Tories say they are ready to take action to oust John Bercow

Commons Speaker could face no confidence motion over bullying allegations, which may win support of some Labour MPs

The Speaker, John Bercow, is expected to face a motion of no confidence in the Commons on Monday in the wake of allegations that he bullied a member of parliamentary staff.

The Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen, a longtime critic of Bercow, said that either he or another MP would put down an early day motion (EDM) expressing no confidence in the speaker. While an EDM is a formal motion for debate, very few are actually discussed. However, MPs can put their names to them as a way of expressing support for a particular cause.

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Diane Abbott calls for fairer immigration system for families

Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, is to announce a Labour policy pledge on Wednesday to end “family break-up through the immigration system”.

Abbott is due to use her speech to outline the “fair and reasonable values” upon which Labour will base its immigration policy, a day before the quarterly publication of the net migration figures.

The migration data are expected to show growing evidence of a “Brexodus” with fewer European Union nationals coming to live in Britain and more leaving the country.

Abbott will renew Labour’s commitment at the last general election to scrap the government’s “false and unworkable net migration target” of bringing levels down to below 100,000 a year.

She is to highlight the fact that Theresa May’s target, and the hostile environment measures put in place that have so far failed to achieve it, are “leading to the scandalous situation where we are turning away doctors, even though there is a severe shortage of trained personnel in the NHS”.

The new commitment to ending family break-up in the immigration system will be explained, Abbott saying: “We will allow the carers or parents of admitted child refugees to come here. We will also end the practice of deporting the children, currently without entitlement to be here, once they turn 18, even when their parents are entitled to be here.”

It is “neither fair nor reasonable to break up families” in this way, according to Abbott. She is also to promise to use the speech to identify a large number of other current policies that do not comply with Labour’s “fair and reasonable values” and which will be altered or discontinued.

In recent weeks Abbott has been arguing that the immigration system is broken, not because it is not “tough” enough but because it lacks humanity and is based on meaningless targets rather than the priorities of jobs, growth and prosperity.

She has also sharply criticised the use of immigration detention without a time limit, promising that Labour will deal with all cases promptly and efficiently, and allow those who are entitled to stay to do so, and to deport those who are not.

Abbott’s intervention comes after the home secretary, Amber Rudd, confirmed that the long delayed government white paper on post-Brexit immigration had been postponed again and would be unlikely to appear before the autumn.

Private water payouts are a public scandal, says Labour

John McDonnell promises renationalisation of water, energy and rail under Labour

John McDonnell

John McDonnell has called the shareholder payouts of water companies a ‘scandal’.
Photograph: James McCauley/Rex/Shutterstock

Labour launched a full-frontal attack on the privatised water industry last night, accusing companies of paying out the “scandalous” sum of £13.5bn in dividends to shareholders since 2010, while claiming huge tax breaks and forcing up prices for millions of customers.

The assault by shadow chancellor John McDonnell came as he pledged total, “permanent” and cost-free renationalisation of water, energy and rail if Labour won power at the next election. The three privatisations in the 1980s and 1990s became hallmarks of the Tory governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

The dramatic intervention – which stunned the companies involved – was the strongest denunciation yet by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour of the privatisation programme that has become part of the British political landscape of the last 40 years.

The Conservative party and the Confederation of British Industry both condemned McDonnell’s comments. The CBI said Labour’s renationalisation agenda would “wind the clock back on our economy” while chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss warned that placing politicians in charge of public utilities “didn’t work last time and won’t work this time”.

McDonnell told the Observer that water companies could not even claim to offer choice to customers but instead operated regional monopolies, and were therefore able to increase prices without the risk of losing out to competitors, as well as “load up debt” while paying out huge dividends to shareholders.

“It is a national scandal that since 2010 these companies have paid billions to their shareholders, almost all their profits, whilst receiving more in tax credits than they paid in tax,” he said. “These companies operate regional monopolies which have profited at the expense of consumers who have no choice in who supplies their water.

“The next Labour government will call an end to the privatisation of our public sector, and call time on the water companies, who have a stranglehold over working households. Instead, Labour will replace this dysfunctional system with a network of regional, publicly owned water companies.”

Citing figures from the National Audit Office, the shadow chancellor said water bills had risen by 40% in real terms since privatisation of the industry in 1989. In 2016-17, the forecast average for water bills was £389 per household. McDonnell claimed that in 2017, privatised water companies paid out a total £1.6bn to their shareholders. Since 2010, the total was £13.5bn.

Michael Roberts, the chief executive of Water UK, which represents private water companies, said McDonnell was completely mistaken: “It’s wrong for Labour to suggest that our water system is broken. Water companies secure capital provided by lenders and shareholders, who need water companies to make a return in order to finance significant improvements to the industry.

“Under public ownership, the water sector in England was starved of cash and standards were poor. Private companies have instead invested heavily to reduce leakage, improve drinking water quality, and protect the environment – and they continue to invest £8 billion each year in even better services. In real terms, bills are roughly where they were 20 years ago and will be falling over the next few years.”

Meanwhile, at a conference on alternative models of ownership in London, Corbyn backed the nationalisation of Britain’s energy system as a way to tackle climate change. He said that “the challenge of climate change and the threat of climate catastrophe requires us to be at least as radical” as the 1945 Labour government that created the National Health Service. Corbyn said that Labour would back a “great wave of change across the world in favour of public, democratic ownership and control of our services and utilities.

“We can put Britain at the forefront of the wave of change across the world in favour of public, democratic ownership and control of our services and utilities,” he said.

“From India to Canada, countries across the world are waking up to the fact that privatisation has failed, and taking back control of their public services,” he added.

The water industry was privatised in 1989, transferring the assets and personnel of the 10 water authorities into limited companies. Capital was raised by floating the companies on the stock exchange, accompanied by a one-off injection of public capital, the write-off of government debt and the provision of capital tax allowances.

Rail fares: unions and Labour condemn ‘staggering’ increase

Labour and trade unions have condemned “staggering” annual increases to rail fares, which come into force on Tuesday, triggering protests at dozens of stations in England.

Fares will increase by 3.4% on average, with season tickets up by 3.6%, more than the consumer price index inflation rate and well above average increases in annual earnings.

While the government and rail operators said the rises would lead to more investment in services, analysis by the Labour party said the average season ticket would cost £2,888 – £694 more than in 2010 – a rise of more than 30%.

Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary, said fares had increased at a “truly staggering” rate, and had risen three times more quickly than wages since the start of the first David Cameron government.

Separate analysis by the TUC said rail commuters in Britain were spending a considerably higher proportion of their salaries on season tickets than equivalent travellers in other European countries.

The TUC’s figures used the example of a season ticket to London from Chelmsford in Essex, which had risen to £381 a month – 13% of average London salaries.

In contrast, it said, a comparable commute of about 30 miles in France would cost 2% of an average salary, 3% in Italy, 4% in Germany and 5% in Belgium and Spain.

The RMT rail union has organised protests against the fare rises at 40 stations in England on Tuesday, the day most people return to work after the Christmas holidays. There will be equivalent events at some Scottish stations on Wednesday, after the extra bank holiday there.

Protest sites include Euston, King’s Cross, Paddington and Waterloo in London, as well as Birmingham New Street, Manchester Piccadilly, Cardiff Central, Newcastle and Leeds.

Since 2004, government regulations stipulate that while rail companies can raise some fares as they see fit, season tickets and so-called protected fares, including saver returns, are limited to an amount set by ministers and linked to inflation, sometimes with a small amount of leeway.

The current method caps fare rises at the retail price index, generally the higher of the two most common measures for inflation, which is currently at 3.9%.

The Labour analysis of the cumulative impact of season ticket increases since 2010 found that the highest absolute rise was for an annual season ticket for Virgin Trains between Birmingham and London, which as of Tuesday will cost £10,567, £2,539 more than in 2010.

The highest proportional rise was for annual season tickets between Tame Bridge Parkway near Walsall and Nuneaton, which costs 50% more now than in 2010.

McDonald said: “Commuters have repeatedly been told that higher fares are necessary to fund investment, but promised investment has been cancelled and essential works have been delayed by years.

“The truth is that our fragmented, privatised railway drives up costs and leaves passengers paying more for less. The railways need serious reform that could be achieved if the Tories matched Labour’s manifesto policy to extend public ownership to passenger services.”

Frances O’Grady, who urged the government to put railways ‘back into public hands’.

Frances O’Grady, who urged the government to put railways ‘back into public hands’. Photograph: EPA

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said many commuters in the UK “will look with envy to their continental cousins who enjoy reasonably priced journeys to work”.

While employers could help with season ticket loans or flexible working, “ultimately the government need to take our railways back into public hands”, she added.

Criticism of the fare rises was echoed by Which?, the consumer group. “This price rise is yet more bad news for passengers, many of whom have just come to the end of yet another year of cancellations, delays, overcrowding and poor service from train companies,” Alex Hayman, its head of public markets, said.

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which brings together train operators and Network Rail, said 97% of fare revenues went directly into rail services, with major improvements planned.

He said: “Over the next 18 months alone the country will see an unprecedented transformation in rail services, including dramatic improvements across the Thameslink network and through the Great North Rail Project.”

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said the government was “investing in the biggest modernisation of our railways since the Victorian times”, and fare rises were kept under review.