10/03/2016 Thursday in Parliament


10/03/2016

Highlights of Thursday 10 March in Parliament, presented by Keith Macdougall.


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Transcript


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Hello and welcome to Thursday in Parliament,

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our look at the best of the day

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in the Commons and the Lords.

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On this programme...

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Leave the monarch out of

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the great European debate, say Labour...

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So I say lay off the queen and think again.

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A police investigation into the sex abuse claims made

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against Sir Edward Heath is condemned in the House of Lords...

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It seems as if the Wiltshire Police are allocating to themselves

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the role not only of investigator, but also of prosecutor and judge

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and jury, in this matter.

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And criticism of the person appointed to referee

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the relationship between pub-owning companies and tied tenants...

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It's a crass and a complicit and a clueless appointment

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and it needs now to be properly scrutinised by this house.

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But first, the Leader of the Commons, Chris Grayling,

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has told MPs the next Session of Parliament will start before

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the EU Referendum is held in June.

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The State Opening and Queen's Speech will be on Wednesday 18th May.

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The announcement ends the mounting speculation that the new session

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was being made to wait for the referendum campaign

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to be completed.

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Labour's Chris Bryant said having the State Opening ahead

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of the referendum was a mistake.

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Well, Mr Speaker, can I start by informing the house

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that the State Opening of the next session of Parliament will take

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place on Wednesday 18th May.

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Parliament is to have an extra recess in the two weeks

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before the referendum.

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Members will wish to know that, additionally, the house will rise

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at the conclusion of business on Wednesday 15th June and return

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on Monday 27th June.

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But I have to say that the decision to hold the Queen's Speech

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on 18th May is a profound mistake.

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Whatever the Government's intentions,

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they will be misconstrued.

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We have already seen that the Brexit campaign are now so desperate

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that they are even trying to recruit members of the royal family

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to their cause.

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So I say lay off the queen and think again.

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Incidentally, I note that the leader is giving a Brexit speech today.

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We are all agog.

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Did he have to get approval for his speech

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from the Prime Minister?

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Or from the actual leader of the Out campaign,

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the Justice Secretary?

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And can he guarantee that his special advisers were not

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involved in briefing the papers on the speech and won't be

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attending his speech, as the Cabinet Secretary has

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explicitly instructed that special advisers may not

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do so during office hours.

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Or is the Leader of the House being forced to make this speech

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under cover of darkness?

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The Shadow Leader went on about the Queen's Speech.

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I have to say, I really don't quite understand what he's talking about.

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One moment he's talking about a zombie parliament,

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with nothing to do.

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Now he is complaining we are going to have a Queen's Speech in May,

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when we have another important set of measures to bring

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forward that will help reform this country.

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The Shadow Leader asked about the speech

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I'm going to be giving today.

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What he missed is that I've already given it,

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so he clearly wasn't paying that much attention.

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SHOUTING

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Surprisingly enough, I'm not after his support.

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Mr Speaker, the big issue of the day is whether her Majesty

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is a Brexitee or not.

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I've got an elegant solution about how we try to cover this.

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We could perhaps dispatch the Prime Minister to the palace

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to ask her indirectly.

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One purr for in. Two purrs for out.

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That way we would solve that problem.

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Yesterday, the Government were defeated...

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Order.

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I hesitate to interrupt the honourable gentleman,

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but he said what he said.

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But, for the benefit of the house, particularly for the benefit

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of new members, can I just underlines we do not discuss

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the views of the monarch in this chamber.

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There have occasionally been debates on matters pertaining to the royal

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family, which I have very happily granted,

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but we do not discuss that matter.

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And I think it's better if we just leave it there.

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The Speaker, John Bercow, setting out the rules.

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A former top civil servant has made a strong attack on the

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police inquiry into the allegations of sexual abuse that have been

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levelled against the former Conservative Prime Minister

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Sir Edward Heath, who died ten years ago.

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Lord Armstrong, one of Sir Edward's closest advisers in Downing Street,

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called the investigation being carried out by Wiltshire Police

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a "travesty of justice, and a prodigious waste

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"of police time and resources".

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His comments came at House of Lords questions.

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First, a veteran Labour peer raised the issue of whether it's right that

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accusers of serious crimes can remain anonymous...

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My Lords, should we now not be considering the reform of the law

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which allows someone like this man, Nick,

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who, hiding behind a wall of anonymity, makes allegations

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of a sexual nature against reputable public figures,

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such as Lord Bramall, the late Lord Brittan and Mr Edward Heath,

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the former Prime Minister, and others, with not a shred

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of forensic or corroborative evidence, whatsoever.

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It is simply unjust.

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And isn't it now time the whole issue of anonymity for the accused,

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and, in particular the defence of the falsely accused,

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was put back on the national agenda and considered here in Parliament?

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My lords, I am sure the noble lord will accept that this

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is a very delicate issue.

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Making a complaint should not be discouraged.

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It is no easy thing to make a complaint about, for example,

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rape or sexual offences.

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And the possibility that not only you are going to be cross-examined

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and introduced in court, but also have your name emblazoned

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on newspapers or other means of communication,

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is a considerable inhibition in making that complaint.

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And that is one of the difficult factors Parliament took into account

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when deciding to retain anonymity.

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Armstrong. Armstrong.

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Armstrong.

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My Lords, I have stated elsewhere the reasons for my conviction that

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Sir Edward Heath was not a child abuser.

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The allegations that have been published in the media to that

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effect have no shred of credible corroboration.

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My lords, the Wiltshire Police are, however,

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conducting an investigation, which is forecast to last

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for 12 months or more.

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It involves interviewing an extensive range of Sir Edward's

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friends, colleagues, staff and former crew members.

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And searching through 4,500 boxes of his archives.

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I have suggested to the Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police

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that there can be no conclusive satisfactory outcome

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to this investigation.

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Even if, as seems likely, they find there is insufficient

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evidence, to have justified a prosecution, the cloud

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of suspicion, which has been high over Sir Edward's memory would not

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be definitively dispelled.

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In the unlikely event that a finding comes that there is sufficient

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evidence, that evidence could not be tested in a court of law,

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because Sir Edward is dead and cannot be prosecuted.

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It seems as if the Wiltshire Police are allocating to themselves

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the role not only of investigator, but also a prosecutor and judge

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and jury in this matter.

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Does not the noble lord, the Minister, agree

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that the investigation is a travesty of justice and a prodigious waste

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of police time and resources?

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I am sure that there will be a lot of sympathy around the house

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and elsewhere for what the noble lord says.

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We must not, of course, interfere with

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police operational independence.

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However, the point that he eloquently makes

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about the proportionality, in view of the death of Sir Edward,

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and the amount of the likelihood that there is any significant

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evidence one way or another, being unearthed at this stage

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are valuable points and I take them.

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Isn't it quite clear that the present system

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of protecting the innocent from having their names

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plastered all over the media, that that system has broken down.

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And doesn't justice require that the Government takes a

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fresh look at this whole issue and not just leave it to the police?

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At the moment, as the noble lord will appreciate,

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this is a matter for the police,

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who have considered that it is only in exceptional circumstances that it

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would be appropriate to name suspects.

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And, sometimes, it is true that by naming a suspect,

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it has provoked some people who have kept quiet about allegations,

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for fear that they will not be believed against a prominent public

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members of the establishment, as they are so-called.

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I do accept, however, his point and clearly it is a matter

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that any government would be anxious to consider in weighing up this very

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difficult conflicting issues.

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Lord Faulks.

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The Government's first pub adjudicator cannot be trusted

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to remain impartial because of his links to large pub companies,

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or "pubcos", the Commons has heard.

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The Liberal Democrat Greg Mulholland described the appointment process

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of Paul Newby as "extremely dubious".

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The Adjudicator will govern the relationship between large

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pub-owning businesses and their tied tenants in England and Wales.

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The Business Minister, Anna Soubry, strongly defended the appointment.

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Paul Newby is a chartered surveyor, he has particular expertise

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in valuation and arbitration, key skills

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for the Pub Code Adjudicator.

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He has 30 years experience of the pub trade, working with pub

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company landlords and pub tenants.

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I think he is going to be an excellent Pub Code Adjudicator.

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Mr Greg Mulholland.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker.

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I'm afraid that is not a view shared by tenants groups who have been

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absolutely astonished at this appointment.

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Let's be clear, Mr Speaker, this appointment is of someone

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who is the director of a company that derives the majority

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of its income from the very companies the legislation

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is intended to regulate.

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His CV says in his own words, he has - and I quote -

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"Been engaged by numerous managed and tenanted pubcos on rent review

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"matters and, in the last five years in particular,

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"has acted for Enterprise Inns Marston's and Punch".

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Right now, the very companies he is acting for now,

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currently, are bullying and coercing tenants into signing

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away their rights or forfeiting pubs.

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And his company are actively involved in selling off pubs.

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How can he possibly be trusted to be impartial,

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given his salary has been dependent for 20 years on those he must now

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adjudicate and potentially impose financial penalties on?

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There is a clear conflict-of-interest,

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which appears to render this process, at the very least,

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extremely dubious.

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He concluded...

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It is crass and a complicit and a clueless appointment

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and it needs now to be properly scrutinised by this house.

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Minister.

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I have to say, I think that was an absolutely disgraceful

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set of slurs and I would appreciate it if the honourable gentleman

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would be good enough to listen.

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Paul Newby was appointed absolutely in accordance with the usual ways

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of public appointments.

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And I take very grave exception to any allegation that either me

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or anybody else has acted, in any way, improperly, or complicity.

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Mr Newby hasn't just represented, as I said, pub trade companies,

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but also tenants.

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He has 30 years of experience, effectively representing both sides.

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But Labour said tenants wouldn't be reassured

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by what the Minister had said...

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The challenge for Mr Newby will be in ensuring a level playing field

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between tenants and pubcos.

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How does she think he will be able to do that, given those concerns

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that have been raised by tenants?

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There is a very real danger that someone who has acted

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for Punch Taverns, Enterprise Inns and Marston's, will be seen

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as continuing to act on their behalf and the Minister must be aware

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of this very real concern, as she sits there,

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chuntering, as normal.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker.

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I very much welcome the Government action on this issue,

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as someone who represents a number of pubs that I have dealt with over

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the years, who have had problems with the large pub companies

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that own them.

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Does she not agree with me that, in appointing a fair and experienced

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adjudicator, it is important that we appoint someone

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who understands both sides of the argument and,

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therefore, can adjudicate fairly between them?

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I absolutely agree. That is the joy of Mr Newby.

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Not only is he a chartered surveyor, with all that brings to the job,

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but he has this ability to...

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He is a very experienced arbitrator.

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But it is his knowledge from both sides,

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and I know that he will be fair.

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I have complete confidence in him.

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He is very good news.

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Can I echo the sentiments that the pub really is

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at the heart of many communities,

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particularly in smaller towns and villages.

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I am really hoping that the appointment of Paul Newby

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will normalise many of these relationships and we don't see,

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particularly in the case of a pub near me, The Chequer Inn in Ash,

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which suffered, I think, under an overbearing pub company,

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where you get new tenants tempted in, running well,

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but then the prices escalate until they are forced

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to collapse and close.

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And then we see planning applications for alternative use.

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I am hoping this will normalise those relationships.

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Minister.

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I absolutely couldn't agree more.

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And actually it's that very change of culture that is so important.

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I completely agree with the honourable gentleman.

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We have all had examples in our own constituency.

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I, too, have fought to keep open pubs.

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I have to say, unfortunately, I haven't been successful

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in one instance. But I was in another one.

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But, yes, it is about changing the atmosphere.

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And about making sure that pubcos act in a sensible

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and responsible manner.

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Not just to their tied tenants, but also to broader communities.

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Anna Soubry.

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You're watching our round-up of the day in the Commons

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and the Lords.

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Still to come: Is it time to privatise Network Rail?

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Now, who should have the final say over the future of the BBC?

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The Government is expected to reveal its proposals

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for the future of the organisation in the coming weeks,

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with the BBC charter due for renewal at the end of this year.

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In a Lords debate, a former Conservative Cabinet minister said

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decisions on the BBC's future should be taken out of the hands

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of the Government.

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My Lords, we must find a better way of debating serious issues in this

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House, like the future of the BBC.

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One minute speeches are frankly ridiculous, but perhaps it

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illustrates the fundamental defect in the Royal Charter process.

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The Royal Charter may sound very grand, but what it means is that

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none of the government's proposals come to Parliament for decision.

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If we are serious about the independence of the BBC

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we should scrap the charter, set up the BBC as a statutory

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corporation and resolve that no government shall be allowed alone

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to determine the future of the BBC.

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In other words, this would be a matter for Parliament after proper

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debate without the 60 second speaking clock.

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Around 25% has been abstracted from the BBC's programme budget

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with no national debate whatsoever.

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We rightly condemned totally, my Lords, but this is our

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constitutional outrage and it simply must be put right.

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Changes to the BBC's mandate must now be agreed by Parliament.

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The setting of the licence fee must now follow a rigorous

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and considered process.

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Lord Fowler is right, it is time now, my Lords,

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to place the BBC on a statutory footing.

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My Lords, the BBC, as well as being so popular with the British public,

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plays a hugely important role in promoting the UK around

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the world, and at home is a crucial part in our democracy

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and wider society.

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It is vital that it maintains its independence,

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its ability to inform, educate and entertain and,

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we believe, it's licence fee.

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But to quote the chair of the BBC Trust, "Charter review hangs over

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the BBC a cloud of uncertainty and unease."

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My Lords, I am concerned that the charter and its funding

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seem to have become separated.

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I share the Noble Lady, Lady Bonham-Carter's concern

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about the BBC taking on the burden of the over 75s licence fee.

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I fear that the funds that are supposed to replace it

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will not be forthcoming.

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On top of that, people are failing to pay the licence fee.

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There is going to be a ?150 million shortfall by the end of the year

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in its payment.

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The Digital Licence is supposed to help close the loophole

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of digital viewers not paying the license fee,

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but I fear that will no way compensate for the increasing

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shortfall as the new generation of viewers look elsewhere

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to get their content.

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But Charter review is, and I think people understand this,

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a once-in-ten-year opportunity to look at the scale and scope

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of the BBC and it is right to look at how to help the BBC and the wider

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media sector, indeed, to thrive in the future.

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It's more than 20 years since the UK's railway system

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was privatised, but the arguments over public and private ownership

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continue.

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Network Rail, which owns and manages the track and the stations,

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is in the public sector - classed as a state-owned company

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with no shareholders.

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But there's been speculation that privatisation of Network Rail may

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not be too far away.

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When the Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, stated

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in the Commons he had no plans to privatise the organisation,

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a Labour MP didn't seem convinced.

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The Secretary of State will be aware that the Treasury-backed Shaw

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Report, the final version is due to be published next week

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and which looks at future financing of railways,

0:18:480:18:52

has made it clear that full privatisation of Network Rail

0:18:520:18:55

is on the table.

0:18:550:18:58

I am sure that the Minister would agree that we do not

0:18:580:19:01

want to go back to the dark and chaotic days of the private

0:19:010:19:05

management of our rail system under Railtrack.

0:19:050:19:08

Mr Speaker, I would like to congratulate the honourable member

0:19:080:19:12

on seeing a report which I don't think has been published yet!

0:19:120:19:15

So how he knows what the contents is is something that is beyond me.

0:19:150:19:19

I am very proud of what we have achieved with the railway industry

0:19:190:19:22

in this country.

0:19:220:19:24

I think it has been a fantastic success, with the franchising

0:19:240:19:28

that takes place.

0:19:280:19:30

I am very sorry that the only people who are putting that at danger

0:19:300:19:33

is not the government, but the opposition.

0:19:330:19:35

David Nuttall.

0:19:350:19:37

Does my right honourable friend agree that the evidence from other

0:19:370:19:39

sectors shows that privatisation has the potential to increase efficiency

0:19:390:19:43

and improve performance?

0:19:440:19:47

I do agree with that, but I also think that there

0:19:470:19:50

is is responsibility for a system of railway maintenance

0:19:500:19:56

and improvement that is very important, and we have seen

0:19:560:20:00

through the private sector vast improvements in our railway service.

0:20:000:20:05

When the Secretary of State reads the Shaw Report,

0:20:050:20:07

I hope he will recognise the relevance of the words

0:20:070:20:10

of the great real Manager Gerry Hines, who said that,

0:20:100:20:14

"When you reorganise, you bleed.

0:20:150:20:16

For many months, the few top people who keep the momentum up

0:20:160:20:19

are distracted from their proper job, punctuality goes to hell,

0:20:190:20:21

safety starts to slip.

0:20:220:20:23

Don't reorganise.

0:20:230:20:24

Don't, don't, don't."

0:20:240:20:27

Mr Speaker, there is broad cross-party support for investment

0:20:270:20:30

in the railways, for maintaining our outstanding safety record

0:20:300:20:33

and for delivering major projects like HS2.

0:20:330:20:37

So will he give me an assurance that the progress that has been made

0:20:370:20:40

will not be jeopardised by pursuing unneeded,

0:20:400:20:43

unwanted and dangerous plans to privatise Network Rail?

0:20:430:20:46

Well, I can tell the honourable lady with absolute certainty there are no

0:20:460:20:53

plans to continue a disastrous policy of nationalising

0:20:530:20:58

the railways, which is one that she puts forward and her party

0:20:580:21:02

leader puts forward.

0:21:020:21:04

She just talked about all the investment that is going on and,

0:21:040:21:07

indeed, she has seen quite a bit of it in her own constituency,

0:21:070:21:10

not least in Nottingham Station, in which she welcomed

0:21:100:21:13

that investment.

0:21:130:21:15

Of course she welcomed that investment.

0:21:150:21:16

I welcome investment in our railways.

0:21:160:21:18

But it is also worthwhile asking how do we carry on that

0:21:180:21:21

level of investment?

0:21:210:21:23

Investment at the level which she would only have ever

0:21:230:21:26

dreamt of when they were in government.

0:21:260:21:29

Patrick McLoughlin.

0:21:290:21:31

Now, what do Sir Alex Ferguson, Jamie Oliver and Karen Millen

0:21:310:21:34

have in common?

0:21:340:21:36

They were all apprentices, as the Skills Minister,

0:21:360:21:39

Nick Boles, has informed MPs.

0:21:390:21:41

Declaring himself to be "evangelical" about apprenticeships,

0:21:410:21:45

the Minister explained what the Government was doing

0:21:450:21:48

to improve the scheme.

0:21:480:21:50

His statement came ahead of National Apprenticeship Week next week.

0:21:500:21:54

An apprenticeship can take you anywhere.

0:21:540:21:55

Sir Alex Ferguson did one, so did Jamie Oliver and Karen Millen

0:21:550:22:01

and Sir Ian McKellen.

0:22:010:22:03

So too did the chairman of great businesses like Crossrail,

0:22:030:22:06

WS Atkins and Fujitsu.

0:22:060:22:09

Mr Speaker, the government has great ambitions

0:22:090:22:12

for our apprenticeships programme.

0:22:120:22:14

In the last parliament, 2.4 million people started an apprenticeship.

0:22:140:22:18

By 2020, we want a further three million to have that opportunity.

0:22:180:22:22

He said the Government had to persuade more employers

0:22:220:22:26

to offer apprenticeships.

0:22:260:22:29

At the moment only about 15% of employers in England do.

0:22:290:22:32

In Germany, it is 24%, in Australia 30%.

0:22:320:22:36

So we are introducing a new apprenticeship levy

0:22:360:22:39

which will be paid by all larger employers -

0:22:390:22:42

those with an annual payroll bill of ?3 million or more.

0:22:420:22:45

This will help us increase our spending on apprenticeships

0:22:450:22:48

in England from ?1.5 billion last year to ?2.5 billion in 2019-20.

0:22:480:22:55

What has turned up, in fact, is simply, if I can put it that way,

0:22:550:23:01

a dance of the seven veils.

0:23:010:23:03

What he has announced today, or what he has said today,

0:23:030:23:06

is simply a rehash of much of what was already said in

0:23:060:23:10

the English Apprenticeship document.

0:23:100:23:12

That is what concerns the sector.

0:23:120:23:15

Fine words butter no parsnips.

0:23:150:23:18

He said there were several unanswered questions.

0:23:180:23:20

Will this levy be extra money or will it be a substitute

0:23:200:23:23

for government funding?

0:23:230:23:25

Will it be extra resources or will it simply be

0:23:250:23:27

an Osborne payroll tax?

0:23:270:23:28

So can he confirm that the amount he expects the levy to raise,

0:23:280:23:32

and whether that will be more or less than the ?1 billion extra

0:23:320:23:36

spend he has just said he hopes to add to spending

0:23:360:23:40

on apprenticeships in England?

0:23:400:23:42

Can I thank the Minister for an advanced copy

0:23:420:23:44

of his statement?

0:23:440:23:46

I am a little bit surprised that the timing of it.

0:23:460:23:49

Apprenticeships in Scotland was last week, not next week.

0:23:490:23:51

It would have been beneficial to have it then.

0:23:510:23:54

The Scottish Government have recognised the importance

0:23:540:23:56

of apprenticeships for some time.

0:23:560:23:57

Indeed, the Scottish Government has committed to creating 25,000 modern

0:23:570:23:59

apprenticeships a year, which encompass 80

0:23:590:24:01

different types of MAs.

0:24:010:24:06

May I just add one slight note of caution?

0:24:060:24:08

As a Conservative, I don't like levies.

0:24:080:24:09

Let's call it a tax, instinctively.

0:24:100:24:13

Has he had any response from big business as to their fears

0:24:130:24:16

for the future if, heaven forbid, a socialist government ever took

0:24:160:24:19

over, this could be an area of taxation that they might

0:24:190:24:23

want to increase for other reasons?

0:24:230:24:26

I would just very briefly say to the Minister,

0:24:260:24:28

who I have some time for, that a lot of us in this side

0:24:280:24:32

of the Chamber worked very hard, not least my honourable friend

0:24:320:24:34

on the front bench and the chair of the select committee,

0:24:340:24:37

to rescue apprenticeships from oblivion under Labour

0:24:370:24:41

government and there was very good quality apprenticeships that he can

0:24:410:24:45

now build upon.

0:24:450:24:47

Tomorrow, I am attending an event hosted by the Ancient

0:24:470:24:50

Company of Fellmongers.

0:24:500:24:51

Would he join me in commending the fellmongers for returning

0:24:510:24:54

to their medieval roots and supporting the creation

0:24:540:24:57

of dozens of local apprenticeships, helping Richmond become one

0:24:570:25:01

of the best performing constituencies anywhere

0:25:010:25:03

in the United Kingdom?

0:25:030:25:05

Madam Deputy Speaker, one of the curious things about this

0:25:050:25:08

job is that you discover occupations that you had literally never heard

0:25:080:25:12

of and, I have to admit I still don't know

0:25:120:25:15

what the fellmonger is.

0:25:150:25:19

In case you're not familiar with the trade, a fellmonger

0:25:190:25:22

is someone who deals in sheep skins.

0:25:220:25:24

And that's it, but do join me for the Week In Parliament,

0:25:240:25:27

when we not only look back at the last few days in the Commons

0:25:270:25:30

and the Lords, but also discuss what the obstacles are to women

0:25:300:25:34

making progress in the Westminster career ladder.

0:25:340:25:36

Until then, from me, Keith Macdougall, goodbye.

0:25:360:25:40

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