Highlights of Wednesday in Parliament presented by Alicia McCarthy.
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Hello there, and welcome to Wednesday In Parliament.
The Government U-turns on its National Insurance hike
for the self-employed.
Isn't it welcome that the Prime Minister today has
admitted she is for turning with her screeching, embarrassing
U-turn on National Insurance?
The Brexit Secretary is asked,
what cost leaving the EU without a deal?
And ministers are urged to get tough on internet safety.
What is the Government's plan to protect victims of online abuse?
But first - this time last week all the headlines
were about the Chancellor's plans to increase National Insurance
contributions for self-employed people.
Almost as soon as Philip Hammond announced the change in the budget,
there were complaints from Conservatives MPs,
who accused him of breaking an election promise not to put up
National Insurance, income tax or VAT.
Ministers spent seven days defending the proposals.
Then, shortly before Prime Minister's Questions,
Mr Hammond said he wouldn't press ahead with the increase
in this parliament -
in other words, things won't change until after the next election.
A helpful question from a friendly Conservative MP right at the start
of PMQs gave Theresa May the opportunity to set out her case.
I welcome the announcement from this Government that we will abide
by the letter of our manifesto and also the spirit.
CHEERING AND JEERING
Mr Speaker, will the Prime Minister agree with me that, as we move
towards balancing the books, we must ensure we have a fair
and sustainable tax system in place?
As a number of my parliamentary colleagues have been
pointing out in recent days, the trend towards greater
self-employment does create a structural issue in the tax base
on which we will have to act, and we want to ensure
that we maintain, as they have said, fairness in the tax system.
So, we are going to await the report from Matthew Taylor
on the future of employment.
We will consider the Government's overall approach to employment
status and rights, to tax and entitlements.
We will bring forward further proposals,
but we will not bring forward increases to NICs
later in this Parliament.
We have just heard the Prime Minister is about to drop
the National Insurance hike announced only a week ago.
It seems to me like a Government in a bit of chaos, here.
A budget that unravels in seven days, a Conservative manifesto
with a very pensive Prime Minister on the front page saying
there would be no increase -
a week ago, an increase was announced.
If they are to drop this increase, as they are indicating,
then this is a time that she should thank the Federation
of Small Businesses and all those that have pointed out just how
unfair this increase would be, but also how big business evades
an awful lot of National Insurance through bogus self-employment.
I have to say to the right honourable gentlemen,
I don't think he actually listened to the answer I gave
to my honourable friend, the member for Bexhill and Battle.
But I normally stand at this dispatch voice and say
I won't take any lectures from the right honourable gentlemen.
When it comes to lectures on chaos,
he'd be the first person I'd turn to.
Mr Speaker, I do... I think...
I think the Prime Minister should offer an apology for the chaos
that her Government has caused during the past week,
and the stress it's caused to the 4.8 million self-employed
people in this country.
Will she offer that apology?
This measure, if carried through, will create
a black hole in the budget.
What is she going to do to fill that black hole?
If the right honourable gentlemen is so concerned
about balancing the books, why is it Labour Party policy
to borrow ?0.5 trillion and bankrupt Britain?
We once had a Prime Minister who said that
"the lady is not for turning".
Isn't it welcome that the Prime Minister today has
admitted she is for turning, with her screeching, embarrassing
U-turn on National Insurance?
The Prime Minister has just done a ?2 billion budget U-turn
in the space of a week.
Last year, the Government did a ?4 billion U-turn
in the space of five days.
Is that why they want to abolish spring budgets -
cos they just keep ripping them up?
I welcome the measures in the spring budget to ensure
that we're putting money into schools, into skills
and into social care, and I'd have thought that the right
honourable lady would have accepted that money into schools,
skills and social care is good for this country.
Well, a short time later, the Chancellor himself came
to the Commons to make a statement to MPs.
Mr Speaker, it is very important, both to me and my right honourable
friend the Prime Minister, that we comply not just
with the letter but also the spirit of the commitments that were made.
Therefore, as I set out in my letter this morning
to the chairman of the select committee, my right honourable
friend the member for Chichester, I have decided not to proceed
with the class for NICs measures set out in the budget.
There will be no increases in National Insurance contribution
rates in this Parliament.
The change of heart was welcomed by a leading Tory
critic of the policy.
The genuinely self-employed carry real financial risks
by working for themselves, and I know that the Conservative
Government really wants a tax system that will support risk-takers
and growth creators, so will the Chancellor commit
to work with colleagues over the coming months, who believe
it is time to take a holistic and simplifying view on personal
taxation for the self-employed,
which will support wholeheartedly those who build
new businesses and take risks?
Yes, Mr Speaker, I can assure my honourable friend
that this Government will always be on the side of those who genuinely
strive to take risks, to innovate, to grow businesses and to contribute
in that way to the economy.
Might the Chancellor consider, to make up the loss in revenue,
to bear down on those employers who force their employees
into self-employment against their wish,
destabilise their lives, and thereby get out of paying
National Insurance contributions, as all good employers do pay?
Who first realised that the Government were in flagrant breach
of their manifesto commitment?
Was it the Chancellor or was it the Prime Minister?
And if manifestos are now paramount, and all parties must seek
to implement their manifesto, will the Chancellor confirm,
since he intends to go ahead with these changes,
that they will appear in the Conservative manifesto
at the next election, so the self-employed
can vote accordingly?
The Chancellor said he wouldn't be drawn on future commitments.
As to Alex Salmond's first question...
Who first raised the issue of the manifesto, I think,
credit where credit is due...
I think it was actually Laura Kuenssberg on the BBC,
shortly after I said it in the budget speech.
At the end of the statement, a Conservative raised a point
of order with the speaker.
Mr Speaker, as a slavish supporter of the Government,
I'm in some difficulty, because my article robustly
supporting the Chancellor's early policy in the Forest Journal
is already with the printer.
And I just...
Having been persuaded of the correctness of the course
that he's now following, I merely needed an opportunity
in which to recant.
Well, I hope the right honourable gentleman is now satisfied that,
by the wanton abuse of the point of order procedure,
he has found his own salvation.
We'll leave it there.
Let's go back to Prime Minister's Questions,
where the SNP's Westminster leader turned to Brexit.
On Monday, just hours before the bill which gives Theresa May
the authority to begin the UK's exit from the EU was approved
by parliament, the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon,
announced plans for another independence vote.
Angus Robertson reminded Theresa May she'd promised a UK-wide agreement
before triggering Article 50.
He is comparing membership of an organisation that we've been
a member of for 40 years with our country.
We have been one country for over 300 years.
We have fought together, we've worked together,
we have achieved together,
and constitutional gameplaying must not be allowed to break the deep
bonds of our shared history and our future together.
Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister can wag her finger as much as she likes.
Last year she made a promise.
She promised an agreement.
There's not an agreement.
When will there be an agreement?
Because, does she not understand?
If she does not secure an agreement before triggering Article 50,
if she is not prepared to negotiate on behalf of the Scottish Government
and secure membership of the single European market, people in Scotland
will have a referendum and we will have our say!
Scotland will be leaving the European Union.
It will leave the European Union either as a member of
the United Kingdom or, were it independent,
it's very clear with the Barroso document that it
would not be a member of the European Union.
What we need now is to unite, to come together as a country,
and to ensure that we can get the best deal for the whole
of the United Kingdom.
Our First Minister was elected with the largest vote in
Scottish parliamentary history, on a manifesto pledge which stated
that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold
an independence referendum if there's a significant
and material change in circumstances,
like Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.
So, my question to the Prime Minister is simple.
Does she agree that governments should stick
to their manifesto promises?
At least once.
And, if so, she cannot object to the First Minister sticking to hers.
In September 2014, the Scottish people were given the opportunity
to vote as to whether or not they wished to remain
in the United Kingdom.
They chose that Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom.
That was described by the right honourable gentleman,
the member for Gordon, as a once-in-a-generation vote.
And the other vote to take note of is that on June 23 last year,
the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union,
and that is what we are going to do.
The Brexit Secretary David Davis has told MPs that the Government has not
made an economic assessment of the implications of leaving
the EU without a deal since the referendum.
He made his remarks during a two-hour session with the Brexit
committee, during which he told MPs they were
"putting words into his mouth".
So, can you just confirm that no deal would mean
that British businesses would face tariffs and other
nontariff barriers in their trade with the 27 member states of the EU?
A simple yes or no will suffice.
I'm afraid a simple yes or no doesn't actually do it, Mr Chairman.
The presumption of no deal is literally that.
Sorry, could you just say that again?
Can you hear me all right?
The presumption of no deal is literally that.
It would be a presumption and it is a presumption at this
point of most favoured nation status under the World Trade Organisation
arrangements, which means there will be tariffs.
It doesn't say very much about nontariff barriers,
but the presumption you're making is probably right.
So there would be tariffs and that would mean, for example,
UK producers of dairy and meat produce would be facing tariffs
of 30% to 40%, and on cars, it would be 10%, is that correct?
That's properly correct.
That is correct, good, thank you.
Forgive me, Mr Chairman, I don't want to mislead
the committee or let them...
Not at all.
The range of tariffs is from next to nothing,
in fact nothing, right through to very high
numbers on agriculture.
You're quite right, the numbers in agriculture are high
because of the protectionist nature of the Common Agricultural Policy.
OK, can you tell the committee whether the Government has
undertaken an economic assessment of the implications for the British
economy and for British businesses of there being no deal?
Well, it made an estimate during the Leave campaign,
the referendum campaign but I think one of the issues that's arisen
is that those forecasts don't appear to have exactly been very
robust since then.
Right, my question...
Not since then.
The answer is, if you mean under my time, no.
So you're saying there has been no further assessment
of the implications of no deal at all since before
the referendum, is that correct?
No, that's not correct.
You're putting words in my mouth.
No, no, no.
Yes, you are.
One of the difficulties about your sort of style of sort of yes,
no answers and questions is, of course, you don't deal
with what we can do to mitigate.
Much of this is about mitigation.
Any forecast that you may, any forecast that you make depends
on the mitigation you undertake.
A Conservative was struck by the concerns the committee had
heard on a trip to Dublin.
When we were over there, the feeling was that there is a lot
of warm words from the UK around the situation in Ireland but
there's no actual clear solutions and we're days away from triggering
Article 50 and, you know, Ireland, both Northern Ireland
and the Republic of Ireland need certainty about what
is going to happen.
So, can you be a bit more specific about what's going to happen around
custom checks to goods?
HMRC are working on this at the moment.
The Northern Ireland Office are working on this at the moment.
We're having discussions with the Irish Republic
on this at the moment.
So that's all going on.
OK, so that's a work in progress.
What about the common travel area?
Have we got agreement from the other 27 member states of the common
travel area we can resort to what was there before?
It is our intention and it's the Irish Republic's
intention to maintain it.
OK, so that's also still a work in progress.
No, no, no, stop.
Let's not put words in my mouth.
What I have said to you...
But you can't give us assurance today.
No, it's plainly what we intend and plainly what we expect.
If you like, if you want to put a label on this entire hearing,
you can call it all a work in progress because we actually
haven't engaged in negotiation yet.
I'm telling you very specifically this is a very
well-defined, intended policy.
Please do not reinforce the problems you were talking
about in Northern Ireland by calling everything a work in progress.
That's why people get worried about this.
We're aiming very plainly and a very clear outcome.
With respect, we were in Dublin a few weeks ago and this is,
you know, what we were told by politicians in Ireland
that they have huge concerns about the uncertainty and they want
certainty as soon as possible.
You're watching Wednesday in Parliament with me,
The Prime Minister has insisted women should be free
to choose how they dress.
She was responding to this week's European court ruling that workers
can be banned from wearing headscarves and other
The European Court of Justice ruling was prompted by the case
of a receptionist in Belgium who was fired for
wearing a headscarf at the security company, G4S.
In a statement later, the Equalities Minister said
the judgment did not fundamentally change the law.
This Government is completely opposed to discrimination, including
whether on the grounds of gender or religion or both.
And it is right of all women to choose how they dress
and we do not believe that these judgments change that.
Exactly the same legal protections apply today
as did before the rulings.
We have a long tradition in this country for
respecting religious freedom and many people
will frankly listen in disbelief
to the court's ruling that a corporate multinational like G4S
risks its corporate neutrality being undermined
by a receptionist in Belgium wearing a headscarf.
At what point did the law decide that
expressing religious belief through a cross,
a turban or a headscarf was a threat
to organisational neutrality?
It is and it does remain unlawful to directly discriminate
against someone because of their religion or to create spurious rules
which would prevent them from wearing religious clothing
Employers can, however, enforce a dress code but it must
be for proportionate and legitimate reasons and must equally apply
to all employees.
Women and men must be allowed to choose their expression of faith.
Simply put, this judgment is not consistent with the British
liberal and human rights tradition.
Of real concern is the implications this may now have for faith
Already, Madam Deputy Speaker, far right across Europe are
rallying around this judgment.
I'm sure I'm not alone in seeing a big difference
between a headscarf, crucifix or turban and
the burqa or niqab.
I wonder how this judgment will affect the two police forces
that I am aware of which are currently stating
that they are considering or willing to consider applications
from female police officers who may want to wear
a full niqab or burqa.
Where the job is safe for them to continue to wear
their religious garments, then we feel very much
that they should be encouraged to do so.
In 99.9% of jobs, including the security guard,
your ability to do a job is not affected by whether you wear
a skull cap, a headscarf, a turban, a cross, mangalsutra,
a tilaka or any such thing.
We don't want any employers mistakenly thinking that
this ruling gives them any kind of authority to sack any public
facing staff who wear headscarves or any other form
of religious symbols.
These protections are already in our domestic law, it's very clear
and we will always make sure
that they are enforced in the strongest possible way.
The rules around Personal Independence Payments, or Pips,
which help with the extra costs of a long-term health condition
or disability, change this week.
Ministers said they were forced to act after two court judgments
made the benefit more generous, ruling that claimants
with psychological problems who cannot travel without help must
be treated like those who are blind.
The Government argues restoring the original intention of the policy
would save ?3.7 billion by 2023.
The opposition demanded the Government think again.
The Government's decision to change the law on Pip is a clear
example of the way people with mental health conditions are not
given an equal treatment.
So does the Secretary of State agree that
his department's new guidance issued yesterday that mobility impairments
caused by psychological issues are not relevant?
The truth is that Pip is much better as a benefit for
people with mental health conditions than the predecessor benefit DLA.
It is absolutely the case under these
regulations and under Pip regulations that people can receive
the highest rate of the mobility component of Pip with a cognitive
This is a cut and it directly targets people with
mental health problems.
What the regulation, taking effect tomorrow, does
is to insert in the qualifying conditions for Pip in the section
about planning and following a journey, the phrase, "other than for
reasons of psychological distress."
Would my right honourable friend confirm again that
actually there is no cuts
involved in this at all to people who have been previously
awarded through Pip and secondly, that actually those with mental
health disabilities get more under Pip than they did under DLA?
The International Development Secretary has told MPs Britain
is helping to win the propaganda war against so called Islamic State
on social media.
Priti Patel said the volume of posts on social media by the group had
fallen by 75% over the past 12 months.
And on social media, Daesh posts now outnumber
the pro-Daesh propaganda six to one.
The UK is leading...
The UK's leading coalition efforts to do this.
Much progress has been made against Daesh and since 2014, they
have lost 62% of territory they once held in Iraq and 30% in Syria.
But there remains much more still to be done.
Even once Daesh is militarily defeated, we must continue to be
wary of its resurgence.
In Iraq, this means supporting the government
of Iraq to restore order and be accountable to all of its people to
meet their needs.
And in Syria, it means continuing our efforts to deliver
a political settlement that enables a transition
away from Assad towards a government that serves
all of the Syrian people.
Dfid's core role is to tackle the global challenges
of our time, including poverty and disease, mass migration,
insecurity and conflict.
I believe that now we must come together with cross-party support
for helping the most vulnerable civilian refugees
most affected by Daesh.
The UK needs to commit to taking its fair share of
refugees, 20,000 over five years is not a fair share,
nor is 350 under the Dubs scheme.
And if ODA money is to be used by other Government departments,
the Home Office can use it for the first year of resettlement.
Mr Speaker, the former Prime Minister
said UK military involvement in Syria
would cut off the head of the snake.
Where is the evidence that that has happened?
Humanitarian response is not just the right thing
to do to make us safer.
As long as people in Syria and Iraq
live with the consequences of UK military
adventurism, we have a responsibility to help
clean up the mess.
Well, we heard Priti Patel there talking
about the use of social media and down the corridor
in the Lords Peers pressed the Government to impose a duty
on social media companies to tackle online abuse.
Last week, when the BBC questioned over 100 images
of children on Facebook, only 18 were removed as a result.
The BBC were then asked to send screen grabs of the
images to Facebook and instead of acting to take them down,
Facebook then reported the BBC journalist to the police.
Yesterday, Google, Twitter and Facebook appeared before
the Home Affairs Select Committee, where Twitter admitted they were
doing not a good enough job on hate crime.
The noble lady expects robust processes to be in place but if she
won't consider statutory guidance, what is the Government's plan to
protect victims of online abuse?
I take note the noble lady's recounting to the House the issues
that you raised and the BBC case last week.
It is, of course, right that we continue to keep our
position under review.
But a complete response to this problem requires more than just
legislation, it requires the support of internet service providers and
their communities, it requires the application of advanced
For instance, in our work encountering violent extremism,
it requires counter narrative initiatives, disruption mechanism,
robust complaints and takedown procedures.
All of this to safely challenge the hate that people are
It's far too easy to access abusive and explicit content
on social media services, including Facebook, Twitter,
Snapchat, Instagram, Yik Yap, Vine, Kik and doubtless many others.
And that such companies need to do more to help parents
parent in order that children can take advantage of
technology in a safe and responsible way.
The noble lady is absolutely correct, it is indeed important
that these companies take responsibility for thei actions.
The majority of the internet platforms
are based overseas and they provide global
services and as this House is fully aware, there
is significant complexity to introducing any regime
that governs online activity, including keeping any such
obligation current, given the speed and evolution of technology and
given the global nature of the internet and the extraterritorial
jurisdiction that applies.
And that's it from me for now but do join me at the same time
tomorrow for another round up of the best
of the day here in Parliament,
including Culture Questions, a debate on the Chilcot inquiry
into the Iraq war and a debate on suicide prevention.
But for now, from me, Alicia McCarthy, goodbye.