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Summary

  1. We joined the House of Commons after prime minister's questions, with the presentation of two bills, by Labour MP Keith Vaz and Green MP Caroline Lucas.
  2. The day's main business was an Opposition Day debate - the subjects chosen by the DUP - on the general election television broadcast debates and on serious organised cross-border crime.
  3. Jack Straw held the adjournment debate on the effect of the Ark Pensions Scheme on a constituent.
  4. The House of Lords sat at 15.00 GMT and after oral questions, peers considered the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill at report stage.
  5. After that, peers debated a government review of the European Union's powers.

Live Reporting

By Sam Francis and Aiden James

All times stated are UK

Good night

House of Lords

Parliament

That's the end of the day in the House of Lords. Peers will return tomorrow at 11:00 GMT for what can only be described as a packed day of legislation and debates.

With the election approaching and parliamentary time running out, peers will consider private members' bills as well as the Lords Spiritual (Women) Bill - which allows women bishops to sit in the Upper House - and the House of Commons Commission Bill.

They will also find time for debates on topics including young care leavers and the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden.

The House of Commons will sit from 09:30 GMT for questions to environment ministers. MPs will also hold a debate on defence spending.

About the review

House of Lords

Parliament

The government published the final reports of the UK's review of EU balance of competences in December 2014.

The review comprised 32 reports and nearly 2300 pieces of written evidence.

The final reports are on topics including economic and monetary policy, police and criminal justice, information rights and voting.

Foreign Secretary, Phillip Hammond, said the reports were "evidence of the need for a change in Britain's relationship with the EU".

'More informed debate'

House of Lords

Parliament

Closing the debate, government spokesman Lord Wallace of Saltaire, a Liberal Democrat, says that differences between his party and the Conservatives meant there was a need for "an evidence basis for a more informed debate on the European Union".

He claims the review "provides the basis for a reform agenda".

Election 'about place in the world'

House of Lords

Parliament

Labour foreign affairs spokeswoman Baroness Morgan of Ely says the forthcoming general election will be about "how we see our place in the world" as well as domestic matters.

"Are we going to pander to the hysterical, emotional and populist call to retreat from the EU or are we going to take heed of the importance of the EU to our domestic economy and our ability to influence in the world?", she asks.

She describes the balance of competencies review as "comprehensive, thorough and balanced".

Baroness Morgan of Ely
BBC

Yellow or orange?

House of Lords

Parliament

The "yellow card" system allows a third or more of the EU's national parliaments to put a temporary block on a draft EU law.

If a majority of governments or MEPs are not satisfied with the Commission's justifications for the proposed law, they can defeat it outright - the so-called "orange card".

'Subsidiarity' principle

House of Lords

Parliament

Conservative peer Lord Balfe raises the EU "yellow card" and "orange card" system, under which member states can object to draft European laws if they think do not respect the principle of "

subsidiarity".

The principle is that action should be taken at national level, unless there are compelling reasons for the EU to act.

"The fact that the yellow card procedure has hardly been used and the orange card not at all is a weakness in the procedure," Lord Balfe.

He argues that "the Commission needs to be pulled up by its national parliaments, not just by the EU".

Lord Balfe
BBC

Last debate

House of Lords

Parliament

Report stage of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill concludes and peers begin the final debate of the day.

Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Falkner of Margravine is opening a debate on the government's

review of the EU's competences - the power to act in particular areas conferred on it by the EU treaties.

The review was part of the coalition agreement between the Conservatives and Lib Dems when they formed a government together in 2010.

Baroness Falkner says the government has "confounded the sceptics" and produced a balanced review of "where the wins, the draws and the losses lie".

Minister's arguments rejected

House of Lords

Parliament

Baroness Hollis says she does not accept Lord Newby's arguments.

"I don't think anything he has said tonight takes us one step forward," she says.

However, she decides to withdraw the amendment rather than push the matter to a vote.

Baroness Hollis
BBC

House of Lords

Parliament

Treasury spokesman Lord Newby says extending NI inclusion would "increase the Exchequer cost, both in terms of administration and benefits paid, with little or no corresponding revenue".

It could also bring "students with weekend jobs" into the system, although it is not meant to apply to them, he adds.

National insurance entitlement

House of Lords

Parliament

Labour peer Baroness Hollis introduces an amendment which would make all workers "eligible for inclusion within the national insurance system where the relevant worker's annual earnings reach or exceed the annualised level of Job Seeker's Allowance".

She gives examples of people who may work part-time, perhaps in several jobs, but no one job pays enough to put the worker above the lower earnings limit to access the NI system.

This can lead to people losing substantial entitlements, including the state pension, she argues.

"Lose seven years of NI and you lose £30 a week for the rest of your life," the Labour peer tells the House.

Amendment withdrawn

House of Lords

Parliament

A reassured Lord Mitchell says that "everybody seems very supportive on taking steps to improve the situation", and agrees to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mitchell
BBC

'Enforcement' of minimum wage

House of Lords

Parliament

"The government is very clear that employing unpaid interns as workers to avoid playing the national minimum wage is illegal," Business Minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe says.

"Enforcement is taking place in this area," she adds.

'We need a level playing field'

House of Lords

Parliament

Labour's Lord Mitchell attacks the use of unpaid internships.

"We owe it our young people to make sure that artificial barriers are not put in their way," he says.

"We need the level playing field that compulsory payments would produce."

Unpaid internships

House of Lords

Parliament

Shadow business, innovation and skills spokesman Lord Mitchell is introducing another Labour amendment.

It would require the government to produce "a report on the growth of unpaid internships within the United Kingdom labour market over the past five years".

Labour defeated

House of Lords

Parliament

The amendment is defeated by 208 votes to 133 - a majority of 75.

Vote on Labour amendment

House of Lords

Parliament

Peers divide again, this time on a Labour amendment to require an employer to offer a fixed-hours contract to an employee who has worked regular hours for a continuous period.

Amendment rejected

House of Lords

Parliament

Peers reject Lords Wills' amendment by 231 votes to 174 - a majority of 57.

Division number two

House of Lords

Parliament

The House divides for the second time in this debate, to vote on an amendment which aims to extend the protection of whistleblowers from discrimination in future job applications.

'Hard to find evidence'

House of Lords

Parliament

Lord Wills says there is a problem with the government's requirement for more evidence on extending whistleblowing protections.

"By definition it is extremely hard to find evidence of the harm that is done in advance of a scandal happening," he argues.

'Evidence needed'

House of Lords

Parliament

Business Minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe says that recent scandals in the health service are the reason "why we're taking action in this bill".

However, she says that "we are not going to agree this evening" on extending the protections for whistleblowers beyond the NHS.

She argues that ministers would "need an evidence base" for an extension.

End of commons business

House of Commons

Parliament

And that brings an end to today's proceedings in the House of Commons.

MPs will be back tomorrow at 09.30 GMT for a double question session with Environment, Food and Rural Affair ministers and the House of Commons commissioners.

Stay with us tonight, though, as peers continue with their report stage scrutiny of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment bill.

'By no means straightforward'

House of Commons

Parliament

Financial Secretary David Gauke says the government is looking at the rules around Ark pensions, but warns the decision is "by no means straightforward".

However, he does have some bad news for investors, telling Jack Straw that the repaid loans made under these schemes cannot be treated "as if they never happened" and must be treated as payments for tax purposes.

"People need to be on their guard against promises of tax loopholes, unrealistic returns or other dubious advice linked to their pension pot schemes," he says.

"If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is."

'Cannot stop at the NHS'

House of Lords

Parliament

Labour health spokesman Lord Hunt of Kings Heath raises the

inquiry into University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust, which found 20 major failures from 2004 to 2013 at Furness General Hospital.

The investigation - led by Dr Bill Kirkup, a former senior Department of Health official - found that a "lethal mix" of failures led to the unnecessary deaths of 11 babies and one mother.

Lord Hunt agrees with Lord Wills that measures to protect whistleblowers "cannot stop at the NHS".

Exempt of tax charges

House of Commons

Parliament

The exact tax charges that members of the schemes will face remain unclear but Jack Straw calls on HMRC to exempt those affected from tax charges.

All Mr Smith wants to do is return to the "status quo ante", he says.

'Left in limbo'

House of Commons

Parliament

Jack Straw
BBC

Jack Straw is telling MPs about one of his constituents affected by the Ark scheme, referred to only as Mr Smith.

Mr Smith has been "left in limbo" by the pension scheme by the revelation that the "pension liberation" schemes were not tax-free.

In the worst scenario, a member of the Ark pension scheme could face a 55% tax demand on the loan they received, a 55% tax demand on any loan made from their own pension pot and a demand for the repayment of their original loan.

This would leave Mr Smith with a "double whammy" of a £32,300 release fee for his £120,000 plus a pension pot of "considerably reduced in value" as a result of the poor choices of the Ark trustees.

Francis report

House of Lords

Parliament

The government has introduced its own amendments to the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill to protect whistle-blowers from discrimination in future job applications within the NHS.

The measure was called for by Sir Robert Francis, whose

Freedom to Speak Up Review took evidence from over 600 people about their experiences, while another 19,000 responded to an online survey.

It said there were lots of examples of organisations supporting whistleblowers. but Sir Robert warned that staff too often faced "bullying and being isolated" when they tried to speak out.

Speaking in the debate, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Phillips of Sudbury says he finds it "bizarre" that the government has confined the protections to the NHS.

Robert Francis
BBC
A "significant proportion" of health workers are afraid to speak out, Sir Robert Francis said

Ark Pensions

House of Commons

Parliament

The Ark pension fund is at the heart of a mis-selling scandal that saw hundreds invest their pension pots in high-risk ventures unawares.

The schemes involved accessing part of people's pensions before reaching the age of 55, which customers assumed were safe because they had been registered with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and the Pensions Regulator. But the so-called "pension liberation" schemes were not tax-free as had been claimed and millions of pounds were sunk into speculative ventures.

The Ark scheme launched in 2010 and promoted itself with a promise that members would be able to "access a lump sum which will represent up to 50% of the value of your pension fund".

However unbeknownst to customers, Ark pension funds invested £4m in a Cypriot property development but was later found to have overpaid for the land. The money has now been returned.

Whistleblowing review

House of Lords

Parliament

Labour peer Lord Wills - a former justice minister - is introducing an amendment to protect whistleblowers.

It would require ministers to review the situation of whistleblowers and the "framework" of policies and protections for them.

Further reviews would be required every three years.

He welcomes proposals to set up a National Whistleblowing Review Officer but argues the policy should not be confined to the NHS but widened to all public and private organisations.

Lord Wills
BBC

Farewell Jack Straw?

House of Commons

Parliament

Former foreign secretary, and

currently an independent MP, Jack Straw now stands up to make what may be his final in tonight adjournment debate on the Ark pension schemes.

Amendment defeated

House of Lords

Parliament

Peers narrowly reject the amendment to pay compensation to workers by 235 votes to 221 - a majority of just 14.

Government response

House of Commons

Parliament

Karen Bradley
BBC

Home Office Minster Karen Bradley is responding to the debate for the government. She argues that the best way to tackle serious organised cross-border crime is to make sure there are "tightly coordinated" measures in place "to relentlessly disrupt serious and organised criminals and strengthen our defence against their criminal behaviour."

The UK and Northern Ireland government are "doing exactly that" through the launch of the NCA and the Serious and Organised Crime Strategy, she says.

Vote on compensation for workers

House of Lords

Parliament

Peers divide on Baroness Hollis's amendment which would require the government to "make regulations requiring employers to pay compensation to workers, including zero hours contract workers, whose shifts are cancelled with short notice".

Exclusivity contracts ban

House of Lords

Parliament

Replying for the government, Baroness Neville-Rolfe says a ban on exclusivity clauses means "no zero-hours worker" will have to sign an exclusive contract with an employer who does not guarantee a minimum number of hours.

The government also proposes extending the exclusivity ban to situations "where the individual is not guaranteed a certain level of income".

She adds that the amendment proposes compensation for short-notice shift cancellations for all workers, not just zero hours workers, so is far from "modest" and may not be proportional.

The minister also argues that the proposed rule could be exploited by "unscrupulous employers" who offer shifts at short notice instead, to avoid compensation payments.

'Sick, sore and tired'

House of Commons

Parliament

Ian Paisley
BBC

DUP MP Ian Paisley says he is "sick, sore and tired of the hypocrisy" from a government who have promised him progress on tackling organised crime but "failed to deliver."

Over the last five and half years he has tried to deal with this quietly and discretely, he says, and in that time he hasn't seen "one single inch of progress" but he has seen "a lot of platitudes".

"You would think we are somehow thick paddies that have no idea what's going on with crime in our country," he says.

@timsculthorpe

PA Parliamentary Editor Tim Sculthorpe ‏tweets: That div list analysis remains very 19th Century. We get these and have to record each and every MP into our system.

Division lists
PA

'Reasonable ground rules'

House of Lords

Parliament

Shadow business, innovation and skills spokesman Lord Young of Norwood Green insists that Labour is not calling for a ban on all zero-hours contracts but "there ought to be some reasonable ground rules".

The amendment is a matter of principle "which is going to be interpreted in regulation", he adds.

In reply to Baroness Harding, he says he is not surprised that workers told a survey they were satisfied, as "they need the money, they're glad to get into work".

'Be careful about making assumptions'

House of Lords

Parliament

Conservative peer Baroness Harding of Winscombe makes clear her opposition to the amendment.

The chief executive of Talk Talk says that her current company does not not use any zero-hours contracts at present, but adds that she has worked for firms who do make use of them.

She claims that studies have shown that many people are "satisfied" and "believe they have a better work-life balance".

She cautions peers to "be careful about making assumptions about people who are making choices in their working lives which we may not".

Baroness Harding of Winscombe
BBC

Dodgy deals

House of Commons

Parliament

SDLP MP Mark Durkan tells MPs there are reports of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency - the precursor to the NCA - entering into deals with the "people they were supposed to be pursuing" to turn a blind eye in exchange for a cut of their profits, he says.

As an example he tells MPs about an illegal waste dump in his constituency which earned "into the millions [of pounds]" which was only discovered by mistake by the Northern Ireland environment agency but "wasn't known to anyone in policing, and anyone in HMRC and anyone in SOCA".

"I find it very hard to believe given the scale of this business that no one knew it was going on," he adds.

What are zero-hours contracts?

House of Lords

Parliament

Last year, figures from the Office for National Statistics showed nearly half of big companies in the UK use a total of 1.4 million zero-hours contracts.

Later figures, allowing for the seasonal use of such contracts, showed that firms in the UK used 1.8 million zero-hours contracts at the height of last summer.

But

why are they controversial and why do employers use them?

Protest over zero-hours contracts
BBC
Some workers are unhappy about zero-hours contracts but others say it suits them

Dye marker 'doesn't work'

House of Commons

Parliament

DUP MP David Simpson predicts that government will introduce legislation to put a red dye marker into diesel fuels in Northern Ireland, as promised, to make them much harder for fraudsters to "launder" but will not follow through and produce the end product, because it "doesn't work".

He criticises the government for awarding the dye contract to the Dow Chemical Company without "road side testing", before reminding MPs that "fuel laundering costs the exchequer hundred of millions of pounds."