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MaggieJones2014.JPGMaggie Jones on the need for a statutory Code of Practice in the UK against online abuse and bullying

Today in the Lords on the latest day of Report on the Digital Economy Bill, Labour Peers will continue to lead the debate to strengthen child protection laws as they relate to the internet and social media.

While the government is already making helpful moves to stop under 18s viewing adult material on the Internet, controversy rumbles on over both the definition of prohibited content and the regulations of access. We will encourage Ministers to work with other parties and the sector to resolve such issues in a way that has the most meaningful impact. And to perhaps learn from the progress we have made together on ensuring sex and relationship education will be compulsory in all secondary schools.

One other issue arising however, is my amendment for a statutory Code of Practice that obliges all social media sites to put into place mechanisms to prevent children from online abuse. In the context of the Bill, the amendment specifically focuses on protecting young people but would clearly benefit adults suffering similar attacks. To be established within six months of the Bill receiving Royal Assent, the Code would require terms of use to prevent cyber-bullying, along with the immediate removal of illegal posts and information given to the police.

The charity Childnet has reported that one in four teenagers suffered online hate incidents last year, while the NSPCC suggests two thirds of young people want social media sites to do more to protect them. Girlguiding revealed in its survey that 20% of girls had unwanted pornographic films or images sent to them without consent. And the bombardment of sexualised images is creating huge body confidence issues and normalising sexist behaviour in schools.

At present, there is no culture of safeguarding children’s online safety and wellbeing. Anyone doubting this just needs to reflect on the example of Facebook. On being informed by the BBC that obscene images of children were being posted on its site, the social media giant failed to remove the vast majority of posts – and then reported the BBC to the police for sending on other examples.

At the Committee stage of the Bill, the Lords Minister rather complacently argued that a statutory Code was not necessary, telling peers that the onus should be on companies to develop their own in-house processes. Shortly afterwards, the Secretary of State decided that this was not good enough and that a new Internet Safety Strategy would be launched – with a green paper promised for the summer.

Anyone worried that these global companies are difficult to regulate should consider the system in Australia. It has already passed the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Act 2015, requiring all social media sites to have terms of use to prohibit cyber-bullying and abuse; and established a Children’s e-safety Commissioner. Given that we’re discussing how the same social media sites operate here in the UK, it’s surely time to play catch up and give our young people the reassurances they deserve.

Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is a Shadow Minister and a member of Labour’s frontbench in the House of Lords. She tweets @WhitchurchGirl

Published 20th March 2017

Catch up time

Maggie Jones on the need for a statutory Code of Practice in the UK against online abuse and bullying

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 has today tabled two motions relating to the Article 50 negotiations. These motions focus on the issues covered by our previous amendments and will 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.

The motions appear on today’s House of Lords order paper and are scheduled for debate on Wednesday 29th March:

What were 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. These attracted 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 the government has already made – under pressure from Labour at both ends of Parliament – about the final vote on the Article 50 deal: that the UK Parliament will have a vote on ‘not only the withdrawal arrangements but also the future relationship with the European Union’; that the vote Parliament has on the draft withdrawal agreement will take place ‘before it is concluded’; and that both Houses of Parliament will debate and vote on the draft withdrawal deal before the European Parliament.
  • The second amendment would also have ensured that if the Prime Minister fails to agree a deal with the EU, only Parliament could decide to end negotiations and exit with no deal.

Ping-pong and Labour’s position in the Lords

  • It is the Prime Minister and Conservative MPs that killed off the amendments to the Article 50 Bill, not the House of Lords.
  • Labour had hoped the amendments would be carried in the Commons and that Ministers had listened to the points we made on both issues over many months.
  • MPs however, rejected the amendments in the Commons with increased majorities of 48 and 45. It was made clear during the debate that no amendment to the Bill would be accepted by the government.
  • 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 Bill has now completed its passage through Parliament and ready for Royal Assent. This means the Prime Minister now has the authority to invoke Article 50, although this is not expected to happen until the final week of March.
  • By tabling these motions, Labour Lords are applying pressure on the government on these two fundamental issues. Both motions will debated on the floor of the Lords and it is possible that there will be votes.
  • If passed, the second motion – on establishing a Joint Committee of both Houses to discuss arrangements for a meaningful vote at the end of the Article 50 negotiations – would be passed to the Commons for further consideration.
  • We are confident of cross-party support for these motions and will continue working with colleagues from across the House to advance these two important causes. 

- Ends -

Article 50 negotiations - Labour Lords motions

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...

Dianne Hayter on protecting EU citizens' rights and ensuring a meaningful parliamentary vote

Over the past fortnight, the House of Lords has passed two important Labour-led amendments to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, by majorities of 102 and 98, asking Ministers to do two very straightforward things.

The first was to make it clear that EU citizens, whether the 1.2 million Brits living abroad or the 3 million Europeans who have made our country their home, should not be treated as bargaining chips. All to be traded off against one another as part of the Article 50 negotiations.

The amendment would have enabled millions of people to feel secure about their status. That’s why we have called on Theresa May to act unilaterally and tell EEA nationals resident here that they will continue to enjoy the same fundamental rights after Brexit as when they arrived in the UK. Not just the moral course of action but also in the national interest.

Despite our passionate, well informed and pragmatic arguments, the Commons voted us down. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State are stubbornly maintaining their position, telling those based here that they must wait until the EU27 have agreed how they will treat UK nationals.

Nobody should lose their rights retrospectively and it was in Mrs May’s gift to give this assurance. Unfortunately, the government’s stubborness on this issues has extended the uncertainty faced by millions for the foreseeable future.

Our second demand was for Ministers to place their commitment regarding a meaningful parliamentary vote at the end of the negotiations onto the face of the Bill. The European Parliament will vote on the terms of the divorce settlement, and on any future trade deal between the UK and the EU27. This is enshrined in the EU Treaties and the government should give a similar statutory right to our own Parliament. Especially as the referendum campaign that focused so heavily on parliamentary sovereignty and the largest vote in the history of the Lords.

By rejecting our amendment, the government has shown that its primary objective – indeed, its obsession – has been to pass a ‘clean’ bill. Rather than to acknowledge the genuine concerns of all parties in both Houses and act in the national interest.

Today’s proceedings at Parliament demonstrated that debates on this legislation have run their natural course. The elected House has voted down amendments on these issues for a second time and with increased majorities. It is not for the unelected Chamber to challenge its primacy.

That's not to say Labour Peers will let the government embark on the Article 50 negotiations without challenge. We will return to these issues and others, and continue to hold Ministers to account throughout the negotiations.

The assurances offered by the Secretary of State this afternoon may have prevented a majority in favour of our amendments in the Commons, but more information is clearly required if we are to take the government’s promises seriously. That is why I am asking for a clear timetable in relation to how the Prime Minister will secure the rights of EU citizens, and for greater clarity over the role of Parliament in the event of there being no deal at the end of negotiations. We will not let these issues drop or fade away. 

Labour has fought hard during all stages of the Bill – in both the Lords and the Commons – and we have also been clear that this is just the start of the withdrawal process. We may have lost these two particular battles but nothing will prevent us from fighting for a fair and progressive Brexit. In doing so, we will also explore every parliamentary opportunity available to us to hold the government’s feet to the fire on the guarantees that Ministers have made to Parliament.

Baroness Dianne Hayter of Kentish Town is Shadow Brexit Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @HayteratLords

Published 13th March 2017

A battle lost but we’ll keep fighting for a fair Brexit

Dianne Hayter on protecting EU citizens' rights and ensuring a meaningful parliamentary vote

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