Highlights of Wednesday 9 March in Parliament, presented by Keith Macdougall.
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Hello and welcome to Wednesday in Parliament, our look at the best
of the day in the Commons and the Lords.
On this programme:
Should we shop till we drop?
Or ought we to continue to make Sunday a little bit
different from the rest of the week?
We are all capable of deciding whether we work or shop on a Sunday.
Why is it that in this country, this Government thinks
that we should put the free market above everything else?
That deal between the EU and Turkey aimed at easing the migrants crisis.
One MP sounds a stark warning about Turkey.
Over a period of time, the president of Turkey has
done his best to undermine democratic rights
in that country.
And the Health Secretary says it's time for a cultural change
in the NHS.
Other industries, in particular the airline in nuclear
industries, have learned the importance of developing
a learning culture and not a blame culture if safety is to be improved.
But first - ministers have suffered a defeat in the Commons
over their plans to allow shops in England and Wales to open
for longer on Sundays.
Rebel Conservative backbenchers combined with Labour and the
SNP to inflict the second Government defeat in the Commons
since last year's election.
Under the plans, local councils would be given
the power to allow large shops to open longer than the current
six hours on Sundays.
Trade unions say the changes might have added
as much as another six hours to the time the shops would stay
open for business.
The Commons battle was keenly fought.
Don't we understand that while we have this
great job here with all the privileges we have,
we have a duty to look after people who are much
less better off than us, who work unbelievably hard,
often in fairly grim jobs.
And do we want to force them - because ultimately all the pressure
will be on them, from these big businesses -
do we want them to sit behind a till on a Sunday,
or do we say to them, yes, we do believe that
Sunday is special.
Doesn't he agree with me that we should actually just
trust our constituents to make up their own minds?
In life we all have to find our own balance,
and we are all capable of deciding whether we work
or shop on a Sunday.
This isn't actually the most complicated
decision that our constituents will make in their lives.
Isn't it also misleading of the Government to
describe this as a devolutionary measure?
Isn't it simply the fact that the moment one particular
council adopts these powers,
every other neighbouring council will be forced to follow suit?
I think it is important to bear in mind that the laws
in England and Wales on trading were last updated in 1994,
back when the only time we heard of Amazon
was when you were talking about a river.
The high street faced no external pressure.
The internet is liberating, it changes the way we
live and work.
But the pressures on our high street are rising and internet
But the pressures on our high street are rising and the internet
plays a part.
Surveys of internet shoppers show there is no relationship
between them internet shopping on a Sunday,
because they can't or want to go to extended hours at local stores.
If we follow that argument, those who are on the internet
between midnight and 3am, is that an argument for shops
being open at that time?
In my own constituency - which I accept is a relatively
exceptional constituency in a city centre -
there would be a demand, particularly at tourist times,
that the local authorities should give permission.
But it would be up to the local authority to manage that.
I think this is a good compromise, given the great changes
that have taking place in the last 30 years,
not least with the internet, in that shopping pattern.
Even in workplaces with trade union reps to support members,
many staff are pressured into not using the Sunday opt-out.
In fact, something like a third of workers,
shop workers, are pressured into working Sundays
or having their working hours cut.
To those who say we need to keep Sunday special,
I respect that.
But I ask, do you not shop on the internet on a Sunday?
Do not visit your local leisure centre?
Goods are delivered on a Sunday, we eat in restaurants on a Sunday,
call centres are open on a Sunday, many sectors work on a Sunday.
You talk about rights, what about their rights?
Many of us been abroad, Spain, Portugal or France -
and we have found real restrictions on
finding things open on a Sunday.
We have been out at lunchtime and found the shops on siesta.
Why is it, in this country, this Government
thinks that we should put the free market above everything else?
I rise to speak in favour of Sunday trading, because I feel in a place
like central London, and I stand as a London MP,
we should have some freedom for people to trade and choose how
they do business.
You don't have to go shopping, but if you want to go shopping,
you should have the opportunity to do so.
The Treasury have been taking media flak for this.
The Treasury are putting out the lines to take.
In fact, if you are and obscure backbench Tory MP, you're likely -
In fact, if you are an obscure backbench Tory MP, you're likely -
if you vote the right way today - to get a brand-new bypass.
Or perhaps become special representative to some warm
and exotic place you've never heard of.
Before entering this place, I was in business for 25 years.
It is absolutely right to consider the needs of business
and the family lives of workers.
But as all business people know, shouldn't the customer first?
But as all business people know, shouldn't the customer come first?
If the customer wants to shop at other times in a
weekend, shouldn't they be allowed to do that?
Isn't a pilot the right way to take this forward?
People work to live, they don't live to work.
There are lots of other things we could do that would be more
efficient - we could propose to our partners by text,
we could read to children on Skype from the office,
no-one would suggest these things!
This constant denigration of family life is truly unhelpful.
And at the end of the debate, MPs voted in favour
of an Opposition amendment.
The ayes to the right, 317,
the noes to the left, 286.
The "skill ambitions" of young people in the UK are being held back
by the Government's economic policies -
the claim of Jeremy Corbyn as he tackled David Cameron
at the weekly round of Prime Minister's Questions.
It was during this latest half-hour session that the Labour
leader notched up his first hundred questions to the Prime Minister.
Mr Corbyn focused on the state of the economy.
Last week, the Prime Minister told the House that we had
a strong economy with a sound plan.
If the economy is so strong, then why this week has he forced
through a ?30 per week cut, hitting some of
the poorest disabled people in the country?
As we speak today we have inflation at 0%, unemployment at 5%,
our economy is growing, wages are growing, and we're cutting
the taxes that people are paying.
That, combined with reforming welfare - and we are reforming
welfare - is a way to get the deficit down, continue
with growth and help deliver for the working people of Britain.
Mr Speaker, I don't believe the majority of people in this
country are content to see someone diagnosed with cancer today,
unfit to work next year, reduced to poverty,
because of the cuts this Government is putting through.
If we really do have the strong economy
the Prime Minister claims, then why did the Chancellor warn
last week, and I quote, we may need to make
Who will these reductions fall on?
Is he going to rule out attacking those groups?
He will see the budget next week, when my right honourable
friend the Chancellor - who has an excellent record
of steering this nation's economy - will stand up to give that.
As he well knows, the poorest have paid the most for the
cuts, and women have paid for 81% of those cuts.
Mr Speaker, on 99 previous attempts to ask questions
to the Prime Minister, I've been unclear or dissatisfied
by the answers, as indeed many other people have.
So, on this auspicious 100th occasion, can I ask the
Prime Minister to help out a young man called Callum.
Last week, the Prime Minister told the Engineering
Employers Federation that we have a skills shortage -
a good admission.
Callum asks - and he's a bright young man who wants to make his way
in the world - says, will the Government acknowledge...
Maybe the Prime Minister does as well.
Will the Government acknowledge the importance of sixth-form
colleges and post-16 education services in Britain?
First of all, let me congratulate the honourable gentleman on getting
to 100 not out.
I'm sure it will be welcomed across the House.
What I say to Callum is what we are introducing
in our country is a situation where we uncap university places,
so as many people who want to go can go.
And we will be introducing in this Parliament
three million apprentices.
Mr Speaker, we have a construction industry in recession at a time that
has an acute need for new housing.
Construction apprenticeships have fallen by 11% since 2010.
With the lowest rate of house building since
the 1920s, almost 100 years ago.
Will the Prime Minister look again at this issue,
stop the cuts to skills training, and cuts to
investment which are holding back this country, holding back the skill
ambitions of so many young people, and invest in them and invest
in our future?
I do have to pick up the right honourable gentleman
on his statistics, because we have seen a massive boost to apprentices
and apprenticeship funding under this Government.
Two million in the last Parliament, three million in this Parliament.
On housing, let me give him the figures,
house building under Labour fell by 45%, since then it's increased
by two thirds.
104 days to go until the European Referendum -
plenty of time for both the Leave EU camp and the Remain In camp to argue
their respective cases.
David Cameron faced questions from both sides
at Prime Minister's Questions, including one that concerned
him very directly.
If the British people vote to leave the European Union,
will the Prime Minister resign, yes or no?
It is very much to the Government's credit that over two million jobs
have been created since 2010.
But nearly one million of those have gone to non-UK EU nationals.
Does the Prime Minister agree with me that the EU's free movement
of people is damaging UK nationals' employment prospects,
and has contributed to the 1.6 million British
people remaining unemployed?
And this has not been compensated for by equivalent-level jobs
in other European countries for UK nationals?
In combination with the welfare reform we've introduced
for EU citizens and the tougher control of migration from outside
the EU, we should see welfare reform in the UK as the flip side
of migration control.
We want to make sure it always pays for
British people to train up to do the jobs that are being made
available, so we should see immigration control and welfare
reform together with a growing economy as the way of getting
more of our people into work.
Does the Prime Minister agree with me that it is very important
that we make the positive case for Britain remaining in the EU?
That each of us get ?1200 back for every ?120 we put in.
We have lower prices and choice in shops and easier travelling
for holidays and businesses.
Can the Prime Minister explain how our
membership of the EU benefits so many aspects of our lives?
I think the honourable lady makes an important point,
which is in all the arguments about single markets and sovereignty
and the rest of it, we can sometimes lose some of the simple consumer
benefits of being a member of the European Union.
And the things she mentions about cheaper
air travel, ease of travel, not having any tariffs,
these are things that we take for granted now, that simply
weren't the case 40 years ago.
I agree that's a strong part of the very
positive case we should make remaining in the EU.
The SNP's Westminster leader focused on allegations about how
some refugees arriving in the UK are being treated.
Mr Speaker, the refugee crisis is the biggest issue
facing governments right across Europe.
Is the Prime Minister ashamed that in a UK Government
programme, we now know that in Folkstone, trafficking victims
were locked up without food, asylum-seekign children were forced
to sleep on concrete floors, that patients with diarrhoea
were denied access to showers, and also a naked woman was allegedly
beaten at a detention centre.
Is the Prime Minister ashamed of this?
I will look very carefully at the points the right
honourable gentleman makes.
I would say our asylum system is fair, and Britain,
down the ages, has given people asylum who are fleeing
torture and persecution.
When it comes to the issue of resettling
Syrian refugees, it was instructive at this week's European Council
there was a chart showing how many countries have actually resettled
Syrian refugees, Britain has done far better than any other
country bar Germany.
David Cameron talking about claims about the treatment of some
refugees reaching Britain.
Earlier this week a deal was drawn up aimed at easing the migrant
crisis, generally reckoned to be the biggest mass movement
of people since the Second World War.
Last year, more than a million people, most fleeing the conflict
in Syria, entered the EU by boat, mainly going from Turkey to Greece.
Under Monday's deal, all migrants arriving in Greece
from Turkey would be returned.
For each Syrian sent back, a Syrian already in Turkey would be
resettled in the EU.
Turkey would also get extra funding and progress on EU integration.
MPs have been discussing the plan.
Agreements that were reached in principle at the EU-Turkey summit
on Monday represent a basis that could mean that in future
all migrants who arrived in Greece could be returned to Turkey.
That would, if implemented, break the business
model of the people smugglers and end the link between getting
in a boat and getting settlement in Europe.
This is something which the Prime Minister and the government
have been arguing for for nearly a year.
The agreement would not impose any new obligations on the UK in respect
of either resettlement or relocation.
Does the Minister agree that the only way to deal with this
crisis is to work with our European neighbours and with other countries
affected in the region, including Turkey?
We welcome the fact, therefore, that European nations are working
together to try to find a solution rather than individual
countries trying to find individual solutions to what is clearly
a collective challenge.
Actually this deal is a rather grubby one.
We all know that the government, our own
government in particular but the whole of the European Union,
is desperate to try and be seen to be
resolving this migration crisis, that this is a self-inflicted crisis
to some extent because the free movement area in the Schengen area
is a temptation, and attraction for refugees to get
into the European Union so they can travel anywhere,
and the refusal to close down the Schengen agreement means
they want to keep that invitation open, so they are doing a very
grubby deal with a country with a very
indifferent human rights record to subcontract the deportation
of these terrori...
these refugees back to their country of origin.
We share the deep concern expressed by the United Nations that these
proposals would contravene refugees' right to
protection under European and international law.
Vincent Cochetel, the UNHCR Europe regional director,
said yesterday that an agreement on this basis would not be
consistent with either European or international law.
Over a period of time the President of Turkey has
done his best to undermine democratic rights in that country,
outright intimidation of critics, a newspaper taken over last week
by his henchmen and has now become a mouthpiece for the regime.
More recently than that, a news agency.
Does the Minister realise that there can be no question
of Turkey becoming in any way associated
with the European Union while this intimidation of critics continues,
and indeed the President of Turkey gives a very good example of trying
to follow Putin.
I wish to associate the Liberal Democrats with the comments
on free speech and also the comments just made with regard to the very
troubling one-for-one refugee agreement, which raises both
practical and moral concerns.
The Minister is a very honourable man.
Surely he cannot be comfortable with an
agreement that actually requires refugees to risk their lives
travelling to the EU in return for another refugee only from Syria
to get safe passage.
That is entirely unacceptable.
The purpose that...we have is to put in place a set of arrangements
which remove the incentives for people to entrust
their safety to the people traffickers, and unless we are able
to do that then the risk is exactly that the flow of people
and the appalling casualties that result
from that flow of people across the Aegean will continue.
You're watching our round-up of the day in the Commons
and the Lords.
Still to come...
A minister declares himself at the end of his tether over
the issue of broadband.
Now, how safe is the NHS?
The Health Secretary has announced a number of changes
designed to improve patient safety in England.
He told MPs that progress was being made, but still too many
mistakes were taking place.
Twice a week in the NHS we operate on the
wrong part of someone's body.
Twice a week we leave a foreign object in someone's body.
The pioneering work of Helen Hogan, Nick Black and Ara
Darzi has estimated that 3.6% of hospital deaths have a 50%
or more chance of being avoidable, which equates to over 150
deaths every week.
We should remember that, despite this, our standards
of safety still compare well to many other countries but I want England
to lead the world in offering the highest possible standards
of safety in healthcare.
He called for cultural change.
Other industries, in particular the airline and nuclear industries,
have learned the importance of developing a learning
culture and not a blame culture if safety is to be improved,
but too often the fear of litigation or
professional consequences inhibits the openness and transparency
we need if we are to learn from mistakes.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I will always support sensible steps
to improve safety and transparency in the delivery of health services
but what I can't do is stand here today and pretend that other
actions taken by this government won't have a detrimental effect
on patient care.
The Health Secretary's kamikaze approach to the junior-doctor
contract means that no matter how this dispute ends he will have lost
the goodwill of staff on which the NHS survives.
How can he stand here and talk about patient safety when it is him
and him alone who is to blame for the current industrial
action, for the destruction of staff morale and for the potential exodus
of junior doctors to the southern hemisphere?
We do need to look at the ratio of staff.
Both France's and other research has shown the importance of nursing
staff - staff who do not have a minute to stop and think
will make mistakes and they will not have time to report them.
We need to make it easy, people do need to have time
to minimise mistakes and there has to be that culture.
A minister has declared himself "at the end
of his tether" with BT Openreach.
Ed Vaizey was replying to a debate about customer-service
standards at the firm, which provides cables,
fibre and infrastructure for BT's phone lines and broadband.
A recent report by the regulator Ofcom pledged to introduce tougher
rules on BT's faults, repairs and installations.
The Conservative who raised the subject in Westminster Hall said
she'd had a myriad of complaints about the service.
Caroline Nokes gave the example of the village of Up Somborne
in her Hampshire constituency.
We had an interesting experience a few weeks ago when most
of the village's lines were crossed and neighbouring houses
were providing a message service to each
other as lines were swapped and numbers redistributed
in an apparently random fashion.
The spectacle of neighbours running up
and down the road passing messages to each other may sound amusing
but in the 21st century it is really not acceptable.
Another Conservative had an altogether more serious example.
In my constituency there was a 99-year-old lady whose phone
line was down with BT refusing to send an engineer out.
Thankfully my office forced BT to send an engineer -
after the work was done when she had a stroke and her son managed to make
phone contact to discover this.
It could have been so very different had the line not been fixed
and her son unable to get through.
She could have died without immediate
assistance and it shows the importance of phone lines.
Ofcom will need the right kind of political support in order
to ensure that these measures are put in place.
As our digital infrastructure is critical and it is strategic,
we have wasted five years in the policy wilderness,
not improving our digital infrastructure.
The Minister shared the frustration.
I have no truck with Openreach and its
They are absolutely woeful.
I find myself, as the Minister responsible for telecoms,
a bit like a person who has had a sort of forced adoption
of an unruly teenager.
I tell my colleagues that he means well,
he is doing his best, and they simply tell me
about the latest outrage they have suffered at his hands,
and that's unfortunately the position I find myself in,
in terms of Openreach customer service.
I am completely at the end of my tether, I agree
with all of the complaints made by all of
my colleagues in this debate, and I want to make sure
there is action, and I hope we have this debate in a year's time
and we have seen some action.
You may see a different minister if I don't succeed
but we will do our best to make some progress.
Now, does the Lords have too many members who've come from the lofty
heights of university and too few with a more practical background?
That seemed to be thrust of a remark by the former
Labour Minister Lord Rooker, as the Lords debated the value
of working adults doing evening Further Education courses.
Many noble Lords in this chamber will remember the day when night
school was a major instrument of social mobility.
Yet today night school has almost disappeared and the number of adults
on part-time courses has plummeted.
So please can I ask the Minister, what can the government do
to increase the availability of part-time higher-education
and further-education courses, including
night school, and to encourage people in work to better themselves
in this old-fashioned but tried and trusted way.
For 2016-17, learners aged 19 and over studying at level
three to six will be able to access this support,
so we are doing what we can to provide people who want to study
part-time support to do so.
Would it not be a good idea with respect to further education,
and I declare an interest as someone who did three nights a week in day
release at one point, instead of stuffing this place
with chancellors of universities of higher
education, do we actually put some people with direct knowledge
of further education into this place?
I'm afraid I think the noble Lord has an over...over-view of my...
Basically there's nothing I can do about it but I have sympathy.
Lady Evans trying to get the right words out in the House of Lords.
I think we know what she meant.
And that's it for this programme.
Do join me for the next daily round-up.
Until then, from me, Keith Macdougall, goodbye.