13/06/2011 The Record


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Hello and welcome to the Record, a round-up of the day in Parliament.


The Government says there'll be no U-turn on the benefit cap, because


it's a good policy. Those on benefits should not be earning more


than those who are living and working harder.


Lawyers, writers and scientists join forces to highlight the


failings of the law on defamation. And, making sure the taxpayer gets


the best deal when the Government sells off its shares in the bailed-


out banks. The one group that should not be allowed to bid for


those shares other bankers who got us into this financial mess in the


first place. But first, the Government's Welfare


Reform Bill includes plans to limit the amount of money one household


can receive in benefits. It will be set at the average annual earnings,


currently �26,000 a year. In an interview at the weekend, the


Welfare Reform Minister, Lord Freud, appeared to suggest a shift in


policy on the benefit cap. His comments were seized on at Question


Time by Labour's work and pensions spokesman. The cap on overall


benefits is an important part of the bowl but yesterday, the noble


lord Freud said on television there would be a significant U-turn and


when pressed on the detail, he said this. Well, it is wherever we think


that, you know, there is something happening that is undesirable. I


don't wish to be pedantic but that is not a clear structure on welfare


reform. Will we have a new proposal? He should not believe


everything he reads in the media. The reality is that this policy is


not changing because it is a good policy. Near on half of those of


working age are all working earn less than �26,000 a year and they


pay taxes to see some people on benefits earning much more than


that figure. I simply say to him, as we proceed through the report


and third reading, I look forward to seeing him actually support this


and the support and vote for the welfare bill on the third reading


because he believes that those on benefits should not be earning more


than those who are living and working hard. His Welfare Reform


Bill would be easy to support if we actually knew what difference it


was going to make in the real world but at the moment we don't know


what it means for childcare, people with disabilities or the benefit


cap either. Since he took office, the housing benefit bill has been


projected to go up by the Treasury by �1 billion. If he cannot tell us


what his policy on exemptions is, will he tell us what the Lord


Freud's policy is going to cost the taxpayers? We are not changing the


policy, as I said to him. In fact, we are doing what we already doing,


which is discretionary payments to make sure the policy is eased in


exactly right. Wait a minute. He cannot have it both ways. He has


just said that we are not cutting housing benefit enough. He would


like to talk to his honourable friend who says we are cutting it


too much. This is the problem with the opposition. Today we had a


speed from the Leader of the Opposition where they said they


would be tough on those on benefits. This whole idea of welfare and


change is a lot of wriggly worm he returns from the opposition.


Government's benefit cap will force many people to be uprooted from


their jobs and schools in my constituency. According to his


colleague, the Member for Chelsea and Fulham, such people are making


lifestyle choices. Is that the Government's view? The position on


the cap is very straightforward and that is to say that those who are


on benefit should not, of course, receive more money than those war


working and paying their taxes. There are, of course, exemptions


for that. Those who are disabled and widows and war widows, they are


exempted, but for the rest, the simple principle lies that if you


can, you should be helping to try and work and �26,000 a year seems


like a reasonable sum of money to Now, the big political story of the


day was the future of the NHS in England. The NHS Future Forum,


commissioned by the Prime Minister to review the Government's proposed


changes, has published its findings after a two-month listening


exercise. The Forum has called for substantial changes to the Health


and Social Care Bill, including the gradual introduction of the new


regime and a greater emphasis on collaboration instead of


competition. The head of the Forum, Professor Steve Field, went to


Downing Street to brief the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister,


Nick Clegg, and the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley.


Professor Field said there were "genuine and deep-seated concerns"


about the legislation. Back in the Commons, there was concern about


how the Government was going to take his recommendations forward.


Mr Speaker, you are of course aware there is a major bill before


Parliament proposing huge changes in the National Health Service. It


has been announced in the press today that the Prime Minister and


Deputy Prime Minister are to hold a staged event at 12pm tomorrow,


announcing the changes they intend to make in the stationary. Is it


not utterly unacceptable, particularly when a bill is before


the House of Commons, that announcements should be made about


what is to be done to that bowl should take place two-and-a-half


hours before the House sits, and do you not agree that that statement


should be made first to the House of Commons and that this stunt


should be called off? I reiterate my point. If ministers, be they


ever so high, have important policy announcements to make, including


about any changes in policy, those announcements should be made first


to the House of Commons. One MP tried to draw the Speaker


out a bit more. I am letting your original pronouncement in relation


to my honourable friend for Manchester sink in. I would not


want to put any words in your mouth, obviously. But it seemed to me you


might have been suggesting that the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime


Minister would not be right to go ahead with an announcement before


coming to this House in another venue? If the honourable gentleman


have not made his name as a Member of Parliament I feel sure that he


would have had a very fruitful career at the bar. Behind the bar!


Not downstairs but in the law courts. What I would say is that


have not suggesting anything and I do not feel the need to add


anything to what I have already said in response to the honourable


gentleman. First I thought I said was pretty clear and secondly, the


honourable member for Manchester Gorton is not in any way slow on


the uptake. I hope that his clear! The Speaker, John Bercow. A


committee examining the libel laws in England and Wales has been told


that the costs for claimants and defendants should be cut. The


Government has produced a draft Defamation Bill aimed at reducing


the number of cases and the expense involved. It would also tighten up


the definition of what is libellous. A joint committee of MPs and peers


heard from a number of journalists and authors who've been sued. Tom


Bower, who successfully defended a libel action brought against him by


the newspaper proprietor Richard Desmond, said the bill didn't go


far enough. I would not have been helped in any way by the


recommendations which you are suggesting. And I have actually


bought it here because I wanted to see, here is a book that describes


Richard Desmond's dishonesty. I cannot get it published not because


it is not true but because of the libel. The publishers in London are


not afraid of publishing the truth and the insurers are not afraid of


financing of the information, but it is the time and costs and the


fact that the complications within the trial process make it


impossible to actually produce this book and sell it without consuming


a huge amount of effort and time. Is the problem rather than being


with the law of libel a problem with the mechanisms by which


defamation trials are conducted and decided? The cost is the chilling


factor for all publishing houses at the moment and it has got worse. It


is in the interests of an aggressive, ruthless litigant to


increase the costs to stifle the publisher.


He wanted a key change. You must include within your bill a


presumption of public interest of publication as they have in America,


and that the threshold for somebody like a public figure, whether it is


Richard Desmond or another, to prove that the author is motivated


by malice. Once that threshold is decided and discussed, then you can


go into the issues of whether it is true or not on reputation -- and


whether reputation has been affected. But until then, I do not


think you will get over the problem. Other witnesses thought businesses


should be barred from suing for libel. The inequality of arms


between a corporation and an individual is extremely huge and I


don't see any justification for corporations being treated and is


they -- as if they have human rights. I think it is entirely


reasonable to expect that they can use this where there is a higher


bar to take cases against individuals. Some of the most


concerning cases over the last couple of years have involved


companies, so I was sued by a company, several others have also


been sued by companies. Bloggers have also been threatened. It is


companies too often have the most chilling effect and they're often


people we should be challenging... Well, they are not people, that is


the point Maghreb. They are entities we should be challenging


in order to get to the truth. Having said that, the question is,


or what redress do we have? And the Press Complaints Commission and


very large advertising budgets, I think it those other ways companies


can seek to redress if the claim has been false. It is my view that


wherever somebody is writing critically about ideas and


practices where it is clearly in the public interest that they do so,


I think the Bar should be said very high for somebody trying to sue


them for libel. If a public interest can be shown they should


then have to show malice or recklessness on the part of the


person making assertions about them if it turns out they were wrong.


all of these cases where people have been sued for libel, the


claimants thought they had a real chance. In my case, the law was so


grey, so messy, most lawyers thought it could have gone either


way. When the case was eventually resolved, it looked as though it


should have been a slam dunk from day one. The material was removed


and I think my views have been vindicated completely. So what


should have been a slam dunk becomes a horrendous mess because


the case law is so fuzzy. This is why the goal is a welcome because


the people who face these issues, it brings clarity to the law and


common sense to the law for them, and hopefully, the sort of measures


you will be bringing will block those cases by having a high hurdle


in clause one and by hopefully stopping corporations from suing


and that. These things happening. The journalist and author, Dr Simon


Singh. You're watching The Record, on BBC Parliament. The main


headlines. The Work and Pensions Secretary has


insisted there's no change of policy on capping benefit at


�26,000 a year. He said Labour was making what he called "wriggly


worm" U-turns on welfare reform. Coming up, more questions for


people who've filled out their census forms! They are required to


stand on a doorstep for 10 minutes answering personal questions to a


Peers have been trying to find out when and how taxpayers' added to


recompense by the banks. The organisation that manages the


government's shares in the banks is called UK financial investments. At


Lord's Question Time, a Treasury minister explained what its next


move would be. The gunmen will be advised on the


timing of the dispose of these assets. The Office of National


Statistics will decide how to account for the proceeds, taking


into account the nature of the transaction. How the proceeds will


be used will be determined as a part of the normal annual budget


process. I would like to thank the Minister that the Government has


been able to tell us little about their future banking policy.


Perhaps we could be a light and bore. She complained about project


Merlin, a scheme to get the bank's lending more to small businesses.


When are the banks actually going to lend to small enterprises at


rates they can afford? I could be churlish, or be fair to other noble


lords will want to ask about the question. We seem to be strain


rather far from the question. Let me briefly say, indeed project


Merlin, agreed between the government and the banks means that


the banks have put aside more lending capacity this year than


last year. We have transparent reporting and a range of other


initiatives which the banks have committed to to ensure that lending


flows, as well as putting money into a considerable new equity fund


for smaller businesses. Given that all UK citizens have had to bear


some of the costs of the government bailing out the banks, can the


Minister confirm that the Treasury is giving serious consideration to


a distribution of the estate owned shares in RBS's to the UK


population as a whole. I can confirm to my Noble Friend that the


UK financial investments will be considering retell participation in


the distribution of the shares. That does not mean a quite what he


says, which is some form of distribution but mass participation


in some form is very much to be considered but value-for-money is


one of the considerations that but they are required to take into


account. Could I ask, particularly in the use of the word value-for-


money, is it not the Government's duty to determine that the taxpayer


gets the maximum proceeds from the sale of the shares. Is it not also


clear cut that the one group that should not be allowed to bid for


the shares are the bankers that got us into this financial mess in the


first place. The obligation on UK Financial Investments is to provide


advice to the Government on the time and the form of the sale and


the value-for-money. The Government does not in Stent to be a permanent


investor -- intend to be a permanent investor in the bank's


and the disposals will have to take into account many considerations


including market conditions at the time. Staying with Lords Question


Time, the once-in-a-decade Census form may be a forgotten memory for


many people. But some households are having to answer yet more


questions, even though their forms have been filed correctly. It's


part of an exercise by the Office for National Statistics to evaluate


the census. The current Office for National Statistics census coverage


survey is a validation exercise which will greatly enhance the


statistical authority and value of the census. It will cover 17,000


postcodes across England and Wales. It represents a sample of 1.3% of


all postcodes in England and Wales and will cover 330,000 addresses.


The cost is expected to be �6.5 million, representing 1.3% of the


total sense as costs. The cost of processing the information


collected in the survey is included in the overall costs of the


processing operation. I thank the Minister for that full answer but


the Minister will be aware that this is a survey of the people you


have filled out the census form and about whom are no questions have


been raised as to accuracy and we are required to stand on a doorstep


for 10 minutes answering questions to a complete stranger. Surveyors


are instructed that if someone refuses to answer to return up to


10 times to wear them down into actually answering the survey. As


someone said to me, it is fascinating to watch an exercise


that not only wastes public money but also manages to alienate the


public. Will he give us a guarantee that future evaluations of the


census of proportion it and targeted and designed with a dose


of common sense? If one has to halt a objective survey, is it necessary


to get complete strangers to ask questions. Wider complete strangers


ask questions, of course strangers after ours questions. -- have to


ask questions. There is a short interview on the doorstep and a


form that can be filled in if people prefer to fill in a fall.


People may ask, why are we doing this if we have already completed


the census form? It is to ensure that the figures in the census are


no accurate representation of the household. I think it is worth


investing as little bit of extra effort. It is a valid statistical


exercise. It is compliant with quality assurance. It is an


international practice. It makes sure that the census really does


achieve its adjectives -- objectives. I thought if you filled


in the form it did not have to be on the doorstep but from what he


has just said it sounds as if they set a number of people are still


interviewed, even if they have filled in a form. How can they


assess which ones have completed the form? This is done on the basis


of post code and it is designed to structure those postcodes where


information has, in the past, been difficult to obtain and to make


sure that the information that has been returned his valid. I thank my


Noble Friend for pointing it out that the actual or household may or


may not have completed a form in the first place. This is designed


to make sure that the information that is available is correct.


a surprising admission from Lord Taylor. If it is the purpose of the


survey to ensure the information on the census forms is accurate, I


wonder if it is possible to ensure that members of this House are


included in that survey. The way that the census form was designed


made it extremely difficult for people who are members of this


House to give accurate information about how they spend their working


days. I thank the noble lady for that question. I struggled a little


crew complete my own form and I was rather a embarrassed considering I


occasionally have to answer questions on the subject. I can


reassure the noble lady that were she part of the postcode lottery,


if one might put it like that, the postcode selected for this into the


process, she might indeed find somebody wanting to interview her


about her census form. Later in the Lords, the Government


suffered another defeat on its European Union Bill, intended to


give the British people a greater say on European issues. Peers voted


by a margin of just four votes to reduce the number of issues on


which referendums could be held. It means referendums could only be


held on joining the single currency, creating a single European military


force and on changes to border controls.


Just to focus our debate at this important stage on what the essence


of these amendments are. That essence is to reduce the 56


varieties of referendum loch that this Bill contains two new treaties


plus three major issues, joining the euro, joining showing an, and


the setting up of a single European army, or racing all-European force.


There are clearly some aspects of transferring the power where the


government has decided not to make its subject to a referendum. It is


not in terms of what issues are being protected here by the


referendum. It is not something that is new and pulled out of the


air. It is about issues that have been seen as important red lines


not to cross by governments of both persuasions. We must recognise that


people will only vote in a referendum on issues which are of


real interest to them. So far the principle of the way in which


referendums should be used have been recognised and observed.


who are moving these amendments would argue, as I do now, that we


actually strengthening Parliament's powers over the handling of any


changes to the treaty, not, as the government does, weakening of


Parliament's powers by giving them referendums and the possibility


overall the British Government. It is important if you are trying


to support the Bill that to give your name to a referendum that


there are l lot of things that tunnels objected to referenda any


more. There should be more protection for them so that we can


be sure that if at some stage the European train goes tearing along


towards an ultimate destination of a united Europe, and we will get


off befall British sovereignty is lost and we cease to be an


independent nation. I am not attracted at all by this piecemeal


approach and that this is all done in a spirit of compromise and we


can take away the right to have referendums here and there and it


does not matter, it is just like the language we have had for the


last 25 years and I do not find it attractive.


And to finish the programme, we're going back to the start of the


day's proceedings in the Commons. The Queen delivered a message to


MPs, via the Government whip Mark Francois. With the official title,


Vice-Chamberlain of the Household, Mark Francois is technically one of


the Queen's officers. Order, order, Mr Speaker, and message from Her


Majesty the Queen. I have received your address concern in the 90th


birthday of his Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh. It gives me


great pleasure to here of the affection and regard of the House,


the nation and the Commonwealth on this special occasion and I welcome


your intention to send a message to MPs enjoying that military-style


twirl and stamp of the foot. In case you missed it, here it is


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