Highlights of proceedings in Parliament on Thursday 26 May, presented by Alicia McCarthy.
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Hello there and welcome to Thursday In Parliament.
MPs warn changes to the British steel pension fund risk setting
The Defence Secretary tells MPs the aim of UK air strikes in Syria
is not to kill as many extremists as possible.
And in the Lords there are calls for some clarity on healthy eating.
We used to be told we shouldn't eat fatty foods,
We used to be told that one glass of red wine a day was good for us,
then we were told we should have none.
Now we are being told we can have two.
But first, the Government is to carry out a consultation
on the future of the pension scheme for steel workers.
Paying for pensions is seen as an obstacle
to the sale by Tata Steel of its British steel-making operations.
In total, the British Steel pension scheme has around 130,000 members
with a deficit running into hundreds of millions of pounds.
One option under consideration is to base the scheme's annual increase
on the Consumer Prices Index or CPI inflation,
a measure which is usually below the Retail Prices Index
But many MPs are worried about the precedent that might set.
The Business Secretary made a statement to MPs.
This remains, Mr Speaker, quite rightly,
It is not the Government's job to pick a winner
What we can do is listen to Tata, listen to bidders
and work with everyone involved to remove potential
For example, we are today launching a consultation
on options to deliver clarity and security
for British steel pension scheme members.
This follows representations from the trustees of
the scheme itself and also from Tata.
The Shadow Business Secretary wanted more detail about
The British steel pension scheme, especially the liabilities
it now brings with it, is clearly an issue
Any resolution must protect the pensions
of the scheme's 130,000 beneficiaries, but it must also,
Mr Speaker, ensure that it avoids setting a potentially dangerous
precedent for the millions of other occupational pensioners
who currently enjoy RPI indexation rights.
What assurance can the Secretary of State give me that this
in the future to other occupational schemes?
Can this change be sensibly and safely ring-fenced,
because if not, it's very, very difficult.
I think one of the first important points to make is that
it is the scheme's trustees that have come forward
and asked us to look at current legislation
because they believe that it would lead to better outcomes
for their members, so this is a product of the scheme
Under the scheme's current rules, they do have the ability
to make all the changes that they have proposed but
they are prevented, rightly so, by legislation, the 1995 Pensions Act
and they have asked us if we would consider
in the case of their scheme and their scheme only.
The SNP spokesman said the statement raised more
How will pensioners currently in the scheme be affected?
Will there be a disadvantage for future scheme members?
And will he commit to set aside more time in this House
so that all of these issues can be teased out and
discussed in a timeous fashion to support the industry but also to
ensure that there aren't any wider, unintended consequences?
He is absolutely right, as the honourable gentleman said,
that we don't set any precedents where the House
At the same time as saying that though,
I think it is also right that we listen to the trustees and indeed
the unions and Tata itself about this proposal and we consider it
There has been some speculation in the media
that Tata Steel may in fact decide to retain the business.
Could the Secretary of State explain,
if that were to happen, what role Tata Steel
would play in this issue of dealing with the pension scheme?
Mr Speaker, there is all sorts of speculation on this issue
But what I can tell the honourable gentleman, who I know has
been very committed to this process,
we have discussed it in person a number of times,
that Tata itself remains committed and very focused
As I mentioned earlier, there are seven potential bidders.
The next step is to narrow the field, which is important
so we can all focus along with Tata on the most credible bids
and the Government stands ready to work with those bidders.
Later, the Chancellor and Shadow Chancellor clashed
over the state of the economy, as the week-long debate
on the contents of the Queen's Speech finally drew to a close.
George Osborne said his opposite number, John McDonnell,
was living in a parallel universe with plans to raise taxes
while Mr McDonnell accused Mr Osborne of failing
to meet his own financial targets and achieving
the slowest economic recovery in living memory.
It's useless to preach to us in quotes
about a stronger economy when by his actions
in office for six years, the Chancellor has methodically
Austerity was a political choice, not an economic necessity.
We have a department for tax collection
that doesn't believe in collecting taxes,
not at least from major corporations.
That was demonstrated when they struck the deal
with Google which reflects an effective tax rate
And the Chancellor called it a major success.
Home ownership has fallen to its lowest level in decades
Rough sleeping has risen in London by 30% in the last year.
Of course, it's not just in London where this phenomenon is happening,
but actually in the streets of Manchester, we now have tents.
Isn't that a shocking indictment on this Government's housing policy?
I have possibly 200 families tonight living in bed-and-breakfast.
I have individuals sleeping in our parks along the canals.
We have reinvented in my constituency the back-to-back
where a family rents the front of a house
We have beds in sheds rented to families.
This Government has been in power were six years
I listened in complete incredulity to yet another speech
from yet another Shadow Chancellor promising yet more
billions of pounds of spending and borrowing and extra taxes.
It is as if the scorching experience of the financial crash
eight years ago and the crippling deficit
they saddled this country with never happened.
Indeed, most of the time when he was
quoting the record of the Labour Government,
as if he had forgotten that then was the biggest crash in
modern history while the Labour Party was in office.
It's a bit like saying to Mrs Lincoln,
"Apart from the assassination, did you enjoy the play?"
I want this country and the people living in it
to be the greatest success story of the 21st-century
and to make that happen, there will be controversy,
Making change, confronting vested interest
is always difficult, but this Queen's speech demonstrates
It shows that when it comes to standing up for the
hard-working people of Britain, we are up for the fight.
My right honourable friend the Chancellor
knows that I have said this to him again and again, I just hope with
every budget that he introduces, he tries to simplify the tax
and benefits system, tries to strip away allowances,
tries to converge taxes so that we do not need to employ
these armies of accountants simply trying to advise people
Within the world of multinationals, it is aggressive tax avoidance
hidden behind corporate walls which is denying Britain
and many other countries the taxes they are due.
That is why I believe tax transparency is the single
The counter-productive decision to close 137 HMRC offices
will strip local businesses and individuals
throughout the UK of the support they need to ensure
In order to tackle tax avoidance at all levels and to continue
to provide local support when it is needed, the UK Government
must place a moratorium on HMRC office closures.
You're watching Thursday in Parliament, with me,
The aim of UK air strikes in Syria is not to kill
as many Daesh as possible but to undermine their will
to fight, the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, has told MPs.
He was answering questions from the Defence Committee
about the disparity between the number
of RAF air strikes being carried out in Iraq compared to Syria.
It's estimated that over 1500 fighters allied to the so-called
Islamic State group have been killed in Iraq since December
while the death toll among IS fighters in Syria is 22.
In Iraq, my understanding is that there have
been over 760 air strikes in Iraq against 1349 targets in Iraq.
Over the same period from the beginning of December
when we began in Syria, there have been 43 air strikes
Isn't this pretty much what we would expect
when we are working closely in cooperation with active fighting
forces on the ground in one theatre, Iraq,
but the same cannot be said of the other theatre, Syria?
And just to complete the set of statistics,
my understanding is that our estimated number of enemy combatants
killed, which I am assured can only be an estimate for that period,
beginning of December to the end of April,
in Iraq is 518, a sizeable number, but in Syria it is only 22.
I think it is extremely misleading to look at the statistics
We are only able to estimate enemy killed in action.
These are very crude estimates because we don't have obviously
people on the ground where we can't investigate every single attack.
The aim of these missions is not to kill
as many Daesh as possible, it is of course to degrade them on occasion
But in the end, to try to undermine the will to fight
by attacking their command and control,
So it is far too simplistic simply to measure
the mission by the number of people that are killed.
I'm sorry that the Secretary of State thinks that I'm trying
to extrapolate too much from the numbers of people killed.
I only added that as an afterthought.
The question I'm trying to put to you,
Secretary of State, is that in Iraq, we are having something like
15 times as many air strikes as we are in Syria
and I don't think that is open to dispute.
As well as trying to get rid of so-called Islamic State,
the Coalition is opposed to Syria's President Assad.
Should we be pleased or sorry that the Syrian Government,
with Russian and other outside help, have regained Palmyra from Daesh?
I don't think I'm pleased or sorry, but would you like to add to that?
Well, I mean, I would say that if it means that what remains
of the historic site of Palmyra is preserved,
then that is probably a net benefit.
I think the strategic advantage to Palmyra would
be control of the associated gas fields and it is important that that
A former army captain, who served in Afghanistan,
saw a lack of political will over the last 15 years.
The feeling that we have certainly come
across in witnesses to this committee
and in visits to Baghdad saw that we need to fundamentally
rethink how we go about these things.
And we need to have the stomach and the will to really
How do you think we can do that better both
The Defence Secretary replied that they were "big questions"
and speculated that the Chilcot report, to be published next month,
may provide further guidance in answering them.
A seven-year-old boy and his family who live in the Highlands,
face no immediate threat of deportation, according
was raised at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday.
His parents came to the UK in 2011 when his mother was studying
but are now facing the possibility of being returned to Australia.
The family's MP called a minister to the Commons.
I'm meeting the honourable member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber
to further discuss this matter, but he can be assured
that the family does not face imminent risk of
More broadly, it is important we recognise
There are no limits on the number of international graduates who
can remain in the UK to take up graduate
level work, provided they
can secure a graduate job paying an appropriate salary.
writing and reading in
he does not write and read in English,
he speaks English, but it is a different thing
to be able to be educated in a different language and the thought
of deporting that young boy back to Australia,
where he will be two years behind his peer group, is
All of us should be judged by the actions that we take.
For goodness' sake, Minister, today, do the right
Mr Speaker, the honourable gentleman will know that I have met
him on previous occasions to discuss this case and he says that I should
He will know that I have already exercised discretion not once, but
twice in relation to this case on the basis of representations
that he has made on behalf of of the family.
And so, I will obviously listen very carefully to what he said and I look
forward to meeting him later on to hear more of the details
that he has related to the House this morning
and reflect further in relation to the representations
This may be a case where the Government
is being overly harsh on people outside of the European Union
as a direct consequence of having free movement of people
Their case is yet another that highlights the
chaos of the immigration system under this Government.
The Brains' situation will be familiar to many
members in this House who will have seen their own constituents faced
with deportation owing to changes in immigration rules.
Mr Speaker, let's be clear about what is involved here.
This is a family that came to the UK on a Government scheme
specifically designed to attract people to relocate here.
They have integrated into their community and
That they should now be faced with deportation due to Government
changes shows the problem caused by the constant chopping
and changing of the immigration rules by the Home Office.
Young Lachlan Brain is in a Gaelic school in Dingwall.
You cannot get a more Scottish name than
Yet the Westminster government wants to throw him out. Has the minister
identified a school in Australia where he can continue his education?
The minister repeated that he was listening
to the representations that were being made.
A health minister has accepted that the advice on healthy eating
has become very "muddied" over the last five days.
The UK is facing a growing problem with obesity.
At the start of the week, a row broke out in the
after the authors of a controversial report challenged government
dietary advice on fatty foods and carbohydrates.
In the Lords, peers wanted to know how the Government was going to help
My Lords, I would like to declare an interest as somebody who has been
technically obese. I am aware of how difficult it is not only to lose the
weight, but to keep it off. Would my noble friend not agree that the
solution is simple, but not easy, which is that we should eat less and
healthily, and move more, and if we don't do this and the government
doesn't grip it, both the NHS and a substantial number of the
population's lives will collapse under the weight of the problem? My
noble friend looks far from obese today. She looks positively svelte!
But I agree with her that obesity is a massive problem in this country.
The chief executive of the NHS even referred to it as the new smoking.
Nor does because it causes diabetes, but also cancers and heart disease.
It is critical that we address it, and it is critical that we address
it with people at a young age, as it is much more difficult to lose
weight later in life. Aaron S Jenkin is right that it is individual
responsibility that the government must encourage -- Baroness Jenkin is
right. Of course my noble friend is right, individual responsibility is
critical. But we have to make it easy for people to make the right
choices by providing the right information and by making,
particularly for children, making it easier for them and their parents to
make the right was. We used to be told we should not eat salt, now we
are told we should. We used to be told we should not eat fatty foods,
now we are told we should. We used to be told one glass of red wine a
day was good for us, then we were told we should have none. Now we are
being told to have two! Can my noble friend tell us which of these items
should exit our diet and which should remain? My noble friend makes
a good point. He is as confused about this as most of us are in this
house. I think it will be an important part of the obesity
strategy when it is announced later in the summer that we address it
clearly. All the evidence from 600 studies reinforces the advice that
is already out there from Public Health England, but it has been very
muddied over the last five days. Does the noble Lord agree that this
is not a matter just of individual responsibility? Many meals are eaten
in places where people have no choice. They are provided by public
institutions, hospitals, hospital canteens, schools, prisons, the
armed services. Should not all those meals be designed not to further
obesity? My Lords, I was not saying it was exclusively individual
responsibility, but we have to recognise that individuals must take
some degree of responsibility for their actions. Of course the noble
lady is right. That is why the last government did introduce free school
meals at all infant schools. It is why the proceeds of the levy will be
ploughed back to increase sport and PE facilities in schools, and why we
have the fruit and vegetable schemes for schools. We do take diet and
food seriously. And where we have direct control as in schools, we
take action. The death of a man who died
after eating a take-away curry containing nuts was "needless
and avoidable", according Lady Kennedy raised the death
of Paul Wilson at Question time. Restaurant owner Mohammed Zaman
was this week jailed for six years for the manslaughter of Mr Wilson,
who had an allergic The court heard he cut corners
by using cheaper ingredients I know the whole House will join me
in offering our condolences to the family and friends of Paul Wilson,
who died after a severe allergic reaction from food containing
peanuts from his local restaurant despite him specifically requesting
no nuts. Paul's death was needless and avoidable. I would like to ask
the government to agree to a review of how food businesses can be better
monitored, how staff training can be improved and how we can work better
with the third sector to raise awareness and develop consumer
focused resources. Finally, as any assessment of the impact of cuts on
the capacity of local trading standards services to monitor and
force food labelling legislation taken place, and if not, but this
now be commissioned? My Lords, there were a lot of questions there and I
would like to join the noble lady in sending my best wishes to Paul
Wilson's family. The tragic accident occurred in January 2014, and the
new regulations came into effect in December 2014. Research since then
by the FSA has shown that there has been great improvements with food
allergies since this law came in. Can I declare my presidency of the
royal Society of Public health? The noble Baroness referred to the FSA's
review of the success of the new regulations, but is she aware that
the RSP H did a mystery dining investigation a year after its
introduction and found that 70% of takeaways were flouting the law by
not providing information they are required to provide, 54% not knowing
at all whether any of the 14 major allergens were in the food? Could
she go back to the FSA to suggest that they need to take greater
enforcement action? There is still a lot of work to be done. The FSA are
aware of this. That is why they are training food officers in a better
way to make sure that when they go to these restaurants, they can make
sure they are following the rules. Also, one of the key messages for
the businesses is that there would be much more burden than cost to
them if they do not follow the regulations. They can be persecuted
or closed down. It is beneficial to them to make sure the allergen
information they provide is displayed clearly and provided
verbally. The SNP's John Nicolson has
won the annual The MP for East Dunbartonshire
was the last name announced by the deputy speaker Lindsay Hoyle,
who carried out the draw Some 458 MPs put their name forward
to be in the ballot, all fighting for just
20 available slots. Those who are drawn are able
to introduce their own draft legislation, which is debated
on Fridays during the session. The bills nearest the top
of the list stand the best chance of making their way
through parliament, And that's it from us for now,
but do join me on Friday night at 11 for The Week In Parliament,
when we'll look back at the