Highlights of Thursday 21 April in Parliament, presented by Alicia McCarthy.
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Hello there and welcome to Thursday in Parliament,
where MPs and peers paid tributes to the Queen on her 90th birthday.
Let this be a day of thanksgiving and much rejoicing
for Her Majesty's birthday.
Long live the Queen.
After the recent scrutiny of his private life,
the culture secretary says he still believes in the freedom
of the press.
And the verdict is read out on a peer who double-claimed
He be suspended from the House for eight months and required to repay
the ?756 he wrongly claimed.
But first MPs and peers have paid tribute to the Queen as the monarch
celebrates her 90th birthday.
Crowds lined the streets in Windsor as Her Majesty took
part in the walkabout.
Some had been waiting for four hours to catch a glmipse of the Queen
on the day she became the nation's first ever 90-year-old monarch.
In the Commons, the Prime Minister led the tributes.
No other country has a head of state with such
wisdom and such patience.
Mr Speaker, there are some who say at times I may put that
patience to the test.
In the play The Audience, the character who portrays me goes
on and on about Europe so long that she falls asleep.
I can guarantee this has never happened.
I may not have kept my promise not to bang on about Europe at every
forum but this is certainly the one where I try the hardest.
In 90 years, Her Majesty's lived through some extraordinary times
in our world.
From the Second World War, when her parents were nearly killed
as bombs dropped on Buckingham Palace, to the rations
with which she bought the material for her wedding dress.
From presenting the World Cup to England at Wembley in 1966 to man
landing on the moon three years later.
From the end of the Cold War to peace in Northern Ireland.
Throughout it all as the sands of culture shift and the tides
of politics ebb and flow Her Majesty has been steadfast.
Jeremy Corbyn spoke about a planned visit from the Queen
to North London.
In 2006, she was due to open the new Emirates Stadium
in my constituency but had to pull out through injury.
Unfortunately, Mr Speaker, this is a fate that has affected far
too many of Arsenal's squad in subsequent years.
So we must congratulate her on her prescience.
My honourable friend the member for Hornsey and Wood Green was then
the leader of the council and as the Queen could not attend
the opening they were invited to Buckingham Palace
and she accompanied the whole squad to Buckingham Palace
to meet the Queen.
We know the Queen is absolutely above politics, she may
be above football too, but many locals harbour this quiet
secret view that she's actually privately a Gooner.
Throughout the decades of her reign, she has been a regular
visitor across Scotland.
For me, the most remarkable events have been in recent years,
including the 1999 reopening of this Scottish Parliament after a recess
of nearly 300 years.
Who can forget the entire chamber, all MSPs of all parties,
the public gallery, Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh
all singing Man's A Man For All That by Robert Burns?
She has seen technological advances, from when a telegram or radio
programme was a thing of great excitement to the prevalence
of satellite television, the iPhone and letters
being supplanted by e-mail.
But through all those years of change and upheaval one thing has
been a constant and that has been Her Majesty's selfless service
to Britain, admired both at home and around the world for constant
and consistent advocacy of Britain at its best.
I've always been so proud to share the date of my birth with our
monarch and when I was a little girl in Cardiff my father used to kid me
that the 24-gun salute was in fact for me.
I did find out very shortly that it was for a much
more important lady.
This morning when I was buying my muffin in Portcullis House I noticed
on the coin with which I paid Elizabeth II but today is not
about the Elizabeth on the coins, today
is about the Elizabeth in our hearts.
She is of course Her Majesty The Queen.
The Commons also heard from the grandson of the former
Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
On the night of the 4th of April 1955, on the eve of his resignation
as Prime Minister, Churchill gave a dinner at Number Ten
in honour of the Queen.
It was agreed between the private offices that there
would be no speeches.
But the Queen, greatly moved by the impending retirement
of her first Prime Minister, who she had known since
she was a very small child, rose in her place and lifted her
glass with the toast, "To my Prime Minister."
And Churchill, a very old man, in the full dress evening uniform
of a Knight of the Garter completely unprepared pulled himself
to his feet and this is what he said to the Queen.
He said, Madam, I propose a toast to your Majesty,
I used to drink as an officer in the Fourth Hussars
at Bangalore in India in the reign of your Majesty's
great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria and I drink
to the wise and kindly way of life of which your Majesty is the young
and gleaming champion.
Through 90 years of her life and 64 years of her reign she has
always been the same.
The Culture Secretary John Whittingdale has said his faith
in press freedom has been tested to the utmost but despite
the scrutiny of his private life he told MPs he still believed
in press freedom and that it was vitally important.
Last week the BBC's Newsnight programme revealed that
four newspapers knew about John Whittingdale's
relationship with a former sex worker but had decided not
to publish the story.
Tonight John Whittingdale confirmed to this programme he had had
a relationship with a woman who turned out unbeknownst
to him to be a sex worker.
Campaigners accuse newspapers of sitting on the story
in order to exert leverage over John Whittingdale,
who's in charge of press regulation.
Following the Newsnight report, the newspapers did run the story
publishing further details about his private life.
This session of culture questions was Mr Whittingdale's first
appearance in the Commons since and his first task
was to answer a question from another MP who has also
experienced press coverage of his private affairs.
Simon Danczuk asked about a law that allows courts to force newspapers
that are not signed up to the approved regulator to pay
all legal costs even where the paper has won the case.
The Secretary of State must realise that press abuse victims want him
to implement section 40, indeed even the Prime Minister
personally promised victims of press abuse and this House that it
would be enacted.
Why is the Secretary of State breaking the Prime Minister's
I have considerable sympathy with the victims of press abuse
and I've had a number of meetings with himself and with others
who are rightly following this matter with great interest.
I would say that, having had my faith perhaps
tested to the utmost, I still believe that press freedom
is a vitally important component of a free society.
We should tread very carefully however.
The recommendations of the Leveson report, some have already been
implemented and the new system is coming into effect,
the exemplary damages provisions of section 40 you will be aware have
been enacted now.
The remainder are still under consideration.
We do not yet have a recognised press regulator in place
but we will continue to consider these matters very carefully.
Implementation of these cost incentives was promised by the then
Culture Secretary, they were promised as a key part
of the Leveson report, agreed by the Prime Minister,
and not only by parliament but also victims of press abuse including
the family of Madeline McCann.
In signalling already that he has no intention of taking this step,
has the Secretary of State reflected very much at all that he is not only
thwarting parliament, breaching a cross-party agreement,
but also breaking a firm and clear promise made by the Prime Minister
and his colleagues?
I would just say to the honourable gentleman, first of all I have not
indicated that I have no intention.
I simply said I was not minded which means that the matter
is still under consideration and my mind and that
of my colleagues is open on the matter.
A culture minister tried to introduce some jollity.
While we are on anniversaries may I also congratulate
Charlotte Bronte on her 200th anniversary which falls today.
I don't see anything wrong with congratulating her.
Shall I get on with it?
We've done a lot.
I also want to welcome and congratulate Ofcom's digital
communications review, which is not 200 years old,
in fact it is extremely fresh, staright out of the box and it's
going to promote and petition and we've issued a very clear
statement that we will back Ofcom all the way on this.
I'm starting to realise why this department is known
as the Ministry for Fun.
We all know the Secretary of State has been distracted from doing his
job as Culture Secretary by his extracurricular activities.
I'm talking about his moonlighting for
the Leave campaign.
You're watching the Today in Parliament with me.
A peer has been suspended from the House of Lords for eight
months over the double-claiming of hundreds of pounds of expenses.
Lord Bhatia was found to have claimed mileage in the Lords on 63
occasions while also claiming from another organisation.
It's the second time he's been suspended from the House having been
barred for eight months in October 2010 for wrongly claiming over
?27,000 in overnight allowances and mileage expenses.
The ruling was announced by a senior peer.
The commission found that he breached the House's rules
on financial support for members and so breached the code of conduct.
The commissioner also found that in not being scrupulous
about the claims, Lord Bhatia, and I quote, failed to act
on his personal honour, end of quote.
The subcommittee on his conduct recommended that the Lord be
suspended from the House for eight months and required to repay
the ?756 he wrongly claimed.
The proposal to suspend him was agreed unanimously.
How much help is the government giving to Iraqi troops fighting
against so-called Islamic State?
The UK already provides Iraqi forces with training
and the Defence Secretary recently authorised an offer for 30 extra
troops to provide training in areas such as logistics
and bridge building.
That means in total there are over 300 UK personnel involved
in training inside Iraq.
Replying to a question on their role, here we're told
what kind of operations they are involved in.
Since December 2014, UK military personnel have helped
to train over 12,000 individuals with infantry skills,
weapons maintenance techniques, and counter-IED and
combat medicine combat techniques.
We expect this effort to continue in the coming year.
The pace of training reflects the Iraqi
government's ability to identify personnel and units, not currently
committed to offensive operations who are therefore able to attend
training in the subjects we offer.
Daesh or Islamic State, call it what you will,
is waging war, as your Lordships no, not just in Iraq but
also in Syria, Libya and, indeed, against the whole west.
It is incumbent on nations such as ourselves and indeed it is in our
own interests to assist in the battle
against this brutal organisation.
So, will my noble friend the Minister, tell the house
what progress is being made with our assistance in Iraq in the war
With coalition support, Iraqi security forces have
taken around 40% of the populated areas that Daesh once held in Iraq,
including Tikrit, Sinjar, and Ramadi.
While were hit is now being cleared of Daesh remnants.
We've been, also, striking elsewhere in northern Iraq, predominantly
on Daesh's is lines of communication to support the Iraqi forces.
Preparing for the retaking of Mosul.
We will continue to provide vital as a port,
as well as specialist training and equipment, as I mentioned.
Can the Minister say if the troops deployed
on training are embedded forces?
Which, according to this statement
issued by the Defence Secretary on Monday would put them under Iraqi
command, and would mean that they could become
combat ants without the British parliament
being told about it.
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State
for Defence made a written note to which the noble Lord will refer.
He made it clear that embedded forces are
not included in the convention that has grown up since 2011, bringing...
When troops are sent to conflict zones, bringing that to
the House of Commons.
He has acknowledged that transparency is needed and those
embedded forces are made public, where they are, and who they work
for, once a year.
At the moment, thereafter 177 embedded forces
throughout the world.
Staying with the battle against so-called Islamic
State, the government has come under pressure
to take action against the group for conducting
a campaign of genocide.
In the Commons on Wednesday, MPs voted by 278 votes to none
favour of a demand that the government refer IS to the United
Nations Security Council and the International Criminal Court.
In the Lords, a crossbench or independent
peer wanted to know what ministers were going to do in the light of
that decisive vote in the House of Commons.
Given the unanimous vote, 278 votes to zero, following similar
declarations in the United States House
the European Parliament, and in
the Parliamentary assembly of the
Council of Europe, wouldn't it be almost
a contempt of Parliament, my Lords, for the government to simply
say that this is non-binding and that they have no
intention of following
the will of Parliament in taking this matter to
the Security Council so that those
responsible for these horrendous crimes will one day
meet their Nuremberg moment and be held accountable.
My Lords, I bear in mind victims of Daesh who I have personally met,
both here and in Iraq, my Lords, I'm not going
to therefore get involved in what may
or may not be the procedural niceties.
What I will say is that the duties clearly a matter for
judicial authority to determine whether genocide has taken place.
The Prime Minister has taken a view and has
said, and I'm aware that the Prime Minister has
written to the noble Lord on this,
the pragmatist said:
"genocide is a matter of legal, rather than
We, as the government, are not the prosecutor, judge, or the
jury, my Lords, we may not be all of those things, but I say
to Daesh and the perpetrators, we have a long memory,
we have allies, we are working with the government of Iraq,
we will not forget and the perpetrators will pay the price.
The noble lady said it's not a matter for politicians,
is she aware of article eight of the Genocide Convention
which says, I quote, "Any contracting party may call
upon the competent organs of the
United Nations to take such action
under the Charter as they consider appropriate for the prevention and
suppression of acts of genocide."
Why would the government not do that?
My Lords, because it is the government's view that in order
to hold out hope to people who have suffered from the violence of Daesh,
one has to be reasonably sure of achieving agreement
within the United Nations.
Were not confident that agreement currently exists.
That is why we want to make progress with discussions.
The transport minister says there shouldn't be an overreaction
to a reported drone strike on a passenger plane
approaching Heathrow Airport.
A police investigation was launched after the aircraft
was hit on Sunday.
If confirmed, it would be the first such incident incident in the UK.
Flying a drone near an airport can already be punished with
up to five years in prison and rules also forbid
flying them beyond the direct unaided line
of sight of the operator,
or near buildings, and crowds of people.
Drones may also not be flown above 400 feet or, or 122 metres,
and the US has recently introduced a compulsory registration
scheme so that any drone recovered from an accident can be traced back
to its owner.
Robert Goodwill told a Lords committee that it wasn't
confirmed that the strike on Sunday had been by a drone.
It was the local police force that tweeted that
they had reports of a drone striking an aircraft
and, indeed, the early reports of a dint
in the front of the plane were not confirmed.
There was no actual damage to the plane and, indeed,
it may have even been a plastic bag or something.
As somebody who has landed the simulator of a 747,
the pilot has a lot of other things to concentrate on so we're not quite
sure what they saw.
I think we should not overreact too much.
But there have been some incidents, number of which are of
Our primary responsibility as government is the security of our
citizens, that's why we have one of the highest regulatory safety
standards for commercial airlines in the world.
Now, there are already existing laws in place that require
users of drones to maintain direct unaided visual contact with that
vehicle and not to recklessly or negligently cause that aircraft to
endanger any person or property.
These incidents that we read about, or
alleged incidents, were already breaking existing regulations.
Indeed, the departments and the Civil Aviation Authority
are working with a wide range of partners
across the sector, including manufacturers, airport, and airlines
to ensure our understanding of potential hazards for aircraft
remains up to date.
Now, to business questions in the Commons.
As ever, the leader of the house, Chris Grayling, faced questions from
across the house on a wide range of subjects.
And, as ever, his Labour shadow Chris Bryant was the first to speak.
He took the opportunity to pay a warm tribute to the comedian,
writer, and musician Victoria Wood, whose
death was announced on Wednesday.
I don't know what your favourite line was, Mr Speaker, mine
was her definition of middle age.
It's when you walk past a Dr Scholl shop and think,
"those look comfy."
Perhaps was her sitting at the piano belting out,
"Let's do it, let's do it not sweetly, not meekly
Beat me on the bottom with a Woman's Weekly!
Which does sound like a good time had
by all at the Tory party awayday last week.
Having taken his
traditional swipe at the Conservatives, Mr Bryant moved
on to a report published at the start of
the week calling for changes into how the Commons deals
with bills put forward by backbench MPs, known as
private members bills.
Mr Speaker, we've already heard that the
procedure committee has published its report on private
members bills and the chairman is quite right, we
think, when he says the system is completely bust and in the last
I have noted the comments from the deputy leader who
seemed very hesitant about reform and the leader who seemed a bit more
inclined towards reform but will the leader now guarantee
that the house will get a proper chance
to debate the changes to standing orders
and I don't just mean some insubstantial debate but a proper
debate that can lead to change.
The Bills are traditionally debated on a
Friday but are often talked out by ministers or other MPs.
This is a thoughtful report, this is a welcome report, there is a lot
of fruitful thought in it and we will respond
in due course but I want to read it carefully.
I want to decide how best to respond but I will respond
properly in due course, as he would expect.
Finally, let's return to those tributes to mark
the Queen's 90th birthday.
It wasn't just MPs who wanted to send their best wishes.
Peers too were keen to relive their encounters and give
their own warm words.
What is truly remarkable about Her Majesty's commitment is
that she continues to serve with
a zest and undimmed sense of public duty.
Last year, she carried out 306 engagements in the UK
and 35 overseas, a workload that would be daunting
to someone even half her age.
Several peers spoke of the Queen's experiences during
the Second World War.
With thousands of other young women, she qualified as a mechanic
and a driver with the ATS.
For The Times, it was quite bold and daring for a princess
and not a decision that the government were at all happy about,
believing that the most important training
should be as heir to the throne, not as a mechanic.
Her determination and persistence, insisting that she wanted to serve
her country, was a clear indication that she would become a Queen
who would bring her own style and make her own way.
Throughout the huge amount of change that this country
has experienced in the last 90 years,
Her Majesty has been constant,
standing with her people, whether it be in times
of tragedy, or times of joy.
Her unwavering sense of duty supported
for over 68 years by the Duke of Edinburgh and her commitment
to the service and welfare of
the people of this country is surely an inspiration to us all.
One peer recalled a reception he'd attended.
My collegue had the misfortune to be in the process
of eating a large biscuit.
Something was bound to go wrong and, indeed, it did.
When he turned around he was so astonished
to see her standing beside him that he dropped his biscuit
onto the floor and right next to Her Majesty's feet.
With her great sense of humour, Her Majesty was most amused.
Since Her Majesty took the throne, there have been seven Archbishops
of Canterbury and seven archbishops of York.
What Her Majesty has made all the richly diverse and
eclectic selection of primates will no doubt be never revealed.
All that I can say from those of the
archbishops of whom I have known, is that those archbishops like me
valued at her support, interest, and faithfulness more than it is
possible to describe.
There are very few other people to whom an
archbishop can look in his heart, knowing that his confidences will go
no farther and certain that at the end of the conversation
he will go away, affirmed and encouraged.
Let this be a day of thanksgiving and
much rejoicing for Her Majesty's birthday.
Long live the Queen.
Which rousing birthday wishes brings us to the of this edition of
Do join us on Friday night at 11 when I look back at the
week here at Westminster when we talk to one here about why the
government's Housing Bill is coming in for such
stiff opposition in the Lords.
But, until then, from me, goodbye.