26/05/2016 Thursday in Parliament


26/05/2016

Highlights of proceedings in Parliament on Thursday 26 May, presented by Alicia McCarthy.


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Transcript


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Hello there and welcome to Thursday In Parliament.

:00:14.:00:15.

MPs warn changes to the British steel pension fund risk setting

:00:16.:00:18.

The Defence Secretary tells MPs the aim of UK air strikes in Syria

:00:19.:00:25.

is not to kill as many extremists as possible.

:00:26.:00:29.

And in the Lords there are calls for some clarity on healthy eating.

:00:30.:00:33.

We used to be told we shouldn't eat fatty foods,

:00:34.:00:36.

We used to be told that one glass of red wine a day was good for us,

:00:37.:00:41.

then we were told we should have none.

:00:42.:00:43.

Now we are being told we can have two.

:00:44.:00:46.

But first, the Government is to carry out a consultation

:00:47.:00:48.

on the future of the pension scheme for steel workers.

:00:49.:00:51.

Paying for pensions is seen as an obstacle

:00:52.:00:53.

to the sale by Tata Steel of its British steel-making operations.

:00:54.:00:58.

In total, the British Steel pension scheme has around 130,000 members

:00:59.:01:03.

with a deficit running into hundreds of millions of pounds.

:01:04.:01:07.

One option under consideration is to base the scheme's annual increase

:01:08.:01:11.

on the Consumer Prices Index or CPI inflation,

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a measure which is usually below the Retail Prices Index

:01:16.:01:18.

But many MPs are worried about the precedent that might set.

:01:19.:01:25.

The Business Secretary made a statement to MPs.

:01:26.:01:28.

This remains, Mr Speaker, quite rightly,

:01:29.:01:30.

It is not the Government's job to pick a winner

:01:31.:01:35.

What we can do is listen to Tata, listen to bidders

:01:36.:01:41.

and work with everyone involved to remove potential

:01:42.:01:43.

For example, we are today launching a consultation

:01:44.:01:49.

on options to deliver clarity and security

:01:50.:01:52.

for British steel pension scheme members.

:01:53.:01:55.

This follows representations from the trustees of

:01:56.:01:58.

the scheme itself and also from Tata.

:01:59.:02:01.

The Shadow Business Secretary wanted more detail about

:02:02.:02:04.

The British steel pension scheme, especially the liabilities

:02:05.:02:09.

it now brings with it, is clearly an issue

:02:10.:02:13.

Any resolution must protect the pensions

:02:14.:02:18.

of the scheme's 130,000 beneficiaries, but it must also,

:02:19.:02:23.

Mr Speaker, ensure that it avoids setting a potentially dangerous

:02:24.:02:27.

precedent for the millions of other occupational pensioners

:02:28.:02:31.

who currently enjoy RPI indexation rights.

:02:32.:02:36.

What assurance can the Secretary of State give me that this

:02:37.:02:38.

in the future to other occupational schemes?

:02:39.:02:43.

Can this change be sensibly and safely ring-fenced,

:02:44.:02:48.

because if not, it's very, very difficult.

:02:49.:02:51.

I think one of the first important points to make is that

:02:52.:02:54.

it is the scheme's trustees that have come forward

:02:55.:02:57.

and asked us to look at current legislation

:02:58.:03:00.

because they believe that it would lead to better outcomes

:03:01.:03:03.

for their members, so this is a product of the scheme

:03:04.:03:06.

Under the scheme's current rules, they do have the ability

:03:07.:03:13.

to make all the changes that they have proposed but

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they are prevented, rightly so, by legislation, the 1995 Pensions Act

:03:19.:03:24.

and they have asked us if we would consider

:03:25.:03:27.

in the case of their scheme and their scheme only.

:03:28.:03:33.

The SNP spokesman said the statement raised more

:03:34.:03:35.

How will pensioners currently in the scheme be affected?

:03:36.:03:41.

Will there be a disadvantage for future scheme members?

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And will he commit to set aside more time in this House

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so that all of these issues can be teased out and

:03:49.:03:51.

discussed in a timeous fashion to support the industry but also to

:03:52.:03:54.

ensure that there aren't any wider, unintended consequences?

:03:55.:03:58.

He is absolutely right, as the honourable gentleman said,

:03:59.:04:00.

that we don't set any precedents where the House

:04:01.:04:04.

At the same time as saying that though,

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I think it is also right that we listen to the trustees and indeed

:04:08.:04:11.

the unions and Tata itself about this proposal and we consider it

:04:12.:04:16.

There has been some speculation in the media

:04:17.:04:20.

that Tata Steel may in fact decide to retain the business.

:04:21.:04:24.

Could the Secretary of State explain,

:04:25.:04:26.

if that were to happen, what role Tata Steel

:04:27.:04:29.

would play in this issue of dealing with the pension scheme?

:04:30.:04:35.

Mr Speaker, there is all sorts of speculation on this issue

:04:36.:04:38.

But what I can tell the honourable gentleman, who I know has

:04:39.:04:44.

been very committed to this process,

:04:45.:04:46.

we have discussed it in person a number of times,

:04:47.:04:48.

that Tata itself remains committed and very focused

:04:49.:04:51.

As I mentioned earlier, there are seven potential bidders.

:04:52.:04:55.

The next step is to narrow the field, which is important

:04:56.:04:58.

so we can all focus along with Tata on the most credible bids

:04:59.:05:02.

and the Government stands ready to work with those bidders.

:05:03.:05:05.

Later, the Chancellor and Shadow Chancellor clashed

:05:06.:05:08.

over the state of the economy, as the week-long debate

:05:09.:05:11.

on the contents of the Queen's Speech finally drew to a close.

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George Osborne said his opposite number, John McDonnell,

:05:16.:05:18.

was living in a parallel universe with plans to raise taxes

:05:19.:05:21.

while Mr McDonnell accused Mr Osborne of failing

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to meet his own financial targets and achieving

:05:27.:05:29.

the slowest economic recovery in living memory.

:05:30.:05:33.

It's useless to preach to us in quotes

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about a stronger economy when by his actions

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in office for six years, the Chancellor has methodically

:05:40.:05:42.

Austerity was a political choice, not an economic necessity.

:05:43.:05:50.

We have a department for tax collection

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that doesn't believe in collecting taxes,

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not at least from major corporations.

:05:56.:05:59.

That was demonstrated when they struck the deal

:06:00.:06:02.

with Google which reflects an effective tax rate

:06:03.:06:06.

And the Chancellor called it a major success.

:06:07.:06:11.

Home ownership has fallen to its lowest level in decades

:06:12.:06:16.

Rough sleeping has risen in London by 30% in the last year.

:06:17.:06:23.

Of course, it's not just in London where this phenomenon is happening,

:06:24.:06:27.

but actually in the streets of Manchester, we now have tents.

:06:28.:06:32.

Isn't that a shocking indictment on this Government's housing policy?

:06:33.:06:37.

I have possibly 200 families tonight living in bed-and-breakfast.

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I have individuals sleeping in our parks along the canals.

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We have reinvented in my constituency the back-to-back

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where a family rents the front of a house

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We have beds in sheds rented to families.

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This Government has been in power were six years

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I listened in complete incredulity to yet another speech

:07:06.:07:13.

from yet another Shadow Chancellor promising yet more

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billions of pounds of spending and borrowing and extra taxes.

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It is as if the scorching experience of the financial crash

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eight years ago and the crippling deficit

:07:25.:07:27.

they saddled this country with never happened.

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Indeed, most of the time when he was

:07:32.:07:33.

quoting the record of the Labour Government,

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as if he had forgotten that then was the biggest crash in

:07:35.:07:41.

modern history while the Labour Party was in office.

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It's a bit like saying to Mrs Lincoln,

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"Apart from the assassination, did you enjoy the play?"

:07:50.:07:52.

I want this country and the people living in it

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to be the greatest success story of the 21st-century

:07:56.:07:58.

and to make that happen, there will be controversy,

:07:59.:08:01.

Making change, confronting vested interest

:08:02.:08:05.

is always difficult, but this Queen's speech demonstrates

:08:06.:08:09.

It shows that when it comes to standing up for the

:08:10.:08:13.

hard-working people of Britain, we are up for the fight.

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My right honourable friend the Chancellor

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knows that I have said this to him again and again, I just hope with

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every budget that he introduces, he tries to simplify the tax

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and benefits system, tries to strip away allowances,

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tries to converge taxes so that we do not need to employ

:08:31.:08:35.

these armies of accountants simply trying to advise people

:08:36.:08:40.

Within the world of multinationals, it is aggressive tax avoidance

:08:41.:08:45.

hidden behind corporate walls which is denying Britain

:08:46.:08:48.

and many other countries the taxes they are due.

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That is why I believe tax transparency is the single

:08:52.:08:55.

The counter-productive decision to close 137 HMRC offices

:08:56.:09:03.

will strip local businesses and individuals

:09:04.:09:06.

throughout the UK of the support they need to ensure

:09:07.:09:10.

In order to tackle tax avoidance at all levels and to continue

:09:11.:09:16.

to provide local support when it is needed, the UK Government

:09:17.:09:20.

must place a moratorium on HMRC office closures.

:09:21.:09:25.

You're watching Thursday in Parliament, with me,

:09:26.:09:27.

The aim of UK air strikes in Syria is not to kill

:09:28.:09:34.

as many Daesh as possible but to undermine their will

:09:35.:09:38.

to fight, the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, has told MPs.

:09:39.:09:42.

He was answering questions from the Defence Committee

:09:43.:09:45.

about the disparity between the number

:09:46.:09:47.

of RAF air strikes being carried out in Iraq compared to Syria.

:09:48.:09:52.

It's estimated that over 1500 fighters allied to the so-called

:09:53.:09:56.

Islamic State group have been killed in Iraq since December

:09:57.:10:00.

while the death toll among IS fighters in Syria is 22.

:10:01.:10:05.

In Iraq, my understanding is that there have

:10:06.:10:08.

been over 760 air strikes in Iraq against 1349 targets in Iraq.

:10:09.:10:22.

Over the same period from the beginning of December

:10:23.:10:25.

when we began in Syria, there have been 43 air strikes

:10:26.:10:32.

Isn't this pretty much what we would expect

:10:33.:10:41.

when we are working closely in cooperation with active fighting

:10:42.:10:47.

forces on the ground in one theatre, Iraq,

:10:48.:10:52.

but the same cannot be said of the other theatre, Syria?

:10:53.:10:56.

And just to complete the set of statistics,

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my understanding is that our estimated number of enemy combatants

:10:59.:11:04.

killed, which I am assured can only be an estimate for that period,

:11:05.:11:09.

beginning of December to the end of April,

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in Iraq is 518, a sizeable number, but in Syria it is only 22.

:11:14.:11:22.

I think it is extremely misleading to look at the statistics

:11:23.:11:25.

We are only able to estimate enemy killed in action.

:11:26.:11:30.

These are very crude estimates because we don't have obviously

:11:31.:11:33.

people on the ground where we can't investigate every single attack.

:11:34.:11:40.

The aim of these missions is not to kill

:11:41.:11:43.

as many Daesh as possible, it is of course to degrade them on occasion

:11:44.:11:49.

But in the end, to try to undermine the will to fight

:11:50.:11:57.

by attacking their command and control,

:11:58.:11:59.

So it is far too simplistic simply to measure

:12:00.:12:04.

the mission by the number of people that are killed.

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I'm sorry that the Secretary of State thinks that I'm trying

:12:08.:12:10.

to extrapolate too much from the numbers of people killed.

:12:11.:12:12.

I only added that as an afterthought.

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The question I'm trying to put to you,

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Secretary of State, is that in Iraq, we are having something like

:12:18.:12:24.

15 times as many air strikes as we are in Syria

:12:25.:12:30.

and I don't think that is open to dispute.

:12:31.:12:34.

As well as trying to get rid of so-called Islamic State,

:12:35.:12:37.

the Coalition is opposed to Syria's President Assad.

:12:38.:12:40.

Should we be pleased or sorry that the Syrian Government,

:12:41.:12:44.

with Russian and other outside help, have regained Palmyra from Daesh?

:12:45.:12:57.

I don't think I'm pleased or sorry, but would you like to add to that?

:12:58.:13:03.

Well, I mean, I would say that if it means that what remains

:13:04.:13:09.

of the historic site of Palmyra is preserved,

:13:10.:13:14.

then that is probably a net benefit.

:13:15.:13:17.

I think the strategic advantage to Palmyra would

:13:18.:13:24.

be control of the associated gas fields and it is important that that

:13:25.:13:28.

A former army captain, who served in Afghanistan,

:13:29.:13:34.

saw a lack of political will over the last 15 years.

:13:35.:13:38.

The feeling that we have certainly come

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across in witnesses to this committee

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and in visits to Baghdad saw that we need to fundamentally

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rethink how we go about these things.

:13:49.:13:51.

And we need to have the stomach and the will to really

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How do you think we can do that better both

:13:58.:14:04.

The Defence Secretary replied that they were "big questions"

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and speculated that the Chilcot report, to be published next month,

:14:10.:14:13.

may provide further guidance in answering them.

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A seven-year-old boy and his family who live in the Highlands,

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face no immediate threat of deportation, according

:14:22.:14:23.

was raised at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday.

:14:24.:14:30.

His parents came to the UK in 2011 when his mother was studying

:14:31.:14:36.

but are now facing the possibility of being returned to Australia.

:14:37.:14:39.

The family's MP called a minister to the Commons.

:14:40.:14:48.

I'm meeting the honourable member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber

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to further discuss this matter, but he can be assured

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that the family does not face imminent risk of

:14:54.:14:55.

More broadly, it is important we recognise

:14:56.:15:04.

There are no limits on the number of international graduates who

:15:05.:15:19.

can remain in the UK to take up graduate

:15:20.:15:21.

level work, provided they

:15:22.:15:22.

can secure a graduate job paying an appropriate salary.

:15:23.:15:26.

writing and reading in

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he does not write and read in English,

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he speaks English, but it is a different thing

:15:45.:15:46.

to be able to be educated in a different language and the thought

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of deporting that young boy back to Australia,

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where he will be two years behind his peer group, is

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All of us should be judged by the actions that we take.

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For goodness' sake, Minister, today, do the right

:15:59.:16:00.

Mr Speaker, the honourable gentleman will know that I have met

:16:01.:16:04.

him on previous occasions to discuss this case and he says that I should

:16:05.:16:07.

He will know that I have already exercised discretion not once, but

:16:08.:16:15.

twice in relation to this case on the basis of representations

:16:16.:16:17.

that he has made on behalf of of the family.

:16:18.:16:20.

And so, I will obviously listen very carefully to what he said and I look

:16:21.:16:24.

forward to meeting him later on to hear more of the details

:16:25.:16:29.

that he has related to the House this morning

:16:30.:16:34.

and reflect further in relation to the representations

:16:35.:16:36.

This may be a case where the Government

:16:37.:16:39.

is being overly harsh on people outside of the European Union

:16:40.:16:43.

as a direct consequence of having free movement of people

:16:44.:16:51.

Their case is yet another that highlights the

:16:52.:16:57.

chaos of the immigration system under this Government.

:16:58.:16:59.

The Brains' situation will be familiar to many

:17:00.:17:02.

members in this House who will have seen their own constituents faced

:17:03.:17:05.

with deportation owing to changes in immigration rules.

:17:06.:17:08.

Mr Speaker, let's be clear about what is involved here.

:17:09.:17:11.

This is a family that came to the UK on a Government scheme

:17:12.:17:15.

specifically designed to attract people to relocate here.

:17:16.:17:21.

They have integrated into their community and

:17:22.:17:24.

That they should now be faced with deportation due to Government

:17:25.:17:28.

changes shows the problem caused by the constant chopping

:17:29.:17:30.

and changing of the immigration rules by the Home Office.

:17:31.:17:36.

Young Lachlan Brain is in a Gaelic school in Dingwall.

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You cannot get a more Scottish name than

:17:40.:17:41.

Yet the Westminster government wants to throw him out. Has the minister

:17:42.:17:51.

identified a school in Australia where he can continue his education?

:17:52.:17:55.

The minister repeated that he was listening

:17:56.:17:57.

to the representations that were being made.

:17:58.:17:58.

A health minister has accepted that the advice on healthy eating

:17:59.:18:01.

has become very "muddied" over the last five days.

:18:02.:18:03.

The UK is facing a growing problem with obesity.

:18:04.:18:05.

At the start of the week, a row broke out in the

:18:06.:18:08.

after the authors of a controversial report challenged government

:18:09.:18:11.

dietary advice on fatty foods and carbohydrates.

:18:12.:18:13.

In the Lords, peers wanted to know how the Government was going to help

:18:14.:18:18.

My Lords, I would like to declare an interest as somebody who has been

:18:19.:18:31.

technically obese. I am aware of how difficult it is not only to lose the

:18:32.:18:35.

weight, but to keep it off. Would my noble friend not agree that the

:18:36.:18:40.

solution is simple, but not easy, which is that we should eat less and

:18:41.:18:45.

healthily, and move more, and if we don't do this and the government

:18:46.:18:50.

doesn't grip it, both the NHS and a substantial number of the

:18:51.:18:52.

population's lives will collapse under the weight of the problem? My

:18:53.:18:59.

noble friend looks far from obese today. She looks positively svelte!

:19:00.:19:08.

But I agree with her that obesity is a massive problem in this country.

:19:09.:19:14.

The chief executive of the NHS even referred to it as the new smoking.

:19:15.:19:19.

Nor does because it causes diabetes, but also cancers and heart disease.

:19:20.:19:24.

It is critical that we address it, and it is critical that we address

:19:25.:19:28.

it with people at a young age, as it is much more difficult to lose

:19:29.:19:31.

weight later in life. Aaron S Jenkin is right that it is individual

:19:32.:19:37.

responsibility that the government must encourage -- Baroness Jenkin is

:19:38.:19:46.

right. Of course my noble friend is right, individual responsibility is

:19:47.:19:50.

critical. But we have to make it easy for people to make the right

:19:51.:19:56.

choices by providing the right information and by making,

:19:57.:19:58.

particularly for children, making it easier for them and their parents to

:19:59.:20:02.

make the right was. We used to be told we should not eat salt, now we

:20:03.:20:06.

are told we should. We used to be told we should not eat fatty foods,

:20:07.:20:10.

now we are told we should. We used to be told one glass of red wine a

:20:11.:20:14.

day was good for us, then we were told we should have none. Now we are

:20:15.:20:19.

being told to have two! Can my noble friend tell us which of these items

:20:20.:20:23.

should exit our diet and which should remain? My noble friend makes

:20:24.:20:30.

a good point. He is as confused about this as most of us are in this

:20:31.:20:36.

house. I think it will be an important part of the obesity

:20:37.:20:38.

strategy when it is announced later in the summer that we address it

:20:39.:20:49.

clearly. All the evidence from 600 studies reinforces the advice that

:20:50.:20:52.

is already out there from Public Health England, but it has been very

:20:53.:20:56.

muddied over the last five days. Does the noble Lord agree that this

:20:57.:21:01.

is not a matter just of individual responsibility? Many meals are eaten

:21:02.:21:05.

in places where people have no choice. They are provided by public

:21:06.:21:11.

institutions, hospitals, hospital canteens, schools, prisons, the

:21:12.:21:15.

armed services. Should not all those meals be designed not to further

:21:16.:21:23.

obesity? My Lords, I was not saying it was exclusively individual

:21:24.:21:26.

responsibility, but we have to recognise that individuals must take

:21:27.:21:28.

some degree of responsibility for their actions. Of course the noble

:21:29.:21:36.

lady is right. That is why the last government did introduce free school

:21:37.:21:42.

meals at all infant schools. It is why the proceeds of the levy will be

:21:43.:21:47.

ploughed back to increase sport and PE facilities in schools, and why we

:21:48.:21:51.

have the fruit and vegetable schemes for schools. We do take diet and

:21:52.:21:57.

food seriously. And where we have direct control as in schools, we

:21:58.:21:58.

take action. The death of a man who died

:21:59.:22:00.

after eating a take-away curry containing nuts was "needless

:22:01.:22:03.

and avoidable", according Lady Kennedy raised the death

:22:04.:22:05.

of Paul Wilson at Question time. Restaurant owner Mohammed Zaman

:22:06.:22:09.

was this week jailed for six years for the manslaughter of Mr Wilson,

:22:10.:22:14.

who had an allergic The court heard he cut corners

:22:15.:22:17.

by using cheaper ingredients I know the whole House will join me

:22:18.:22:31.

in offering our condolences to the family and friends of Paul Wilson,

:22:32.:22:37.

who died after a severe allergic reaction from food containing

:22:38.:22:39.

peanuts from his local restaurant despite him specifically requesting

:22:40.:22:45.

no nuts. Paul's death was needless and avoidable. I would like to ask

:22:46.:22:49.

the government to agree to a review of how food businesses can be better

:22:50.:22:53.

monitored, how staff training can be improved and how we can work better

:22:54.:22:57.

with the third sector to raise awareness and develop consumer

:22:58.:23:03.

focused resources. Finally, as any assessment of the impact of cuts on

:23:04.:23:07.

the capacity of local trading standards services to monitor and

:23:08.:23:12.

force food labelling legislation taken place, and if not, but this

:23:13.:23:19.

now be commissioned? My Lords, there were a lot of questions there and I

:23:20.:23:24.

would like to join the noble lady in sending my best wishes to Paul

:23:25.:23:32.

Wilson's family. The tragic accident occurred in January 2014, and the

:23:33.:23:38.

new regulations came into effect in December 2014. Research since then

:23:39.:23:44.

by the FSA has shown that there has been great improvements with food

:23:45.:23:49.

allergies since this law came in. Can I declare my presidency of the

:23:50.:23:54.

royal Society of Public health? The noble Baroness referred to the FSA's

:23:55.:23:58.

review of the success of the new regulations, but is she aware that

:23:59.:24:03.

the RSP H did a mystery dining investigation a year after its

:24:04.:24:09.

introduction and found that 70% of takeaways were flouting the law by

:24:10.:24:12.

not providing information they are required to provide, 54% not knowing

:24:13.:24:19.

at all whether any of the 14 major allergens were in the food? Could

:24:20.:24:22.

she go back to the FSA to suggest that they need to take greater

:24:23.:24:27.

enforcement action? There is still a lot of work to be done. The FSA are

:24:28.:24:33.

aware of this. That is why they are training food officers in a better

:24:34.:24:37.

way to make sure that when they go to these restaurants, they can make

:24:38.:24:45.

sure they are following the rules. Also, one of the key messages for

:24:46.:24:48.

the businesses is that there would be much more burden than cost to

:24:49.:24:52.

them if they do not follow the regulations. They can be persecuted

:24:53.:24:58.

or closed down. It is beneficial to them to make sure the allergen

:24:59.:25:02.

information they provide is displayed clearly and provided

:25:03.:25:03.

verbally. The SNP's John Nicolson has

:25:04.:25:05.

won the annual The MP for East Dunbartonshire

:25:06.:25:07.

was the last name announced by the deputy speaker Lindsay Hoyle,

:25:08.:25:10.

who carried out the draw Some 458 MPs put their name forward

:25:11.:25:14.

to be in the ballot, all fighting for just

:25:15.:25:19.

20 available slots. Those who are drawn are able

:25:20.:25:23.

to introduce their own draft legislation, which is debated

:25:24.:25:27.

on Fridays during the session. The bills nearest the top

:25:28.:25:30.

of the list stand the best chance of making their way

:25:31.:25:34.

through parliament, And that's it from us for now,

:25:35.:25:35.

but do join me on Friday night at 11 for The Week In Parliament,

:25:36.:25:42.

when we'll look back at the

:25:43.:25:45.

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