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DianneHayter.jpgDianne Hayter on the government’s ongoing failure to set out a clear plan for Brexit

The EU referendum has been responsible for many firsts and today there will be another, as the House of Lords devotes the fourth of our Queen’s Speech debates to Brexit.

It is now more than a year since the referendum and while the government is slowly shedding light on what it hopes to achieve from the negotiations, we still await answers to a plethora of questions as to how exactly it plans to take us out of the EU. It is, after all, the biggest leap we will make as a nation since the 1939 decision to go to war.

While Theresa May has gambled away the Conservative’s majority in the Commons and tried to appease her backbenchers, Labour has set out its determination to achieve a different departure route. We will use every means available to bring about a Brexit which promotes jobs and the economy, safeguards our security and the environment, and which benefits all of the UK’s nations, cities, regions, towns and rural areas.

In setting out its legislative programme last week, the government has failed to address various issues, where there is no room for complacency or procrastination. Questions remain about our future role on the international stage. By pooling our influence with 27 other countries, we’ve been able to gain real clout in the world, promoting human rights and playing a lead role in agreeing the Paris Climate Accord. We need to ensure that our future trade, security and diplomatic relations – along with the tone of our withdrawal – preserves as much British influence as possible.

Ministers want continued trade and security cooperation with the EU. While purely domestic post-Brexit laws should be passed by our Parliament or the devolved administrations, it is irresponsible to ignore the importance of dispute adjudication to any international agreement. With the negotiations under way, the government must either drop its arbitrary red line on the European Court of Justice or set out a feasible alternative. Without this, the UK will struggle to retain access to important EU databases, security protocols, and legal and regulatory regimes.

The UK currently belongs to some 34 EU agencies. Without a settlement, the European Medicines Agency will no longer be able to approve UK products for use in the EU, meaning we would need to establish a new body to fulfil this role. There are equally urgent questions over future participation in – or replacement of – the European Chemicals Agency, European Food Safety Agency and Euratom, all of which play a key role in keeping the public safe.

Finally, there is the important matter of immigration. The government has put its offer to EU citizens on the table but it is clear from the reaction of EU figures that more work is needed. Labour led the way in attempting to amend the Article 50 Bill to prevent EU citizens being used as bargaining chips. Had we won the election, EU citizens living here would have been given a unilateral guarantee on day one of a Labour government.

Longer term, we need to ensure our immigration policy meets the needs of our communities and the economy. Farms have already been hit by a shortage of migrant workers and the chairman of the UK’s largest supermarket has warned that an arbitrary cap will damage the UK economy. The government’s Immigration Bill will pave the way for a new system but it is still unclear what this will be. We will push the government to consult fully with business, consumers and trade unions, as well as industries which rely on the mutual recognition of qualifications and standards.

These are all crucial issues and the government cannot afford to get Brexit wrong. The new Lords Brexit Minister Baroness Anelay should perhaps approach the job with immense trepidation. In the government’s hands are the future of our economy and, as a result, the wellbeing of our people. How it negotiates our future relationship with the EU will have immense consequences for the nation, both now and for generations to come. That’s why Labour will do everything possible to bring about the best deal for Britain.

Baroness Dianne Hayter of Kentish Town is Shadow Brexit Minister in the House of Lords and the new Deputy Leader of the Labour Peers Group. She tweets @HayteratLords

Published 28th June 2017

Queen’s Speech debate 2017 – Day 4

Dianne Hayter on the government’s ongoing failure to set out a clear plan for Brexit

Kennedynew4x3_head.jpgRoy Kennedy on the dual importance of holding Ministers to account and treating frontline public servants with respect

In the continuing debates we’re having on the Queens Speech, it is important not to lose sight of matters other than Brexit on which we as a Lords Opposition must robustly hold Ministers to account.

The first duty of government is to keep people safe. We will support all sensible and proportionate measures to tackle extremism. But we are also clear that the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation has an important role in providing advice to the government, which must be carefully considered. Crucially, when considering the need for new powers – and the use of existing ones – we also have to be confident that they will be adequately resourced. Otherwise we find ourselves in the worst possible position, with measures unable to deliver what they are supposed to.

For the proposed Commission for Countering Extremism to be successful in its objective, it will have to quickly win the confidence of communities and work with them to find solutions to challenging hate and extremist ideology across our society and on the internet.

All tech companies that operate in this area providing platforms for people should cooperate fully with the authorities to ensure extremism is denied the ability to spread. There can be no excuses for not delivering on this, only firm action will do.

The proposals for an independent public advocate to act for bereaved families after a public disaster are ones we support in principle. And follows on from a Private Members Bill in the last Parliament from our Labour Lords colleague Michael Wills. When the proposals are published we will be looking to see if they provide for the independence needed to support the victims and their families and ensure that no one feels voiceless at time of unimaginable distress and vulnerability.

With the confidence and supply arrangement put in place yesterday between the Conservative Party and the DUP, the fragility of the peace process and the urgency of getting the Northern Ireland Executive up and working again is brought even closer into focus.

The peace process has transformed Northern Ireland in the last 25 years. No return to the hard border, peace and security and the honouring of agreements in full by all sides are issues that we will be seeking to make sure are delivered.        

One of the biggest failures of the Conservatives since returning to office in 2010 is the creation of a perfect storm in housing. Home ownership has fallen and continues to fall, councils have not been supported in building more homes for social rents, and the housing shortage has led people to the private rented sector – paying rents so expensive that they are unable to save for the deposit to buy their own home.

This is a vicious circle that hurts single people, couples and families alike, denying them the opportunity to improve their lot and be better off than their parents – something everyone aspires to for themselves and their children. The only way to make significant progress on the stated desire for more homes to be built is to let local authorities build council housing again, to be let to people on social rents, and to be on a scale not seen for 40 years.

The events at Grenfell Tower have horrified the whole country. The emergency services and in particular firefighters have been praised for their bravery and courage, but these same heroes are having their pensions cut and terms and conditions worsened. While the debt owed to them can never be repaid, they should at least be treated with more respect in the course of their employment.

Lord Roy Kennedy of Southwark is Shadow Housing Minister in the House of Lords and a member of Labour’s Home Office team. He tweets @LordRoyKennedy

Published 27th June 2017

Queen’s Speech debate 2017 – Day 3

Roy Kennedy on the dual importance of holding Ministers to account and treating frontline public servants with respect

MaggieJones2014.JPGMaggie Jones on the government’s failure to understand the real economic and environmental challenges facing our country

Today in the House of Lords, on the second day of debate on the Queen’s Speech, we will cover a wide range of issues from the economy and industry through to energy, environment, agriculture and transport.

Whatever the issue, the contributions will have a common theme: the government’s programme is without vision and without a strategy to answer the real challenges facing our country today. Unsurprising, when the plans are drawn from a disastrous Conservative manifesto which offered neither hope nor change to a British public weary of falling living standards and failing public services.

This is why it is widely acknowledged that Labour won the battle of the ideas during the election, with clear policies to deliver stronger growth, better living standards, and greater equality and justice. Nowhere is that distinction starker than on the economy. The Chancellor belatedly admitted that the public were tired of austerity but the government’s programme offers no alternative plan to tackle the root causes of our economic woes and to mitigate increasing concerns about Brexit.

Even the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney – in his Mansion House speech last week –recognised the urgent need to escape the low inflation, low wage, low growth trap which has driven down household incomes over the last decade.

Labour meanwhile, has set out a clear alternative. We will set up a National Investment Bank to deliver the finances needed by small businesses, co-operatives and new entrepreneurs to get the economy moving again. We will also tackle low pay and zero hours contracts that hold back the life chances of young people. And we will create a fertile ground for businesses to thrive, by focusing on skills – including quality apprenticeships – on science and research, and infrastructure.

The government’s lack of vision for our future extends into their Industrial Strategy. As the Lords Science and Technology Select Committee recently concluded, it ‘resembles a portfolio of tactics rather than a coherent strategy’. The programme illustrates this all too well, with proposals for electric cars, space rockets, high speed rail and smart meters. All laudable in their own way but not adding up to an Industrial Strategy in the round.

Investing in our future also means investing in our environment, but tackling climate change hardly merits a mention in the Queen’s Speech. There is a welcome reiteration of support for the Paris agreement and reference to affordable energy and electric cars, but little else.

The UK is poorly prepared for the inevitable impact of global warming in coming decades, including deadly annual heatwaves, water shortages and difficulties in producing food. But it seems the government will not be addressing these problems during the next two years. This is despite strong advice from the Committee on Climate Change that future proofing our environment should start now.

That lack of a coherent plan to tackle climate change is symptomatic of a wider failed energy strategy. The UK energy system is outdated, expensive and polluting, and the government have yet to harness the huge potential of emerging technologies and renewable energy. Instead placing a disproportionate emphasis on nuclear energy. And in the past few days, a new NAO report has highlighted the significant dangers of relying on Hinkley Point, with its spiralling costs and danger of delay or cancellations.

Michael Gove’s appointment as Secretary of State for Defra hardly provides reassurance to those who care about the environment. Mr Gove has consistently voted against measures to reduce carbon emissions and spoken enthusiastically during the ‘Leave’ campaign about opportunities to tear up environmental “red tape”.

In contrast, Labour is committed to ensuring EU environmental protections are maintained beyond Brexit and we will champion longer term sustainable farming, food and fishing.

We will continue to press all of these issues. But should this Government fall, as many are predicting, we will then bring forward an alternative Queen’s Speech that truly addresses the challenges facing our country.

Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is Shadow Defra Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @WhitchurchGirl

Published 26th June 2017

Queen’s Speech debate 2017 – Day 2

Maggie Jones on the government’s failure to understand the real economic and environmental challenges facing our country

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