Highlights of Thursday 25 February in Parliament, presented by Alicia McCarthy.
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Hello there and welcome to Thursday in Parliament.
Coming up in the next half-hour - MPs warm up their arguments over
the UK's membership of the European Union.
The government has asked if it is applying for EU funding
to help those affected by the winter floods and after Wednesday's advice
from the Prime Minister's mum, a Labour MPs unveils the wit
Never take home a man who is wearing a hat until you have seen him
Find out what else Chris Bryant's mother warned him about a little
But first, it was perhaps an unusual approach
but when the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond opened the debate
on European affairs, he declared himself to be something
But he told MPs that in the forthcoming EU referendum,
he would be voting for the UK to stay in the EU.
I have always considered myself a sceptic and I consider myself
Like most people in Britain, I don't feel any warmth or affection
I'm irritated by the tone of much of what I hear coming from Brussels
and instinctively suspicious of anything that sounds
But we do not live in some ideal world, we live in the real world
and the EU is part of that real world.
And the question that we have to answer is not, do we like it?
The question we have to answer is whether we are stronger,
safer and better off in the EU rather than out of it.
Clearly, the Foreign Secretary, quite rightly, is doing a sort
of cost benefit analysis of this issue.
Why doesn't the government institute an independent study
with a genuinely independent body, actually going into some detail
about what would be the effects on our GNP,
plus or minus of a Brexit? This would surely be very useful.
I think the problem with the challenge my honourable
And it is going to be a recurrent theme in this debate,
I suspect, that we simply don't know what the counterfactual is.
We don't know what Britain's situation outside the European Union
We don't know whether a deal could be negotiated
We don't know what free-trade agreements we could negotiate
with other parties and we don't know on what timescale those
We don't know what damage would be done to our economy in the meantime.
The Foreign Secretary moved on to some of the specifics
It ends the unfairness of child benefits at British rates being sent
to children living in countries with much lower living costs.
And it gives us a new seven-year emergency rate to ensure that EU
migrants will not have full access to in-work benefits until they have
Answering the perfectly reasonable question, why should people take out
when they have not paid in? Under this arrangement, they cannot.
No more something for nothing and taken together, this
is a package that will address the concerns of the British people
about abuse of our benefit system and erosion of our
On child benefit, will the Foreign Secretary confirm
that it does not meet the promise set out in the Conservative party
manifesto which says, as follows, if an EU migrant child is living
abroad, then they should receive no child benefit or child tax credit,
no matter how long they have worked in the UK and no matter how much tax
That has not been achieved, it is a failure.
As I have said before in this house, I think what any reasonable person
will do is look at the package that has been delivered.
From the outset, we have been clear that tackling abuse of our welfare
system is about reducing the pull factor that makes Britain a target
for inward migrants coming to the UK, because they can
get their wages topped up with a variety of benefits.
And another Conservative Eurosceptic challenged the Foreign Secretary
over the impact Brexit would have over UK trade
Is he really saying that Germany would be so vindictive and spiteful
that they would cut their own noses off to spite their face when House
of Commons library paper says that we export ?43 billion worth
of goods and services to them and yet they export ?70.6 billion
Is he really saying that they are so vindictive
and spiteful that they would close their door on that?
I want to make two points in response to my honourable friend.
He is of course absolutely right - Britain has a substantial deficit
in trade in goods with the European Union and if all
he would be seeking is a free-trade agreement for trade in goods,
That will be relatively simple to negotiate but Britain will need
much more than that if we are to get a fair deal for Britain's businesses
I grew up in the Scottish Highlands where bridges and roads simply
wouldn't exist if it wasn't for the blue stars that we saw...
Sorry, the gold stars on the blue flag that we saw pinned
against them, so there is a lot more sympathy and a lot more appreciation
for the positive things that the European Union has
achieved, especially among the people of Scotland.
I hope that when the debate plays out, he's got a bit of a stronger
argument than, they bunged us a few quid to build a road, because,
frankly, that is not a sustainable argument across the
In order to build an In majority which is the objective,
there will have to be a great deal more reflection and emphasis
on the arguments which are likely to inspire support from a range
of political opinion as opposed to arguments that will fend off
the remaining Eurosceptics who have decided to vote no.
And secondly, in particular, to have a great deal more
sensitivity to that range of arguments that has been
We live in a different world now to the one that gave birth
to the European coal and steel community after the end
We have witnessed the end of empire, the creation of the United Nations,
The formation of Nato, the end of the Cold War,
We have lived through an era that has seen the rise of new world
powers, alliances, conflicts, threats, and the blistering pace
of technological change that is revolutionising our
economies and is shrinking the way in which we perceive our world.
We cannot turn the clock back and to argue that we can
And on this side of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, we are clear,
we support Britain remaining a member of the European Union.
We held that view before the renegotiation, we hold that view
today, because it has brought us jobs and growth and investment
and security and I will argue, it gives us influence
in the world. Hilary Benn.
And Europe was a key theme earlier in the day when it was learned that
parts of the UK hit by severe flooding might be in line
for substantial help from a grant known as the EU Solidarity Fund.
Thousands of householders in Cumbria, Yorkshire
and the Scottish Borders were left homeless when floodwaters washed
In Carlisle and York, flood barriers failed to cope
firstly when Storm Desmond and then Storm Eva struck in December.
The collapse of a bridge at Tadcaster in Yorkshire showed
In the Commons, the Minister said the Government had paid out a total
of ?47 million under its own recovery scheme.
Having set out what the Government has already done, I now want to turn
I am today announcing that the UK Government will make an application
to the European Union Solidarity Fund.
The EUSF was set up respond to major natural disasters.
The fund was created as a reaction to the severe floods in central
I thank the Minister and my fellow Stockton MP for his response,
It has taken an urgent question to get the information
from the Government so I am delighted that you granted it,
You will know, Mr Speaker, that we have been extremely anxious
that this opportunity could in fact be lost.
To be clear, the first floods for which an application could be
made in Cumbria, some 11 and a half weeks ago,
yet it has taken the Government within a single working day
of the deadline to confirm an application is being made.
The Government has been working on this application for some time.
You have to draw together a range of information across Government
departments, talking with local areas, assessing the cost and impact
The European Union Solidarity Fund is not designed to be a rapid
It is a longer-term fund to provide compensation to communities
and even though an application is now being made, it will take
But we will continue in our commitment to support those
communities, to provide the funding and the backing that they need.
Three weeks ago, I asked the Prime Minister why were we not
applying for these funds, I am delighted that we are now doing so.
I had over 300 of my households were hit by the floods.
A third of them were not covered by insurance because of the high
Perhaps some of this extra money now can help them.
The Minister has indicated that all that is required at this stage
is a notification of intent to apply so surely if that is the case,
it could have been done weeks ago, to get the process underway?
When did he actually apply, was it today, was it yesterday?
Actually, where was the rapid decision-making process
I welcome it, I honestly welcome it today but it was not
If you have an insurance policy, yes, of course,
we are going to cash it in. Why would we not cash it in?
And isn't the reason that we have been reluctant to claim is that
because of our rebate, we get very little out of it so it
will be effectively repaying an insurance scheme
Businesses in my constituency of Heywood and Middleton
and in the borough of Rochdale are absolutely baffled as to why
the Government has left it until the 11th hour to apply
Can the Minister assure me, please, that he will get the application
in by Sunday and does he not agree with me that this is a great
Can he put it in context, because every day, we pay,
as British taxpayers, ?50 million to the European Union.
How much does he think we will get back?
Mr Speaker, my honourable friend makes his point better
than I would choose to endeavour to do from the dispatch box today.
You are watching Thursday in Parliament here on BBC Parliament
Local councils have been told in no uncertain terms that they cannot
boycott foreign goods for political reasons.
The Business Minister Matthew Hancock issued regulations last week
during a trip to Israel, saying the boycott by public bodies
were illegal under international trading laws.
But some members of the House of Lords challenged
Has the Minister had a chance to check on what the Prime Minister
said yesterday in answer to a question about settlements?
He said, the first time I visited Jerusalem and saw what has happened
with the effective encirclement of East Jerusalem, occupied
East Jerusalem, I found it generally shocking.
Didn't the Prime Minister speak for many members of both houses
and indeed of all parties when he said this and isn't it time
that we moved beyond general expressions of dissatisfaction
with Israeli settlement activity and took more
The noble Lord makes a perfectly valid point,
but this is about the role of local authorities.
I would just gently say to him with due respect that local
authorities, local authorities should not pursue their own
municipal foreign policy which contravenes international
trade agreements and instead, they should focus on local issues.
The clue is the name as regards to local authorities.
I was in Israel last week as the guest of
the Israeli Government and my right honourable friend Matt Hancock
announced this guidance that he was giving to local
authorities, but surely, it is actually illegal,
as both Israel and the United Kingdom are members
of the WTO, to actually impose these boycotts and they would actually be
Such boycotts would be open to judicial review.
Hearing what the Minister has to say about boycotts,
can he reassure the House on behalf of his foreign and Commonwealth
colleagues, that we and our European partners lose no opportunity to draw
attention of the Israel Government to the illegality of their
settlement policy and the damage which it is doing for the prospect
of a two-state solution, which is surely in the interest
The Government remains completely committed to a two-state resolution
to secure lasting peace in the Middle East and the best way
to achieve that is by diplomacy and negotiation.
My Lords, given that the noble lady, Baroness Anelay of St John's,
has repeatedly, at that dispatch box, said that the settlements
are a contravention of international law and that we deplore them
and they should not be there, how does it follow that it is illegal
or impossible for a local authority to take action in response to those
repeated statements, by refusing to trade
Just to repeat what I said at the start, the guidance merely
clarifies and reminds contractual authorities of their obligations
under the WTO Government procured agreement, which the EU
is a signatory, has been in place since 1996 and the Labour Government
and the Coalition Government both upheld.
It is a hideous blight on our landscape.
The scourge of fly-tipping can be both a health hazard and an ugly
scar on the environment. And it is not just on disused land.
Urban litter can also be a huge problem, with empty bags,
bottles and cans, cigarettes and chewing gum blowing
In Westminster Hall, MPs suggested ensuring
that fast-food outlets reduce their rubbish and educating
children to pick up their litter could be just part of the solution.
What we do need to do is educate young people,
in particular, about the importance of not littering on the streets.
I thought I might get an intervention at that point!
Would the honourable gentleman agree that a child encouraged to pick up
litter, in a scheme such as Clean For The Queen,
grows up into an adult that does not throw
litter and that that is very much part of the impetus behind our push
I thank my honourable friend for that.
Clearly, encouraging good habits at a young age is definitely
One of the problems I see in my local area is that you can see
where the fast-food restaurant is and where the school
is and you can see the litter and how long it takes a young person
takes to eat the food as they are walking back
They just deposit it where they choose and
the consequence is, of course, that we end up with littered streets
Even worse, what some young people do is throw it
I am sure he agrees that not all the fast-food outlets operate
In my constituency, as mentioned by my honourable friend,
the chair of the Select Committee, McDonald's are very good.
They employ people to clean up around their restaurant.
They also organise volunteer days, where their staff come
So, some of the fast-food chains treat this matter very responsibly.
I thank the right honourable gentleman for that intervention.
I think McDonald's are clearly a shining example of
what should be done. Their food is all right.
I would not say it is great, but lots of people love it.
If it is on the quality of products on offer
He talks about McDonald's being a shining example,
but they do, in their products, have a huge amount of packaging.
If they were forced, somehow, or encouraged,
to reduce that packaging, that may also help to provide
Clearly, the supply of McDonalds and other fast-food restaurants
and the packaging they employ is a matter for them, clearly.
But one of the consequences, as my honourable friend pointed out,
is to have fast food and other types of packaging,
it is not just fast food, there is a whole range of packaging
What I was going to come on to, however, is the point here that,
should we be looking at duties on fast-food restaurants to act
in the same way as McDonald's take a responsible way?
We have a perennial problem in my constituency
with a Kentucky Fried Chicken drive-through restaurant,
where people routinely drive in, park up the road,
eat their Kentucky Fried Chicken and throw the bones on the floor,
literally, dropping them out their car windows,
for the pleasure of local residents to have to suffer.
Now, surely, we could get to a point whereby there are duties
on the fast-food restaurants to keep their areas clear?
At the end of the debate, one minister, Marcus Jones,
said the government would produce a strong and robust litter strategy
for England, cracking down on this anti-social activity.
Are the UK's top universities doing enough to encourage applications
from students from black and ethnic minority backgrounds?
The subject was raised at Equalities Questions,
with MPs wanting to know what more could be done.
Research shows that, while BME students are over-represented
in university entrance figures, they tend to be in the post '92
The Women Equalities Committee heard this week
that the Russell Group universities are poor
at doing outreach, to encourage students from disadvantaged and BME
backgrounds to apply for their universities,
compared with the Ivy League universities in the United States,
which have a far better record in this.
The minister said that was a good point and she had praise for those
I have to say that my nearest university, the University
of Nottingham, like many universities, makes a real positive
effort to get into all our schools, to make sure that all our pupils
have every opportunity. If I can put it this way - aim high.
Many young people in my constituency and across
the country, who have lived here all their lives,
who are lawfully and legally resident in the United Kingdom
and have made their way through the UK
education system, are effectively prohibited from accessing student
finance support, which would allow them access to higher education
because they do not have Settled Immigration status.
I am grateful for the honourable members question
In a new policy to make sure all these students make the most of
their academic ability? I am grateful for the
honourable members question and I think he is making
a very important point, which I am happy to discuss
with the Home Office. I see that one of the
relevant ministers is already here. The government talks the talk
of encouraging more black and ethnic minority students into university,
yet their recent decision to scrap maintenance grants will
disproportionately affect these very This is according to the
government's own impact assessment. Does the minister believe
that this disproportionate I have to say, I am not familiar
with the impact assessment. I reiterate the point,
it is absolutely imperative that we make it very clear that
everybody should aim high. That is what we want to do
and that is what we seek to do. Now, it is a well-worn political
adage that persistence pays and one Conservative MP is keeping up
a relentless campaign Oliver Colvile has previously called
for the hedgehog to become He says the number of the prickly
creatures have fallen by one-third in the last decade and declaring
the hedgehog to be Britain's national symbol might enthuse
people to protect it. Updating MPs at Business Questions,
he told MPs his campaign Mr Speaker, you may be interested
to know that my petition to save the hedgehog has now reached
over 19,000 signatures, Now, I am fully aware this is just
80,000 short of us having a debate, but would my right honourable friend
just like to confirm that, because it has got over 10,000,
the government now has to write to me, to say
what it is they might actually do? Well, Mr Speaker, I congratulate
my honourable friend, as always, for his
assiduousness on this. I can confirm that he will
receive a proper response I also have a sneaking suspicion
that he may make his way towards that 100,000 point,
in order to have a But, of course, Mr Speaker,
we have had this week a cautionary tale, linking some of the themes
that often somehow appear We talk about superfoods,
we talk about black puddings What we have learned this week
is that, if you feed meat to hedgehogs, it can have a rather
adverse affect on them, as we saw in the tragic case
of the hedgehog which has become so fat eating meat that it can no
longer roll itself up. Finally, for this programme,
let us go back to the sticky At Business Questions,
the SNP's Peter Wishart seized on the chance to pounce
on the divisions within the Conservative Party on Brexit,
with the announcement this week that the Cabinet minister
Michael Gove is to campaign This week marked the end
of collective Cabinet responsibility, particularly
for the next few months. The nasty civil war in the Tories
is now stareting to get serious and it looks like the poor
old Justice Secretary is going to be I don't know if the right honourable
gentlemsn is going to rush to his defence and man
the barricades, in order to try and save him,
but even friendships which go right back to the playing fields
of Eton now look like the remnants And for us, on these benches,
Mr Speaker, it is popcorn time, as we observe, not just a civil
war in the Tory Party, but also the ongoing civil war
within the Labour Party. I hate to disappoint him
on the European Union referendum, Mr Speaker,
but he is not going to Actually, we are all friends,
we get on with each other. Well, they laugh, but
the difference, Mr Speaker, Split down the middle,
fighting like ferrets in a sack. That, today, Mr Speaker,
is the Labour Party. We are going to have
a grown-up, sensible debate. The country will decide
and then we will work together to implement
what the country decides. In the meantime, they
are going to run around like headless chickens,
trying to work out what on Earth they do about the mess
they are in at the moment. The Shadow Leader of the House
returned to a theme raised in Prime Minister's Questions
on Wednesday - advice Second, never take a man home
who is wearing a hat, until you have seen
him without the hat. I think the Leader of the House
agrees with that one. Third, never, Mr Speaker, never
trust a man wearing slip-on shoes. I merely point out, Mr Speaker,
that the Prime Minister was wearing Top advice there from
Chris Bryant's mum. And that is it for now,
but do join me at 11pm on Friday night for The Week In Parliament -
a round-up of the last seven days here at Westminster -
including the row over how much public money should go to political
parties at Westminster. But for now, from me,
Alicia McCarthy, goodbye.