12/05/2016 Thursday in Parliament


12/05/2016

Highlights of proceedings in Parliament on Thursday 12 May, presented by Alicia McCarthy.


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Transcript


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Hello there and welcome to Thursday in Parliament.

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On this programme: the Government sets out plans for the future

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of the BBC, urging them to focus on distinctiveness and diversity.

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Just how many people are coming to the UK from the rest of the EU?

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Ministers are urged to iron out the wrinkles in the figures.

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And a former Labour leader appears a calendar clash between the EU

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referendum and the Glastonbury Festival.

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It would be an awful pity if instead of voting,

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they were rocking, my Lords.

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But first, the Culture Secretary has unveiled the Government's blueprint

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for the future of the BBC, saying the broadcaster needs

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to focus on distinctiveness and diversity.

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John Whittingdale dismissed earlier reports on plans to reduce the BBC's

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independence and funding as the hysterical speculation

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of left-wing luvvies.

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Under the plans, the licence fee will continue for at

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least the next 11 years.

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People watching BBC programmes online will have to

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pay the licence fee.

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The BBC will be overseen by a new unitary board and regulated

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by the broadcasting watchdog, Ofcom.

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And there was news about the highest-paid individuals,

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including star names.

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The public has a right to know what the highest earners the BBC

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employs are paid out of their licence fee.

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The new charter will therefore require the BBC to go further

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regarding the transparency of what it pays its talent

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and publish the names of all its employees and freelancers

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above ?450,000, which is the current director-general's

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salary, in broad bands.

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John Whittingdale said the Government was not saying

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the BBC should not be popular.

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Some of its most distinctive programmes such as Life On Earth

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or Strictly Come Dancing had very wide audiences.

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But it wasn't for the BBC to produce "me too" popular shows.

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Commissioning editors should ask consistently of new programming,

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"Is this idea sufficiently innovative and high quality?"

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Rather than simply, "How will it do in the ratings?"

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So we will place a requirement to provide distinctive content

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and services at the heart of the BBC's overall coordination

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of informing, educating and entertaining in the public interest.

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For the last few weeks, Mr Speaker, we have had to read

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an increasing avalanche of briefing to Conservative supporting

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newspapers, especially those newspapers hostile to the BBC,

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which appears to have been emanating from his department.

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The fact that most of his wilder proposals appear to have been

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watered down or damped or delayed by the Government

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of which he is a member is a reflection of his diminishing

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influence and lack of clout.

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He's not got his way in most things, Mr Speaker, and I welcome that.

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She was concerned about the appointments to the new board

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to oversee the corporation.

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I am still worried that the Government are seeking unduly

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to influence the output and editorial decision-making

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of the BBC, or can be seen to be doing so.

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So will the Secretary of State now promise that all Government

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appointments will be made by a demonstrably

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independent process, overseen by the Commissioner

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for Public Appointments, which prevents there being any

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suspicion that the Government seeks to turn the BBC into something over

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which it has more control than is currently the case?

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I do have some sympathy with the Right Honourable Lady,

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who of course had a dry run of this yesterday and rehearsed

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all of her lines of attack only to wake up this morning to discover

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that all of the concerns she expressed were based

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on ill-founded, hysterical speculation by left-wing lobbies.

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A view shared by a veteran conservative.

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Every fox she expected to see running appears to have been shot

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and the hounds she expected to release appear to be running

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around in some confusion.

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I am sorry to say to the Secretary of State that the British

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people are not going to be fooled by his words today.

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There might be some fantasy foxes being shot this morning,

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but the fact is, by Sunday, like the budget, when this

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has been crawled over, when we look at the detail,

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I believe that this is going to be a deep, dark day for the BBC

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and the British public...

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OK, the Brexiters, who seem to be joined by hating

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Europe and hating the BBC, the fact of the matter is that this

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is going to be a champagne night for Rupert Murdoch and Richard

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Desmond.

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The BBC is better than that and it is owned by the British

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people, not this Government.

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Mr Speaker, the BBC have struggled with diversity on screen and off

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screen for far too long.

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And I absolutely welcome the enshrinement of diversity

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into the new charter.

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It is the right thing to do.

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It is the wise thing to do it.

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And does the Secretary of State agree with me that attracting

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the brightest and most diverse talent will actually improve

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the content of the BBC's offering and also

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ultimately the ratings?

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Helen Grant.

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Well, that statement was repeated a short time later

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in the House of Lords.

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My Lords, surely it is fair to congratulate the Government

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on dropping some of the more unacceptable proposals that have

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been floated over the last few weeks and to congratulate them

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on abolishing the BBC Trust, which should never have been

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established, and which the committee of this house actually said ten

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years ago should not be?

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The test today, for me, is really does this white

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paper leave the BBC more independent or less independent

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than it is today?

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And my fear is it is less independent.

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Many of us are very concerned that this is the thin end

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of the wedge, my Lords, that is going to prevent the BBC

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from competing in prime time with commercial broadcasters,

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and is deliberately designed to do so.

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Now, what assurance can the minister gave to this house that that is not

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the intention and that that will not be the case?

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I think I can assure my noble friend that that is not the intention.

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It is certainly something that the BBC has fully

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recognised and embraced.

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The BBC's director-general has been a driving force here.

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He has highlighted that he wants to see a system that firmly

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holds our feet to the fire on distinctiveness and that,

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to my mind, is what the white paper proposals will deliver.

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My Lords...

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My Lords, the register declares my interest -

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I was going to say as a member of an endangered species,

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but it is now an member of a condemned species -

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namely, the BBC Trust.

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Now first, knowing the great interest there is in this house,

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I welcome the Government's commitment in the white

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paper to the ring-fencing of the BBC World Service.

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I think that is very important indeed.

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That presents a solid guarantee for the years ahead

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as well as the certainty provided by an 11 year charter.

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My concerns, however, are that the proposals to protect

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the BBC's independence do not go far enough.

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Will the Minister assure the house that the Government will provide

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sufficient guarantees that its future decisions

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about the BBC and in particular about funding appointments

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to the board are made clearly and transparently

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and without comprising the BBC's independence?

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Lady Neville-Rolfe said points of detail would be debated

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in the weeks and months ahead.

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Now, the Government has urged MPs not to distort discrepancies

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between National Insurance numbers and long-term migration figures.

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Figures from the Office for National Statistics have shown

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that just over 250,000 migrants from other parts

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of the European Union were recorded as coming to the UK

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over the last year.

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But more than 650,000 National Insurance numbers

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were issued during the same period.

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A Conservative MP, John Redwood, called on ministers to "get

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a grip," saying locations for public services.

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-- saying the difference between the two figures had big

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implications for public services.

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But answering an urgent question, the Immigration Minister said

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the gap was due to short term EU migration to the UK.

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National Insurance numbers can be obtained by anyone working in the UK

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for just a few weeks, and the ONS explains clearly why

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the number of National Insurance registrations should not be compared

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with migration figures, because they measure entirely

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different things, and we must now be careful not to distort these figures

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following their clear statements.

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Doesn't it show that all the time we stay in the European Union,

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we cannot control European migration in the way that we promised to do

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in the general election?

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And doesn't he share my wish to get a grip on it so that we can properly

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plan our public services?

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And I found the note slipped out - but fortunately the speaker allowed

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an urgent question - doesn't answer the discrepancy

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and it doesn't deal with this fundamental point that

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if someone comes here, works and get a National Insurance

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number, we need to provide public facilities for them.

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But the minister argued that leaving the EU would not have the effect

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Mr Redwood believes it would.

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This idea that somehow on the outside that it

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would somehow be better, I find it inconceivable

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that we would have access to the single market and not have

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those issues of free movement.

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Labour's spokesman quoted the head of the ONS.

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National Insurance numbers are not a good indicator

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of long-term migration.

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This research shows that many people who register for National Insurance

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stay in the United Kingdom for less than a year, which is the minimum

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stay for a long term migrant, according to the internationally

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recognised definition.

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The publication of these NI numbers is simply one more confirmation

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that there is no chance, zero, of us fulfilling our promise

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to the British people on immigration, to reduce it

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to the tens of thousands, unless there is restriction on free

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movement of Labour within the European Union,

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so since the minister himself mentioned the renegotiation,

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will he tell us why the Government did not attempt in any way to get

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a reduction in that free movement as part of that renegotiation?

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The real migrant crisis which we in this country face

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at the moment is a problem of how to deal with,

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in a civilised and effective way, with the flood of people coming

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from war and anarchy in the Middle East and North Africa

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and the problem is not Polish construction workers and Romanian

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nurses, who make a very valuable contribution to the economic

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life of this country.

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A few months ago, the Prime Minister was telling us that unless he got

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his way on migration, he would consider leaving the EU.

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This was a minor change in migration figures and controls.

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He now says that if we leave the EU, there might indeed

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be a third world war.

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Doesn't the mismatch, and we can see it...

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I brought this graph so that members can see the difference

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between the two figures.

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The fact is we have no idea what net migration in this country is.

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It is out of control and we need to get control back of our borders

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and that is what he should have done with an emergency break.

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On their own, I don't think these National Insurance registrations are

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a reliable indicator for measuring long-term international migration.

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It is vital, though, we remember that migration

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is a global phenomenon and not just a European issue and also

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remember that it is very much a two-way street.

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In Scotland, we are all too well aware that for generations migration

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has meant that many of our citizens have had to move abroad and even now

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many of our most highly qualified young people leave to build careers

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in other parts of the world.

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Every EU citizen and their dependents have the right to come

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here and the Government has no means of excluding them,

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even if they are criminals and terrorists.

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Figures clearly lay bare that the government is powerless

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to control EU immigration for the benefit of

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our public services.

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I came into the chamber hoping to see conspiracy exposed over

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National Insurance numbers and there is no conspiracy,

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so it has been a disappointing day.

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Meanwhile, in the Lords, there were bad tempered exchanges

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over the causes of large-scale migration.

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A Liberal Democrat wanted to know what evidence the government had

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to support its claim that pull factors are responsible

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for the mass movement of people from the Middle East

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and North Africa in recent years.

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The causes of migration are many and complex.

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But are commonly described as consisting of push factors,

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that make people want to leave their own countries,

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and pull factors that make them choose particular destinations.

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The Government does not claim that pull factors alone are responsible

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for migration, but there is good circumstantial evidence that

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demonstrates language, benefits and work opportunities

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influence movements of people.

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I can see from the Minister's reply that the Government still insist

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that pull factors...

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I am glad to see that he has now accepted that there are some

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push factors involved...

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That pull factors, by which I mean higher wages and benefits,

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are still at work.

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Given that these have remained relatively stable over many years,

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what does he believe is the reason behind the very large

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increase in numbers of refugees in recent years?

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The Government has always recognised there are both push and pull factors

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in the context of migration.

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Indeed, historically, that has been well established.

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We can go back to the Goths moving into the Western Roman Empire

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in order to confirm that issue.

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With regards to more recent migration, there is no

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doubt that a great deal of it is economically based.

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Indeed, statistical flows to Italy between January and April this year

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show that the top nationalities entering across the Mediterranean

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have been Nigerian, Gambian and Senegalese.

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Would not the Government accept that it is wars,

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repression and instability that primarily lead to the mass

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movement of people?

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If those seeking to come from Europe, from the Middle East

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and North Africa are simply economic migrants, then why is it after every

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outbreak of violence and repression we get,

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a new wave of people from the area that has just had that outbreak?

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Listening to Labour opine on the matter of immigration

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and immigration control, is rather like listening

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to an arsonist on the subject of fire prevention.

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I cannot answer the question unless I'm given an opportunity

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to do so, but thank you.

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Now, the position is this, yes, yes, push factors increase

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when there is violence and instability but push factors

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alone are not the issue.

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There are push factors and pull factors and a simple

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example is Sweden.

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It takes the second-highest number of asylum seekers from North Africa

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and the Mediterranean area and yet has the borders furthest away

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from that point.

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Lord Keen of Elie.

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You are watching Thursday in Parliament with me,

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Alicia McCarthy.

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Now, do you have a Smart meter in your home monitoring how much

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energy you are using? If not, you could have one soon.

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The Government has committed to getting 53 million of these

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devices into homes and businesses by the end of 2020.

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Smart meters send information on energy usage directly

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back to the supplier and there are concerns

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about the safety of that data.

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Concerns were raised with the Energy and Climate Change Secretary

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who told the Commons that the new meters were vital

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to putting consumers in control of their energy use.

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Consumers need to have ready access to the data from their Smart meters

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if we are to achieve this goal, and that is why all households

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will be offered an in-home display that will allow them to see

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the energy that they are using in real near-time as well as its costs

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and why it will also add suppliers to trial new and innovative

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technologies alongside that.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker.

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Yes, Smart meters can transform domestic energy consumption

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and literally help save the planet but only if consumers

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are giving secure, controlled ownership of their own data.

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The display option she refers to will still allow Smart meters

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to be a back door into our homes for hackers so can she,

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before it is too late, overcome her ridiculous complacency

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and announce measures which will give consumers the digital

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rights that they deserve?

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The honourable lady should know that privacy is absolutely

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protected and at the heart of the Smart meter programme.

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She should be careful not to put fear into the hearts of people

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where none should exist.

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The data is protected and the data belongs not to Government,

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which some people might not unreasonably fear,

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but to the energy companies.

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So we will make sure that we always reassure consumers that privacy

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is at the core of delivering safe meters in the future.

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According to government's own calculations, they reckon that

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with Smart meters installed, we could as a nation save some

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?17 billion on our collective energy bills over the next 15 years.

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Does the Minister recognise that if consumers have access

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to their detailed data usage, this would put them in a good

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position to share with third parties, should they want to,

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and this could improve competition which is something the Government

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would always be glad to see?

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Yes, Mr Speaker, the Government will be glad to see the fact that

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competition and market authority have said they are going to make

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available in a controlled way, the details of people who have not

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switched, who have to make sure it is done in a way which doesn't

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result in consumers feeling overwhelmed by suggestions.

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They have yet to come out with a final solution

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on this point but I'm

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confident they will do so in a way that is measured and it will help

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make sure that the people who have not been switching have

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access to switching and the opportunities

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that are there.

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There was one item not on the Commons agenda on Thursday

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which many MPs had been expecting - a statement on Syria.

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The Leader of the House Chris Grayling suggested last week

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that there would be a statement before this session

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of Parliament ended.

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So a Labour MP asked the Speaker when it might now happen.

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Quarterly reports, Mr Speaker, as you will recall, were part

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of the motion agreed in this House on the 2nd December,

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2015 and as the first few weeks will be taken up of the new session

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for the Queen's Speech, I wanted to see your guidance

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as to when would be the very first opportunity that we would be able

0:18:580:19:02

to have a statement from the Government on the situation

0:19:020:19:05

in Syria and military involvement?

0:19:050:19:12

Realistically, it seems to me that a statement cannot be made

0:19:120:19:18

to the House for at least a week and it may be somewhat

0:19:180:19:24

longer than that.

0:19:240:19:27

I take very seriously the point of order the honourable

0:19:270:19:31

lady has raised.

0:19:310:19:36

I am bound to say that I did recall what was said last week

0:19:360:19:39

and therefore I had rather anticipated that there was to be

0:19:390:19:43

such a statement today.

0:19:430:19:47

The House had been told there would be.

0:19:470:19:50

There may very well have been some private understanding reached

0:19:500:19:53

between the front benches on this matter, I have no

0:19:530:19:56

way of knowing that.

0:19:560:19:59

Although I would just say, whether that is the case or not,

0:19:590:20:02

that there has to be a respect for the rights of the House

0:20:020:20:06

and its legitimate expectations as a whole.

0:20:060:20:09

This is not just a matter of what front benches may

0:20:090:20:14

or may not have agreed, so I confess I was looking forward

0:20:140:20:17

to the statement.

0:20:170:20:20

It seemed to me a very important matter and the Government Chief Whip

0:20:200:20:23

is unfailingly courteous to me and to all members, is in his place

0:20:230:20:26

and he has heard what has been said and I very much hope,

0:20:260:20:29

let's just put it like that, it was a very good commitment

0:20:290:20:32

the Government made, I very much hope we can have that

0:20:320:20:35

statement as soon as is practical.

0:20:350:20:37

The cause was taken up by a Liberal Democrat who picked up

0:20:370:20:40

on a phrase used by the Speaker at Prime Minister's Questions

0:20:400:20:43

the day before when he had said the party leader,

0:20:430:20:46

Tim Farron, should be heard, however irritating he might be

0:20:460:20:49

to Government backbenchers.

0:20:490:20:52

You will be aware that I have been pursuing this issue of the Syrian

0:20:520:20:56

quarterly statements for some months now,

0:20:560:20:58

in a dogged and possibly irritating fashion.

0:20:580:21:01

I accept of course that the Government have made a number

0:21:010:21:05

of statements on this matter, whether it is the siege of Aleppo,

0:21:050:21:10

the Russian intervention, the humanitarian conference,

0:21:100:21:14

but they have rarely focused on the matter which I think

0:21:140:21:17

the Prime Minister promised to report on, and that was quarterly

0:21:170:21:23

statements in relation to the RAF's action against Daesh in Syria.

0:21:230:21:31

Periodically, people irritate other people,

0:21:310:21:35

but members hardly ever irritate me.

0:21:350:21:40

I am always happy to hear members and I'm very happy to hear the right

0:21:400:21:44

honourable gentleman's right honourable friend yesterday.

0:21:440:21:47

In fact, so keen was I to hear the right honourable gentleman,

0:21:470:21:51

that I called him something like ten minutes into injury time,

0:21:510:21:54

so I'm sure he won't have any complaints, he is

0:21:540:21:56

a robust character.

0:21:560:21:59

He can look after himself and he has a good sense of humour in any case.

0:21:590:22:03

I don't think I can offer the prospect of a statement

0:22:030:22:06

on Wednesday of next week, I think that is simply not practical.

0:22:060:22:09

I think that we have to balance the understandable disappointment

0:22:090:22:14

on the part of many members that there isn't a statement today

0:22:140:22:18

with a degree of reasonableness as to when that statement

0:22:180:22:24

can take place.

0:22:240:22:28

I don't think we would serve the House by interrupting

0:22:280:22:32

the Queen's Speech debate on Wednesday of next week.

0:22:320:22:34

The Commons Speaker, John Bercow.

0:22:340:22:37

Now, are you registered to vote and what about anyone you know under

0:22:370:22:40

the age of 25?

0:22:400:22:42

In the Lords, many Peers were concerned that with the EU

0:22:420:22:46

referendum just weeks away, many teenagers and university

0:22:460:22:50

students weren't on the register.

0:22:500:22:52

A former Labour leader wanted action.

0:22:520:22:55

Will the Government therefore make major efforts, in addition

0:22:550:22:58

to the commitments they have so far undertaken, particularly

0:22:580:23:03

through the online communication that was mentioned and through

0:23:030:23:05

social media to ensure that young people know that the final date

0:23:050:23:09

for voter registration and for getting a postal vote

0:23:090:23:15

is June 7th? Just less than four weeks from now.

0:23:150:23:21

Does the Minister agree with me that this kind of information

0:23:210:23:25

is specially vital when polling day coincides

0:23:250:23:30

with the Glastonbury Festival, which through broadcasting,

0:23:300:23:35

could rather preoccupy the attention of millions of young people,

0:23:350:23:40

whose votes are not only vital to their future,

0:23:400:23:44

but to the future of the country.

0:23:440:23:47

It would be an awful pity if, instead of voting,

0:23:470:23:51

they were rocking, my Lords.

0:23:510:23:54

I think the answer is in the question.

0:23:540:23:57

Glastonbury.

0:23:570:24:00

I think the noble Lord should get a group of their Lordships together,

0:24:000:24:04

appear on stage, and sing, no satisfaction, unless

0:24:040:24:08

there is registration.

0:24:080:24:11

Which nod to the Rolling Stones brings us rumbling to the end

0:24:110:24:14

of this session of Parliament.

0:24:150:24:17

The session closed with a traditional ceremony of prorogation.

0:24:170:24:21

It begins with the Lords gathering with the Leader of the House,

0:24:210:24:25

Lady Stowell taking centre stage as senior Peers gather

0:24:250:24:28

in their ceremonial finery.

0:24:280:24:31

Black Rod is then summoned and asked to go to the Commons to summon MPs.

0:24:310:24:35

Just as with the Queen's Speech, Black Rod, General David Leakey,

0:24:350:24:38

sets off to the House of Commons.

0:24:380:24:42

And having passed through Central Lobby, he arrives

0:24:420:24:44

at the door of the chamber.

0:24:440:24:47

Black Rod delivers his message to MPs who then leave their seats

0:24:470:24:50

and slowly process out of the Commons chamber and down

0:24:500:24:54

the corridor to gather at the bar of the House of Lords.

0:24:540:24:57

When the MPs arrive, there is a ceremonial doffing

0:24:570:25:01

of hats before the Leader of the Lords tells MPs

0:25:010:25:04

that while the Queen is not present herself,

0:25:040:25:07

she has given her royal assent to a number of acts.

0:25:070:25:10

The names of the bills which have recently been passed are then read

0:25:100:25:13

out and the Clerk of Parliaments gives royal assent in Norman French.

0:25:130:25:18

Immigration act. La Reyne le veult.

0:25:180:25:23

After which, MPs return to the Commons before finally

0:25:230:25:28

leaving Westminster, shaking hands with the Speaker John Bercow

0:25:280:25:30

on their way out.

0:25:310:25:33

So that is it from us but do join me on Friday night at 11pm for a full

0:25:330:25:37

round-up of the week here at Westminster,

0:25:370:25:40

when among other things, I'll be talking to two Westminster

0:25:400:25:42

watchers about the art of the political U-turn.

0:25:420:25:46

But for now, from me, Alicia McCarthy, goodbye.

0:25:460:25:52

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