27/01/2016 Wednesday in Parliament


27/01/2016

Highlights of Wednesday 27 January in Parliament, presented by Keith Macdougall.


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Hello and welcome to Wednesday in Parliament -

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our look at the best of the day in the Commons and the Lords.

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On this programme, a taxing issue for the Prime Minister

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or quite straightforward?

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Jeremy Corbyn tries to pin David Cameron down on the size

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of that tax payment by Google.

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Why is there one rule for big, multinational companies and another

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for ordinary, small businesses and self-employed workers?

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The proposal to limit Universal Credit to two children,

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Peers voice their concerns.

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These proposals as a whole might be seen as signalling that not every

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child is precious.

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And after a winter of intensive flooding, is the Thames Barrier

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fit for purpose?

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A Labour Peer thinks action is needed.

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To say categorically that we need to do nothing

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with the Thames Barrier to 2070, seems to me,

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a little bit over-hopeful.

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But first, David Cameron has defended the deal the authorities

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have struck with Google over tax, saying the Conservatives have done

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more than any other Government.

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The technology giant has agreed to pay ?130 million in tax

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to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs.

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The payment covers money owed since 2005 and follows a six-year

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enquiry by HMRC.

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But critics have called the 130 million derisory.

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It was an obvious subject for the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

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to focus on at Prime Minister's Questions.

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He said experts indicated Google was paying a tax rate on its UK

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profits of, in effect, 3%.

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The Chancellor of the Exchequer described this arrangement

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as a major success while the Prime Minister's official spokesperson

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only called it a step forward.

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The Mayor of London described the payment as quite derisory.

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What exactly is the Government's position on this 3%

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rate of taxation?

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We have put in place the diverted profit tax,

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that means this company and other companies will pay more

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tax in future.

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And more tax in future than they ever paid under Labour,

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where the tax rate for Google was zero percent.

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We have done more on tax evasion and tax avoidance

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than Labour ever did.

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The truth is, Mr Speaker, they are running to catch up

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but they haven't got a leg to stand on.

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Mr Speaker, it was under a Labour Government,

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enquiries begun into Google and in addition, as a percentage

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of GDP, corporation tax receipts are lower under this Government

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than they were under previous governments.

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I have got a question here, Mr Speaker, from a gentleman called

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Geoff.

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You might well laugh but Geoff actually speaks for millions

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of people when he says to me, can you ask the Prime Minister if,

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as a working man of over 30 years, whether there is a scheme

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which I can join that pays the same rate of tax as Google

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and other large corporations?

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What does the Prime Minister say to Geoff?

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What I say to Geoff is that his taxes are coming down under this

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Government and Google's taxes are going up under this Government.

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Let me say again, if, like me, he's genuinely angry

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about what happened to Google under Labour, can I tell him a few people

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he could call?

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Maybe he should start by calling Tony Blair, you can

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get him at JP Morgan.

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Call Gordon Brown, apparently you can get him at a Californian

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bond dealer called Pimco.

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He could call Alistair Darling, I think he is at Morgan Stanley

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but it is hard to keep up.

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Those are the people to blame for Google not paying their taxes.

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We are the ones that got them to pay.

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SHOUTING The problem is, Mr Speaker that the Prime Minister

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is the Prime Minister, is responsible for the Government

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and therefore is responsible for tax collection.

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Millions of people this week are filling in their tax returns

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to get them in by the 31st. They have to send the form back.

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They do not get the option of 25 meetings with 17 ministers to decide

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what their rate of tax is.

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Many people, going to their HMRC offices or returning

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them online this week, will say this, why is there one rule

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for big, multinational companies and another for ordinary,

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small businesses and self-employed workers?

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All those people filling in their tax returns are going to be

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paying lower taxes under this Government.

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That is what's happening. The Shadow Chancellor is pointing.

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The idea that those two right honourable gentlemen would stand up

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to anyone in this regard is laughable.

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Look at the record over the last week.

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They met with the unions and they gave them flying pickets.

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They met with the Argentinians, they gave them the Falkland Islands.

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They met with a bunch of migrants in Calais,

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they said they could all come to Britain.

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The only people they never stand up for are the British people

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and hard-working taxpayers.

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Jeremy Corbyn did not pick up on David Cameron's phrase,

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"a bunch of migrants" and moved on to the day's big legal judgment.

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We've had no answers on Google, we've had no answers on Geoff.

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Can I raise with him another unfair tax policy that does affect many

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people in this country?

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This morning, the Court of Appeals ruled that the bedroom tax

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is discriminatory because of its impact...

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I don't know why members opposite find this funny because it isn't.

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The ruling is, because of its impact on vulnerable individuals,

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including victims of domestic violence and disabled children.

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Will the Prime Minister now read the judgment and finally abandon

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this cruel and unjust policy which has now been ruled

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to be illegal?

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We always look very carefully at the judgments on these occasions

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but of course, our fundamental position is that it is unfair

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to subsidise spare rooms in the social sector if you don't

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subsidise them in the private sector when people are paying their housing

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benefit and that is a basic issue of fairness.

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Isn't it interesting that the first pledge he makes is something that

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can cost as much as ?2.5 billion in the next Parliament.

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Who is going to pay for that? Geoff will pay for it.

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The people filling in their tax returns will pay for it.

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Why is it that he always wants to see more welfare,

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higher taxes, more borrowing - all things that got us into the mess

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in the first place?

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David Cameron.

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January 27th is Holocaust Memorial Day, as it was in 1945

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when the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated by the Soviet

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Army.

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It is estimated six million Jewish men, women and children perished

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in concentration camps over a five-year period.

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There are a number of Holocaust memorials around the world,

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now there is to be a new permanent one in London.

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This site is at the Houses of Parliament as the Prime Minister

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explained.

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Mr Speaker, I know the whole House will want to join me in marking

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Holocaust Memorial Day.

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It is right that our whole country should stand together to remember

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the darkest hour of humanity.

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Last year, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz,

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I said we would build a striking national memorial in London to show

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the importance Britain places on preserving the memory

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of the Holocaust.

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Today, I can tell the House, this memorial will be built

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in Victoria Tower Gardens.

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It will stand beside Parliament as a permanent statement

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of our values as a nation and it'll be for our children to visit

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for generations to come.

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I am grateful to all those who have made this possible and who have

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given this work the cross-party status that it so profoundly

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deserves.

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On behalf of the opposition, could I welcome the remarks

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the Prime Minister has just made about Holocaust Memorial Day.

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It is the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz

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Birkenau.

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We have to remember the deepest, darkest days of humanity

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that happened then and the genocide that

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has sadly happened since and educate another generation to avoid those

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for all time in the future.

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I thank the Prime Minister for what he said.

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For his questions to the Prime Minister, the leader

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of the third biggest party, Angus Robertson, the SNP,

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focused on the issue of women's pensions.

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During John Major's Government, plans were announced to raise

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the state pension age for women from 60 to 65 between 2010 and 2020

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but four years ago, the Coalition Government speeded up

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the process and many have complained it has given women too little time

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to prepare for the change.

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He is aware of the state pension inequality that is impacting on many

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women and in this Parliament voted unanimously for the Government to,

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and I quote, "Immediately introduce transitional arrangements for those

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women negatively affected by pension equalisation."

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What is the Prime Minister going to do to respect the decision

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of this Parliament and help those women who are affected,

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those who were born in the 1950s and should have had proper notice

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to plan their finances and their retirement?

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What I would say to the honourable gentleman, first of all,

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the equalisation of the retirement age came about on the basis

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of equality which was a judgment by the European court,

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that we put in place in the 1990s.

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When this Government decided rightly, in my view,

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to raise the retirement view, we made the decision that no one

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should suffer a greater than 18 month increase in their retirement

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age and that is the decision that this House took.

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In terms of ending discrimination in the pension system,

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I would say that the introduction of the single-tier pension and ?155

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a week will be one of the best ways we can end discrimination

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in the pension system because so many women retiring

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will get so much more in their pension which of course,

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in this Government, is triple-lock protected, so they will get

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inflation earnings or 2.5%.

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Never again, the derisory 75p increase in the pension.

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David Cameron.

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The footage shown on the BBC's Panorama programme of staff

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at a secure training centre apparently assaulting youngsters has

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caused plenty of reaction.

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The undercover team filmed the scenes at the G4S-run Medway

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Secure Training Centre in Kent, which holds children aged

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between 12 and 18.

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The Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham called for G4S to be

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stripped of its contract to run children's prisons.

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The former head of the prison service of England and Wales,

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Sir Martin Narey, has been a paid consultant for G4S, work

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that he was asked about when he came before the Commons

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Education Committee.

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Sir Martin is currently making a review of children's residential

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care in England.

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I just think for the perspective of transparency, you have

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a connection with G4S so if anything, that drifts

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into an area where G4S are managing establishments.

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How would you manage that?

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I did have a connection with G4S.

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I wasn't required to do that but recently, I was asked

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by Michael Gove to join the Home Office board

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for presentation reasons, I severed my relationships with G4S.

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Although I don't apologise for having that relationship

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and even after the appalling events that Medway, I think

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there are people in that part of G4S trying very hard in prisons

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and accommodation for young offenders which treats offenders

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with decency and dignity.

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I make no apology for having tried to help them to do that

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a little over the years.

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I only did a total of about 15 days a year over three years,

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but I have severed that entirely.

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They understand why.

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And certainly any recommendations I make in this report,

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people will have to judge for themselves, but they will

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certainly not be influenced by any of the interests of G4S or any other

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provider in the private or voluntary sector.

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Sir Martin Narey.

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You're watching our round-up of the day in the Commons

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and the Lords.

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Still to come - is the Thames Barrier fit for purpose?

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The government has agreed to make exemptions from its proposals

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to limit Universal Credit to two children.

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Universal Credit is the new system that merges existing benefits

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into one monthly payment for people out of work

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and those on low incomes.

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The Welfare Minister, Lord Freud, said in the Lords that people

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who adopt sibling groups will be exempt, to prevent brothers

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and sisters being separated when they're adopted.

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And people who take in the children of family members, to stop them

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going into the care system, will also be exempt.

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The exemptions to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill were put forward

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by the Bishop of Portsmouth.

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I, along with others in this House, indicated our regret that these

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proposals as a whole might be seen as signalling that not every child

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is precious and deserves love and support not only of parents

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and families, but of community, society and nation.

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Nevertheless, I recognise the intent of the government.

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The first three exemptions relate directly

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to unforeseen circumstances which could not have been planned

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for when a decision was being made about family size.

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However carefully and responsibly consideration took place,

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these circumstances could not have been reasonably expected.

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The death of a parent drastically changes family circumstances.

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This is in fact about a family of three children

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who are working, but struggling anyway.

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It is about all those who have children, confident

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they could provide for them, until, as the Right Reverend Prelate

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pointed out, something went wrong.

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Perhaps their spouse died, they got sick and couldn't work,

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a parent lost their job, etc.

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So, my lords, all the things a welfare state was meant

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to protect against.

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So it seems to me utterly astonishing to have a

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situation where those who are prepared to take children

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out of care or take, perhaps, members of the family

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who they then adopt,

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but already have children, will be penalised for doing

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something that is actually entirely in line

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with what the government has said in its adoption policies.

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And so, it seems to me quite extraordinary that the government

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does not exclude adoption and kinship care.

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And the noble lady Baroness Sherlock has set it out

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better than I could,

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and in great detail, so I don't want to reflect

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on it, but just to point out this that she said.

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That it is very expensive to keep children in care.

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I am pleased to announce today that in recognition of the important role

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that family and close friends can play in caring long-term

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for children who are unable to live with

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their parents and could otherwise be at risk of entering the care system,

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we are in favour of exemption for children in such circumstances.

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We do recognise that it is often in the best interest of the children

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for them to be placed in their sibling group.

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Recognising this, I am also able to announce that we are in favour

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of an exemption where there were previously fewer than

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two children in a household and the adoption of a sibling group

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causes the number of children to exceed two, again we intend

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to use regulations to provide for this exemption.

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Supported housing for vulnerable people -

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such as the elderly,

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homeless, disabled and victims of domestic violence -

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is to be exempt from cuts to social rents for a year.

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The cut could have made it difficult for providers

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to deliver specialist services.

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The announcement came as Labour used a debate in the Commons to call

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on the Government to exempt supported housing from further

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reductions in housing benefit - which the party's spokesman said

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would put hundreds of thousands of elderly and vulnerable people

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at risk.

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The Chancellor's crude housing benefit cut

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could hit the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who totally

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depend on this specialist housing,

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many the most vulnerable people with nowhere else to turn.

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The National Housing Federation now say that 156,000 homes,

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or at least that number of people, are set to close.

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A survey by Inside Housing found that one in four supported

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housing providers are set to close everything while 19 out of 20 say

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they will close some of their supported accommodation.

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Surely he has got to concede that this is not

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a back-of-a-fag-packet policy, that this government is doing

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the sensible thing of actually collating

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all the information, the data, the demonstrable data,

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into a proper scoping exercise on assisted housing

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with impact assessment?

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Also put aside almost ?500 million for

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discretionary housing payments and the changes will not be taking

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effect until April 2018.

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Surely that is a sensible policy this government is pursuing?

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The test of a good society is you look after the elderly,

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the frail, the vulnerable, the poorest in our society.

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So will the government confirm today,

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act immediately, confirm they will exempt in full

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from this crude, sweeping housing benefits cut

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those in supported and sheltered housing?

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And will they work with those who provide this housing to make

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sure that it is secure for the future?

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This government has always been clear that the most vulnerable

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will be supported through our welfare reforms.

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We know that the welfare system is vital for supporting

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vulnerable people.

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And we know it is essential that all vulnerable people have a roof

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over their head.

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That is why we have been determined to support

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their housing needs.

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We have set aside over ?500 million to create a strong safety net

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against homelessness.

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We recently pledged ?40 million for domestic abuse services

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to ensure that no victim is turned away from the support

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that they need.

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And in the Autumn Statement, we announced a further

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?400 million...

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In just a few moments.

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?400 million to deliver 8000 specialist affordable homes

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for the vulnerable, elderly, all those with disabilities.

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But the minister had a concession.

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In the meantime, the 1% reduction will be deferred

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for 12 months for supported accommodation.

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We will get the findings of the review in the spring.

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And we will work with the sector to ensure the essential services

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they deliver continue to be provided whilst protecting the taxpayer.

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Making sure that we make best use of the taxpayer's money and meet

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government's fiscal commitments.

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And we will look urgently at this to provide certainty for the sector.

0:19:590:20:05

I have to give way.

0:20:050:20:06

Thanks to the Minister for giving way.

0:20:060:20:08

And for setting out the next steps.

0:20:080:20:10

Can I just put it politely to him that

0:20:100:20:12

he ought to have done this kind of research before making

0:20:120:20:15

the announcement in the first place?

0:20:150:20:18

And can he now also tell the House, to give certainty to those housing

0:20:180:20:22

providers, precisely what kind of measures will be implemented

0:20:220:20:27

to offset the changes in housing benefit?

0:20:270:20:31

I would genuinely say to the honourable gentleman

0:20:310:20:33

that the mess that the last Labour government left

0:20:330:20:36

this country financially means that we have to take

0:20:360:20:38

difficult decisions and we have to move quickly to ensure

0:20:380:20:40

the hard-working taxpayers are properly

0:20:400:20:42

protected and I'm proud to be working with a Chancellor who sees

0:20:420:20:45

that as one of our first and foremost duties.

0:20:450:20:48

More information on the scale, shape and cost of the supported

0:20:480:20:50

accommodation sector should be available through the evidence

0:20:500:20:53

reviewed jointly commissioned

0:20:530:21:00

-- review jointly commissioned

0:21:060:21:08

by the Department for Communities and Local Government

0:21:080:21:10

and the Department for Work and Pensions.

0:21:100:21:12

If the government don't know the impact,

0:21:120:21:13

then why make the change?

0:21:130:21:14

Madam Deputy Speaker, this Tory government must

0:21:140:21:16

halt their continued assault on housing benefit

0:21:160:21:18

in order to ensure that those who need supported housing are not

0:21:180:21:21

literally left out in the cold.

0:21:210:21:22

At the end, a Labour motion calling for an exemption from housing

0:21:220:21:25

benefit cuts for supported housing was rejected by 47 votes.

0:21:250:21:28

Now, what does the future hold for the Thames Barrier?

0:21:290:21:31

Lying six miles to the east of the City of London,

0:21:310:21:34

the Barrier was constructed in the wake of the devastating

0:21:340:21:36

East Coast floods of 1953.

0:21:360:21:39

Finished in 1983, the 1,700 foot structure is said to have paid

0:21:390:21:43

for itself many times over in the three decades

0:21:430:21:46

it's been operating.

0:21:460:21:48

But the frequency of closures in recent months has led to fears

0:21:480:21:51

it could be operating close to the limits of what it can do,

0:21:510:21:54

to protect London.

0:21:540:21:56

In the Lords, a Government spokesman said the future performance

0:21:560:21:59

of the Barrier was assessed in the document,

0:21:590:22:02

the Thames Estuary 2100 Plan.

0:22:020:22:06

This plan, produced by the Environment Agency

0:22:060:22:07

and stakeholders along the estuary, sets out how to manage tidal flood

0:22:070:22:11

risk up to the end of the century.

0:22:110:22:14

The plan is reviewed every five years.

0:22:140:22:16

Based on these projections, the Thames Barrier

0:22:160:22:18

is expected to protect London to its current standard up to 2070.

0:22:180:22:25

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble lord for that response,

0:22:250:22:28

but he will be aware that the Thames Barrier was raised

0:22:280:22:30

twice per annum on average in its first ten years of existence,

0:22:300:22:34

and is now raised on average eight times per annum.

0:22:340:22:38

And it reached a peak of 48 times in 2014.

0:22:380:22:43

The government, as a result, in 2012 decided it was appropriate

0:22:430:22:48

to extend the life of the Thames Barrier from 2030 to 2070.

0:22:480:22:55

And despite concerns about freak storms and rising sea levels,

0:22:550:22:59

we know that the government has been complacent as far

0:22:590:23:03

as the cities of York and Leeds and the county of Cumbria

0:23:030:23:07

have been concerned, in terms of floods.

0:23:070:23:10

Why should we have any more confidence in their

0:23:100:23:12

decision to extend the life of the Thames Barrier by 40 years?

0:23:120:23:16

My Lords, I reject the noble Lord's accusations about the goodwill

0:23:160:23:20

of this government.

0:23:200:23:22

And if I could compare expenditure, this government

0:23:220:23:26

is proposing capital expenditure of ?2.3 billion

0:23:260:23:29

in the next six years.

0:23:290:23:31

That compares with the last Labour government of ?1.5 billion.

0:23:310:23:36

A real-terms increase...

0:23:360:23:38

My Lords, I am normally a great believer in as much

0:23:380:23:40

salt water as possible, but I have to say I do believe

0:23:400:23:43

that there is just a slight element of complacency.

0:23:430:23:48

I know a lot of work has gone into this.

0:23:480:23:51

I was involved in the resilience work.

0:23:510:23:52

But the speed at which things are changing is such

0:23:520:23:55

that to say categorically that we need to do nothing

0:23:550:23:57

with the Thames Barrier until 2070

0:23:570:24:00

seems to me a little bit over-hopeful.

0:24:000:24:03

And will the noble Lord the minister agree

0:24:030:24:05

that we may well have do something well before that

0:24:050:24:08

and it will take a considerable time to put into place?

0:24:080:24:11

My noble Lord, I do apologise if I in any sense suggested

0:24:110:24:15

that this would only wait until 2070.

0:24:150:24:20

As I said, the review will be every five years.

0:24:200:24:22

It is absolutely essential that we keep up-to-date.

0:24:220:24:25

My Lords, as a Treasury minister I was much involved

0:24:250:24:28

in the original decision on the Thames Barrier.

0:24:280:24:31

I very much wanted to make it part of a hydroelectric scheme

0:24:310:24:35

but my officials said that would cause delay,

0:24:350:24:37

the Thames would break its banks, the London Underground would be

0:24:370:24:42

flooded and did I want to take that responsibility?

0:24:420:24:52

So we are where we are!

0:24:520:24:54

But, my Lords, will my noble friend consider

0:24:540:24:57

whether in the plans which he rightly set out a moment

0:24:570:25:02

ago, whether one should consider

0:25:020:25:04

that there is some possibility of using the tidal flow

0:25:040:25:07

of the Thames to generate electricity, given the increasing

0:25:070:25:13

claims for having fuel which is not carbon-based?

0:25:130:25:18

My Lords, I will certainly raise this with my noble friend

0:25:180:25:21

in the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

0:25:210:25:24

Clearly it is important in this country that

0:25:240:25:26

we use many alternative sources of energy supply.

0:25:260:25:32

I think that is a very interesting concept.

0:25:320:25:35

And that's it for this programme.

0:25:350:25:37

But do join me for our next daily round-up.

0:25:370:25:39

Until then, from me Keith Macdougall, goodbye.

0:25:390:25:43

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