19/07/2017 Wednesday in Parliament


19/07/2017

Highlights of proceedings in Parliament on Wednesday 19 July with Alicia McCarthy.


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Hello and welcome to Wednesday In Parliament.

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On this programme:

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The Government announces the pension age is going up to 68

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seven years earlier than planned.

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The last Prime Minister's Questions before the recess sees Theresa May

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and Jeremy Corbyn do battle over pay and the economy.

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And the Government's urged to do more to help

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unaccompanied child refugees.

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It is a catastrophe for these children

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and I feel passionate about it.

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But first, the state pension age is to rise from 67 to 68

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seven years earlier than initially planned.

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Ministers are accepting a recommendation made

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in the Cridland review earlier this year.

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It means six million people will have to wait longer before

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receiving their state pension.

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The change will affect those born between April 1970 and April 1978.

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The increase will now come into effect from 2037.

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The Government hopes the move will save around ?74 billion.

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The Work and Pensions Secretary, David Gauke,

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told MPs people that were living longer.

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In 1948, Mr Deputy Speaker, when the modern state pension

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was introduced, a 65-year-old could expect to live

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for a further 13.5 years.

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By 2007, when further legislation was introduced

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to increase the state pension age, this had risen to around

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21 years and in 2037, it is expected to be nearly 25 years.

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There is a balance to be struck between funding of the state pension

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in years to come whilst also ensuring fairness for future

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generations of taxpayers.

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The approach I am setting out today

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is the responsible and fair course of action.

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Failing to act now in light of compelling evidence of

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demographic pressures would be irresponsible

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and place an extremely unfair burden on younger generations.

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Last week, evidence from Public Health England showed

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how deep inequalities in healthy life expectancy remain both

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regionally and between different groups in our society including

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women, disabled people and black and minority ethnic groups.

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It is therefore astonishing that today

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this Government chooses to implement their plans to speed up

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the state pension age and increase it to 68.

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Mr Deputy Speaker, most pensioners will now spend their retirement

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battling a toxic cocktail of ill-health, with men expecting

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to drift into ill-health at 63, five years earlier than this proposed

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quickened state pension age of 68.

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Labour want a different approach.

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In our manifesto, we are committed to leaving

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the state pension age at 66 while we undertake a review into

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healthy life expectancy, arduous work,

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and the potential of flexible state pension age.

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Even by the standards of the party opposite,

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their approach to be state pension age is reckless,

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short-sighted and irresponsible.

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When the evidence in front of us shows that life expectancy

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will continue to increase a little over one year every eight years

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that pass, fixing the state pension age at 66 as advocated

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by the party opposite demonstrates a complete failure to appreciate

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the situation in front of us.

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In the SNP, we continue to call for the establishment

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of an independent savings and pensions commission.

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We believe that the Government is not doing enough

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to recognise the demographic differences across the

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United Kingdom and an independent review of this would look at those

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and would take those into account.

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When Her Majesty the Queen came to be throne in 1952,

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there were 300 people in that year who reached the age of 100.

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Last year, it was over 13,000.

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Does he express or will he express surprise that I feel at

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the irresponsibility and recklessness

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of the party opposite in resisting some of these measures?

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Well, I don't know if I'm surprised by anything

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the Labour Party does, but it is disappointing.

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A Labour MP had been expecting a statement

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on the so called WASPI women - those born in the 1950s who claim

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they weren't given proper notice of the rise in their state pension age.

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I had hopes that the minister was coming here today

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because he'd seen the light.

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He'd realised that the women from the 1950s are being dealt a terrible

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set of cards by this Government, that he was going to compensate

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them, that he was going to make good on the injustice that has been done

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to them, that he was going to make sure that every single person

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who wasn't even notified by the Government

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that they were going to be caught by this

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would be compensated and that he was going to

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finally acknowledge that women in my constituency

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who are in their 60s, who say to me that they are

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completely clapped-out because they have had tough,

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laborious jobs all their lives, that they are the very people

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that his minister says should now take up an apprenticeship.

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How dull are they?

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David Gauke said he wasn't sure

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he'd want to call his constituents "clapped-out."

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As to the 1950s women, he said that as with this announcement,

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there was a need to balance a dignified retirement

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with the fact that state pensions had to be paid for.

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Now, there was a rowdy end of term sort of feel to the last

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Prime Minister's Questions before parliament begins its summer break.

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The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, focused on low pay but began

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by highlighting splits at the top of the Government.

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At the weekend, the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, said some senior

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ministers were briefing against him because they didn't

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like his views on Brexit.

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That followed press reports that Mr Hammond had said some public

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sector staff were overpaid.

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Mr Speaker, the Chancellor said this week that some

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public servants are overpaid.

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Given the Prime Minister has had to administer a slap down to her

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squabbling Cabinet, does she think the Chancellor was actually talking

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about her own ministers?

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I recognise, as I said when I stood on

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the steps of Downing Street a year ago,

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that there are some people in our country

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who are just about managing.

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They find life a struggle.

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That actually covers people who are working in the public sector

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and some people who are working in the private sector and that's why

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it's important that the Government is taking steps,

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for example, to help those on the lowest incomes

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through the national living wage.

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It's why we have taken millions of people out

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of paying income tax altogether.

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It's why basic rate taxpayers under this Government have seen a tax cut

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of the equivalent of ?1000.

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Can I invite the Prime Minister to take a check

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with reality on this?

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One...

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SHOUTING

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Mr Speaker...

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One in eight workers in the United Kingdom,

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that is 3.8 million people in work, are now living in poverty.

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55% of people in poverty are in working households.

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The Prime Minister's lack of touch with reality goes like this -

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low pay in Britain is holding people back at a time of rising

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housing costs, rising food prices and rising transport costs.

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It threatens people's living standards

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and rising consumer debt and falling savings

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threatens our economic stability.

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Why doesn't the Prime Minister understand that low pay

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is a threat to an already weakening economy?

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The best route out of poverty is through work

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and what we now see is hundreds...

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Order, order!

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Order, the question has been asked.

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The Prime Minister's answer must -

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and however long it takes it will - be heard.

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The Prime Minister.

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The best route out of poverty is through work.

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That's why it's so important that over the last seven years,

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we have seen 3 million more jobs being created in our economy.

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It's why we now see so many thousands of people

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in households with work rather than in workless households.

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Many more hundreds of thousands more children

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being brought up in a household where there is work rather

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than a failure to have work.

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That's what's important, but what's important

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for Government as well is to ensure that we do

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provide support to people.

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That's why we created the national living wage.

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That was the biggest pay increase for people on lowest incomes ever.

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When did the Labour Party ever introduce the national living wage?

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Never.

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That was a Conservative Government and a Conservative record.

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What we want is a country where there are not 4 million

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children living in poverty, where homelessness is not rising

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every year and I look a long that front bench opposite, Mr Speaker,

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and I see a Cabinet bickering and backbiting while the economy

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gets weaker and people are put further into debt.

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Isn't the truth that this divided Government is unable to give

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this country the leadership it so desperately needs now

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to deal with these issues?

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I'll tell the Right Honourable gentleman the reality.

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The reality is that he is always talking Britain down and

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we are a leading Britain forward.

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The SNP's leader at Westminster turned to the pensions

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of those WASPI women.

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The Prime Minister has found up to ?35 billion

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for Hinkley Point C nuclear power station,

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up to 200 billion to replace the Trident missile system

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and 1 billion for a deal with the DUP

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just so she can keep her own job.

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She seems to be able to shake the magic money tree

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when she wants to.

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Can the Prime Minister now end the injustice for those women

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who are missing out on their pension

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before she herself thinks about retiring?

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We have put ?1 billion extra into this question of the change

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of state pension age to ensure that nobody sees their state pension age

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increase by more than 18 months from that which was

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previously expected, but I have to also say

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to the honourable gentleman that the Scottish Government,

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of course, does now have extra powers in the area of welfare.

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And perhaps...

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Perhaps it's about time the Scottish Government got on

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with the day job and stopped talking endlessly about independence.

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Theresa May.

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You're watching Wednesday in Parliament with me, Alicia McCarthy.

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Youth custody centres in England and Wales are now so unsafe that

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a tragedy is inevitable.

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That's the finding of the annual report

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of the Chief Inspector of Prisons.

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The Chief Inspector said there'd been a staggering

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decline in standards.

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He hadn't inspected a single establishment where it was safe

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to hold young people.

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Prisons for men had also become worse in the past 12

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months with startling increases in violence.

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A Labour MP, whose constituency includes the Feltham Young Offenders

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Institution in London, had put down an urgent question.

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The jump in violence in our prisons is a crisis

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of the government's making.

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The warning signs have been there.

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They've been warned by MPs, they've been warned by staff

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in our prisons and they've been warned by charities.

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Now they are being condemned by this damning report.

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The budget for prisons has been cut by more than a fifth

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over the last six years, cuts that have now been proved

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to be a false economy.

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Prison staff have been cut by a quarter and those who remain

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are being put at risk.

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The human impact of Tory austerity is now being laid bare at the door

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of our prison system.

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Yes, the staffing issue has been indicated as a problem,

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and this has been addressed in the last year.

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As I said previously, we have appointed more than 500 to March,

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and we are on course to fulfil our target of 2500 extra

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prison officers by the end of 2018.

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But I would argue that the unforeseen exacerbant in prisons

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has been Spice and drug use.

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And it was not anticipated by any previous government,

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and this is undeniably causing difficulties both in terms

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of the behaviour of the prisoners and indeed the corruption

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of the prisoners and some staff with regard to the trade

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in these substances.

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The Minister is right to be frank, as he always has been,

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about the dire state of affairs in our prisons, which the Select

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Committee highlighted in a number of reports in the last Parliament.

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On a constructive note, would he recognise that,

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although there is no prison legislation proposed in the current

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session for the Queen's Speech, it would be appropriate

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for the government nonetheless to forward much of the prison

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reform agenda that does not require legislation?

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With regards to legislation, we have not ruled out future

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legislation for prisons, but I would argue that there

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is quite a lot we could be getting on with which does

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not require legislation.

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We are eager and keen and determined to reform our prison system.

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The chief inspector says that he'd reached a conclusion,

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that there was not a single establishment that we inspected

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in England and Wales in which it was safe to hold

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children and young people, adding that the speed of decline

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has been staggering as, in 2013-14, nine out of 12

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institutions were graded as good or reasonably good for safety.

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Given this, what explanation does the Minister have for this?

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We know that there are many, many difficulties in

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the youth justice system.

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The violence rate is ten times higher in the youth justice system

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compared to the adult prison estate.

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Working, and I would like to support, and give

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full support, actually, to the staff who continue

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in the youth estate because I've seen it with my own eyes,

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I've visited the majority of the youth estate,

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and it is extremely difficult.

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But given there was a prisons bill already drafted that actually had

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made some progress in the last session, can he tell the House why

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that Bill has been dropped?

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And if the government is committed to prison reform,

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why has it dropped a piece of legislation that was ready to be

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heard by this House?

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If there is a requirement for further legislation,

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that has not been ruled out in the future but, as the right

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honourable gentleman recognises, there are Parliamentary time

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pressures here, and this is something which we are

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having to accommodate.

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However, there is absolutely no reason why they can't continue

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with the reform programme that we've planned.

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The outgoing Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, has demanded

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to know when the government will meet what he called its measly

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commitment to transfer 480 unaccompanied child

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refugees from Europe.

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He said, so far, 200 have come to the UK.

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The government's preferred approach is to take children not

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from countries in Europe but from the region

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where they came from.

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Ministers argue this would counter the pull factor and stop families

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sending their youngsters on the dangerous journey to Europe.

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But in a concession, after a campaign by the Labour peer

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Lord Dubs, ministers agreed they would take some unaccompanied

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children who were already in the EU.

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Tim Farron was asking an urgent question about the so-called

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Dubs Scheme and the promise to bring 480 youngsters to

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the UK in this way.

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I say it's a measly commitment because the UK Government

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could do so much more.

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Freedom of Information Act requests show that local councils have

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voluntarily offered to accept 1572 more children in addition to those

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they already support.

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Does the Minister know this?

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And in light of this information, would the government reopen Dubs

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and take its fair share?

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Now, I know of two young people who signed a consent form to be

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transferred under Dubs over a year ago.

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They are still stuck in Greece.

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And the horrific truth, Mr Speaker, in closing

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is that the longer this goes on, the more likely that these children

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will go missing and fall into the evil hands of traffickers.

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According to Oxfam, 28 children every single day

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are going missing in Italy alone.

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Will this government step up continue to ignore the plight

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of these desperate children?

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What we are very clear about is that making sure that we do not

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create a pull factor but, at the same time, we did the right

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thing, as we have done with the ?2.46 billion of support

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make us one of the biggest contributed with the biggest

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humanitarian aid project this country has ever conducted

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to look after the people who need our care the most.

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And instead of playing politics with children's lives,

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we should get on with looking after them, and I wish

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he would join us in doing that.

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The House understands the government's preference to take

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unaccompanied children directly from the region, but I've visited

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the camps in France and Greece, and the Minister needs to be

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reminded those children are already there, often living in horrible

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conditions and particularly at the mercy of traffickers

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and sexual exploitation.

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An SNP MP quoted a report by the Human Trafficking Foundation

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that was launched last week.

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This independent inquiry has found that UK ministers have done

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"as little as legally possible to help unaccompanied

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children who have fled war and conflict in their home".

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It says the UK Government have "turned away from a humanitarian

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crisis that would not be tolerable to the British public

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if they were more aware of it", and that, by failing to offer safe

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passage, the UK Government are "unquestionably fuelling both

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people trafficking and smuggling".

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I actually would encourage more people to have a look at

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what she refers to as an independent report were one of the co-authors

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is a recently retired Labour Member of Parliament,

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a report that, actually, when I read it - this is why

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I would encourage people to read it - actually has a lot of accusations

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and statements with no evidence to base them on whatsoever.

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Well, that question was repeated in the House of Lords,

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where one of the co-authors of the human trafficking report

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tackled the Minister over the conditions

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facing child refugees.

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I hope that the Minister has read our report which talks

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about children being tear-gassed on a daily basis by the riot police

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in northern France and the terrible conditions both in Italy

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and in Greece.

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There is no effort whatever to identify Dubs children in either

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Calais or in Dunkirk or indeed in Greece or in Italy, as far

0:19:100:19:15

as the evidence that we received.

0:19:150:19:19

It is a catastrophe for these children, and I feel

0:19:190:19:22

passionate about it, and nothing seems to be done.

0:19:220:19:30

I recognise the noble lady's passion, and she and I have talked

0:19:300:19:33

on a number of occasions on this, and I also have read her report.

0:19:330:19:42

The first thing that I would say, in terms of the treatment by police

0:19:420:19:48

of children in France, is this, and I've said this

0:19:480:19:53

before in this House, the prime responsibility

0:19:530:19:57

for unaccompanied children in Europe lies with the authorities

0:19:570:20:01

in the countries in which the children are present.

0:20:010:20:04

However, we continue to work with European and international

0:20:040:20:10

partners to reach a solution to the migrant crisis,

0:20:100:20:14

and the UK has contributed significantly in terms of hosting,

0:20:140:20:20

supporting and protecting the most vulnerable children.

0:20:200:20:24

Once we have reached the 480 children, she says the government

0:20:240:20:28

will have accepted or will accept under section 67.

0:20:280:20:32

Is that the end of it or will the government respond

0:20:320:20:37

to local authorities who say and are still saying

0:20:370:20:39

they are willing to take more?

0:20:400:20:41

It's a simple yes or no.

0:20:410:20:43

The Minister didn't give a yes or no answer, saying

0:20:430:20:46

the government was bound by local authority capacity.

0:20:460:20:51

Now, Labour has accused the government of reneging

0:20:510:20:53

on a promise to allow MPs a vote on an increase in student

0:20:530:20:57

tuition fees in England.

0:20:570:20:59

That charge came during an emergency debate secured by Labour MPs

0:20:590:21:03

on measures which will allow tuition fees to rise this autumn

0:21:030:21:07

to a maximum of ?9,250.

0:21:070:21:12

But Labour faced accusations from the Conservatives of misleading

0:21:120:21:15

students during the general election campaign, saying it had promised

0:21:150:21:20

to write off existing student debt.

0:21:200:21:23

This weak and wobbly government doesn't even

0:21:230:21:25

trust its own backbenchers with a vote on its own policies.

0:21:250:21:30

But the higher education and research act that

0:21:300:21:32

the Education Secretary and the Universities Minister took

0:21:320:21:36

through this House is very clear on the matter.

0:21:360:21:39

Paragraph 5 of schedule 2 states that the upper limit of fees can

0:21:390:21:42

only rise when each House of Parliament has passed

0:21:420:21:46

a resolution that, with effect from the date specified

0:21:460:21:49

in the resolution, the higher amount should be increased.

0:21:490:21:54

So can the Minister guarantee that no students will have to pay

0:21:540:21:58

the higher fees until both Houses have passed such

0:21:580:22:01

a resolution allowing it?

0:22:010:22:04

On the subject of being weak and wobbly, can she confirm,

0:22:040:22:07

is it still Labour policy to pay off all ?100 billion of

0:22:070:22:10

the outstanding student debt?

0:22:100:22:12

Is it still her policy, yes or no?

0:22:120:22:15

And I have said once and I will say it again,

0:22:150:22:19

we have no plans to write off existing student debt,

0:22:190:22:23

and we never promised to do so.

0:22:230:22:26

During the election, her party made categorically clear

0:22:260:22:33

to endless numbers of students that they would abolish the student debt.

0:22:330:22:36

Will she now get up and apologise for using them as election fodder?

0:22:360:22:41

I'm sure the Minister's about to make what he believes

0:22:410:22:43

is a convincing case.

0:22:430:22:44

However, the real test is not just to give us his words

0:22:440:22:48

but to give us a vote on them, so that is the question

0:22:480:22:52

I put to him now.

0:22:520:22:57

If he is so convinced that what he's doing is right,

0:22:570:23:00

then will he give the courage of those convictions

0:23:000:23:04

and put them to this House?

0:23:040:23:07

The party opposite wants to talk about process because its policy

0:23:070:23:10

platform is disintegrating before our eyes.

0:23:100:23:14

And the regulations, Mr Speaker, are not proposed, as the honourable

0:23:140:23:17

member opposite says.

0:23:170:23:20

They have now been in force for six months.

0:23:200:23:23

This debate, which cannot change arrangements for 2017-18,

0:23:230:23:27

is therefore a sham exercise.

0:23:270:23:32

I suspect this is simply more of the same cynical politics we saw

0:23:320:23:38

over the weekend when Labour broke its own pre-election pledge,

0:23:380:23:42

about which we've heard so much this afternoon,

0:23:420:23:45

to write off historic student loan debts.

0:23:450:23:49

Freezing the repayment threshold, making graduates pay more

0:23:490:23:51

than they signed up for, and members opposite talk

0:23:510:23:54

about broken promises.

0:23:540:23:56

There could be no worse breach of faith, breach

0:23:560:23:59

of promise, breach of contract than that retrospective change.

0:23:590:24:04

It's frankly fraudulent.

0:24:040:24:06

If it was any other organisation in the government,

0:24:060:24:08

the Financial Conduct Authority would get involved.

0:24:080:24:11

No other loan has so many protections built

0:24:110:24:14

in for low earners.

0:24:150:24:17

But the focus narrowly on the repayment structure

0:24:170:24:19

is to ignore so much of what makes the current system a good deal

0:24:190:24:22

for less advantaged students.

0:24:220:24:24

It secures more places and higher quality teaching.

0:24:240:24:29

I know there is a lot of nostalgia in some circles for the days

0:24:290:24:32

when university was free but, too often, those people fail

0:24:320:24:36

to acknowledge that this was only possible because the proportion

0:24:360:24:39

of school leavers who went on to higher education was tiny.

0:24:390:24:44

And finally, the Speaker, John Bercow, has quietly been

0:24:440:24:47

relaxing the dress code in the House of Commons.

0:24:470:24:51

He said that MPs should wear businesslike attire,

0:24:510:24:53

but that it was not essential for male MPs to wear a tie.

0:24:530:24:59

Not to be outdone, one female MP took the opportunity

0:24:590:25:01

of Scottish Questions to flag up her support for Scotland's

0:25:010:25:03

national women's football team as they prepared to face

0:25:030:25:06

England's Lionesses in the Euro 2017 tournament.

0:25:060:25:14

Hannah Bardell.

0:25:140:25:15

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

0:25:150:25:18

I'd also like to put on my record the very best wishes

0:25:180:25:21

of everyone on these benches for the Scottish football team.

0:25:210:25:23

I'm wearing the colours, I hope you don't mind.

0:25:230:25:26

I used to play alongside two of Scotland's national

0:25:260:25:28

players at university.

0:25:280:25:30

Their career has obviously done better in football than mine.

0:25:300:25:32

Hannah Bardell in praise of Scotland's women's football team.

0:25:320:25:34

And that's it from me for now, but do join me at the same time

0:25:340:25:38

tomorrow for the last day of Parliament before

0:25:380:25:40

the summer recess.

0:25:400:25:43

But for now, from me, Alicia McCarthy, goodbye.

0:25:430:25:53

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