28/01/2016 Thursday in Parliament


28/01/2016

Highlights of Thursday 28 January in Parliament, presented by Keith Macdougall.


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And

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And then

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Hello and And then welcome to Thursday in Parliament,

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our look at the best of the day in the Commons and the Lords.

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On this programme, the government says it will fight a court ruling

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that changes to housing benefit discriminate

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against vulnerable people.

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There is anger on the Labour benches.

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How much of this government wasting of public money

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to defend the indefensible?

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As the migrant crisis continues, a plea in the Lords

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for more understanding.

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When will the government stopp giving the oppression that asylum

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When will the government stop giving the oppression that asylum

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seekers are a problem to be palmed off on other countries at all costs,

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and start treating them as vulnerable people

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in desperate need?

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And it is farewell, Shirley.

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Lady Williams of Crosby bowed out of Westminster after a long

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and distinguished career.

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I believe this country has a long and great tradition of leadership.

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Increasingly one where we realise it has to be not just national

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but global, where we are part of a larger group of human beings,

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seeking a better world and a better life.

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But first, it's either the spare room subsidy removal,

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if you are a government supporter, or the bedroom tax,

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if you support the opposition.

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Some even call it the under-occupancy penalty.

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Whatever it is, is controversial.

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This week, the Court of Appeal ruled the policy,

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cutting a benefit for those in social housing with a spare room,

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discriminated against a victim of domestic violence,

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and against a disabled teenager's family.

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Ministers have said the government will appeal

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against the court ruling.

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In the Commons, the shadow work and pension secretary

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said his opposite number Iain Duncan Smith faced

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a clear choice.

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Politics is about choices, and the choice which faced

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the Secretary of State today was very clear.

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He could have come to this house, he could have admitted that this

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is a rotten policy that is punishing poor people across this country,

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and he could have scrapped it.

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Instead, he could sit on the front bench before going back to Caxton

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house to consult with his lawyers in order to defend this policy

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against victims of domestic violence and parents of disabled children.

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We know the choice he took.

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Minister Justin Tomlinson.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker.

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And just to be clear, this is about whether it is possible

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to define such exemptions, or whether direct housing payments

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through local authorities give the right flexibility to help a wide

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range of those in need, and we will be appealing this

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to the Supreme Court.

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Now, this is to be clear - if you try to set strict categories,

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people, especially with unique circumstances and issues,

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they could fall just below an artificial line.

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That means they would miss out.

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What about the 1.7 million people on the social housing waiting list?

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What about the 241,000 people in overcrowded accommodation?

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There is absolutely scant regard for those.

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These are the people we are talking for.

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It is right to provide flexibility, a coordinated approach.

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This is the right thing to do.

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Does the Minister agree with me that this is an issue of fairness,

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and helps people who are stuck in overcrowded accommodation,

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and those who are waiting on social housing list?

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We will end the bedroom tax when we have the powers to do so.

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If the Secretary of State will not heed the warnings of the SNP,

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will he at least listen to the rulings of some

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of the highest courts, and scrap this unfair

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and discriminatory tax, and think again about the pursuance

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of some of those most damaging cuts to vital support for some of

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the most disadvantaged in society?

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Parliament in London did not stop this disastrous policy.

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Thank heavens the courts are intervening.

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It is, Mr Speaker, little wonder that the Tories

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are so unpopular in Scotland.

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They have returned to being monastic party they were under Thatcher.

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They have returned to being the nasty party they were under

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Thatcher.

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How much public money so far has been wasted on defending this cruel

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policy in terms of legal fees?

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It is not cruel to provide support to the most vulnerable in society,

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and it is also sensible...

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It is a ?2.5 billion extra cost if the party opposite

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was to abandon this policy.

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We have now had, Mr Speaker, over half an hour of non-answers

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from this hapless minister, when actually, we wanted his boss,

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the Secretary of State, to come to this dispatch box

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to defend this disgusting and pernicious policy.

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Will he now answer the question set out by my honourable friend,

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the member for Hull North?

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How much is this government wasting of public money

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to defend the indefensible?

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That level of anger pretty much matched some of the families I met

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waiting on the waiting list that you wish to turn a blind eye to.

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If it were not out of order, would my honourable friend not agree

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with me that, given that the party opposite introduced this very

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principle for the private sector, their outrage now is hypocritical?

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I thank my honourable friend.

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I hope it isn't out of order, because I fully agree.

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Well, it is out of order.

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If it were, I would have ruled bus, and it wasn't, so I didn't.

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If it were, I would have ruled thus, and it wasn't, so I didn't.

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Speaker John Bercow, making one of his favourite rulings.

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A Foreign Office minister has told MPs that the government will take

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seriously a report by a United Nations panel of experts

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on the conflict in Yemen, when it officially receives it.

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Tobias Ellwood was responding to an urgent question from Labour,

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following the leaking of the document.

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The report alleges that a Saudi led coalition is involved

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in bombing civilians.

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That would be in breach of the rules, under which the UK

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export arms to Saudi Arabia.

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The Shadow Foreign Secretary sat out the allegations.

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Yesterday, it came to light that the United Nations panel

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of experts on Yemen's final report has, and I quote, documented

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that the coalition has conducted air strikes, targeting civilians

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and civilian objects in violation of international humanitarian law.

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It refers to weddings, civilian vehicles, residential

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areas, schools, mosques, markets and factories.

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I understand that the government received this report on Monday.

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Can the Minister set out what specific action, if any,

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has been taken since receiving it?

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It is a leaked report.

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It was received to the UN on Monday, not to us.

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We haven't officially received a report.

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Yes, of course I've got it.

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But I haven't received it, and haven't had time...

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LAUGHTER.

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I haven't received it officially.

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But Hilary Benn wanted to know if the government was implementing

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its own arms control rules.

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The panel documented 119 coalition sorties relating to violations

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of humanitarian law, and we know that UK armaments

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and planes sold to Saudi Arabia are being used in this conflict,

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as they can legitimately.

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However, our arms export licensing criteria state clearly

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that the government will not grant a licence if there is a clear risk

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that the items might be used in the commission of a serious

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violation of international humanitarian law.

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He mentions the potential breaches, and I'm pleased that he used

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the word "alleged", and indeed, the word "potential",

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because it is important that this is evidence based.

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You need to see evidence.

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We need to see the details in order to make firm judgments,

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rather than just on hearsay, or indeed, photographs.

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The actual people who wrote this report didn't visit Yemen.

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They didn't actually go there.

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They are basing this on satellite technology.

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That does not mean to say that we dismiss it.

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We take it very seriously indeed, and I commit myself to sitting down

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with the Saudi Arabians to make sure that we go through this

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with a fine tooth comb.

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It is worth remembering that last year, this government gave just ?75

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million in aid to Yemen, while at the same time,

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raking in ?5.5 billion in profits from arms sales over

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the last five years.

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Mr Speaker, it is now time for an immediate ban on arms sales

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between the UK and Saudi Arabia.

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Could he also say, ask him to resist any attempt to boycott arms sales

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to Saudi Arabia before the evidence is looked at, because all that

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would happen is, that gap would be filled by countries exporting arms

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which would not have the robust regulation that we have.

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The Minister has told us he has got the report, but he

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hasn't received it.

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He has told us that he is going to take it seriously,

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he will read it, judge on evidence, but he has also told us that he's

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going to sit down with the Saudis and go through this

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with a fine tooth comb.

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Does he not understand that he sounds as though

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he is readier to offer observations on international public relations

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than he is to ensure that there is all observation

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of international humanitarian law?

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Would the Minister confirm the strength and presence

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of militant organisations such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh in Yemen?

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Well, my honourable friend raises a very important point,

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and it shows the complexity of the situation here.

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Very sadly, the governor of Aden was killed, not by the Houthis,

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but indeed, by Daesh, who are developing a presence there.

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As we know, extremists take advantage of a vacuum

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of governments.

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The port of Mocha, which is further down the East Coast,

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is entirely run, Mr Speaker, entirely run by Al-Qaeda.

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This shows you that the extremists are based there, and Al-Qaeda

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in Yemen, they are the ones that are allegedly responsible

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for the Charlie Hebdo attack, for the print bombing attack,

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for the underpants bombing attack.

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They are exactly what we are trying to defeat, but they are embedding

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themselves in a country where governance is missing.

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Tobias Ellwood.

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Earlier this month, the Prime Minister announced a ?20

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million fund to help Muslim women in the UK to learn to speak English.

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He said that would tackle segregation and help women resist

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the lure of extremism.

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But in the Lords, one peer was far from happy at David Cameron's

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linking of extremism to core language skills among Muslim women.

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The evidence I've seen that applies to this country, to France

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and to Belgium, is that the alienation of young Muslim

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people, tempted to find a communal identity

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in radical Islam, is a third-generation problem.

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Not a second-generation problem.

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And I find it very implausible that the temptation should be

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greater if the grandmother can't speak English.

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Somebody in Number 10, writing this article

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in the Prime Minister's name, telling people who are entitled

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to be here, who married here, who are bringing up children here,

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that, "If you don't improve your fluency,

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"that could affect your ability to stay here".

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Shocking.

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And it wasn't just a slip of the pen.

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The Number 10 briefing note makes clear that there will,

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from October, be a new language test for those seeking a Visa extension

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after 13 months here.

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Do we really envisage breaking up families, deporting mothers,

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because they talk Urdu or Bengali at home?

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Now, that really might radicalise their children.

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It is no good saying everybody should learn wish without thinking

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how it is to be done.

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It's not easy to teach a woman English who probably is barely

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literate in her own language, not only the fact that she is barely

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literate, but she is very frightened of having to cope

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with this new language.

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I'd like to say that English should be taught to people

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of all faiths and cultures.

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It's a language that will unite them, and they should share

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in the learning of it.

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We must also remember that whilst a lack of English can act

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as a barrier to integration, so can many other factors,

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for example, labour market inequalities,

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and especially deprivation.

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Unfortunately, almost half of all Muslims in Britain live

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in the 10% of most deprived local districts.

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I think it is important for all migrants of all backgrounds,

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faiths, creeds and religions to learn English for themselves,

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and for society as a whole.

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I don't think anyone in this chamber is going to argue with that.

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Where my jaw fell open, and I think many others' did,

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was linking the fact that there are some women,

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Muslim women who can't speak English, somehow they become,

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and I quote the words of the Prime Minister,

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"That you could be more susceptible to the extremist message

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"that comes from Daesh".

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Now, where's the evidence?

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I just want to tell a story about,

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well, for me, it was one of the most harrowing things

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that I ever had to witness, it was in a domestic refuge,

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which particularly provided for South Asian women

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and some of those women had arrived at the refuge,

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God knows how they got there,

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because they could not speak English,

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they were isolated in their homes

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and they lived in fear of doing anything

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that might be against their husbands.

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Their plea to learn English touched me more than anything

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I have ever heard, because I saw this and the noble lady,

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Lady Flather, brought it up, as almost their ticket to freedom.

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Just booking a doctor's appointment or just ringing up a domestic refuge

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really would have been able to help them.

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You are watching our round-up of the day

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in the Commons and the Lords.

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Still to come, praise for those

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who worked to keep the trains running in the recent bad weather.

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Last week, it was red doors.

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This week, it's brightly coloured wristbands.

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It was reported that asylum seekers living in houses in Cardiff have

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been issued with the wristbands that they have to wear at all times,

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a move that, it was claimed, had resulted in the asylum seekers

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being abused by the public.

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The wristbands entitle the asylum seekers, who can't work and are not

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given money, to three meals a day.

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In the Lords, a Labour peer took up the issue

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with a Home Office minister.

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Why have Government ministers failed to carry out their responsibilities?

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Since, firstly, it was only after national newspapers exposed

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what was going on with red doors in Middlesbrough and wristbands

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to access food in Cardiff that action was taken,

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and, secondly, because as the noble Lord and Minister has now said,

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are only now busily trying to find out what is happening

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with the delivery of other similar contracts they have approved.

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Government ministers can outsource the provision of accommodation

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and food for asylum seekers,

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but they cannot outsource their own direct responsibility

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and accountability for those contracts being delivered

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and their failure to monitor them properly.

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Does the Government agree?

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The asylum seekers were in initial accommodation in Cardiff

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and in that accommodation,

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there were those people whose asylum claims had been assessed

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and their financial needs assessed,

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and those people then received a financial contribution for food.

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And there were those people who have just arrived, where they actually

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get full board and three meals a day.

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The wristbands were used to identify those people who were eligible

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for the three meals a day.

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Now, I am not asking the House to accept that is the way it should be,

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the practice has stopped, but that is the explanation for it

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and certainly our position is that safety and security and the dignity

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and humanity with which we treat asylum seekers should be paramount.

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As you recall, red front doors, wristbands and now refusing to take

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any unaccompanied asylum seeking children from Europe.

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When will the Government stop giving the impression that asylum seekers

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are a problem to be palmed off on other countries at all costs

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and start treating them as vulnerable people in desperate need

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of our help, including sanctuary in this country?

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SHOUTS OF AGREEMENT

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Well, listen, I think this country - we can all be proud of the record

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this country has in offering asylum to people who are in need.

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The Prime Minister said in September,

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we will have 1,000 people from the region here by Christmas

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and we had more than a thousand here by Christmas.

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The Prime Minister has announced today that there will be

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a further review with UNHCR to identify unaccompanied children

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from conflict regions and how they can be helped further.

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Would the noble Lord and Minister tell the House when

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the Home Office inspections were,

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because if the Home Office were inspecting regularly,

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surely they would have noticed the red doors, the wristbands?

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It's either a fault in the contract and the conditions,

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or a failure of inspection.

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Could the Minister, who is characteristically sensitive

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and careful in his use of language in referring to vulnerable people

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coming to the country, have a quiet word with the Prime Minister

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about his language when he described these people yesterday

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as a "bunch of migrants"?

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Well, sometimes the Other Place isn't quite the same

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civilised debating forum...

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LAUGHTER

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..as we are on most occasions.

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But I have to say, you know, people can choose phrases -

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and I have done it myself - in the heat of the moment,

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but what is more important

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is what are the actions behind the words.

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Lord Bates.

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Transport ministers have paid tribute to Network Rail for getting

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lines working again after the recent storms and floods.

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The Commons' newest MP, Labour's Jim McMahon,

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who won his seat in December,

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raised the impact of rail disruption on the economy

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during Transport Question Time.

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Just days after the honourable gentleman's election,

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he will have seen himself the impact of the transport disruption

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caused by this winter's unprecedented winter conditions.

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I am sure he would join me in actually paying tribute

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to Network Rail's orange army,

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who managed to get the West Coast Mainline

0:18:390:18:41

open within four days of it being flooded with eight feet of water

0:18:410:18:44

and we remain absolutely committed to getting all these lines back up,

0:18:440:18:47

able to run a full service safely and as soon as possible

0:18:470:18:50

and I would also like to thank passengers

0:18:500:18:52

for their patience during this time.

0:18:520:18:57

Thank you.

0:18:570:18:58

Absolutely, I share that appreciation

0:18:580:18:59

for staff and for passengers for their patience, of course,

0:18:590:19:01

but I think the point perhaps is being missed,

0:19:010:19:03

which is because money is being taken away from routine maintenance

0:19:030:19:06

and flood defences, there is a massive effect on our local economy.

0:19:060:19:09

If there has been an assessment carried out,

0:19:090:19:11

surely that should be made public?

0:19:110:19:13

I'm afraid I have to disagree with the honourable gentleman's facts.

0:19:130:19:15

I hate to do that on his first Transport Questions,

0:19:150:19:18

but the Government has announced that overall,

0:19:180:19:20

its flood spending in the next period will be 1.7 billion higher

0:19:200:19:23

than it was in the previous period and within our own transport budget,

0:19:230:19:27

around ?900 million is specifically dedicated to things like making sure

0:19:270:19:32

that the banks and cuttings are safe, the thing that often

0:19:320:19:35

is first to go when there was heavy flooding.

0:19:350:19:38

But actually, improving the resilience of the rail network,

0:19:380:19:40

making sure it is fit for a 21st century climate,

0:19:400:19:43

is absolutely at the heart of this record level of investment

0:19:430:19:46

that this Government is putting into the railways.

0:19:460:19:49

Two years ago, the Prime Minister

0:19:490:19:51

stood on the ruins of the Dawlish sea wall and he said, and I quote,

0:19:510:19:55

"If money needs to be spent, it will be spent.

0:19:550:19:57

"If resources are required, we will provide them."

0:19:570:20:01

But now we learn that Network Rail cannot even afford to fund a report

0:20:010:20:04

on improving the south-west rail lines,

0:20:040:20:07

putting millions of pounds of investment at risk.

0:20:070:20:09

Yesterday, the Prime Minister could not say

0:20:090:20:12

where that money would come from,

0:20:120:20:13

so I want to give the rail minister chance.

0:20:130:20:18

so I want to give the rail minister a chance.

0:20:180:20:20

Will she honour her right honourable friend's commitment

0:20:200:20:22

and commit to funding that study?

0:20:220:20:23

Can I pay tribute to my honourable friend for Torbay,

0:20:230:20:26

who actually raised this question with the Prime Minister.

0:20:260:20:29

Look, the honourable lady really needs to sort out her facts on this.

0:20:290:20:32

This Government spent ?35 million on the Dawlish repair,

0:20:320:20:35

it opened in record time.

0:20:350:20:36

This Government is spending over ?400 million

0:20:360:20:38

on transport investment in the south-west,

0:20:380:20:40

unlike her party, who wanted to can two major roads

0:20:400:20:44

and I am looking very carefully, if she would like to listen,

0:20:440:20:47

if she would like to listen rather than chunter,

0:20:470:20:50

at how we fund a very small amount of money

0:20:500:20:53

that in no way inhibits the overall report

0:20:530:20:56

that we are looking forward to seeing

0:20:560:20:58

from this very important organisation in April.

0:20:580:21:00

The people of the West Country well remember the repeated promises

0:21:000:21:03

made by the Transport Secretary, by the Prime Minister

0:21:030:21:07

and by the Chancellor, of billions of pounds of investment

0:21:070:21:10

in rail in the south-west, and she has just a moment ago failed

0:21:100:21:14

once again to confirm the Government

0:21:140:21:17

will commit a paltry half a million pounds

0:21:170:21:20

for the feasibility study that Devon and Cornwall needs

0:21:200:21:23

after the Dawlish disaster

0:21:230:21:25

into improved resilience and rail transport times.

0:21:250:21:30

Don't the people of the south-west feel, rightly,

0:21:300:21:31

completely betrayed by this Government?

0:21:310:21:35

You know, Mr Speaker, month after month,

0:21:350:21:38

the honourable gentleman gets here

0:21:380:21:39

and seems to be in complete denial about the fact that his Government

0:21:390:21:42

did nothing for the people of the south-west

0:21:420:21:45

and his party wanted to cancel the vital A358 road scheme

0:21:450:21:50

that helps people directly in his constituency.

0:21:500:21:53

I have already set out - and I'm happy to discuss this further

0:21:530:21:56

- that the very small amount of money that is required to do

0:21:560:22:00

one technical feasibility study, a tiny part, a tiny part

0:22:000:22:04

of the south-west peninsula task force study,

0:22:040:22:05

I am looking at ways to fund,

0:22:060:22:08

and we expect that report to come out in April and deliver

0:22:080:22:11

a real strategic uplift of what this region requires.

0:22:110:22:16

Claire Perry.

0:22:160:22:18

Now, this time last year, a series of BBC TV programmes

0:22:180:22:21

gave a view of Parliament not seen before.

0:22:210:22:27

Inside The Commons was a fly on the wall documentary

0:22:270:22:29

and one of its surprise stars was the Principal Doorkeeper,

0:22:290:22:33

Robin Fell, who has now announced his departure from Westminster.

0:22:330:22:36

Mr Fell has in fact worked at the House of Commons

0:22:360:22:38

as a police officer and a doorkeeper since 1969.

0:22:380:22:41

He is currently the acting Deputy Serjeant at Arms.

0:22:410:22:44

Also leaving after 46 years

0:22:440:22:47

is the Deputy Deliverer of the Vote, Owen Sweeney.

0:22:470:22:50

The Speaker paid tribute to both men.

0:22:500:22:55

I am sure that the whole house will join me in wishing these two

0:22:550:22:58

very long serving members of staff the very best for their retirements

0:22:580:23:04

and in thanking them, as I know I do, extremely personally,

0:23:040:23:10

for their quite outstanding contributions to this House

0:23:100:23:13

and to public service over nearly five decades.

0:23:130:23:18

They have helped most magnificently

0:23:180:23:22

in contributing to the smooth running of the House.

0:23:220:23:24

Thank you, both.

0:23:240:23:30

John Bercow.

0:23:300:23:32

And that wasn't the only farewell of the day.

0:23:320:23:34

Shirley Williams has said goodbye to Westminster

0:23:340:23:35

with a valedictory speech.

0:23:360:23:38

She was first elected to Parliament in 1964

0:23:380:23:41

and it's certainly been an eventful 50 years.

0:23:410:23:45

As Education Secretary, she oversaw the arrival

0:23:450:23:47

of comprehensive schools in place of selective education.

0:23:470:23:51

And in the early 1980s, she was famously a founding member

0:23:510:23:55

of the Social Democratic Party, or SDP.

0:23:550:23:59

In more recent years, she had been a leading Lib Dem peer.

0:23:590:24:02

Lady Williams said people have been asking her why

0:24:020:24:05

she was retiring from the Lords.

0:24:050:24:09

Well, I'm retiring partly because I have in front of me

0:24:090:24:12

my right honourable and noble friend Lord Steele, who managed to pass

0:24:120:24:16

a recent, you may remember, reform of the House of Lords

0:24:160:24:20

which enables someone like me to retire.

0:24:200:24:23

It wasn't intended.

0:24:230:24:24

LAUGHTER

0:24:240:24:28

He says it wasn't intended.

0:24:280:24:30

I have to say that at least it has the advantage of me not having

0:24:300:24:33

to actually lose my capacities entirely before I departed

0:24:330:24:36

from the House of Lords.

0:24:360:24:37

And I still have to say to my fellow politicians,

0:24:370:24:40

why can't you get together and propose, regardless of party,

0:24:400:24:44

ways in which we can sustain the NHS over many years?

0:24:440:24:47

Because it is one of the great institutions of the world and

0:24:470:24:50

one that is based on a commitment to public service

0:24:500:24:55

which is quite extraordinary.

0:24:550:24:58

So in concluding, I hand over to my colleagues here,

0:24:580:25:01

I hope, careful and very, I think, cherishing support

0:25:010:25:05

for the great public sector institutions I have spoken about,

0:25:050:25:09

which are part of the woof and the weft of this country's whole being

0:25:090:25:13

and whole textile and whole quality,

0:25:130:25:16

and also ask them to think very hard before allowing the United Kingdom

0:25:160:25:20

to withdraw from what I believe to be its major duty to the world,

0:25:200:25:24

and that one it will encounter

0:25:240:25:26

and then deliver through the European Union.

0:25:260:25:31

Lady Williams taking a well earned retirement.

0:25:310:25:34

The Lords will miss her.

0:25:340:25:35

That is it for this programme.

0:25:350:25:37

Do join me for The Week in Parliament,

0:25:370:25:39

when we not only look back at the last few days

0:25:390:25:41

in the Commons and the Lords,

0:25:410:25:43

but also try to assess what sort of campaign we could be in for

0:25:430:25:46

as the EU referendum draws ever closer.

0:25:460:25:50

Until then, from me, Keith McDougall, goodbye.

0:25:500:25:56

Until then, from me, Keith MacDougall, goodbye.

0:25:560:26:02

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