Darren stands up for Britain’s place in Europe during the EU Withdrawal Bill debate day 3

You can watch all of Darren’s contributions to day 3 of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill debate below, including his speech defending the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

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Darren asks about post Brexit NHS staffing crisis

Darren asked:

What steps the Secretary of State for Health is taking to ensure that non-UK NHS staff do not leave the NHS when the UK leaves the EU.

 

Philip Dunne MP, Minister of State for Health, replied:

The Department values highly the enormous contribution made by all staff working across the health and care sectors, including those from other European countries and elsewhere in the world.

We continue to monitor closely the overall staffing levels across the National Health Service and social care. We are also working across Government to ensure there will continue to be a sufficient number of staff to deliver the high quality services on which patients rely following the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.

My Rt. hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been very clear that EU citizens living lawfully in the UK at the point when the UK leaves the EU will be allowed to stay.

It is disappointing to hear that the government is taking no specific steps in this regard.

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Darren speaks to LabourTube about Brexit, the NHS, how Labour can win back the working class and tech issues

Watch the full interview here:

Darren asks the Department for Exiting the European Union about the EEA

Darren asked the Department:

What steps his Department will need to take to confirm formally withdrawal from the EEA agreement as a matter of international law?

Robin Walker MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, replied:

As the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said when he addressed the House on 7th September, there is agreement that when we leave the EU, the European Economic Area Agreement will no longer operate in respect of the UK.

However it is clear that there is disagreement on this issue (e.g. https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/explainers/article-127-and-single-market), and therefore the government’s lack of proper consideration of this issue is concerning.

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Government fails to guarantee post-Brexit Erasmus funding after Darren asks them to

Darren asked the Department of Education:

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether reciprocal funding for Erasmus students will continue after the UK leaves the EU?

Jo Johnson MP, Minister of State for Universities and Science, replied:

The Government is considering future participation in Erasmus as part of the European Union (EU) Exit negotiations. We see future co-operation in education programmes (as with research) as an area of mutual benefit to both the UK and the EU, provided we can agree a fair ongoing contribution.

There is, of course, a range of wider international mobility activity supported by organisations such as the British Council, UK and others. The Government has made clear many times that it values the Erasmus+ programme and international exchanges more generally and has stated publicly that the UK is committed to continuing full participation in the Erasmus+ Programme up until we leave the EU.

We will underwrite successful bids for Erasmus+, which are submitted while the UK is still a Member State, even if they are not approved until after we leave, and/or payments continue beyond the point of Exit.

It is clear that his answer could be summarised as ‘not sure’; scarcely reassurance to British and European students looking to benefit from UK Erasmus participation in the future.

Darren asks the Government for an update on Euratom replacement

Darren used a Parliamentary Question to ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy what progress has been made on delivering an alternative body to Euratom (the European regulatory body for Nuclear Materials) ahead of the UK’s proposed withdrawal from Euratom in May 2019.
The Secretary’s response?
 
‘We have decided to establish a domestic nuclear safeguards regime which is as comprehensive and robust as that currently provided by Euratom.
This new regime will deliver to existing Euratom standards… We have already started building additional capability within the UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation, who will be running the regime’
 
This is a perhaps disappointing lack of concrete progress, considering the importance of this issue. Nuclear materials deliver radiotherapy and chemotherapy in our hospitals, for instance, as well as providing zero carbon energy.

Darren speaks in the House of Commons about Data post Brexit

On Thursday I emphasised Brexit’s danger to trade, in both goods and data. This has implications for our economy and our safety.
 
Watch the full video here – 

Read the full speech here:

I declare my interest as set out in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Matt Western for the excellent curry in his constituency. As one of the few vegan MPs, I will happily visit and partake of the curried tofu if there is a vegan option; perhaps it will be better than that served in the Members’ Tea Room, grateful though I am for the option.

I was somewhat confused when I saw this debate on the Order Paper, not least because the Data Protection Bill is in the other place and scheduled to arrive here in due course, as the title was, “Exiting the European Union and Data Protection”. I therefore came with great hope—indeed, hope is the watchword of today—that the debate might be about some updates on how we will seek an agreement on adequacy with the European Union. Given that we are relying on hope and on some form of adequacy agreement—to proceed without an adequacy agreement would be, much like the rest of the Brexit policy, completely incoherent—I hope that the Minister will keep us posted on the progress that is being made towards an agreement, the timelines for doing so and the headway made in conversations about it.

We have a very short period in which to implement complicated and wide-ranging new laws. The Data Protection Bill, as we have heard today, incorporates not just GDPR issues for non-EU areas of competency, but matters of law enforcement and other things that have wide-ranging implications for our country and our laws. Those things must fit around the GDPR, which, as I said in my earlier intervention, will probably become law through a statutory instrument under the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. I restate my ask of the Government that we should have the opportunity to debate that statutory instrument in substance in this House, not least because some of its important provisions require debate to guide businesses in my constituency and across the country on their application. An example concerns the right to human intervention when a decision has been made using profiling and automated processes—things such as algorithms. Many of my hon. Friends and other members of the Select Committee on Science and Technology will be looking at that issue, but some have grave concern about whether, when we bring in machine learning and changing algorithms, it is even possible to deliver the right to human intervention.

The Bill, which already covers many areas of law, is the start of a wider conversation that includes the network and information security directive and—to go to the important question of marketing, which my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms spoke about—the e-privacy regulation. How will those fit together? How will businesses, charities and other organisations, many of which do not have rooms full of lawyers and compliance specialists to help them to implement the law, know how everything fits together?

The Prime Minister and—dare I say?—her most ill-informed Brexiteer MPs seem happy with the idea of a no-deal hard Brexit. Many people can visualise lorries on the border, unable to export British goods to the continent. The same would be true for data. With a hard Brexit, there would be a standstill, and there would be blockages on the border for data. Much as with the goods in those trucks in Dover and in the port of Avonmouth in Bristol North West, that would be a disaster for business, consumers and importantly, as we have heard, for policing and the prevention of criminal activity.

I agree with that sentiment. Dare I say it, but very few Government Members are present? Although my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham said this may be an anorak issue, it is in fact crucial to our economy, our new civil liberties and the type of country we want to live in. We should be having such a debate, and I again restate our request that we should do so in this House not only on the Data Protection Bill, but on the GDPR statutory instrument.

I am looking forward to the Data Protection Bill and I am excited about the Committee stage, but I will take this opportunity to address some of the strategic issues that many Members have mentioned: first, the basis of data protection law in the European charter of fundamental rights, on which I will not revisit the arguments already made but will, I hope, add something interesting and new to the debate; secondly, the incoherence between the necessity to mirror EU law and the Government’s illogical policy approach on Brexit; and lastly, the rights and protections of children.

First, as we have heard in this debate, the Government have made it clear that the European charter of fundamental rights will be revoked under the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. The Minister said that the GDPR in effect says the same thing, but article 8 of the charter, which underpins the GDPR, is referenced in article 45 of the GDPR. If the GDPR is referencing out to statutory, fundamental rights and we take that anchor away, we must replace it elsewhere. I will therefore support the amendment to the Bill proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, to ensure that that happens

With respect to the Minister, I am not persuaded that that will be agreed by the European Commission. Of course ECJ jurisprudence will be Supreme Court jurisprudence in this country and will be referenced by judges in that Court, but without a statutory anchor ensuring that the fundamental right is, in their view, in favour of the consumer and the data subject, we risk divergence on the application of the rules.

I want to mention the right of collective address. Under the GDPR, bodies can campaign and bring actions against data controllers in the interests of consumers and data subjects as a whole. This works very well in other areas of the law in this country, such as the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Under that Act, Which?, as a private enforcer of unfair terms, can act on behalf of consumers. For some reason, the Government have decided not to adopt such an approach in the Data Protection Bill. I look to the Minister in his closing remarks to explain why he does not think organisations should be able to bring actions for collective redress on behalf of data subjects. Many data subjects may not be able to enforce their own rights as individuals but rely on such organisations to act in their interests.

On fundamental rights more broadly, I am still confused. I hope that the Minister will provide clarification in this final debate of the week by showing how, although we must maintain fundamental rights, we are also removing them. It is much like being in the single market and leaving it, much like being in Europe but not being in Europe, and much like protecting fundamental rights and not protecting them. What is the answer? The Data Protection Bill seeks to ensure transparency and accountability, and in the light of that theme, I hope the Minister will respond on fundamental rights.

Secondly, if we are successful in seeking an adequacy agreement, it is then for us to maintain equivalence as part of that developing area of EU law, as other Members have said. That will require the UK to adopt the decisions of the newly created European Data Protection Board, which is subject to the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice. Yet the Government insist that we can be both in and out, which is ludicrous, as I have said. They also say that we can be in it without being subject to the rules, but we know that that is a fallacy. Will the Minister confirm whether the Government’s policy is to get an adequacy agreement either this year or next year, only for it to be revoked in a few years’ time because we do not want to be subject to the jurisdiction of the ECJ? We must be subject to its jurisdiction if we are to maintain adequacy, but we will be forever on the cliff edge of being concerned that adequacy will be removed—as it was from the United States of America by the European Commission—and that is the risk our businesses, our consumers, our charities and others fear.

Lastly, I wish to address the rights and protections of children. I will return to this topic in detail on Second Reading. It is a great disappointment that the European Union has backtracked and pulled back slightly on this issue, so that instead of having a harmonised rule saying that children deserve extra protections—especially in the context of understanding how their use of online products and services means giving over personal data, how that personal data is profiled and how advertising is targeted on children—the European Union decided to provide members states with a range of ages to choose from, from 13 to 16.

As my hon. Friend Kevin Brennan said, the UK opted for the age of 13 as the minimum GDPR requirement. I think that is the wrong decision and, according to polls by YouGov, 80% of parents agree with me. However, I encourage us to be intelligent about the way we regulate to support children. It is obvious that if we put in these frameworks children may find ways to use the systems anyway. No doubt there are a number of children under the age of 12 and 13 using social media sites today. We must make sure that the regulation is—dare I say?—with the kids. It needs to make sense and it needs to work properly. I look forward to having that debate and no doubt a shared aim.

As we prepare for the arrival of the Data Protection Bill, this is the first glimpse of a major piece of proposed legislation that highlights the enormous challenges with implementing Brexit. It is not just an issue of primary law for many of the issues we have talked about today; it is about clear rules and about compliance by those subjected to it. On clear rules, I refer to comments made by the Baroness Lane-Fox on Second Reading in the other place, when she pulled out a particularly entertaining section the Data Protection Bill, which reads:

Chapter 2 of this Part applies for the purposes of the applied GDPR as it applies for the purposes of the GDPR… In this Chapter, ‘the applied Chapter 2’ means Chapter 2 of this Part as applied by this Chapter”.

Other than that sounding like something out of the “Yes Minister” comedy series, it says to me, as a former lawyer, expense. People will be concerned—quite frankly, charities and other groups will be terrified—about getting this wrong. They will have to endure huge compliance costs in trying to implement what should be clear rules into their business.

Following on from what Vicky Ford said—she is not in her place—on compliance and guidance from the ICO, I stress this point with the Minister: many businesses want to do the right thing. They wait on guidance from the ICO and others to tell them what the law means and how they will seek to enforce that law. However, much guidance has either been delayed or is not yet with us. The guidance that has been provided is not, in many cases, sufficiently clear either. We must support the ICO properly to ensure it can provide that service, and we must make sure that people know how to comply with the law.

The UK is, as we have heard, one of the world’s leading digital economies. Bristol is one of the largest digital economies outside of London, and we lead the way on these issues in the world. We have the opportunity to set the tone in becoming a global hub for the world’s digital economy based not only on trust, accountability and security, but on business innovation and leadership. I look forward to helping the Government in this House to get that right.

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Darren praises Bristol Charity in Parliament

On Wednesday I spoke in a debate about the effect of arts on health. Amongst other things, I praised Bristol Music Trust for their work in increasing arts access, and called for support for the Musicians’ Union campaign for free movement for musicians.

WATCH here:

Read the full text of the speech here:

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate Mr Vaizey on securing this important debate. I agree with the Arts Council, which says:

“Art and culture make life better, help to build diverse communities and improve our quality of life.”

As a Bristol MP, I am proud of the reputation my great city has in support for and delivery of the arts. I say to the Minister, whose Department is making the decision on the Channel 4 relocation, that Bristol is its natural home. Channel 4 would be welcomed with open arms, supported by a booming sector with expertise and a vision for the future of broadcasting.

As the Member for Bristol North West, I represent a constituency of haves and have-nots when it comes to access to the arts. For many of my constituents, getting to and accessing the best of Bristol’s art and culture is economically unviable. That is why I welcome the excellent work of Bristol’s Colston Hall, and the Bristol Music Trust, which works from it, in reaching out to distant communities to bring affordable arts to the many, not just the few. I also congratulate them on their funding efforts to build the first fully accessible music venue in the country.

In Bristol, we rely on performers from across the world and, indeed, Europe. I therefore call on the Minister and the Government to support the Musicians Union’s call for a commitment to ensuring the free movement of musicians.

I will conclude my remarks by talking about music and performance. As a child growing up in Lawrence Weston in my consistency—a council estate on the outskirts of Bristol—I never really got to experience the arts, but one Christmas, when I was in primary school, there was a performance from a local orchestra. There I was, sat on the floor, amazed by the noise that the musicians produced and the sound that they created, together, as an outfit. I decided that that was what I wanted to do, so I went to Portway Community School, now Oasis Academy Brightstowe, which had an amazing school orchestra, led at the time by Nicola Berry, and I learned the tenor saxophone—first, in the symphonic wind orchestra and, latterly, as a jazz musician.

Thanks to predecessors of the Bristol Music Trust, I got access to instruments, one-on-one tuition, music and the ability to practise and take my grades—because of public funding. Music taught me discipline and teamwork, and built my confidence, but public funds are required for pupils whose parents cannot afford to provide them with access to music. Children from low-income families are three times more likely to get a degree if they have been involved in arts and culture than those who have not.

I am always grateful to the people who gave me that opportunity and I call on the Government to ensure that other children, in my constituency and around the country, are not left behind. We must not let the music halls of our schools fall silent across the country. Our performance and confidence as young people, as cities and as a country is based on arts and culture. I hope that the Government will continue to invest in and support local authorities and charities to ensure that all of us, regardless of background, have access to excellent arts and culture training and performance, and the ability to build our confidence for roles such as becoming a Member of Parliament in the future.

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Darren Jones MP speaks out on airlines’ unfair additional charges

Yesterday I spoke in Westminster Hall to highlight the issue of airlines’ additional charges, as they potentially break consumer law.

WATCH the full video here, and read my full speech below:

Here is the full text of the speech:

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter, and I congratulate Vicky Ford on securing this debate and on her excellent opening remarks. I declare my interests, as in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: previously I was a legal counsel at BT responsible for, among other things, consumer law compliance.

The UK is a leader in consumer rights, exemplified, as Luke Graham said, by the Consumer Rights Act, in which we went above and beyond European requirements, but that direction of travel has been, in my view, driven by the European Union. As we prepare for Brexit, whatever that might mean, it is vital that we protect both our current legal framework and our future policy commitments to maintain strong consumer protections in the UK. If we maintain access to the European single market, as is my preference, ensuring equivalence in consumer law in the future will be vital.

In my previous role, I attended the annual consumer law conference in Brussels, hosted by the European Commission. I was there on behalf of not only business but consumer groups and other stakeholders. It was agreed, among a very large group of stakeholders, that the consumer law framework provided by the European Union and legislated for here in the UK was pretty good. The key issue, however, was enforcement of those consumer rights. It is vital that we keep that in mind in this Parliament too, not only through the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, but in what we do next, after the date of Brexit.

I have had the pleasure, or misfortune depending on one’s viewpoint, of rewriting and simplifying consumer terms and conditions for TV, broadband, mobile services and such like, hence my declaration at the top. Having to take out liability clauses, disclaimers and warranties and trying to reach, as I did in that example, for Plain English Crystal Marks and simplifications for consumers brings us lawyers out in a bit of a cold sweat. We must call on businesses in a regulatory-friendly manner to innovate in the way they communicate with customers. We know that customers tend not to read even a short number of pages on terms and conditions, so how can we ensure that, where the law already provides, they are made aware of particularly onerous terms? I, for example, commissioned a short video explaining that in two minutes. Whether anybody watched the video, let alone read the terms and conditions, time will tell.

From my own experience, we must have two aims—first, that customers understand what it is they are signing up to, which is the law today, and secondly, that they know how to enforce their rights and that they choose to do so. Although this is an issue across many sectors, I will make some remarks today about the airline industry, which is topical because of the issues with Ryanair in recent weeks. As the hon. Member for Chelmsford said, millions of constituents across the country fly to the European Union every year. Although we must protect important safeguards on cancellations and flight delays through Brexit, we must also remember the enforcement of domestic consumer rights.

Many of our constituents suffer the annual annoyance of additional charges for printing boarding passes, booking seats, or getting a bag on to a flight when they thought those things were included. Many airlines market through comparison websites, which may require further regulation in future. They show the single fare-only price without the additional charges. So when customers think about getting the best deal for their flights, sometimes they are unaware that the airlines may be bulking out their revenues by stinging customers with additional charges at the point of service.

Additional charges in themselves are not unfair or a problem, but when many customers do not know about them until it is too late or have no idea how to enforce their rights when they have been subjected to unfair treatment, such charges become a problem. I myself have experienced that problem. On a recent flight to Iceland with Wow airlines, my wife and I were forced to pay £75 to get our on-board luggage through the departure gate. That was more than the price of the ticket itself. As a consumer rights lawyer, I said, “Don’t worry; let’s pay the fee. I’ll complain and get a refund. I know this consumer law business.” However, I faced a bit of a problem.

It transpired that the acceptable size for on-board baggage on Wow airlines is significantly smaller than for other budget airlines, but the online order journey did not make that clear. I have a penchant for terms and conditions and compliance with online order journeys and am particularly astute at watching out for such things, but I was unaware of that difference. I challenged Wow airlines when I returned from a lovely trip to Iceland, but the customer service was awful. I had copy and paste responses to my question. Clearly, other customers had challenged it because the company gave copy and paste answers. When I challenged the detail of the answer, I was told that the company would no longer speak to me.

I therefore complained to the ombudsman. The consumer ombudsman, which is a voluntary organisation for certain sectors and businesses, approached the airline, but it refused to take part in the voluntary scheme. I then drafted a letter before claim setting out in detail, on a lovely Sunday afternoon, how the airline had breached consumer law in the UK, and I sent it to the chief executive officer in Reykjavik. Normally at this point I get a response, but on this occasion I got no response. I still hold that the additional charges point on baggage, where Wow airlines does not make it clear that its size restrictions are smaller than for other budget airlines, is a breach of consumer law. I feel that I and my constituents and others are due a refund for an unenforceable charge. Having raised the issue with the airline’s customer services team, the ombudsman, the chief executive and now Parliament, I look forward to a response.

The issue is not just about my story. In advance of this debate I posted a survey online to ask my constituents to tell me their stories, which were broadly similar. Most of the affected customers who completed my survey were annoyed about the additional baggage charges and also about seat reservations. Of those charged for their baggage, 75% had used the bag that they used for on-board storage with other airlines, and they did not know they could not use that bag on the airline that imposed the additional charge. Some 60% did not know about the charges at the point of booking, or they might have measured the suitcase. Again, these are unenforceable additional charges under consumer law.

To make matters worse, nearly 60% of complainants paid the fee, but then did not complain. A clear majority had no idea that they could go to the Civil Aviation Authority or others for support. Of all the customers in my survey who did complain, only one received a refund. Everybody else was either fobbed off or ignored.

Behind the statistics are families going on their holidays. Many of my constituents who use budget airlines and rely on other similar services save up throughout the year for a special time with their families during the summer holidays. It is a major expense in the annual budget of those consumers. The way in which the families are being treated is unacceptable.

But the issue with unaffordability comes at the departure gate when customers who use comparison websites and book flights they can afford based on the ticket price alone have no choice but to take the flight and go on their summer holiday with their children or go home. That is why additional charges need to be highlighted effectively and why families need the ability to enforce their rights.

One family told me a story about when they turned up at the airport in Bristol. They had not printed their boarding passes and were told they needed to pay £70 for them to be made available. If that was not bad enough, they then realised that they needed to pay an additional £75 for their children to sit next to them because they had not paid for the seat reservations. Why should families have to pay to make sure that their children can sit next to them and pay for the printed boarding pass when it is perhaps available on their phone? Again, those customers knew nothing about the charges and were stung as a consequence of the lack of compliance with consumer law.

Some sectors are better than others in their compliance with consumer law. The best brands, as we have heard this afternoon, understand that building consumer trust is good for businesses and that putting the customer first is therefore a sensible strategy. Under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 and the Consumer Rights Act 2015, with the introduction of the concept of digital goods and services, we are making strides forward, but we must recognise that the law is already becoming out of date in the way in which the new digital economies are working.

To go to my original point, as we prepare for whatever Brexit means for the UK, it is vital that we not only protect our current framework of consumer law but that we work with our European colleagues to enhance the enforcement of consumer rights. We must continue to lead the debate as markets rapidly change and ensure that we protect our constituents not only under current law and in current markets but in future. I look to the Government to help us deliver that.