UK Economy to be hit – leaked document reveals

Labour Party

Every sector of the UK economy will be hit following Brexit a leaked Government document has warned. The paper, drawn up by the Department for Exiting
the EU, revealed that growth in the UK could be up to 8% lower than if it
stayed in the EU.

In many ways it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, only last week
Chancellor Philip Hammond painted his own bleak picture when he said that
UK economies could move “only modestly” after Brexit.

And the very best the International Trade Secretary could offer was to
tell people to effectively put up or shut up in relation to the economic
forecasts. He told the Sun Newspaper: “I know there are always
disappointed individuals but they’re going to have to live with
disappointment.”

The leaked paper, entitled EU Exit Analysis – Cross Whitehall Briefing,
explains that “growth would be 5% lower if Britain negotiated a free trade
deal and 2% lower even if the UK were to continue to adhere to the rules
of the single market.”

And yet critics of the leaked document say it doesn’t stipulate the
scenario if the UK Government manages to negotiate a special partnership.
They also argue that economic modelling is highly speculative, if that’s
the case then he same must be true in reverse.

With the negotiations in utter chaos, as evidenced by the Brexit Secretary
who gave woeful evidence last week before the Brexit Committee, a special
relationship is a long way off if at all achievable.

Over the next two days the House of Lords will debate the EU Withdrawal
Bill – some 200 peers are hoping to speak, it has been reported. It will
rightly face tough and rigorous scrutiny and its passage through the
chamber will not be an easy ride.

Lords warn: EU Bill is not fit for purpose

Labour Party

The EU Withdrawal Bill is not fit for purpose the House of Lords Constitution Committee has warned.

Members of the Committee described the Bill as “fundamentally flawed” and said it needs to be re written in several ways.

Despite having already been voted through the House of Commons, it will be subject to vociferous debate this Tuesday and Wednesday when it reaches the Lords.

The Committee understands the scale and complexity of the task in a way that David Davis, who is in fact the Brexit Secretary, just does not get. While he busies himself with nervous laughter and doing little else, the Lords cross party committee has focussed on its brief and properly scrutinised the detail of the Bill, and concluded that: “It risks fundamentally undermining legal certainty in a number of ways.”

Some of the criticisms of the Bill include the proposal to create a category of “retained EU law”, with peers stating it may cause uncertainty and ambiguity.

In addition, certain regulations will be able to be changed without granting Parliament scrutiny – and instead the relevant minister will be able to make a judgement call of their own, using Henry VIII powers.

And the emergency procedure for short term changes is “unacceptably wide”, the committee of Lords said.

It also acknowledged a big concern was what would happen in the vent of failing to secure an agreement with the Scottish Government and Welsh Administration about the devolution of powers (which are to be returned from Brussels). This would obviously lead to further constitutional repercussions.

Labour Peers are expected to be supporting around 20 amendments to the Bill and with the support of Lib Dem peers and other crossbench peers it has a real chance of defeat in the Lords.

To fully register their anger and dismay over the Bill as it currently stands, pro remain Peers will vote in favour of a motion of regret that the public is not getting another say over Brexit.

The House of Lords with 792 members is in urgent need of reform

Labour Party

It has always been a mystery to me how Britain can claim to be a modern, twentieth-century democracy and have its parliament’s second chamber chosen by prime ministerial patronage. The only other country with an appointed second chamber is Canada, based on the British tradition.

 Every other democracy with a second chamber elects its members. As a parliamentarian, I find it difficult to accept that Britain is so behind in this matter. Other European countries either have no second chamber or one that is either directly or, as in the case of the French senate, indirectly elected.

Even those countries which, like Britain, have undergone minimal disruption by war or revolution throughout their history have managed to come to a democratic conclusion. Sweden has a unicameral system as does Denmark; both countries evolved peacefully towards this state.

 Yet Britain is unable to get anywhere with this thorny problem. Members of the upper house who gained their place by heredity lasted far too long. Now we have a truly messy mish-mash of appointees who got there by virtue of their relationship with the prime minister. Just to add to the mix, there are also 26 Church of England bishops whose status is a historical remnant of the landed wealth of the medieval church.

There is no way the current state of affairs can be viewed as an edifying way to run a country. Indeed, I am reminded of those robber barons who came to England with William the Conqueror and were rewarded with tracts of the English countryside, not to mention royaly dispensed titles. The current situation whereby the 21st century equivalent of William the First’s cohorts gain advantage is the same in principle, if not in practice. A second chamber appointed by the prime minister is positively feudal, its antecedents brought into sharp relief by the strange costume peers wear for formal events and the Lords’ quaint customs.

The powers of the House of Lords are almost as murky as its composition. While it can certainly influence government, its real role is to scrutinise legislation. Yet this is constantly under threat as successive prime ministers seek to pack the Lords with their own place men and women. Tony Blair created 162 Labour peers while David Cameron has already appointed 47  Conservatives. The result of prime ministerial attempts to neuter the Lords is that the upper house now has 792 members, compared to 650 for the House of Commons (probably to be reduced to 600) and a mere 754 for the European Parliament.

The case for reform of the second chamber is, I believe, irrefutable. As ever, the current debate is being dragged down by various vested interests, namely the Lords themselves, those in government who find the present set-up to their advantage, Tory right-wing Eurosceptics who bizarrely think a referendum on Lords reform can also be a referendum on EU membership together with woolly well-wishers who respect the peers who are experts in their field. There are, of course, also those who think the current economic malaise makes this a bad time to introduce constitutional change.

The debate about the powers of the second chamber strikes me as a rather clever red herring. The argument that an elected second chamber would challenge the supremacy of the House of Commons is both arcane and obstructive. Of the 13 countries in the EU which have second chambers, four of these are directly elected. Interestingly three of the four are in former Communist countries. These three and the other, Spain, all seem to manage quite well, as does the United States, home to the world’s most high-profile dual camera system.

The United Kingdom, or at least its constituent parts, are old and proud nations. Our distinctive customs and ways of doing things should, of course, be preserved when they are beneficial.  However, we must learn when to let go of the past. Reforming the House of Lords to make it a modern, elected second chamber is well overdue. Achieving this would be a credit to our country both now and for a long time into the future.

Britain needs more women and ethnic minority judges

Labour Party

The House of Lords is doing a good job waging a considered war of attrition against the Tory-led Coalition. Having just done sterling work on the NHS Bill, peers are turning their attention to equality, or lack of it, our legal system.

The House of Lords Constitution Committee has just produced a report saying targets may be needed to recruit more women and ethnic minority judges if the judiciary did not better reflect society within five years. The argument for ensuring a more diverse judiciary is, of course, the same as quotas for company boards and it is very heartening that a House of Lords Committee is recognising what needs to be done.

In fact, since only 22 per cent of judges are women and one in 20 are non-white, action is urgently required. And it is particularly necessary for judges. Those who make such important decisions about people’s lives should be properly representative of the society they are charged with judging.

The Lords’ Constitution Committee also wants to see more people with disabilities and LBGT people as judges.

Peers called on the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice to be given the duty to encourage diversity in finding judicial candidates. The Constitution Committee recommended looking at removing barriers within the career structure of the profession, such as allowing more family-friendly working hours to encourage women. It also wanted solicitors to be encouraged to become judges as they are more representative than barristers.

Taking a strong stand, the Committee also said that where two candidates were of equal merit, the need for diversity should tip the balance.

Baroness Margaret Jay, Chair of the Constitution Committee, showed her commitment to the report stating it is “vital that the public have confidence in our judiciary.” She added, “One aspect of ensuring that confidence is a more diverse judiciary that more fully reflects the wider population.”

European Movement in London

Labour Party

Last week I spoke to the London Branch of the European Movement about my work as a London MEP. Many thanks to Petros Fassoulas pictured standing. Petros is a passionate advocate of the European cause. I am grateful to him  and John Preston (far right in picture below) for organising the meeting. Petros has arranged a schedule of meetings with several of my fellow London MEPs speaking. I would recommend joining these events for anybody interested in European politics, you will be sure of a warm welcome from my experience.

I spoke about my work on women and culture – familar subjects for readers of this blog. However, the European budget was the subject which attracted most interest. I was pleased to meet Liberal Democrat Dinti Batstone who talked about the need to increase women’s representation. Pictured in orange is Eva Eberhardt an EU gender expert who was keen for a more positive campaigning role on European issues.

Many of those present were keen to see  a referendum on Europe as they were confident that any referendum could be won. They also considered this would once and for all close down debate on Britain’s role in Europe. It was very enjoyable to be cross examined on European politics by such a well informed audience, my thanks for the invitation.

This is an appropriate post to mention in passing that the Labour Movement for Europe will be having their AGM on Monday 13th December at 6pm in Committee Room 5 of the House of Lords.

Andrew McIntosh

Labour Party

It is with some trepidation that I write about Andrew McIntosh, Labour peer and member of the Greater London Council, who died at the end of August.  He achieved much during his time in public life and will, I believe, be remembered as a leading light in London Labour politics.

 One of his less remembered but important contributions was his work on the 2005 Gambling Act in his capacity as a Minister in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

 John Carr, one of Andrew’s GLC colleagues,  writes about this in today’s Guardian. Andrew was, in fact, very successful in this matter. Since the legislation became operative, children’s organisations are not aware of a single instance where a child has managed to evade the system.     

 I first met Andrew when I worked at County Hall in the late 1970s. I remember him as a friendly and approachable GLC Member, even though at the time we were in different Labour Party camps.  Then, as now, I was on the side of Ken Livingstone and supported Ken on the London Labour Party Executive where I was a member for much of the 1980s.     

 After Ken Livingstone became Leader of the Greater London in 1981, Andrew went on to serve in the House of Lords for nearly 30 years. He was Labour frontbench spokesperson variously on education, industry and the environment, rising to be deputy leader of the opposition in the Lords (1992-97). After 1997 Andrew became deputy chief whip in the Lords, speaking for those many departments with no Lords minister of their own until, in 2005, he gained ministerial office in the DCMS.

 Of particular interest to me as an MEP is the fact that Andrew was a member of the Council of Europe parliamentary assembly from 2005 and chair of its education and media subcommittee from 2008 until his death. He was very well regarded, a formidable chair, and in January 2007 the Council appointed him its rapporteur on media freedom. He also worked to advance the Bologna Process, designed to ease the movement of university students and staff around Europe, something I deal with in my role on the European Parliament Culture and Education Committee.

He was, in addition, an honorary associate of the National Secular Society, a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association and a vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary humanist group.

Lib-Dems caught Short

Labour Party

This fascinating little story on Michael Crick’s blog a few days ago seems to have gone virtually unnoticed.

It appears that the Liberal Democrats are trying to get money meant for parties in opposition even though they are now part of the Con-Dem Government.  Having made a bid for Short money in the Commons they are now attempting to get hold of the equivalent in the House of Lords, Cranbourne money as the upper house calls it.

This is rightly being strongly resisted by the Labour Leader in the Lords, Jan Royall.

Just in case the noble Lib-Dem peers are not aware, you are now M’Lords in Government.  Labour is the only opposition, and therefore the only Party which should secure Cranbourne money.  Government has access to the Civil Service and a plethora of advisers and researchers which is quite simply not how it works for Her Majesty’s Opposition.

You Liberal-Democrats wanted to be in Government.  The least you can do now is play by the rules.

Please get blogging!

Labour Party

I was very pleased to receive the following from my old friend Mee Ling Ng, one of the founders of Chinese for Labour.

Mee Ling has written this to Chinese for Labour members:

“The Government intends to reduce the number of MPs by 10% and yet create 100 new peers. Where is the democracy in this? The Main House [House of Commons] is the legislature and the second House [Lords] is the reforming chamber.  Surely, the Main House should have the primacy in keeping its numbers even though the Second House may move to a wholly elected one.

“This is another way the Tories are gerrymandering (i) the reduction of MPs plus redrawing constituency boundaries to even benefit them more and (ii) packing the second house with their own; thereby creating Tory domination in BOTH houses.”

Mee Ling goes on to say that we need to expose this with massive blogging. It is a blatant undermining of democracy via our parliamentary institutions!

All this talk of BIG Society – it is more like BIG TORY Government!

Reform of the House of Lords?

Labour Party

Following yesterday’s  pomp and circumstance, what could be more apt than considering the promised reform of that most august institution, host to the state opening of parliament, the House of Lords itself? (By the way, did you know peers have to pay £125 a go to hire their ridiculous robes?)

The Queen’ Speech was sadly light on Lords reform; all we got was reform of the House of Lords may be included in a separate draft bill later in the year.  Not exactly promising, and I believe changes to the House of Lords/upper house will  be, and may already have been, the scene of coalition tension, a sticking point with tons of glue, difficult, if not impossible, to resolve.

We all know that reform of the House of Lords is a Lib-Dem rather than a Tory demand.  Indeed, the Conservatives have in the past voted to keep an all appointed upper chamber.  The Coalition at present has a notional majority of 50 in the House of Lords, assuming all Tory and Lib-Dems Lords vote with the government, very big ask indeed, especially for the Tories.

However, it’s the plans to create another 100 peers which set alarm bells ringing.  The Con-Dems are justifying it on the grounds that the House of Lords should reflect the voting intention at the general election.  This has never been the case, and is, in any event not sustainable over the long term in a chamber where members are appointed for life.  The idea of reflecting general election intentions also flounders on the issue of where do the bishops and cross benchers fit into the equation.

So, what is the real motive behind the Coalition’s desire to create of 100 new peers?  It seems to me it could go either way, for or against the promised reform to make the House of Lords either wholly or largely elected.  And therein lies the rub.  The new peers could either do what the Lib-Dems want and support radical change or they could do what very many Conservative want and keep things as they are.       

As yet we don’t know whether the new peers will be ennobled as Cameron/Clegg’s Lloyd George moment when the very threat in 1909 of creating enough peers to get the People’s Budget through the upper house was enough to bring their noble lords to heel, or used to throw out reform all together.

Clegg  obviously sees see this wheeze as following in the footsteps of the man who knew our fathers, who, in my view, was one of the most radical prime ministers this country has ever seen.  Cameron, I suspect, views creating 100 new peers, the majority of whom will, of course be Conservative, as a way of keeping his foot soldiers happy.  These new peers could destroy any attempt to reform the House of Lords.  What better way of stifling change than by restoring the House of Lords to its former Conservative glory before the hereditary peers went, and thereby ensuring the Tory majority votes down all plans to make the House of Lords wholly, or even largely, elected.

On the Road to Fair Votes

Labour Party

Last year at Labour Party Conference, when Gordon Brown promised a referendum on changing the voting system, specifically holding a referendum on the Alternative Vote system (AV), I was absolutely delighted.  Today the Guardian provided this very helpful demonstration of how AV would work.

My twenty- five years of struggling to get even the very idea of fair votes for the House of Commons recognised seemed at last to be getting somewhere.  When you’re involved in what is often seen as a minority, not to say geeky, campaign it’s sometimes hard to keep your sprits up.  But we have, and we’re finally winning through.

Going that crucial step further, Gordon’s announcement in a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) yesterday that the referendum will be held in October 2011, was the next thing electoral reformers wanted to hear.  The Prime Minister has now said he will have a referendum, a pledge he will, I believe, do everything he can to honour.  It is now up to Gordon to find the parliamentary time before the expected Easter dissolution.

I understand that some Conservative co-operation may be required to make such time available.  However, Gordon has to come out on top on this one.  Having made such a public commitment, he really must see it through and get the law setting the date for a referendum passed before the general election in order that his target date for the referendum of October 2011 may be met.

Gordon has made it clear that the referendum would be restricted to whether to stick with first past the post or to move to the alternative vote.  There are, I know, those among electoral reform campaigners who think AV is not proportional enough.  I think we must embrace Gordon Brown’s initiative as the only change we are likely to get in the foreseeable future.  It may not go as far as we would like, but it’s much better than first past the post.

We must also all be aware that our opponents do not like PR.  Since there is little that is fair in Tory social policy, it is hardly surprising they don’t want fair votes.  Quoted in yesterday’s Guardian, William Hague showed his usual lack of imagination: “It’s not the voting system that needs changing, it’s this weak and discredited prime minister. New politics needs a new government.”

Things are very different in the Labour Cabinet.  Ed Balls, the schools secretary, is a supporter of AV, as is Home Secretary Alan Johnson, John Denham, the communities secretary, Peter Hain, Welsh secretary, Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell, and, last but not least, Ben Bradshaw, the culture secretary.

Though the introduction of AV is the most important policy demanding immediate action, Gordon’s speech yesterday did not stop there.  He also announced that he wants a written constitution by 2015, the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta; a right for constituents to recall MPs if found guilty of corruption: a draft bill introducing a mainly elected Lords; and approval for local government reforms, entitled Total Place, that he said could produce £15bn of savings. He also said he supported votes at 16, but gave no commitment to put the proposal in the Labour manifesto.

I believe constitutional reform is important for its own sake.  Britain is the only country in Europe which does not have a proportional electoral system for its upper house.  On the other hand, I remain to be convinced that a package of changes to the way parliament and other representative institutions are elected will achieve very much in restoring people’s trust in politics, except perhaps for the measure to recall corrupt MPs.  Gordon Brown is setting out a vision for a modern democracy.  As the only real modern, progressive Party in Britain, Labour members have, I believe, a profound duty to support our Prime Minister in this crucially important task.