Highlights of Thursday 24 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, the last day before
On this programme: reaction in the Commons to the next planned
This is an awful game of brinkmanship and the government must
press the pause button before it is too late. Governments cannot be held
hostage by a union that refuses to negotiate.
An MP places a wager with a Secretary of State.
I bet the minister ?100 that nuclear power station will not be built
without even more public subsidy being offered.
And an MP gives a first-hand account of being given life-saving treatment
I had a total of eight weeks in Saint Mary Hospital, five and a half
weeks in the intensive care unit. But first: Junior doctors
are holding the country to "ransom" with their latest plans for a full
walkout from hospitals. That was the verdict
of the Health Minister Ben Gummer. For months junior doctors in England
have been locked in battle with the Government over
the re-drawing of their terms One of their main areas of complaint
is that the new contracts require Three strikes have been
held since January. But during the next series
of strikes, announced for April, the junior doctors will not be
providing emergency cover. The Health Minister said
the Government would do all in its power to make sure
patients were protected. Given that patients presenting at
hospitals in an emergency are often at a point of extreme danger, the
action taken by the BMA will inevitably put patients in harms
way. But the BMA wish to do this in order to continue a dispute over how
Saturdays are paid is not only regrettable, it is entirely
disproportionate and highly irresponsible. We are in the
position of being faced with a trade union escalating strike action
despite being consistent only in its refusal to negotiate. The country
cannot be held to ransom like this. At some point a democratically
elected government must be able to proceed to fulfil the promises it
has made to the people. Governments cannot be held hostage by a union
that refuses to negotiate. He said the Government had been
forced, with regret, We will be presenting the new
contract directly to doctors to show them that it is safer than the one
it replaces, it's fairer, it's better for patients than the one it
replaces and it's better the doctors than the one it replaces. By seeing
the detail for themselves I am confident that doctors will see the
strike for what it is. This report should add that
micro-disproportionate, ill judged, unnecessary wrong. This is a
worrying time for patients and the NHS. And it is nothing short of a
disgrace that yet again the Health Secretary has failed to turn up. If
this walk-out goes ahead, this will be the first time ever that junior
doctors have fully withdrawn their labour. Nobody wants that to happen.
Deep down, he knows that this contract has nothing to do with
seven-day services and everything to do with setting a precedent to save
money on the NHS pay bill. Change the definition of unsociable hours
in this contract and pave the way for changing it for nurses, porters
and a whole host of other NHS staff. Am I wrong, Minister? Mr Speaker,
the government has 32 days to prevent a fall walk-out of junior
doctors. The Secretary of State may think the matter is closed, I say
that is arrogant and dangerous in the extreme. This is an awful game
of brinkmanship and the government must press the pause button before
it's too late. There is a point at which you cannot continue
discussions. Firstly if your counter party refuses to talk, secondly in
the knowledge that over so many occasions a promise to talk has been
given by the BMA only fair that promise to be renovated upon as a
future point. We have to move ahead, we have to move ahead with a
contract that is better for patients and better for doctors. She hasn't
yet told us what the position of the opposition is. I could understand
that although I don't agree with it. I can understand it when the
industrial action is to do with elective nonemergency care. But the
call for strike action on emergency care is of an altogether different
order. It does demand a response from the opposition because this is
about emergency cover for patients. The opposition needs to say very
clearly whether it supports or condemns the action. Does my
honourable friend agree that this time the BMA has gone too far and
will he join me in calling on junior doctors reaching beyond the BMA to
put their patients first and the BMA leadership second? I know that NHS
staff do not take strike action lightly. The government 's failure
to negotiate has fuelled this crisis in our NHS. The BMA in their
statement yesterday said they wanted to end this dispute through talks. I
implore the Minister to get background that table for the sake
of patients and every citizen of this country. The Secretary of State
has promised that there will be more junior doctors working at weekends
while at the same time no fewer working during the week. The UK
Government has this week decided the best way to reform disability
welfare payments is to listen to disabled people. Will the UK
Government now make a similar U-turn on the NHS reform and concede that
the best way to reform junior doctor contracts is to listen to junior
doctors? Given the responsible announcement yesterday by the BMA
they are willing to walk out even on emergency patients shows that the
doctors union are prepared to put patients lives that risks. Will my
honourable friend look at the law and see how that can be brought in
line for emergency medicine so that emergency doctors are prevented from
taking action as irresponsible and appalling of this in future.
Eight days have gone by since the Budget statement,
and it's no exaggeration to say that George Osborne's measures have taken
The row over disability benefits, prompting the resignation
from the Cabinet of Iain Duncan Smith, has overshadowed a measure
that the Chancellor clearly hoped would make the headlines,
namely the sugar tax. The levy's aimed at high-sugar
drinks, particularly fizzy drinks, popular among teenagers.
The tax will be imposed on companies and apply in two bands depending
Full-strength Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and Irn-Bru, would fall under
the higher rate of the tax which, it's suggested,
At the Treasury committee, the Chancellor was asked
if he was prepared to back the move in court.
There's been some press speculation prompted by some of the
manufacturers, either they might mount a legal challenge or they are
urging the government to rethink. Can you comment on the government 's
position in response to the recent press reports? Many companies are
doing the right thing and reducing the sugar content in their drinks
and that is to be applauded. Other companies are saying either this
sugar taxes and going to happen or they are going to challenge it in
the courts. I would say if they want to have an argument about the sugar
tax, bring it on. We are going to introduce a sugar tax. It's the way
it's going to be. I think it's the right thing for this country. I
think it will make a huge improvement to childhood health.
It's been warmly welcomed across the political spectrum but also very
much supported by the health profession and the education
profession. We will now consult on the technical details of the tax and
setup the parameters and it will be introduced in 2018. Precisely so
that companies have two years to reformulate products or change their
marketing if they wish to do so. Otherwise they will pay the tax. Any
legal challenge will be read but he defended by the government? We took
legal advice before introducing it. We are very clear it's legal. And we
will of course robotically defend it if there was a legal challenge. I
would say to companies, don't waste time and money on a legal challenge.
Use this period to look at job products and see if you can
reformulate. Robinsons, Tesco, Sainsbury, the Co-op, they have all
reformulate it. These are products you can reduce sugar in. I would
suggest that is what we would like to see the industry do. Ultimately
it will be up to them. Then on to those proposals for cuts
to disability benefits, In the process of the budget you
talked this week about the lessons that need to be learned or the
lessons you will learn, I wondered what lessons you are taking away
from this budget both in terms of the process you went through but
also the content? Obviously attention has focused on the changes
that were proposed to personal independence payments just prior to
the budget. Clearly, if you are going to make reforms to disability
benefits we need to go about it in a better way than we did because they
were intended to make sure that a rising disability budget, more money
was focused on those who need it most and that the disability benefit
budget was well used. But it did not come and support as was perfectly
obvious. So that's where I think lessons need to be learned.
Another Labour MP wondered how the chancellor would
Is it possible Chancellor that you might make further cuts to welfare
spending? We've got no plans. That's not the question I asked. We are not
going to replace the ?1 billion more than we are going to be spending on
disability benefits with some other cuts... That's not the question I
asked. Is it possible you will make further cuts to welfare spending? I
imagine if the country votes to remain in the European Union will
will be seeking to make good progress and introducing the welfare
break on EU migrants. It is possible you will make further
cuts to welfare? That is something that is probably announced. Is it
possible that the Autumn Statement you will make further cuts to other
spending? We have no plans for further cuts. That is not the
question I asked. It is the answer I am giving you. We do not plan for
the reductions in welfare spending beyond what we have already
announced. We will get in focus preventing the proposals in the
welfare reform Act. I think anybody listening to this will have to
conclude it is entirely possible you will make further cuts to welfare at
the Autumn Statement. That's not the conclusion I would draw from
listening to me. Can you understand, Chancellor, why people might not
trust politicians in general and perhaps you in particular if you
refuse to answer what are pretty important questions, particularly
for people who are reliant on these sorts of benefits? I think people
know what we have set out to achieve. It was in our manifesto,
this budget delivers our manifesto, that is what the country voted on.
You're watching our round up of the day at Westminster.
Still to come: MPs plead for a re-think on plans to close
The doubts remain over whether a new nuclear power station
will ever be built at Hinkley Point, in Somerset.
The energy company, EDF, said two weeks ago it couldn't
confirm its commitment to build the new ?24 billion reactor
unless the French government came up with more money.
On Wednesday a French government spokesman said a final decision
When the subject was raised at Energy questions in the Commons,
a Labour MP was in a gambling frame of mind.
The government has already offered ridiculously large subsidies
I bet the minister ?100, proceeds to charity of course,
that that nuclear power station will not be built without even more
Will the Secretary of State take that bet?
Mr Speaker, apart from looking people in the eyes, I'm not
in the habit of taking bets across the chamber.
But I'm very happy to reassure the honourable gentleman that I'm
completely confident that the Hinkley Point C project
will go ahead, and will not be the only new nuclear reactor
It appears that Britain's energy security is now in the hands
of the French and Chinese governments.
If the French government decides not to offer up more money
for the Hinkley Project, will our taxpayers be on the hook
I can reassure the honourable lady that this proposal in Hinkley Point
But in order to give further reassurance to the honourable lady,
I would like to tell her that Hinkley Point is an important part
of our low carbon future, but it is not the only nuclear
If she had paid attention during the Budget she might have
heard the Chancellor announce further support for small modular
reactors which could be an important part of a low carbon future.
Is the intention of this government to build Hinkley Point C
The honourable gentleman I'm sure is aware that it is not for this
It is for EDF to build Hinkley Point C.
That is why we have put the arrangement in place
where we only pay when the electricity is generated.
That is the sound arrangement that we have and it is due to start
generating that electricity when we will start paying
Well, back now to the question of health, because the Labour MP
Mike Gapes has been giving MPs in Westminster Hall a vivid
description of HIS first-hand experience of the National Health
He became seriously ill five months ago.
This is my first speech or question apart from interventions in this
And my friend and neighbour referred to my extended break.
It was not voluntary, it was not by choice.
I had been at a concert at the Royal Albert Hall.
Jools Holland saved my life, because if I have not gone
to the concert I would not have had friends with me when I had
the events occurr that evening in November.
And I was rushed by ambulance initially to Chelsea
and Westminster Hospital, where I collapsed, and they scanned
me and decided I had such a serious rupture to the thoracic aneurysm
that they had to refer me by ambulance into Saint Mary's
I have a vivid memory of going down the ramp out of the ambulance
into the A at St Mary's with about ten people waiting
there and running me in the trolley straight into the operating theatre,
where the consultant said, "I hope you don't mind,
"we have injected you with anaesthetic but do you mind
"Because we have to start straightaway.
"The anaesthetic will take a moment to work."
And then I heard a female voice saying, "I know this is hurting,
I had a total of eight weeks in Saint Mary 's Hospital.
Five and a half weeks in the intensive care unit.
Nearly three of which I was in an induced coma.
I had a series of operations on my heart, and also a
tracheostomy, which is an interesting experience whereby
permanently inside you, or it seems like eminently.
Fortunately it is not there any more.
I also had other operations whilst I was there.
I haven't yet flown anywhere, and I'm waiting to see what happens
to the metal detectors at the airport, because I do have
some stents which might cause some competitions.
I have to say I have been at the hospital this morning
and they are very pleased with my progress, and I am able
MPS are urging the government to rethink its decision to close
a fifth of courts in England and Wales.
The plans are part of reforms to modernise courts and reduce
But across the house MPs said local justice was in danger and a Labour
MP said the government didn't realise the impact of the closures.
... 'S responds to the consultation says that 97 present of citizens
will still be able to reach their required court within an hour by
car. The statement is something not true. The data on which the response
is based is travel time between court buildings, not the travel time
from residents' forms to the court which will now be the closest. And I
feel that many people upon witnessing a crime will say, I do
not know if I want to come forward as a witness when it will mean that
additional time and cost burden to me as a witness. Until you are a
victim, you do not realise how important it is for the witnesses
and victims to turn up. This is what happened to me 20 years ago. I was a
victim of assault but I basically stopped a large and rampaging group
of girls who were kicking a young girl on a zebra crossing north
London and then assaulted each worker and then assaulted me. It was
only I turned up that I realised how important it was that the people who
had been the victims of assault were in that room that day so that those
girls leaders guilty, in that case to the charge of affray. Simply the
policy is wrong. The one size fits all court closure programme is both
crude, I think, and wrong. And it is against the principle of local
justice, which is the cornerstone of the British justice system. Frankly,
these closures, particularly for Chichester are not a policy, they
are the negation of policy. Everyone understands the need for financial
stringency. But no economic rationale has been provided despite
repeated requests for these closures. And until it is provided,
I think people will continue to be deeply concerned about it. The
Government defends itself by claiming that courts are underused,
but I have been told by credible sources that court cases are being
moved in order to skew these figures and justify closing some courts. And
if the justification is not lack of demand it is the need to save money,
which will effectively result in the cost of providing justice been
passed from the state to the individual engaging with the justice
system whether as an offender or as a witness or as a victim. There is a
real need to look at how we have a plan for the long-term future of our
courts, how we have a strategy to ensure that some cases can still be
decided locally, and a real commitment to doing that, not just a
allusion to it, but a real firm plan in areas where there will no longer
be an alternative building in the near vicinity.
But not everyone was against the idea:
Some Magistrates' Courts I can remember were in poor condition, old
and ill-equipped, and did not have this facility is to deal with the
separation of witnesses, victims and legal advisers that we all wish to
see and that the Honorourable Member referred to earlier. So not all
closures are bad, and has to be process of renewal and sometimes of
consolidation. These Asian to close a court is not one that I take
lightly. But it is a decision that I'm prepared to make when it is
necessary to do so to support the essential reform of our court
tribunal system and to bring the court system up to the modern
21st-century. There'll be two parliamentary
by-elections in the next few weeks. The contests follow the death
of the Sheffield Labour MP Harry Harpham, and decision
of the Labour MP for Ogmore in Wales, Huw Irranca-Davies
to run as a candidate Here's the Labour chief whip moving
the writ in the Commons, in the traditional way,
for the second of those elections. I beg to move that Mr Speaker do
issue his warrant to the clerk of the Crown to make out a new rate for
the electing of a member to serve in this present Parliament for the
county constituency of Ogmore, in the right of Mr Davies, who since
his election to the said constituency has been appointed to
the office of Stewart and Bailiff of Her Majesty's manner of Northstead
in the County of York. And those by-elections will be held
on the same day as elections to the Welsh Assembly,
Scottish Parliament and local councils in England,
namely Thursday the 5th of May. Now, the end of the week provides
a regular opportunity for some humorous exchanges in the chamber
between the Leader of the Commons, Chris Grayling,
and his opposite number Chris But this week it was
the deputies doing the job. When Labour's Melanie Onn started,
she made a passing reference to the internal Labour party list
seized on by David Cameron at Prime Minister's
Questions on Wednesday. This list placed Labour MPs
in different categories, such as, 'Hostile',
'Core Group' or 'neutral'. Mr Speaker, I welcome that today
we have three women speaking for their parties in
Business Questions, and I will be doing my best to
avoid being hostile. When I found out that
I was standing in for today's Business Questions I was concerned
that I might have nothing to talk So much has happened that
I have made my own list. It has been a truly dismal
week for the Government. Ever since the Ozzy-shambles budget
they have been in complete Her constituency and mine
have similar attributes Fishing is important,
and green energy offers While she has not yet knocked
the Honorourable Member for Rhondda off his perch, she has
shown she is a dab hand That said, Mr Speaker,
as the Honourable Lady is in the hostile gang and it seems
that the Honorourable Member for Rhondda has been neutered,
she will have to put her skates on to get back in the good books
of Captain Birdseye. And how about a debate
on the importance of unity The SNP could lead it and others
could learn about how to inspire The people of Scotland know
we are a party that puts people first, not personal ambition,
and that is why they are backing us Tasmina Ahmed-Shikh
bringing us to our close. That's it, not just for this
programme but for this term. MPs and peers are now
off for two weeks. The daily round-up will be back
when Parliament gets back, from me, Keith Macdougall,
goodbye and have a good Easter.