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Can Parliament Prevent Dr Fox Ratifying a Terrible Trade Treaty?

Dr Fox is desperate to conclude any trade treaty with the US as soon as possible and to keep the details secret for as long as possible. It seems likely that the US will press for:

  • lower food standards, including, crucially, acceptance of meat contaminated with a high level of antibiotics administered as a preventative and growth promoter. (This threatens the future availability of antibiotics for curative and surgical purposes.),

  • Lower animal welfare standards, and

  • Wholesale privatisation of the NHS – this is already happening but a future government should be able to reverse it.

The deck is stacked against the UK because:

  • The US is in no hurry,

  • The US trade department is notoriously aggressive in pursuing US interests (forget the ‘special relationship’),

  • Dr Fox’s department is understaffed, and

  • Dr Fox is, I submit, more interested in concluding any deal than in serving the interests of the British people.

Up to now Parliament has had no role in determining whether a treaty should be ratified. However under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 there is a slim chance that it could. Sections 20 through 25 cover ratification of treaties.

I interpret section 20 as a process as follows:

  1. A Minister of the Crown lays a copy of the treaty before Parliament

  2. Each House of Parliament has then 21 sitting days (period A) in which vote against ratification. (this would only happen on an opposition day)

  3. If the House of Commons votes against ratification, (regardless of whether the Lords also votes) it is blocked temporarily, unless the Minister has laid before Parliament a statement indicating that the Minister is of the opinion that the treaty should nevertheless be ratified and explaining why.

  4. If the Minister does make such a statement, the House has the opportunity during Period B to vote against ratification. The trouble is that Period B is the 21 sitting days beginning with the first sitting day after the date on which the treaty was laid before Parliament, so that if the statement is laid towards the end of Period A, the House has no time to react.

  5. If the Commons has not voted against ratification, but the Lords has, the Minister may make a statement as to why the treat should be ratified and the Lords has no further recourse.

21 sitting days is a ridiculously short period in which to react to the text of a treaty. Section 21 allows the minister to extend Period A, but significantly not Period B. Section 22 allows the minister to override Section 20 in ‘exceptional circumstances’

In order to give the opposition parties a realistic chance of blocking ratification of a treaty whose provisions are clearly unacceptable to the people, ‘an humble address’ is needed asking the Queen to direct Her ministers as follows:

  • To invoke Section 21 to extend Period A to 63 sitting days (in two stages).,

  • If a minister intends to lay a statement under Section 20 (4) (a), he or she shall do so before the text of the treaty is formally laid under section 20 (1) (a) allowing such time (bearing in mind the timing of opposition days) as is needed for the Commons to vote against the text of the treaty under Section 20 (1) (c) and then to respond to the minister’s statement under section 20 (4) (b)

  • If a minister believes there are exceptional circumstances and intends to invoke Section 22, then the government shall provide an opportunity before the treaty is ratified for the following motion to be debated. “This House believes that in the case of a trade treaty there are no exceptional circumstances that justify a minister invoking [Section 22]”. The result of this debate shall be respected.

This humble address needs to be moved on an opposition day as soon as possible.

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How Has the BBC become So Biassed?

The BBC is still trusted by many, especially those who do not time to consult other sources. That is why any bias is especially dangerous to our democracy. In my opinion the BBC fails in the following ways:

  • Giving prominence to those with money, without identifying who funds them.
  • Giving too much time to trivia – celebs etc.
  • Giving too much time to right wing views
  • Failure to distinguish between reporting and comment
  • What they leave out

I have been puzzled HOW this has become so much worse over the last few years. Someone posted the following on facebook over the night 7th/8th August. I cannot vouch for his accuracy but it makes sense to me:

“With apologies for the length of this comment, but I used to write for the BBC and have a lingering fondness for the place, which is one of the reasons I’ve been paying very close attention to what’s been happening behind the scenes.

A number of changes made during the last eight years or so, spearheaded by David Cameron, have led to the corporation’s news and politics departments becoming little more than ventriloquists’ dummies. Of particular note are the following:

a) important posts at the BBC being filled by pro-government figures from the private sector (Rona Fairhead, David Clementi, James Harding, Robbie Gibb etc)

b) direct links with the manipulative tabloid press being strengthened by Downing Street giving important positions to dubious characters like Andy Coulson and Craig Oliver

c) the subsequent recruitment of people like Alison Fuller Pedley (of Mentorn Media), who is responsible for choosing who gets to be in the Question Time audience, and Sarah Sands (formerly of the Telegraph, Mail and Evening Standard) who now edits Radio 4’s Today programme

d) all of the above follows Cameron’s appointment, in June 2010, of John Browne (Baron Browne of Madingley) to the post of ‘Lead Non-Executive Director’ for Downing Street, his role being that of ‘recruiting business leaders to reformed departmental boards’ – Browne’s questionable history at BP notwithstanding (remember Deep Horizon!)

e) how all of this quiet, underhand activity has been largely unreported, but has given the current Conservative government immense power within fashionable and influential circles.

This means they can not only dictate what information is made available to the public, but also the manner in which it is presented. History is full of examples of unscrupulous political leaders exercising control over the populace by taking control of the means of communication.”

– Marcus Moore”

Meaningful Employment Statistics

Whilst no single indicator can fully capture the employment situation, the current headline number makes no sense. In a world where zero hours contracts, often under terms dictated by employers rather than willingly accepted by employees. It makes no sense to count someone who works for one hour a week the same as one who works 60. A better measure would be full time equivalents. A standard working week would be defined at say 40 hours. Hours worked would be divided by 40.

Of course if the average hours worked were more than 40, one in theory could come up with a % employment rate of more than 100%, but I see no problem with this.

Furthermore, if an independent adult earns less than a living wage, (or is classed as an apprentice), then either he or she will be dependent on state benefits, and so the employer is sponging off the state,  or he or she will fall into debt, land up on the streets and suffer an early death. Either way it is not a sign of a healthy society. If an employer pays less than the minimum wage then it should be deemed that that employee is not fully capable, and hie or her effective hours should be reduced.

If a full time job is offered at £2 per hour, as advertised on Esther McVey’s website, and a living wage is reckoned to be £8 per hour,  then that person’s working should be multiplied by £2/£8.

Is Lib Dem Policy on Health Credible?

I have just been looking at Lib Dem policy on health as expressed on their website. Looks ok but there is one very significant omission; there is no mention of public v. private provision. Would it not be sensible to make such a decision on the basis of value for money? There may be bits of healthcare where private provision is more efficient, though it becomes increasingly obvious that one should be treating the whole patient rather than isolated symptoms. All the evidence suggests that public provision is far more efficient. As far as I am aware the Conservatives have never talked about value for money. Their preference for private provision is ideological, and some of them are on record as wishing to destroy the NHS.

In Dorset for example a contract for an ‘integrated’ package of care which is far from universal (as the NHS has been) will, (subject to a judicial review) be let to a single private company which is expected to make 40% profit. If the Lib Dems are not aware of this they are incredibly naive: if they are aware then they are potentially colluding in the destruction of the NHS.

At the very least Lib Dems ought to stress value for money.

Why am I as a Green Party member bothered by what the Lib Dems intend? I am thinking of the probability of a snap election in which Labour might win an absolute majority. I think it likely that the majority will melt away like snow in summer. The anti Corbyn Labour MPs will defect and there will be some kind of national government in which the Lib Dems may be expected to play a part.

Liam Fox has the Power to Deliver the Final Death Blow to the NHS

The principle of healthcare free at the point of use in being eroded, and creeping privatisation, which massively increases costs due to corporate profits and increasing bureaucracy will accelerate this. Under the law as it now is, by 2022 there will very little health care free at the point of use. We will have reached the situation in the USA where the average cost of healthcare per head is over twice that in Britain. Even if someone has the very best insurance, if he or she suffers from a condition requiring extended treatment,  their families are likely to be bankrupted..

The situation could be remedied by enacting the National Health Services (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill tabled by Lord (David) Owen in 2013. This would restore the Secretary of State’s duty to pride a comprehensive and integrated health service, which was removed in the Health and Social Care Act 2012. But this only works given the current position of trade law.

Liam Fox is desperate to reach a trade deal with the US and in so doing will be tempted to give way to all or most of US demands, one of which surely, is to demand that the NHS is fully opened up to the private sector.

Treaty ratification does not require Parliamentary approval. Treaties are now  ratified by the UK under part 2 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. Under section20 (4) a treaty may be ratified without the text being revealed to Parliament if a Minister of the Crown has laid before Parliament a statement indicating that the Minister is of the opinion that the treaty should nevertheless be ratified and explaining why, and Parliament has not been allowed time, within 21 sitting days, to vote it down.

My proposal is that the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act be amended so as to require that before ratification an order is laid before Parliament under the AFFIRMATIVE procedure whereby Parliament has to vote yes or no to the treaty text. Clearly Parliament cannot be directly involved in renegotiating the treaty, but the very fact that Parliament can say NO strengthens the hand of UK negotiators.

Sign my Petition: Require Parliamentary Approval before Ratifying Treaties

Britain is almost alone in not requiring parliamentary approval before it ratifies a treaty. In principle therefore things ought to change. However I need to explain why this is becoming much more urgent and important.

In the days of Empire Britain could and did dictate the terms of trade with many nations at the point of a gun. Most people including parliamentarians did not face to acknowledge what we were doing to these nations, and were content to wash their hands of such matters. They were happy for treaties to be secret at least until they were in force.

Things have radically changed. We have lost the Empire though it seems out politicains are reluctant to acknowledge the fact. We also have a very unbalanced economy. We cannot feed ourselves; we are no longer self sufficient in fossil fuels and are doing too little to replace them with renewables; and for many years we  have imported more goods than we have exported. In short we are very dependent on trade. If we remained in Europe we could manage at least in the short to medium term, but we have decided to exit. Those we will have to trade with in the future, especially the USA, will be keen to exploit our weakness.

Dr Fox’s department is woefully understaffed and Dr Fox has been hopelessly optimistic. If he needed parliamentary approval his hand would be strenghened somewhat because those he deals with would know. Also he would know that if he kept parliament in the dark he would risk failure; that it would be a case of more haste less speed. Giving way to the Americans would have catastrophic consequences for food standards, the future of the NHS and continued availablity of effective antibiotics. Doubtless there will be many other things we do not even know about.

My petition reads:

Require Parliamentary Approval before Ratifying Treaties or MOUs

An Act of Parliament is required which provides that:
a. Ratification is no longer a prerogative power
b. the treaty text must be laid before parliament for 3 months
c. an order to ratify must then be laid under affirmative procedure whereby both houses have to vote yes, or it fails.

Allowing ratification without thorough parliamentary scrutiny and the final say surely weakens the hand of the UK negotiators. I believe that the only rational motive for Dr Fox being allowed to ratify the deal with the US unchallenged would be to allow him to do something that the British public would not approve of, e.g. to hasten the destruction of the NHS.

To sign go to https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/221059

Most of those who campaign against the totally rigged and secret ISDS (Investor State Dispute Settlement) system, seem unaware that the UK imposed that system on no fewer than 94 lesser nations (and probably more now).

The current situation is defined in Part 2 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, which was described as bringing the Ponsonby Rule onto a statutory basis. The wording is a bit involved but the key points are:

a. A minister may ratify a treaty unless parliament votes against, but as the government controls the timetable, such votes very very rarely take place.

b. Even if parliament wre to vote aginst, the minister can override this in some cases.

The petition asks that parliament must vote in favour before ratification can take place.

Loyalty to Party is not Enough

As not printed by Dorset Echo

‘Loyalty to party is not enough’. So said the late Liberal peer Nancy Seear. It is especially not enough where constitutional issues are involved. It is outrageous that a minister of a government elected by a whisker on a minority of the vote can ratify a major treaty which Parliament has not even seen. It is also outrageous that the major parties in parliament shrug off any attemprt to reform rhe voting system. And no, the 2011 referendum was not about whether people wanted to change from First Past the Post, but whether they wanted a shoddy compromise, which is not proportional and which was never properly explained.

Nearer home, the government clearly pressured local councils to agree to the plan to abolish nine councils, replacing them with two unitaries, in order to save money. What’s more it seems that the savings will largely be clawed back by the government by the £10m negative Revenue Support Grant expected next year [1]. When Sajid Javid announced the plan would go ahead, Dorset County Council leader Cllr Rebecca Knox said, “… We are committed to building on our positive collective work to develop a thriving economy, support and encourage aspirations for our young people and deliver services that make a positive difference to people’s lives.”  [2]. A very big claim in the circumstances; I hope she meant it. The challenges she and the new council will face are exemplified by a motion put to the last full meeting of Dorset County Council by Cllr Clare Sutton. In short because of the lack of job prospects in Weymouth and Portland she argues that ‘this council’  should ” …  when deciding where to physically locate certain services going forward, especially where skilled jobs are involved, for example Planning Services, give special consideration to the fact that, if it is to thrive, Weymouth and Portland NEED these jobs’. Although Conservative councillors could hardly deny the evidence presented, the idea that Weymouth should receive any favourable treatment seemed to be a step too far. It was argued that that was not the time and place to tackle the issue as the council was to be replaced it was agreed there should be an indicative vote. The motion was defeated, most Conservatives having voted against.

The other motion, proposed by Cllr Susan Jefferies said, ‘This council requests that the Government provides for elections to the Dorset Council in 2019 to be conducted by a system of proportional representation.’ A key argument for change was the fact that there is now only one Labour County Councillor, whereas on a proportional basis they should have around six. The proposers wanted a specific system, Single Transferable Vote, which not only delivers fair shares for parties but also allows voters an effective choice on other criteria than party.  That did not stop one Conservative councillor  displaying either his lack of attention or his ignorance in refering to Germany, with its very different party based system.  In the end though, the arguments for and against were irrelevant. In the ‘indicative’ vote that followed most (and I think all) the Conservatives votes against.

Whereas it might be impractical to introduce the change for next year, it should be a possibility for the 2024 elections. If Cllr Knox’s stated objectives are to be realised there has to be more co-operation than can be achieved under first Past the Post , which encourages confrontation. The Scottish experience of Single Transferable Vote which has been used for local elections since 2007 has been positive [3]. The new council should at least look at the Scottish experience and make recommendation to the communities secretary. If it does not, it will be clear that it has put party advantage ahead of the interests of the people of Dorset.

David Smith, Weymouth

 

Notes:

[1} as quoted in ‘Your Dorset’  spring 2018.

[2] https://new.poole.gov.uk/news/government-approves-unitary-councils-for-dorset/#.WvCfbJch3ct 

[3] https://stvact.wordpress.com/articles/stv-action-articles/stv-in-local-government-the-scottish-example/