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Rosser4x3.jpgRichard Rosser on developments so far in the government’s latest legislative attempt to balance collective security and individual privacy

With the Investigatory Powers Bill now halfway through its House of Lords Committee stage, Labour has achieved progress on a number of issues.

One key concern was the setting of a threshold to the acquisition of Internet Connection Records (ICRs). We worked with the government in the Commons, leading to agreement on a threshold relating to the prevention and detection of serious crime. Essentially, this means that ICRs can only be acquired where an offender could be sentenced to at least six month’s imprisonment, or for other crimes like stalking and harrassment. Plus, where necessary, to locate a missing person.

Government amendments, as outlined in the Lords, mark a step in the right direction. But we also have doubts about a new ‘relevant crime’ threshold that could see ICRs used in connection with minor, non-serious crimes. That’s why we have offered Ministers further talks, and in fairness to them they are “open to discussions on this topic”. 

The issue of legal privilege has also been raised, with Labour names on amendments put forward by the Law Society and Bar Council. These asked for clarity on whether the authorities should be allowed to access information about confidential legal discussions, when there is no reason to suspect a crime but where other vital information might be needed to prevent one. Home Office Ministers have committed to consider this before Lords Report stage, when amendments might also be tabled.

We have also raised concerns on the matter of journalistic sources, suggesting that any powers affecting these should only be in exceptional and compelling circumstances (as with items subject to the aforementioned legal privilege). In the Commons, the government agreed to look at how to define ‘a journalist’ but with no developments so far, this is something else to be pursued at Report.

Labour has also tabled a series of Constitution Committee amendments. On the one hand to keep the Investigatory Powers Commissioner independent from the Home Secretary; on the other to ensure the government responds to that Committee’s report which will inform our later debates.

Other outstanding issues on the Bill include the recovery of compliance costs for communication service providers who have to implement the legislation. Ministers are committed to a 100% reimbursement but we await the detail of how they intend to reflect this. On protections for whistle-blowers meanwhile, we have highlighted the misuse of investigatory powers – with the government now adding a clause that means such individuals will not be subject to a consequent criminal offence or civil liability. (Although the wording as it stand does not yet adequately reflects this objective.) And following pressure applied by Labour at both ends of Parliament, the government has tabled further amendments in lieu to prevent the Bill being used to monitor trade union activity.

The remaining Committee days will take place when Parliament returns in September, with the focus on the findings of the independent review into the Bill’s most controversial area: the Bulk Powers Review. Led by David Anderson QC and due to report later this month, the conclusions will be crucial for our scrutiny. I for one hope that Ministers will work with us to ensure that this aspect of the legislation is both appropriate and fit for purpose.

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

Published 9th August 2016

Legislative update 3: The Investigatory Powers Bill

Richard Rosser on developments so far in the government’s latest legislative attempt to balance collective security and individual privacy

MaggieJones2014.JPGMaggie Jones on the government’s plans for bus service provision, as the current bill concludes its Lords Committee 

Yesterday, Peers completed the final day of Committee considering the Bus Services Bill – legislation that represents a welcome, if long delayed, volte face for a government previously wedded to a market driven provision of public services.

Ministers have finally accepted that deregulation of bus services in the 1980’s has been a failure for passengers, transport planners and localities alike. The facts speak for themselves. In Greater London, the only place currently allowed to operate a franchise model overseen by the elected authority, passenger numbers have doubled since 1986, bus mileage has increased by 74% and fare increases have been lower than in other city-regions. Conversely, outside of the Capital where a free market exists, bus patronage has declined, fares have shot up faster than wages, and routes and services have been axed.

Labour has welcomed the Bill’s underlying intention to bring back some order to bus service provision, reverse the decline in passenger journeys taken, and improve quality and reliability. Sadly however, it does not go far enough in empowering local authorities to make real decisions about the shape of services. We have also been keen to build in stronger minimum standards, improved passenger and employee consultation, and greener buses.

Crucially, we have moved amendments to enable all councils to adopt a franchise model of delivery if they feel it’s in the best interests of local communities. At present, the Bill restricts this right to combined authorities with an elected mayor. There is no logic to this restriction, which is clearly a political move designed to offer a carrot to councils to adopt the mayoral system, particularly in the ‘Northern Powerhouse’. With George Osborne off the scene and Chris Grayling now in place as Transport Secretary, I hope this unjustifiable restriction will be removed and ministers will be persuaded to devolve such decisions. Interestingly, we have received cross party support for our related amendment, including from Conservative Peers.

Labour has also been active in opposing the section of the Bill which prevents local authorities awarding a bus contract to a municipal operator. Another deliberately political move which flies in the face of the evidence. Currently, municipally owned bus services are some of the most successful in the country, with good quality provision and high levels of passenger satisfaction. Nottingham City Transport for example, has been UK bus operator of the year three times. Again, we believe that councils are best placed to make the decision about the delivery model best suited to them.

Some of our other amendments have received a more sympathetic response from the government, with offers of ministerial meetings to discuss improved disability access to buses and compulsory staff training on disability awareness. But following last month’s referendum vote, there is now uncertainty about how EU regulation will apply to the UK – and one critical piece of EU legislation due to come into effect in 2018 requires bus drivers and terminal staff to complete disability awareness training. Clarity is lacking on whether this will still come into effect, and its probable impact.

We also expect further discussion before Report stage on how to incorporate minimum environmental specifications on all future buses; better reporting on traffic congestion, air quality and safety standards; guaranteed consultation with trade unions and passenger groups when changes are proposed; and how to embed a responsibility for councils to take into account the wider social value of their transport services.

With the Bill not back before the House until the autumn, there is plenty of time for ministers to take on board many of our amendments beforehand. We stand ready however, to win our arguments on the floor of the Lords and, if necessary, push these issues to a vote.

Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is Shadow Environment Minister in the House of Lords

Published 21st July 2016

Legislative update 2: Bus Services Bill

Maggie Jones on the government’s plans for bus service provision, as the current bill concludes its Lords Committee 

MikeWatson.jpgMike Watson on the government’s plans for vulnerable and looked after children, as current proposals clear the Lords Committee stage

After five days of Committee in Grand Committee, the Children and Social Work Bill now hides away until October – when it will come to the floor of the Lords for Report. Debates so far have been characterised by broad-based opposition to the more controversial proposals. Crossbenchers and LibDems have joined us to back amendments on issues of concern to councils and charities which deliver support for some of society’s most vulnerable young people.

Part 1 of the Bill is dominated by a proposal to give the Education Secretary additional powers to exempt a local authority from requirements under social care legislation. These could apply for up to three years and be extended by a further three. But to exercise such powers would require new regulations, with some approved without a full debate and vote in Parliament.

Labour has led opposition to this issue in Committee, working with others to try and rule out profit-making for children’s social care functions. The government has to date failed to explain how G4S or Serco would be prevented from establishing a not-for-profit subsidiary to deliver their services.

As with existing outsourcing in other spheres of council services, the local authority would retain ultimate responsibility. Previous experience shows that the organisation taking on delivery can end the contract unilaterally, leaving the council to pick up the pieces while children suffer. There is real determination across political lines to pin ministers down on this matter, with more to come at Report.

Part 2 of the Bill is threadbare. To such an extent that we took the unusual step of tabling an amendment at Second Reading to highlight this fact. Ministers are increasingly playing fast and loose with parliamentary procedure by submitting bills that have been hurriedly put together and with large gaps to be filled later on by regulation. Anger at the blatant use of such practice has seen trenchant criticism from both the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee.

While all of this has been water off a duck’s back to the government, a change of tack may follow the withering comments of my colleague Phillip Hunt at the final session of Committee on proposed changes to the regulation of social workers. The existing governance model for health care professions is a longstanding arrangement to ensure distance from ministers and to enable regulators to independently discharge their primary function – the protection of the public.

Earlier this year however, Nicky Morgan announced that a new body would take responsibility for all social work standards, training and regulation – including of those who work with adults and those not in public employment. This announcement was made without any detailed consultation with interested parties in the profession. So we are seeking a meeting with the new Education Secretary, Justine Greening in the hope that she will see sense and back off.

Backing off however, will not be in our minds when the debate on this ill-thought out Bill resumes in October, with Labour Peers set to lead the way on ensuring it is in better shape before it proceeds to the Commons.

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

Published 20th July 2016

Legislative update 1: Children and Social Work Bill

Mike Watson on the government’s plans for vulnerable and looked after children, as current proposals clear the Lords Committee stage

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