10/01/2017 Tuesday in Parliament


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10/01/2017

Highlights of proceedings in Parliament on Tuesday 10 January, presented by Alicia McCarthy.


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Hello and welcome to Tuesday in Parliament.

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Coming up:

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After resignations and recriminations in Northern Ireland,

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MPs are told divisive new elections could be on the way.

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The clock is ticking.

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If there is no resolution, then an election is inevitable.

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MPs hear not enough is being done to tackle hate crime.

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And a Transport Minister calls for an end to the strike saga

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on Southern Rail.

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So, I say to the unions, as the Secretary of State has done,

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not on one occasion, but twice, come and meet him,

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call off the dispute and let's resolve this dispute.

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It has gone on far too long.

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But first, a political crisis is threatening the future

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of the power-sharing arrangements in Northern Ireland.

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On Monday night, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness resigned

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as Deputy First Minister and in effect brought down

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the devolved administration at Stormont, because his decision

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meant the First Minister, Arlene Foster of the Democratic

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Unionist Party, could no longer stay in her role.

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The Northern Ireland Secretary came to the Commons.

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As things stand, therefore, an early Assembly election

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looks highly likely.

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I should add that once an election has been held,

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the rules state that the Assembly must meet again within one week,

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with a further two week period to form a new Executive.

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Should this not be achieved, then, as things currently stand,

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I'm obliged to call another election.

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So, right honourable and honourable members should be in no doubt,

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the situation we face in Northern Ireland today is grave

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and the Government treats it with the utmost seriousness.

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Martin McGuinness resigned after Arlene Foster refused

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to temporarily step aside during an investigation

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into her handling of a controversial green energy scheme,

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which could end up costing taxpayers almost half a billion pounds.

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Businesses and other nondomestic users were offered a financial

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incentive to install renewable heat systems on their premises.

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The scheme was finally shut down to new applicants

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in February last year, when it became clear that the lack

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of an upper limit on payments, unlike the GB equivalent,

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meant that the scheme was open to serious abuse.

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He said there needed to be an enquiry into the scheme,

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known as RHI, as soon as possible.

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While the RHI might have been the catalyst for the situation

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we now face, it has, however, expressed a number

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of deeper tensions in the relationship between parties

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within the Northern Ireland Executive.

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This has led to a breakdown in the trust and cooperation

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that is necessary for the power sharing institutions

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to function effectively.

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The clock is ticking.

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If there is no resolution, then an election is inevitable.

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Despite the widely held view that this election may deepen

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divisions and threaten the continuity of

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the devolved institutions.

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He said Northern Ireland's politicians had won international

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plaudits for overcoming differences and working together, and that had

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required courage and risk.

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Political stability had been hard gained and should not be

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lightly thrown away.

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Labour said it would support the Minister's efforts to keep

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stability in Northern Ireland.

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With is so much at stake, not least

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the institutions themselves, Surely it is time for moderation.

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Lines in the sand are not what are needed.

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I do not believe, from the feedback we are

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getting from the people on the ground in Northern Ireland, that

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the population wants the election, let alone one so soon.

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Is it really what the people want?

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It should be possible to come up with a rigorous,

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transparent and comprehensive way to investigate the overspend

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on the RHI, which does not have to involve the break-up

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of the coalition or an early election,

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or the First Minister standing down.

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The DUP accused Sinn Fein of having its own agenda.

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We share the deep regret at the highly irresponsible decision

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of Sinn Fein to single-handedly caused the collapse of the present

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Executive, and precipitate what the Secretary of State

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has rightly called this threat to the continuity

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of the devolved institutions.

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And it is clear from what Sinn Fein have said in the resignation letter,

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it is not about RHI, because had this continued,

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we would have had the investigation and proposals to mitigate costs,

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but it is because, according to them, they are not

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getting their own way on a whole series of demands, including

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rewriting the past and putting more soldiers and security forces

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in the dock.

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Fundamental to the political institutions in Northern Ireland

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were the principles of power-sharing, partnership and

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respect for political difference.

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In the last number of weeks, we have seen the disappearing

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and the withering away of the principle of power-sharing.

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Formerly by the DUP.

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Will the Secretary of State ensure, in his discussions

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with the political parties in Northern Ireland,

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that those principles are adhered to and that everybody comes back

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to the principle of power-sharing?

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I think...

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I think the important part of the political settlement

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within Northern Ireland is that fact that it works for all communities

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across Northern Ireland.

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James Brokenshire.

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Some schools and police forces have been turning

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a blind eye to hate crime, MPs have been told.

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Representatives of the Polish community in the UK told

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the Home Affairs Committee that there was an "explosion"

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of incidents after the vote to leave the European Union.

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In one incident, a few days after the referendum,

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xenophobic graffiti was scrawled on the doors of a Polish

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community centre in London.

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We at the Polish Centre, as you may be aware,

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have experienced an example of that, in that we had this graffiti

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across the front of our building.

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Which was definitely a first for us.

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We had never had anything like that at the centre and we're very much

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part of the local community.

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So, that was a big shock to us and to the staff,

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and to the people who come to the Polish Centre.

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I would like to say that, and again, you may be aware that we have had

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the most amazing outpouring of response from the community,

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the British community, you know, masses of flowers and messages

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and cards and so on, which was really, really nice for us.

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But she had further examples of hate crime.

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Lots of people who come to our centre do tell us about...

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Some of it is quite casual, you know, a waitress

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in a cafe will be told, "Why haven't you packed

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your bags and gone home?"

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That sort of thing.

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Quite a lot in schools, to children, you know,

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they will presumably hear it from home, you know,

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"You should be going home now."

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We had some bad cases of abuse in the workplace, where,

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for example, in one of the local councils in South England,

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a Polish citizen, a Polish worker at the council,

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was abused on the night of counting the votes,

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she was on the vote counting committee, and that was...

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She was told essentially that in this situation,

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she would need to pack and go away, finally.

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And we had many, many reports in schools,

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where there was physical abuse and violence towards

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Eastern European, broadly speaking, children, with very little response

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from the schools, as institutions, which is our concern.

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Some schools are exemplary, in how they deal with tensions,

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post-Brexit referendum.

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Some, however, we feel, are still turning a blind eye,

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and that is a big concern for the future of communities.

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The problem, in our experience, is deepened by the mixed

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response from the police.

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So, when people do want to report hate crime, or hate speech,

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or just have concerns and go to the police about

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whether they should be doing something about it,

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um, I'm afraid, I'm sorry to say that not all Police Services

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are ready to respond to hate crime.

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Sometimes it is being, um, waved away as an employment issue

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that is not a police matter, that it is discrimination,

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for example, or harassment.

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The abuse, discrimination and hate crimes that you have described

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are clearly appalling, and we obviously note

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what Ms Mludzinska said about this still being a minority,

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and it is welcomed that you had other support.

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Nevertheless, that minority abuse and hate crime

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persecution is still appalling and deeply un-British, and should

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have no place in our country.

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One committee member questioned the link

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between Brexit and hate crime.

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What do you think might have happened if the vote

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had gone the other way?

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Who knows?

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Well, you see, that is quite an important question,

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because I think what is difficult is attributing that spike

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in hate crime to the way that the referendum went.

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And the sort of people who commit these hate crimes,

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let's admit it, are morons.

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It is helpful just to stick to the facts, in terms

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of what actually is the cause of these hate crimes,

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rather than just attribute it to because people voted

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in a certain way.

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Well, I think we have talked about...

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Sorry, if I may reply.

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But we have talked about that, and I think, personally, I think...

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Because, Chair, you asked about what is likely to happen

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in the future and what is happening now, and I think that there

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may be another point where things get worse,

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when those people who, for whatever reason,

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thought everything would be resolved by Brexit, their own particular

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situations might improve and so on, when they find that doesn't

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miraculously happen.

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Tim Loughton told her that one aim of the committee enquiry was

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to make sure that didn't happen.

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Plans to close dozens of local tax offices should be immediately

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scrapped after a spending watchdog found costs have spiralled,

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according to the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell.

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His comments came after the National Audit Office, the NAO,

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revealed that HMRC has had to rethink its plans after

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underestimating the costs and scale of disruption involved.

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But called to the Commons, a Treasury Minister

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defended the scheme.

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The size of HMRC's estate has been reducing since 2006,

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and the NAO report published today shows that HMRC have made some

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effective changes since 2010 whilst reducing staff numbers by a quarter

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and saving the taxpayer over ?350 million.

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But HMRC wants to keep up the momentum to provide better

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service at a reduced cost.

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As they announced in 2015, that means taking forward big

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reforms to how the estate works, which will see over 170 small

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offices consolidated into 13 larger regional offices,

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an approach which is used across government.

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This brings with it a whole range of advantages,

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from efficiently sharing resources and quality digital infrastructure,

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to better support and career opportunities for the staff who can

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more effectively share expertise.

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And for the public, what this really means is a better,

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more modern service, run by fewer staff, costing around

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?80 million a year less by the time these changes take effect.

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She had accepted the costs of the programme

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were likely to be higher than forecast.

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There are a wide range of factors behind that,

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from rising property costs and changes made to the programme,

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for example to help staff adjust and to ensure a smooth transition

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for customers, and so the programme costs are of course

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updated to reflect this.

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I therefore thank the NAO for their timely report.

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But this strategy to modernise the service HMRC provides

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to taxpayers is the right approach and reflects the way taxpayers

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now interact with it.

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It is a plan to say goodbye to the days of manual processing

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of tax, that can be done more easily with today's technology.

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But Labour argued the real situation was much worse.

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In reality, Mr Speaker, the report is damning

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of the Government's plans to close 170 offices.

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We have warned consistently on this side that the Government's proposals

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will have a detrimental impact on HMRC's ability to provide advice

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and also to tackle tax evasion and tax avoidance.

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The NAO report has confirmed our fears.

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First of all, it calls the original office closure plan unrealistic.

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The estimates of the costs of the moving increase by 22%,

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?600 million extra.

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It forecasts a further 5000 job losses.

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It finds that the costs of redundancy and travel

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have tripled, from 17 million to 54 million.

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It says HMRC cannot demonstrate how its services can be improved.

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It has not even produced a clear programme business case

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for the planned closures.

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As we predicted, this is an emerging disaster.

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Given how clear and stark the warnings actually are,

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would it not simply make more sense to pause this,

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rip it up and start again?

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Hear, hear!

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Minister.

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No, I don't think that's right.

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I really can't agree with that.

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Because the reasons that are driving this programme,

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the reasons that we want to transform HMRC into the most modern

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digital tax authority in the world, all still stand.

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And it is right that of course, in any major programme, and

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there are a number of them running at the same time, we have always

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been open, this is an ambitious transformation programme, and it is

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right that it is looked at regularly, and of course,

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HMRC will respond in detail to the NAO's report.

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But the principle that drives this stands absolutely good,

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for all the reasons I've talked about.

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Better for customers, better for staff, better for the taxpayer.

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Jane Ellison.

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You're watching Tuesday in Parliament,

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with me, Alicia McCarthy.

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Financial jobs in London are bound to be affected by Brexit but a lack

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of knowledge about the Government's plans will make the situation worse.

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That was the message from leading financiers, including the head

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of the London Stock Exchange.

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They called for the City to have its own transitional arrangements,

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known as grandfathering, meaning new rules wouldn't apply

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to the City institutions for around five years.

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There are four periods.

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There is a period between now and triggering Article 50,

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where it would be helpful to get an idea as to what policy objectives

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are in the negotiation, there's the period during Article

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50, where there's the possibility of having a discussion

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with our counterparts in Europe as to the likelihood of,

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where is the common ground in relation to where

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we might get to?

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Then there's the period from the end of Article 50 to the new world,

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for however long that takes, the standstill that you described.

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And then there's the implementation period for whatever is agreed

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for the future relationship because it will take

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time to configure.

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An economic impact, in terms of, of course, the jobs that

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power this industry, and I'm not just talking, of course,

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about the clearing jobs themselves, which number into the few thousands,

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but the very large array of ancillary functions,

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whether it's syndications, trading, treasury management,

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middle office, back office, risk management, software,

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which range into far more than just a few thousands of jobs,

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would then start migrating.

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And last but not least, Mr Chairman, we are talking

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here about the largest financial asset classes in the world.

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We are talking about numbers that are almost unimaginably large,

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hundreds of trillions, that would have the quickly be

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innovated, migrated.

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The systemic or potential systemic impact normally would have

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reverberation if mishandled, if handled too quickly without,

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of course, the benefit of anticipation and preparation.

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For some of the American banks, for example, Citibank,

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have a licensed bank in Ireland.

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Some of the other banks already have operations in the Continent.

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But the majority of them have their principal operation

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in London and passport into the whole of Europe from here.

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They are looking at how they would replace that

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by setting up operations, regulated operations, in Europe.

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And the challenge they've got, more than firms like us that already

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have operations in Europe, is they would need to go and get

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the licenses that they don't have because today they rely

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on passporting from their UK licence.

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I'm sorry, just to clarify, your point is, to do that,

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they would leave London?

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Yes.

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They would need to leave London?

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And they would need to relocate at least part of their activities

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in order to secure that licence?

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That's exactly right, and part of the uncertainty

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and the planning, if you like, is how much would you have to move?

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Clearly, you would need to move the front part of the business,

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the relationship managers that talk to customers, because

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that is the line.

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But the question would be whether the negotiation would allow

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the middle and back office the settlement, the risk management,

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the accounting and so on, to be done outside of EU 27

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or whether EU 27 is part of the negotiations, say, no,

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if we are going to give you a license, we want

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everything in our country.

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That's apolitical negotiation as much as a technical negotiation.

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Are there any scenarios after Brexit where you could expand your

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operation in London?

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I think there are scenarios where the business can grow, certainly.

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And I think, particularly given the attractiveness

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of the United Kingdom in which to do business, there's no

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reason why we wouldn't do.

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I mean, we happened to be a German company but we have a significant

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and growing business here in the UK because we can find talent

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and the right environment.

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So there's no reason why that shouldn't continue.

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I mean, the freedom of finding the right people, putting

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them in the right place, a good regulatory environment,

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a predictable tax regime, all of that makes the UK a very,

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very attractive place to do business.

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But Elizabeth Corley said complexity in doing business could chip away

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at that attractiveness.

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The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, who's just

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returned from Washington, says there's "a huge

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"fund of goodwill for the UK on Capitol Hill".

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Mr Johnson held talks with some of Donald Trump's top aides

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and leading Republicans and told MPs there was "a very large measure

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"of understanding that now is the time to do

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"a free trade deal".

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His comments came during Question Time, when MPs tried

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to tease out details about the talks and the UK's future relationship

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with Donald Trump's administration.

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In relation to talks with the incoming US administration,

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what talks specifically with regard to security and trade did my right

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honourable friend have with congressional leaders?

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I'm grateful.

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I have to say to the House that there was a huge fund

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of goodwill for the United Kingdom on Capitol Hill and a very large

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measure of understanding that now is the time to do a free trade deal.

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They want to do it, they want to do it fast,

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and that understanding was most vivid and most urgent on the part

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of the incoming administration.

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On Sunday, the Foreign Secretary met with Steve Bannon,

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Donald Trump's chief strategist, a man whose website is synonymous

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with anti-Semitism, racism, misogyny, homophobia,

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hero worship of Vladimir Putin and the promotion of extremist

0:20:210:20:25

far-right movements across the world.

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Can I ask the Foreign Secretary, how did he and Mr Bannon get on?

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I don't wish to embarrass any member of the incoming administration

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by describing the friendliness or otherwise of our relations,

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but what I can say is that the conversations

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were genuinely extremely productive.

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There is a wide measure of agreement between the UK and the incoming

0:20:510:20:55

administration about the way forward and we intend to work to build

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on those areas of agreement.

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May I ask the Foreign Secretary what agreement there will be

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on policy towards Russia between the British government

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and the new administration, given the new administration's

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indebtedness to President Putin through the leaking and hacking

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of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's

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campaign chairman's e-mails?

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Well said!

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May I first of all say I make no comment on the efficacy,

0:21:240:21:31

the electoral efficacy, of the hacking of the DNC e-mails

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except to say that it's pretty clear that it did come from the Russians.

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And the point that we've made to the incoming administration

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and indeed on Capitol Hill is just this, that, as I said earlier on,

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we do think that the Russian state, the Putin Kremlin, is up

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to all sorts of very dirty tricks, such as cyber warfare,

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but it would be folly for us further to demonise Russia or to push

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Russia into a corner.

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So a twin track strategy of engagement and vigilance

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is what is required.

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The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson.

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They've endured months of misery and there's no end in sight

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for commuters on Southern rail.

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The latest action by staff hit on Tuesday, with more scheduled

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for later this week.

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Southern wants to bring in driver-only operated trains,

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where the driver rather than the conductor opens

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and closes the doors.

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But unions have safety fears and, so far, there's little sign

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of an agreement between Southern or its parent company,

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Govia, and the unions.

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Months of action have led to reports of commuter misery and even of job

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losses as people fail to get to work.

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In the Lords, one peer had clearly had enough.

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There is chaos on our railways and it's estimated that the Southern

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dispute alone has cost the government ?65 million

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and counting with huge costs, of course, to the economy

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as a whole.

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But it's the passengers who are taking the real pain on this

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with their daily struggle to get to work.

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Does the noble Lord, the Minister, accept that this simply cannot be

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allowed to go on and that things are now so bad that it would be very

0:23:210:23:27

difficult indeed to restore trust between Southern and its workforce

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and that therefore Southern should be relieved of their franchise?

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And I would suggest that it should be passed to Transport for London,

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who have a very good proven track record.

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I'm sure the noble lady can read into the reaction of your lordship's

0:23:510:23:54

House on her final comment.

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Let's put this dispute in the context.

0:23:570:23:59

There is no basis left for this dispute.

0:23:590:24:01

First of all, the conductors, who have become train supervisors.

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222 of the 223 have signed new contracts.

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The one remaining one is leaving, so that's 100% compliance.

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As far as the drivers are concerned, they were concerned rightly,

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as we all are, about safety on the railways.

0:24:160:24:18

Well, the Office of Rail and Road, the actual independent office,

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has adjudicated that driver-only operated trains are safe,

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yes, in the context of the Southern network.

0:24:270:24:30

They put out a report on the 5th of January.

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So I say to the unions, as the Secretary of State has done,

0:24:330:24:36

not on one occasion but twice, come and meet him, call off

0:24:360:24:39

the dispute and let's resolve this dispute.

0:24:390:24:40

It's gone on far too long.

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Could the noble Lord, the Minister, say what financial penalties have

0:24:420:24:46

so far been incurred by the train operator Govia as a result of first

0:24:460:24:50

poor performance and second days of industrial action?

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Because, if no financial penalties have been incurred by the operator,

0:24:550:24:59

then what is the incentive first for the train operator to address

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issues of poor performance and second to resolve the current

0:25:020:25:06

industrial relations issues if neither matter

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is affecting them financially?

0:25:090:25:11

As I've said, the government has stood behind the particular company

0:25:110:25:14

in ensuring that they can provide compensation where necessary,

0:25:140:25:17

and we've called and implored upon both the franchisee

0:25:170:25:20

and the unions to come together to resolve this dispute.

0:25:200:25:23

The Transport Minister, Lord Ahmad.

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And that's it from me for now, but do join me at the same time

0:25:250:25:29

tomorrow for another round-up of the best of the day

0:25:290:25:31

here at Westminster, including the highlights

0:25:310:25:33

from Prime Minister's Questions.

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But until then, from me, Alicia McCarthy, goodbye.

0:25:350:25:42