Latest from our Blog

Anglea_Smith_Chamber_Oct.jpg

Angela Smith speech in the House of Lords, Thursday 15th November 2018

My Lords, I’m grateful to the Noble Lady, the Leader of the House, for repeating the statement though I didn’t detect any great enthusiasm.

Last night the Usual Channels agreed the normal arrangements for a statement with backbench contributions of 20 minutes today, and more substantive debate for 3 or 4 hours on Tuesday, when NL would have had an opportunity to read and consider the detail of the deal and documents. However, with such significant developments this morning. 4 resignations so far, including the Brexit Secretary. It is clear that there is a crisis at the very heart of government.

I am very disappointed that the Government would not accede to our request for extra backbench time. I think that was wrong. We welcome a longer four hour debate next week, when we can consider the deal in greater detail.  Given the importance of the issue, and that it is instead of time today, can the NL Leader confirm that she will lead the response next week.

My Lords, as the Government descends further into chaos, one thing has remained consistent: the Prime Minister’s approach of living for the moment, getting through today, and worrying about tomorrow later. This has not served her or the country well.

But let us not forget that this situation is not entirely of the Prime Minister’s making. The entire Brexit process has been about the internal politics of the Conservative Party. It cost David Cameron and George Osborne their jobs – although the latter has done fairly well for himself since – and it could be about to cost the Prime Minister hers, too.

Last night outside Downing Street, she claimed that the Withdrawal Agreement and the Outline Political Declaration had been agreed by “Collective decision of the Cabinet”. Yet, this morning two Cabinet Members have resigned, so far – I don’t know if there’s an update? She has failed to unite her Cabinet – again. She has failed to unite her party, with MPs reportedly rushing to submit letters to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee.

Watching statement in other Place - she is failing to unite Parliament, where there is seemingly no majority for any course of action, other than opposing ‘no deal’. So it’s clear, that most importantly, the Prime Minister is failing the people of our country.

Families, communities, business and workers will not be able to understand why the Conservative Party is behaving in this way, putting the economic wellbeing of the country behind petty infighting and personal ambition.

As Frances O’Grady, the General Secretary of the TUC, said this morning, we need Parliament and the country to come together and find a real alternative to this agreement – a deal that the Prime Minister’s former advisor Nick Timothy has labelled as a “capitulation”.

And those that have welcomed the deal – have either said it’s the ‘best we can get’ – faint praise indeed – or as the CBI made clear they support the very measures that the Brexiteers have opposed – namely a long-term transition and frictionless trade.

The draft agreement and political declaration published last night are exactly what we expected: vague promises of a future trade deal but no clear roadmap as to how – or when – this will be achieved.

What has our sovereign parliament been offered? The documents contain:

  • No commitment to a permanent customs union, despite the support of business and the unions;
  • No detail on our future relationship with the single market, despite the EU being our biggest trade partner; and
  • No clarity regarding the terms on which the UK will continue to participate in EU agencies and internal security systems, including the EAW

Your Lordships’ House worked hard to secure a meaningful vote for the other place, but the Government is telling parliamentarians that they must decide between this bad deal or no deal at all. A Hobson’s choice.

As many predicted, last night’s Cabinet marathon meeting has become a disappointing sequel to July’s Chequers summit. An agreement that has been toiled over for many months has yet again unravelled overnight.

On Social Media I’m @LadyBasildon – after a character in an Oscar Wilde play.  An as I watched the news of resignations unfold a Wildean phrase: ‘To lose one Brexit Secretary may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness.’

We now understand why the Prime Minister wasn’t prepared to allow a vote in Cabinet – she couldn’t, because she didn’t have the support of her colleagues. And she must have known how fragile the position was when she made her statement last night.

I have little time for David Davis and Boris Johnson – who failed in Cabinet to convince their colleagues of their so-called vision for Brexit or to come up with any viable alternative – and now attack the prime minister from the side-lines. Dominic Raab, has criticised the Deal – but yet again offers no viable alternative.

And while many in Cabinet, apparently including the NL Leader of the House, voiced their concerns about the draft agreement last night, no alternative was offered so it  remain unclear exactly what the Brexiteers want, other than to lead this great country off a cliff-edge in a few short months’ time.

The situation will undoubtedly evolve in the coming hours and days, and Noble Lords will our use expertise to track developments.

We will have our debate on Tuesday. But today, it wold be helpful for Your Lordships’ House to be left in no doubt as to the position of the Noble Lady. So, does the Leader of the House give the Prime Minister and this draft withdrawal agreement her full support?

-Ends-

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

Speech in response to Prime Minister’s statement on the Brexit deal

Angela Smith speech in the House of Lords, Thursday 15th November 2018

Anglea_Smith_Chamber_Oct.jpg

Angela Smith speech in the House of Lords, Tuesday 13th November 2018

My Lords, Today’s debate takes place against a backdrop of huge uncertainty about the future of this country.  We’ve come a long way from the Prime Minister’s mantra of ‘Brexit means Brexit’ as, under the stewardship of this Government, no-one has a clue what Brexit will mean, or the implications for the economy.

Yet again we’re being told it’s ‘crunch time’ but then today’s Cabinet didn’t even discuss the so-called Deal. But we’re advised that there was cautious optimism – whatever that means.

But at one time the government had a long-term economic plan – it said would make public services more efficient, ensure work would pay, and promised to make our economy more resilient.

To provide this, we would all need to tighten our belts through an extended period of austerity. Times would be tough but we were all in it together and it would be worth it as we emerged into the promised bright economic future.

Now however, it is clear that the ideological commitment to austerity has failed our country, economically and socially’ and has brought misery to communities, families and individuals.

It is also clear that it has failed politically with Theresa May telling her party’s conference that austerity has ended. Yet again, addressing the internal problems of the Conservative party rather than the nation. The Prime Minister needed to shore up her support with her own MPs, many who defend the ideology of austerity but are unable to justify it to struggling constituents.

With that long-term economic plan now abandoned, the Chancellor had to deliver a budget, boxed in by a desperate political pledge when he really wanted to take a more pragmatic longer-term approach.

This was evident at last week’s Treasury Select Committee, where he displayed more realistic pragmatism than the Prime Minister – advocating a balanced approach to deficit reduction rather than an ideological commitment to austerity.

So my Lords, let’s examine the detail.

The OBRs forecasts are just slightly better than last year, although warn of slowing growth in business investment, and unsecured debt rising as a proportion of household income. It recognises that inflation remains slightly higher than forecast and has revised down its growth predictions. Also, whilst employment has marginally increased, there has been no significant improvement in wage growth.

Hardly a rosy picture. As one commentator concluded: “The Chancellor claims strong growth, but it’s mostly froth”.

However, reduced borrowing forecasts from the OBR provided flexibility for the Chancellor and more money to draw on this year. But it is described as a ‘gamble’ by the independent IFS, given that the OBR could easily reverse its decision next year. That would leave the Chancellor in a tricky situation – unlikely to re-impose austerity, he’d have two options: increase borrowing or raise taxes.

Despite that warning, the Chancellor has chosen to spend rather than save with decisions predicated on a smooth Brexit and a two-year transition phase. But does that spending help those who need it most or provide a coherent strategic approach to strengthen the economy?

Back in June, we welcomed the announcement of additional funding – £20 billion – for the NHS, which is repeated in this budget. But it is now clear that other public services will pay the price. Day-to-day public service spending, outside health, is 19% lower than 2010/11 and set to stay broadly flat between now and 2023/24.

No wonder the IFS has described the situation as unsustainable, with the likelihood of tax rises.

And despite extra funding for the NHS, how much of this could end up spent on existing loans and deficits? The NHS in England overspent the Government’s budget by £4.3 billion last year, while Trusts owe £7.4 billion in loans. That’s almost £12 billion – just under 60% of the new money announced.

Meanwhile, decisions on non-NHS health budgets – for social care, for public health, for training– are parked until the spending review.  How can we possibly address the crisis in social care unless we address these issues together and set out a broader strategic plan?

One of the most depressing announcements in the budget was the £400 million schools funding for those “little extras”. This is barely more than 10% of the £3.5 billion cut from education since 2010.

We’re still seeing a cut in pupil funding and however clever the Government tries to be with the figures, teachers know the real impact on our schools. And it continues post school with investment also lacking in skills and training.

It’s not just the futures of today’s pupils that the Government is stifling. It’s all our futures if we fail today to properly educate and train the young people that we need to build the society of tomorrow.

The Government talks of devolving powers and responsibility. But it’s really about ‘passing the buck’ because those given that responsibility can only operate within those financial constraints handed down by Government.

Local councils – having already borne the brunt of so many austerity cuts – are being hit again with reductions next year of a further £1.3 billion, leading to a funding gap of £7.8 billion by 2025. Prisons meanwhile, face cuts of £510m through to 2023 – on top of the 21% reductions since the start of this decade.

And unprotected departments will still face real day-to-day cuts of 2.9% per person through to 2024.

Elsewhere the Government isn’t even trying – not a penny in the budget for regular policing where the impact of cuts continues to be felt in all of our communities. With the loss of 21,000 staff, 999 calls not being responded to and police making decisions about the crimes they can or cannot investigate – we all pay the price, because of a lack of resources.

Then there’s a sleight of hand in other areas, from defence to pothole repairs, where new money doesn’t extend beyond a year.

Does the Noble Lords the Minister really understand the depths of frustration of police officers, teachers, those working in social care and other public servants? Pushed to the brink, they are unable to fulfil their responsibilities because of the failed austerity policies of this Government.

So a lack of strategy for welfare, a lack of strategy for health and care, a lack of strategy for education and skills, and a lack of strategy for defence, roads and policing. And a lack of anything resembling a strategic vision for the future of our country.

Just a blatant attempt to apply sticking plasters to open wounds.

The government has made much of plans to reverse intended cuts to welfare benefits – but in reality, it’s only a quarter of the £12 billion cuts planned by 2020. The other 75%, as announced in 2015, remain government policy – with half the amount yet to be rolled out impacting directly on families.

Not only does the benefits freeze remain, but the tax cuts will cost far more than changes made to Universal Credit. As demonstrated by the Resolution Foundation, those tax cuts will see 84% of gains go to the top half of earners in the country, with 37% going to the top decile alone. And when you take the tax cuts and Universal Credit changes together, that top 10% of households will see a 14 times greater benefit in cash terms than the bottom 10%.

The impact of austerity may not have reached Downing Street, but it has reached millions of our citizens – including many in low and medium paid employment. For those workers, pay packets are not expected to return to pre-crisis levels until the end of 2024. So, any extra money in their pockets is welcome given the hit they’ve already taken – but the balance is wrong.

So my Lords, this budget failed to live up to the anti-austerity hype. In reality, there will be no meaningful end to austerity for hard working people and their families.

So, where are we now?

Looking at this budget, alongside the disorderly approach to Brexit, it feels like the Government is approaching a blind corner at speed.

In proclaiming the end of austerity, then failing to deliver or offer any alternative other than disjointed give-aways, the Government has destroyed its own self-proclaimed assertion of economic competence.

It has abandoned its long-term economic plan, with nothing credible in its place.

With talk of an emergency budget in the event of a ‘no deal’ outcome, it inspires little confidence that Ministers are prepared for what could happen to our economy and public services in such a situation. Or indeed are effectively prepared for any Brexit outcome.

The principle objective of the Government appears to be its own survival, with short term decisions that do nothing for the longer term future of public services or the economy.

Paul Johnson from the IFS has said: “If I were a prison governor, a local authority chief executive or a Headteacher I would struggle to find much to celebrate. I would be preparing for more difficult years ahead.”

He could have said much the same about a parent or a carer.

The first priority of a Government to its citizens is security and safety. But it must also offer hope and optimism.

Hope and optimism that the future will be brighter. Hope and optimism that our children will have greater opportunities, that hard work, training and education will pay off.  That taxes will be fair and public services good. And that when things go wrong there is a reliable safety net and support.

But the Government has spectacularly failed to even acknowledge this, and to understand how its policies, lack of competence and direction impacts on that hope and optimism.

This has to change.

Anything less is a dereliction of duty. We should start by getting government to not just talk of ending austerity, but to offer a new strategic, open and forward-looking approach that, invests in our people, invests in our economy and most of all gives a genuine reason to be optimistic for the future.

-Ends-

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

 

 

 

 

Speech in debate on the Chancellor's 2018 Budget

Angela Smith speech in the House of Lords, Tuesday 13th November 2018

tenants_0.jpg

Roy Kennedy on yet another government housing bill that fails to live up to the hype

The Tenant Fees Bill, which starts its Lords committee stage today, is yet another example of government legislation that has been hyped up as delivering for tenants in the private rented sector. Its aims – so we are told – are to stop unfair fees being charged by landlords and letting agents, increase fairness and rebalance the market. On closer examination however, it does not quite cut the mustard.

Despite a previous government announcement that unfair fees would be banned in 2015, it has taken the period since to get the Bill as drafted. Most of the provisions won’t come into effect until the Communities Secretary brings forward regulations and then there’s a year’s grace on unfair fees. This means that it will be 2020 at the earliest before tenants can expect much change to their present situation.

Throughout the Bill’s time in the Lords, Labour peers will seek to illustrate its weaknesses try to persuade Ministers with amendments that will really protect tenants from being exploited.

We will focus for example, on the decision to cap rent deposits at six weeks – up from four weeks, as originally announced by the government in 2015. Four weeks is sufficient for a deposit – a position also supported by Citizens Advice and the Mayor of London.  There should also be scope for passporting to enable a tenants to transfer their deposit to another landlord. While clearly convenient for all parties, this has not been encouraged as much as it could have been.

Alongside this, holding deposits should only be three days rent rather than the one week, as proposed in the Bill. Labour wants the government to explore what action could prevent multiple holding deposits being taken, as well as full transparency if a landlord proposes to keep the deposit and not return it to the prospective tenant. All of this is open to abuse and clear reasons must be provided where deposits are being withheld.

Where default fees follow a tenant’s action or inaction, we want to stop rogue landlords or letting agents from merely seeking to recover fees they have lost elsewhere once the Bill becomes law. The current wording ‘reasonably incurred’ is not sufficiently robust enough to prevent such abuse.

Labour also thinks there is a serious omission preventing tenants from recovering any compensation when a prohibited fee is charged. In other industries and services, if one party is entrusted with someone else’s money and then breaches laws, rules and regulation, the payment of compensation to the aggrieved party is commonplace.

We hope to persuade Ministers on all of these issues, in order to make this legislation fit for purpose. It is time for the government to honour its 2015 pledge and give much needed additional protections to the millions of our fellow citizens renting in the private sector.

Lord Roy Kennedy of Southwark is Shadow Housing Minister in the Lords. He tweets @LordRoyKennedy

Published 5th November 2018 

Room for manoeuvre

Roy Kennedy on yet another government housing bill that fails to live up to the hype

More Blogs >

The Labour Party will place cookies on your computer to help us make this website better.

Please read this to review the updates about which cookies we use and what information we collect on our site.

To find out more about these cookies, see our privacy notice. Use of this site confirms your acceptance of these cookies.