Highlights of Thursday 28 January in Parliament, presented by Keith Macdougall.
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Hello and And then welcome to Thursday in Parliament,
our look at the best of the day in the Commons and the Lords.
On this programme, the government says it will fight a court ruling
that changes to housing benefit discriminate
against vulnerable people.
There is anger on the Labour benches.
How much of this government wasting of public money
to defend the indefensible?
As the migrant crisis continues, a plea in the Lords
for more understanding.
When will the government stopp giving the oppression that asylum
When will the government stop giving the oppression that asylum
seekers are a problem to be palmed off on other countries at all costs,
and start treating them as vulnerable people
in desperate need?
And it is farewell, Shirley.
Lady Williams of Crosby bowed out of Westminster after a long
and distinguished career.
I believe this country has a long and great tradition of leadership.
Increasingly one where we realise it has to be not just national
but global, where we are part of a larger group of human beings,
seeking a better world and a better life.
But first, it's either the spare room subsidy removal,
if you are a government supporter, or the bedroom tax,
if you support the opposition.
Some even call it the under-occupancy penalty.
Whatever it is, is controversial.
This week, the Court of Appeal ruled the policy,
cutting a benefit for those in social housing with a spare room,
discriminated against a victim of domestic violence,
and against a disabled teenager's family.
Ministers have said the government will appeal
against the court ruling.
In the Commons, the shadow work and pension secretary
said his opposite number Iain Duncan Smith faced
a clear choice.
Politics is about choices, and the choice which faced
the Secretary of State today was very clear.
He could have come to this house, he could have admitted that this
is a rotten policy that is punishing poor people across this country,
and he could have scrapped it.
Instead, he could sit on the front bench before going back to Caxton
house to consult with his lawyers in order to defend this policy
against victims of domestic violence and parents of disabled children.
We know the choice he took.
Minister Justin Tomlinson.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
And just to be clear, this is about whether it is possible
to define such exemptions, or whether direct housing payments
through local authorities give the right flexibility to help a wide
range of those in need, and we will be appealing this
to the Supreme Court.
Now, this is to be clear - if you try to set strict categories,
people, especially with unique circumstances and issues,
they could fall just below an artificial line.
That means they would miss out.
What about the 1.7 million people on the social housing waiting list?
What about the 241,000 people in overcrowded accommodation?
There is absolutely scant regard for those.
These are the people we are talking for.
It is right to provide flexibility, a coordinated approach.
This is the right thing to do.
Does the Minister agree with me that this is an issue of fairness,
and helps people who are stuck in overcrowded accommodation,
and those who are waiting on social housing list?
We will end the bedroom tax when we have the powers to do so.
If the Secretary of State will not heed the warnings of the SNP,
will he at least listen to the rulings of some
of the highest courts, and scrap this unfair
and discriminatory tax, and think again about the pursuance
of some of those most damaging cuts to vital support for some of
the most disadvantaged in society?
Parliament in London did not stop this disastrous policy.
Thank heavens the courts are intervening.
It is, Mr Speaker, little wonder that the Tories
are so unpopular in Scotland.
They have returned to being monastic party they were under Thatcher.
They have returned to being the nasty party they were under
How much public money so far has been wasted on defending this cruel
policy in terms of legal fees?
It is not cruel to provide support to the most vulnerable in society,
and it is also sensible...
It is a ?2.5 billion extra cost if the party opposite
was to abandon this policy.
We have now had, Mr Speaker, over half an hour of non-answers
from this hapless minister, when actually, we wanted his boss,
the Secretary of State, to come to this dispatch box
to defend this disgusting and pernicious policy.
Will he now answer the question set out by my honourable friend,
the member for Hull North?
How much is this government wasting of public money
to defend the indefensible?
That level of anger pretty much matched some of the families I met
waiting on the waiting list that you wish to turn a blind eye to.
If it were not out of order, would my honourable friend not agree
with me that, given that the party opposite introduced this very
principle for the private sector, their outrage now is hypocritical?
I thank my honourable friend.
I hope it isn't out of order, because I fully agree.
Well, it is out of order.
If it were, I would have ruled bus, and it wasn't, so I didn't.
If it were, I would have ruled thus, and it wasn't, so I didn't.
Speaker John Bercow, making one of his favourite rulings.
A Foreign Office minister has told MPs that the government will take
seriously a report by a United Nations panel of experts
on the conflict in Yemen, when it officially receives it.
Tobias Ellwood was responding to an urgent question from Labour,
following the leaking of the document.
The report alleges that a Saudi led coalition is involved
in bombing civilians.
That would be in breach of the rules, under which the UK
export arms to Saudi Arabia.
The Shadow Foreign Secretary sat out the allegations.
Yesterday, it came to light that the United Nations panel
of experts on Yemen's final report has, and I quote, documented
that the coalition has conducted air strikes, targeting civilians
and civilian objects in violation of international humanitarian law.
It refers to weddings, civilian vehicles, residential
areas, schools, mosques, markets and factories.
I understand that the government received this report on Monday.
Can the Minister set out what specific action, if any,
has been taken since receiving it?
It is a leaked report.
It was received to the UN on Monday, not to us.
We haven't officially received a report.
Yes, of course I've got it.
But I haven't received it, and haven't had time...
I haven't received it officially.
But Hilary Benn wanted to know if the government was implementing
its own arms control rules.
The panel documented 119 coalition sorties relating to violations
of humanitarian law, and we know that UK armaments
and planes sold to Saudi Arabia are being used in this conflict,
as they can legitimately.
However, our arms export licensing criteria state clearly
that the government will not grant a licence if there is a clear risk
that the items might be used in the commission of a serious
violation of international humanitarian law.
He mentions the potential breaches, and I'm pleased that he used
the word "alleged", and indeed, the word "potential",
because it is important that this is evidence based.
You need to see evidence.
We need to see the details in order to make firm judgments,
rather than just on hearsay, or indeed, photographs.
The actual people who wrote this report didn't visit Yemen.
They didn't actually go there.
They are basing this on satellite technology.
That does not mean to say that we dismiss it.
We take it very seriously indeed, and I commit myself to sitting down
with the Saudi Arabians to make sure that we go through this
with a fine tooth comb.
It is worth remembering that last year, this government gave just ?75
million in aid to Yemen, while at the same time,
raking in ?5.5 billion in profits from arms sales over
the last five years.
Mr Speaker, it is now time for an immediate ban on arms sales
between the UK and Saudi Arabia.
Could he also say, ask him to resist any attempt to boycott arms sales
to Saudi Arabia before the evidence is looked at, because all that
would happen is, that gap would be filled by countries exporting arms
which would not have the robust regulation that we have.
The Minister has told us he has got the report, but he
hasn't received it.
He has told us that he is going to take it seriously,
he will read it, judge on evidence, but he has also told us that he's
going to sit down with the Saudis and go through this
with a fine tooth comb.
Does he not understand that he sounds as though
he is readier to offer observations on international public relations
than he is to ensure that there is all observation
of international humanitarian law?
Would the Minister confirm the strength and presence
of militant organisations such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh in Yemen?
Well, my honourable friend raises a very important point,
and it shows the complexity of the situation here.
Very sadly, the governor of Aden was killed, not by the Houthis,
but indeed, by Daesh, who are developing a presence there.
As we know, extremists take advantage of a vacuum
The port of Mocha, which is further down the East Coast,
is entirely run, Mr Speaker, entirely run by Al-Qaeda.
This shows you that the extremists are based there, and Al-Qaeda
in Yemen, they are the ones that are allegedly responsible
for the Charlie Hebdo attack, for the print bombing attack,
for the underpants bombing attack.
They are exactly what we are trying to defeat, but they are embedding
themselves in a country where governance is missing.
Earlier this month, the Prime Minister announced a ?20
million fund to help Muslim women in the UK to learn to speak English.
He said that would tackle segregation and help women resist
the lure of extremism.
But in the Lords, one peer was far from happy at David Cameron's
linking of extremism to core language skills among Muslim women.
The evidence I've seen that applies to this country, to France
and to Belgium, is that the alienation of young Muslim
people, tempted to find a communal identity
in radical Islam, is a third-generation problem.
Not a second-generation problem.
And I find it very implausible that the temptation should be
greater if the grandmother can't speak English.
Somebody in Number 10, writing this article
in the Prime Minister's name, telling people who are entitled
to be here, who married here, who are bringing up children here,
that, "If you don't improve your fluency,
"that could affect your ability to stay here".
And it wasn't just a slip of the pen.
The Number 10 briefing note makes clear that there will,
from October, be a new language test for those seeking a Visa extension
after 13 months here.
Do we really envisage breaking up families, deporting mothers,
because they talk Urdu or Bengali at home?
Now, that really might radicalise their children.
It is no good saying everybody should learn wish without thinking
how it is to be done.
It's not easy to teach a woman English who probably is barely
literate in her own language, not only the fact that she is barely
literate, but she is very frightened of having to cope
with this new language.
I'd like to say that English should be taught to people
of all faiths and cultures.
It's a language that will unite them, and they should share
in the learning of it.
We must also remember that whilst a lack of English can act
as a barrier to integration, so can many other factors,
for example, labour market inequalities,
and especially deprivation.
Unfortunately, almost half of all Muslims in Britain live
in the 10% of most deprived local districts.
I think it is important for all migrants of all backgrounds,
faiths, creeds and religions to learn English for themselves,
and for society as a whole.
I don't think anyone in this chamber is going to argue with that.
Where my jaw fell open, and I think many others' did,
was linking the fact that there are some women,
Muslim women who can't speak English, somehow they become,
and I quote the words of the Prime Minister,
"That you could be more susceptible to the extremist message
"that comes from Daesh".
Now, where's the evidence?
I just want to tell a story about,
well, for me, it was one of the most harrowing things
that I ever had to witness, it was in a domestic refuge,
which particularly provided for South Asian women
and some of those women had arrived at the refuge,
God knows how they got there,
because they could not speak English,
they were isolated in their homes
and they lived in fear of doing anything
that might be against their husbands.
Their plea to learn English touched me more than anything
I have ever heard, because I saw this and the noble lady,
Lady Flather, brought it up, as almost their ticket to freedom.
Just booking a doctor's appointment or just ringing up a domestic refuge
really would have been able to help them.
You are watching our round-up of the day
in the Commons and the Lords.
Still to come, praise for those
who worked to keep the trains running in the recent bad weather.
Last week, it was red doors.
This week, it's brightly coloured wristbands.
It was reported that asylum seekers living in houses in Cardiff have
been issued with the wristbands that they have to wear at all times,
a move that, it was claimed, had resulted in the asylum seekers
being abused by the public.
The wristbands entitle the asylum seekers, who can't work and are not
given money, to three meals a day.
In the Lords, a Labour peer took up the issue
with a Home Office minister.
Why have Government ministers failed to carry out their responsibilities?
Since, firstly, it was only after national newspapers exposed
what was going on with red doors in Middlesbrough and wristbands
to access food in Cardiff that action was taken,
and, secondly, because as the noble Lord and Minister has now said,
are only now busily trying to find out what is happening
with the delivery of other similar contracts they have approved.
Government ministers can outsource the provision of accommodation
and food for asylum seekers,
but they cannot outsource their own direct responsibility
and accountability for those contracts being delivered
and their failure to monitor them properly.
Does the Government agree?
The asylum seekers were in initial accommodation in Cardiff
and in that accommodation,
there were those people whose asylum claims had been assessed
and their financial needs assessed,
and those people then received a financial contribution for food.
And there were those people who have just arrived, where they actually
get full board and three meals a day.
The wristbands were used to identify those people who were eligible
for the three meals a day.
Now, I am not asking the House to accept that is the way it should be,
the practice has stopped, but that is the explanation for it
and certainly our position is that safety and security and the dignity
and humanity with which we treat asylum seekers should be paramount.
As you recall, red front doors, wristbands and now refusing to take
any unaccompanied asylum seeking children from Europe.
When will the Government stop giving the impression that asylum seekers
are a problem to be palmed off on other countries at all costs
and start treating them as vulnerable people in desperate need
of our help, including sanctuary in this country?
SHOUTS OF AGREEMENT
Well, listen, I think this country - we can all be proud of the record
this country has in offering asylum to people who are in need.
The Prime Minister said in September,
we will have 1,000 people from the region here by Christmas
and we had more than a thousand here by Christmas.
The Prime Minister has announced today that there will be
a further review with UNHCR to identify unaccompanied children
from conflict regions and how they can be helped further.
Would the noble Lord and Minister tell the House when
the Home Office inspections were,
because if the Home Office were inspecting regularly,
surely they would have noticed the red doors, the wristbands?
It's either a fault in the contract and the conditions,
or a failure of inspection.
Could the Minister, who is characteristically sensitive
and careful in his use of language in referring to vulnerable people
coming to the country, have a quiet word with the Prime Minister
about his language when he described these people yesterday
as a "bunch of migrants"?
Well, sometimes the Other Place isn't quite the same
civilised debating forum...
..as we are on most occasions.
But I have to say, you know, people can choose phrases -
and I have done it myself - in the heat of the moment,
but what is more important
is what are the actions behind the words.
Transport ministers have paid tribute to Network Rail for getting
lines working again after the recent storms and floods.
The Commons' newest MP, Labour's Jim McMahon,
who won his seat in December,
raised the impact of rail disruption on the economy
during Transport Question Time.
Just days after the honourable gentleman's election,
he will have seen himself the impact of the transport disruption
caused by this winter's unprecedented winter conditions.
I am sure he would join me in actually paying tribute
to Network Rail's orange army,
who managed to get the West Coast Mainline
open within four days of it being flooded with eight feet of water
and we remain absolutely committed to getting all these lines back up,
able to run a full service safely and as soon as possible
and I would also like to thank passengers
for their patience during this time.
Absolutely, I share that appreciation
for staff and for passengers for their patience, of course,
but I think the point perhaps is being missed,
which is because money is being taken away from routine maintenance
and flood defences, there is a massive effect on our local economy.
If there has been an assessment carried out,
surely that should be made public?
I'm afraid I have to disagree with the honourable gentleman's facts.
I hate to do that on his first Transport Questions,
but the Government has announced that overall,
its flood spending in the next period will be 1.7 billion higher
than it was in the previous period and within our own transport budget,
around ?900 million is specifically dedicated to things like making sure
that the banks and cuttings are safe, the thing that often
is first to go when there was heavy flooding.
But actually, improving the resilience of the rail network,
making sure it is fit for a 21st century climate,
is absolutely at the heart of this record level of investment
that this Government is putting into the railways.
Two years ago, the Prime Minister
stood on the ruins of the Dawlish sea wall and he said, and I quote,
"If money needs to be spent, it will be spent.
"If resources are required, we will provide them."
But now we learn that Network Rail cannot even afford to fund a report
on improving the south-west rail lines,
putting millions of pounds of investment at risk.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister could not say
where that money would come from,
so I want to give the rail minister chance.
so I want to give the rail minister a chance.
Will she honour her right honourable friend's commitment
and commit to funding that study?
Can I pay tribute to my honourable friend for Torbay,
who actually raised this question with the Prime Minister.
Look, the honourable lady really needs to sort out her facts on this.
This Government spent ?35 million on the Dawlish repair,
it opened in record time.
This Government is spending over ?400 million
on transport investment in the south-west,
unlike her party, who wanted to can two major roads
and I am looking very carefully, if she would like to listen,
if she would like to listen rather than chunter,
at how we fund a very small amount of money
that in no way inhibits the overall report
that we are looking forward to seeing
from this very important organisation in April.
The people of the West Country well remember the repeated promises
made by the Transport Secretary, by the Prime Minister
and by the Chancellor, of billions of pounds of investment
in rail in the south-west, and she has just a moment ago failed
once again to confirm the Government
will commit a paltry half a million pounds
for the feasibility study that Devon and Cornwall needs
after the Dawlish disaster
into improved resilience and rail transport times.
Don't the people of the south-west feel, rightly,
completely betrayed by this Government?
You know, Mr Speaker, month after month,
the honourable gentleman gets here
and seems to be in complete denial about the fact that his Government
did nothing for the people of the south-west
and his party wanted to cancel the vital A358 road scheme
that helps people directly in his constituency.
I have already set out - and I'm happy to discuss this further
- that the very small amount of money that is required to do
one technical feasibility study, a tiny part, a tiny part
of the south-west peninsula task force study,
I am looking at ways to fund,
and we expect that report to come out in April and deliver
a real strategic uplift of what this region requires.
Now, this time last year, a series of BBC TV programmes
gave a view of Parliament not seen before.
Inside The Commons was a fly on the wall documentary
and one of its surprise stars was the Principal Doorkeeper,
Robin Fell, who has now announced his departure from Westminster.
Mr Fell has in fact worked at the House of Commons
as a police officer and a doorkeeper since 1969.
He is currently the acting Deputy Serjeant at Arms.
Also leaving after 46 years
is the Deputy Deliverer of the Vote, Owen Sweeney.
The Speaker paid tribute to both men.
I am sure that the whole house will join me in wishing these two
very long serving members of staff the very best for their retirements
and in thanking them, as I know I do, extremely personally,
for their quite outstanding contributions to this House
and to public service over nearly five decades.
They have helped most magnificently
in contributing to the smooth running of the House.
Thank you, both.
And that wasn't the only farewell of the day.
Shirley Williams has said goodbye to Westminster
with a valedictory speech.
She was first elected to Parliament in 1964
and it's certainly been an eventful 50 years.
As Education Secretary, she oversaw the arrival
of comprehensive schools in place of selective education.
And in the early 1980s, she was famously a founding member
of the Social Democratic Party, or SDP.
In more recent years, she had been a leading Lib Dem peer.
Lady Williams said people have been asking her why
she was retiring from the Lords.
Well, I'm retiring partly because I have in front of me
my right honourable and noble friend Lord Steele, who managed to pass
a recent, you may remember, reform of the House of Lords
which enables someone like me to retire.
It wasn't intended.
He says it wasn't intended.
I have to say that at least it has the advantage of me not having
to actually lose my capacities entirely before I departed
from the House of Lords.
And I still have to say to my fellow politicians,
why can't you get together and propose, regardless of party,
ways in which we can sustain the NHS over many years?
Because it is one of the great institutions of the world and
one that is based on a commitment to public service
which is quite extraordinary.
So in concluding, I hand over to my colleagues here,
I hope, careful and very, I think, cherishing support
for the great public sector institutions I have spoken about,
which are part of the woof and the weft of this country's whole being
and whole textile and whole quality,
and also ask them to think very hard before allowing the United Kingdom
to withdraw from what I believe to be its major duty to the world,
and that one it will encounter
and then deliver through the European Union.
Lady Williams taking a well earned retirement.
The Lords will miss her.
That is it for this programme.
Do join me for The Week in Parliament,
when we not only look back at the last few days
in the Commons and the Lords,
but also try to assess what sort of campaign we could be in for
as the EU referendum draws ever closer.
Until then, from me, Keith McDougall, goodbye.
Until then, from me, Keith MacDougall, goodbye.