Highlights of proceedings in Parliament on Thursday 12 May, presented by Alicia McCarthy.
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Hello there and welcome to Thursday in Parliament.
On this programme: the Government sets out plans for the future
of the BBC, urging them to focus on distinctiveness and diversity.
Just how many people are coming to the UK from the rest of the EU?
Ministers are urged to iron out the wrinkles in the figures.
And a former Labour leader appears a calendar clash between the EU
referendum and the Glastonbury Festival.
It would be an awful pity if instead of voting,
they were rocking, my Lords.
But first, the Culture Secretary has unveiled the Government's blueprint
for the future of the BBC, saying the broadcaster needs
to focus on distinctiveness and diversity.
John Whittingdale dismissed earlier reports on plans to reduce the BBC's
independence and funding as the hysterical speculation
of left-wing luvvies.
Under the plans, the licence fee will continue for at
least the next 11 years.
People watching BBC programmes online will have to
pay the licence fee.
The BBC will be overseen by a new unitary board and regulated
by the broadcasting watchdog, Ofcom.
And there was news about the highest-paid individuals,
including star names.
The public has a right to know what the highest earners the BBC
employs are paid out of their licence fee.
The new charter will therefore require the BBC to go further
regarding the transparency of what it pays its talent
and publish the names of all its employees and freelancers
above ?450,000, which is the current director-general's
salary, in broad bands.
John Whittingdale said the Government was not saying
the BBC should not be popular.
Some of its most distinctive programmes such as Life On Earth
or Strictly Come Dancing had very wide audiences.
But it wasn't for the BBC to produce "me too" popular shows.
Commissioning editors should ask consistently of new programming,
"Is this idea sufficiently innovative and high quality?"
Rather than simply, "How will it do in the ratings?"
So we will place a requirement to provide distinctive content
and services at the heart of the BBC's overall coordination
of informing, educating and entertaining in the public interest.
For the last few weeks, Mr Speaker, we have had to read
an increasing avalanche of briefing to Conservative supporting
newspapers, especially those newspapers hostile to the BBC,
which appears to have been emanating from his department.
The fact that most of his wilder proposals appear to have been
watered down or damped or delayed by the Government
of which he is a member is a reflection of his diminishing
influence and lack of clout.
He's not got his way in most things, Mr Speaker, and I welcome that.
She was concerned about the appointments to the new board
to oversee the corporation.
I am still worried that the Government are seeking unduly
to influence the output and editorial decision-making
of the BBC, or can be seen to be doing so.
So will the Secretary of State now promise that all Government
appointments will be made by a demonstrably
independent process, overseen by the Commissioner
for Public Appointments, which prevents there being any
suspicion that the Government seeks to turn the BBC into something over
which it has more control than is currently the case?
I do have some sympathy with the Right Honourable Lady,
who of course had a dry run of this yesterday and rehearsed
all of her lines of attack only to wake up this morning to discover
that all of the concerns she expressed were based
on ill-founded, hysterical speculation by left-wing lobbies.
A view shared by a veteran conservative.
Every fox she expected to see running appears to have been shot
and the hounds she expected to release appear to be running
around in some confusion.
I am sorry to say to the Secretary of State that the British
people are not going to be fooled by his words today.
There might be some fantasy foxes being shot this morning,
but the fact is, by Sunday, like the budget, when this
has been crawled over, when we look at the detail,
I believe that this is going to be a deep, dark day for the BBC
and the British public...
OK, the Brexiters, who seem to be joined by hating
Europe and hating the BBC, the fact of the matter is that this
is going to be a champagne night for Rupert Murdoch and Richard
The BBC is better than that and it is owned by the British
people, not this Government.
Mr Speaker, the BBC have struggled with diversity on screen and off
screen for far too long.
And I absolutely welcome the enshrinement of diversity
into the new charter.
It is the right thing to do.
It is the wise thing to do it.
And does the Secretary of State agree with me that attracting
the brightest and most diverse talent will actually improve
the content of the BBC's offering and also
ultimately the ratings?
Well, that statement was repeated a short time later
in the House of Lords.
My Lords, surely it is fair to congratulate the Government
on dropping some of the more unacceptable proposals that have
been floated over the last few weeks and to congratulate them
on abolishing the BBC Trust, which should never have been
established, and which the committee of this house actually said ten
years ago should not be?
The test today, for me, is really does this white
paper leave the BBC more independent or less independent
than it is today?
And my fear is it is less independent.
Many of us are very concerned that this is the thin end
of the wedge, my Lords, that is going to prevent the BBC
from competing in prime time with commercial broadcasters,
and is deliberately designed to do so.
Now, what assurance can the minister gave to this house that that is not
the intention and that that will not be the case?
I think I can assure my noble friend that that is not the intention.
It is certainly something that the BBC has fully
recognised and embraced.
The BBC's director-general has been a driving force here.
He has highlighted that he wants to see a system that firmly
holds our feet to the fire on distinctiveness and that,
to my mind, is what the white paper proposals will deliver.
My Lords, the register declares my interest -
I was going to say as a member of an endangered species,
but it is now an member of a condemned species -
namely, the BBC Trust.
Now first, knowing the great interest there is in this house,
I welcome the Government's commitment in the white
paper to the ring-fencing of the BBC World Service.
I think that is very important indeed.
That presents a solid guarantee for the years ahead
as well as the certainty provided by an 11 year charter.
My concerns, however, are that the proposals to protect
the BBC's independence do not go far enough.
Will the Minister assure the house that the Government will provide
sufficient guarantees that its future decisions
about the BBC and in particular about funding appointments
to the board are made clearly and transparently
and without comprising the BBC's independence?
Lady Neville-Rolfe said points of detail would be debated
in the weeks and months ahead.
Now, the Government has urged MPs not to distort discrepancies
between National Insurance numbers and long-term migration figures.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics have shown
that just over 250,000 migrants from other parts
of the European Union were recorded as coming to the UK
over the last year.
But more than 650,000 National Insurance numbers
were issued during the same period.
A Conservative MP, John Redwood, called on ministers to "get
a grip," saying locations for public services.
-- saying the difference between the two figures had big
implications for public services.
But answering an urgent question, the Immigration Minister said
the gap was due to short term EU migration to the UK.
National Insurance numbers can be obtained by anyone working in the UK
for just a few weeks, and the ONS explains clearly why
the number of National Insurance registrations should not be compared
with migration figures, because they measure entirely
different things, and we must now be careful not to distort these figures
following their clear statements.
Doesn't it show that all the time we stay in the European Union,
we cannot control European migration in the way that we promised to do
in the general election?
And doesn't he share my wish to get a grip on it so that we can properly
plan our public services?
And I found the note slipped out - but fortunately the speaker allowed
an urgent question - doesn't answer the discrepancy
and it doesn't deal with this fundamental point that
if someone comes here, works and get a National Insurance
number, we need to provide public facilities for them.
But the minister argued that leaving the EU would not have the effect
Mr Redwood believes it would.
This idea that somehow on the outside that it
would somehow be better, I find it inconceivable
that we would have access to the single market and not have
those issues of free movement.
Labour's spokesman quoted the head of the ONS.
National Insurance numbers are not a good indicator
of long-term migration.
This research shows that many people who register for National Insurance
stay in the United Kingdom for less than a year, which is the minimum
stay for a long term migrant, according to the internationally
The publication of these NI numbers is simply one more confirmation
that there is no chance, zero, of us fulfilling our promise
to the British people on immigration, to reduce it
to the tens of thousands, unless there is restriction on free
movement of Labour within the European Union,
so since the minister himself mentioned the renegotiation,
will he tell us why the Government did not attempt in any way to get
a reduction in that free movement as part of that renegotiation?
The real migrant crisis which we in this country face
at the moment is a problem of how to deal with,
in a civilised and effective way, with the flood of people coming
from war and anarchy in the Middle East and North Africa
and the problem is not Polish construction workers and Romanian
nurses, who make a very valuable contribution to the economic
life of this country.
A few months ago, the Prime Minister was telling us that unless he got
his way on migration, he would consider leaving the EU.
This was a minor change in migration figures and controls.
He now says that if we leave the EU, there might indeed
be a third world war.
Doesn't the mismatch, and we can see it...
I brought this graph so that members can see the difference
between the two figures.
The fact is we have no idea what net migration in this country is.
It is out of control and we need to get control back of our borders
and that is what he should have done with an emergency break.
On their own, I don't think these National Insurance registrations are
a reliable indicator for measuring long-term international migration.
It is vital, though, we remember that migration
is a global phenomenon and not just a European issue and also
remember that it is very much a two-way street.
In Scotland, we are all too well aware that for generations migration
has meant that many of our citizens have had to move abroad and even now
many of our most highly qualified young people leave to build careers
in other parts of the world.
Every EU citizen and their dependents have the right to come
here and the Government has no means of excluding them,
even if they are criminals and terrorists.
Figures clearly lay bare that the government is powerless
to control EU immigration for the benefit of
our public services.
I came into the chamber hoping to see conspiracy exposed over
National Insurance numbers and there is no conspiracy,
so it has been a disappointing day.
Meanwhile, in the Lords, there were bad tempered exchanges
over the causes of large-scale migration.
A Liberal Democrat wanted to know what evidence the government had
to support its claim that pull factors are responsible
for the mass movement of people from the Middle East
and North Africa in recent years.
The causes of migration are many and complex.
But are commonly described as consisting of push factors,
that make people want to leave their own countries,
and pull factors that make them choose particular destinations.
The Government does not claim that pull factors alone are responsible
for migration, but there is good circumstantial evidence that
demonstrates language, benefits and work opportunities
influence movements of people.
I can see from the Minister's reply that the Government still insist
that pull factors...
I am glad to see that he has now accepted that there are some
push factors involved...
That pull factors, by which I mean higher wages and benefits,
are still at work.
Given that these have remained relatively stable over many years,
what does he believe is the reason behind the very large
increase in numbers of refugees in recent years?
The Government has always recognised there are both push and pull factors
in the context of migration.
Indeed, historically, that has been well established.
We can go back to the Goths moving into the Western Roman Empire
in order to confirm that issue.
With regards to more recent migration, there is no
doubt that a great deal of it is economically based.
Indeed, statistical flows to Italy between January and April this year
show that the top nationalities entering across the Mediterranean
have been Nigerian, Gambian and Senegalese.
Would not the Government accept that it is wars,
repression and instability that primarily lead to the mass
movement of people?
If those seeking to come from Europe, from the Middle East
and North Africa are simply economic migrants, then why is it after every
outbreak of violence and repression we get,
a new wave of people from the area that has just had that outbreak?
Listening to Labour opine on the matter of immigration
and immigration control, is rather like listening
to an arsonist on the subject of fire prevention.
I cannot answer the question unless I'm given an opportunity
to do so, but thank you.
Now, the position is this, yes, yes, push factors increase
when there is violence and instability but push factors
alone are not the issue.
There are push factors and pull factors and a simple
example is Sweden.
It takes the second-highest number of asylum seekers from North Africa
and the Mediterranean area and yet has the borders furthest away
from that point.
Lord Keen of Elie.
You are watching Thursday in Parliament with me,
Now, do you have a Smart meter in your home monitoring how much
energy you are using? If not, you could have one soon.
The Government has committed to getting 53 million of these
devices into homes and businesses by the end of 2020.
Smart meters send information on energy usage directly
back to the supplier and there are concerns
about the safety of that data.
Concerns were raised with the Energy and Climate Change Secretary
who told the Commons that the new meters were vital
to putting consumers in control of their energy use.
Consumers need to have ready access to the data from their Smart meters
if we are to achieve this goal, and that is why all households
will be offered an in-home display that will allow them to see
the energy that they are using in real near-time as well as its costs
and why it will also add suppliers to trial new and innovative
technologies alongside that.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Yes, Smart meters can transform domestic energy consumption
and literally help save the planet but only if consumers
are giving secure, controlled ownership of their own data.
The display option she refers to will still allow Smart meters
to be a back door into our homes for hackers so can she,
before it is too late, overcome her ridiculous complacency
and announce measures which will give consumers the digital
rights that they deserve?
The honourable lady should know that privacy is absolutely
protected and at the heart of the Smart meter programme.
She should be careful not to put fear into the hearts of people
where none should exist.
The data is protected and the data belongs not to Government,
which some people might not unreasonably fear,
but to the energy companies.
So we will make sure that we always reassure consumers that privacy
is at the core of delivering safe meters in the future.
According to government's own calculations, they reckon that
with Smart meters installed, we could as a nation save some
?17 billion on our collective energy bills over the next 15 years.
Does the Minister recognise that if consumers have access
to their detailed data usage, this would put them in a good
position to share with third parties, should they want to,
and this could improve competition which is something the Government
would always be glad to see?
Yes, Mr Speaker, the Government will be glad to see the fact that
competition and market authority have said they are going to make
available in a controlled way, the details of people who have not
switched, who have to make sure it is done in a way which doesn't
result in consumers feeling overwhelmed by suggestions.
They have yet to come out with a final solution
on this point but I'm
confident they will do so in a way that is measured and it will help
make sure that the people who have not been switching have
access to switching and the opportunities
that are there.
There was one item not on the Commons agenda on Thursday
which many MPs had been expecting - a statement on Syria.
The Leader of the House Chris Grayling suggested last week
that there would be a statement before this session
of Parliament ended.
So a Labour MP asked the Speaker when it might now happen.
Quarterly reports, Mr Speaker, as you will recall, were part
of the motion agreed in this House on the 2nd December,
2015 and as the first few weeks will be taken up of the new session
for the Queen's Speech, I wanted to see your guidance
as to when would be the very first opportunity that we would be able
to have a statement from the Government on the situation
in Syria and military involvement?
Realistically, it seems to me that a statement cannot be made
to the House for at least a week and it may be somewhat
longer than that.
I take very seriously the point of order the honourable
lady has raised.
I am bound to say that I did recall what was said last week
and therefore I had rather anticipated that there was to be
such a statement today.
The House had been told there would be.
There may very well have been some private understanding reached
between the front benches on this matter, I have no
way of knowing that.
Although I would just say, whether that is the case or not,
that there has to be a respect for the rights of the House
and its legitimate expectations as a whole.
This is not just a matter of what front benches may
or may not have agreed, so I confess I was looking forward
to the statement.
It seemed to me a very important matter and the Government Chief Whip
is unfailingly courteous to me and to all members, is in his place
and he has heard what has been said and I very much hope,
let's just put it like that, it was a very good commitment
the Government made, I very much hope we can have that
statement as soon as is practical.
The cause was taken up by a Liberal Democrat who picked up
on a phrase used by the Speaker at Prime Minister's Questions
the day before when he had said the party leader,
Tim Farron, should be heard, however irritating he might be
to Government backbenchers.
You will be aware that I have been pursuing this issue of the Syrian
quarterly statements for some months now,
in a dogged and possibly irritating fashion.
I accept of course that the Government have made a number
of statements on this matter, whether it is the siege of Aleppo,
the Russian intervention, the humanitarian conference,
but they have rarely focused on the matter which I think
the Prime Minister promised to report on, and that was quarterly
statements in relation to the RAF's action against Daesh in Syria.
Periodically, people irritate other people,
but members hardly ever irritate me.
I am always happy to hear members and I'm very happy to hear the right
honourable gentleman's right honourable friend yesterday.
In fact, so keen was I to hear the right honourable gentleman,
that I called him something like ten minutes into injury time,
so I'm sure he won't have any complaints, he is
a robust character.
He can look after himself and he has a good sense of humour in any case.
I don't think I can offer the prospect of a statement
on Wednesday of next week, I think that is simply not practical.
I think that we have to balance the understandable disappointment
on the part of many members that there isn't a statement today
with a degree of reasonableness as to when that statement
can take place.
I don't think we would serve the House by interrupting
the Queen's Speech debate on Wednesday of next week.
The Commons Speaker, John Bercow.
Now, are you registered to vote and what about anyone you know under
the age of 25?
In the Lords, many Peers were concerned that with the EU
referendum just weeks away, many teenagers and university
students weren't on the register.
A former Labour leader wanted action.
Will the Government therefore make major efforts, in addition
to the commitments they have so far undertaken, particularly
through the online communication that was mentioned and through
social media to ensure that young people know that the final date
for voter registration and for getting a postal vote
is June 7th? Just less than four weeks from now.
Does the Minister agree with me that this kind of information
is specially vital when polling day coincides
with the Glastonbury Festival, which through broadcasting,
could rather preoccupy the attention of millions of young people,
whose votes are not only vital to their future,
but to the future of the country.
It would be an awful pity if, instead of voting,
they were rocking, my Lords.
I think the answer is in the question.
I think the noble Lord should get a group of their Lordships together,
appear on stage, and sing, no satisfaction, unless
there is registration.
Which nod to the Rolling Stones brings us rumbling to the end
of this session of Parliament.
The session closed with a traditional ceremony of prorogation.
It begins with the Lords gathering with the Leader of the House,
Lady Stowell taking centre stage as senior Peers gather
in their ceremonial finery.
Black Rod is then summoned and asked to go to the Commons to summon MPs.
Just as with the Queen's Speech, Black Rod, General David Leakey,
sets off to the House of Commons.
And having passed through Central Lobby, he arrives
at the door of the chamber.
Black Rod delivers his message to MPs who then leave their seats
and slowly process out of the Commons chamber and down
the corridor to gather at the bar of the House of Lords.
When the MPs arrive, there is a ceremonial doffing
of hats before the Leader of the Lords tells MPs
that while the Queen is not present herself,
she has given her royal assent to a number of acts.
The names of the bills which have recently been passed are then read
out and the Clerk of Parliaments gives royal assent in Norman French.
Immigration act. La Reyne le veult.
After which, MPs return to the Commons before finally
leaving Westminster, shaking hands with the Speaker John Bercow
on their way out.
So that is it from us but do join me on Friday night at 11pm for a full
round-up of the week here at Westminster,
when among other things, I'll be talking to two Westminster
watchers about the art of the political U-turn.
But for now, from me, Alicia McCarthy, goodbye.