Highlights of Thursday 10 March in Parliament, presented by Keith Macdougall.
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Hello and welcome to Thursday in Parliament,
our look at the best of the day
in the Commons and the Lords.
On this programme...
Leave the monarch out of
the great European debate, say Labour...
So I say lay off the queen and think again.
A police investigation into the sex abuse claims made
against Sir Edward Heath is condemned in the House of Lords...
It seems as if the Wiltshire Police are allocating to themselves
the role not only of investigator, but also of prosecutor and judge
and jury, in this matter.
And criticism of the person appointed to referee
the relationship between pub-owning companies and tied tenants...
It's a crass and a complicit and a clueless appointment
and it needs now to be properly scrutinised by this house.
But first, the Leader of the Commons, Chris Grayling,
has told MPs the next Session of Parliament will start before
the EU Referendum is held in June.
The State Opening and Queen's Speech will be on Wednesday 18th May.
The announcement ends the mounting speculation that the new session
was being made to wait for the referendum campaign
to be completed.
Labour's Chris Bryant said having the State Opening ahead
of the referendum was a mistake.
Well, Mr Speaker, can I start by informing the house
that the State Opening of the next session of Parliament will take
place on Wednesday 18th May.
Parliament is to have an extra recess in the two weeks
before the referendum.
Members will wish to know that, additionally, the house will rise
at the conclusion of business on Wednesday 15th June and return
on Monday 27th June.
But I have to say that the decision to hold the Queen's Speech
on 18th May is a profound mistake.
Whatever the Government's intentions,
they will be misconstrued.
We have already seen that the Brexit campaign are now so desperate
that they are even trying to recruit members of the royal family
to their cause.
So I say lay off the queen and think again.
Incidentally, I note that the leader is giving a Brexit speech today.
We are all agog.
Did he have to get approval for his speech
from the Prime Minister?
Or from the actual leader of the Out campaign,
the Justice Secretary?
And can he guarantee that his special advisers were not
involved in briefing the papers on the speech and won't be
attending his speech, as the Cabinet Secretary has
explicitly instructed that special advisers may not
do so during office hours.
Or is the Leader of the House being forced to make this speech
under cover of darkness?
The Shadow Leader went on about the Queen's Speech.
I have to say, I really don't quite understand what he's talking about.
One moment he's talking about a zombie parliament,
with nothing to do.
Now he is complaining we are going to have a Queen's Speech in May,
when we have another important set of measures to bring
forward that will help reform this country.
The Shadow Leader asked about the speech
I'm going to be giving today.
What he missed is that I've already given it,
so he clearly wasn't paying that much attention.
Surprisingly enough, I'm not after his support.
Mr Speaker, the big issue of the day is whether her Majesty
is a Brexitee or not.
I've got an elegant solution about how we try to cover this.
We could perhaps dispatch the Prime Minister to the palace
to ask her indirectly.
One purr for in. Two purrs for out.
That way we would solve that problem.
Yesterday, the Government were defeated...
I hesitate to interrupt the honourable gentleman,
but he said what he said.
But, for the benefit of the house, particularly for the benefit
of new members, can I just underlines we do not discuss
the views of the monarch in this chamber.
There have occasionally been debates on matters pertaining to the royal
family, which I have very happily granted,
but we do not discuss that matter.
And I think it's better if we just leave it there.
The Speaker, John Bercow, setting out the rules.
A former top civil servant has made a strong attack on the
police inquiry into the allegations of sexual abuse that have been
levelled against the former Conservative Prime Minister
Sir Edward Heath, who died ten years ago.
Lord Armstrong, one of Sir Edward's closest advisers in Downing Street,
called the investigation being carried out by Wiltshire Police
a "travesty of justice, and a prodigious waste
"of police time and resources".
His comments came at House of Lords questions.
First, a veteran Labour peer raised the issue of whether it's right that
accusers of serious crimes can remain anonymous...
My Lords, should we now not be considering the reform of the law
which allows someone like this man, Nick,
who, hiding behind a wall of anonymity, makes allegations
of a sexual nature against reputable public figures,
such as Lord Bramall, the late Lord Brittan and Mr Edward Heath,
the former Prime Minister, and others, with not a shred
of forensic or corroborative evidence, whatsoever.
It is simply unjust.
And isn't it now time the whole issue of anonymity for the accused,
and, in particular the defence of the falsely accused,
was put back on the national agenda and considered here in Parliament?
My lords, I am sure the noble lord will accept that this
is a very delicate issue.
Making a complaint should not be discouraged.
It is no easy thing to make a complaint about, for example,
rape or sexual offences.
And the possibility that not only you are going to be cross-examined
and introduced in court, but also have your name emblazoned
on newspapers or other means of communication,
is a considerable inhibition in making that complaint.
And that is one of the difficult factors Parliament took into account
when deciding to retain anonymity.
My Lords, I have stated elsewhere the reasons for my conviction that
Sir Edward Heath was not a child abuser.
The allegations that have been published in the media to that
effect have no shred of credible corroboration.
My lords, the Wiltshire Police are, however,
conducting an investigation, which is forecast to last
for 12 months or more.
It involves interviewing an extensive range of Sir Edward's
friends, colleagues, staff and former crew members.
And searching through 4,500 boxes of his archives.
I have suggested to the Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police
that there can be no conclusive satisfactory outcome
to this investigation.
Even if, as seems likely, they find there is insufficient
evidence, to have justified a prosecution, the cloud
of suspicion, which has been high over Sir Edward's memory would not
be definitively dispelled.
In the unlikely event that a finding comes that there is sufficient
evidence, that evidence could not be tested in a court of law,
because Sir Edward is dead and cannot be prosecuted.
It seems as if the Wiltshire Police are allocating to themselves
the role not only of investigator, but also a prosecutor and judge
and jury in this matter.
Does not the noble lord, the Minister, agree
that the investigation is a travesty of justice and a prodigious waste
of police time and resources?
I am sure that there will be a lot of sympathy around the house
and elsewhere for what the noble lord says.
We must not, of course, interfere with
police operational independence.
However, the point that he eloquently makes
about the proportionality, in view of the death of Sir Edward,
and the amount of the likelihood that there is any significant
evidence one way or another, being unearthed at this stage
are valuable points and I take them.
Isn't it quite clear that the present system
of protecting the innocent from having their names
plastered all over the media, that that system has broken down.
And doesn't justice require that the Government takes a
fresh look at this whole issue and not just leave it to the police?
At the moment, as the noble lord will appreciate,
this is a matter for the police,
who have considered that it is only in exceptional circumstances that it
would be appropriate to name suspects.
And, sometimes, it is true that by naming a suspect,
it has provoked some people who have kept quiet about allegations,
for fear that they will not be believed against a prominent public
members of the establishment, as they are so-called.
I do accept, however, his point and clearly it is a matter
that any government would be anxious to consider in weighing up this very
difficult conflicting issues.
The Government's first pub adjudicator cannot be trusted
to remain impartial because of his links to large pub companies,
or "pubcos", the Commons has heard.
The Liberal Democrat Greg Mulholland described the appointment process
of Paul Newby as "extremely dubious".
The Adjudicator will govern the relationship between large
pub-owning businesses and their tied tenants in England and Wales.
The Business Minister, Anna Soubry, strongly defended the appointment.
Paul Newby is a chartered surveyor, he has particular expertise
in valuation and arbitration, key skills
for the Pub Code Adjudicator.
He has 30 years experience of the pub trade, working with pub
company landlords and pub tenants.
I think he is going to be an excellent Pub Code Adjudicator.
Mr Greg Mulholland.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I'm afraid that is not a view shared by tenants groups who have been
absolutely astonished at this appointment.
Let's be clear, Mr Speaker, this appointment is of someone
who is the director of a company that derives the majority
of its income from the very companies the legislation
is intended to regulate.
His CV says in his own words, he has - and I quote -
"Been engaged by numerous managed and tenanted pubcos on rent review
"matters and, in the last five years in particular,
"has acted for Enterprise Inns Marston's and Punch".
Right now, the very companies he is acting for now,
currently, are bullying and coercing tenants into signing
away their rights or forfeiting pubs.
And his company are actively involved in selling off pubs.
How can he possibly be trusted to be impartial,
given his salary has been dependent for 20 years on those he must now
adjudicate and potentially impose financial penalties on?
There is a clear conflict-of-interest,
which appears to render this process, at the very least,
It is crass and a complicit and a clueless appointment
and it needs now to be properly scrutinised by this house.
I have to say, I think that was an absolutely disgraceful
set of slurs and I would appreciate it if the honourable gentleman
would be good enough to listen.
Paul Newby was appointed absolutely in accordance with the usual ways
of public appointments.
And I take very grave exception to any allegation that either me
or anybody else has acted, in any way, improperly, or complicity.
Mr Newby hasn't just represented, as I said, pub trade companies,
but also tenants.
He has 30 years of experience, effectively representing both sides.
But Labour said tenants wouldn't be reassured
by what the Minister had said...
The challenge for Mr Newby will be in ensuring a level playing field
between tenants and pubcos.
How does she think he will be able to do that, given those concerns
that have been raised by tenants?
There is a very real danger that someone who has acted
for Punch Taverns, Enterprise Inns and Marston's, will be seen
as continuing to act on their behalf and the Minister must be aware
of this very real concern, as she sits there,
chuntering, as normal.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I very much welcome the Government action on this issue,
as someone who represents a number of pubs that I have dealt with over
the years, who have had problems with the large pub companies
that own them.
Does she not agree with me that, in appointing a fair and experienced
adjudicator, it is important that we appoint someone
who understands both sides of the argument and,
therefore, can adjudicate fairly between them?
I absolutely agree. That is the joy of Mr Newby.
Not only is he a chartered surveyor, with all that brings to the job,
but he has this ability to...
He is a very experienced arbitrator.
But it is his knowledge from both sides,
and I know that he will be fair.
I have complete confidence in him.
He is very good news.
Can I echo the sentiments that the pub really is
at the heart of many communities,
particularly in smaller towns and villages.
I am really hoping that the appointment of Paul Newby
will normalise many of these relationships and we don't see,
particularly in the case of a pub near me, The Chequer Inn in Ash,
which suffered, I think, under an overbearing pub company,
where you get new tenants tempted in, running well,
but then the prices escalate until they are forced
to collapse and close.
And then we see planning applications for alternative use.
I am hoping this will normalise those relationships.
I absolutely couldn't agree more.
And actually it's that very change of culture that is so important.
I completely agree with the honourable gentleman.
We have all had examples in our own constituency.
I, too, have fought to keep open pubs.
I have to say, unfortunately, I haven't been successful
in one instance. But I was in another one.
But, yes, it is about changing the atmosphere.
And about making sure that pubcos act in a sensible
and responsible manner.
Not just to their tied tenants, but also to broader communities.
You're watching our round-up of the day in the Commons
and the Lords.
Still to come: Is it time to privatise Network Rail?
Now, who should have the final say over the future of the BBC?
The Government is expected to reveal its proposals
for the future of the organisation in the coming weeks,
with the BBC charter due for renewal at the end of this year.
In a Lords debate, a former Conservative Cabinet minister said
decisions on the BBC's future should be taken out of the hands
of the Government.
My Lords, we must find a better way of debating serious issues in this
House, like the future of the BBC.
One minute speeches are frankly ridiculous, but perhaps it
illustrates the fundamental defect in the Royal Charter process.
The Royal Charter may sound very grand, but what it means is that
none of the government's proposals come to Parliament for decision.
If we are serious about the independence of the BBC
we should scrap the charter, set up the BBC as a statutory
corporation and resolve that no government shall be allowed alone
to determine the future of the BBC.
In other words, this would be a matter for Parliament after proper
debate without the 60 second speaking clock.
Around 25% has been abstracted from the BBC's programme budget
with no national debate whatsoever.
We rightly condemned totally, my Lords, but this is our
constitutional outrage and it simply must be put right.
Changes to the BBC's mandate must now be agreed by Parliament.
The setting of the licence fee must now follow a rigorous
and considered process.
Lord Fowler is right, it is time now, my Lords,
to place the BBC on a statutory footing.
My Lords, the BBC, as well as being so popular with the British public,
plays a hugely important role in promoting the UK around
the world, and at home is a crucial part in our democracy
and wider society.
It is vital that it maintains its independence,
its ability to inform, educate and entertain and,
we believe, it's licence fee.
But to quote the chair of the BBC Trust, "Charter review hangs over
the BBC a cloud of uncertainty and unease."
My Lords, I am concerned that the charter and its funding
seem to have become separated.
I share the Noble Lady, Lady Bonham-Carter's concern
about the BBC taking on the burden of the over 75s licence fee.
I fear that the funds that are supposed to replace it
will not be forthcoming.
On top of that, people are failing to pay the licence fee.
There is going to be a ?150 million shortfall by the end of the year
in its payment.
The Digital Licence is supposed to help close the loophole
of digital viewers not paying the license fee,
but I fear that will no way compensate for the increasing
shortfall as the new generation of viewers look elsewhere
to get their content.
But Charter review is, and I think people understand this,
a once-in-ten-year opportunity to look at the scale and scope
of the BBC and it is right to look at how to help the BBC and the wider
media sector, indeed, to thrive in the future.
It's more than 20 years since the UK's railway system
was privatised, but the arguments over public and private ownership
Network Rail, which owns and manages the track and the stations,
is in the public sector - classed as a state-owned company
with no shareholders.
But there's been speculation that privatisation of Network Rail may
not be too far away.
When the Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, stated
in the Commons he had no plans to privatise the organisation,
a Labour MP didn't seem convinced.
The Secretary of State will be aware that the Treasury-backed Shaw
Report, the final version is due to be published next week
and which looks at future financing of railways,
has made it clear that full privatisation of Network Rail
is on the table.
I am sure that the Minister would agree that we do not
want to go back to the dark and chaotic days of the private
management of our rail system under Railtrack.
Mr Speaker, I would like to congratulate the honourable member
on seeing a report which I don't think has been published yet!
So how he knows what the contents is is something that is beyond me.
I am very proud of what we have achieved with the railway industry
in this country.
I think it has been a fantastic success, with the franchising
that takes place.
I am very sorry that the only people who are putting that at danger
is not the government, but the opposition.
Does my right honourable friend agree that the evidence from other
sectors shows that privatisation has the potential to increase efficiency
and improve performance?
I do agree with that, but I also think that there
is is responsibility for a system of railway maintenance
and improvement that is very important, and we have seen
through the private sector vast improvements in our railway service.
When the Secretary of State reads the Shaw Report,
I hope he will recognise the relevance of the words
of the great real Manager Gerry Hines, who said that,
"When you reorganise, you bleed.
For many months, the few top people who keep the momentum up
are distracted from their proper job, punctuality goes to hell,
safety starts to slip.
Don't, don't, don't."
Mr Speaker, there is broad cross-party support for investment
in the railways, for maintaining our outstanding safety record
and for delivering major projects like HS2.
So will he give me an assurance that the progress that has been made
will not be jeopardised by pursuing unneeded,
unwanted and dangerous plans to privatise Network Rail?
Well, I can tell the honourable lady with absolute certainty there are no
plans to continue a disastrous policy of nationalising
the railways, which is one that she puts forward and her party
leader puts forward.
She just talked about all the investment that is going on and,
indeed, she has seen quite a bit of it in her own constituency,
not least in Nottingham Station, in which she welcomed
Of course she welcomed that investment.
I welcome investment in our railways.
But it is also worthwhile asking how do we carry on that
level of investment?
Investment at the level which she would only have ever
dreamt of when they were in government.
Now, what do Sir Alex Ferguson, Jamie Oliver and Karen Millen
have in common?
They were all apprentices, as the Skills Minister,
Nick Boles, has informed MPs.
Declaring himself to be "evangelical" about apprenticeships,
the Minister explained what the Government was doing
to improve the scheme.
His statement came ahead of National Apprenticeship Week next week.
An apprenticeship can take you anywhere.
Sir Alex Ferguson did one, so did Jamie Oliver and Karen Millen
and Sir Ian McKellen.
So too did the chairman of great businesses like Crossrail,
WS Atkins and Fujitsu.
Mr Speaker, the government has great ambitions
for our apprenticeships programme.
In the last parliament, 2.4 million people started an apprenticeship.
By 2020, we want a further three million to have that opportunity.
He said the Government had to persuade more employers
to offer apprenticeships.
At the moment only about 15% of employers in England do.
In Germany, it is 24%, in Australia 30%.
So we are introducing a new apprenticeship levy
which will be paid by all larger employers -
those with an annual payroll bill of ?3 million or more.
This will help us increase our spending on apprenticeships
in England from ?1.5 billion last year to ?2.5 billion in 2019-20.
What has turned up, in fact, is simply, if I can put it that way,
a dance of the seven veils.
What he has announced today, or what he has said today,
is simply a rehash of much of what was already said in
the English Apprenticeship document.
That is what concerns the sector.
Fine words butter no parsnips.
He said there were several unanswered questions.
Will this levy be extra money or will it be a substitute
for government funding?
Will it be extra resources or will it simply be
an Osborne payroll tax?
So can he confirm that the amount he expects the levy to raise,
and whether that will be more or less than the ?1 billion extra
spend he has just said he hopes to add to spending
on apprenticeships in England?
Can I thank the Minister for an advanced copy
of his statement?
I am a little bit surprised that the timing of it.
Apprenticeships in Scotland was last week, not next week.
It would have been beneficial to have it then.
The Scottish Government have recognised the importance
of apprenticeships for some time.
Indeed, the Scottish Government has committed to creating 25,000 modern
apprenticeships a year, which encompass 80
different types of MAs.
May I just add one slight note of caution?
As a Conservative, I don't like levies.
Let's call it a tax, instinctively.
Has he had any response from big business as to their fears
for the future if, heaven forbid, a socialist government ever took
over, this could be an area of taxation that they might
want to increase for other reasons?
I would just very briefly say to the Minister,
who I have some time for, that a lot of us in this side
of the Chamber worked very hard, not least my honourable friend
on the front bench and the chair of the select committee,
to rescue apprenticeships from oblivion under Labour
government and there was very good quality apprenticeships that he can
now build upon.
Tomorrow, I am attending an event hosted by the Ancient
Company of Fellmongers.
Would he join me in commending the fellmongers for returning
to their medieval roots and supporting the creation
of dozens of local apprenticeships, helping Richmond become one
of the best performing constituencies anywhere
in the United Kingdom?
Madam Deputy Speaker, one of the curious things about this
job is that you discover occupations that you had literally never heard
of and, I have to admit I still don't know
what the fellmonger is.
In case you're not familiar with the trade, a fellmonger
is someone who deals in sheep skins.
And that's it, but do join me for the Week In Parliament,
when we not only look back at the last few days in the Commons
and the Lords, but also discuss what the obstacles are to women
making progress in the Westminster career ladder.
Until then, from me, Keith Macdougall, goodbye.