25/01/2017 Wednesday in Parliament


25/01/2017

Highlights of proceedings in Parliament on Wednesday 25 January, presented by Kristiina Cooper.


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Hello, and welcome to Wednesday in Parliament.

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The main news from Westminster: The Prime Minister bows to demands

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for a policy document on Brexit.

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I can confirm to the house that our plan will be set

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out in a white paper.

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The Labour leader is worried what the Government has

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in mind for Brexit Britain.

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The Prime Minister, Mr Speaker, is threatening the EU that

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unless they give in to her demands she will turn Britain into a bargain

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basement tax haven off the coast of Europe.

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Also on the programme: Rousing words from the Chief

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Minister of Gibraltar.

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My blood is red but I am red, white and blue inside out,

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and so is that rock,

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and we will never ever countenance changing that.

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APPLAUSE.

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That was...

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That was a most passionate answer.

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Come and see for yourself.

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An eloquent answer.

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But first, when the Brexit Secretary David Davis came to the Commons

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on Tuesday after the Government lost its case in the Supreme Court,

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MPs from all parties called for a white paper setting out

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a strategy for Brexit.

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David Davis batted away their requests, pointing to a speech

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the Prime Minister made last week.

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Well, it looks as if, in just one day, there's

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been a change of heart.

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The Prime Minister laid out a clear and bold plan for Brexit

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in her speech last week.

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Honourable members, honourable members quite

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rightly want an opportunity to scrutinise that plan.

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Does the Prime Minister agree that the best way of facilitating

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that scrutiny would be a government White Paper laying out our vision

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for a global Britain based on free trade in goods and services,

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that will be to the benefit of us and other European countries.

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Prime Minister.

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My honourable friend raises the question

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of parliamentary scrutiny.

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I have been clear, as have senior ministers, that we will ensure that

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Parliament has every opportunity to provide that scrutiny on this

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issue as we go through this process.

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But I recognise, I set out that bold plan for a global Britain last week

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and I recognise there is an appetite in this house to see that plan set

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out in a White Paper.

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My honourable friend's question

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and the question from my honourable friend the member for Broxtowe last

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week on the same vein, and I can confirm to the house

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that our plan will be set out in a White Paper

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published this month.

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The Prime Minister has wasted 80 days between the time

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of the original judgment and the appeal, and has now

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finally admitted today, after pressure from all sides,

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that there is going to be a White Paper.

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Could we know when this White Paper is going to be available to us?

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And why it has taken so long to get it?

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Prime Minister.

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Can I say to the right honourable gentleman,

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he asked for debates, I was very clear there would always

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be debates in this house, and there have been and will

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continue to be.

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He asked for votes, there have been votes in this house.

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The house voted overwhelmingly for the government to trigger

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Article 50 before the end of March this year.

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He asked for a plan, I set out, as my honourable friend

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for Croydon South said, a clear plan for a bold

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future for Britain.

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He asked for it, he and others asked for a White Paper,

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I have been clear there will be a White Paper.

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But what I am also clear about is that the right honourable

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gentleman always asks about process, about the means to the end.

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I and this government are focusing on the outcomes,

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we are focusing on a truly global Britain, building a stronger

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future for this country, the right deal for Britain

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and Britain out of the European Union.

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Jeremy Corbyn was critical of the Prime Minister's

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negotiating stance.

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The Prime Minister, Mr Speaker, is threatening the EU that

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unless they give in to her demands she will turn Britain into

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a bargain basement tax haven off the coast of Europe.

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Well, Mr Speaker, we, on this side of the house,

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are very well aware of the consequences that would have,

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the damage it would do two jobs and living standards

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and our public services.

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Is she now going to rule out the bargain basement threat

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that was in her speech at Lancaster House?

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Prime Minister.

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I expect us to get a good deal for trading relationships

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with the European Union but what I am also clear

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about is that this government will not sign up to a bad deal

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for the United Kingdom.

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And, as to the threats that the right honourable gentleman

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claims about what might happen, and he often talks about this,

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uses those phrases and talks about workers' rights,

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perhaps he should listen to his former colleague in this house,

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the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who has today said,

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"To give credit to the government, I don't think they want to weaken

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"workers' rights," and goes on to say, "I have seen no evidence

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"from the conversations I have had with senior members

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"of the government that that is the aspiration

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"or their intention or something they want to do, which is good."

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As usual with Labour, the right hand is not

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talking to the far left.

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The Prime Minister is heading off to the United States on Friday

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to meet the President, Donald Trump.

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She's one of the first foreign leaders to meet the new president.

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On the agenda are discussions about trade deals and security.

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The Prime Minister insists she will not be afraid

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to speak her mind.

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I am pleased that I am able to meet President Trump so early

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in his administration.

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That is a sign of the strength of the special relationship

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between United Kingdom and the United States of America,

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a special relationship on which he and I intend to build.

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But can I also say to the Leader of the Opposition, I am not afraid

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to speak frankly to a president of the United States.

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I am able to do that because we have that special relationship,

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a special relationship that he would never have

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with United States.

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Jeremy Corbyn.

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Mr Speaker, we would never allow Britain to be sold off on the cheap.

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How confident is she of getting a good deal for global Britain

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from a president who wants to put America first, buy American,

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and build a wall between his country and Mexico?

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Yesterday the government lost in the Supreme Court and today

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we have a very welcome U-turn on a White Paper in regards

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to Brexit so, in the spirit of progress for Parliament,

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in advance of meeting President Trump, will

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the Prime Minister tell Parliament what she wants to achieve

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in a UK/US trade deal?

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Well, it is very simple, we want to achieve an arrangement

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that ensures that the interests of the United Kingdom

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are there, are put first, and that is what I will be doing,

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and we see a trade arrangement with the United States,

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as we will be looking for with other parts of the world that

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can increase our trade, bring prosperity, bring growth

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to the United Kingdom, and then my aim in this

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government is to ensure that

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that economy works for everyone in every part of the United Kingdom.

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Ed Miliband.

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Britain...

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It brings...

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CHEERING.

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The right honourable gentleman never knew he was quite that popular!

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SHOUTING.

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Ed Miliband.

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I was going to say, Mr Speaker, it brings back memories actually.

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Can I say to the Prime Minister that as the first foreign leader

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to meet President Trump, she carries a huge responsibility

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on behalf of not just this country, but the whole international

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community in the tone that she sets.

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Can I ask her to reassure us that she will say to the president

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that he must abide by, and not withdraw from,

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the Paris climate change treaty.

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In case it is helpful, can she offer the services of UK

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scientists to convince the president that climate change is not a hoax

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invented by the Chinese.

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Prime Minister.

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Well, I recognise the role that the right honourable gentleman

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has played in looking at this issue of climate change and I hope

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he recognises the commitment that this government has shown

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to this issue of climate change, with the legislation

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we have put through, and the changes that we have brought

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about in terms of the energy sector and the uses of different forms

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of energy.

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The American, the Obama Administration obviously signed up

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to the Paris climate change agreement and we have now

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done that and I would hope that all parties would continue to ensure

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that that climate change agreement is put into practice.

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Gibraltar's Chief Minister has been speaking passionately to MPs

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about the historic links between the people of

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Gibraltar and the UK.

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Fabian Picardo was giving evidence to the committee

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on exiting the European Union.

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Gibraltar voted to remain in the EU because of concerns,

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the Chief Minister said, about Spain's intentions.

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He was asked about the border between the British overseas

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territory, which is not a member of the Customs Union,

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and Spain, which is.

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Gibraltar has always had what I see now described as a hard frontier,

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in the context of potential future relationships with the UK

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and the European Union, but that does not mean that

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goods don't flow into Gibraltar.

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They take a little longer.

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Those who are involved in the logistics of getting goods

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into Gibraltar know that they need to allow two or three hours

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for their vehicles to come through the commercial gates.

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They will be inspected, there will be documentation

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to prepare but if you get into the rhythm of things,

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this can be quite easy.

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Although of course there are days, if, you know, Gibraltar football

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team has scored a goal and been allowed into Uefa, for example,

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that we might find that the frontier for some reason doesn't work

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as well as it might, so this is more about goodwill than

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it is about the rules necessarily.

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So, would I be correct in understanding that

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difficulties occur at the border when politicians, the Spanish,

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choose to be difficult, is that correct?

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That would be absolutely the way that the people of Gibraltar have

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traditionally understood it for the past 35 years

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since the border opened.

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But if the Spanish choose to be co-operative, then the border

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operates in a fairly fluid fashion.

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In an absolutely fluid fashion that doesn't interfere

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with anybody's lives, that enables people to move

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across the frontier, for goods to move across that

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frontier and without more control than is necessary.

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During the two hours of questioning, the Chief Minister paid tribute

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to the Conservative former Prime Minister, Sir John Major,

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calling him a champion of the rights of the people of Gibraltar.

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Thank you for what you said about the former Prime Minister,

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it's so easy to airbrush people when they have gone

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and it is rather nice that you say what you do.

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Thank you very much.

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I soon expect to be discarded as well and I hope that people

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are kind to me about what I have done, but that is political life.

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It is indeed, but there's always a chance of revival.

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So I wouldn't worry too much about that.

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The former Tory Cabinet Minister Michael Gove joining

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in the laughter there.

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And later there was applause when the Chief Minister defended

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the right of Gibraltarians to British citizenship.

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So why should we change?

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We are born British and that rock is red, white and blue for us.

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There is nothing else that we have known.

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The system of government that we know, the system

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of education that we know, the make up of my understanding

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of the world is British.

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How can I suddenly now do something else?

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I can speak fluent conversational Spanish but I don't speak

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professional or political Spanish in the way that I might be expected

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to should I need to navigate the waters of the Spanish system.

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You look at the Spanish political system today,

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it doesn't have much to commend it to the people of the world.

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I mean, the British system, we criticise

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ourselves so constantly, and so constructively,

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that we make it stronger, that's the system that we believe in.

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That is the rule of law that we believe in.

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The Supreme Court that ruled yesterday and that everybody

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respects the views of, that is what makes up

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the Gibraltarean.

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My blood is red, but I am red, white and blue inside out,

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and so is that rock, and we will never ever

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countenance changing that.

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APPLAUSE.

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That was...

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That was a most passionate answer.

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Come and see for yourself.

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An eloquent answer.

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The Committee chair, Labour's Hilary Benn,

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speaking there after clapping and desk-banging - a very unusual

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sight at such a hearing.

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You're watching Wednesday in Parliament with me,

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Kristiina Cooper.

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Schools in every constituency are going to lose money,

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Labour has warned.

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The party's Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner,

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said that flew in the face of a promise made by the previous

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Prime Minister, David Cameron, before the general election

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in 2015.

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A pledge that was repeatedly made

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by the last Prime Minister - the one that actually

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fought an election - and he was very clear what it meant.

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He said, "I can tell you, with a Conservative government,

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"the amount of money following your child

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"into school will not be cut."

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There is one question that the Secretary of State

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has to answer today - will she keep her party's promise

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to the British people?

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The National Audit Office has told us their answer.

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They have revealed that, on the current spending settlement,

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there will be an 8% cut in pupil funding between 2015 and 2020.

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That was the same conclusion that was reached by the

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Institute of Fiscal Studies.

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This means that there will be schools in every region,

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every city, every town, and yes, every constituency,

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losing money because of this Government's failure to protect

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funding for our schools.

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I'll make some progress.

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So will the Secretary of State tell us whether she intends to keep

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that manifesto pledge?

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We want to see every child, with the same chance to do

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as well as they possibly can, no matter where they are growing up

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in our country, or indeed where they are starting from academically.

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And that's why, we have to make sure that resources going into the system

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reflect the high ambitions that we've got for every child,

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wherever they're growing up, and are distributed as well

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to that effect.

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And because of this Government's economic policy that has seen jobs

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and growth and careful management of public finances,

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that's how we've been able to protect the core schools budget

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in real terms over the course of this Parliament.

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In fact, the investment in our core schools is now

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the largest ever on record, totalling over 40%.

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I give way.

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David Cameron's promise was that the funding

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per pupil would be protected, it isn't being, as we've heard.

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In my constituency, because of the formula,

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it's being reduced further, per pupil.

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Why is David Cameron's promise being broken?

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It's not, we're protecting also the per-pupil funding as well.

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We know that, in relation to making sure funding is fairly

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apportioned between schools, it's time that we now look

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at the school funding formula to make sure we bring one

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in that is rectifying the current system, that is unfair and outdated,

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as the right honourable member for Wokingham set out.

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At the moment, the situation all schools face is that funding

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isn't being distributed evenly across our country, and doesn't take

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into account pupil needs.

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We've heard a few complaints from the House of Lords

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about the problems faced by travellers on Southern Rail,

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which has been subject to months of delays and industrial action.

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Well, one peer has come up with a novel solution -

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replacing it with a roadway for driverless vehicles.

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He wondered if the Government would commission a feasibility study?

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the question standing

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in my name on the order paper.

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My Lord, we have no current plans to commission such a study.

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However...

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Shame, shame!

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LAUGHTER

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However, we are investing over ?100 million in research

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and development into connected and autonomous vehicles,

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and a further ?100 million into testing infrastructure.

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We have commenced a programme of regulatory reforms that will keep

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pace with technology as it comes to market.

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And we continue to invest in our national rail infrastructure

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through transformative projects like Thameslink

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and Crossrail, to meet ever-increasing passenger demand.

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My Lords, I'm very grateful to my noble friend for the access

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he gave me to Department for Transport

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officials and contractors.

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And congratulate him on the progress being made

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by his autonomous vehicle projects.

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Would my noble friend not agree that the successful pilot currently

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underway at Heathrow demonstrates the potential of autonomous

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vehicles to serve on a branch line, such as Lewes to Seaford?

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And if we demonstrate success on that line,

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it is technology that would suit a very well the peripheral parts

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of the Southern network.

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And if we succeed at that, we shall have an industry

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which would be in a great position in an industry with worldwide

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applications which is just what we're trying to do

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with the industrial strategy?

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My Lords, we, of course, welcome the cutting-edge nature

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of transport innovation in the rail sector.

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In particular, my noble friend talked about the new systems

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and new operations at Heathrow in terms of the pods

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which are being used.

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And certainly, there are other parts of the network structures,

0:18:160:18:20

such as the DLR, and the new rolling stock which will be coming online

0:18:200:18:23

from Siemens on Thameslink, there will be a use of technology

0:18:230:18:27

and autonomous vehicles in what I believe to be

0:18:270:18:30

a controlled environment.

0:18:300:18:33

He mentioned about further innovations in terms

0:18:330:18:36

of the wider network.

0:18:360:18:37

I think it's important to recognise that we need to see how technology

0:18:370:18:40

can be adapted on existing systems.

0:18:400:18:46

The wisdom of closing down 100 local tax offices and creating

0:18:460:18:49

new regional hubs has been questioned by a Commons committee.

0:18:490:18:51

Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs is reducing its service from

0:18:510:18:54

177 offices around the country to 13 offices in regional cities,

0:18:540:18:59

as well as four specialist centres.

0:18:590:19:02

Officials say the changes could save the taxpayer

0:19:020:19:05

around ?500 million.

0:19:050:19:07

But at the Public Accounts Committee, one MP doubted that

0:19:070:19:10

figure would be achieved.

0:19:100:19:12

Originally, it was assumed there would be efficiency savings

0:19:120:19:17

of around ?500 million, and already that has

0:19:170:19:21

reduced to 212 million.

0:19:210:19:25

So this looks to me, it bears all the hallmarks,

0:19:250:19:31

of one of those cases where ministers say,

0:19:310:19:34

we need some savings, they're provided, and then it turns

0:19:340:19:36

out they're slightly illusory.

0:19:360:19:38

Do you believe that the 212 million savings will be achieved,

0:19:380:19:42

or will this all just disappear to zero at the end of the day?

0:19:420:19:45

No, I don't believe it will be 200 million,

0:19:450:19:47

I believe it will be significantly more than that.

0:19:470:19:56

You are seeing this project, well before the main

0:19:560:19:58

business case is approved, and there are advantages to that.

0:19:580:20:01

Clearly, because you want to be involved early.

0:20:010:20:03

But also what you are going to see is a bit of fluidity,

0:20:030:20:06

therefore, in the data.

0:20:060:20:07

We would expect our current estimate of the savings to be the other

0:20:070:20:10

side of 300 million, which is a very long

0:20:100:20:12

answer to your question.

0:20:120:20:13

So it started off at 500 million, then it became 212 million,

0:20:130:20:16

and now you're saying it'll be over 300 million?

0:20:160:20:18

Yes.

0:20:180:20:19

Ultimately, what we'll have to do is put that all together

0:20:190:20:22

in a business case to go to the Chief Secretary

0:20:220:20:24

by the end of March.

0:20:240:20:25

So you'll have some further data there.

0:20:250:20:30

I understand 40,000 HMRC staff will have to move office.

0:20:300:20:32

Do you think that might be too much too quickly?

0:20:320:20:36

It's actually spread over quite a long period of time.

0:20:360:20:39

Spread over five years.

0:20:390:20:40

And for the vast majority of the 38,000 people

0:20:400:20:42

who will be needed to move, they're not moving that far.

0:20:420:20:45

As the report says, the average is 18 miles.

0:20:450:20:48

Let's say you have someone in your, I think I'm right in saying

0:20:480:20:51

you have an office in St Ives or Redruth, in Cornwall

0:20:510:20:57

who has to move to Bristol, which is a long way.

0:20:570:20:59

Or indeed Inverness to Edinburgh.

0:20:590:21:01

Let's say you have some expertise in that office,

0:21:010:21:03

is there a risk to corporate memory with this kind of programme?

0:21:030:21:06

Yes.

0:21:060:21:07

How do you manage that?

0:21:070:21:08

We ask people to give us that corporate memory,

0:21:080:21:16

but it's definitely something we have to solve.

0:21:160:21:18

If you'd been working in Redruth for 32 years,

0:21:180:21:20

and you're not going to go to Bristol.

0:21:200:21:22

Meanwhile, we're going to recruit more people in Bristol.

0:21:220:21:32

We've got to find some way in which the knowledge that you've

0:21:360:21:39

built up about how we've worked over the years can be

0:21:390:21:42

translated into systems, or the wisdom of giving

0:21:420:21:44

it to other people.

0:21:440:21:45

But at the moment, we do not have a solution that I'm

0:21:450:21:48

aware of for that risk.

0:21:480:21:49

We end with a piece of parliamentary housekeeping that's

0:21:490:21:51

starting to worry some MPs.

0:21:510:21:52

How to carry out the renovation work

0:21:520:21:54

that the Palace of Westminster so badly needs?

0:21:540:21:56

There are a host of problems in the building, which is

0:21:560:21:58

a World Heritage site.

0:21:590:22:00

The plumbing fails regularly, causing leaks that

0:22:000:22:01

damage the interiors.

0:22:010:22:02

And the electrical system is faulty, increasing the likelihood of fires.

0:22:020:22:05

And, for good measure, there's a lot of asbestos

0:22:050:22:07

that needs removing.

0:22:070:22:08

There are strongly-held views on whether MPs should move out

0:22:080:22:11

or stay while the work is carried out.

0:22:110:22:13

Labour's Chris Bryant says the best - and cheapest -

0:22:130:22:16

option is for everyone to leave.

0:22:160:22:18

Many people think it's falling down, it's not falling down.

0:22:180:22:22

Though the clock tower does incline a little.

0:22:220:22:24

But the mechanical and electrical engineering systems that keep

0:22:240:22:27

the place lit, heated, cooled, drained and dry are already

0:22:270:22:32

well past their use by date.

0:22:320:22:35

And the risk of catastrophic failure such as a fire or flood rises

0:22:350:22:45

exponentially every five years that we delay.

0:22:470:22:49

We should be in absolutely no doubt there will be a fire.

0:22:490:22:52

There was a far a fortnight ago, there are regularly fires.

0:22:520:22:54

And people patrol the building 24 hours a day to make sure

0:22:540:22:57

we catch these fires.

0:22:570:22:58

Chris Bryant was on a parliamentary committee set up to

0:22:580:23:01

examine the options.

0:23:010:23:02

In a report published last September, it recommended that

0:23:020:23:04

everyone should move out.

0:23:040:23:05

Today's MPs and peers hold this building in trust.

0:23:050:23:09

It's not ours, we hold it in trust.

0:23:090:23:11

Our predecessors got it hideously wrong in the 19th century,

0:23:110:23:15

they kept on delaying necessary work, and that delay made

0:23:150:23:18

the fire in 1834 not only possible, but inevitable.

0:23:180:23:26

And so we lost the Painted Chamber, St Stevens' Chapel,

0:23:260:23:28

and what was reputedly the most beautiful set of medieval

0:23:280:23:32

buildings in the world.

0:23:320:23:33

And then, they insisted on staying on-site whilst the new building

0:23:330:23:36

was built around them and constantly complained

0:23:360:23:38

about the noise and the design.

0:23:380:23:40

The result was long delays and a massive budget overrun.

0:23:400:23:44

But Sir Edward Leigh thinks parliamentarians should retain

0:23:440:23:46

a presence in the Palace of Westminster.

0:23:460:23:49

As during the Second World War, the House of Commons debating

0:23:490:23:53

chamber should, at all times, retain a presence in

0:23:530:23:56

the old Palace of Westminster.

0:23:560:23:58

Now, it's known, and this was briefly alluded

0:23:580:24:00

to by the gentleman, there is an alternative, expert,

0:24:000:24:05

independent point of view.

0:24:050:24:06

That, instead of building what I would deem to be a folly

0:24:060:24:10

costing ?85 million, of a replica chamber

0:24:100:24:13

in the courtyard of Richmond House,

0:24:130:24:16

that we should, as in the war, use the House of Lords chamber.

0:24:160:24:21

We've reached a point where make do and mend is simply not an option.

0:24:210:24:27

That approach has already been taken, and it has led

0:24:270:24:31

to decades of underinvestment, which we are now forced to confront.

0:24:310:24:37

Much of our infrastructure is well past - in some cases decades past -

0:24:370:24:43

its life expectancy, its planned working life.

0:24:430:24:48

The Government has undertaken to provide time for a full debate

0:24:480:24:51

and a vote in due course on the committee's report.

0:24:510:24:54

LAUGHTER

0:24:540:24:55

Time...

0:24:550:24:58

In due course, as the honourable gentleman knows.

0:24:580:25:02

Time is always at a premium.

0:25:020:25:04

And I know he will recollect that from his own duties in this place.

0:25:040:25:09

Time is always at a premium for business managers,

0:25:090:25:11

and particularly so, at the moment, with developments.

0:25:110:25:17

It's all very well, but, to be honest, due course is the kind

0:25:170:25:21

of phrase that weasels use.

0:25:210:25:22

Because it means you don't really intend to do it

0:25:220:25:25

in any expeditious way.

0:25:250:25:31

Responding to that accusation of weasel words, the Minister

0:25:310:25:33

found another phrase - promising that the Commons

0:25:330:25:35

would consider the matter "as soon as possible".

0:25:350:25:37

Well, that's it for now.

0:25:370:25:38

Do join me at the same time tomorrow for another round up

0:25:380:25:41

of the news from Westminster.

0:25:410:25:42

Until then, from me, Kristiina Cooper, goodbye!

0:25:420:25:45