Highlights of proceedings in Parliament on Thursday 5 May, 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, a minister annonces a pause in the
introduction of controversial new contracts for junior doctors.
Peers react positively.
My Lords, I am surprised but delighted after the
initial news this morning.
The public will greatly welcome the magnanimity
of Her Majesty's Government.
Of course, I would make the point that most junior doctors
work seven days a week anyway.
There's condemnation of David Cameron's tactics
at Prime Minister's Questions.
Yesterday's Prime Minister's Questions showed to
me, if to nobody else, that there ain't no gutter low
enough for the Prime Minister to slop around in.
And the moment the Farming Minister had
to state a Government position he doesn't agree with.
The Government position is that we should remain in
the European Union.
You will also be aware that I have exercised the option
granted by the PM to disagree with the Government on this
But first, a breakthrough in the long-running
junior doctors dispute in England has been
signalled in the House of Lords.
Many thousands of hospital operations have been postponed in
the several days of strike action carried out by the junior doctors,
who are unhappy about new working contracts.
In particular, they are asking for improved rates of pay
for weekend working.
Two months ago, the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said
he would impose the new contract if no agreement was reached.
A health minister in the House of Lords has
announced an important new development in the dispute.
My Lords, my right honourable friend,
the Secretary of State for Health, will write to the Academy of Medical
Royal Colleges later this morning explaining that we are willing to
pause introduction of the new contract for five days from Monday,
should the Junior Doctors Committee agree to focus discussion on the
outstanding contractual issues, namely unsocial hours
and Saturday pay.
My Lords, I am surprised but delighted after the initial news
this morning that the Department of Health has agreed to enter into
discussions with the junior doctors.
I hope that both sides will enter this discussion in the spirit of
finding a resolution, rather than finding faults
in the discussions.
I'm sure the talk will resolve the issue because, as far as I am
concerned, striking is not the answer.
Anything that prolongs that exercise is detrimental to patient care.
Is my noble friend aware that the public
will greatly welcome the
magnanimity of Her Majesty's Government?
In willingly going forward to have further discussions
over a short period.
But at the same time, and I can only speak from
having talked to some of my former constituents
in Northampton, the public
does want to know what is the benefit
to both the public and the
junior doctors from this new contract?
The Government's approach has been cack-handed
throughout the process.
It would have been much better if, instead of
initially rejecting this proposal, the Government had accepted it
rather than actually now setting some new conditions.
Obviously, we hope the outcome of this will be
successful and it will be resolved.
The question I put to the noble lord,
the minister, is this, at the
end of this process, we are left with thousands of junior doctors
disengaged from the service because of the circumstances of the dispute
and the alarmist statements issued by the Secretary of State.
Will my lord's part of the discussions look
at how the junior doctors
are to be brought back into the fold and given the support they
so richly deserve?
My Lords, I think there is a general recognition that many of
the issues that have lain behind the dispute over the contract
are not actually involved in the contract
itself, it is about how junior doctors are trained,
how they are valued, how they are integrated into
hospitals and into the workforce.
While the whole house welcomes this pause,
I hope whatever happens there will be an opportunity for an
independent review to look at the very
points that were made earlier on
about the lack of value, lack of appreciation,
lack of support for junior doctors.
If there is one thing that this dispute last week
has shown is that when consultants actually
man the front door of the hospital,
the services are very much better.
Does the Minister accept that what he said this morning,
welcome though it may be, is really rather too late?
Trust is the most important element when it comes to
provision of medical services.
The Secretary of State has lost the trust
already, not only of the junior doctors,
but also of a very large percentage of the general
public and it has to be said, actually,
the BMA has also lost the trust
of a certain percentage of the public.
Of course, I would make the point
that most junior doctors work seven days a week anyway.
But will the Minister accept that the
imposition of this contract, if it is done at the end of the pause
period, is not the only way of achieving
the Government's objective?
And further discussions with those who actually provide those
services may very well find an even better way of providing those
seven-day services to the patients?
All I would say today is that we have an opportunity over the next
five days for the BMA and the Government
to find a resolution to this
and I think if we can find a resolution to this
issue, it will make the implementation
of seven-day working across the NHS much easier.
Does the Minister remember the EU Working Time Directive,
which was, a few years ago, touted as being disastrous for
the training of junior doctors and would make it
completely impossible for junior doctors to be trained?
Now that the Government is trying to push our junior doctors to work
longer hours over more days, does it mean all the fuss over the
EU Working Time Directive was a myth?
Or is this in an entirely different category?
No, I think the noble lord has misunderstood the contract.
The number of hours are actually coming
down, not going up.
The ugliest Prime Minister's Questions in years, that was how one
Westminster sketch writer summed up Wednesday's exchanges at
the Dispatch Box between David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn.
The Prime Minister repeatedly accused Labour's
candidate for London Mayor, Sadiq Khan,
of sharing platforms with
Jeremy Corbyn suggested the Conservatives had
problems with racism and said they should set up an enquiry.
One day on, the Shadow Commons Leader made
plain his views about David Cameron's tactics.
Yesterday's Prime Minister's Questions showed to me,
if to nobody else, that there ain't no gutter low enough for the
Prime Minister to slop around in.
That kind of despicable smearing of one's
opponents, I think, degrades the whole of politics.
And I would just say gently to the Government that those
who live by the gutter die in the gutter.
I am absolutely certain that
kind of politics is not welcome for the British voters.
What a year it has been(!)
Every single economic target missed!
Growth forecast constantly downgraded, debt up,
homelessness up, the use of food banks up by 19%.
Absolute child poverty set to rise.
NHS waiting lists up, libraries closed.
Mr Speaker, what a load of twaddle we
have just head from the Shadow Leader.
Let's be clear, what we have spent the last 12 months doing is
fulfilling the trust the public put in us at the general election
last year when we defeated the Labour Party.
Mr Speaker, if you look at the things this Government
has actually done, we have introduced new powers to turn around
failing schools, we have paved the way for
the Northern Powerhouse, we have passed
the EU Referendum Act, we have provided substantial new
powers of devolution to Scotland.
We have paved the way for
the national living wage.
We have passed English votes for English laws.
We have passed a childcare act, which
doubles the amount of free childcare each week.
We have taken further important steps to consolidate peace
in Northern Ireland.
Mr Speaker, we need an urgent statement on what is
going on with the investigation of the Conservative Party for breaking
campaign spending rules in last year's general election.
Mr Speaker, the claims are absolutely
extraordinary and centres round Conservative candidates,
28 Conservative candidates, failing to register the use
of a battle bus for local campaigning and something
like ?38,000 of accommodation for local campaigns.
Mr Speaker, if anybody is found guilty of such a charge,
it could result in one year imprisonment and an unlimited fine.
Surely we must now hear what the Government's view on this
is and there must be no whiff or suggestion
that this Government cheated its way to power.
It is for proper authorities to address issues
whenever they arise and I have been very
careful to say that that is the case
where those issues affected
the Scottish Nationalists as well,
as we have seen in recent months.
Now, is it the source of the vast majority of problems that British
farmers face or is it a crucial market for meat exports?
Both views of the European Union were on
display at Environment Questions, coming from two different ministers
in the same department.
The exchanges began with a Conservative MP, who supports a
British exit from the EU, asking about the contribution that
technology could make to increasing the productivity of farming.
Will he agree with me that the implementation burden of vast
changes, like this year's common agricultural policy, make it
difficult to realise all these benefits?
And can he agree with me that there is a simple solution,
which is to vote to leave the EU?
Mr Speaker, as my honourable friend knows,
the Government position is that we should remain
in the European Union.
He will also be aware that I have exercised
the option granted by the PM
to disagree with the Government on this particular issue.
From a personal perspective, I would simply
say that the vast majority of problems that farmers complain to me
about are the consequence of dysfunctional EU legislation.
But his boss, the Environment Secretary,
took a rather different view when it was her turn
to answer questions.
The farming community of Lincolnshire will be gathered
together on the 22nd and 23rd of June for the Lincolnshire Show.
If my right honourable friend is not doing anything
on those particular days, and if she will find time to come to
Lincolnshire, I could introduce her to a group of farmers who oppose
membership of the EU.
Could she find time in her diary to do that?
I thank my honourable friend for his question.
I couldn't possibly imagine what anybody might be doing
on the 23rd of June but what I would say,
and this is for all farmers, is that the EU
and the single market has brought massive benefits for
food and farming.
If you look at exports of beef and lamb, 97% of
exports of lamb go into the European Union.
92% of beef exports go to the European Union.
There would be a real risk to the future
livelihood of those industries if we were to leave as we weren't
able to export our fine products to those
European countries any more.
A Labour MP was more concerned about the problems already facing
a different group of farmers, those in the dairy industry.
Food-secure Britain needs British farmers to be
able to make a living and, with milk prices
plummeting in March this year,
we saw them at the lowest level they have been since 2009,
with some farm-gate prices as low as 16p per litre.
This is coming at a time when British dairy incomes
are dropping and are forecase to drop by almost
half for this year.
I am disappointed that there was nothing for dairy farmers
in this year's budget.
What action will the Minister take now, working with supermarkets
and retailers and farmers, to ensure a future for
the British dairy industry?
MPs on the other side of the Commons were worried as well.
In North Yorkshire, for the last 15 years we have lost 15% of our dairy
farmers and 90 cent of those still in business are losing money
despite subsidies, does the Minister agree that now is the time
for the supermarkets to start paying a fair price to British
farmers for British milk?
I understand the point that my honourable friend is making,
these are very difficult times for farmers and I know that some
people often lay the blame at supermarkets but we have
to recognise that the root of this problem is a worldwide issue
of low commodity prices.
We are seeing very low prices in New Zealand, far lower
than here and many people have been driven out of business
there as well.
This is a global challenge, some of the supermarkets have
stepped up to the plate and offered aligned contracts and many of them
are selling their milk at a loss and I think we should recognise
and give credit where it is due, but we are always trying to improve
the position for farmers.
Another Conservative had a question about another part
of the British breakfast.
Weetabix which is based in my constituency is a great
British breakfast cereal, she launched the great British Food
Unit at its headquarters, will she ensure that
at all the DEFRA breakfast meetings and international trade symposiums
that her department organises around the world, that Weetabix is always
served at these breakfast meetings?
Well, my honourable friend is absolutely right that Weetabix
is a fantastic product and not only is it exported around the world,
all of the wheat grown is from 50 miles of the Weetabix factory
so it is a real example of linking to farms.
I proudly display my own box of Elizabeth Truss Weetabix
on my desk at DEFRA for all visitors to see when they
arrive in my office.
Liz Truss telling us about her breakfast preferences.
You're watching our round-up of the day in the Commons
and the Lords.
Still to come...
Peers hear warnings that financial problems may force thousands of care
homes to close.
A former Education Secretary says that the digital revolution
is going to destroy far more jobs than it creates.
Lord Baker told peers that the government had
to improve skills training dramatically if the UK
was going to maintain its place in a rapidly changing world.
He was contributing to a House of Lords debate on how to address
the technical skills gap.
The digital revolution is happening and I am one of those
who believes that everything, artificial intelligence,
data, driverless lorries, drones, all of that area
is going to destroy many more jobs than they are creating.
In the past industrial revolutions have always created more
jobs, I made speeches, when I was a minister
for information technology.
I am now persuaded that the disruptive technologies
of the digital revolution are going to destroy many others.
There are reports from McKenzie and Davos saying that they will be
absolutely larger than that.
Faced with that, the government wants to improve skills training
dramatically in our country.
Another former Education Secretary referred to the ending of the era
of the polytechnics.
We lost out on that notion of the sandwich course
which was very much a part of the polytechnic and we lost out
I think on that emphasis on learning through doing.
Because if you look at a lot of the older polytechnics now,
what they have done is, new universities, they have
expanded in what I call classroom bound courses.
It was cheaper to put on a law course or a history course
or a business course for a polytechnic that became
a university and wanted to expand than it was to do a vocational
course or skills course because they were more expensive
by nature of the equipment.
And that I think in some way accounts for the lack
or the wrong skill sets that we are hearing of now.
If we need to address our technical skills and we clearly do,
please let's be wary of doing it in another Polytechnic experiment.
Let us do it through encouraging the best technic departments
to expand and not relocate elsewhere.
If necessary, to set up new, just technical colleges,
if we can find enough good teachers.
I read somewhere that last year one third of all graduates were working
in menial jobs after graduating.
And at the same time, the Royal Academy of Engineering
tells us that we are in need of 40,000 engineers each year.
My Lords what we need is a technical education system in which businesses
and colleges work closely together with political
support from all sides.
So when we publish our plans for education reform we will do
so with the spirit of consensus.
We want to seek the widest possible support and as we have heard today,
I think everyone agrees on the challenges and the need
to make sure we get this right and ensure that the worlds
of business and education come together.
The core theme of the debate today is the institutions for advanced
technical education and broadly this government takes the view that
at present we do not have the right pattern of institutions to teach
high-level technical education programmes
at the level we all want to see.
MPs have been told about the continuing grave concern held
by faith groups over plans to subject out-of-school
activities for young people to Ofsted inspections.
The issue arose during a backbencher's debate
in the Commons on the contribution of faith groups to
the voluntary sector.
Those proposals would mean that a Christian youth group which plays
sport or games one day a week or meets one evening
to discuss their faith plus perhaps on a Sunday could have Ofsted
inspectors coming to see if their activities are compatible
with a list of British values drawn up by the government and to check
whether or not they are extremist.
Mr Speaker, I submit to you that there is nothing less
British than the government restricting the expression
of religious faith based on a set of values drawn up in Whitehall.
It is the very opposite of what I understand
Conservatism to be.
Ofsted inspectors will likely not be looking for illegal activities,
they will be looking for activities which fit into a vaguely
defined set of ideals, such as non-violent extremism.
I agree with everything that she has just said,
including her criticism of the government proposal,
in effect to Ofsted being a regulator of religion,
I think that would be dreadful and I hope the criticism will be
heeded by the Minister and that in due course that proposal
will be abandoned.
My honourable friend also raised the issue of Ofsted and Ofsted
inspections and I listened carefully to what she had to say.
The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education are clear
that the registration will not apply to organisations and Sunday schools,
we are not proposing to regulate institutions like Sunday schools.
We have to ensure that organisations do the right thing,
meet the standards we should expect but she raised legitimate concerns,
the concerns to which I have listened and of which I am aware
and I'm sure they will be drawn to the attention
of the Education Secretary today.
New research by the BBC indicates that one in four
care homes in the UK, around 5000 institutions,
may have to close because of financial hardship.
Potential closures were raised at Question Time in the Lords.
Lady Bakewell, a champion for older people under the previous Labour
government, warned that a crash was on the way and urged
the government to make contingency plans to protect frail
and vulnerable residents.
Is he not conversant with the BBC research published yesterday showing
that 5000 care homes at risk of closure over the next three
years, or the recent Stevens report showing a 34% increase in care home
insolvencies over the past few years or indeed another estimate
of ?2.9 billion funding gap in adult social care by the end of the decade
and in the face of these figures, why does the government continue
to assert the incredible proposition that it is possible to increase
wages, increase regulatory burdens and not increase real
terms per capita funding?
When will they end this dangerous fantasy and actually start
addressing the serious crisis in adult social care?
I think the increase in the minimum wage from ?6.70 to a living wage
of ?7.20 has been universally welcomed by most
people in this house.
I think care workers, people who work in care homes do
an incredible difficult job and ?7.20 does not seem to me
a small fortune to pay people like that.
The cost of that, that will increase the cost of people in the care
sector, and there is some evidence that some care homes are closing,
the figures I have in the last two years, 2000 beds have
closed in the care sector.
600 domiciliary care agencies have opened in that time
so there is going to be a switch in the way that care is delivered
from residential care to domiciliary care.
It is very difficult to know sometimes what land
ministers live on.
My Lords, that is an extraordinarily complacent answer.
The survey yesterday showed a quarter of all care
homes are facing closure because of the financial squeeze.
A study into funding social care five years ago commissioned
by the government opposed capping the cost of care in England.
His government decided unilaterally to postpone probably forever
but certainly by four years the introduction of the care cap
which proved massively disappointing too many people.
The government put into the forward programme spend plans of 6 billion,
why not use some of that money to help the viability
of the care home sector?
My Lords, if I sounded complacent, I did not mean to.
I recognise that there is a tremendous pressure on many
providers of adult social care, particularly those funded by local
authorities, it is for that reason, disappointingly,
it has been postponed.
We wanted to bring it it in but we decided the cost
of bringing it in was too great for local authorities
to finance in the short term.
Given that this is a crisis and there is going to be a crash,
we know that the care sector has warned us that it is coming,
the government has made concessions of course,
but can it have contingency plans in place so that when the crisis
actually hits, old and vulnerable people are not suddenly thrust
into a crisis that they do not know how to deal with.
The noble lady is absolutely right, the whole focus must be
on the residents of these homes, rather than the owners
of the care homes.
There are a number of very highly regarded providers in the sector
who have high levels of debt and often very expensive debt.
The CQC is keeping a close watch on them and when there are early
warning signs of difficulties, then the CQC and the local
authorities will put in place alternative plans.
That is it for this programme, do join me for The Week In Parliament
when we will have the best of the last three days
in the Commons and the Lords.
Until then, from me, Keith McDougall, goodbye.