Federal Policy Committee Report – 7th December 2016

The most recent meeting of the Federal Policy Committee took place on 7th December 2016 in Westminster. It was relatively sparsely attended but there were two good discussions nonetheless.

Composition of Federal Policy Committee

This was the last meeting of the committee as presently constituted. To say that the last two years of the Federal Policy Committee have been a journey would be an understatement! We started in the closing years of the last Parliament, when the Liberal Democrats were still in government, still had Ministers and at a time when we used to have a whole supporting cast of Special Advisors accompany them to meetings. We wrote the 2015 General Election Manifesto when the world was very different. We then, of course, suffered the cataclysm of the election itself. The chair of the committee changed. The party elected a new Leader. We re-built and fought back. We wrote another General Manifesto in the event that a snap election was called. It still may be. We have discussed policy papers, Brexit and our policy development plans looking forward. We ran the Agenda 2020 exercise and for the new policy working groups, we received over 800 applications from party members. Although the landscape is certainly not what it was in January 2014, we are building again and we have laid out a very good policy platform for the future.

There are several members of the committee who are not standing again. We will miss them. Whatever the outcome of the Federal Elections, the committee will be very different in just a few weeks from now.

This final meeting was spent dealing with two of the outstanding Policy Working Groups that are nearing their conclusion. It was relatively short, reflective of the fact that our work programme was coming to an end for now.

Nuclear Weapons Working Group

Neil Stockley attended the meeting to present the preliminary report of the Nuclear Weapons Working Group. This group has had to deal with one of the most thorny and difficult issues at the present time.

The remit of the group noted that the world had changed profoundly since the United Kingdom became one of the five declared nuclear powers in the 1950s. Britain’s nuclear posture has, however, not kept up. Following the Cold War position of mutually assured destruction, the post-Cold War era led to improved security but Britain nonetheless retained its nuclear deterrent. Many questioned the need but successive governments rejected the idea of giving up nuclear weapons. In this changed landscape, the group was charged with looking again at the case for Britain being a nuclear power.

I cannot re-produce the conclusions of the group here as they will be debated at conference in due course and there is an embargo upon them until they are announced. They are also not fully finalised. I am sure, given the sensitivity of this issue, that readers will understand why that is.

The preliminary report does, however, make it clear that we want to see a world free of nuclear weapons. The question is how we get there. This was very much a first reading discussion. The full paper, and an accompanying conference motion, will come back to the committee (its new composition) in January 2017.

The full debate will take place at Spring Conference in 2017. There is likely to be a range of views coalescing around a few discrete positions. Ultimately it will come down to a vote on the floor of conference. Before that, there will be one final debate at Federal Policy Committee.

Sex Work Working Group

Belinda Brooks-Gordon presented the conclusions of the Sex Work Working Group to the committee. This was a group set up at the request of conference and its conclusions will be debated at conference in Spring 2017.

The paper was a very full one, running to almost thirty pages. It set out the problems that the group sought to address and what the aims of a Liberal Democrat policy should be. Those aims were around issues of consent, harm prevention, stigma and support. The main principle by which we should operate, of course, is harm reduction.

The document then proceeded to detail the current law and the problems with it before summarizing the evidence that the group had taken. It ventured conclusions on the nature of sex work, who went into it and why, the legislative framework currently in existence and the level of enforcement currently carried out. It dealt with issues of coercion, stigma, pornography and age verification, trafficking, addiction and, finally, it comprehensively articulated the policies that Liberal Democrats should adopt in this area.

The committee received various reports from other bodies in the party, including the Shadow Cabinet, the Home Affairs, Justice and Equalities Committee and others.

There was a full debate, and we signed off the paper, and its accompanying motion, for debate at conference next year.

Federal Board

It was suggested that the new Federal Policy Committee should have a conversation with the members of the new Federal Board in a bid to improve joint working and co-ordination. It was felt that this was a good idea.

And that concludes the work of the present Federal Policy Committee.

* Geoff Payne is the Chair of Federal Conference Committee.

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