Latest from our Blog

MaggieJones2014.JPGMaggie Jones on our attempts to make the Childcare Bill more meaningful and workable

David Cameron’s flagship Childcare Bill completed its Committee stage in the Lords last week. A Bill which places a substantial and significant duty on the Secretary of State to deliver an additional 15 hours of free childcare to working parents, it contains a mere six clauses across four pages.

Following concerns raised at Second Reading by Peers on all sides about the lack of detail in the Bill, given the wide reaching powers of secondary legislation, two respected cross-party Committees released their own damning analysis.

The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee (DPRRC) referred to it as a “skeleton” Bill and firmly disagreed with the ministerial statement that “too much detail on the face of the Bill risks obscuring the principal duties and powers from Parliamentary scrutiny”. Moreover, the government’s approach to delegation was described as ‘flawed’; and the use of the Bill as a vehicle to send a message to the public was deemed ‘inappropriate’.

The Constitution Committee echoed these concerns and suggested the Bill was an ‘egregious’ example of “a tendency by the Government to introduce vaguely worded legislation that leaves much to the discretion of ministers”. In a nutshell, there was simply not enough information for Peers to probe and scrutinise – the whole purpose of legislation being in Committee.

As a result of these findings, and a quasi-campaign on the Bill’s inadequacies run by The Independent on Sunday, we were able to mount considerable pressure and secure important concessions from Ministers. The Report stage will now be delayed to October. By then, the government has made various commitments: to release findings on the review of the cost of providing childcare, an update on the DWP taskforce examining the mechanisms of delivery, a response to the DPRRC, and a timeline so we can see the findings of each fits into the legislative timescale.

Despite all of this, a government response to the excellent Lords Select Committee Report on Affordable Childcare, which should have been considered before the legislation was drafted, will not be available for Report. Nor will any amendments in response to the DPRRC. A key consultation meanwhile, with parents, employers and childcare providers is yet to begin, with the results scheduled for next summer – long after the Bill has left the House.

There is also a sense of considerable frustration – both inside and outside of Parliament – that the essence of a good policy is being ruined in the rush to the statute books. Despite Ministers accepting our amendment to remove the establishment of a body corporate – a body that the Minister was unable to explain the functions and purpose of – several outstanding issues require further detail.

We still haven’t received an adequate answer on the necessity of provisions creating new criminal offences leading to imprisonment of up to two years. Ministers claim these regulations will prevent the unlawful disclosure of information. But we are not convinced of the scope of these powers and the safeguards for childcare providers and parents who may inadvertently fill in complex forms with errors.

We are also keen to see how the additional childcare entitlement will be delivered in a sector characterised with little capacity and in need of more qualified staff. Despite the entitlement being aimed at getting parents back into work, it is essential that the welfare of the child is held paramount in the delivery of this policy. 

So even when the Bill comes back to the floor of the Lords in October, a great deal of work will be needed to ensure it really will can quality childcare whilst making it easier for parents to go back to work.

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

Published 16th July 2015

Detail? What detail?

Maggie Jones on our attempts to make the Childcare Bill more meaningful and workable

AngelaSmith.jpgAngela Smith on why it’s time to let 16 and 17 year olds play a full part in the democratic process

"Women do not have the experience to be able to vote”, said Lord Curzon back in 1912.

It is difficult to believe that statements like that were used to justify the denial of the right to vote to women. Over a century later, we find ourselves in the same position when replacing the word “women” with “16 and 17 year olds”. Today, at Report stage of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, the House of Lords has an opportunity to make sure that we are on the right side of the argument, and on the right side of history.

Labour and Liberal Democrat Peers have come together on an amendment to lower the voting age for all local government elections to 16. A win today will of course complement the debates taking place elsewhere – in the Commons, in the media and in the country – on doing the same for the EU referendum that the government has promised by 2017.

Our Party is proud to support giving young people the right to vote, especially when considering the profound effects the results of elections and referenda may have on their futures. Currently, 16 and 17 year olds are able to enter work or training, give full consent to medical treatment, get married, join the armed forces, become a director of a company – the list goes on.

With all of this in mind, I find it incomprehensible that the Prime Minister is unwilling to change his position, even with the threat of losing both today’s vote and a similar one on the EU Referendum Bill once it reaches the Lords. Sending a signal out to young people that they don’t understand politics is not only patronising, but also abandons our responsibility to improve citizenship education in schools. 

The referendum in Scotland last year showed a clear surge in interest from young voters, who campaigned, debated and engaged in a significant and historic event, the ramifications of which continue to be felt. For anyone who says that young people don’t care, evidence from the Electoral Commission counters this profoundly. Over 100,000 16 to 17 year olds registered, with 75% voting on the day. And when asked whether they would vote in future referendums or elections, the result was an overwhelming yes.

Whether for local elections, national elections or referenda on matters of historic importance, their voices should be heard. Denying them a say in whether Britain remains part of the EU will hinder the results from truly reflecting the effects that a potential change could have, and neglect consideration of the impact a change could have on young people’s futures.   

Eddie Cochran sang of his problems in the 1958 hit Summertime Blues: “Well I called my congressman and he said ‘I'd like to help you son but you're too young to vote’". Today in the Lords, with a simple amendment to the local government aspects of the Representation of the People Act, we can start to change that. And in doing so, we can also begin to inspire a new generation to play their full part in the democratic process.

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

Published 15th July 2015

Inspire a generation

Angela Smith on why it’s time to let 16 and 17 year olds play a full part in the democratic process

Rosser4x3.jpgRichard Rosser on the case for tougher penalties for supplying Psychoactive Substances in prisons   

Today sees the return of the Psychoactive Substances Bill to the floor of the Lords, for its Report stage. A piece of government legislation which we generally support, we are nevertheless seeking improvements and will be encouraging the government to accept two amendments in particular relating to prisons.

Our aim is to make offering to supply new psychoactive substances (NPS) in prison an aggravating feature of the offence of supplying, and therefore likely to incur a heavier sentence as a result. The Bill already makes it a statutory aggravating sentencing factor if the offence took place at, or in the vicinity of a school, since young people are regarded as being vulnerable. Ministers should however, be concerned about vulnerable people in our prison system.

The Justice Secretary recently told the Commons: “there is an unacceptable level of drug use, both of illegal drugs and so-called legal highs, in our prisons”. In the same exchange, the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee said that 35% of prisoners have a drug addiction and 6% acquire their addiction while inside.

Earlier this month, the Prisons and Probation Service Ombudsman said “the use of new Psychoactive Substances is a source of increasing concern, not least in prison”, and referred to 19 deaths in prison between April 2012 and September 2014, where the prisoner was known or strongly suspected to have been using NPS type drugs before their death. Continuing, the Ombudsman added: “Trading of these substances in prison can also lead to debt, violence and intimidation. Once again this creates the potential to increase self-harm or suicide among the vulnerable, as well as adding to the security and control problems facing staff”.

It is the height of irresponsibility, callousness and indifference to potentially vulnerable people to be willingly involved in the supply of NPS on prison premises. It is also the height of greed to accept the financial rewards that result from being part of the supply chain of such substances. And that applies to prison staff, contractors and subcontractors, visitors and those who send deliveries to the prison, and prisoners themselves.

For those carrying out such offences, the penalties should be greater because they are deliberately targeting vulnerable people in a captive location. In doing so, they are defeating the objectives of trying to get such prisoners off drugs and reduce the likelihood of their reoffending, once they have served their sentence. Something that has a negative impact on society as a whole.

Obviously tougher criminal sanctions are not the whole answer and the Ombudsman has called for more training and education on NPS, for prisoners and prison staff alike. But the severity of a sentence does send a message about how the circumstances in which a particular kind of offence is committed, will be regarded. And it will also send a signal to vulnerable young people in our prison system that government is serious about giving them another chance.

Lord Richard Rosser is Shadow Home Office Minister in the House of Lords

Published 14th July 2015

Sentence structure

Richard Rosser on the case for tougher penalties for supplying Psychoactive Substances in prisons   

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.