Highlights of proceedings in Parliament on Wednesday 7 December, presented by Alicia McCarthy.
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Hello there and welcome to Wednesday in Parliament.
On this programme, the government's accused of still not knowing
how to handle Brexit.
We have a government that cannot tell us the plan,
because they do not have a plan!
But the Leader of the Commons says it's Labour that's in disarray.
It's quarrelling, like Mutiny on the Bounty
as reshot by the Carry On team!
The government's defeated in the Lords over calls
for funding for some bereaved families at inquests.
And there's a demand for the government
to create more woodlands.
It can create habitats for wildlife and wonderful places
for people to enjoy, and it can provide the raw material
to build the new homes that this country needs.
But first, before the day got underway, there was something
of a tussle before the government agreed to publish some
sort of plan for Brexit, before triggering Article 50 -
the formal process for leaving the EU.
Some Tory MPs were set to gang up with Labour in a vote to force
the Prime Minister's hand and, eventually, the government put
forward its own amendment to Labour's motion for debate
agreeing that it would publish its plans on negotiating the exit deal.
But before all that got underway, there was the small matter
of Prime Minister's Questions.
With Theresa May out of the country, it was down to
the Leader of the Commons to field the questions and
Labour's Shadow Foreign Secretary to try to put him on the spot.
She began by accepting that the government had given ground.
We welcome the government's decision to accept our motion today
that they will show Parliament their plan for Brexit
before Article 50 is triggered.
So, can I ask the Leader of the House one
central question about this plan?
Does the government want the UK to remain part of the customs union?
The government has always made it clear that we would seek
to give additional clarity about our position at
the earliest opportunity.
But it's been the case, as my right honourable friend,
the Prime Minister, has said many times that one of our core
objectives is going to be to secure the maximum freedom
for British companies both to have access to and operate
within the single European market.
I thank the Leader of the House for that answer,
but I would respectfully say to him that surely, on this
issue, the answer should be straightforward.
We all know that it would be a disaster for British business
if we do not remain part of the customs union.
As the Leader of the House himself said in February,
everything we take for granted -
trade without customs checks or paperwork at national frontiers -
would all be up in the air. It is massive what is at risk.
Now, on this side of the House, we would agree with him.
We couldn't agree with him more!
So can he put it beyond doubt right now, today, tell us -
does the government want the UK to stay in the customs union?
The honourable lady and I...
She's right, Mr Speaker.
The honourable lady and I both argued passionately for the Remain
cause during the referendum.
What separates us now is that I am part of a Conservative government
which is working together to respect the democratic verdict
of the British people and to secure the best possible outcome
for the prosperity and security of the entire United Kingdom
from those negotiations.
Whereas the honourable lady, even just two months ago,
was telling us that she wanted to go back to the
British people in some way.
She needs to decide whether she accepts
the democratic verdict or not.
The Leader of the House has made the familiar arguments
that he can't give answers,
that it's all to be resolved through negotiations,
Brexit means Brexit, Brexit means breakfast,
but that is not what the Secretary of State for Brexit himself said
when he was asked about the customs union in September.
Because he said, and I quote, "We have looked at this matter
carefully and that is exactly the sort of decision
that we will resolve before we trigger Article 50."
So, if the government is going to decide the position
on this issue before March the 31st, can the Leader of the House confirm
that the British people and the British Parliament will be
told some answers to my questions before they tell the rest of Europe?
Mr Speaker, if the answers sound familiar, it may be because we need
some repetition before the honourable lady will understand
and appreciate the, um...
The government is, at the moment, engaged in a consultation with more
than 50 sectors of United Kingdom business to ascertain precisely
which aspects of European Union membership work well for them,
which they see as harmful, where the opportunities
beyond EU membership live.
beyond EU membership lie.
We will come to a decision and we will go into negotiations
on behalf of the full 100% of the United Kingdom population
and all four nations of the United Kingdom.
We have a government that cannot tell us the plan,
because they do not have a plan! They do not have a plan!
In February, in February, the Leader of the House said,
when he was hearing about the... what he was hearing about from
the Leave campaign was confusing, contradictory nonsense!
My final question is this...
Are we hearing anything different from this government today?
Mr Speaker, we will publish before Article 50 is triggered a statement
about our negotiating strategy and objectives, as the Prime
Minister has said yesterday.
But the honourable lady seems again to be in a state of utter denial
about the consequences that flow from the referendum decision.
And he accused Labour of being in disarray.
It's like, um...
It's quarrelling like Mutiny on the Bounty as reshot
by the Carry On team! LAUGHTER
They are... Order!
There's far too much noise! I want to hear the words flowing!
They are rudderless, they are drifting on Europe,
as on so many other aspects of policy!
It's little wonder that so many decent working people,
who for generations looked to Labour to be champion, have given up
who for generations looked to Labour to be their champion, have given up
in despair and are turning to this party as the authentic voice
of working families.
A DUP MP looked ahead to the debate on Brexit that was due
to begin immediately after Prime minister's questions.
Does the Leader of the House agree that tonight's vote
on the Prime Minister's amendment, which we fully support,
is a vote of the highest significance and great importance,
because, for the first time, honourable and right honourable
members of this House will have the opportunity to vote
on whether they respect the will of the people
of the United Kingdom and whether they will get
on in implementing it.
The people will be able to read in Hansard tomorrow who stands
by respecting the will of the people of the United Kingdom.
And would he also agree that the more...
And I'm sure that he will!
..the more red, white and blue he makes it, the better for us
on the Unionist benches?
The, um, the right honourable gentleman, as so often,
makes a very powerful and important point.
The vote tonight will be the first opportunity for members of this
House to decide whether or not they support the government's
timetable of triggering Article 50 by the end of March 2017 and any
right honourable member who votes against that motion will,
in my view, be seeking to thwart the outcome of the referendum
in the most profoundly undemocratic fashion.
And soon after Prime Minister's Questions came the six hour
Commons debate on Brexit.
Much of the heat had been taken out of the debate by the government's
decision on Tuesday night to agree to publish its plan
on how it intends negotiating Britain's exit deal.
Nonetheless, there was still room for plenty of argument
on how events might unfold.
First, Labour explained why it wanted a plan.
The purpose of this motion, calling for a plan, is not
to frustrate or delay the process.
That is not the purpose, that is not why we're calling for a plan.
It does present a challenge for the government.
Because it now means the government has got to produce a plan in good
time to allow the proper formalities and processes to be gone through.
It's a challenge...
The timetable actually is more of a challenge for the government
than it is for the opposition.
I can understand him pressing the government for its plans
and him setting down his red lines.
I can't understand him wanting to enshrine it in legislation.
The only reason for doing that is so that the Labour Party can
set the government up to be sued later.
Isn't that the truth? Will he come clean?
It's wrecking tactics by any other name.
The answer to the question is no.
Mr Speaker, when he talks about a plan, could he explain
to the House does he mean that should be a series of hints?
Is it an explanation of principle? Or is it specific priorities?
I understand the point that is made about not producing a plan
on the basis that saying anything might undermine the negotiations.
I don't accept that.
He does understand that no plan survives engagement with the enemy.
And whilst I do not characterise...
That is a military metaphor from a soldier.
WOMAN: The enemy?!
And what I would say to the honourable gentleman
is that it is plain that our negotiating hand is clear,
and it's clear it is not compatible with the position being taken
by our 27 partners.
I think, on reflection, the honourable member may think
that he didn't use the right word in describing
our partners as the enemy.
It's widely accepted that the negotiation of our
departure from the European Union is the most important and most
complex negotiation in modern times, and it's overwhelmingly important
that we get it right. I think that is common ground.
It's normal even for basic trade negotiations to be carried out
with a degree of secrecy, a degree of secrecy.
We will need to find a way through a vast number of competing
interests to manager exit from the union,
interests to manage our exit from the union,
so that our people benefit from it.
That's the aim of this exercise, so that our people benefit from it.
To do this, the government must have the flexibility to adjust
It's like threading the eye of a needle.
If you've got a good eye and a steady hand, it's easy enough.
If somebody jogs your elbow, it's harder.
If 650 people jog your elbow, it's very much harder.
Will he not accept that, given the French election is in May,
the German election is in October,
nothing will be achieved in that timeframe?
And if we trigger in March, there will be lost negotiating time
within a two-year window, therefore the Article 50
should be triggered in the autumn, in November?
The language used is the rather vague one of a plan.
Well, we'll probably be told the plan is to have
a red, white and blue Brexit and that we are believers
in free trade whilst giving up all the conditions that govern
free trade in the single market!
Can I say...?
The honourable member is no longer in his place,
but to say that it might consist of hints, I would merely
remind the House that, when Moses came down
from the mountain bearing the tablet, it did not
contain the ten hints! LAUGHTER
He was pretty clear!
He was pretty clear about what he was telling people what to do!
All of a sudden, we see the issue of parliamentary oversight
being used in effect as a break, a break against taking back control,
against bringing our democracy home.
Once again, the Labour front bench sides with the supranational elites.
They're out to try to frustrate and overturn the way
people voted in June.
It is 167 days, almost six months, since the referendum,
and we have 113 days to go until the 31st of March deadline
that the government has set itself.
We are almost two thirds of the way there.
To talk about a glacial pace of progress might be something
of an overstatement in this case.
How we conduct, as a government, the next two years says much
about our constitution and values as a country.
And I think the Parliament has to rise to the occasion.
And I have to say I don't think either front bench speech
quite got there today.
I think that contributions from other members of the House
have got closer to appreciating the magnitude of what we are doing.
This parliament has the opportunity to shape...
No, thank you!
..to shape an economic policy and an immigration policy
and a knowledge policy which can make us once again a world beater.
But if we do not take that opportunity, if instead
we concentrate on seeking to dilute the result of the referendum,
then I'm afraid we will fail the people of this country
at this historic moment.
And at the end of that debate, MPs backed a motion calling
on the Prime Minister to commit to publish the government's plan
for leaving the EU before Article 50 is invoked,
and that that should happen by the end of March next year.
You're watching Wednesday in Parliament, with me Alicia McCarthy.
The Government's been defeated in the Lords when peers demanded
The Government's been defeated in the Lords when peers demanded
families involved in inquests have access to the same public
funding as the police.
The subject came up during detailed debate
on the Policing and Crime Bill.
For Labour, Lord Rosser explained it was an issue that had come
to light during the Hillsborough inquests, but was not confined
to major tragedies.
It was something more likely to affect individual families
after a single death.
Many bereaved families can find themselves in an adversarial
and aggressive environment when they go to an inquest.
They are not in a position to match the spending of the police or other
parts of the public sector when it comes to their own
Bereaved families have to try, if possible,
to find their own money to have any sort of legal representation.
Public money should pay to establish the truth.
It is surely not right, and surely not justice,
when bereaved families trying to find out the truth, and who have
done nothing wrong, find that taxpayers money is used
by the other side, sometimes to paint a very different
picture of events in a bid to destroy their credibility.
After Hillsborough, the Government asked the Bishop of Liverpool,
the Rt Rev James Jones, to report on the Hillsborough
families experience and says it's waiting for his report,
but Lord Rosser feared it could be a long way off.
We surely do not need further delay for the outcome of an inquiry
where the terms of reference have apparently not even been finalised,
where there is little likelihood of a speedy report
and where the Government's commitment is only to consider
the review in due course.
A former policeman said he'd been a witness for the family
in the inquest into the death of John Charles de Menezes,
who was shot at Stockwell tube station after being wrongly
identified as a terrorist suspect.
I experienced first-hand the tactics deployed by some police counsel
at inquests, that a search for the truth turns into a bruising
As I said in Committee, the coroner had to warn the police
counsel over the aggressive tactics he was using in cross-examination.
As far as the family of the deceased is concerned,
I do not believe there can be any argument.
It cannot be right that the police can employ as large and as eminent
a legal team as their considerable budgets will allow to represent them
while the families of those who die at the hands of the police struggle
to raise the funds to be represented at all.
a legal team as their considerable budgets will allow to represent them
But the minister said there'd be cost implications of the change.
In the last financial year, 200 persons died
following contact with the police.
All of those deaths would have been subject to an inquest.
Of course, the financial implications of this amendment
are but one of the matters noble Lords will wish to take
into consideration, but we cannot be blind to the impact
on the public purse.
However, I come back to my core objection to this amendment:
that this is neither the time nor the place to pursue this matter.
As I have said, the Government are firmly of the view
that we should wait for Bishop Jones s report and then
determine, in the light of that, the most appropriate way forward.
But when it came to the vote the Government was defeated
by 243 votes to 208.
Ministers will now seek to overturn the amendment at a later stage.
Now back to Brexit.
And business and union leaders
were asked what should be in that plan promised by Theresa May?
They were appearing before the Commons Exiting the EU Committee.
The Director-General of the Confederation
of British Industry, the CBI, said five principles should
underpin the negotiations for withdrawal from the EU.
The first is barrier-free access to the single market,
both tariff and nontariff barriers.
Second is the access to skills and talents
that our businesses need.
Thirdly is a regulatory equivalence, the ability to trade
under known and certain regulatory principles and rules within the EU.
The fourth is the best possible trade deals around the
world, and we will talk more about any of these.
Finally, protecting the economic and social benefits
that we currently enjoy from European funding.
Our concern is that we should see a plan that
prioritises people's jobs, their wages and their rights at work.
We are conscious that since the financial crash
workers wages in Britain
have dropped further than any other country except Greece.
As unions have exposed in companies like Sports
Direct and Asos and Uber, there are many workers who feel deeply
insecure and exploited at work and worried
about the future of their children.
That there are parts of Britain
who have suffered from the absence of an active and intelligent
industrial strategy that puts a decent jobs at its heart.
So there is lots of work to be done and
whatever deal is negotiated we want to see jobs,
wages and rights at the
heart of that deal.
I don't want to see the plan because if you are a
business person going into negotiations I would actually be
very keen to make sure I keep my cards close to my chest.
I do think the Government ought to declare a
direction of travel so businesses can prepare and plan
for Brexit day.
So I think it is important the Prime Minister
declares the Government is minded to leave the internal market and
customs union, so businesses can plan for that and that will also
substantially strengthen their negotiating position because it will
become very quickly apparent to the EU
that they do not hold all the
A Conservative and Leave campaigner asked the witnesses
about the "burden" of EU regulation.
I quite understand the TUC is going to fight to protect employment
protection rights, and you've made that very clear, but to what extent
do you see there are regulations imposed from Europe which are
increasing costs and therefore potentially destroying jobs in this
country which are have nothing to do with employment
rights, are in other areas for which it is very difficult
to see any justification at all, and I wonder if
the TUC have looked at that?
John Longworth spoke first - giving an example of what was
wrong with the rules:
We had a manufacturer of smoked salmon, who
had to relabel the smoked salmon that they were producing because the
European Union required that manufacturer to put on the label,
"May contain fish."
Now that is actually a cost to that business, a
considerable cost, because they have to produce new artwork, employ
people to make sure it is in the right
place on the packets and in
the right format and then they have to produce the actual packaging.
That sort of stuff happens all the time
in European legislation and
when we have control of our own affairs we can choose what we want
to do and it will be a considerable saving
of cost to business by
removing some of the silliest of the regulations.
We can easily find 10% of the regulations to remove and
reduce the cost on a business without attacking major part of
We have to be very careful not to be anecdotal, I
think and just putting the silly, funny examples, because there will
always be some.
What common labelling allows you to do if you are a small
we have a fantastic small-business cheese manufacturer
in Somerset and they are hugely concerned at divergences in
labelling because labelling is one of their biggest
costs and they value
greatly the fact they have got a level playing field within Europe.
I am a little sceptical about the volume of noise on
some of these issues.
When you dig a bit deeper, as the TUC has, for example, on
health and safety, which came under sustained criticism as being
bureaucratic and red tape, very often those stories
proved to be untrue.
The TUC General Secretary - making the case FOR regulations.
Finally - in Westminster Hall there was a call for action
on an altogether different policy - trees.
According to one MP just 10% of England
is given over to woodland.
That compares to 18% percent in Scotland,
whilst the European average is 37%.
Germany, France, Italy and Spain all have more than 30%
of their land covered by trees.
Chris Davies said that meant the UK was towards the top
of a different table.
It surprises most people when they are told the UK is the
third largest net importer of wood products in the world.
China, with a population of 1.35 billion, topped
the league table, and Japan, with a population
double that of the UK, in
The Worldwide Fund for Nature has calculated global demand
for timber, paper and energy from forests is set to triple by 2050.
If we do not plant more trees now and
if we continue to rely on imports the UK will be competing against
other growing economies for a natural resource that we can and
indeed perhaps should grow more of at home.
Significant new tree-planting can provide solutions
to a whole range of 21st-century problems.
It can deliver jobs and investment to our rural areas, it
can help reduce the impact of climate change and flooding, it can
create habitat for wildlife and wonderful places for people
to enjoy and they can provide the raw
materials to build new homes this country needs.
The minister said the Government was commited to planting 11m
trees this parliament.
Trees deliver many benefits, whether recreation
opportunities, wildlife, biodiversity,
but the benefits go far
further than that.
The roots of trees can provide a greater land
stability on slopes and help reduce flooding by allowing water to
penetrate more rapidly into the soil, rather
than running into rivers and
can help improve water quality by reducing soil erosion.
There are other benefits as well in terms of
trees are very important to us in absorbing carbon from the
atmosphere, providing a valuable and relatively inexpensive carbon
sink which can contribute towards meeting
our ambitious carbon targets and tackling climate change.
We recognise there are also potential
benefits with air quality and also regulating
the flow of rain into the
sewers or whether as a canopy for shade from the sun, but it all
comes back to the right tree in the right place.
The environment minister, Therese Coffey, who added
her favourite tree was the horse chestnut!
And that's it from us for now, but do join me at the same time
tomorrow for another round up of the best of the day
here at Westminster.
But until then from me, goodbye.