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Hello and welcome to Wednesday In Parliament.
On this programme:
The Government announces the pension age is going up to 68
seven years earlier than planned.
The last Prime Minister's Questions before the recess sees Theresa May
and Jeremy Corbyn do battle over pay and the economy.
And the Government's urged to do more to help
unaccompanied child refugees.
It is a catastrophe for these children
and I feel passionate about it.
But first, the state pension age is to rise from 67 to 68
seven years earlier than initially planned.
Ministers are accepting a recommendation made
in the Cridland review earlier this year.
It means six million people will have to wait longer before
receiving their state pension.
The change will affect those born between April 1970 and April 1978.
The increase will now come into effect from 2037.
The Government hopes the move will save around ?74 billion.
The Work and Pensions Secretary, David Gauke,
told MPs people that were living longer.
In 1948, Mr Deputy Speaker, when the modern state pension
was introduced, a 65-year-old could expect to live
for a further 13.5 years.
By 2007, when further legislation was introduced
to increase the state pension age, this had risen to around
21 years and in 2037, it is expected to be nearly 25 years.
There is a balance to be struck between funding of the state pension
in years to come whilst also ensuring fairness for future
generations of taxpayers.
The approach I am setting out today
is the responsible and fair course of action.
Failing to act now in light of compelling evidence of
demographic pressures would be irresponsible
and place an extremely unfair burden on younger generations.
Last week, evidence from Public Health England showed
how deep inequalities in healthy life expectancy remain both
regionally and between different groups in our society including
women, disabled people and black and minority ethnic groups.
It is therefore astonishing that today
this Government chooses to implement their plans to speed up
the state pension age and increase it to 68.
Mr Deputy Speaker, most pensioners will now spend their retirement
battling a toxic cocktail of ill-health, with men expecting
to drift into ill-health at 63, five years earlier than this proposed
quickened state pension age of 68.
Labour want a different approach.
In our manifesto, we are committed to leaving
the state pension age at 66 while we undertake a review into
healthy life expectancy, arduous work,
and the potential of flexible state pension age.
Even by the standards of the party opposite,
their approach to be state pension age is reckless,
short-sighted and irresponsible.
When the evidence in front of us shows that life expectancy
will continue to increase a little over one year every eight years
that pass, fixing the state pension age at 66 as advocated
by the party opposite demonstrates a complete failure to appreciate
the situation in front of us.
In the SNP, we continue to call for the establishment
of an independent savings and pensions commission.
We believe that the Government is not doing enough
to recognise the demographic differences across the
United Kingdom and an independent review of this would look at those
and would take those into account.
When Her Majesty the Queen came to be throne in 1952,
there were 300 people in that year who reached the age of 100.
Last year, it was over 13,000.
Does he express or will he express surprise that I feel at
the irresponsibility and recklessness
of the party opposite in resisting some of these measures?
Well, I don't know if I'm surprised by anything
the Labour Party does, but it is disappointing.
A Labour MP had been expecting a statement
on the so called WASPI women - those born in the 1950s who claim
they weren't given proper notice of the rise in their state pension age.
I had hopes that the minister was coming here today
because he'd seen the light.
He'd realised that the women from the 1950s are being dealt a terrible
set of cards by this Government, that he was going to compensate
them, that he was going to make good on the injustice that has been done
to them, that he was going to make sure that every single person
who wasn't even notified by the Government
that they were going to be caught by this
would be compensated and that he was going to
finally acknowledge that women in my constituency
who are in their 60s, who say to me that they are
completely clapped-out because they have had tough,
laborious jobs all their lives, that they are the very people
that his minister says should now take up an apprenticeship.
How dull are they?
David Gauke said he wasn't sure
he'd want to call his constituents "clapped-out."
As to the 1950s women, he said that as with this announcement,
there was a need to balance a dignified retirement
with the fact that state pensions had to be paid for.
Now, there was a rowdy end of term sort of feel to the last
Prime Minister's Questions before parliament begins its summer break.
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, focused on low pay but began
by highlighting splits at the top of the Government.
At the weekend, the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, said some senior
ministers were briefing against him because they didn't
like his views on Brexit.
That followed press reports that Mr Hammond had said some public
sector staff were overpaid.
Mr Speaker, the Chancellor said this week that some
public servants are overpaid.
Given the Prime Minister has had to administer a slap down to her
squabbling Cabinet, does she think the Chancellor was actually talking
about her own ministers?
I recognise, as I said when I stood on
the steps of Downing Street a year ago,
that there are some people in our country
who are just about managing.
They find life a struggle.
That actually covers people who are working in the public sector
and some people who are working in the private sector and that's why
it's important that the Government is taking steps,
for example, to help those on the lowest incomes
through the national living wage.
It's why we have taken millions of people out
of paying income tax altogether.
It's why basic rate taxpayers under this Government have seen a tax cut
of the equivalent of ?1000.
Can I invite the Prime Minister to take a check
with reality on this?
One in eight workers in the United Kingdom,
that is 3.8 million people in work, are now living in poverty.
55% of people in poverty are in working households.
The Prime Minister's lack of touch with reality goes like this -
low pay in Britain is holding people back at a time of rising
housing costs, rising food prices and rising transport costs.
It threatens people's living standards
and rising consumer debt and falling savings
threatens our economic stability.
Why doesn't the Prime Minister understand that low pay
is a threat to an already weakening economy?
The best route out of poverty is through work
and what we now see is hundreds...
Order, the question has been asked.
The Prime Minister's answer must -
and however long it takes it will - be heard.
The Prime Minister.
The best route out of poverty is through work.
That's why it's so important that over the last seven years,
we have seen 3 million more jobs being created in our economy.
It's why we now see so many thousands of people
in households with work rather than in workless households.
Many more hundreds of thousands more children
being brought up in a household where there is work rather
than a failure to have work.
That's what's important, but what's important
for Government as well is to ensure that we do
provide support to people.
That's why we created the national living wage.
That was the biggest pay increase for people on lowest incomes ever.
When did the Labour Party ever introduce the national living wage?
That was a Conservative Government and a Conservative record.
What we want is a country where there are not 4 million
children living in poverty, where homelessness is not rising
every year and I look a long that front bench opposite, Mr Speaker,
and I see a Cabinet bickering and backbiting while the economy
gets weaker and people are put further into debt.
Isn't the truth that this divided Government is unable to give
this country the leadership it so desperately needs now
to deal with these issues?
I'll tell the Right Honourable gentleman the reality.
The reality is that he is always talking Britain down and
we are a leading Britain forward.
The SNP's leader at Westminster turned to the pensions
of those WASPI women.
The Prime Minister has found up to ?35 billion
for Hinkley Point C nuclear power station,
up to 200 billion to replace the Trident missile system
and 1 billion for a deal with the DUP
just so she can keep her own job.
She seems to be able to shake the magic money tree
when she wants to.
Can the Prime Minister now end the injustice for those women
who are missing out on their pension
before she herself thinks about retiring?
We have put ?1 billion extra into this question of the change
of state pension age to ensure that nobody sees their state pension age
increase by more than 18 months from that which was
previously expected, but I have to also say
to the honourable gentleman that the Scottish Government,
of course, does now have extra powers in the area of welfare.
Perhaps it's about time the Scottish Government got on
with the day job and stopped talking endlessly about independence.
You're watching Wednesday in Parliament with me, Alicia McCarthy.
Youth custody centres in England and Wales are now so unsafe that
a tragedy is inevitable.
That's the finding of the annual report
of the Chief Inspector of Prisons.
The Chief Inspector said there'd been a staggering
decline in standards.
He hadn't inspected a single establishment where it was safe
to hold young people.
Prisons for men had also become worse in the past 12
months with startling increases in violence.
A Labour MP, whose constituency includes the Feltham Young Offenders
Institution in London, had put down an urgent question.
The jump in violence in our prisons is a crisis
of the government's making.
The warning signs have been there.
They've been warned by MPs, they've been warned by staff
in our prisons and they've been warned by charities.
Now they are being condemned by this damning report.
The budget for prisons has been cut by more than a fifth
over the last six years, cuts that have now been proved
to be a false economy.
Prison staff have been cut by a quarter and those who remain
are being put at risk.
The human impact of Tory austerity is now being laid bare at the door
of our prison system.
Yes, the staffing issue has been indicated as a problem,
and this has been addressed in the last year.
As I said previously, we have appointed more than 500 to March,
and we are on course to fulfil our target of 2500 extra
prison officers by the end of 2018.
But I would argue that the unforeseen exacerbant in prisons
has been Spice and drug use.
And it was not anticipated by any previous government,
and this is undeniably causing difficulties both in terms
of the behaviour of the prisoners and indeed the corruption
of the prisoners and some staff with regard to the trade
in these substances.
The Minister is right to be frank, as he always has been,
about the dire state of affairs in our prisons, which the Select
Committee highlighted in a number of reports in the last Parliament.
On a constructive note, would he recognise that,
although there is no prison legislation proposed in the current
session for the Queen's Speech, it would be appropriate
for the government nonetheless to forward much of the prison
reform agenda that does not require legislation?
With regards to legislation, we have not ruled out future
legislation for prisons, but I would argue that there
is quite a lot we could be getting on with which does
not require legislation.
We are eager and keen and determined to reform our prison system.
The chief inspector says that he'd reached a conclusion,
that there was not a single establishment that we inspected
in England and Wales in which it was safe to hold
children and young people, adding that the speed of decline
has been staggering as, in 2013-14, nine out of 12
institutions were graded as good or reasonably good for safety.
Given this, what explanation does the Minister have for this?
We know that there are many, many difficulties in
the youth justice system.
The violence rate is ten times higher in the youth justice system
compared to the adult prison estate.
Working, and I would like to support, and give
full support, actually, to the staff who continue
in the youth estate because I've seen it with my own eyes,
I've visited the majority of the youth estate,
and it is extremely difficult.
But given there was a prisons bill already drafted that actually had
made some progress in the last session, can he tell the House why
that Bill has been dropped?
And if the government is committed to prison reform,
why has it dropped a piece of legislation that was ready to be
heard by this House?
If there is a requirement for further legislation,
that has not been ruled out in the future but, as the right
honourable gentleman recognises, there are Parliamentary time
pressures here, and this is something which we are
having to accommodate.
However, there is absolutely no reason why they can't continue
with the reform programme that we've planned.
The outgoing Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, has demanded
to know when the government will meet what he called its measly
commitment to transfer 480 unaccompanied child
refugees from Europe.
He said, so far, 200 have come to the UK.
The government's preferred approach is to take children not
from countries in Europe but from the region
where they came from.
Ministers argue this would counter the pull factor and stop families
sending their youngsters on the dangerous journey to Europe.
But in a concession, after a campaign by the Labour peer
Lord Dubs, ministers agreed they would take some unaccompanied
children who were already in the EU.
Tim Farron was asking an urgent question about the so-called
Dubs Scheme and the promise to bring 480 youngsters to
the UK in this way.
I say it's a measly commitment because the UK Government
could do so much more.
Freedom of Information Act requests show that local councils have
voluntarily offered to accept 1572 more children in addition to those
they already support.
Does the Minister know this?
And in light of this information, would the government reopen Dubs
and take its fair share?
Now, I know of two young people who signed a consent form to be
transferred under Dubs over a year ago.
They are still stuck in Greece.
And the horrific truth, Mr Speaker, in closing
is that the longer this goes on, the more likely that these children
will go missing and fall into the evil hands of traffickers.
According to Oxfam, 28 children every single day
are going missing in Italy alone.
Will this government step up continue to ignore the plight
of these desperate children?
What we are very clear about is that making sure that we do not
create a pull factor but, at the same time, we did the right
thing, as we have done with the ?2.46 billion of support
make us one of the biggest contributed with the biggest
humanitarian aid project this country has ever conducted
to look after the people who need our care the most.
And instead of playing politics with children's lives,
we should get on with looking after them, and I wish
he would join us in doing that.
The House understands the government's preference to take
unaccompanied children directly from the region, but I've visited
the camps in France and Greece, and the Minister needs to be
reminded those children are already there, often living in horrible
conditions and particularly at the mercy of traffickers
and sexual exploitation.
An SNP MP quoted a report by the Human Trafficking Foundation
that was launched last week.
This independent inquiry has found that UK ministers have done
"as little as legally possible to help unaccompanied
children who have fled war and conflict in their home".
It says the UK Government have "turned away from a humanitarian
crisis that would not be tolerable to the British public
if they were more aware of it", and that, by failing to offer safe
passage, the UK Government are "unquestionably fuelling both
people trafficking and smuggling".
I actually would encourage more people to have a look at
what she refers to as an independent report were one of the co-authors
is a recently retired Labour Member of Parliament,
a report that, actually, when I read it - this is why
I would encourage people to read it - actually has a lot of accusations
and statements with no evidence to base them on whatsoever.
Well, that question was repeated in the House of Lords,
where one of the co-authors of the human trafficking report
tackled the Minister over the conditions
facing child refugees.
I hope that the Minister has read our report which talks
about children being tear-gassed on a daily basis by the riot police
in northern France and the terrible conditions both in Italy
and in Greece.
There is no effort whatever to identify Dubs children in either
Calais or in Dunkirk or indeed in Greece or in Italy, as far
as the evidence that we received.
It is a catastrophe for these children, and I feel
passionate about it, and nothing seems to be done.
I recognise the noble lady's passion, and she and I have talked
on a number of occasions on this, and I also have read her report.
The first thing that I would say, in terms of the treatment by police
of children in France, is this, and I've said this
before in this House, the prime responsibility
for unaccompanied children in Europe lies with the authorities
in the countries in which the children are present.
However, we continue to work with European and international
partners to reach a solution to the migrant crisis,
and the UK has contributed significantly in terms of hosting,
supporting and protecting the most vulnerable children.
Once we have reached the 480 children, she says the government
will have accepted or will accept under section 67.
Is that the end of it or will the government respond
to local authorities who say and are still saying
they are willing to take more?
It's a simple yes or no.
The Minister didn't give a yes or no answer, saying
the government was bound by local authority capacity.
Now, Labour has accused the government of reneging
on a promise to allow MPs a vote on an increase in student
tuition fees in England.
That charge came during an emergency debate secured by Labour MPs
on measures which will allow tuition fees to rise this autumn
to a maximum of ?9,250.
But Labour faced accusations from the Conservatives of misleading
students during the general election campaign, saying it had promised
to write off existing student debt.
This weak and wobbly government doesn't even
trust its own backbenchers with a vote on its own policies.
But the higher education and research act that
the Education Secretary and the Universities Minister took
through this House is very clear on the matter.
Paragraph 5 of schedule 2 states that the upper limit of fees can
only rise when each House of Parliament has passed
a resolution that, with effect from the date specified
in the resolution, the higher amount should be increased.
So can the Minister guarantee that no students will have to pay
the higher fees until both Houses have passed such
a resolution allowing it?
On the subject of being weak and wobbly, can she confirm,
is it still Labour policy to pay off all ?100 billion of
the outstanding student debt?
Is it still her policy, yes or no?
And I have said once and I will say it again,
we have no plans to write off existing student debt,
and we never promised to do so.
During the election, her party made categorically clear
to endless numbers of students that they would abolish the student debt.
Will she now get up and apologise for using them as election fodder?
I'm sure the Minister's about to make what he believes
is a convincing case.
However, the real test is not just to give us his words
but to give us a vote on them, so that is the question
I put to him now.
If he is so convinced that what he's doing is right,
then will he give the courage of those convictions
and put them to this House?
The party opposite wants to talk about process because its policy
platform is disintegrating before our eyes.
And the regulations, Mr Speaker, are not proposed, as the honourable
member opposite says.
They have now been in force for six months.
This debate, which cannot change arrangements for 2017-18,
is therefore a sham exercise.
I suspect this is simply more of the same cynical politics we saw
over the weekend when Labour broke its own pre-election pledge,
about which we've heard so much this afternoon,
to write off historic student loan debts.
Freezing the repayment threshold, making graduates pay more
than they signed up for, and members opposite talk
about broken promises.
There could be no worse breach of faith, breach
of promise, breach of contract than that retrospective change.
It's frankly fraudulent.
If it was any other organisation in the government,
the Financial Conduct Authority would get involved.
No other loan has so many protections built
in for low earners.
But the focus narrowly on the repayment structure
is to ignore so much of what makes the current system a good deal
for less advantaged students.
It secures more places and higher quality teaching.
I know there is a lot of nostalgia in some circles for the days
when university was free but, too often, those people fail
to acknowledge that this was only possible because the proportion
of school leavers who went on to higher education was tiny.
And finally, the Speaker, John Bercow, has quietly been
relaxing the dress code in the House of Commons.
He said that MPs should wear businesslike attire,
but that it was not essential for male MPs to wear a tie.
Not to be outdone, one female MP took the opportunity
of Scottish Questions to flag up her support for Scotland's
national women's football team as they prepared to face
England's Lionesses in the Euro 2017 tournament.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
I'd also like to put on my record the very best wishes
of everyone on these benches for the Scottish football team.
I'm wearing the colours, I hope you don't mind.
I used to play alongside two of Scotland's national
players at university.
Their career has obviously done better in football than mine.
Hannah Bardell in praise of Scotland's women's football team.
And that's it from me for now, but do join me at the same time
tomorrow for the last day of Parliament before
the summer recess.
But for now, from me, Alicia McCarthy, goodbye.