Highlights of Wednesday 26 October 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.
So how are we going to leavd the European Union?
The party leaders clash, again, over Brexit.
Devolved governments don't know the plan,
businesses don't know the plan, Parliament doesn't know
It is this Government that hs listening to the voice of the
Also on this programme:
The firm employed to root ott fraud in the tax credits system comes
in for criticism by MPs.
This is about the duty of the Government to preserve
justice being abandoned by the profit motive this contract
"It's a shambolic Tory Brexht"
the phrase of the Labour le`der Jeremy Corbyn when Prime Minister's
Questions returned to the stbject of Britain's EU departure.
Mr Corbyn said it was time Theresa May gave some clarity over
the Government's plans.
Meanwhile, the Prime Ministdr accused him of trying to "frustrate
the will of the British people" that had been expressed in
the June referendum.
First, the Labour leader quoted the remarks of the First
Minister of Wales - remarks that followed
Monday's Downing Street meeting between Theresa May and the leaders
of all the UK devolved asselblies.
First Minister for Wales Carwyn Jones said there is a great deal of
uncertainty but they are sure they need full
and unfettered access to
the single market.
Can the Prime Minister help the First Minister
of Wales and indeed the othdr devolved administrations by giving
them some clarity?
In relation to the issue of clarity on the aims
that the Government has in relation to Brexit I have been very clear and
I will be clear again.
There are those who talk about means and those
who talk about ends.
I am talking about ends.
What we want to see is
the best possible arrangement for trade with and operation within
the single European market for businesses in goods and services
here in the United Kingdom.
I thought for a moment the Prime Minister was going to say Brexit
means Brexit again.
There are others...
I am sure she will tell us what it actually means.
The Mayor of London also added this is causing
unnecessary certainty but it is also very important...
Mr Speaker, it would be also helpful if
the Prime Minister could provide some clarity over the Northdrn
Will we continue membership of a customs union or are
we going to see border checks introduced between Northern Ireland
and the Republic?
The Leader of the Opposition tries to poke fun at the
phrase, Brexit means Brexit, but the whole point is this.
Brexit, it's this Government that is
listening to the voice of the British people.
Brexit means Brexit, that means we're coming
out of the European Union.
What the right honourable gentleman tries to
be doing is frustrating the will of the British people
by saying that Brexit means something completely
In relation to the Northern Irish border a considerable amount
of work was already going on with the Irish Government to look at
issues around the Common Travel Area.
That work is continuing.
We have been very clear, the Government
of the Republic of Ireland have been very clear,
the Northern Ireland Executhve has been very clear, that
none of us want to see a return to the borders of of the past.
Every day the Prime Minister dithers over this chaotic
Brexit employers delay investment, and rumours circulate about
This cannot carry on until March of next year.
When is the Prime Minister are going to come
up with a plan?
I want this country to be a global leader in free trade.
The Labour Party is against free trade.
I want to introduce control on free movement so that we haven't
got free movement.
The Labour Party wants to continue with free movemdnt.
I want to deliver on the will of the British people.
He is trying to frustrate the will of the British
Mr Speaker, there was no answer on the border, which was thd
And on Monday, Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister told the House,
and I quote, we have a plan which is not to set
out at every stage of the
negotiation the details.
I have been thinking about this for a
couple of days, Mr Speaker.
And I think...
I think when you are searchhng for the real meaning and
importance behind the Prime Minister's statement
you have to consult the
The only one I can come up with ..
Mr Cleverley, calm yourself.
You are imperilling your own health, man, which is a
source of great concern to le.
All I could come up with, Mr Speaker, was Baldrick, who says
our cunning plan is to have no plan.
Brexit was apparently about taking back control but the devolvdd
governments don't know the plan businesses don't know the plan,
Parliament doesn't know the plan.
When will the Prime Minister abandon this shambolic Tory Brexit
and develop a plan that delhvers for the whole country?
We are going to deliver the best possible deal for
trade in goods and services both with and operation within the
And we are going to deliver an end to free movement.
That is what the British people want and that is
what this Government is
going to deliver for them.
The Prime Minister's real plan for Brexit
seems to be to pick winners, to cut a special deal for the City of
London, to let the bankers `void the dire consequences of le`ving the
Wales has an exporting economy
wirth a ?5 billion trade surplus last year and 200,000 jobs,
dependent on trade with the European Union.
A soft Brexit for her friends in the City, a hard Brexit for
Will she cut a similar deal for Wales?
I will be cutting the best deal for United
Kingdom, all parts of it.
Russia has withdrawn a requdst to refuel a naval flotilla
at a Spanish port in north @frica.
A battle group has been sailing for the past week from Russha,
and Spain had been facing pressure from its Nato partners
to refuse access to the port because of concerns that thd Russian
warships could take part in attacks on the beleaguerdd
Syrian city of Aleppo.
At Prime Minister's Questions, the SNP's Westminster leader
Angus Robertson called Syri`
"one of the biggest humanit`rian catastrophes of our time".
He said he expected the latdst ceasefire in Aleppo
would end shortly.
Will the Prime Minister tell us what efforts the UK is currdntly
undertaking to support a pe`ceful resolution to the conflict but also
to deal with those who are exacerbating the situation?
My right honourable friend the Foreign
Secretary has been involved in discussions with the United States
Secretary of State, Senator Kerry, about these particular issuds,
looking for that way forward.
I raised the issue of Russian actions in
Syria, particularly the bombing of Aleppo, at the European Tnion
council at the end of last week
It was only on the agenda because the
UK had raised it and as a result of that
discussion the EU agreed that
should the atrocities continue then we will look at all available
options for taking action to put pressure on Russia to stop
indiscriminate bombing of innocent civilians.
In recent years more than
60 Russian naval vessels have been resupplied in Spanish ports.
Will the Prime Minister join me and EU and Nato
allies in unequivocally calling on Spain to refuse refuelling?
What we have seen sadly is that the Russians
are already able to unleash attacks on innocent civilians in Syria.
What matters is that we put pressure on
Russia to do what everybody agrees is the only way that we are going to
resolve this issue, which is to ensure that we have a polithcal
transition in Syria and that is where we should
focus our attention.
Later at Prime Minister's Qtestions, Theresa May faced an accusation
that the Government had broken its promise over
the provision of adequate mental health services.
The Labour MP Luciana Berger said half of all clinical
commissioning groups, or CCGs, in England were having
to reduce the amounts they spend on mental health services.
That claim came after anothdr Labour MP had raised the tragic case
of one of his relatives.
Mr Speaker, last year my 25-year-old nephew
committed suicide after a
very short period of depression
His GP had referred him for talking therapy, counselling,
but warned him it would be `t least six months
before he got an appointment.
Mr Speaker, this treatment in the NHS
very often is a waiting gamd, and a dangerous waiting gamd, and a
What is the Prime Minister doing to sort this crisis
Can I first of all recognisd and commend the honourable gentleman
for raising the personal experience that he has of the terrible tragedy
that can occur when mental health problems are not properly ddalt
He raises a very serious issue and that is a serious issue for
everybody in this House on how the NHS treats mental health.
That is why we have established this concept
of parity of esteem for mental health and physical health hn the
National Health Service.
It is why we are seeing record levels of
Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister just told us there are record
levels of spending going into our mental health services.
The Health Secretary stood at that dispatch box on
the 9th of December and told us that the proportion of fundhng
going into mental health from every one of our
CCGs should be increasing.
Why is it then that 57% of CCGs in our country
are reducing the proportion of spending
are reducing the proportion of spending on mental healtht?
another broken promise.
When will we have real equality for mental health
in our country?
The fact that I set out that we are spending record
levels in the NHS on mental health is absolutely right.
But I have said in response to a number of people who
have questioned on this that we recognise that there is mord for us
to do in mental health and H would have thought that we should have
cross-party support in doing just that.
At the start of the month Jeremy Hunt pledged that thd NHS
in England would be "self-sufficient" in doctors after
the UK leaves the European Tnion.
The Health Secretary promisdd that medical schools in the UK would be
allowed to offer up to 1,500 extra training places a year.
Mr Hunt questioned whether Britain should continue to "import" doctors
from poorer countries while turning away domestic graduates
keen to study medicine.
In the House of Lords, a Conservative peer said he was
pleased with the Health Secretary's new approach, but he said
the problem went deeper.
Today, 56% of the intake of medical students is female.
Furthermore, 70% of female GPs today work part-time,
and a recent survey from the King's Fund says that 0%
of all medical students in training want to work part-time.
Given that it costs 200,000 to train anybody as a medical practitioner,
surely the time has come to consider a minimum full-time commitmdnt
of at least four years after qualification,
similar to what they do in Singapore and indeed in our own Armed Forces.
My noble friend is absolutely right that over 55% of men and wolen
who go to medical school are now women, and I think
that is a fantastic change that has happened over the last 20 ydars
And it is true that more wolen than men tend to work part-time
as they have children and bring up their children,
and that is taken into accotnt in the planning done by HEE.
When my right honourable frhend the Health Secretary
announced that he would be looking in our consultation at requhring
people to whom we have paid to go through medical school to ghve
at least four years back to the NHS, which I think is reasonable.
The figure is actually six xears if you become an Army doctor,
so I think four years is not unreasonable.
Is the noble lord, the minister aware that whilst there may be
enough people wanting to apply to medical school,
many of the brightest and the best are now completely turned away
from doing medicine because of the relationship with
the Secretary of State for Health?
This is a very serious mistrust and whether they're male or female,
the brightest and the best are often not applying,
and there is increasing evidence of this in most medical schools
and indeed in schools as well.
You're watching our round-up of the day
in the Commons and the Lords.
Still to come: In the post-Brexit world, do we need a new roy`l yacht?
MPs have turned their fire on the Government over
the management of its contr`ct with Concentrix.
Her Majesty's Revenue and Ctstoms employed the American firm to
root out fraud and error in the tax credit system, but Concentrhx has
made some surprising mistakds, leaving thousands of people
short of money after their benefits were stopped on the basis
of flawed information.
Last month, HMRC stepped in to review cases previously
dealt with by Concentrix.
The firm has also been told that its contract
will not be renewed.
Labour is calling on the Government to investigate what went wrong,
and many MPs shared examples of errors faced
by their constituents.
I was contacted not so long ago by a woman in a similar sittation.
She had been accused by Concentrix of...
She had her tax credits cut because they accused her of having
a lesbian relationship with her sister, and it took her
coming to the Member of Parliament, and myself calling Concentrhx,
myself, before they started to believe the truth.
Isn't it absurd that it takds a direct intervention from ` Member
of Parliament before this ridiculous company takes
these people seriously?
I thank my honourable member for his comments,
and the term "it beggars belief" springs to mind,
and unfortunately, his case is not an isolated one.
There is an ever-growing evhdence base suggesting that Concentrix
has been unfairly and unjustly stopping people's tax credits,
leaving them in financial difficulty,
along with the anxiety that causes.
She questioned whether paymdnt by results was the right kind
of contract, and whether the Government had monitored
the impact on claimants.
It wasn't simply a case of slapping Concentrix on the back of the hand
and then let's all move on.
This is about the duty of the Government to preserve justice
being abandoned by the profht motive this contract providdd.
The risks here were real human risks - families
forced into destitution, anguish, despair and all
of the associated pressures on an individual's mental hdalth.
Over the last few months, it has become clear that
despite the best efforts of the majority of its front-line
staff, Concentrix was failing to meet the standards we expected,
and indeed had specified in their contract.
And this meant that many of those people we have been hearing
about in the honourable ladx's speech, and in interventions so far,
people like my constituents whose tax credits were being investigated,
which caused needless frustration and distress when it came
to resolving their cases.
She said HMRC staff were now reviewing cases initially
considered by Concentrix.
Anyone who wishes to challenge any changes made to their tax credits
has a right to request a mandatory reconsideration of their case.
As of the start of this week, HMRC had received over
26,000 such requests, and staff have already revidwed
and resolved over three quarters of those, and are up-to-datd
with these Concentrix reviews.
Now, as I say, that means rdsolved in accordance with the facts -
it does not necessarily mean that all of the...
There was a problem in each case.
I have had two Concentrix c`ses from single mothers,
one of whom was required to disprove a relationship she had plainly never
had with the former tenant of her house,
evidence she could not possibly provide.
But would my honourable fridnd agree that the important thing now
is that this contract with Concentrix has been ended,
that a system for investigating mistakes has been put in pl`ce,
and that a hardship fund has been put in place?
That's what is important going forward.
I would not agree with all the points that have been m`de,
but there has been much fair comment, and, as I say,
for that reason, we won't oppose this motion today.
We wanted an altogether fair outcome for everyone affected,
and we want to learn import`nt lessons to make sure that wd can
ensure this sort of thing does not happen again,
and that we, as I say, learn lessons from the situ`tion.
Mhairi Black recounted her favourite error by Concentrix.
RS McColl is a corner shop in Scotland that is as common
as a WHSmith is in England, and yet people were being accused
of living with this mysterious Mr McColl, because their fl`t
was above the RS McColl shop.
And at no point did anyone in Concentrix or HMRC think,
wait a minute, this Casanov`'s getting about a bit.
At no point!
Now, this would almost be very funny...
This would be funny until you remember that this
is actually people's lives.
Absolutely. Hear, hear.
This is their survival we are talking about.
We have to now legislate so that this is never
allowed to happen again.
I think the Government has to bring this kind of thing back in-house,
because it has got to be back into the day-to-day
responsibility of Government.
You can't say to a private company, we want you to make ?1 billhon worth
of cuts, but we're only going to pay you on a results basis.
That is a recipe for disastdr.
MPs have been hearing from the International Trade Secretary,
Liam Fox, about the landmark European trade deal with Canada
which was rejected by Belgium's Wallonia region.
That rejection meant it couldn't go ahead,
despite the support of the rest of the EU, including the UK.
At Westminster, the European Scrutiny Committee was parthcularly
interested in why the UK had backed the deal without the
say-so of Parliament.
Can you appreciate why so m`ny people who are not necessarhly
against this deal, they're just a bit concerned about it,
find it hard to understand why something that's taken seven years
to this stage could not be kept waiting for another two or three
weeks to allow another debate in the House of Commons so that
Parliament could decide if it is a good deal,
rather than the Government?
Yeah, the, erm...
The different trade agreements have been negotiated
in very different times.
Erm, this has been a very long one, despite the fact,
as the Commissioner said, if you can't do a trade deal
with Canada, who can you do a trade deal with?
I think it does point out the difficulty of doing a trade
deal with a very large number of partners,
with all of the complications that this brings, both at a national
and, as we have discovered a subnational level.
It's still our hope that we can do that.
It's worth pointing out that NAFTA was agreed in about 14 months.
It is possible to bring trade deals to fruition
in a much shorter time, when, first of all, there is very
high-level energy applied to that,
and also when there is a cldar agreement about what the colmon
ground is between the partndrs.
With respect, Secretary of State, you haven't actually answerdd
the main point of my question, which is, how do you explain
to the 17 million people, not including myself, who voted
to leave because they wanted to restore parliamentary
sovereignty, as they saw it, and a deal that has taken so long
to get to this stage couldn't be held up for another few weeks
to allow parliamentary sovereignty to be exercised?
Not for me, because I did not vote to ldave
How do you explain it to 17 million people who thought that by voting
to leave they were going to enhance parliamentary democracy,
when a three-week delay is going to scupper a deal that has
taken seven years to get here?
We haven't left yet.
Peter Grant then moved on to TTIP - a trade deal between the EU
and the United States.
You'll be aware that one of your predecessors
in the Government, Anna Soubry, in the House of Commons on
10 December 2015 gave an assurance to the Chamber about TTIP.
She said, it is not a secret negotiation.
It is there for everybody to read on the internet.
Well, clearly it was not all there for everybody to read
When it is concluded, it will be for this Chamber
to ratify it.
Would you not accept that those words may now be seen by sole
as being in bad faith, given that a very similar agreement
with Canada and with the US has been significantly endorsed
without having come anywhere near the Chamber
of the House of Commons?
Well, she was referring to TTIP and we, as you correctly sax,
have the TTIP reading room and the ability for members to get
access to classified documents.
Which, incidentally, I may point out is already `fforded
to MEPs, which is why I think it's something that should be afforded
to MPs as well.
So I think that...
I don't think she can be taken as being in bad faith,
when what she promised was ultimately carried out.
In terms of the ability...
So it was important if this should happen for TTIP,
but it didn't matter to apply the same standard
of scrutiny to CETA?
We are at a very different stage.
In terms of TTIP, these negotiations are still fully underway.
I think it actually is helpful that we have got a process now
where MPs are able to scruthnise more than we have been
able to do in previous agreement, including CETA.
I hope that is an advance that we build upon, and I hope
it is a precedent that we whll use for further agreements,
and certainly one that, as Trade Secretary,
I would like to see as a prdcedent for any future agreements,
whether still inside the European Union or beyond our
membership of the European Tnion.
Is it fair to say that CETA is at so much of a difference stage
that, for significant parts of CETA, it's now too late?
That even if Parliament resolves not to support it for some reason,
the parts that were within ministerial discretion
to agree or not agree at the EU Council,
that those horses have gone and at best we can only close
the stable door and keep sole of the horses back?
Well, we still have the ability to reject the entire CETA treaty,
should Parliament wish to do so
That is the ultimate power of the Parliament has,
and it's right that it's so.
The Government has again ruled out plans to commission a new royal
yacht to help the UK win tr`de deals as the country heads out of the EU.
The Royal Yacht Britannia was taken out of service
soon after Tony Blair's Govdrnment won power in 1997.
No replacement was built.
Britannia had clocked up ond million miles around the globe
in her 44-year career.
The price of a new royal yacht has been put at ?120 million.
A Conservative member of thd House of Lords spoke up for the concept.
When I was Secretary of State, I hosted a dinner on the roxal yacht
in Toronto, and we asked thd top industrialists who flew thotsands
of miles to be there -
I didn't think they were coming to see me.
Now, given that more...
Given that more than 100 backbench Conservative MPs,
the present Foreign Secretary, and the past Foreign Secret`ry have
all expressed support for a privately funded royal yacht,
will my noble friend not at least agree to spend the money rahsed
by the Telegraph, the Daily Telegraph,
on having a privately funded cost-benefit analysis?
What possible objection could there be to that,
and for the Government giving its full support?
My Lords, I am sure my nobld friend underestimate his
But if I can say to him that if private enterprise,
however defined, believes that there is a business case
for a new royal yacht, we would of course look at that
But we would still be left with the question of
who would pay for the vessel.
Given that no Government department has a need for a royal yacht,
it's hard to see how any public funding could be justified.
And that's it for this programme.
Do join me for our next daily round-up.
Until then, from me, Keith Macdougall, goodbye.