Highlights of proceedings in Parliament on Wednesday 25 January, presented by Kristiina Cooper.
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Hello, and welcome to Wednesday in Parliament.
The main news from Westminster: The Prime Minister bows to demands
for a policy document on Brexit.
I can confirm to the house that our plan will be set
out in a white paper.
The Labour leader is worried what the Government has
in mind for Brexit Britain.
The Prime Minister, Mr Speaker, is threatening the EU that
unless they give in to her demands she will turn Britain into a bargain
basement tax haven off the coast of Europe.
Also on the programme: Rousing words from the Chief
Minister of Gibraltar.
My blood is red but I am red, white and blue inside out,
and so is that rock,
and we will never ever countenance changing that.
That was a most passionate answer.
Come and see for yourself.
An eloquent answer.
But first, when the Brexit Secretary David Davis came to the Commons
on Tuesday after the Government lost its case in the Supreme Court,
MPs from all parties called for a white paper setting out
a strategy for Brexit.
David Davis batted away their requests, pointing to a speech
the Prime Minister made last week.
Well, it looks as if, in just one day, there's
been a change of heart.
The Prime Minister laid out a clear and bold plan for Brexit
in her speech last week.
Honourable members, honourable members quite
rightly want an opportunity to scrutinise that plan.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the best way of facilitating
that scrutiny would be a government White Paper laying out our vision
for a global Britain based on free trade in goods and services,
that will be to the benefit of us and other European countries.
My honourable friend raises the question
of parliamentary scrutiny.
I have been clear, as have senior ministers, that we will ensure that
Parliament has every opportunity to provide that scrutiny on this
issue as we go through this process.
But I recognise, I set out that bold plan for a global Britain last week
and I recognise there is an appetite in this house to see that plan set
out in a White Paper.
My honourable friend's question
and the question from my honourable friend the member for Broxtowe last
week on the same vein, and I can confirm to the house
that our plan will be set out in a White Paper
published this month.
The Prime Minister has wasted 80 days between the time
of the original judgment and the appeal, and has now
finally admitted today, after pressure from all sides,
that there is going to be a White Paper.
Could we know when this White Paper is going to be available to us?
And why it has taken so long to get it?
Can I say to the right honourable gentleman,
he asked for debates, I was very clear there would always
be debates in this house, and there have been and will
continue to be.
He asked for votes, there have been votes in this house.
The house voted overwhelmingly for the government to trigger
Article 50 before the end of March this year.
He asked for a plan, I set out, as my honourable friend
for Croydon South said, a clear plan for a bold
future for Britain.
He asked for it, he and others asked for a White Paper,
I have been clear there will be a White Paper.
But what I am also clear about is that the right honourable
gentleman always asks about process, about the means to the end.
I and this government are focusing on the outcomes,
we are focusing on a truly global Britain, building a stronger
future for this country, the right deal for Britain
and Britain out of the European Union.
Jeremy Corbyn was critical of the Prime Minister's
The Prime Minister, Mr Speaker, is threatening the EU that
unless they give in to her demands she will turn Britain into
a bargain basement tax haven off the coast of Europe.
Well, Mr Speaker, we, on this side of the house,
are very well aware of the consequences that would have,
the damage it would do two jobs and living standards
and our public services.
Is she now going to rule out the bargain basement threat
that was in her speech at Lancaster House?
I expect us to get a good deal for trading relationships
with the European Union but what I am also clear
about is that this government will not sign up to a bad deal
for the United Kingdom.
And, as to the threats that the right honourable gentleman
claims about what might happen, and he often talks about this,
uses those phrases and talks about workers' rights,
perhaps he should listen to his former colleague in this house,
the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who has today said,
"To give credit to the government, I don't think they want to weaken
"workers' rights," and goes on to say, "I have seen no evidence
"from the conversations I have had with senior members
"of the government that that is the aspiration
"or their intention or something they want to do, which is good."
As usual with Labour, the right hand is not
talking to the far left.
The Prime Minister is heading off to the United States on Friday
to meet the President, Donald Trump.
She's one of the first foreign leaders to meet the new president.
On the agenda are discussions about trade deals and security.
The Prime Minister insists she will not be afraid
to speak her mind.
I am pleased that I am able to meet President Trump so early
in his administration.
That is a sign of the strength of the special relationship
between United Kingdom and the United States of America,
a special relationship on which he and I intend to build.
But can I also say to the Leader of the Opposition, I am not afraid
to speak frankly to a president of the United States.
I am able to do that because we have that special relationship,
a special relationship that he would never have
with United States.
Mr Speaker, we would never allow Britain to be sold off on the cheap.
How confident is she of getting a good deal for global Britain
from a president who wants to put America first, buy American,
and build a wall between his country and Mexico?
Yesterday the government lost in the Supreme Court and today
we have a very welcome U-turn on a White Paper in regards
to Brexit so, in the spirit of progress for Parliament,
in advance of meeting President Trump, will
the Prime Minister tell Parliament what she wants to achieve
in a UK/US trade deal?
Well, it is very simple, we want to achieve an arrangement
that ensures that the interests of the United Kingdom
are there, are put first, and that is what I will be doing,
and we see a trade arrangement with the United States,
as we will be looking for with other parts of the world that
can increase our trade, bring prosperity, bring growth
to the United Kingdom, and then my aim in this
government is to ensure that
that economy works for everyone in every part of the United Kingdom.
The right honourable gentleman never knew he was quite that popular!
I was going to say, Mr Speaker, it brings back memories actually.
Can I say to the Prime Minister that as the first foreign leader
to meet President Trump, she carries a huge responsibility
on behalf of not just this country, but the whole international
community in the tone that she sets.
Can I ask her to reassure us that she will say to the president
that he must abide by, and not withdraw from,
the Paris climate change treaty.
In case it is helpful, can she offer the services of UK
scientists to convince the president that climate change is not a hoax
invented by the Chinese.
Well, I recognise the role that the right honourable gentleman
has played in looking at this issue of climate change and I hope
he recognises the commitment that this government has shown
to this issue of climate change, with the legislation
we have put through, and the changes that we have brought
about in terms of the energy sector and the uses of different forms
The American, the Obama Administration obviously signed up
to the Paris climate change agreement and we have now
done that and I would hope that all parties would continue to ensure
that that climate change agreement is put into practice.
Gibraltar's Chief Minister has been speaking passionately to MPs
about the historic links between the people of
Gibraltar and the UK.
Fabian Picardo was giving evidence to the committee
on exiting the European Union.
Gibraltar voted to remain in the EU because of concerns,
the Chief Minister said, about Spain's intentions.
He was asked about the border between the British overseas
territory, which is not a member of the Customs Union,
and Spain, which is.
Gibraltar has always had what I see now described as a hard frontier,
in the context of potential future relationships with the UK
and the European Union, but that does not mean that
goods don't flow into Gibraltar.
They take a little longer.
Those who are involved in the logistics of getting goods
into Gibraltar know that they need to allow two or three hours
for their vehicles to come through the commercial gates.
They will be inspected, there will be documentation
to prepare but if you get into the rhythm of things,
this can be quite easy.
Although of course there are days, if, you know, Gibraltar football
team has scored a goal and been allowed into Uefa, for example,
that we might find that the frontier for some reason doesn't work
as well as it might, so this is more about goodwill than
it is about the rules necessarily.
So, would I be correct in understanding that
difficulties occur at the border when politicians, the Spanish,
choose to be difficult, is that correct?
That would be absolutely the way that the people of Gibraltar have
traditionally understood it for the past 35 years
since the border opened.
But if the Spanish choose to be co-operative, then the border
operates in a fairly fluid fashion.
In an absolutely fluid fashion that doesn't interfere
with anybody's lives, that enables people to move
across the frontier, for goods to move across that
frontier and without more control than is necessary.
During the two hours of questioning, the Chief Minister paid tribute
to the Conservative former Prime Minister, Sir John Major,
calling him a champion of the rights of the people of Gibraltar.
Thank you for what you said about the former Prime Minister,
it's so easy to airbrush people when they have gone
and it is rather nice that you say what you do.
Thank you very much.
I soon expect to be discarded as well and I hope that people
are kind to me about what I have done, but that is political life.
It is indeed, but there's always a chance of revival.
So I wouldn't worry too much about that.
The former Tory Cabinet Minister Michael Gove joining
in the laughter there.
And later there was applause when the Chief Minister defended
the right of Gibraltarians to British citizenship.
So why should we change?
We are born British and that rock is red, white and blue for us.
There is nothing else that we have known.
The system of government that we know, the system
of education that we know, the make up of my understanding
of the world is British.
How can I suddenly now do something else?
I can speak fluent conversational Spanish but I don't speak
professional or political Spanish in the way that I might be expected
to should I need to navigate the waters of the Spanish system.
You look at the Spanish political system today,
it doesn't have much to commend it to the people of the world.
I mean, the British system, we criticise
ourselves so constantly, and so constructively,
that we make it stronger, that's the system that we believe in.
That is the rule of law that we believe in.
The Supreme Court that ruled yesterday and that everybody
respects the views of, that is what makes up
My blood is red, but I am red, white and blue inside out,
and so is that rock, and we will never ever
countenance changing that.
That was a most passionate answer.
Come and see for yourself.
An eloquent answer.
The Committee chair, Labour's Hilary Benn,
speaking there after clapping and desk-banging - a very unusual
sight at such a hearing.
You're watching Wednesday in Parliament with me,
Schools in every constituency are going to lose money,
Labour has warned.
The party's Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner,
said that flew in the face of a promise made by the previous
Prime Minister, David Cameron, before the general election
A pledge that was repeatedly made
by the last Prime Minister - the one that actually
fought an election - and he was very clear what it meant.
He said, "I can tell you, with a Conservative government,
"the amount of money following your child
"into school will not be cut."
There is one question that the Secretary of State
has to answer today - will she keep her party's promise
to the British people?
The National Audit Office has told us their answer.
They have revealed that, on the current spending settlement,
there will be an 8% cut in pupil funding between 2015 and 2020.
That was the same conclusion that was reached by the
Institute of Fiscal Studies.
This means that there will be schools in every region,
every city, every town, and yes, every constituency,
losing money because of this Government's failure to protect
funding for our schools.
I'll make some progress.
So will the Secretary of State tell us whether she intends to keep
that manifesto pledge?
We want to see every child, with the same chance to do
as well as they possibly can, no matter where they are growing up
in our country, or indeed where they are starting from academically.
And that's why, we have to make sure that resources going into the system
reflect the high ambitions that we've got for every child,
wherever they're growing up, and are distributed as well
to that effect.
And because of this Government's economic policy that has seen jobs
and growth and careful management of public finances,
that's how we've been able to protect the core schools budget
in real terms over the course of this Parliament.
In fact, the investment in our core schools is now
the largest ever on record, totalling over 40%.
I give way.
David Cameron's promise was that the funding
per pupil would be protected, it isn't being, as we've heard.
In my constituency, because of the formula,
it's being reduced further, per pupil.
Why is David Cameron's promise being broken?
It's not, we're protecting also the per-pupil funding as well.
We know that, in relation to making sure funding is fairly
apportioned between schools, it's time that we now look
at the school funding formula to make sure we bring one
in that is rectifying the current system, that is unfair and outdated,
as the right honourable member for Wokingham set out.
At the moment, the situation all schools face is that funding
isn't being distributed evenly across our country, and doesn't take
into account pupil needs.
We've heard a few complaints from the House of Lords
about the problems faced by travellers on Southern Rail,
which has been subject to months of delays and industrial action.
Well, one peer has come up with a novel solution -
replacing it with a roadway for driverless vehicles.
He wondered if the Government would commission a feasibility study?
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the question standing
in my name on the order paper.
My Lord, we have no current plans to commission such a study.
However, we are investing over ?100 million in research
and development into connected and autonomous vehicles,
and a further ?100 million into testing infrastructure.
We have commenced a programme of regulatory reforms that will keep
pace with technology as it comes to market.
And we continue to invest in our national rail infrastructure
through transformative projects like Thameslink
and Crossrail, to meet ever-increasing passenger demand.
My Lords, I'm very grateful to my noble friend for the access
he gave me to Department for Transport
officials and contractors.
And congratulate him on the progress being made
by his autonomous vehicle projects.
Would my noble friend not agree that the successful pilot currently
underway at Heathrow demonstrates the potential of autonomous
vehicles to serve on a branch line, such as Lewes to Seaford?
And if we demonstrate success on that line,
it is technology that would suit a very well the peripheral parts
of the Southern network.
And if we succeed at that, we shall have an industry
which would be in a great position in an industry with worldwide
applications which is just what we're trying to do
with the industrial strategy?
My Lords, we, of course, welcome the cutting-edge nature
of transport innovation in the rail sector.
In particular, my noble friend talked about the new systems
and new operations at Heathrow in terms of the pods
which are being used.
And certainly, there are other parts of the network structures,
such as the DLR, and the new rolling stock which will be coming online
from Siemens on Thameslink, there will be a use of technology
and autonomous vehicles in what I believe to be
a controlled environment.
He mentioned about further innovations in terms
of the wider network.
I think it's important to recognise that we need to see how technology
can be adapted on existing systems.
The wisdom of closing down 100 local tax offices and creating
new regional hubs has been questioned by a Commons committee.
Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs is reducing its service from
177 offices around the country to 13 offices in regional cities,
as well as four specialist centres.
Officials say the changes could save the taxpayer
around ?500 million.
But at the Public Accounts Committee, one MP doubted that
figure would be achieved.
Originally, it was assumed there would be efficiency savings
of around ?500 million, and already that has
reduced to 212 million.
So this looks to me, it bears all the hallmarks,
of one of those cases where ministers say,
we need some savings, they're provided, and then it turns
out they're slightly illusory.
Do you believe that the 212 million savings will be achieved,
or will this all just disappear to zero at the end of the day?
No, I don't believe it will be 200 million,
I believe it will be significantly more than that.
You are seeing this project, well before the main
business case is approved, and there are advantages to that.
Clearly, because you want to be involved early.
But also what you are going to see is a bit of fluidity,
therefore, in the data.
We would expect our current estimate of the savings to be the other
side of 300 million, which is a very long
answer to your question.
So it started off at 500 million, then it became 212 million,
and now you're saying it'll be over 300 million?
Ultimately, what we'll have to do is put that all together
in a business case to go to the Chief Secretary
by the end of March.
So you'll have some further data there.
I understand 40,000 HMRC staff will have to move office.
Do you think that might be too much too quickly?
It's actually spread over quite a long period of time.
Spread over five years.
And for the vast majority of the 38,000 people
who will be needed to move, they're not moving that far.
As the report says, the average is 18 miles.
Let's say you have someone in your, I think I'm right in saying
you have an office in St Ives or Redruth, in Cornwall
who has to move to Bristol, which is a long way.
Or indeed Inverness to Edinburgh.
Let's say you have some expertise in that office,
is there a risk to corporate memory with this kind of programme?
How do you manage that?
We ask people to give us that corporate memory,
but it's definitely something we have to solve.
If you'd been working in Redruth for 32 years,
and you're not going to go to Bristol.
Meanwhile, we're going to recruit more people in Bristol.
We've got to find some way in which the knowledge that you've
built up about how we've worked over the years can be
translated into systems, or the wisdom of giving
it to other people.
But at the moment, we do not have a solution that I'm
aware of for that risk.
We end with a piece of parliamentary housekeeping that's
starting to worry some MPs.
How to carry out the renovation work
that the Palace of Westminster so badly needs?
There are a host of problems in the building, which is
a World Heritage site.
The plumbing fails regularly, causing leaks that
damage the interiors.
And the electrical system is faulty, increasing the likelihood of fires.
And, for good measure, there's a lot of asbestos
that needs removing.
There are strongly-held views on whether MPs should move out
or stay while the work is carried out.
Labour's Chris Bryant says the best - and cheapest -
option is for everyone to leave.
Many people think it's falling down, it's not falling down.
Though the clock tower does incline a little.
But the mechanical and electrical engineering systems that keep
the place lit, heated, cooled, drained and dry are already
well past their use by date.
And the risk of catastrophic failure such as a fire or flood rises
exponentially every five years that we delay.
We should be in absolutely no doubt there will be a fire.
There was a far a fortnight ago, there are regularly fires.
And people patrol the building 24 hours a day to make sure
we catch these fires.
Chris Bryant was on a parliamentary committee set up to
examine the options.
In a report published last September, it recommended that
everyone should move out.
Today's MPs and peers hold this building in trust.
It's not ours, we hold it in trust.
Our predecessors got it hideously wrong in the 19th century,
they kept on delaying necessary work, and that delay made
the fire in 1834 not only possible, but inevitable.
And so we lost the Painted Chamber, St Stevens' Chapel,
and what was reputedly the most beautiful set of medieval
buildings in the world.
And then, they insisted on staying on-site whilst the new building
was built around them and constantly complained
about the noise and the design.
The result was long delays and a massive budget overrun.
But Sir Edward Leigh thinks parliamentarians should retain
a presence in the Palace of Westminster.
As during the Second World War, the House of Commons debating
chamber should, at all times, retain a presence in
the old Palace of Westminster.
Now, it's known, and this was briefly alluded
to by the gentleman, there is an alternative, expert,
independent point of view.
That, instead of building what I would deem to be a folly
costing ?85 million, of a replica chamber
in the courtyard of Richmond House,
that we should, as in the war, use the House of Lords chamber.
We've reached a point where make do and mend is simply not an option.
That approach has already been taken, and it has led
to decades of underinvestment, which we are now forced to confront.
Much of our infrastructure is well past - in some cases decades past -
its life expectancy, its planned working life.
The Government has undertaken to provide time for a full debate
and a vote in due course on the committee's report.
In due course, as the honourable gentleman knows.
Time is always at a premium.
And I know he will recollect that from his own duties in this place.
Time is always at a premium for business managers,
and particularly so, at the moment, with developments.
It's all very well, but, to be honest, due course is the kind
of phrase that weasels use.
Because it means you don't really intend to do it
in any expeditious way.
Responding to that accusation of weasel words, the Minister
found another phrase - promising that the Commons
would consider the matter "as soon as possible".
Well, that's it for now.
Do join me at the same time tomorrow for another round up
of the news from Westminster.
Until then, from me, Kristiina Cooper, goodbye!