11/02/2016 Thursday in Parliament


11/02/2016

Highlights of Thursday 11 February in Parliament, presented by Keith Macdougall.


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Transcript


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Hello there, and welcome to Thursday In Parliament.

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Coming up:

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There's anger in the Commons as the Health Secretary announces

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he is to impose new contracts on junior doctors in England.

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Does the Secretary of State not feel a sense of shame?

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It wasn't me that refused to sit around the table and talk

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until December, it was the BMA.

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Google executives say they understand why the public

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is angry about its tax bill.

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And an SNP MP agrees with a report criticising the Government's

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procedure for English Votes For English Laws.

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The current standing order and procedure is a guddle,

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a boorach and in short, a complete mess.

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But first, the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced

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that the Government will impose a new contract on junior

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doctors in England.

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Doctors have staged a series of protests and launched industrial

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action in their long-running dispute with the Government

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over new contracts.

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In the week, the doctors' union, the British Medical Association,

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rejected a final take it-or-leave-it offer.

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The Government's chief negotiator Sir David Dalton then advised

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ministers to do whatever was necessary to end the deadlock.

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The Health Secretary came to the Commons and explained why

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change was needed.

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Under the existing contract, doctors can receive the same pay

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for working quite different amounts of unsocial hours.

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Doctors not working nights can be paid the same as those who do,

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and if one doctor works just one hour over the maximum shift length,

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it can trigger a 66% pay rise to all doctors on that rota.

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He set out what the new contract would do.

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Tired doctors risk patient safety, so in the new contract,

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the maximum number of hours that can be worked in one week will be

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reduced from 91 to 72.

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The maximum number of consecutive nights doctors can be asked to work

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will be reduced from seven to four.

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The maximum number of consecutive long days will be reduced

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from seven to five.

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And no doctor will ever be rostered consecutive weekends.

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Because we do not want take-home pay to go down for junior doctors,

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after updated modelling, I can tell the House these changes

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will allow an increase in basic salary of not 11%,

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as was previously thought, but 13.5%.

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Three quarters of doctors will see a take-home pay rise,

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and no trainee working within contracted hours

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will have their pay cut.

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Jeremy Hunt also announced a review into ways to improve doctors'

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morale, but the opposition was scathing.

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This whole dispute could have been handled so differently.

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The Health Secretary's failure to listen to junior doctors,

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his deeply dubious misrepresentation of research about care at weekends

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and his desire to make these contract negotiations

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into a symbolic fight for delivery of seven-day services has led

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to a situation which has been unprecedented in my lifetime.

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Can the Health Secretary not see that imposing a new contract

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which doesn't enjoy the confidence of junior doctors will destroy

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morale, which is already at rock bottom?

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She feared many doctors would head for countries like Australia.

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A poll earlier this week found that nearly 90% of junior doctors

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are prepared to leave the NHS if the contract is imposed.

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How does the Health Secretary propose to deliver seven-day

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services with one tenth of the current junior doctor workforce?

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How can it possibly be right for us to be training junior doctors

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and the consultants of tomorrow, only to be exporting them en masse

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to the southern hemisphere?

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It's quite obvious that after three years, the BMA were prepared just

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to let the whole thing drag on with talks and days of action

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until he either abandoned the seven-day service or gave them

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an enormous pay settlement in order to buy them into doing it.

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The problem around recognition of unsocial hours might increase

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the difficulty we already have in recruiting people

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for the acute specialties: A, maternity and acute medicine.

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They are already struggling.

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This may well make that worse.

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What we now need is to move forward in a positive spirit that actually

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brings this dispute to an end, takes the temperature down

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and actually recognises that we all want the same thing,

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and that is safety for patients.

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Will he entertain the idea of a commission, as advocated

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by my right honourable friend, the member for North Norfolk,

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and indeed others on both sides of this House,

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to find a long-term consensual solution to the growing health

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and care challenges we face?

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I think the trouble with commissions is that they tend to take rather

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a long time to come up with their conclusions,

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and we need to sort out these problems now.

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I spent 30 years in the world of work representing employees,

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conducting negotiations and solving disputes.

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I have seldom seen a sense of grievance so grotesquely

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mishandled, insulting the intelligence of junior doctors

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by telling them that they do not understand what is on offer.

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Does the Secretary of State not feel a sense of shame that his handling

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of this dispute should have so poisoned relationships

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with junior doctors, the backbone of the National

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Health Service?

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Mr Speaker, he can do a lot better than that.

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We have been willing to negotiate since June.

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It wasn't me that refused to sit around the table and talk

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until December, it was the BMA, who before even talking

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to the Government, balloted for industrial action.

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What totally irresponsible behaviour, and if Labour

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were responsible, they would be condemning it as well.

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The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt.

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Google executives have told the Public Accounts Committee

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that they understand public anger at the firm's ?130 million UK tax

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bill, but they maintain that it was a fair amount of money,

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reached after an audit by Her Majesty's

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Revenue and Customs.

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MPs asked why it took six years to come up with the figure

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and challenged them on their tax arrangements.

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The session started with enquiries about the salaries of senior

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Google staff.

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Can you confirm reports that your Chief Executive was paid

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?138 million last year?

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I don't have the exact figure in front of me...

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$199 million.

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In the last few days, a new stock-based compensation

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was announced four our recently appointed Chief Executive.

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That is an amount which is based on stock.

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The value of the stock depends on the performance in the future

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and it invests over multiple years.

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Well, it's a lot of money. That's true.

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Yes.

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And your tax settlement that you announced a couple of weeks ago

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with HMRC, covering a ten-year period, was ?130 million.

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That's correct.

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OK, we will get into what that involves maybe later.

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Mr Brittin, I'm just here...

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We are here for taxpayers in Britain.

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Do you hear the anger and frustration out there that

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with those huge figures, you settled for a figure

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of ?130 million?

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Absolutely.

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And I welcome the chance to come and talk to you about this.

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I understand the anger and indeed it...

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Do you really understand the anger, Mr Brittin?

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What do you get paid, Mr Brittin?

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If that's relevant, I will happily disclose that to the committee.

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What I understand is... I'm asking what you get paid.

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I will happily disclose that if that is a relevant

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matter for committee. It is a relevant matter.

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I am asking you, so it is a relevant matter.

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Can you tell me what you get paid, please?

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I don't have the figure, but I will happily provide...

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You don't know what you get paid, Mr Brittin?

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Well...

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Chair... Let me...

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You tell us you want a transparent system, and yet with the system

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that is here, you used the double Irish, you used the Dutch sandwich

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and you used Bermuda, and your argument so far...

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We will come onto Bermuda.

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Your argument so far that I have heard is everybody else does it,

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so we do.

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Matt Brittin explained why Google set up its HQ in Dublin.

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We have people speaking over 40 languages there, serving

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customers across the region.

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The reason we do that is we believe we can provide a better service

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by having expertise that is concentrated and shared.

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And many of our UK customers export to multiple markets,

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and having that resource that can speak multiple languages and help

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them reach those customers...

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We assemble our operations for business reasons,

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not for tax reasons.

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Just to be quite clear on that point, because it is an important

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one, the evidence you have given us today is that you have set up

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in Dublin because of the ability to get lots of linguistic

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skills in Dublin?

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But it has nothing to do with the tax rates?

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No...

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LAUGHTER

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That's what you just said. No, I said that...

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To be clear, we set up our operations...

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No, we love beingin London and we have hired 1000 more staff

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since I last appeared. Multilingual?

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Why did it take you six years, which is as long

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as the Second World War, to explain your activities

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adequately to HMRC?

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This is a process that HMRC drives and runs,

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and one of the things they did in that process is they did take

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an extended period of time to look at the nature

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of an internet business.

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So one of the things they did was slow down the process in order

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to ask us, other tax authorities and look at the nature

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of the internet.

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So they went back and looked at the detail of how

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our products operate.

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But the timetable of the process is driven by HMRC, according

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to their published and fairly detailed and rigorous standards.

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Tom's team was fully involved in answering their questions

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throughout that period.

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So basically you are saying that it's HMRC's fault for being so slow.

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They run the process according to their published standards

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and the requirements the Government puts on them as their

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independent tax experts.

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Well, our committee is charged with looking at the effectiveness

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and efficiency in economy, and if it takes six years

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to investigate something, either you are very bad

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at explaining or they are very thick at understanding.

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Next up was senior tax officials from HMRC,

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who were confident that they had got the full tax due from Google.

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What I hope the public will see is that HMRC has done a thorough

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and professional job and got the amount of tax that they can get

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from Google under the law.

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And indeed, over the period of 2010-2015 from large

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businesses generally, ?38 billion in additional tax

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from large businesses.

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It is impossible to get that large amount from large businesses

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without doing a thorough and professional job.

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That is what I want the British public to believe.

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Whether they believe that the amount of tax that Google has to pay under

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the law is fair or not is a matter for them to debate,

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but it is not a matter for which I can account to.

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And HMRC insisted it was not outmanoeuvred by large corporations.

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Now, there has been a furious reaction in the Commons

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to the Government's attempt to justify proposed cuts to short

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money, the payments given to opposition parties to help them

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perform their parliamentary functions.

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In his Autumn Statement, the Chancellor George Osborne

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announced a 19% cut in funding, to be followed by a freeze

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for the rest of this Parliament.

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In opposition, the Conservatives banked ?46 million a year in short

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money, yet in Government, they want to cut short money

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by 20% for the opposition.

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There is a word for that, Mr Speaker, but it's not

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parliamentary.

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How can it be right for the Government to cut the policy

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development grant of political parties by 19% when it's not cutting

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the amount of money spent on special advisers its own?

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Unlike the impression given by his remarks,

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short money has actually risen very substantially over the course

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of the last five years.

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It has gone up, Mr Speaker, by more than 50%.

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It is more than 50% higher than it used to be and if we make no

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changes, Mr Speaker, over the course of the next few

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years, it will continue to rise still further.

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The country will not understand why politicians should be exempt

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from having to deal with their...

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To deal with the effects of the financial deficit,

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which we were bequeathed by the last Labour Government.

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The only reason why we have to tighten our belts as a nation,

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Mr Speaker, is because of the whopping financial deficit

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which we were bequeathed by the last Labour Government.

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And it cannot be right that politicians should argue

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that they should be in some way exempt, a special class,

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and not have to do their bit.

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The chair of the Public Administration and

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Constitutional Affairs committee voiced his concerns.

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It is quite clear from these exchanges that the Government...

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If the policy is as reasonable as he insists, then the Government

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have handled this matter in a clumsy manner.

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The opposition feels unconsulted.

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Or is it that there is an agenda behind this change which is rather

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more political in its intent?

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Government is growing. Special advisers are growing.

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The house of Lords is growing.

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But our ability to hold the Government to account

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is being stripped back.

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One rule for Tory cronies, one rule for everyone else.

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Can the Minister reassure me that all the parties in this house

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will be fully involved in every stage of

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all the consultations?

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And will he bear in mind that a flat cut in short money and policy

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development grant money has a disproportionate effect on smaller

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parties, particularly regional parties?

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These are important matters in allowing us to function properly.

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Does the Minister agree that this is public money and that the public

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will deeply resent this being spent on politicians to do more politics?

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Does he agree that the rules on short money need to reflect

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the fact that the cost of doing politics, of doing policy,

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of doing research and of communication have come down?

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We live in a world where Google is at

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our fingertips.

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We don't need an army of researchers.

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We live in a world of Twitter and blogs.

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We do not need a whole department

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of press officers.

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Does he agree that the public will resent money used to pay

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for Spads, special advisers and shadow special advisers who have

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watched too much of The West Wing to sit in Portcullis House

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at public expense.

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This government and the party opposite have form when it

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comes to reading the electoral playing field.

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The party opposite may have broken the -

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the law by spending above the legal limit at by-elections.

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They're ramming through

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one-sided changes to the funding of political parties while leaving

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in place their ability to raise huge sums from hedge fund managers.

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Now they intend slashing short money which ensures opposition parties can

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hold government to account.

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Can the Minister guarantee that these cuts

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will not be the final chapter in our transition from a multiparty

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state to a one-party state Robert Mugabe would be at home in.

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Mr Speaker, I don't know where to start.

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In trying to rebutt some of the absurd

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assumptions in that question.

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I think the short answer is to all of them, no.

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You're watching Thursday in Parliament.

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Here on BBC Parliament with me Alicia McCarthy.

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Housing associations should ensure that large cash surpluses are spent

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in a way that results in more homes being developed if there's housing

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shortage in their area.

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The call came from the chairman of the communities

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and local government committee as he delivered its report

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on the government's plans to let housing association tenants buy

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their homes.

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The comment comes amid concerns about salaries paid to some top

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housing association executives.

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In its report, the committee also questioned the funding model

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the government was using for this latest right to buy scheme.

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They warn that suppliers of social housing could be reduced

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unless action was taken to make sure they

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were replaced on an at least one-for-one basis.

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Throughout our investigations we've found a great

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deal of uncertainty, that's a key point.

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A lack of detail about the robustness of the funding

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model for the right to buy is extremely questionable.

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We call on the government to cost the programme

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fully as a matter of urgency.

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We feel there are unresolved issues and

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we remain concerned that the government's policies

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could have a detrimental effect on the provision

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of accessible and affordable housing across all tenures but in particular

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affordable rental homes.

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We found that large numbers of homes sold through the statutory

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right to buy for council tenants had in a relatively short

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space of time become rental properties in the private sector.

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This is a concern to is because private rented sector

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is often more expensive than social housing.

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The quality of homes can, in some cases

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be lower.

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Selling much-needed social assets at a discount only for them

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to become more expensive in the private rented sector

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is therefore a significant concern for the community.

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The success of the extended right to buy largely

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depends on homes sold being replaced and housing supply maintained.

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We appreciate the size of the challenge

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of building more homes to meet demand but we seek more details

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from the government how it will meet its

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objective, at least one-for-one replacement of the homes sold.

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I was interested in conclusion number 96, which says

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it is important that housing associations which generate

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surpluses apply them to delivering new housing.

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In his report he highlights the fact that the department has identified

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the housing association sector as having a surplus of ?2.4 billion

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which it could make use of.

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Does he share my concern that there is actually

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tremendous scope for more efficiencies within housing

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associations and is he is concerned as I am that some of the Chief

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Executives of these housing associations receive very large

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salaries indeed.

0:17:310:17:34

I think this was an issue which the committee were mindful of.

0:17:340:17:37

I think that wording is very clear.

0:17:370:17:39

Where there those large surpluses, where there are housing

0:17:390:17:43

shortages to be met, Housing associations should be

0:17:430:17:46

looking to spend those surpluses in way that delivers more homes.

0:17:460:17:49

The housing minister thanked the committee for its report

0:17:490:17:51

but made no promises.

0:17:510:17:55

The new system of English votes for English laws is overly

0:17:550:18:01

complicated and may not last long, MPs have warned.

0:18:010:18:05

The Public Administration select committee said

0:18:050:18:09

the arrangement could end up as a short-term experiment

0:18:090:18:12

due to levels of opposition in the Commons.

0:18:120:18:16

Legislation deemed to affect England, or England and Wales,

0:18:160:18:20

is now subject to an extra layer of scrutiny involving only

0:18:200:18:27

MPs elected there.

0:18:270:18:30

Minister said it was an important balance to devolution

0:18:300:18:34

elsewhere but a senior MP disagreed.

0:18:340:18:36

Our main conclusion is that while there is evidence

0:18:360:18:39

that the principle behind Evel commands

0:18:390:18:40

popular support, we have significant down that the current standing

0:18:400:18:43

orders are the right answer or represen a sustainable

0:18:430:18:45

solution to the English question.

0:18:450:18:46

They may be unlikely to survive the election of a government that

0:18:460:18:49

cannot command a double majority of both

0:18:490:18:51

English and UK MPs.

0:18:510:18:52

The government should use the remainder of the

0:18:520:18:55

12-month period in the run-up to the review of the standing orders

0:18:550:18:57

to rethink the issue and to develop proposals that are more compostable,

0:18:570:19:03

more likely to command the confidence of all

0:19:030:19:06

political parties represented in the House of Commons

0:19:060:19:08

are therefore likely to be constitutionally durable.

0:19:080:19:13

The ad hoc approach to change in the constitution of the union

0:19:130:19:17

which only dates back to the devolution reforms

0:19:170:19:20

initiated by the then Labour government in 1997,

0:19:200:19:23

and which has treated each of Scotland,

0:19:230:19:26

Wales, and Northern Ireland and, indeed, England in different ways

0:19:260:19:29

at different times has been characteristic of constitutional

0:19:290:19:32

reform since the 1990s.

0:19:320:19:36

The government must abandon this ad hoc approach.

0:19:360:19:39

Labour's front bench said that Evel in its current form was not

0:19:390:19:43

coherent, transparent, or sustainable.

0:19:430:19:45

And the government should go back to the drawing board.

0:19:450:19:48

A view echoed by a Labour backbencher.

0:19:480:19:51

This is a worthwhile report which identifies this as

0:19:510:19:55

a foolish piece of legislation.

0:19:550:20:00

That will perversely live up to its acronym

0:20:000:20:03

and accelerate the process

0:20:030:20:06

of the break-up of the United Kingdom.

0:20:060:20:08

By putting barriers between the four countries.

0:20:080:20:11

Of course, in the SNP, we have never objected to,

0:20:110:20:15

in principle, to the concept of English

0:20:150:20:19

votes for English laws, not least because it's the logical

0:20:190:20:22

of independence for Scotland but the committee's report confirms,

0:20:220:20:26

as we said all along, that the procedure

0:20:260:20:28

is in short a complete mess.

0:20:280:20:31

MPs have called on ministers to increase

0:20:310:20:34

the compensation available to people who lost money

0:20:340:20:36

on their pension investments with Equitable Life.

0:20:360:20:39

When the insurance company came close to collapse in 2000,

0:20:390:20:42

it was one of the UK's biggest financial scandals.

0:20:420:20:46

A compensation scheme was set up in 2010 for the 1.5 million

0:20:460:20:49

people who suffered losses.

0:20:490:20:53

A Conservative Bob Blackman heads the all-party parliamentary group

0:20:530:20:56

on Equitable Life.

0:20:560:20:59

There is no doubt that this was a scandal which has

0:20:590:21:01

been absolutely outrageous.

0:21:010:21:03

For the length of time it has gone on and

0:21:030:21:06

for the repeated failure of governments of all persuasions

0:21:060:21:10

to actually adequately compensate those people who are victims

0:21:100:21:12

of a scam.

0:21:120:21:15

Mr Blackman urged ministers to speed up the compensation payments

0:21:150:21:20

and boost the amount of money available.

0:21:200:21:23

He was supported by Labour.

0:21:230:21:24

There must be understanding from the government's side that

0:21:240:21:27

when compensation packages are devised

0:21:270:21:30

that the mechanism to deliver that is done properly

0:21:300:21:33

and that all the calculations are done appropriately

0:21:330:21:35

and where money is promised, money is delivered.

0:21:350:21:38

So government needs to ensure that regulation of these

0:21:380:21:42

industries is robust and be quicker to compensate those who lose out

0:21:420:21:45

in the future.

0:21:450:21:46

It seems to me that the point the government must also grasp

0:21:460:21:50

in this is what happens from here on in.

0:21:500:21:52

Specifically, as we are now asking people to make greater provision

0:21:520:21:57

for their own pensions,

0:21:570:21:59

that will only work if there is confidence

0:21:590:22:04

that they will get the pension they are investing in.

0:22:040:22:08

Equitable Life and other such scandals have undermined

0:22:080:22:10

that a great deal.

0:22:100:22:13

The Treasury Minister's said there was no more

0:22:130:22:16

money available for the compensation scheme.

0:22:160:22:20

I do, of course, appreciate that there are many policies holders

0:22:200:22:23

not now receiving the income they expected but by already paying

0:22:230:22:25

over ?1 billion to over 900,000 policyholders we've taken action

0:22:250:22:30

to solve the government's parts in the Equitable Life issue.

0:22:300:22:32

We've been able to pay in full the losses of the most trapped

0:22:320:22:35

policyholders and double the payments to the vulnerable

0:22:350:22:38

non-annuity policyholders as well as providing a one-off

0:22:380:22:46

payment to the pre-1992 annuitants, although

0:22:460:22:49

who - although, unaffected, by government maladministration

0:22:490:22:52

are recognised to be suffering as a result.

0:22:520:22:54

Damian Hines.

0:22:540:22:55

The signing of an anti-cuts petition by the Prime

0:22:550:22:57

Minister's mother indicates the severity of the financial

0:22:570:22:59

situation now facing local authorities across

0:22:590:23:01

England and Wales.

0:23:010:23:04

That was the claim of a Labour member of the house of lords

0:23:040:23:07

as peers debated reductions in library services.

0:23:070:23:09

In Lancashire, which is where I live,

0:23:090:23:14

the budget which is being recommended to the county council

0:23:140:23:17

this very afternoon involves a reduction in the number

0:23:170:23:20

of libraries across this large county from 74 to 34.

0:23:200:23:24

In other words, 40 libraries to be closed.

0:23:240:23:34

Is this really an acceptable situation, as far as the government

0:23:340:23:41

is concerned.

0:23:410:23:46

My Lords, decisions for library services are,

0:23:460:23:50

of course, a local authority matter and Lancashire Council has completed

0:23:500:23:54

a consultation seeking residence views on the service design,

0:23:540:23:59

needs and use.

0:23:590:24:01

Libraries are changing all across the UK and we understand

0:24:010:24:04

a further period of deep consultation

0:24:040:24:08

will be taking place between now and May.

0:24:080:24:11

I would encourage residents to make the Council aware of their specific

0:24:110:24:14

library needs and their ideas for the future.

0:24:140:24:23

My Lords, would my noble friends accept that it isn't just libraries

0:24:230:24:25

but it is also museums and galleries

0:24:250:24:27

that are under great pressure.

0:24:270:24:30

She'll remember that in the financial statement

0:24:300:24:32

in November, which was a very favourable one for those of others

0:24:320:24:35

interested in heritage and the arts, the Chancellor talked

0:24:350:24:37

about cutting Heritage, galleries, museums as being a false economy.

0:24:370:24:40

Can we do something to ensure that what is good for the nation is good

0:24:400:24:44

in local government.

0:24:440:24:46

I entirely agree with my noble friend about the importance

0:24:460:24:50

of funding for these areas and, indeed, as he said, the settlement

0:24:500:24:53

was very reasonable.

0:24:530:25:00

The Prime Minister's mother has done what the Minister asked and sat down

0:25:000:25:03

and wrote a very serious

0:25:030:25:05

letter to her local authority complaining about local authority

0:25:050:25:07

cuts, does that not indicate that we have reached a very serious

0:25:070:25:10

situation indeed and the Prime Minister and his government need

0:25:100:25:14

to do something about it if they are to

0:25:140:25:18

maintain the social fabric of our local communities.

0:25:180:25:23

My Lords, the settlement means that every council

0:25:230:25:25

will have for the financial year ahead, at least the resources

0:25:250:25:28

allocated by the provisional settlement and, in addition,

0:25:280:25:31

those councils with a sharp fall in grant

0:25:310:25:34

money will now receive transitional funding as they move from dependence

0:25:340:25:38

on central government grants to greater financial autonomy.

0:25:380:25:41

Lady Neville Rolfe.

0:25:410:25:43

That's it for now.

0:25:430:25:46

Do join me on Friday night at 11 for a

0:25:460:25:48

full round-up of the week at Westminster.

0:25:480:25:50

Until then, from me, goodbye.

0:25:500:25:57

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