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Angela_outside_Oct2016.JPGBaroness Angela Smith speech to the House of Lords

Last June 23rd, this country held an historic referendum with a straightforward, direct question: “Should the UK remain a member of the European Union, or leave the European Union?”.

It required a straightforward direct answer. A single cross in either the Remain or the Leave box.

The result of that referendum, although hardly overwhelming, was clear in favour of leaving the EU.

But although the question was simple and straightforward, the simplicity ended there. For those charged with implementing the decision it has been anything but. 

It has led to the resignation of a Prime Minister who had promised that whatever the result he would stay and see it through.

It has led to the Government going to court to avoid seeking Parliamentary approval, on an issue that was supposed to be about sovereignty.

And it exposed the lack of preparation for a Leave vote.

That lack of Government planning has created a vacuum in which uncertainty has thrived.

“Brexit means Brexit” was perhaps the most unwise of all statements following the referendum. It just served to highlight that void. But, until the two years of negotiation have ended, and until the pompously, and hopefully inaccurately named, ‘Great’ Repeal Bill and consequent legislation has been completed, none of us know what Brexit will look like.

And that has fuelled uncertainty for businesses, for universities, for science, for environmentalists.

And worryingly for both EU citizens living and working in the UK and UK citizens living and working in other EU countries.

And it has become obvious that no thought had been given to our citizens in Gibraltar or the implications for Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement.

My Lords, a recent report identified 1957 as happiest year of the last century.  But why? It was a time of low wages, poor housing and we hadn’t yet had the benefit of the social and reforming legislation of the 1960s and 1970s. But it was a time of optimism.

Few of our young people today – ‘millenials’ as they’re often termed – will talk with such optimism for the future, faced as they are with job and housing insecurity, and a world that seems to be becoming more dangerous.

Obviously, not all of that anxiety is a knock-on effect of the referendum. And membership of the EU would not solve all our problems – any more than it caused them.

But in 1957, with the horrors of the war years fading, it was also a time of hope and a brighter future ahead.

And let’s not forget that in that same year, sixty years ago, part of that optimism led to the Treaty of Rome.

So, whilst accepting that today’s EU is wider in shape and influence than the earlier models, we should acknowledge the vision of those men and women who wanted to see countries across the European continent knowing and understanding each other and at peace with one another.

With so much of the debate around Brexit being about business and the economy, we should take care never to lose sight of that vision. And we should never take peace for granted.

Today, wars are not fought between European countries. But we have battles to fight in tacking serious and organised crime, terrorism, money laundering from drugs, child abuse and people trafficking. So, we must continue working together on these issues across borders – and on security where we have taken a leading role in the European Union.  

With around 190 speakers signed up to speak today and tomorrow in Your Lordships House, it shows not just the depth of feeling on this issue – but the expertise that is available here and I hope that the Government will welcome and make use of.

My Lords, many, on both sides of this issue, are angry and they’re worried. Like many other Noble Lords, I have received numerous e-mails. Some want us to block Brexit and others consider any debate and discussion, and any amendments we may pass as a constitutional outrage.

Much of the work of this House is undertaken away from public gaze, and even those with an interest in Parliament will be more familiar with the work of the elected Chamber. 

With some of the ill-informed reports and comments, and when certain newspapers call judges ‘Enemies of the People’, we should not be surprised that our role is often misunderstood and that some exaggerated and inaccurate outrage has been hurled at Noble Lords.

But my Lords, we should be both surprised and angry with those who should know better. MPs, even Peers from Your Lordships House, and an anonymous ‘Government source’ have threatened this House with 600 or 1000 extra Conservative Peers to get this legislation through, or with abolition.

I did have to point out in response to one Conservative MP, that it would take about two years to introduce 1000 new Peers which might be a little too late for this Bill.

But My Lords, we will not be threatened into not fulfilling our normal constitutional role – and neither will we be goaded into acting irresponsibly.

We have to have a serious and responsible debate. 

And in doing so, if we ask the House of Commons to look again at an issue, it is not a constitutional outrage but a constitutional responsibility.

And it is the House of Commons that will, as always, and quite rightly, have the final say.

So, let’s be very clear. As I have said so many times before, in Your Lordships House, and publicly we will not block, wreck or sabotage the legislation before us. Whatever our personal views, disappointments and genuine concerns for the future that is not the role of this House.

But, I’ve also said, neither should we provide the Government with a blank cheque. It would be irresponsible to merrily wave the Government off to negotiate our future without parliamentary engagement or accountability, and merely ask them to return two years later with a deal.

If sovereignty is to mean anything, it has to mean parliamentary responsibility.

My Lords, this legislation is first stage of the process by which the Prime Minister can invoke Article 50, to start negotiations to leave the European Union and will lead to the so called ‘Great Repeal Bill’ by which we will start to bring provisions derived from EU law into UK law.

We will treat this Bill appropriately and as seriously as we do all primary legislation.

As evidenced from the amendments already tabled we will seek improvements, encourage ministers to make reasonable changes, and possibly, just possibly, we may ask our colleagues in the Other Place to reconsider on specific issues.

That’s not delaying the process, it is part of the process and has no impact on the Government’s self-imposed deadline. 

And we will work, as we always do, with others across Your Lordships House, including Noble Lords on the government benches.

As we’ve already seen from the excellent Lords Select Committee Reports, many of the issues to be addressed are complicated. They are complex. And they require wisdom, experience, thoughtful strategy and serious negotiation.

Whether it’s the issue of the Irish border or trade policy, our fishing industry or fighting crime and remaining at the forefront of dealing with security issues – this isn’t going to be easy. 

My Lords, this Bill is very specific and is about process rather than outcomes. But process is important. Both those who advocated this path and those charged with implementing the outcome bear a heavy responsibility.

So our negotiating teams will need the best possible support. They will need to scrutinise. They will need to challenge.

The motivation to get the best possible deal will be driven by understanding the complexities involved. Not a glib confidence that it’s all going to be fine.

The process of Brexit cannot be run solely by those that have no doubt. It has to engage those that fear the worst and will work for the best.

After the division of the referendum, the PM has to make this a Brexit, not just for the 52%, but a Brexit that is also understood by the 48%. And indeed, we should also consider those who at 16 and 17 were denied the opportunity to vote on their future.

Government ministers frequently state how scrutiny, challenge and the revision function of this House improves legislation. That is our sole purpose.

Our amendments are guided by key principles and have been drafted after reflecting on the debates in the Other Place, and comments made by Ministers.  They include:-

-         Parliamentary engagement to ensure that the UK Parliament is not less engaged or less informed than the European Parliament, or other national parliaments.

-         A meaningful vote on the negotiations

-         Protecting EU citizens living in the UK

-         And also our commitment to the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement, which has helped to secure peace and a soft border with our nearest European neighbour, the Irish Republic.

When this Bill was agreed by the House of Commons – it was after Government commitments on some of these issues, so wouldn’t it be helpful if they were written into the Bill itself.

Parallel to the negotiating process as we debate the Great Repeal Bill and subsequent legislation, we’ll do our utmost to ensure ministerial promises not to dilute employment and social rights, environment and consumer protections,  are kept – and that bringing these issues into UK legislation is about sovereignty not weakening legislation.

And also, the ongoing work of our EU select committees will be of significant value to the government throughout and beyond the Brexit process as readily acknowledged by the NL Bridges.

Given the Prime Minister is playing catch up on Brexit, with her govermment distracting itself – and Parliament – with a challenge to the court ruling, and dithering over the White Paper, we now need a more mature approach.

My Lords, this is a defining moment for our country. There must be some acknowledgment from the government that this process is not just about the legislation before us and where it leads but also about the need to craft a new vision for our role in the world, that is realisable, sustainable, brings our country together and gives hope and optimism to our young people and generations to come.

Our scrutiny of this process over the coming months and years will hold to that vision.   

-Ends-

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

Published 20th February 2017 

Speech opening Second Reading of EU (Withdrawal) Bill

Baroness Angela Smith speech to the House of Lords

European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill:

  • Overview of House of Lords stages of the Bill
  • Overview of Labour Lords frontbench amendments
  • Quotes from Baroness Smith of Basildon & Baroness Dianne Hayter
  • Appendix 1: amendments as tabled

Next stages for the ‘Article 50’ Bill in the House of Lords and beyond

Second Reading: Monday 20th February (from 3pm until late) and Tuesday 21st February (from 11am until late). As of today (9th February) the numbers of Peers signed up to speak is over 150, with an expectation that this will rise further. No vote expected, and such votes in the Lords – on a Bill’s principle - are highly unusual.

Committee stage – two days: Monday 27th February and Wednesday 1st March. As of today, the Lords Public Bill Office have begun to accept prospective Committee Stage amendments. These will be public from tomorrow (Friday 10th February). Votes at this stage of a Bill have become rare in the past few years, but remain possible.

Report stage and Third Reading – both taking place on Tuesday 7th March. Report stage is when votes in the Lords are most likely.

Commons consideration of Lords amendments – whether government concessions (including those taking place between Committee and Report stages), minor technical changes or voted defeats – would be debated in the days or week following Third Reading, with potential of course for parliamentary ping-pong.

 

Labour Lords frontbench amendments

Having monitored proceedings in the Commons, the Labour Lords frontbench will now seek changes to the Bill during its passage through the Lords. Our focus is on process rather than specifying outcomes of the Brexit negotiations. The Labour Lords frontbench has today submitted eight amendments. Below is a short explanatory note on each, with the full text of the amendments in Appendix 1:

‘A vote in the UK Parliament before any vote in the European Parliament’:

While pleased by the concession announced by Ministers in the Commons, we are disappointed that the government did not bring forward an amendment to confirm a parliamentary vote before the Article 50 deal is put to the European Parliament. We have therefore, tabled an amendment to put that concession on the face of the Bill, thereby providing greater certainty for parliamentarians and public alike.

‘Parliamentary oversight of the negotiations’:

Following the rejection of Labour’s New Clause 3 in the Commons, we have tabled a revised amendment that takes into account points raised during the preceding debate. The new amendment requires quarterly statements rather than bi-monthly reports and makes a clearer distinction between public and confidential documents. The Commons Minister reaffirmed that the government is “resolute that the House will not be at an information disadvantage compared with the European Parliament” and will make “arrangements for scrutiny of confidential documents”. This amendment asks the government to formalise its stated intentions.

‘Guaranteeing the rights of EU and EEA nationals resident in the UK’:

Labour has consistently called for the government to take unilateral action to guarantee the rights of EU and EEA nationals currently legally resident in the UK. Commons Ministers repeated that they cannot guarantee the rights of these nationals in the UK until the negotiations begin. This is not the case, and a recent Lords EU Committee report (Brexit: acquired rights) made it clear that the government has a moral obligation to offer this guarantee. We have therefore, tabled an amendment to this effect.

‘Conduct of the Article 50 negotiations’:

As the government acknowledges in its White Paper, there is a clear national interest in maintaining preferential trade relations with the EU and continuing cooperation with our European neighbours on a broad range of issues, including security, research and protection of the environment. While Ministers have made oral commitments, our amendment to the face of the Bill would require the government to have regard to these areas during the negotiations.

‘Involvement of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’:

There are many areas of EU competence – for example, agriculture and fisheries – directly relating to the responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly. We welcome therefore, the establishment of a Joint Ministerial Committee for EU negotiations. Following the rejection however, of our attempt to place this structure on a statutory basis, this new amendment seeks additional assurances that the views of the devolved nations will be formally considered during the negotiations. 

‘Publication of impact assessments on potential future UK-EU trade models’: 

Following the referendum, it became clear that the government had not undertaken preparatory work for Brexit. The civil service has therefore, been playing catch-up as it seeks to understand potential trade options available to the UK and the economic impact of each one. The Commons rejected Labour calls to publish impact assessments, arguing that this would undermine the UK’s negotiating position. This new amendment however, makes provision to allow access to any documents completed since 23 June 2016 whilst keeping them out of the public domain. 

‘Nuclear collaboration with Euratom’:

The European Atomic Agency Community (Euratom) is the foundation of the UK’s nuclear power sector. This amendment will not prevent us leaving Euratom but require the government to treat this as a separate process from Brexit, allowing the industry time to create new regulatory and safety regimes.  

‘Respect for the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement’:

Brexit will have a major impact on the future relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, not least around the operation of the land border. This amendment would require the government to have regard to the constitutional, institutional and rights provisions of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement. 

 

Quotes:

Labour’s leader in the Lords, Baroness (Angela) Smith of Basildon said:

The triggering of Article 50 and the huge negotiating and legislating task that will follow involve some of the biggest decisions the UK government and Parliament have had to take in generations. We have to get it right.

“As Labour’s Leader in Lords I have repeatedly said that we will not seek to block or sabotage the start of this process. The Lords, as always, will challenge and scrutinise legislation put before us and if necessary we will pass amendments on issues where we wish the Commons to take another look.

“That is our role as the unelected House, and we will not be cowed by threats of abolition or flooding the place with hundreds of new Tory Peers. The stakes are too high and we will do our duty.”

Labour’s Shadow Brexit Minister in the Lords, Baroness (Dianne) Hayter said:

“With the Article 50 Bill having left the Commons, the Labour Lords frontbench will now seek a number of changes to Bill.

“Our amendments cover parliamentary reporting, the final ‘meaningful’ vote, EU nationals, the devolved parliaments and nuclear collaboration, but the focus is very much on process rather than specifying outcomes from the negotiations.

“While I remain disappointed with the outcome of the referendum, Brexit is happening and we need the best possible deal for our country to both move on and deal with the social and economic aftershocks.”

ends

 

Appendix 1: Labour Lords frontbench amendments

A vote in the UK Parliament before any vote in the European Parliament:

After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—

“Parliamentary approval for agreements with the European Union

(1) No Minister of the Crown may conclude an agreement with any institution of the European Union regarding the withdrawal of the United Kingdom under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union until—

(a) the Government has laid a copy of the final draft of the agreement before each House of Parliament, and

(b) each House of Parliament has passed a resolution approving the final draft of the agreement.

(2) The requirements under paragraphs (a) and (b) must also be met where a Minister of the Crown proposes to conclude any separate agreement with the European Union pertaining to the future political and economic relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

(3) In the case of a proposed agreement setting out the arrangements for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the resolution under subsection (1) must have been passed by each House of Parliament before the proposed terms are agreed with the Commission, with a view to their approval by the European Parliament.”

 

Parliamentary oversight of the negotiations:

After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—

Parliamentary oversight of negotiations

(1) Before exercising the power under section 1(1), the Prime Minister shall give an undertaking to—

(a) make a quarterly statement to both Houses which presents a report relating to the negotiations, with copies of this report made available to relevant committees of Parliament;

(b) lay before each House of Parliament as soon as practicable a copy of any public document relating to the negotiations provided to the European Parliament or its committees by the European Council, Council of the European Union or European Commission;

(c) make arrangements for Members of both Houses of Parliament to review any confidential document relating to the negotiations.”

(2) In this section—

“public document” includes any briefing, conclusions, report or statement issued by the European Council, Council of the European Union or European Commission, or considered at a formal committee meeting or plenary session of the European Parliament;

“confidential document” includes any document issued by the European Council, Council of the European Union, European Commission or European Parliament to the United Kingdom Government which Ministers of the Crown believe would adversely impact on the United Kingdom’s negotiations if it were made publicly available.”

 

Guaranteeing the rights of EU and EEA nationals resident in the UK:

After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—

EU and EEA nationals resident in the United Kingdom

In negotiating and concluding an agreement in accordance with Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, Ministers of the Crown must resolve to ensure that citizens of another European Union or European Economic Area country legally resident in the United Kingdom on the date on which this Act comes into force are not disadvantaged in relation to their right to reside and work in the United Kingdom or their potential to acquire such rights in the future.”

 

Conduct of the Article 50 negotiations:

After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—

“Conduct of negotiations

Before exercising the power under section 1(1), the Prime Minister must give an undertaking to have regard to the public interest in—

(a) maintaining a stable and sustainable economy,

(b) preserving peace in Northern Ireland,

(c) having trading arrangements with the European Union for goods and services that are free of additional tariffs and non-tariff barriers,

(d) cooperating with the European Union in matters relating to education, health, research and science, environmental protection, the maintenance of domestic security, and the combating of organised crime and terrorist activity, and

(e) maintaining all existing social, economic, consumer and workers’ rights, during negotiations under Article 50(2).”

 

Involvement of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland:

After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—

Involvement of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

(1) Before exercising the power under section 1(1), the Prime Minister must publish a document setting out arrangements that have been agreed between the Prime Minister and the devolved administrations for the Secretary of State to—

(a) consult the devolved administrations on the matters referred to in subsection (2),

(b) specify how their views on those matters will be taken into account, and

(c) seek to reach a consensus on those matters.

(2) The matters are—

(a) terms proposed for withdrawal from the European Union (including the initial negotiating position), and

(b) the framework for the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union.

(3) The arrangements referred to subsection (1) must make provision for statements to be published setting out the extent to which consensus has been reached.

(4) The arrangements may make provision for functions to be exercised by Joint Ministerial Committees.

(5) Before concluding an agreement with any institution of the European Union, the Prime Minister must consult the devolved administrations on the terms of any proposed agreements, and specify how their views have been taken into account.

(6) For the purposes of this section, the devolved administrations are—

(a) the Scottish Ministers,

(b) the Welsh Ministers, and

(c) the Executive Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly.”

 

Publication of impact assessments on potential future UK-EU trade models:

After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—

Impact assessments

(1) The Prime Minster may not give notice under section 1 until—

(a) Any existing impact assessments or economic forecasts relating to the United Kingdom’s future trading relationship with the European Union conducted by HM Treasury, the Department for Exiting the European Union, the Department for International Trade or the Office for Budget Responsibility completed since 23 June 2016 have been laid before Parliament, or

(b) Ministers of the Crown representing the departments in subsection (1)(a) has laid a statement before both Houses of Parliament declaring that no such assessments have been conducted since 23 June 2016.

(2) Where Ministers of the Crown believe publication of assessments in subsection (1)(a) would undermine the negotiating position of the Government in relation to negotiations carried out under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, suitable confidentiality arrangements shall be made which allow Members of both Houses of Parliament to view such documents.”

 

Nuclear collaboration with Euratom:

After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—

Nuclear Collaboration

(1) Nothing in this Act shall affect the UK’s membership of the European Atomic Agency Community (Euratom).

(2) Notwithstanding the provisions of any other Act, Her Majesty’s Government shall treat the process of leaving Euratom as separate to that of leaving the European Union.”

 

Respect for the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement:

Clause 1, page 1, line 5, at end insert—

“with the exception of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and Section 2 of the Ireland Act 1949, and subject to the United Kingdom’s obligations under the Agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of Ireland on 10 April 1998.”

------------

 

Article 50 Bill - Labour Lords frontbench amendments

European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill: Overview of House of Lords stages of the Bill Overview of Labour Lords frontbench amendments Quotes from Baroness Smith of Basildon & Baroness Dianne...

MikeWatson.jpgMike Watson outlines our approach to the government’s new Colleges Bill, ahead of Lords second reading

This week sees the House of Lords second reading of the Technical and Further Education Bill. Legislation that aims to reform the sector, by expanding the role of the new Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) and introducing 15 new technical routes covering areas as broad as accounting, beauty and construction.

Labour is broadly supportive of the plans. We presided over a significant expansion of FE, allowing thousands of young people across the UK to develop new skills and gain valuable qualifications. We continue to believe in the value of apprenticeships and that students should be able to choose from a range of quality courses.

The Bill provides a much-needed move in the right direction but should be considered against a backdrop of sustained cuts to the sector, with around 40 colleges facing serious financial pressures. While we accept the ongoing programme of area reviews, it concerns us that the process could move beyond the mergers announced so far and lead to closures. The government must minimise any adverse effect on students.

The IfA will come into operation in April as an independent employer-led body but Ministers plan to widen its remit next year, rebranding it ‘the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education’. As this Bill progresses, we will press Ministers over capacity, overlap and representation.

The IfA is currently an under-resourced body tasked with supervising apprenticeship training and ensuring high standards. Its expanded remit will introduce a significant additional workload, including redesigning qualifications and establishing an employer panel for each technical route. We want to ensure the IfA is supported in ways that enable it to deliver the modern qualifications that meet students' needs during the ambitious timeframe outlined.

A multitude of bodies keep schools and colleges functioning. The IfA will work alongside Ofsted, Ofqual, and the new Office for Students (OfS). But as it stands the OfS will have partial responsibility alongside the IfA for degree apprenticeships, while Ofsted will continue to monitor training quality and carry out inspections. This complexity need not be problematic, as long as Ministers are up front about the division of responsibiities.

While it is logical for the IfA to be employer-led, the board must include representatives of the FE sector, its staff and the student body. Colleges will, after all, deliver the new technical routes and shape students’ prospects along the way.

The Bill takes an important new step in outlining a college-specific insolvency regime, something that will bring greater certainty through a clear legal framework. The plan is to introduce a new type of administrator with responsibility for handling cases, and to work to protect the interests of students. During insolvency, colleges would either be kept going or students would be transferred to an alternative provider. But we want assurances that the proceedings do not disproportionately impact on students from low-income backgrounds, nor deprive teaching staff of a fair redundancy deal or access to their pensions.

We will also look to address the concerns of FE bodies that a special education administrator need not have any direct knowledge or experience of the sector. Ministers may believe it ‘implausible’ that an administrator wouldn’t consult with principals, governors and teaching staff, but the experience of academies makes us wary. We will seek guarantees that the administrator will not be able to pass public assets to the private sector unless a convincing argument is first made.

In presenting Labour's case for a stronger technical and FE sector, myself and our frontbench team in the Lords want to shape the Bill so it increases the options available to students and delivers the safeguards needed to allow colleges to deliver quality teaching.

Lord Mike Watson of Invergowrie is Shadow Education Minister in the House of Lords

Published 1st February 2017

Learning curve

Mike Watson outlines our approach to the government’s new Colleges Bill, ahead of Lords second reading

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