Highlights of proceedings in Parliament on Thursday 12 January, presented by Alicia McCarthy.
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Hello and welcome to Thursday in Parliament.
Peers speak out against any further cuts to the UK's defence budget.
There's a call for a special deal for the North of England
in the Brexit negotiations.
And the chair of the Equalities Committee argues it's time
for tougher action to get more women into Parliament.
We need to turn those warm sentiments into bums on seats.
But first, a former Nato Secretary General has warned
against further defence cuts, saying the UK is sleepwalking
into potential calamity.
Opening a debate on the UK's current Armed Forces capability,
the Labour former Defence Secretary, Lord Robertson, also questioned US
President-elect Donald Trump's attitude to Nato.
Donald Trump is due to take over as US president
at the end of next week.
During the US election campaign, he appeared
to play down the importance of the military alliance.
In his speech in the Lords, Lord Robertson warned that the world
was now seeing a bonfire of the post-Cold War certainties.
He told peers he'd recently been asked what was the biggest threat
to the safety and security of the UK and the list of potential
answers was a long one.
I considered some of the immediate and looming challenges
and threats that there are, and some of them are
Migration flows, which have suddenly ended up on our shores,
the spread of religious extremism and jihadi violence plumbing
new depths of savagery, a restive and resurgent Russia,
a rise in China and the disruption of North Korea.
And then, on top of all of that, there is the rise and dominance
of organised crime, population growth, pandemics and
That's a pretty formidable cocktail of trouble for us to face.
But my answer to the question of what was the greatest threat
is actually different.
It is ourselves.
We are our own worst enemies.
We are short-sighted, penny-pinching, na vely optimistic,
we are complacent and we're ostrich-like to the way
in which the world is becoming interconnected, more fragile,
more unpredictable and more incendiary.
He moved on to the election of Donald Trump as US President.
The Donald, with his Mexican wall, with new protectionism
and isolationism, with his serious questioning of Nato solidarity,
with a belief in torture and with Lieutenant General Michael Flynn
as his key security adviser.
Perhaps we don't actually need more enemies in the world today.
He attacked the amount the UK spent on defence,
warning we were sleepwalking to a potential calamity.
A former First Sea Lord joined in that call for the Government
to spend more on defence.
Having robust defence forces makes a war involving
our nation less likely.
If a small conflagration in a distant part of the world
develops into a war that threatens our national survival,
the best welfare provision, National Health Service,
education and foreign aid programmes in the world are as nothing.
Stopping war and defending our nation and people, if war happens,
are more important than any other Government spending priorities.
If ministers get defence wrong, the nation will never forgive them
and the cost in blood and treasure enormous.
The Government has a choice of whether we spend what is required
to ensure the safety of our nation, dependencies of people or not.
At present, I believe they're getting that choice wrong.
A former Conservative Defence Secretary was one of many
to raise fears about Russia.
I hope sincerely President Putin and his colleagues realise how
easily that mobilisations and provocations, that
accidents can happen, and how easily conflict can start.
We don't have to have the memories of the First World War
and Second World War, where war started by accident
involving the wrong people at the wrong time which weren't
meant to happen.
I just do take that factor very seriously.
In the face of Russian ambition, my lords, Europeans can no longer
get their defence on the cheap.
It's an interesting reflection that whereas the word burden-sharing used
to be used when one went to Washington, now the assessment
of Europe's contribution is shall we say expressed in more trenchant
and perhaps less suitable terms for a debate of this kind.
My lords, proposals for a European army in these circumstances are not
credible because it would inevitably create duplication and divert
necessary expenditure from the main thrust of Nato.
We lack strength in numbers.
We are not well placed to deal with the inevitable unseen,
least of all against a capable foe.
The more independently minded we become, the more capability
we need in a dangerous world.
Surely the two must go together.
Defence spending is going up.
When defence spending will increase by ?5 billion over this Parliament,
it's nonsense for anyone to suggest that there is no new funding.
I hope it is clear that the Government fully recognises
the breadth and severity of the threats that
face our country today.
We know that in this era of uncertainty we can take
nothing for granted.
The approach we've taken in the SDSR is, I believe, the right one
for strengthening our defence and security, and it is the one
to which this Government is fully committed.
The Transport Secretary has been accused of putting politics
before rail passengers.
Labour MPs attacked Chris Grayling at Question Time in the Commons
for refusing to give control of commuter services
to the Mayor of London.
And they demanded the railways be taken back into public ownership.
Mr Grayling said Labour could no longer be taken seriously
after Jeremy Corbyn said he'd join the picket line with
Southern Rail workers.
Mr Grayling faced a call for his resignation in December
after a leaked letter revealed he had opposed the devolution
of London suburban rail services, to keep them out
of the clutches of Labour.
Not only are my constituents of all political persuasions
disgusted by the manner in which the Secretary of State has
politicised this issue, but they have absolutely no
confidence in his proposed solution for the south-eastern franchise.
It is not right for London to act like a Hunger Games-style capital
seeking to subjugate the districts.
We need fair rail services for Kent, Essex and the other Home Counties
and I urge the Secretary of State to carry on and uphold his decision.
Well, Mr Speaker, I can assure my honourable friend I've
every intention of doing so.
The reality is this is a partnership arrangement that brings together
London, Kent County Council and my department to do the right
thing for passengers.
It is interesting that the Mayor could offer no proposals to expand
capacity on these routes.
I intend to bring forward proposals that do offer expanded capacity
for passengers on these routes.
The Secretary of State's leaked letter reveals that he reneged
on the suburban rail agreement because of his obsession to keep
services out of the clutches of a potential Labour mayor.
He put party politics ahead of passengers and clearly prefers
to see trains run late rather than on time under Labour.
Will he now agree to an independent assessment of the proposal
by a respected figure, and with his own department,
given the revelations yesterday of conflicting commercial interests,
and restore credibility to the process and ensure proper
consideration of the needs of long-suffering passengers?
Mr Speaker, I cannot believe what I just heard
from the honourable gentleman.
Putting party politics before passengers.
In the week when the Leader of the Opposition said he would join
a picket line to perpetuate the unnecessary strikes
on Southern Rail that are causing so much damage to passengers.
I say to him, I will not take him seriously, Mr Speaker,
until I hear him condemn those strikes and tell the workers
to go back to work.
The Government's franchising policy lies in tatters,
with desperate attempts to retrofit contracts to protect
operators' profits and, as revealed yesterday,
National Express taking the money and running and selling c2c
franchise to the Italian state.
His director of passenger services awarded the disastrous Southern
franchise whilst owning shares in the company advising
the winning bidder.
The country has had enough of these sleazy deals.
Isn't it way past time for franchising to be scrapped
and the UK rail industry revitalised through public ownership?
Well, and the clock ticks ever backwards, Mr Speaker.
They don't want inward investment.
They don't want private sector investment in our railways.
And of course, Mr Speaker, what we still don't hear
from that part of This House, from the benches opposite,
is any words on behalf of passengers about the strikes.
This is a party that takes money from the rail unions and defends
them when they are on strike, no matter the inconvenience
They are a disgrace, they should stand up and say
the strikes should stop.
I'll say one thing at least about the Mayor of London.
He has at least had the wit and wisdom this week to say
the strikes are wrong.
A special deal for the North of England should be sought
during the forthcoming negotiations on the UK's departure from the EU.
That was the view of peers in a three-hour debate entitled
The State Of The North.
It allowed peers to talk about the distinctive
character of northern towns, northern industry and
the northern landscape.
Peers accepted that while the North had benefited greatly
from regional EU funds, large parts of the region had voted
overwhelmingly to leave the EU in last year's referendum.
Despite its significant population, and in the absence of devolution,
the North does not punch at its weight and many,
especially those living in de-industrialised,
rust-belt towns, feel both disaffected and alienated.
It's a fact that a baby, a girl born in Manchester,
can expect to live for 15 fewer years in good health
than a baby girl born in the London Borough of Richmond.
Consider that Londoners currently benefit at a rate of over ?65
per head for investments in cultural infrastructure compared with less
than ?5 per head for the population based outside the capital.
We spent ?40 million on a garden bridge in London
without a brick being laid.
That would have gone a long way in Hull and secured many other
scores of arts institutions which have been decimated in
the North over the last year or so.
Why is there no vision for the wealth-making skills up
there when we are in clear danger?
The vision that, for instance, led us to fast build aeroplanes
when the Second World War seemed imminent.
These are utterly vital.
Who's defending the country now with anything like that foresight?
Most governments of all political colours have tended to be
London-centric in their thinking and the result of the referendum
in many parts of the North was certainly, in part,
a reaction to what many regard as the opinions
of a Westminster elite.
The divide was cemented even more by the sneering tone
of some commentators, implying that voters in the North
lacked the intelligence to vote the right way.
A Lib Dem peer praised a recent report on the North of England
by the think tank the IPPR.
Its recommendations urging local enterprise partnership resilience
audits in the face of Brexit, and the creation of a northern
Brexit negotiating committee to speak for the North
in the absence of the devolved structures now available in London,
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are critically important.
The report from IPPR on the North warns us that the uncertainties
surrounding the Brexit vote could set the recovery
of the North back very badly.
But the status quo before June 23rd was not serving the North well.
Brexit cannot just be about more control for London.
It's certainly heartening that the Government has understood
the need for an industrial strategy, making things matter.
In November, I read in the Evening Standard
that the Secretary of State for our exit from the
European Union, David Davis, had agreed with the London Mayor,
Sadiq Khan, that he would have a monthly face-to-face meeting
and this would take place both before and after Article 50.
So that the position of London could be understood at every
stage of the negotiation.
As far as I know, there is no such arrangement
for the North-East of England.
If there are negotiations, and money is to come back,
let that go to the regions, let's have constitutional change.
In Scotland, they want more powers for devolution,
and probably stay in, as they say.
We've combined, and I've combined with my colleague Gordon Brown,
together, to see if Scotland and the North, as a powerhouse,
if you want a real powerhouse, but Scotland and the North together
if you want a real powerhouse, put Scotland and the North together
for the same reason.
To redistribute the power, redistribute the resources and begin
to develop a northern economy.
We don't want to be patronised.
We do not intend to bring a begging bowl.
But we do insist that we be given the tools so that we can
get on with the job.
That means Government being bold enough to let go of the reins.
When I first came into this house, I remember a Conservative Peeress
saying to me, "Do you know, I've just been to Yorkshire
"and parts of it were quite nice."
The media, as we all know, are also heavily concentrated
in north-east London and they report things that happen in Islington
or Tower Hamlets in ways they would never think
about reporting if they happened in North Leeds or East Bradford.
Listening to this debate, I was struck by the number
of representations that we heard about the potential relative
disadvantage of the North in accessing the decision-makers.
That is, without going beyond my brief, that is certainly a point
that I think my colleagues in Government should be aware
of given the strength of feeling that has been expressed
throughout this debate.
I think that is one of the most important lessons
that I have learned.
You are watching Thursday in Parliament with me, Alicia McCarthy.
The Commons Equality Committee says political parties
must face fines if they don't ensure at least 45% of General Election
candidates are female.
30% of current MPs are female.
The Commons Equality Committee said that
represented a serious democratic deficit for no good reason.
It said the law must change after the
2020 General Election if that figure didn't change significantly.
The general secretary made a statement on the report.
If 100 years ago the suffragettes who fought for
women's rights, fought for our right to be elected to sit in this place,
were told that just 455 women would be elected
to this place over the
next ten decades, I am not sure whether they would have laughed or
I think they would be proud that the United Kingdom had seen two
female Prime Ministers, but the fact is there
are as many men sitting in
this place today as there are women ever elected to be Members of
The committee called for more transparency from parties on
the work they are doing to improve selection
and for diversity data to
She said they also wanted a minimum of 45% of
parliamentary candidates to be women and that
women should make up 45% of
MPs by 2030.
To make progress, these measures need real teeth and that is
why the committee has also recommended that the remit of
the electoral commission be extended to introduce fines for
In our evidence session with leaders of the
political parties it is evident there is enormous support for more
representation in parliament.
Each one agreed that Parliament would be
a better place if 50% of MPs were women, but we need to turn
those warm sentiments into bums on seats and I
hope that isn't unparliamentary language.
She said Parliament was letting itself down on the global
stage and had fallen down the world's rankings in terms
of female representation.
More than half the MPs today are on Labour benches.
43.7% of the PLP is made up of women.
Much of this is to do with Labour's commitment at the shortlist level
and I would like to ask,
does she think other parties should look to introduce all women short
lists for their parliamentary selections and does she agree that
parties that aren't already taking direct
positive action should do so
as a matter of urgency?
I thank the honourable lady for her question.
I think the party should look at evidence
of what works and what the
report clearly says is that there is a body of evidence
parties can look at.
I don't think it is for the select committee
to dictate to parliamentary
parties as to how they run their own selection procedures.
That is for them but they should also look
at the evidence.
In recalling that Labour lost one of the safest seats
in Blaenau Gwent in 2005 because of the imposition
of a women only short list, what role does my right
honourable friend see in local associations being able to choose
what candidate they think are best for that area irrespective of gender
or of the voters deciding to vote for that person irrespective of
I thank my honourable friend for that question and he is
Associations and local parties have a huge role to play
in making sure they get the right person for
the job in that area, but
it is very surprising to see that just one
in four candidates at the
last general election was female.
I think perhaps we need to ensure there is the right training and
support in place and we have a diversity of candidates from those
associations and parties to choose from.
The SNP thought there were lessons to be learned from Scotland.
The SNP Scottish Government is also making
decisive action to make sure women are in senior decision-making roles
including in the boardroom, and it contains many ambitious
commitments in support of women's equality.
Can I ask if the UK Government is considering similar measures and
when they would come in to fruition?
The recommendations in our report are for the government to consider.
We think it is important after the next
general election, if there isn't significant progress, 45% of
candidates should be female.
She mentioned equal representation in
cabinets, and I was really heartened to see Justin Trudeau when he became
premier in Canada having a gender balanced cabinet and saying, what
would you expect in 2016?
I say, what should we expect in 2017.
A senior Labour MP has called on ministers to back an independent
investigation into allegations of breaches
of humanitarian law in the
Yemen civil war, because it is simply not acceptable to wait for
Saudi Arabia to do the job.
Thousands of people have been killed in the conflict between a Saudi
Arabian-led coalition backing the Yemen government and Iran-backed
MPs are calling for an independent investigation into
allegations made against both sides of breaches of international
Stephen Twigg, the Labour chairman of the International
Development select committee, said such an investigation
was long overdue,
as he bemoaned the pace of the progress made by Saudi Arabia
on its own investigations.
The government repeatedly, over the last 14 months,
has been asked about Saudi Arabia's own investigations.
To my knowledge and the Minister may be able to
update us today, Saudi Arabia have produced nine reports on violations,
even though there have been many other allegations made.
Progress, I believe, on this is glacial and I
think it is remarkable the government still hold
the line that Saudi Arabia must take responsibility
for investigating its own alleged violation.
I give way.
These reports put forward have been far too slow and
the reason is we are dealing with the country
written a report like this and
they are having to learn
the hard way to show the
transparency that the international community expects.
The point I would like to make is that this progress
is slow because we are talking about a fledgling state, and this is still
a very young state which is not used to this level of scrutiny and
transparency and so it will take a long time for these
reports to come out.
The honourable lady anticipates the final remarks that I want to
make in this speech because she used the word
"slow," the minister used the
word "slow," I used the word "glacial" because it is too slow.
The substantial point I want to ask and
I look forward to the minister responding when he speaks, at what
point will the British government take the view that we need to move
to an independent enquiry?
The machine is slow in putting these together.
The conduct of investigations is totally new and the assessment team
is learning its way.
I keep putting pressure on them and will continue
to do so and I make it very clear that to lose faith in that process
which is beginning, and to digress, how long it took for the Chilcott
enquiry to come together.
And this is a machine that we have in this
country well versed to the legal parameters you have to deal with.
We have to have faith in Saudi Arabia
for the moment to see these reports must be
forthcoming and for the
moment I remain confident they can produce these reports.
Finally, are we any closer to a decision on when MPs and peers
can decide on whether or not to move out
of Parliament to allow a massive refurbishment programme?
The Palace of Westminster is crumbling with
leaking roofs, crumbling stonework and ancient wiring and plumbing.
At business questions, one MP wondered
if a decisions was on the horizon, but first he wanted to raise
something altogether different that was trending on social media.
Further to the question, sorry, may I
first of all wish you a happy kiss a ginger day.
The member for North Antrim quite rightly asked the
I'm sure you can look it up!
The member for Northampton raised a very serious question
earlier about the committee report which was produced 18 weeks ago on
the future of the Palace of Westminster.
It is now becoming irresponsible that we have not yet
had a debate because a fire in one of the 98 rises of this building
would spread very rapidly and asbestos, in any part of this
building, if discovered could lead to the closing of this building
immediately and indefinitely.
And any problems in the sewage of the
building could close the building immediately.
So could he make sure we get on with this immediately and
we are outrunning unnecessary costs and risks.
The honourable gentleman summarises the points that were made
at much greater length and the committee report
about the very real challenges in terms of managing
risks that there are with the building of the Palace of
I said to the honourable member that I would hope
we could have a debate as soon as possible.
This kiss a ginger activity is probably perfectly lawful
but I have no plans to take part in it myself.
Strikes me as a very rum business altogether.
I have not the slightest idea about what the
honourable gentleman was prating so the matter had
to be googled for me.
A rather bemused John Bercow bringing us to the end of this
programme, but please join me Friday night
at 11 for a full round-up of the
week in Westminster including the chair
of the women and equality is
committee on how to increase the number of female MPs, but for now,
from me, Alicia McCarthy, goodbye.