Happy new Year! The most recent meeting of the Federal Policy Committee took place on 18th January 2016 in Portcullis House, Westminster. This was a very well attended meeting indeed, it being the first of a new cycle of Federal Policy Committee meetings. This committee has a three-year term.
We welcomed a large number of new members the committee. There had been a substantial change in committee membership following the elections. They included Elizabeth Jewkes, Alisdair McGregor, Chris White, Paul Tilsley, Qurban Hussain, Christine Chueng, Jim Williams, Sally Burnell, Catherine Royce, David Weston, Susan Juned, Jonny Oates, Tony Greaves, Kamran Hussain and Heather Kidd. Andrew Wiseman attended to represent the Federal Conference Committee and Richard Cole represent the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors.
Composition of Federal Policy Committee and Committee Elections
Tim Farron MP remains as the chair of the committee.
There were elections for the post of Vice-Chair. There were three vacancies; one of them was reserved for a Parliamentarian (the old M.P. Vice-Chair). The contenders were Duncan Brack, Jeremy Hargreaves and Sarah Ludford and they were all elected without opposition.
Lizzy Jewkes and Alisdair McGregor were appointed to the Policy Equalities Impact Assessment Group. That group conducts an audit of each policy paper to ensure that the authors have thought through and considered the equalities aspect of their work.
Paul Tilsley, Susan Juned and Alisdair McGregor put themselves forward for the two places on the Federal Conference Committee (FCC). There was therefore an election. The winners were Susan Juned and Paul Tilsley and they will attend FCC to represent the committee.
Peter Price and Alisdair McGregor stood for the new Federal International Relations Committee. were duly elected.
Sarah Ludford was elected to the ALDE Congress Delegation. Belinda Brooks-Gordon was elected to the Liberal International Conference Delegation.
Two co-optees were appointed to the committee. They were the representatives from Young Liberals and Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats. The identity of those representatives will by decided by the Federal Policy Committee. There is a position reserved also for the Chair of any Manifesto Writing Group. None of them have voting rights. The Chair of the International Relations Committee was appointed as an observer.
The committee is presently going through the process of appointing Regional Representatives and people to liaise with the Specified Associated Organisations.
Committee members also completed a Declaration of Interests form.
For the first time in twenty-nine years, the committee had to adopt its own Standing Orders. That was done at this meeting. The draft that was adopted concerned the constitutional role of the committee, the calling and administration of meetings, the quorum, the number and nature of the officers of the committee and their term lengths. There are also sections on conflicts of interests, disclosure and transparency.
One of the requirements of those new Standing Orders is for the committee to produce a written report after each meeting. I am delighted to say that these reports are being used as the template for those official FPC reports!
Nuclear Weapons Policy Paper
The first policy-related item of business for this new committee was the small matter of the Nuclear Weapons Policy Paper. Neil Stockley, the chair of the group, attended to talk about that item. He talked about the proposals in the paper, the escalating costs of Trident and the background to the formation of the group. He strongly advocated the position that his group had taken in its paper.
This issue featured on the agenda of the last meetingof the commottee
As I have set out before, 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.
As I said in my last report, 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. 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.
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.
There was a lengthy discussion at the Federal Policy Committee. Many people welcomed the paper but there were a number of dissenting voices. There were contributions about the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons, our previous positions on the issue, the role of Russia, Donald Trump’s likely actions as President, the costings for Trident, the present threat to N.A.T.O., the impact of nuclear weapons within Europe, a ‘no first use policy’ for nuclear weapons and the positions that other parties are taking or are likely to take. There was also a discussion over whether the paper is likely to become out of date in due course or whether it will endure.
The paper was agreed for submission to conference, as was its accompanying motion with some editing suggested.
Faith Schools Conference Motion
As regular readers of these reports will know, there is presently an Education Working Group in train. It is going to consult at the Spring Conference 2017 in York and its final paper will be submitted to the Autumn Conference in Bournemouth. Its remit is wide but one thing that it does not consider is that of faith schools. That is a highly contentious issue in the party and one that has been debated at conference before. For that reason, a deliberate decision was taken to address the issue of faith schools individually at conference and not part of a wider working group; if it was not dealt with in that manner, it would only be the subject of an amendment in any event.
Jeremy Hargreaves had been asked before Christmas to put together a motion on the topic that could be considered at Spring Conference. A motion was duly drafted and placed before the committee. It contained four options and the committee was asked to choose between them. For this discussion, we were joined by a representative from the Liberal Democrat Humanist Association (Toby Keynes) and from a Catholic Education Trust (Peter Taylor).
Again, the discussion was very wide-ranging. It focused around whether options should be offered to conference and, if so, what they should be. There were also a number of contributions made about the validity of the various positions.
As with nuclear weapons, I am not going to set out the text of what was selected. Whether this motion appears on the agenda for conference is ultimately a matter for the Federal Conference Committee and not for the policy committee. Suffice it to say that, if the motion is selected, there will be a full debate at conference, doubtless with amendments from a number of sources!
Immigration and Identity Working Group Remit and Chair
The outgoing committee had agreed to set up a working group on immigration. This is clearly one of the most important political issues that the country faces and it is time that party policy on this question is updated, especially in the light of the outcome of the referendum.
The Federal Policy Committee agreed the remit of the group. That remit starts with a very clear statement that we believe that immigration has made Britain stronger, more welcoming and more prosperous. It goes on to require the group to consider the outcome of the referendum, freedom of movement throughout the European Union, the status of E.U. migrants here and U.K. migrants living elsewhere. It must also address immigration from outside the E.U., public attitudes to migration and the effect of that migration on our community relations and culture, abuse of the immigration system and how best to protect asylum seekers and refugees given the significant problems that many countries face throughout Europe.
There were many people on the committee who wanted to make sure the remit was positive about migration and that we made a strong case in favour of it.
The group will report to the Spring Conference in 2018 and consult at Autumn Conference in 2017.
Adam Pritchard has been appointed as chair of the group.
People and Power Working Group Remit and Chair
The remit for this group, and the selection of its chair, appeared on the agenda for this meeting but was deferred. It is to return to a future meeting. That is because no chair has been selected yet and we ran out of time!
The committee noted its work programme going forward. The policy working groups that we have coming up are as follows:
Spring Conference 2017: Nuclear Weapons Sex Work
Autumn Conference 2017: Britain in the World 21st Century Economy
Rural Communities Education
Spring Conference 2018: Power to the People Immigration and Identity
Yet to be allocated: Health & Social Care Crime, Policing & Justice Taxation
We were going to consider this further but we ran out of time!
This was a very lengthy meeting, reflected in the length of this report. We did not conclude the meeting until after 21:30. The next time the Federal Policy Committee meets is on 15th February 2017.
* Geoff Payne represents the English Party on the Federal Policy Committee. He is also one of the Vice-Chairs of Federal Conference Committee. He chaired the Criminal Justice Working Group.