12/01/2017 Thursday in Parliament


12/01/2017

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


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Transcript


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Hello and welcome to Thursday in Parliament.

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Coming up...

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Peers speak out against any further cuts to the UK's defence budget.

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There's a call for a special deal for the North of England

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in the Brexit negotiations.

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And the chair of the Equalities Committee argues it's time

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for tougher action to get more women into Parliament.

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We need to turn those warm sentiments into bums on seats.

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But first, a former Nato Secretary General has warned

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against further defence cuts, saying the UK is sleepwalking

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into potential calamity.

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Opening a debate on the UK's current Armed Forces capability,

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the Labour former Defence Secretary, Lord Robertson, also questioned US

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President-elect Donald Trump's attitude to Nato.

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Donald Trump is due to take over as US president

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at the end of next week.

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During the US election campaign, he appeared

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to play down the importance of the military alliance.

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In his speech in the Lords, Lord Robertson warned that the world

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was now seeing a bonfire of the post-Cold War certainties.

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He told peers he'd recently been asked what was the biggest threat

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to the safety and security of the UK and the list of potential

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answers was a long one.

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I considered some of the immediate and looming challenges

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and threats that there are, and some of them are

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pretty formidable.

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Migration flows, which have suddenly ended up on our shores,

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the spread of religious extremism and jihadi violence plumbing

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new depths of savagery, a restive and resurgent Russia,

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a rise in China and the disruption of North Korea.

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And then, on top of all of that, there is the rise and dominance

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of organised crime, population growth, pandemics and

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financial instability.

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That's a pretty formidable cocktail of trouble for us to face.

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But my answer to the question of what was the greatest threat

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is actually different.

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It is ourselves.

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We are our own worst enemies.

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We are short-sighted, penny-pinching, na vely optimistic,

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we are complacent and we're ostrich-like to the way

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in which the world is becoming interconnected, more fragile,

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more unpredictable and more incendiary.

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He moved on to the election of Donald Trump as US President.

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The Donald, with his Mexican wall, with new protectionism

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and isolationism, with his serious questioning of Nato solidarity,

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with a belief in torture and with Lieutenant General Michael Flynn

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as his key security adviser.

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Perhaps we don't actually need more enemies in the world today.

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He attacked the amount the UK spent on defence,

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warning we were sleepwalking to a potential calamity.

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A former First Sea Lord joined in that call for the Government

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to spend more on defence.

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Having robust defence forces makes a war involving

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our nation less likely.

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If a small conflagration in a distant part of the world

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develops into a war that threatens our national survival,

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the best welfare provision, National Health Service,

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education and foreign aid programmes in the world are as nothing.

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Stopping war and defending our nation and people, if war happens,

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are more important than any other Government spending priorities.

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If ministers get defence wrong, the nation will never forgive them

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and the cost in blood and treasure enormous.

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The Government has a choice of whether we spend what is required

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to ensure the safety of our nation, dependencies of people or not.

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At present, I believe they're getting that choice wrong.

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A former Conservative Defence Secretary was one of many

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to raise fears about Russia.

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I hope sincerely President Putin and his colleagues realise how

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easily that mobilisations and provocations, that

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accidents can happen, and how easily conflict can start.

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We don't have to have the memories of the First World War

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and Second World War, where war started by accident

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involving the wrong people at the wrong time which weren't

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meant to happen.

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I just do take that factor very seriously.

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In the face of Russian ambition, my lords, Europeans can no longer

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get their defence on the cheap.

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It's an interesting reflection that whereas the word burden-sharing used

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to be used when one went to Washington, now the assessment

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of Europe's contribution is shall we say expressed in more trenchant

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and perhaps less suitable terms for a debate of this kind.

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My lords, proposals for a European army in these circumstances are not

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credible because it would inevitably create duplication and divert

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necessary expenditure from the main thrust of Nato.

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We lack strength in numbers.

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We are not well placed to deal with the inevitable unseen,

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least of all against a capable foe.

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The more independently minded we become, the more capability

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we need in a dangerous world.

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Surely the two must go together.

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Defence spending is going up.

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When defence spending will increase by ?5 billion over this Parliament,

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it's nonsense for anyone to suggest that there is no new funding.

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I hope it is clear that the Government fully recognises

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the breadth and severity of the threats that

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face our country today.

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We know that in this era of uncertainty we can take

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nothing for granted.

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The approach we've taken in the SDSR is, I believe, the right one

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for strengthening our defence and security, and it is the one

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to which this Government is fully committed.

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Lord Howe.

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The Transport Secretary has been accused of putting politics

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before rail passengers.

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Labour MPs attacked Chris Grayling at Question Time in the Commons

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for refusing to give control of commuter services

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to the Mayor of London.

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And they demanded the railways be taken back into public ownership.

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Mr Grayling said Labour could no longer be taken seriously

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after Jeremy Corbyn said he'd join the picket line with

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Southern Rail workers.

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Mr Grayling faced a call for his resignation in December

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after a leaked letter revealed he had opposed the devolution

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of London suburban rail services, to keep them out

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of the clutches of Labour.

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Not only are my constituents of all political persuasions

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disgusted by the manner in which the Secretary of State has

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politicised this issue, but they have absolutely no

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confidence in his proposed solution for the south-eastern franchise.

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It is not right for London to act like a Hunger Games-style capital

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seeking to subjugate the districts.

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We need fair rail services for Kent, Essex and the other Home Counties

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and I urge the Secretary of State to carry on and uphold his decision.

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Well, Mr Speaker, I can assure my honourable friend I've

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every intention of doing so.

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The reality is this is a partnership arrangement that brings together

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London, Kent County Council and my department to do the right

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thing for passengers.

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It is interesting that the Mayor could offer no proposals to expand

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capacity on these routes.

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I intend to bring forward proposals that do offer expanded capacity

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for passengers on these routes.

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The Secretary of State's leaked letter reveals that he reneged

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on the suburban rail agreement because of his obsession to keep

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services out of the clutches of a potential Labour mayor.

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His words.

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He put party politics ahead of passengers and clearly prefers

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to see trains run late rather than on time under Labour.

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Will he now agree to an independent assessment of the proposal

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by a respected figure, and with his own department,

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given the revelations yesterday of conflicting commercial interests,

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and restore credibility to the process and ensure proper

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consideration of the needs of long-suffering passengers?

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Mr Speaker, I cannot believe what I just heard

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from the honourable gentleman.

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Putting party politics before passengers.

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In the week when the Leader of the Opposition said he would join

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a picket line to perpetuate the unnecessary strikes

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on Southern Rail that are causing so much damage to passengers.

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I say to him, I will not take him seriously, Mr Speaker,

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until I hear him condemn those strikes and tell the workers

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to go back to work.

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The Government's franchising policy lies in tatters,

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with desperate attempts to retrofit contracts to protect

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operators' profits and, as revealed yesterday,

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National Express taking the money and running and selling c2c

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franchise to the Italian state.

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His director of passenger services awarded the disastrous Southern

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franchise whilst owning shares in the company advising

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the winning bidder.

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The country has had enough of these sleazy deals.

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Isn't it way past time for franchising to be scrapped

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and the UK rail industry revitalised through public ownership?

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Well, and the clock ticks ever backwards, Mr Speaker.

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They don't want inward investment.

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They don't want private sector investment in our railways.

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And of course, Mr Speaker, what we still don't hear

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from that part of This House, from the benches opposite,

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is any words on behalf of passengers about the strikes.

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This is a party that takes money from the rail unions and defends

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them when they are on strike, no matter the inconvenience

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to passengers.

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They are a disgrace, they should stand up and say

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the strikes should stop.

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I'll say one thing at least about the Mayor of London.

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He has at least had the wit and wisdom this week to say

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the strikes are wrong.

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Chris Grayling.

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A special deal for the North of England should be sought

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during the forthcoming negotiations on the UK's departure from the EU.

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That was the view of peers in a three-hour debate entitled

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The State Of The North.

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It allowed peers to talk about the distinctive

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character of northern towns, northern industry and

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the northern landscape.

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Peers accepted that while the North had benefited greatly

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from regional EU funds, large parts of the region had voted

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overwhelmingly to leave the EU in last year's referendum.

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Despite its significant population, and in the absence of devolution,

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the North does not punch at its weight and many,

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especially those living in de-industrialised,

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rust-belt towns, feel both disaffected and alienated.

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It's a fact that a baby, a girl born in Manchester,

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can expect to live for 15 fewer years in good health

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than a baby girl born in the London Borough of Richmond.

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Consider that Londoners currently benefit at a rate of over ?65

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per head for investments in cultural infrastructure compared with less

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than ?5 per head for the population based outside the capital.

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We spent ?40 million on a garden bridge in London

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without a brick being laid.

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That would have gone a long way in Hull and secured many other

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scores of arts institutions which have been decimated in

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the North over the last year or so.

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Why is there no vision for the wealth-making skills up

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there when we are in clear danger?

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The vision that, for instance, led us to fast build aeroplanes

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when the Second World War seemed imminent.

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These are utterly vital.

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Who's defending the country now with anything like that foresight?

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Most governments of all political colours have tended to be

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London-centric in their thinking and the result of the referendum

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in many parts of the North was certainly, in part,

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a reaction to what many regard as the opinions

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of a Westminster elite.

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The divide was cemented even more by the sneering tone

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of some commentators, implying that voters in the North

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lacked the intelligence to vote the right way.

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A Lib Dem peer praised a recent report on the North of England

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by the think tank the IPPR.

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Its recommendations urging local enterprise partnership resilience

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audits in the face of Brexit, and the creation of a northern

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Brexit negotiating committee to speak for the North

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in the absence of the devolved structures now available in London,

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Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are critically important.

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The report from IPPR on the North warns us that the uncertainties

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surrounding the Brexit vote could set the recovery

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of the North back very badly.

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But the status quo before June 23rd was not serving the North well.

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Brexit cannot just be about more control for London.

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It's certainly heartening that the Government has understood

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the need for an industrial strategy, making things matter.

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In November, I read in the Evening Standard

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that the Secretary of State for our exit from the

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European Union, David Davis, had agreed with the London Mayor,

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Sadiq Khan, that he would have a monthly face-to-face meeting

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and this would take place both before and after Article 50.

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So that the position of London could be understood at every

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stage of the negotiation.

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As far as I know, there is no such arrangement

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for the North-East of England.

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If there are negotiations, and money is to come back,

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let that go to the regions, let's have constitutional change.

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In Scotland, they want more powers for devolution,

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and probably stay in, as they say.

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We've combined, and I've combined with my colleague Gordon Brown,

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together, to see if Scotland and the North, as a powerhouse,

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if you want a real powerhouse, but Scotland and the North together

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if you want a real powerhouse, put Scotland and the North together

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for the same reason.

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To redistribute the power, redistribute the resources and begin

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to develop a northern economy.

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We don't want to be patronised.

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We do not intend to bring a begging bowl.

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But we do insist that we be given the tools so that we can

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get on with the job.

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That means Government being bold enough to let go of the reins.

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When I first came into this house, I remember a Conservative Peeress

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saying to me, "Do you know, I've just been to Yorkshire

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"and parts of it were quite nice."

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The media, as we all know, are also heavily concentrated

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in north-east London and they report things that happen in Islington

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or Tower Hamlets in ways they would never think

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about reporting if they happened in North Leeds or East Bradford.

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Listening to this debate, I was struck by the number

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of representations that we heard about the potential relative

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disadvantage of the North in accessing the decision-makers.

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That is, without going beyond my brief, that is certainly a point

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that I think my colleagues in Government should be aware

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of given the strength of feeling that has been expressed

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throughout this debate.

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I think that is one of the most important lessons

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that I have learned.

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You are watching Thursday in Parliament with me, Alicia McCarthy.

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The Commons Equality Committee says political parties

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must face fines if they don't ensure at least 45% of General Election

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candidates are female.

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30% of current MPs are female.

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The Commons Equality Committee said that

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represented a serious democratic deficit for no good reason.

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It said the law must change after the

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2020 General Election if that figure didn't change significantly.

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The general secretary made a statement on the report.

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If 100 years ago the suffragettes who fought for

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women's rights, fought for our right to be elected to sit in this place,

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were told that just 455 women would be elected

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to this place over the

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next ten decades, I am not sure whether they would have laughed or

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cried.

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I think they would be proud that the United Kingdom had seen two

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female Prime Ministers, but the fact is there

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are as many men sitting in

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this place today as there are women ever elected to be Members of

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Parliament.

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The committee called for more transparency from parties on

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the work they are doing to improve selection

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and for diversity data to

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be published.

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She said they also wanted a minimum of 45% of

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parliamentary candidates to be women and that

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women should make up 45% of

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MPs by 2030.

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To make progress, these measures need real teeth and that is

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why the committee has also recommended that the remit of

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the electoral commission be extended to introduce fines for

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noncompliance.

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In our evidence session with leaders of the

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political parties it is evident there is enormous support for more

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representation in parliament.

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Each one agreed that Parliament would be

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a better place if 50% of MPs were women, but we need to turn

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those warm sentiments into bums on seats and I

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hope that isn't unparliamentary language.

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She said Parliament was letting itself down on the global

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stage and had fallen down the world's rankings in terms

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of female representation.

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More than half the MPs today are on Labour benches.

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43.7% of the PLP is made up of women.

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Much of this is to do with Labour's commitment at the shortlist level

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and I would like to ask,

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does she think other parties should look to introduce all women short

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lists for their parliamentary selections and does she agree that

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parties that aren't already taking direct

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positive action should do so

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as a matter of urgency?

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I thank the honourable lady for her question.

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I think the party should look at evidence

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of what works and what the

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report clearly says is that there is a body of evidence

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parties can look at.

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I don't think it is for the select committee

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to dictate to parliamentary

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parties as to how they run their own selection procedures.

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That is for them but they should also look

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at the evidence.

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In recalling that Labour lost one of the safest seats

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in Blaenau Gwent in 2005 because of the imposition

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of a women only short list, what role does my right

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honourable friend see in local associations being able to choose

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what candidate they think are best for that area irrespective of gender

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or of the voters deciding to vote for that person irrespective of

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their gender.

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I thank my honourable friend for that question and he is

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absolutely right.

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Associations and local parties have a huge role to play

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in making sure they get the right person for

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the job in that area, but

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it is very surprising to see that just one

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in four candidates at the

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last general election was female.

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I think perhaps we need to ensure there is the right training and

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support in place and we have a diversity of candidates from those

0:19:040:19:12

associations and parties to choose from.

0:19:120:19:14

The SNP thought there were lessons to be learned from Scotland.

0:19:140:19:17

The SNP Scottish Government is also making

0:19:170:19:18

decisive action to make sure women are in senior decision-making roles

0:19:180:19:21

including in the boardroom, and it contains many ambitious

0:19:210:19:23

commitments in support of women's equality.

0:19:230:19:27

Can I ask if the UK Government is considering similar measures and

0:19:270:19:31

when they would come in to fruition?

0:19:310:19:40

The recommendations in our report are for the government to consider.

0:19:400:19:43

We think it is important after the next

0:19:430:19:45

general election, if there isn't significant progress, 45% of

0:19:450:19:47

candidates should be female.

0:19:470:19:49

She mentioned equal representation in

0:19:490:19:53

cabinets, and I was really heartened to see Justin Trudeau when he became

0:19:530:19:57

premier in Canada having a gender balanced cabinet and saying, what

0:19:570:20:00

would you expect in 2016?

0:20:000:20:05

I say, what should we expect in 2017.

0:20:050:20:08

A senior Labour MP has called on ministers to back an independent

0:20:080:20:14

investigation into allegations of breaches

0:20:140:20:15

of humanitarian law in the

0:20:150:20:17

Yemen civil war, because it is simply not acceptable to wait for

0:20:170:20:20

Saudi Arabia to do the job.

0:20:200:20:22

Thousands of people have been killed in the conflict between a Saudi

0:20:220:20:25

Arabian-led coalition backing the Yemen government and Iran-backed

0:20:250:20:27

Houthi rebels.

0:20:270:20:31

MPs are calling for an independent investigation into

0:20:310:20:37

allegations made against both sides of breaches of international

0:20:370:20:39

humanitarian law.

0:20:390:20:40

Stephen Twigg, the Labour chairman of the International

0:20:400:20:45

Development select committee, said such an investigation

0:20:450:20:47

was long overdue,

0:20:470:20:49

as he bemoaned the pace of the progress made by Saudi Arabia

0:20:490:20:52

on its own investigations.

0:20:520:20:53

The government repeatedly, over the last 14 months,

0:20:530:20:55

has been asked about Saudi Arabia's own investigations.

0:20:550:21:00

To my knowledge and the Minister may be able to

0:21:000:21:03

update us today, Saudi Arabia have produced nine reports on violations,

0:21:030:21:06

even though there have been many other allegations made.

0:21:060:21:11

Progress, I believe, on this is glacial and I

0:21:110:21:18

think it is remarkable the government still hold

0:21:180:21:20

the line that Saudi Arabia must take responsibility

0:21:200:21:23

for investigating its own alleged violation.

0:21:230:21:24

I give way.

0:21:240:21:28

These reports put forward have been far too slow and

0:21:280:21:31

the reason is we are dealing with the country

0:21:310:21:34

written a report like this and

0:21:340:21:35

they are having to learn

0:21:350:21:36

the hard way to show the

0:21:360:21:38

transparency that the international community expects.

0:21:380:21:43

The point I would like to make is that this progress

0:21:430:21:46

is slow because we are talking about a fledgling state, and this is still

0:21:460:21:49

a very young state which is not used to this level of scrutiny and

0:21:490:21:53

transparency and so it will take a long time for these

0:21:530:21:55

reports to come out.

0:21:550:21:57

The honourable lady anticipates the final remarks that I want to

0:21:570:22:00

make in this speech because she used the word

0:22:000:22:03

"slow," the minister used the

0:22:030:22:10

word "slow," I used the word "glacial" because it is too slow.

0:22:100:22:13

The substantial point I want to ask and

0:22:130:22:15

I look forward to the minister responding when he speaks, at what

0:22:150:22:18

point will the British government take the view that we need to move

0:22:180:22:21

to an independent enquiry?

0:22:210:22:27

The machine is slow in putting these together.

0:22:270:22:29

The conduct of investigations is totally new and the assessment team

0:22:290:22:33

is learning its way.

0:22:330:22:34

I keep putting pressure on them and will continue

0:22:340:22:40

to do so and I make it very clear that to lose faith in that process

0:22:400:22:44

which is beginning, and to digress, how long it took for the Chilcott

0:22:440:22:47

enquiry to come together.

0:22:470:22:48

And this is a machine that we have in this

0:22:480:22:50

country well versed to the legal parameters you have to deal with.

0:22:500:22:53

We have to have faith in Saudi Arabia

0:22:530:22:55

for the moment to see these reports must be

0:22:550:22:58

forthcoming and for the

0:22:580:23:04

moment I remain confident they can produce these reports.

0:23:040:23:06

Finally, are we any closer to a decision on when MPs and peers

0:23:060:23:09

can decide on whether or not to move out

0:23:090:23:14

of Parliament to allow a massive refurbishment programme?

0:23:140:23:16

The Palace of Westminster is crumbling with

0:23:160:23:18

leaking roofs, crumbling stonework and ancient wiring and plumbing.

0:23:180:23:23

At business questions, one MP wondered

0:23:230:23:33

if a decisions was on the horizon, but first he wanted to raise

0:23:330:23:36

something altogether different that was trending on social media.

0:23:360:23:41

Further to the question, sorry, may I

0:23:410:23:42

first of all wish you a happy kiss a ginger day.

0:23:420:23:45

The member for North Antrim quite rightly asked the

0:23:450:23:47

question...

0:23:470:23:48

I'm sure you can look it up!

0:23:480:23:53

The member for Northampton raised a very serious question

0:23:530:23:56

earlier about the committee report which was produced 18 weeks ago on

0:23:560:23:59

the future of the Palace of Westminster.

0:23:590:24:03

It is now becoming irresponsible that we have not yet

0:24:030:24:09

had a debate because a fire in one of the 98 rises of this building

0:24:090:24:17

would spread very rapidly and asbestos, in any part of this

0:24:170:24:20

building, if discovered could lead to the closing of this building

0:24:200:24:22

immediately and indefinitely.

0:24:220:24:23

And any problems in the sewage of the

0:24:230:24:25

building could close the building immediately.

0:24:250:24:29

So could he make sure we get on with this immediately and

0:24:290:24:35

we are outrunning unnecessary costs and risks.

0:24:350:24:37

The honourable gentleman summarises the points that were made

0:24:370:24:44

at much greater length and the committee report

0:24:440:24:50

about the very real challenges in terms of managing

0:24:500:24:55

risks that there are with the building of the Palace of

0:24:550:24:58

Westminster.

0:24:580:24:59

I said to the honourable member that I would hope

0:24:590:25:01

we could have a debate as soon as possible.

0:25:010:25:05

This kiss a ginger activity is probably perfectly lawful

0:25:050:25:07

but I have no plans to take part in it myself.

0:25:070:25:14

Strikes me as a very rum business altogether.

0:25:140:25:17

I have not the slightest idea about what the

0:25:170:25:23

honourable gentleman was prating so the matter had

0:25:230:25:25

to be googled for me.

0:25:250:25:26

A rather bemused John Bercow bringing us to the end of this

0:25:260:25:29

programme, but please join me Friday night

0:25:290:25:36

at 11 for a full round-up of the

0:25:360:25:38

week in Westminster including the chair

0:25:380:25:40

of the women and equality is

0:25:400:25:41

committee on how to increase the number of female MPs, but for now,

0:25:410:25:44

from me, Alicia McCarthy, goodbye.

0:25:440:25:49

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