15/03/2017 Wednesday in Parliament


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15/03/2017

Highlights of Wednesday in Parliament presented by Alicia McCarthy.


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Hello there, and welcome to Wednesday In Parliament.

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Coming up:

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The Government U-turns on its National Insurance hike

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for the self-employed.

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Isn't it welcome that the Prime Minister today has

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admitted she is for turning with her screeching, embarrassing

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U-turn on National Insurance?

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The Brexit Secretary is asked,

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what cost leaving the EU without a deal?

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And ministers are urged to get tough on internet safety.

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What is the Government's plan to protect victims of online abuse?

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But first - this time last week all the headlines

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were about the Chancellor's plans to increase National Insurance

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contributions for self-employed people.

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Almost as soon as Philip Hammond announced the change in the budget,

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there were complaints from Conservatives MPs,

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who accused him of breaking an election promise not to put up

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National Insurance, income tax or VAT.

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Ministers spent seven days defending the proposals.

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Then, shortly before Prime Minister's Questions,

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Mr Hammond said he wouldn't press ahead with the increase

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in this parliament -

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in other words, things won't change until after the next election.

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A helpful question from a friendly Conservative MP right at the start

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of PMQs gave Theresa May the opportunity to set out her case.

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I welcome the announcement from this Government that we will abide

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by the letter of our manifesto and also the spirit.

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CHEERING AND JEERING

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Mr Speaker, will the Prime Minister agree with me that, as we move

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towards balancing the books, we must ensure we have a fair

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and sustainable tax system in place?

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As a number of my parliamentary colleagues have been

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pointing out in recent days, the trend towards greater

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self-employment does create a structural issue in the tax base

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on which we will have to act, and we want to ensure

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that we maintain, as they have said, fairness in the tax system.

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So, we are going to await the report from Matthew Taylor

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on the future of employment.

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We will consider the Government's overall approach to employment

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status and rights, to tax and entitlements.

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We will bring forward further proposals,

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but we will not bring forward increases to NICs

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later in this Parliament.

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We have just heard the Prime Minister is about to drop

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the National Insurance hike announced only a week ago.

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It seems to me like a Government in a bit of chaos, here.

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A budget...

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A budget that unravels in seven days, a Conservative manifesto

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with a very pensive Prime Minister on the front page saying

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there would be no increase -

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a week ago, an increase was announced.

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If they are to drop this increase, as they are indicating,

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then this is a time that she should thank the Federation

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of Small Businesses and all those that have pointed out just how

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unfair this increase would be, but also how big business evades

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an awful lot of National Insurance through bogus self-employment.

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Prime Minister!

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I have to say to the right honourable gentlemen,

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I don't think he actually listened to the answer I gave

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to my honourable friend, the member for Bexhill and Battle.

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But I normally stand at this dispatch voice and say

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I won't take any lectures from the right honourable gentlemen.

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When it comes to lectures on chaos,

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he'd be the first person I'd turn to.

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Jeremy Corbyn!

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Mr Speaker, I do... I think...

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I think the Prime Minister should offer an apology for the chaos

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that her Government has caused during the past week,

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and the stress it's caused to the 4.8 million self-employed

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people in this country.

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Will she offer that apology?

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This measure, if carried through, will create

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a black hole in the budget.

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What is she going to do to fill that black hole?

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Prime Minister!

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If the right honourable gentlemen is so concerned

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about balancing the books, why is it Labour Party policy

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to borrow ?0.5 trillion and bankrupt Britain?

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We once had a Prime Minister who said that

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"the lady is not for turning".

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My goodness.

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Isn't it welcome that the Prime Minister today has

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admitted she is for turning, with her screeching, embarrassing

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U-turn on National Insurance?

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The Prime Minister has just done a ?2 billion budget U-turn

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in the space of a week.

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Last year, the Government did a ?4 billion U-turn

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in the space of five days.

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Is that why they want to abolish spring budgets -

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cos they just keep ripping them up?

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I welcome the measures in the spring budget to ensure

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that we're putting money into schools, into skills

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and into social care, and I'd have thought that the right

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honourable lady would have accepted that money into schools,

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skills and social care is good for this country.

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Theresa May.

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Well, a short time later, the Chancellor himself came

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to the Commons to make a statement to MPs.

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Mr Speaker, it is very important, both to me and my right honourable

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friend the Prime Minister, that we comply not just

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with the letter but also the spirit of the commitments that were made.

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Hear, hear.

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Therefore, as I set out in my letter this morning

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to the chairman of the select committee, my right honourable

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friend the member for Chichester, I have decided not to proceed

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with the class for NICs measures set out in the budget.

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There will be no increases in National Insurance contribution

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rates in this Parliament.

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The change of heart was welcomed by a leading Tory

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critic of the policy.

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The genuinely self-employed carry real financial risks

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by working for themselves, and I know that the Conservative

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Government really wants a tax system that will support risk-takers

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and growth creators, so will the Chancellor commit

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to work with colleagues over the coming months, who believe

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it is time to take a holistic and simplifying view on personal

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taxation for the self-employed,

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which will support wholeheartedly those who build

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new businesses and take risks?

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Yes, Mr Speaker, I can assure my honourable friend

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that this Government will always be on the side of those who genuinely

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strive to take risks, to innovate, to grow businesses and to contribute

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in that way to the economy.

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Might the Chancellor consider, to make up the loss in revenue,

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to bear down on those employers who force their employees

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into self-employment against their wish,

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destabilise their lives, and thereby get out of paying

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National Insurance contributions, as all good employers do pay?

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Who first realised that the Government were in flagrant breach

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of their manifesto commitment?

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Was it the Chancellor or was it the Prime Minister?

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And if manifestos are now paramount, and all parties must seek

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to implement their manifesto, will the Chancellor confirm,

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since he intends to go ahead with these changes,

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that they will appear in the Conservative manifesto

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at the next election, so the self-employed

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can vote accordingly?

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The Chancellor said he wouldn't be drawn on future commitments.

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As to Alex Salmond's first question...

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Who first raised the issue of the manifesto, I think,

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credit where credit is due...

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I think it was actually Laura Kuenssberg on the BBC,

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shortly after I said it in the budget speech.

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At the end of the statement, a Conservative raised a point

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of order with the speaker.

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Mr Speaker, as a slavish supporter of the Government,

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I'm in some difficulty, because my article robustly

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supporting the Chancellor's early policy in the Forest Journal

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is already with the printer.

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LAUGHTER

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And I just...

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Having been persuaded of the correctness of the course

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that he's now following, I merely needed an opportunity

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in which to recant.

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LAUGHTER

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Well, I hope the right honourable gentleman is now satisfied that,

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by the wanton abuse of the point of order procedure,

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he has found his own salvation.

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We'll leave it there.

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Let's go back to Prime Minister's Questions,

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where the SNP's Westminster leader turned to Brexit.

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On Monday, just hours before the bill which gives Theresa May

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the authority to begin the UK's exit from the EU was approved

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by parliament, the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon,

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announced plans for another independence vote.

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Angus Robertson reminded Theresa May she'd promised a UK-wide agreement

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before triggering Article 50.

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He is comparing membership of an organisation that we've been

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a member of for 40 years with our country.

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We have been one country for over 300 years.

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We have fought together, we've worked together,

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we have achieved together,

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and constitutional gameplaying must not be allowed to break the deep

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bonds of our shared history and our future together.

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Angus Robertson!

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Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister can wag her finger as much as she likes.

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Last year she made a promise.

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She promised an agreement.

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There's not an agreement.

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When will there be an agreement?

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Because, does she not understand?

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If she does not secure an agreement before triggering Article 50,

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if she is not prepared to negotiate on behalf of the Scottish Government

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and secure membership of the single European market, people in Scotland

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will have a referendum and we will have our say!

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Scotland will be leaving the European Union.

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It will leave the European Union either as a member of

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the United Kingdom or, were it independent,

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it's very clear with the Barroso document that it

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would not be a member of the European Union.

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What we need now is to unite, to come together as a country,

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and to ensure that we can get the best deal for the whole

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of the United Kingdom.

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Our First Minister was elected with the largest vote in

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Scottish parliamentary history, on a manifesto pledge which stated

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that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold

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an independence referendum if there's a significant

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and material change in circumstances,

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like Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.

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So, my question to the Prime Minister is simple.

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Wheesht!

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Does she agree that governments should stick

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to their manifesto promises?

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At least once.

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And, if so, she cannot object to the First Minister sticking to hers.

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In September 2014, the Scottish people were given the opportunity

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to vote as to whether or not they wished to remain

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in the United Kingdom.

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They chose that Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom.

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That was described by the right honourable gentleman,

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the member for Gordon, as a once-in-a-generation vote.

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And the other vote to take note of is that on June 23 last year,

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the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union,

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and that is what we are going to do.

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The Brexit Secretary David Davis has told MPs that the Government has not

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made an economic assessment of the implications of leaving

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the EU without a deal since the referendum.

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He made his remarks during a two-hour session with the Brexit

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committee, during which he told MPs they were

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"putting words into his mouth".

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So, can you just confirm that no deal would mean

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that British businesses would face tariffs and other

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nontariff barriers in their trade with the 27 member states of the EU?

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A simple yes or no will suffice.

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I'm afraid a simple yes or no doesn't actually do it, Mr Chairman.

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The presumption of no deal is literally that.

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Sorry, could you just say that again?

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Can you hear me all right?

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That's fine.

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The presumption of no deal is literally that.

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It would be a presumption and it is a presumption at this

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point of most favoured nation status under the World Trade Organisation

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arrangements, which means there will be tariffs.

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It doesn't say very much about nontariff barriers,

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but the presumption you're making is probably right.

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So there would be tariffs and that would mean, for example,

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UK producers of dairy and meat produce would be facing tariffs

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of 30% to 40%, and on cars, it would be 10%, is that correct?

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That's properly correct.

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That is correct, good, thank you.

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Forgive me, Mr Chairman, I don't want to mislead

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the committee or let them...

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Not at all.

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By absence.

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The range of tariffs is from next to nothing,

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in fact nothing, right through to very high

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numbers on agriculture.

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You're quite right, the numbers in agriculture are high

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because of the protectionist nature of the Common Agricultural Policy.

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OK, can you tell the committee whether the Government has

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undertaken an economic assessment of the implications for the British

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economy and for British businesses of there being no deal?

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Well, it made an estimate during the Leave campaign,

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the referendum campaign but I think one of the issues that's arisen

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is that those forecasts don't appear to have exactly been very

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robust since then.

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Right, my question...

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Not since then.

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The answer is, if you mean under my time, no.

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So you're saying there has been no further assessment

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of the implications of no deal at all since before

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the referendum, is that correct?

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No, that's not correct.

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You're putting words in my mouth.

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No, no, no.

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Yes, you are.

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One of the difficulties about your sort of style of sort of yes,

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no answers and questions is, of course, you don't deal

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with what we can do to mitigate.

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Much of this is about mitigation.

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Any forecast that you may, any forecast that you make depends

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on the mitigation you undertake.

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A Conservative was struck by the concerns the committee had

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heard on a trip to Dublin.

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When we were over there, the feeling was that there is a lot

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of warm words from the UK around the situation in Ireland but

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there's no actual clear solutions and we're days away from triggering

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Article 50 and, you know, Ireland, both Northern Ireland

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and the Republic of Ireland need certainty about what

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is going to happen.

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So, can you be a bit more specific about what's going to happen around

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custom checks to goods?

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HMRC are working on this at the moment.

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The Northern Ireland Office are working on this at the moment.

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We're having discussions with the Irish Republic

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on this at the moment.

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So that's all going on.

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OK, so that's a work in progress.

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What about the common travel area?

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Have we got agreement from the other 27 member states of the common

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travel area we can resort to what was there before?

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It is our intention and it's the Irish Republic's

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intention to maintain it.

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OK, so that's also still a work in progress.

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No, no, no, stop.

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Let's not put words in my mouth.

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What I have said to you...

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But you can't give us assurance today.

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No, it's plainly what we intend and plainly what we expect.

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If you like, if you want to put a label on this entire hearing,

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you can call it all a work in progress because we actually

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haven't engaged in negotiation yet.

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I'm telling you very specifically this is a very

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well-defined, intended policy.

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Please do not reinforce the problems you were talking

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about in Northern Ireland by calling everything a work in progress.

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That's why people get worried about this.

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We're aiming very plainly and a very clear outcome.

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With respect, we were in Dublin a few weeks ago and this is,

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you know, what we were told by politicians in Ireland

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that they have huge concerns about the uncertainty and they want

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certainty as soon as possible.

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You're watching Wednesday in Parliament with me,

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Alicia McCarthy.

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The Prime Minister has insisted women should be free

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to choose how they dress.

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She was responding to this week's European court ruling that workers

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can be banned from wearing headscarves and other

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religious symbols.

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The European Court of Justice ruling was prompted by the case

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of a receptionist in Belgium who was fired for

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wearing a headscarf at the security company, G4S.

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In a statement later, the Equalities Minister said

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the judgment did not fundamentally change the law.

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This Government is completely opposed to discrimination, including

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whether on the grounds of gender or religion or both.

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And it is right of all women to choose how they dress

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and we do not believe that these judgments change that.

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Exactly the same legal protections apply today

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as did before the rulings.

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We have a long tradition in this country for

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respecting religious freedom and many people

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will frankly listen in disbelief

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to the court's ruling that a corporate multinational like G4S

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risks its corporate neutrality being undermined

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by a receptionist in Belgium wearing a headscarf.

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At what point did the law decide that

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expressing religious belief through a cross,

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a turban or a headscarf was a threat

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to organisational neutrality?

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It is and it does remain unlawful to directly discriminate

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against someone because of their religion or to create spurious rules

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which would prevent them from wearing religious clothing

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or jewellery.

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Employers can, however, enforce a dress code but it must

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be for proportionate and legitimate reasons and must equally apply

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to all employees.

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Women and men must be allowed to choose their expression of faith.

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Simply put, this judgment is not consistent with the British

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liberal and human rights tradition.

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Of real concern is the implications this may now have for faith

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communities.

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Already, Madam Deputy Speaker, far right across Europe are

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rallying around this judgment.

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I'm sure I'm not alone in seeing a big difference

0:18:180:18:21

between a headscarf, crucifix or turban and

0:18:210:18:23

the burqa or niqab.

0:18:230:18:25

I wonder how this judgment will affect the two police forces

0:18:250:18:28

that I am aware of which are currently stating

0:18:280:18:30

that they are considering or willing to consider applications

0:18:300:18:33

from female police officers who may want to wear

0:18:330:18:36

a full niqab or burqa.

0:18:360:18:38

Where the job is safe for them to continue to wear

0:18:380:18:41

their religious garments, then we feel very much

0:18:410:18:45

that they should be encouraged to do so.

0:18:450:18:47

In 99.9% of jobs, including the security guard,

0:18:470:18:51

your ability to do a job is not affected by whether you wear

0:18:510:18:54

a skull cap, a headscarf, a turban, a cross, mangalsutra,

0:18:540:19:00

a tilaka or any such thing.

0:19:000:19:02

We don't want any employers mistakenly thinking that

0:19:020:19:05

this ruling gives them any kind of authority to sack any public

0:19:050:19:08

facing staff who wear headscarves or any other form

0:19:080:19:10

of religious symbols.

0:19:100:19:11

These protections are already in our domestic law, it's very clear

0:19:110:19:14

and we will always make sure

0:19:140:19:15

that they are enforced in the strongest possible way.

0:19:150:19:21

The rules around Personal Independence Payments, or Pips,

0:19:210:19:23

which help with the extra costs of a long-term health condition

0:19:230:19:26

or disability, change this week.

0:19:260:19:28

Ministers said they were forced to act after two court judgments

0:19:280:19:33

made the benefit more generous, ruling that claimants

0:19:330:19:35

with psychological problems who cannot travel without help must

0:19:350:19:38

be treated like those who are blind.

0:19:380:19:41

The Government argues restoring the original intention of the policy

0:19:410:19:44

would save ?3.7 billion by 2023.

0:19:440:19:49

The opposition demanded the Government think again.

0:19:490:19:53

The Government's decision to change the law on Pip is a clear

0:19:530:19:56

example of the way people with mental health conditions are not

0:19:560:19:59

given an equal treatment.

0:19:590:20:00

So does the Secretary of State agree that

0:20:000:20:02

his department's new guidance issued yesterday that mobility impairments

0:20:020:20:04

caused by psychological issues are not relevant?

0:20:040:20:11

The truth is that Pip is much better as a benefit for

0:20:110:20:14

people with mental health conditions than the predecessor benefit DLA.

0:20:140:20:20

It is absolutely the case under these

0:20:200:20:22

regulations and under Pip regulations that people can receive

0:20:220:20:25

the highest rate of the mobility component of Pip with a cognitive

0:20:250:20:30

impairment alone.

0:20:300:20:33

This is a cut and it directly targets people with

0:20:330:20:36

mental health problems.

0:20:360:20:37

What the regulation, taking effect tomorrow, does

0:20:370:20:39

is to insert in the qualifying conditions for Pip in the section

0:20:390:20:43

about planning and following a journey, the phrase, "other than for

0:20:430:20:46

reasons of psychological distress."

0:20:460:20:52

Would my right honourable friend confirm again that

0:20:520:20:54

actually there is no cuts

0:20:540:20:56

involved in this at all to people who have been previously

0:20:560:20:58

awarded through Pip and secondly, that actually those with mental

0:20:580:21:02

health disabilities get more under Pip than they did under DLA?

0:21:020:21:06

The International Development Secretary has told MPs Britain

0:21:060:21:09

is helping to win the propaganda war against so called Islamic State

0:21:090:21:12

on social media.

0:21:120:21:14

Priti Patel said the volume of posts on social media by the group had

0:21:140:21:17

fallen by 75% over the past 12 months.

0:21:170:21:23

And on social media, Daesh posts now outnumber

0:21:230:21:25

the pro-Daesh propaganda six to one.

0:21:250:21:28

The UK is leading...

0:21:280:21:29

The UK's leading coalition efforts to do this.

0:21:290:21:33

Much progress has been made against Daesh and since 2014, they

0:21:330:21:39

have lost 62% of territory they once held in Iraq and 30% in Syria.

0:21:390:21:43

But there remains much more still to be done.

0:21:430:21:47

Even once Daesh is militarily defeated, we must continue to be

0:21:470:21:52

wary of its resurgence.

0:21:520:21:54

In Iraq, this means supporting the government

0:21:540:21:57

of Iraq to restore order and be accountable to all of its people to

0:21:570:22:01

meet their needs.

0:22:010:22:02

And in Syria, it means continuing our efforts to deliver

0:22:020:22:04

a political settlement that enables a transition

0:22:040:22:08

away from Assad towards a government that serves

0:22:080:22:10

all of the Syrian people.

0:22:100:22:12

Dfid's core role is to tackle the global challenges

0:22:120:22:15

of our time, including poverty and disease, mass migration,

0:22:150:22:17

insecurity and conflict.

0:22:170:22:21

I believe that now we must come together with cross-party support

0:22:210:22:25

for helping the most vulnerable civilian refugees

0:22:250:22:28

most affected by Daesh.

0:22:280:22:31

The UK needs to commit to taking its fair share of

0:22:310:22:34

refugees, 20,000 over five years is not a fair share,

0:22:340:22:37

nor is 350 under the Dubs scheme.

0:22:370:22:39

And if ODA money is to be used by other Government departments,

0:22:390:22:42

the Home Office can use it for the first year of resettlement.

0:22:420:22:45

Mr Speaker, the former Prime Minister

0:22:450:22:47

said UK military involvement in Syria

0:22:470:22:49

would cut off the head of the snake.

0:22:490:22:51

Where is the evidence that that has happened?

0:22:510:22:54

Humanitarian response is not just the right thing

0:22:540:22:56

to do to make us safer.

0:22:560:22:58

As long as people in Syria and Iraq

0:22:580:23:00

live with the consequences of UK military

0:23:000:23:01

adventurism, we have a responsibility to help

0:23:010:23:03

clean up the mess.

0:23:030:23:05

Patrick Grady.

0:23:050:23:06

Well, we heard Priti Patel there talking

0:23:060:23:08

about the use of social media and down the corridor

0:23:080:23:12

in the Lords Peers pressed the Government to impose a duty

0:23:120:23:15

on social media companies to tackle online abuse.

0:23:150:23:17

Last week, when the BBC questioned over 100 images

0:23:170:23:21

of children on Facebook, only 18 were removed as a result.

0:23:210:23:25

The BBC were then asked to send screen grabs of the

0:23:250:23:28

images to Facebook and instead of acting to take them down,

0:23:280:23:31

Facebook then reported the BBC journalist to the police.

0:23:310:23:33

Yesterday, Google, Twitter and Facebook appeared before

0:23:330:23:35

the Home Affairs Select Committee, where Twitter admitted they were

0:23:350:23:38

doing not a good enough job on hate crime.

0:23:380:23:41

The noble lady expects robust processes to be in place but if she

0:23:410:23:47

won't consider statutory guidance, what is the Government's plan to

0:23:470:23:49

protect victims of online abuse?

0:23:490:23:53

I take note the noble lady's recounting to the House the issues

0:23:530:23:59

that you raised and the BBC case last week.

0:23:590:24:03

It is, of course, right that we continue to keep our

0:24:030:24:06

position under review.

0:24:060:24:08

But a complete response to this problem requires more than just

0:24:080:24:13

legislation, it requires the support of internet service providers and

0:24:130:24:16

their communities, it requires the application of advanced

0:24:160:24:18

technologies.

0:24:180:24:22

For instance, in our work encountering violent extremism,

0:24:220:24:24

it requires counter narrative initiatives, disruption mechanism,

0:24:240:24:26

robust complaints and takedown procedures.

0:24:260:24:28

All of this to safely challenge the hate that people are

0:24:280:24:31

facing online.

0:24:310:24:32

It's far too easy to access abusive and explicit content

0:24:320:24:35

on social media services, including Facebook, Twitter,

0:24:350:24:39

Snapchat, Instagram, Yik Yap, Vine, Kik and doubtless many others.

0:24:390:24:47

And that such companies need to do more to help parents

0:24:470:24:49

parent in order that children can take advantage of

0:24:490:24:53

technology in a safe and responsible way.

0:24:530:24:58

The noble lady is absolutely correct, it is indeed important

0:24:580:25:03

that these companies take responsibility for thei actions.

0:25:030:25:07

The majority of the internet platforms

0:25:070:25:12

are based overseas and they provide global

0:25:120:25:14

services and as this House is fully aware, there

0:25:140:25:16

is significant complexity to introducing any regime

0:25:160:25:17

that governs online activity, including keeping any such

0:25:170:25:19

obligation current, given the speed and evolution of technology and

0:25:190:25:22

given the global nature of the internet and the extraterritorial

0:25:220:25:26

jurisdiction that applies.

0:25:260:25:29

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

0:25:290:25:32

tomorrow for another round up of the best

0:25:320:25:34

of the day here in Parliament,

0:25:340:25:36

including Culture Questions, a debate on the Chilcot inquiry

0:25:360:25:38

into the Iraq war and a debate on suicide prevention.

0:25:380:25:40

But for now, from me, Alicia McCarthy, goodbye.

0:25:400:25:48