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SimonHaskel2.jpgSimon Haskel on priorities for the UK economy, post- the EU referendum result

The title of a Conservative-led debate in the Lords this week on the UK’s departure from the European Union suggests that Brexit presents new opportunities in world trade. Rather odd, given that I thought we were already an outward looking champion of global free trade, active in Asia, North and South America, the Middle East and the Far East – with trade delegations and Whitehall departments promoting our goods and services. So if the debate implies that all of this was hindered by our EU membership, my response is one word: Germany.

The UK has also been very much open for global free trade business at home, with the proof lying in the large number of UK businesses owned overseas and the success of inward investment. Much of this was influenced by our EU membership. After all, what is modern world trade? Relationships that lead to investment, trade in goods and services, and the movement of people which nowadays is both interconnected and interdependent. And much of this taking place in an intangible digital world. That is why it pays to belong to a single market – to facilitate this rather complicated structure.                                  

But tariffs are only one part. More important in modern world trade are the rules and standards.  Not only technical standards set by standards institutions but also the myriad of product and service rules on health and safety, animal welfare, tax avoidance, labelling, the environment and modern slavery. Failing to accept these standards means we just enter a race to the bottom.

While internationally I can’t see any benefits of leaving the EU, domestically I see just problems. Our membership of the European Space Agency (ESA) for example, provides access to satellites which touch many sectors of our domestic economy. Healthcare meanwhile, is being revolutionised by Gene Editing and Stem Cell Therapy, much of it funded by the EU Horizon 2020 Programme and work at the Crick Institute. But it is well known that, on average, international collaboration is of higher quality than national research.

So should we try to remain in the ESA and the Horizon Programme?

I think what we have to do first is to get our own house in order, to make our own economy more resilient to a world of free markets. Build back our currency. Modernise by building in the fourth industrial revolution. Re-double our efforts to encourage long term investment. Become less dependent on low cost labour and immigration. Focus on employee engagement and a real growth in wages through investment and productivity. Raise the standards of our goods and services. This is what most world trade is about – not tariffs. 

What does this all add up to? To get rid of uncertainty, maintain our access to the single market through membership of the European Economic Area with generous movement of people. Sign up to the same existing arrangements between the EU and World Trade Organisation and get on with the real work of implementing an industrial strategy to build our own economy.

Lord Simon Haskel is a backbench Labour Peer in the House of Lords. He tweets @simon_haskel

Published 26th October 2016

Getting the house in order

Simon Haskel on priorities for the UK economy, post- the EU referendum result

Wilf_4x3.jpgWilf Stevenson welcomes the government’s National Citizen Service Bill, with caveats

Given that Parliament has to be kept busy while we wait for the Brexit debates to take centre stage, it is perfectly understandable that Theresa May’s government has brought forward a series of relatively non-contentious Bills this autumn.

On Tuesday, Peers will give a second reading to a short DCMS Bill to put the fledgling National Citizen Service (NCS) on a permanent statutory footing, meaning that one small part of the policy nonsense that was ‘the Big Society’ survives the fall of its progenitor, David Cameron. And presumably his announcement, on the day the Bill was given its first reading, that the former Prime Minster would chair NCS Patrons was not an accident.

The Conservative’s 2010 election manifesto included a commitment to introduce an NCS, explaining that ‘Building the Big Society means encouraging the concept of public-spirited service – the idea that everyone should play a part in making their communities stronger’. Delivered in-house by the Cabinet Office until December 2013, the programme has since been administered by a community interest company called the NCS Trust that has so far received £297m in government grants.

More than 135,000 young people have participated in the NCS since 2011 and last November’s Spending Review included funding for up to 300,000 places by 2019-20, with courses (including a residential element) run in the spring, summer and autumn school holidays. The NCS seeks to bring together young people from different backgrounds and promote social cohesion; to help participants develop greater confidence, self-awareness and responsibility; and to encourage personal and social development through a focus on communication, teamwork and leadership skills.

The emergence of the NCS and its guaranteed funding stream has had a significant impact on the charities and organisations who work in the same field, and on volunteering more generally. Most are positive about the placing of the NCS on a statutory footing, with its own Royal Charter, but there are calls for it to do more.

The NCVO for example, suggest the NCS work more with local charities to ensure its potential as a starting point for life-long volunteering. The Scouts Association see a risk in the NCS remaining a stand-alone intervention that could fail to strengthen other opportunities to develop and support individuals to help them contribute to society. V.inspired has concerns about the gulf that might emerge between NCS and the rest of the youth social action sector. 

Other comments meanwhile, suggest there should be a greater focus on diversity and inclusivity, and that the programme must go further to include those who face additional barriers to getting involved. And there is some concern about the lack of provisions in the Bill to allow young people themselves to meaningfully participate in the future development of NCS.

Although NatCen has been reviewing and reporting on the pilot and early rollout of NCS, it is unfortunate that this Bill has been introduced while the National Audit Office (NAO) is still reviewing whether or not the Cabinet Office is achieving value for money in delivering the programme. With the NAO also set to consider the programme’s ability to both meet the targets set out in the Spending Review and support future growth, it is unclear whether the review (due for publication in ‘the Winter of 2016’) will be ready for our Committee stage next month.

Labour supports the idea of the NCS and one of our senior colleagues, David Blunkett, is a Board member of the Trust. We will however, scrutinise the Bill closely and in doing so, remain grateful to the many organisations who have suggested improvements. And we will of course, be keeping an eye on Mr Cameron’s involvement…

Lord Wilf Stevenson of Balmacara is Shadow DCMS Minister in the House of Lords. He tweets @Missenden50

Published 24th October 2016

A last hurrah for the Big Society?

Wilf Stevenson welcomes the government’s National Citizen Service Bill, with caveats

Angela_outside_Oct2016.JPGAngela Smith's speech in the House of Lords, 24th October

These EU Council meetings are undoubtedly trickier and more awkward for this Prime Minister than for her predecessors.

For all the hope and talk of ‘being in until we’re out’, there is a worrying picture emerging of the UK already starting to be side-lined.  I suppose it’s inevitable and understandable but it is nevertheless significant and of concern.

I think this is the first time that a British Prime Minister hasn’t had important bi-lateral meetings with the key EU leaders, such as France and Germany.  The three bi-laterals she had, with Estonia, Romania and Greece, were cordial and discussed important issues, but they weren’t issues central to the UK exit from the EU and our future.

And when our Prime Minister spoke to the other 27 Leaders about Brexit, if accounts of the meeting are accurate, she just had 5 minutes to do so.

But my Lords, that may have been long enough for the key messages she wanted to give. Because here we are, 4 months after the referendum result, and we are no nearer to understanding the Government’s negotiating position. And what is of more concern – there’s no confidence, either at home or in the EU, that the Government is any nearer to clarifying its position.

So our Prime Minister wanders into these high level EU Council meetings at a disadvantage before they even start. And whilst that is understandable for her first or even second meeting, it cannot continue.

I read the transcript of her statement and press conference.  There are only so many times, that we can fall back on abstract and general terms about ‘finding the balance’, ‘maintaining a good relationship’, or ‘paying a full role in the EU whilst we remain’, before we have to start the serious work of negotiations – and before we do that the UK has to have a position.

We can sense the frustration from the EU in some of the comments made from other Leaders who are as keen as we are to understand the position of the UK Government.

Before I turn to the specific conclusions I want to add something about the process in our Parliament. I read reports at the weekend, that a Cabinet Minister, has responded to concerns raised about Brexit by members of YLH, that the Government could do a ‘Lloyd George’ and create another 1000 Peers.

Here we go again. 

Let us be clear. There are few in this House who don’t have genuine concerns about the future of the UK outside of the EU and the Government’s apparently confused and unsettled approach to negotiating our exit. And we take our responsibilities seriously in assisting the Government to make the best possible arrangements for the UK. 

We will use the expertise and knowledge in this House to fully understand the implications of Brexit, to advise the Government and to do whatever we can to ensure that these issues are effectively addressed, both through our highly regarded EU Committees and on the floor of Your Lordships House.

We will scrutinise. We will examine. But my Lords – we will not block. But neither will we be bullied into abdicating our responsibilities.

We have to be adult about this. We can’t have the most enthusiastic Brexiters crying foul every time Parliament asks for more details or seeks to scrutinise. 

This can’t be the only issue on which the Government is allowed a blank cheque without any accountability. It’s complex, it’s difficult. And the Government should see this House as an asset and not try to avoid helpful scrutiny.

And I have to say my Lords, the Government’s mantra of ‘no running commentary’ is becoming embarrassing and sounds like code for ‘we haven’t a clue’.  Can I suggest that the Government abandons this and sees Parliament as a resource for getting this right.

On migration my Lords – it didn’t seem to me that there was anything new coming out of this Council meeting.  On the first page, it states that ‘the European Council took stock of the latest developments….. Highlighting the importance of implementation’. It just reads as an update on actions going back, as indicated on page 2, ‘many years’, and a call for more action of previously agreed policies.

Given the scale of the crisis, can the Noble Lady highlight anything new, or any real progress that was made on this issue? 

With the final paragraphs of the Report on External Relations and the atrocities on civilians in Aleppo, the language is strong. But a statement that ‘The EU is considering all available options, should the atrocities continue’ really doesn’t appear to have worried President Putin very much, as his military flotilla sailed through the English Channel.

Can the Noble Lady say anything more about the Prime Minister’s role in these discussions, and what action she urged on the EU?

On Trade, obviously there were discussions regarding the stalled EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.  The Prime Minister has repeated in her statement today that she isn’t  looking at any existing model for future UK trade agreements but that the UK will create something new and specific to the UK.   

Although we have been unable to have anything other than very informal discussions with other countries regarding future trade agreements, clearly the EU negotiations with Canada, Japan and other trade partners including South America will impact on the UK, and on our future discussions. Just saying, as the Prime Minister does in her statement, that it won’t have any impact, does not make that the case.

Can I ask what role the UK is playing in these negotiations and what serious assessment is being undertaken of the future impact on any UK negotiations with these countries and the EU? 

And finally my Lords, although the Prime Minister didn’t have a formal bi-lateral with the Spanish Prime Minister, was there an opportunity for an informal conversation, either at ministerial or official level on Gibraltar?

I know the Noble Lady will understand the concerns of the Government and people of Gibraltar.  Is she able today to provide reassurance that they will never be used as any kind of bargaining chip in pursuit of a wider settlement?


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

Published 24th October 2016

Prime Minister's statement on the EU Council

Angela Smith's speech in the House of Lords, 24th October

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