Angela Smith speech to the House of Lords

My Lords, I beg to move that the debate be adjourned until tomorrow.

May I first join in wishing the Duke of Edinburgh a speedy recovery and thank Her Majesty and the Prince of Wales for being here today.

My Lords, we have just heard two excellent speeches. It’s a parliamentary tradition that the proposer and seconder of the Queen’s Speech should be an experienced sage and an up and coming newer peer. And as we‘ve heard today, it’s amazing how quickly can you move from one to the other. But my Lords, that hasn’t always worked out.

In March 1974, Noble Lady, Lady Birk was paired for the debate with the Noble Lord Taylor of Mansfield, who certainly qualified as experienced.  A former MP, he was then 79 years old and remained a very regular attender in YLH into his 90s. Lady Birk later became a Government whip.

Unfortunately, as Lady Birk made her way to the Chamber for the debate she tripped, cut her head and was unable to take part. The new Lords Leader, of the new Labour Government, Noble Lord Shepherd had to find a replacement with just minutes to go. He alighted upon the Noble Lord Brockway who then entered the Chamber preparing his speech in his mind, with no time to write anything down. But then, as ever, spoke with great style and thoughtfulness.

However, as was commented on at the time, at the age of 86 he could hardly be described as ‘up and coming’.  

The Noble Lord Forsyth made a particularly combative speech. In his early political life he was identified as a champion for the emerging new Conservative thinking and policies, and pioneered outsourcing and privatisation in local Government with great gusto.  As one article put it “he was preaching Thatcherism before the word was coined, even before Margaret Thatcher knew such a thing existed”.  Just think – if history had been just slightly different we might never have had Thatcherism – just Forsyth-ism.

A combative and conviction politician, the NL has had a long and distinguished career in Parliament, including as the Secretary of State for Scotland where I am told by Scottish friends that a great claim to fame is his bringing the Stone of Destiny to Edinburgh Castle and the premier of the film Braveheart to Stirling Castle.

No comments on the NL would be complete without a tribute to his amazing charity work.  Many give of their time and money, but few would dare to climb the highest mountains in Africa, Antarctica and the Americas as he has done for those causes he supports.

My Lords, the Noble Lady Baroness Bertin shares the NL Forsyth’s commitment to charity and is a trustee of the charity KIDS, which supports children with disabilities and their families – something that as we saw today has a personal resonance with her.

As the youngest, and one of the newest members of YLH, she still brings considerable experience of Parliament and Government having worked for David Cameron from 2005 until he resigned as Prime Minister. She is highly regarded by all who have worked with her.  She made a passionate maiden speech which impressed many in which she said: “the benchmark of a civilised society is how we care for the most vulnerable and equally how cared for, they themselves feel”.

Her speeches since then have shown her commitment to those with disabilities and learning disabilities, and today she has also shown us her natural wit and thoughtful approach. We look forward to hearing more from her.

The last time this House met was on 27th April and so much has happened since then. The Terrorist attacks in Manchester, London Bridge and by Finsbury Park Mosque have shocked, saddened and angered us all. As a nation we have been clear that we will not allow such evil to compromise our democracy, but we continue to be deeply affected as we recall those who have lost their lives and those whose lives are forever changed.

The sheer horror of the fire at Grenfell Tower, with the final number of fatalities not yet known has left hundreds homeless, and so many are deeply shaken and traumatized.  As well as the enquiries into the causes and the response it also raises deeper questions about our society that must be seriously and genuinely addressed in the weeks and months to come.

In all these events, we pay tribute to the dedicated, caring and professional work of our police, fire services, and our national health service staff and all  who put the needs of others first as they sought to help – in their response, we saw the best of humanity.

So my Lords, the back drop for this election and its aftermath has been challenging and emotional. It was also an unusual election.  It wasn’t due for another 3 years, so when the Prime Minister announced that she wanted to sweep aside the Fixed Term Parliaments Act and have an early election, she took the country, Parliament and indeed her own party by surprise – and perhaps for granted.

But she was clear about her rationale – it was about returning her as Prime Minister with a larger majority to provide strong and stable Leadership, with a clear mandate for the kind of Brexit she had outlined. Apparently it had nothing to do with the temptation of a 21 point lead in the opinion polls.

She claimed that the country was coming together but Westminster was not, adding: “unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us all the way […] We need a General Election and we need one now”, as it was “the only way to guarantee certainty for the years ahead”.

Well, my Lords we now have neither strong leadership nor certainty.  And certainty is not provided just by announcing that we’ll skip the next Queen’s Speech and unusually announce a two-year session of Parliament.  But my Lords, we should challenge the premise on which the election was called.

The Prime Minister had her mandate – she had an overall majority of 17 in the House of Commons – how long ago that must seem now as she sits around the table still trying to broker a deal with the DUP.

When the Prime Minister called the election, she had just got her Brexit Article 50 Bill through Parliament, unamended – the so-called ‘Clean Bill’ that she wanted.  Although I do wonder if David Davis, as he left the rather short initial talks with M. Barnier yesterday, privately wished the Government had accepted our amendment on protecting the rights of EU nationals and thus settled that issue so he could now focus on other matters.

But despite the PM’s complaints, there was nothing extraordinary or unusual about our tabling of amendments, the debates and the votes. It is what we do.  And on these benches we will continue to be a robust, challenging and responsible Opposition recognising the conventions of YLH.  This House has, and always will as an unelected House, recognise the primacy of the House of Commons. 

That was a central premise recognised in the Salisbury/Addison convention, reinforced in the Wakeham Report in 2000 and the Report of the Joint Committee on the Conventions chaired by my NF Lord Cunningham of Felling in 2005. Following this election of a minority Government, there has been discussion about whether the conventions of the House still apply.  So let’s be clear what they are.

The Salisbury/Addison convention recognised the legitimacy and the mandate of the 1945 Labour Government, with a majority of 146 in the House of Commons but only a handful of Peers in YLH.  The agreement in essence held that, given that majority, this House would not vote against manifesto items at Second Reading or introduce wrecking amendments.

Whenever our conventions have been re-examined the starting point and the end point has remained the same – that this House recognises the primacy of the Commons, and that has always guided how we conduct ourselves.

But My Lords, what is also clear in these Reports, and from our own experiences, is that the House of Commons has Primacy - not the Executive or Government.

Your Lordships House can advise, scrutinise, and propose amendments to the Other Place.  But at the end of the day, the House of Commons is, as the elected House, entitled not to accept that advice.  That makes the process sound more confrontational than it generally is, as in so many cases the terms and principles of our amendments are accepted.

And it is where the Strathclyde Report went wrong in trying to confuse the House of Commons with the Government.  They are not the same.

The last Queen’s speech in 2016 was very clear on this.  It said: “My Ministers will uphold the sovereignty of Parliament and the primacy of the House of Commons”. We agreed with that then and we agree now.

And if the Government is ever able to do a deal with the DUP the details should be published, along with costs.  There must be transparency.  And there must also be transparency about the legality and the political implications for the Good Friday Agreement – to which the UK Government is recognised as a co guarantor and should act with rigorous impartiality towards all political parties in Northern Ireland.

But even with a deal I suspect that there are a number of issues on which a Conservative/DUP Government might not find all the MPs of their respective parties in total agreement, particularly if the Prime Minister fails to put jobs and the economy of this country at the heart of Brexit negotiations.

To be clear, should the House of Commons send this House legislation that has been amended from the Government’s original intentions, then Ministers should not use YLH to seek to thwart the mandate of the democratically elected House.

This Government does not have the mandate that the Prime Minister sought.

This is the Prime Minister’s first Queen’s Speech. It is clearly not the speech she originally planned. It has been delayed, shorn of so much promised social legislation, and the first in decades to be delivered without a parliamentary majority.  And if it was delayed to wait for that ethereal deal with the DUP it is even more chaotic than at first thought. Perhaps it is chaos without coalition.

The first three paragraphs are on Brexit.  First the warm words, about getting the best possible deal and working with others. And then the harsh reality. Interestingly, the words ‘Great Repeal Act’ are not even mentioned – perhaps because such legislation was so misnamed. 

In addition to new Legislation on Trade and on Customs the Government has identified 5 areas where new national policies are required, and presumably new Primary Legislation: immigration, international sanctions, nuclear safeguards, agriculture and fisheries. These will be complex and often very technical.  The detail will be crucial. I urge the Government to publish its proposals early and ensure meaningful consultation.  Small mistakes could have serious consequences for our nation.

On other Bills referred to, there is a serious and immediate need to improve mental health services and we look forward to seeing the proposals. Previous promises that there should be parity of esteem between physical and mental health services have not been met.  Just saying that something should be so, doesn’t make it happen, but with goodwill and appropriate resources new legislation has the potential to make a real difference.

We welcome stronger action to tackle domestic violence and abuse. Since 2010, cuts to local authority funding have seen one in six specialist refuges close in England and one third of all referrals are turned away. Refuges are key to tackling this crime and should be seen by the Government as part of the solution. And perhaps this is also an opportunity to revisit the Coalition Government policy that removed legal aid from victims of domestic violence in child custody cases.

The promised full public enquiry into the horror of Grenfell Tower is welcome and it must be to both learn lessons and hold those responsible to account. Those who have suffered must have their voices heard and both process and information must be open, totally transparent and hold the confidence of the local community and those affected.

And my Lords, we welcome that the Government has taken up the issues raised by my Noble Friend, Lord Wills in his Private Members’ Bill in introducing an independent public advocate.  Such an advocate should play a key role in supporting bereaved families through any official process or enquiry that can sometimes seem distant and without their needs and views at the centre. But that office must be fully independent and resourced. And it must not in any way be used to avoid the normal legal processes or potential legal action, or in any way linked to legal aid, which should not be ruled out for such cases.

The Government has also pledged to review its Counter Terrorism strategy.

With the expertise and knowledge in YLH, we will want to fully engage with any review and discussions that seek to make our communities safer and to prevent such criminal and terrorist atrocities as we have seen.

When the Prime Minister announced, as her starting point, that she was prepared to tear up the Human Rights Act, if it “…got in the way”, she was perhaps looking at the issue from the wrong end of the telescope. The greatest and foremost human right, is the right to life.  And the first duty of any Government is the safety and security of its citizens.

Before any rush to new legislation the starting point should be to examine the existing laws, enforcement and resourcing. This needs wise judgement.  It requires intelligence and experience – and must be effectively resourced.

If we had more police officers, more community officers and the capacity for more intelligence operations would that make a difference? We know that our police and security services have foiled numerous attacks, so do they need new powers or are the existing ones adequate but need better resourcing? Should we better resource the Borders Agency? And how do we prevent people becoming radicalised through misplaced ideology or racist hatred?  Unless we examine the hardest questions we do ourselves and our communities an injustice.

But my Lords, this Queen’s Speech is as much about what is not in it, as what is. The promised commitments in the Conservative Party Manifesto on scrapping the Pension triple lock, the means testing the Winter Fuel Payments, Grammar schools, and even yet another promise for a further vote on foxhunting. These have, with many others, all bitten the dust, despite this now being a two year session. Were they ditched for a deal that may never be agreed?

And despite the issue dominating part of the election campaign, the Government still couldn’t find room for anything meaningful on social care, other than that it should be improved and there will be proposals at some later unspecified date.

And finally, it seems that the Spaceflight Bill has been announced again.  So we want to leave the EU, but fly off into outer space.  I don’t know if this is an attempt to seek voters elsewhere, but I say to the Government, before it heads off into New Worlds, it should focus on transport on planet earth. We have the on-going and never ending chaos of Southern Rail – and still no firm decision on a third runway. 

My Lords, there are some positive individual proposals within the Queen’s Speech but on the whole it is undoubtedly a disappointment. Half-echoing Ted Heath’s infamous “who governs?” when calling and losing the February 1974 general election, the Prime Minister went to the country on the dividing lines of strong and stable Government or a coalition of chaos. How she must regret using those words.  In calling the election she has weakened herself and her Government.

These are troubling times for our country with so many difficult issues needing a strong capable Government. In such times, Governments have to rise to the challenge.  Those key issues that affect, and even blight, the lives of so many of our citizens have not been effectively addressed.  Should this session last two years the bulk of the legislation will be Brexit related – but the issues that people are worried about like housing, like jobs, like the quality of life, and hope for future generations, will not be improved by the measures before us today.

As the official Opposition, and indeed Government in waiting, we will continue to maintain our constitutional role of scrutiny and challenge with responsibility – and at all times act in the best interests of our nation and the challenges we face.

I beg to move that this debate be adjourned till tomorrow.

-Ends-

Baroness Angela Smith of Basildon is Shadow Leader of the House of Lords. She tweets at @LadyBasildon

Published 21st June 2017 

Speech in response to Queen's Speech 2017

Baroness Angela Smith speech to the House of Lords

Briefing on motions tabled by Baroness Dianne Hayter & Baroness Angela Smith in response to Ministers' statements on the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK & the meaninful parliamentary vote

Following the passage of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill and the government’s rejection of two Labour-led amendments, the Labour Lords team tabled two motions relating to the Article 50 negotiations. These motions – for debate early evening on Tuesday 4th April – focus on the issues covered by our previous amendments and require Ministers to provide clarity on unresolved issues.

Report on the rights of European Economic Area (EEA) nationals:

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town to move to resolve that a Minister of the Crown do report to this House by the end of this Session on the progress made towards ensuring that qualifying non-UK EEA nationals and their family members are able to retain their fundamental EU-derived rights after the UK has left the EU.

Establishment of a Joint Committee on a meaningful vote at the end of the negotiations:

Baroness of Smith of Basildon to move that it is expedient that a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons be appointed to consider and report on the terms and options for any votes in Parliament on the outcome of the negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, including how any such vote be taken before any agreement is considered by the European Parliament; and that the committee do report by 31 October 2017.

Labour’s amendments to the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill?

  • Labour successfully led two House Lords amendments to the Bill after securing cross-party support, and with majorities of 102 and 98.
  • The first amendment would have required the government to bring forward proposals within three months of triggering Article 50 to guarantee the rights of EEA nationals already resident in the UK.
  • The second amendment would have put into law the commitments that the government has already made – under pressure from Labour at both ends of Parliament – about the final vote on the Article 50 deal, to ensure a meaningful vote takes place in both Houses of Parliament on ‘not only the withdrawal arrangements but also the future relationship with the European Union’; and takes place both before the agreement is concluded, and the draft deal is put before the European Parliament.
  • The second amendment would also have ensured that if the Prime Minister fails to agree a deal, only Parliament could decide to end negotiations and exit with no deal.
  • Labour had hoped both amendments would be carried but the Prime Minister and Conservative MPs killed off both amendments.
  • In these circumstances, Labour Lords took the constitutionally responsible decision not to send further amendments back for consideration. In taking this position, it was made clear by our Shadow Brexit Minister, Bns Dianne Hayter that we would use other methods to hold Ministers to account. 

What happens now? 

  • The weeks since the Bill received Royal Assent have seen the Prime Minister invoke Article 50 against a backdrop of continued debate on the two fundamental issues on which we pressed our amendments.
  • By moving these two motions in the Lords this week, Labour Peers continue to apply pressure on the government – both in terms of the general issues and the specific commitments made in Parliament by Ministers.
  • The debate will take place early evening on Tuesday 4th April and votes are anticipated – unless the government decides to accept the motions.
  • If the first motion is passed – on the rights of EEA nationals – House of Lords conventions would expect at the very least a written ministerial statement, which would provide an additional measure against which the government would be held to account.
  • If the second motion is passed – on establishing a Joint Committee of both Houses to discuss arrangements for a meaningful vote at the end of the Article 50 negotiations – the issue would become a matter for consideration in the House of Commons. 

- Ends -

Published 3rd April 2017

Article 50 negotiations - Labour Lords motions - UPDATED

Briefing on motions tabled by Baroness Dianne Hayter & Baroness Angela Smith in response to Ministers' statements on the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK & the meaninful...

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