Federal Policy Committee Report – 22 November 2016

This is a report of the Federal Policy Committee meeting of 23rd November. This was a fairly sparsely attended meeting. The elections are in full swing and, for that reason, it is not particularly surprising that this was the case.

Brexit Update

Sarah Ludford took the committee through the latest position on Brexit. The Supreme Court case is listed for the early part of December. One of the key issues is whether Article 50 can be revoked. The parties agreed on that question in the High Court and it may be that the Supreme Court has to re-visit that question. There may be a reference to the European Court of Justice, if not from the United Kingdom then from elsewhere. That would delay matters. The stance that we have adopted is that there must be a Parliamentary vote on involving Article 50 regardless of the court proceedings. It would be odd, in an argument about sovereignty, if that were not the case. We have also said that there should be a referendum on the terms of the deal that ends up being on the table. We have said that we will vote against the triggering of Article 50 in the Commons unless there is a commitment from the government to have that referendum.

The committee had a general discussion about this question but there were no formal decisions to be taken.

Sex Work Preliminary Report

The committee went on to consider the preliminary report from the Sex Work Group, chaired by Belinda Brooks-Gordon. That report set out a number of issues that the group was to consider including violence against sex workers, coercion, police investigations or the lack thereof, the legislative framework, criminalisation, stigma and issues that sex work can cause in the local community.

The paper went on to deal with what the aims of a Liberal Democrat policy should be and what changes to the law were required. They were set out in some detail and they will be in the motion and paper that will mark the end of the process.

This is an area of great sensitivity and there were members of the committee who took slightly different views on some of the issues raised. Others raised the question of the effect that sex work can have on local communities. There was a debate over the differences in principle between criminalisation and legalisation. Nothing is finalised yet: a formal paper will be presented to the final meeting of the committee in December. The whole issue will then be debated at Federal Conference in the Spring.

Conference De-Brief

The committee went through the amendments and motions that were passed at conference. There was nothing that the committee was defeated on and there was just the one contentious amendment passed to our policy papers – the one on benefit sanctions.

The committee considered the Agenda 2020 agenda item that was held at conference in some detail. There was concern that the item had not worked as well as we had hoped, for a variety of reasons, and some ideas were discussed as to how we might make similar items better in the future. Options included splitting those items up, changing the timings within the Parliament and altering the format.

Faith Schools

The Federal Policy has an Education Policy Working Group in progress at present. It is not, however, tasked with considering the issue of faith schools. That issue was excised from the remit deliberately because it was feared that it would dominate the group and the conference debate that followed.

We do have to grapple with that issue though and that is something that we will do in a separate motion in the Spring. Jeremy Hargreaves was asked to put together that motion. There is a wide degree of consensus but the question of admissions is highly contentious. Jeremy, and some others, are to prepare a draft for the first meeting of the new committee, in January 2017. There will be a consultation with interested groups within the Party beforehand.

The committee noted and endorsed that approach.

Issues Arising from the September 2016 Draft Manifesto

When it was thought that there might be a General Election in the Autumn, the Federal Policy Committee went through the process of preparing a draft manifesto that could be used in the event that a snap election was called. It was based on our 2015 manifesto but was significantly updated in a number of areas.

As we were going through that document, there were a number of issues highlighted that were agreed should be the basis for further policy development. The committee went through those and considered how best to take them forward. Some of them were allocated to particular working groups presently in train. Examples include flooding (Rural Communities Working Group) and the role of Governors in Schools (Education Working Group). Committee members raised a number of other issues, including prisons and transport, that need to be considered.

A number of people on the committee said that the document should be published because it was a useful statement of our beliefs and our latest policies. I raised the issue that has been raised with me in the English Party about making it available for our candidate assessments.

The committee also considered, in very general terms, which policy working groups it would want to establish in the second half of the Parliament. It agreed to set up a working group on Immigration and Identity and one on devolving power to local communities, which will inevitably involve aspects of Local Government.

As always, questions and comments are very welcome!

* Geoff Payne is the Chair of Federal Conference Committee.

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  • Richard Underhill 24th Nov '16 - 12:07pm

    At PMQ a Tory backbencher said there ha been three referendums recently, so please no more. The PM said no more on the EU, thereby leaving the door open on other issues.

  • Lester Holloway 24th Nov '16 - 6:09pm

    Why has the party not got a manifesto working group on equality? We actually need one on race equality specifically. I imagine also on other protected characteristics too. But on race equality we desperately need a specific policy development process if we are serious about advancing this area. Labour are pressing ahead in this area.

  • suzanne fletcher 25th Nov '16 - 11:05am

    Thank you for the update and insight.
    I agree it wold be a good thing for the draft manifesto were to be published – with a better name of course. Even if ASAP only for candidate assessment to start with.
    but surely, now we seem to have more time, for debate at spring conference ?

  • Sue Sutherland 25th Nov '16 - 12:04pm

    Thank you for this. I have been wondering how the policy making bodies are going to fit in with the Lib Dem Vision work which is on going. Is there a Committee which can look at the results and say” this is the sort of society we want, so how are we going to achieve it?” In my view a new stance on economic policy has to underpin this with an alternative to austerity. I believe there is an economics working group already meeting and it’s crucial that this group comes up with some new ideas if we are going to tell people how a Lib Dem society would work.
    Is the Federal Policy committee able to step back from the nitty gritty of policy making and provide a cohesive framework for the party to campaign on?

  • Sue
    I agree with every word of your comment particularly the last 2 lines. Particularly the phrase ‘cohesive framework’ which is more than just oppose brexit (important though this is)

  • Richard Underhill 25th Nov '16 - 2:18pm

    Michael “Choo-Choo” Portillo went to the Netherlands and asked about a red light district next to a church. Part of the answer was about a crackdown on human trafficking.

  • Thanks. I agree with Sue and Mike that we need a “cohesive framework” and a fresh understanding of economics will be central to that.

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