Highlights of proceedings in Parliament on Tuesday 10 January, presented by Alicia McCarthy.
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Hello and welcome to Tuesday in Parliament.
After resignations and recriminations in Northern Ireland,
MPs are told divisive new elections could be on the way.
The clock is ticking.
If there is no resolution, then an election is inevitable.
MPs hear not enough is being done to tackle hate crime.
And a Transport Minister calls for an end to the strike saga
on Southern Rail.
So, I say to the unions, as the Secretary of State has done,
not on one occasion, but twice, come and meet him,
call off the dispute and let's resolve this dispute.
It has gone on far too long.
But first, a political crisis is threatening the future
of the power-sharing arrangements in Northern Ireland.
On Monday night, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness resigned
as Deputy First Minister and in effect brought down
the devolved administration at Stormont, because his decision
meant the First Minister, Arlene Foster of the Democratic
Unionist Party, could no longer stay in her role.
The Northern Ireland Secretary came to the Commons.
As things stand, therefore, an early Assembly election
looks highly likely.
I should add that once an election has been held,
the rules state that the Assembly must meet again within one week,
with a further two week period to form a new Executive.
Should this not be achieved, then, as things currently stand,
I'm obliged to call another election.
So, right honourable and honourable members should be in no doubt,
the situation we face in Northern Ireland today is grave
and the Government treats it with the utmost seriousness.
Martin McGuinness resigned after Arlene Foster refused
to temporarily step aside during an investigation
into her handling of a controversial green energy scheme,
which could end up costing taxpayers almost half a billion pounds.
Businesses and other nondomestic users were offered a financial
incentive to install renewable heat systems on their premises.
The scheme was finally shut down to new applicants
in February last year, when it became clear that the lack
of an upper limit on payments, unlike the GB equivalent,
meant that the scheme was open to serious abuse.
He said there needed to be an enquiry into the scheme,
known as RHI, as soon as possible.
While the RHI might have been the catalyst for the situation
we now face, it has, however, expressed a number
of deeper tensions in the relationship between parties
within the Northern Ireland Executive.
This has led to a breakdown in the trust and cooperation
that is necessary for the power sharing institutions
to function effectively.
The clock is ticking.
If there is no resolution, then an election is inevitable.
Despite the widely held view that this election may deepen
divisions and threaten the continuity of
the devolved institutions.
He said Northern Ireland's politicians had won international
plaudits for overcoming differences and working together, and that had
required courage and risk.
Political stability had been hard gained and should not be
lightly thrown away.
Labour said it would support the Minister's efforts to keep
stability in Northern Ireland.
With is so much at stake, not least
the institutions themselves, Surely it is time for moderation.
Lines in the sand are not what are needed.
I do not believe, from the feedback we are
getting from the people on the ground in Northern Ireland, that
the population wants the election, let alone one so soon.
Is it really what the people want?
It should be possible to come up with a rigorous,
transparent and comprehensive way to investigate the overspend
on the RHI, which does not have to involve the break-up
of the coalition or an early election,
or the First Minister standing down.
The DUP accused Sinn Fein of having its own agenda.
We share the deep regret at the highly irresponsible decision
of Sinn Fein to single-handedly caused the collapse of the present
Executive, and precipitate what the Secretary of State
has rightly called this threat to the continuity
of the devolved institutions.
And it is clear from what Sinn Fein have said in the resignation letter,
it is not about RHI, because had this continued,
we would have had the investigation and proposals to mitigate costs,
but it is because, according to them, they are not
getting their own way on a whole series of demands, including
rewriting the past and putting more soldiers and security forces
in the dock.
Fundamental to the political institutions in Northern Ireland
were the principles of power-sharing, partnership and
respect for political difference.
In the last number of weeks, we have seen the disappearing
and the withering away of the principle of power-sharing.
Formerly by the DUP.
Will the Secretary of State ensure, in his discussions
with the political parties in Northern Ireland,
that those principles are adhered to and that everybody comes back
to the principle of power-sharing?
I think the important part of the political settlement
within Northern Ireland is that fact that it works for all communities
across Northern Ireland.
Some schools and police forces have been turning
a blind eye to hate crime, MPs have been told.
Representatives of the Polish community in the UK told
the Home Affairs Committee that there was an "explosion"
of incidents after the vote to leave the European Union.
In one incident, a few days after the referendum,
xenophobic graffiti was scrawled on the doors of a Polish
community centre in London.
We at the Polish Centre, as you may be aware,
have experienced an example of that, in that we had this graffiti
across the front of our building.
Which was definitely a first for us.
We had never had anything like that at the centre and we're very much
part of the local community.
So, that was a big shock to us and to the staff,
and to the people who come to the Polish Centre.
I would like to say that, and again, you may be aware that we have had
the most amazing outpouring of response from the community,
the British community, you know, masses of flowers and messages
and cards and so on, which was really, really nice for us.
But she had further examples of hate crime.
Lots of people who come to our centre do tell us about...
Some of it is quite casual, you know, a waitress
in a cafe will be told, "Why haven't you packed
your bags and gone home?"
That sort of thing.
Quite a lot in schools, to children, you know,
they will presumably hear it from home, you know,
"You should be going home now."
We had some bad cases of abuse in the workplace, where,
for example, in one of the local councils in South England,
a Polish citizen, a Polish worker at the council,
was abused on the night of counting the votes,
she was on the vote counting committee, and that was...
She was told essentially that in this situation,
she would need to pack and go away, finally.
And we had many, many reports in schools,
where there was physical abuse and violence towards
Eastern European, broadly speaking, children, with very little response
from the schools, as institutions, which is our concern.
Some schools are exemplary, in how they deal with tensions,
Some, however, we feel, are still turning a blind eye,
and that is a big concern for the future of communities.
The problem, in our experience, is deepened by the mixed
response from the police.
So, when people do want to report hate crime, or hate speech,
or just have concerns and go to the police about
whether they should be doing something about it,
um, I'm afraid, I'm sorry to say that not all Police Services
are ready to respond to hate crime.
Sometimes it is being, um, waved away as an employment issue
that is not a police matter, that it is discrimination,
for example, or harassment.
The abuse, discrimination and hate crimes that you have described
are clearly appalling, and we obviously note
what Ms Mludzinska said about this still being a minority,
and it is welcomed that you had other support.
Nevertheless, that minority abuse and hate crime
persecution is still appalling and deeply un-British, and should
have no place in our country.
One committee member questioned the link
between Brexit and hate crime.
What do you think might have happened if the vote
had gone the other way?
Well, you see, that is quite an important question,
because I think what is difficult is attributing that spike
in hate crime to the way that the referendum went.
And the sort of people who commit these hate crimes,
let's admit it, are morons.
It is helpful just to stick to the facts, in terms
of what actually is the cause of these hate crimes,
rather than just attribute it to because people voted
in a certain way.
Well, I think we have talked about...
Sorry, if I may reply.
But we have talked about that, and I think, personally, I think...
Because, Chair, you asked about what is likely to happen
in the future and what is happening now, and I think that there
may be another point where things get worse,
when those people who, for whatever reason,
thought everything would be resolved by Brexit, their own particular
situations might improve and so on, when they find that doesn't
Tim Loughton told her that one aim of the committee enquiry was
to make sure that didn't happen.
Plans to close dozens of local tax offices should be immediately
scrapped after a spending watchdog found costs have spiralled,
according to the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell.
His comments came after the National Audit Office, the NAO,
revealed that HMRC has had to rethink its plans after
underestimating the costs and scale of disruption involved.
But called to the Commons, a Treasury Minister
defended the scheme.
The size of HMRC's estate has been reducing since 2006,
and the NAO report published today shows that HMRC have made some
effective changes since 2010 whilst reducing staff numbers by a quarter
and saving the taxpayer over ?350 million.
But HMRC wants to keep up the momentum to provide better
service at a reduced cost.
As they announced in 2015, that means taking forward big
reforms to how the estate works, which will see over 170 small
offices consolidated into 13 larger regional offices,
an approach which is used across government.
This brings with it a whole range of advantages,
from efficiently sharing resources and quality digital infrastructure,
to better support and career opportunities for the staff who can
more effectively share expertise.
And for the public, what this really means is a better,
more modern service, run by fewer staff, costing around
?80 million a year less by the time these changes take effect.
She had accepted the costs of the programme
were likely to be higher than forecast.
There are a wide range of factors behind that,
from rising property costs and changes made to the programme,
for example to help staff adjust and to ensure a smooth transition
for customers, and so the programme costs are of course
updated to reflect this.
I therefore thank the NAO for their timely report.
But this strategy to modernise the service HMRC provides
to taxpayers is the right approach and reflects the way taxpayers
now interact with it.
It is a plan to say goodbye to the days of manual processing
of tax, that can be done more easily with today's technology.
But Labour argued the real situation was much worse.
In reality, Mr Speaker, the report is damning
of the Government's plans to close 170 offices.
We have warned consistently on this side that the Government's proposals
will have a detrimental impact on HMRC's ability to provide advice
and also to tackle tax evasion and tax avoidance.
The NAO report has confirmed our fears.
First of all, it calls the original office closure plan unrealistic.
The estimates of the costs of the moving increase by 22%,
?600 million extra.
It forecasts a further 5000 job losses.
It finds that the costs of redundancy and travel
have tripled, from 17 million to 54 million.
It says HMRC cannot demonstrate how its services can be improved.
It has not even produced a clear programme business case
for the planned closures.
As we predicted, this is an emerging disaster.
Given how clear and stark the warnings actually are,
would it not simply make more sense to pause this,
rip it up and start again?
No, I don't think that's right.
I really can't agree with that.
Because the reasons that are driving this programme,
the reasons that we want to transform HMRC into the most modern
digital tax authority in the world, all still stand.
And it is right that of course, in any major programme, and
there are a number of them running at the same time, we have always
been open, this is an ambitious transformation programme, and it is
right that it is looked at regularly, and of course,
HMRC will respond in detail to the NAO's report.
But the principle that drives this stands absolutely good,
for all the reasons I've talked about.
Better for customers, better for staff, better for the taxpayer.
You're watching Tuesday in Parliament,
with me, Alicia McCarthy.
Financial jobs in London are bound to be affected by Brexit but a lack
of knowledge about the Government's plans will make the situation worse.
That was the message from leading financiers, including the head
of the London Stock Exchange.
They called for the City to have its own transitional arrangements,
known as grandfathering, meaning new rules wouldn't apply
to the City institutions for around five years.
There are four periods.
There is a period between now and triggering Article 50,
where it would be helpful to get an idea as to what policy objectives
are in the negotiation, there's the period during Article
50, where there's the possibility of having a discussion
with our counterparts in Europe as to the likelihood of,
where is the common ground in relation to where
we might get to?
Then there's the period from the end of Article 50 to the new world,
for however long that takes, the standstill that you described.
And then there's the implementation period for whatever is agreed
for the future relationship because it will take
time to configure.
An economic impact, in terms of, of course, the jobs that
power this industry, and I'm not just talking, of course,
about the clearing jobs themselves, which number into the few thousands,
but the very large array of ancillary functions,
whether it's syndications, trading, treasury management,
middle office, back office, risk management, software,
which range into far more than just a few thousands of jobs,
would then start migrating.
And last but not least, Mr Chairman, we are talking
here about the largest financial asset classes in the world.
We are talking about numbers that are almost unimaginably large,
hundreds of trillions, that would have the quickly be
The systemic or potential systemic impact normally would have
reverberation if mishandled, if handled too quickly without,
of course, the benefit of anticipation and preparation.
For some of the American banks, for example, Citibank,
have a licensed bank in Ireland.
Some of the other banks already have operations in the Continent.
But the majority of them have their principal operation
in London and passport into the whole of Europe from here.
They are looking at how they would replace that
by setting up operations, regulated operations, in Europe.
And the challenge they've got, more than firms like us that already
have operations in Europe, is they would need to go and get
the licenses that they don't have because today they rely
on passporting from their UK licence.
I'm sorry, just to clarify, your point is, to do that,
they would leave London?
They would need to leave London?
And they would need to relocate at least part of their activities
in order to secure that licence?
That's exactly right, and part of the uncertainty
and the planning, if you like, is how much would you have to move?
Clearly, you would need to move the front part of the business,
the relationship managers that talk to customers, because
that is the line.
But the question would be whether the negotiation would allow
the middle and back office the settlement, the risk management,
the accounting and so on, to be done outside of EU 27
or whether EU 27 is part of the negotiations, say, no,
if we are going to give you a license, we want
everything in our country.
That's apolitical negotiation as much as a technical negotiation.
Are there any scenarios after Brexit where you could expand your
operation in London?
I think there are scenarios where the business can grow, certainly.
And I think, particularly given the attractiveness
of the United Kingdom in which to do business, there's no
reason why we wouldn't do.
I mean, we happened to be a German company but we have a significant
and growing business here in the UK because we can find talent
and the right environment.
So there's no reason why that shouldn't continue.
I mean, the freedom of finding the right people, putting
them in the right place, a good regulatory environment,
a predictable tax regime, all of that makes the UK a very,
very attractive place to do business.
But Elizabeth Corley said complexity in doing business could chip away
at that attractiveness.
The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, who's just
returned from Washington, says there's "a huge
"fund of goodwill for the UK on Capitol Hill".
Mr Johnson held talks with some of Donald Trump's top aides
and leading Republicans and told MPs there was "a very large measure
"of understanding that now is the time to do
"a free trade deal".
His comments came during Question Time, when MPs tried
to tease out details about the talks and the UK's future relationship
with Donald Trump's administration.
In relation to talks with the incoming US administration,
what talks specifically with regard to security and trade did my right
honourable friend have with congressional leaders?
I have to say to the House that there was a huge fund
of goodwill for the United Kingdom on Capitol Hill and a very large
measure of understanding that now is the time to do a free trade deal.
They want to do it, they want to do it fast,
and that understanding was most vivid and most urgent on the part
of the incoming administration.
On Sunday, the Foreign Secretary met with Steve Bannon,
Donald Trump's chief strategist, a man whose website is synonymous
with anti-Semitism, racism, misogyny, homophobia,
hero worship of Vladimir Putin and the promotion of extremist
far-right movements across the world.
Can I ask the Foreign Secretary, how did he and Mr Bannon get on?
I don't wish to embarrass any member of the incoming administration
by describing the friendliness or otherwise of our relations,
but what I can say is that the conversations
were genuinely extremely productive.
There is a wide measure of agreement between the UK and the incoming
administration about the way forward and we intend to work to build
on those areas of agreement.
May I ask the Foreign Secretary what agreement there will be
on policy towards Russia between the British government
and the new administration, given the new administration's
indebtedness to President Putin through the leaking and hacking
of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's
campaign chairman's e-mails?
May I first of all say I make no comment on the efficacy,
the electoral efficacy, of the hacking of the DNC e-mails
except to say that it's pretty clear that it did come from the Russians.
And the point that we've made to the incoming administration
and indeed on Capitol Hill is just this, that, as I said earlier on,
we do think that the Russian state, the Putin Kremlin, is up
to all sorts of very dirty tricks, such as cyber warfare,
but it would be folly for us further to demonise Russia or to push
Russia into a corner.
So a twin track strategy of engagement and vigilance
is what is required.
The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson.
They've endured months of misery and there's no end in sight
for commuters on Southern rail.
The latest action by staff hit on Tuesday, with more scheduled
for later this week.
Southern wants to bring in driver-only operated trains,
where the driver rather than the conductor opens
and closes the doors.
But unions have safety fears and, so far, there's little sign
of an agreement between Southern or its parent company,
Govia, and the unions.
Months of action have led to reports of commuter misery and even of job
losses as people fail to get to work.
In the Lords, one peer had clearly had enough.
There is chaos on our railways and it's estimated that the Southern
dispute alone has cost the government ?65 million
and counting with huge costs, of course, to the economy
as a whole.
But it's the passengers who are taking the real pain on this
with their daily struggle to get to work.
Does the noble Lord, the Minister, accept that this simply cannot be
allowed to go on and that things are now so bad that it would be very
difficult indeed to restore trust between Southern and its workforce
and that therefore Southern should be relieved of their franchise?
And I would suggest that it should be passed to Transport for London,
who have a very good proven track record.
I'm sure the noble lady can read into the reaction of your lordship's
House on her final comment.
Let's put this dispute in the context.
There is no basis left for this dispute.
First of all, the conductors, who have become train supervisors.
222 of the 223 have signed new contracts.
The one remaining one is leaving, so that's 100% compliance.
As far as the drivers are concerned, they were concerned rightly,
as we all are, about safety on the railways.
Well, the Office of Rail and Road, the actual independent office,
has adjudicated that driver-only operated trains are safe,
yes, in the context of the Southern network.
They put out a report on the 5th of January.
So I say to the unions, as the Secretary of State has done,
not on one occasion but twice, come and meet him, call off
the dispute and let's resolve this dispute.
It's gone on far too long.
Could the noble Lord, the Minister, say what financial penalties have
so far been incurred by the train operator Govia as a result of first
poor performance and second days of industrial action?
Because, if no financial penalties have been incurred by the operator,
then what is the incentive first for the train operator to address
issues of poor performance and second to resolve the current
industrial relations issues if neither matter
is affecting them financially?
As I've said, the government has stood behind the particular company
in ensuring that they can provide compensation where necessary,
and we've called and implored upon both the franchisee
and the unions to come together to resolve this dispute.
The Transport Minister, Lord Ahmad.
And that's it from me for now, but do join me at the same time
tomorrow for another round-up of the best of the day
here at Westminster, including the highlights
from Prime Minister's Questions.
But until then, from me, Alicia McCarthy, goodbye.