24/11/2016 Thursday in Parliament


24/11/2016

Highlights of proceedings in Parliament on Thursday 24 November, presented by Keith Macdougall.


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Hello and welcome to Thursday In Parliament,

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

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On this programme:

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The Commons Speaker thanks the Leader of the House for a moving

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speech following the jailing of the man who murdered Jo Cox.

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The power and beauty of those words

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clearly will resonate with all of us.

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Peers calls for better sex and relationship

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education in schools.

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The ignorance of the menstrual cycle and basic biology

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is very, very striking.

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And why those mass walks through the division lobbies

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in Parliament just have to stay.

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For members of the opposition, it gives an opportunity

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for team-building, which is extremely important.

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LAUGHTER

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But first, the Cabinet Minister, David Lidington, has made

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a moving plea in the Commons for the country to come together

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and turn its back on extremism, following the sentencing this week

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of the man who murdered Jo Cox.

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On Wednesday, Thomas Mair was found guilty at the Old Bailey

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of murdering the West Yorkshire Member of Parliament

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in June this year.

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Evidence gathered by the police had shown Mair to be obsessed

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with the Nazis and with ideas of white supremacy.

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Mair was sent to prison for the rest of his life for the murder.

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I hope we can all agree that perhaps the best tribute that we here,

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whatever our party politics, can pay to Jo and her memory

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is to recommit ourselves, whether as constituency members

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or holders of various offices, to do all that lies within our power

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to ensure that this country remains a place where people of different

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ethnic origins and different faiths can live together in mutual respect,

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goodwill and harmony, and can celebrate together

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our common citizenship and our shared institutions

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and values and traditions.

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And that we will also continue unflinchingly to stand for the truth

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that it is through parliamentary democracy that we can seek to secure

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change and find a better future for those who sent us here,

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rather than through violence or extremism.

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I thank the Leader of the House for what he has just said.

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The power and beauty of those words

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clearly will resonate with all of us.

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And I'd like to thank MP4 for organising and playing

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in memory of Jo Cox.

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The members for Cardiff West, East Yorkshire,

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Perth and North Perthshire and Ian Cawsey, who is a former member,

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spent a lot of time last Thursday organising the song for Jo,

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which I think is coming out in January.

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Her love, values and example lives on in all of us.

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Governments are not just about fixing the roof.

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We are about transforming lives.

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Let us dedicate ourselves to that task in her memory.

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Thomas Mair was heard to shout "Britain First!"

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as he attacked Jo Cox.

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Can we have a debate about whether Britain First

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should be proscribed as a terrorist organisation

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and banned from standing in democratic elections?

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I can't offer an immediate debate.

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As the honourable lady probably knows,

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the Home Office brings forward orders for the proscription

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of particular organisations,

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but must do so on the basis of evidence.

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There have been cases in the past where organisations that have been

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so proscribed have gone to the courts and successfully

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won a judicial review to say that the evidence on which

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that action had been taken was not sufficient.

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So I will make sure that her proposal is reported

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to my right honourable friend, the Home Secretary,

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but there has to be clear evidence of terrorist involvement

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for the terrorist proscription to be applied.

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David Lidington.

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Former military chiefs say it's time

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to shield British servicemen and women from what they call

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unfounded and spurious claims of abuse.

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They object to the multiple legal claims

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being lodged against the armed forces,

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claims that have arisen from conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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In a Lords debate, a former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Richard,

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urged the Government to opt out of human rights laws

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in future conflicts.

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While a senior lawyer warned against retreating

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from the UK's moral obligations.

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I am proud to have served the Queen and country.

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It now distresses me, as it plainly distresses

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lots of others to see how today,

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often years after valiant service in conflicts abroad,

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our forces are subject to apparently endless claims

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and allegations of misconduct.

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Not only is this upsetting,

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it affects our nation's combat capabilities -

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it damages morale, recruitment and indeed our fighting strength.

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Every service man and woman, of whatever rank,

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should not be exposed in operations to the fear of, let alone belated

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mental trauma from contemporary legislation, even that which has

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brought strength and validity to human rights protection.

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A leading QC recalled the case in 2002 of Baha Mousa,

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an Iraqi who died while in the custody of British soldiers.

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The killing of Baha Mousa was a terrible, terrible

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blot on our reputation.

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He was a man with a young family,

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found in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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He was a receptionist in a hotel.

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And he was beaten to death, unfortunately, by British forces.

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Without the Human Rights Act, which forced the Government to hold

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an enquiry, there would have been no investigation,

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no accountability and no justice.

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She said the UK should not retreat from its legal obligations.

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As a nation, we seek to uphold our values against

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those intent on destroying them.

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If we compromise, we lose our moral standing and betray the trust

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of those we seek to protect.

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Hypocrisy doesn't win wars, and nor does it win hearts and minds.

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Another former army chief was highly critical of the Government.

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At the heart of the issue here is the willingness

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of government ministers and officials to believe

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the fallacious allegations of Iraqis and Afghanis,

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themselves manipulated by unscrupulous and commercially

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driven lawyers, rather than to have confidence in the Armed Forces'

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chain of command and the tried and tested process of investigation

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and judicial disposal.

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We must be prepared to derogate

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from the European Convention on Human Rights.

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I applaud the Government's stated intention to do this,

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but I'm keen to see the details of their strategy.

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Like other noble Lords, I wish to know when and what

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circumstances will it apply?

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Is it automatic, or dependent on a parliamentary consensus that

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may not be forthcoming on the day?

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I think clarity on this issue now is vital.

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Secondly, as the noble and learned Lord Brown proposes,

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the Government should reassert the primacy of the Geneva Convention

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in regulating and guiding the actions

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of our Armed Forces in conflict.

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What we are not suggesting is that the Armed Forces

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should somehow be freed from the constraints

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of the rule of law.

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The degree of necessity and level of acceptable risk

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are often difficult judgments.

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And, sometimes, those judgments will turn out, in hindsight,

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to have been wrong.

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If the decisions were made negligently, then those

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responsible for them should be called to account.

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And legal routes for doing so have long existed.

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But if every judgment is to be second-guessed at the courts,

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then the result will be caution and even risk aversion.

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History has amply demonstrated both of these tendencies are themselves

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damaging and dangerous in the long run.

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The Defence Minister explained the Government's plan to derogate

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from the European Convention on Human Rights.

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Let me be clear here.

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There is no question of a blanket opt out from the ECHR.

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If and when a derogation is made, it could only be made from certain

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articles of the convention, and it would have to be fully

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justified by the circumstances pertaining at the time.

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Where justified, in the light of circumstances, it could serve

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to limit some of the types of opportunistic ECHR-based claims

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that we have seen and would reflect what we consider to be the right

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balance between these rights and the law of armed conflict.

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And he said the armed forces were at all times subject to

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the UK law and the Geneva Convention would still apply.

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Back in the Commons, there was a call for the Government

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to reverse cutbacks in public health provision.

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The demand was made in a general debate by the chair

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of the Health committee, the Conservative Dr Sarah Wollaston.

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She reminded MPs of Theresa May's pledge to reduce the gap

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in life expectancy between the richest and the poorest.

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She said it was disappointing to see reductions in public health budgets.

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When we look at what is happening, in public health, we have seen

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from a survey by the Association of Directors of Public Health,

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who surveyed their members in February this year,

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that what this is affecting, those cuts to public health budgets,

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is around areas like weight management, drugs,

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smoking cessation and alcohol.

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These are all key determinants that we need to tackle.

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In my own area, part of which covers Torbay,

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cuts to council budgets for public health of around ?345,000

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are resulting in the decommissioning of healthy lifestyle services.

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The future of substance misuse services is in jeopardy,

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when some local authorities are facing huge cuts

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to public health budgets.

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With no actual statutory obligation to provide these services,

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and it is really something that we need to be addressing

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when we're talking about health inequalities.

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Premature mortality rates are 20% higher in Scotland

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than in England and Wales.

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Even after deprivation is accounted for, and the premature mortality

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rate in Glasgow is 30% higher than in equally deprived areas

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like Liverpool and Manchester.

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The former has been dubbed the Scottish effect,

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the latter the Glasgow fact.

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Both account for approximately 5,000 extra unexplained deaths

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per year in Scotland.

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That's 5,000 people dying prematurely, dying needlessly

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over and above normal inequalities and health.

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In the UK, between 1.3 million and 2.5 million years of lives

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are lost as a result of health inequality in England.

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Many children never reach their potential

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throughout their lives, and one of the reasons

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is because of a lack of healthy relationships in their early years.

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Relationship breakdown is a significant driver of poverty

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and health inequality.

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A comprehensive cross Department or strategy to combat health

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inequality must include measures to strengthen healthy

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relationships and to combat relationship break down,

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which is at epidemic levels in our country.

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Our dental and oral health has and continues to be

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the Cinderella of Health Service provision in this country.

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It's seen as nice to have, something to be tackled

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after the good ship NHS returns to calmer waters.

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Only due to much-needed extra funding once the financial black

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holes elsewhere in the NHS have been plucked.

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Such inequality in dental and oral health is plain wrong.

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An unspoken injustice in today's society.

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Tackling it cannot and should not be, year after year,

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kicked down the road like the proverbial can.

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We must focus on key determinants

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such as obesity, smoking, suicide and alcohol.

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This is the core business of the challenge we face.

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That is why we are working closely with our partners in the NHS,

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PHE, local government and schools to deliver

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the childhood obesity plan.

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It has been raised by many today.

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I would like to assure the House that delivery of this

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plan has started.

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We have consulted on the soft drink industry levy

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and launched a broader sugar reduction programme.

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These measures will have a positive impact on low income

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groups in particular, who are disproportionately affected.

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The debate on health inequalities.

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You're watching our round-up of the day

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in the Commons and the Lords.

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Still to come.

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Should sex education be made compulsory in schools?

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Labour's demanding to know what the Government's doing

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to mitigate rising food prices in the wake of the UK's

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decision to leave the EU.

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The fall in the value of the pound has made imports more expensive.

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At Environment Questions Labour said that was already having an impact

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on the food industry and on shoppers.

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The pound has fallen, the cost of imports has risen.

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Brexit is costing the wine industry 430 million more in imports alone.

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From Marmitegate to the Toblerone Gap we've had rising prices

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across the food industry as customers are paying more

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for food, while those working in farming and food production have

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been hit even harder and it's getting worse.

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What is the Secretary of State is doing to mitigate against this?

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The honourable lady will be aware that we have an incredibly thriving

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food and farming sector that employs one in eight of us.

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It is worth over ?100 billion each year to our economy.

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Our food innovation is second to none.

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We produce more new food products every year than France

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and Germany combined.

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Food inflation is low.

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It continues to be low.

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And we are seeing a very thriving sector improving with exports up

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this year and we are doing everything we can to create

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a sustainable environment for the future.

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The reality is food is inflating at 5%.

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This is on her watch, her responsibility, her crisis,

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and people are struggling now.

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The call from the sector is that they need security.

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Security of labour, security in the market, security in trade,

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security in knowing the plans for leaving the EU for the sector.

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Labour can give confidence today to the sector.

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We have a clear plan so why will the Secretary of State

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not share her plan?

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Is it because there isn't one?

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Mr Speaker, that was rather nonsense, if I may say so.

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In fact food inflation, food prices have been dropping.

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They peaked in 2008.

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Food prices do move up and down but the point that she is making

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about the resilience of the food and drinks

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sector, is extraordinary.

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Our exports this year are well up on last year.

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We are seeing booming growth in our food production sector.

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We are doing everything we can on food innovation,

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and getting young people into apprenticeships in increasingly

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high technology jobs.

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This is a very well organised sector with great potential.

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Many of the agricultural workforce are a seasonal workforce from other

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EU states who take advantage of the single market's

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free movement policy.

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Given this can the Minister provide a guarantee to rural

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businesses in my constituency and beyond that these seasonal

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workers who come to Scotland for produce picking and food

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and fish processing will still be able to work

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here after the UK has left the EU?

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My right honourable friends are aware of the issues.

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It is not an issue unique to her constituency and she will

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recognise that this will be part of the ongoing discussions

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within our Government and of course with the EU.

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The great British breakfast cereal Weetabix is made in the Kettering

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constituency and the wheat in Weetabix is grown on farms

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within a 15 mile radius.

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What proportion of the nation's food do we grow ourselves

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and what proportion would the Minister like to

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see us grow ourselves?

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The honourable gentleman will be aware that of the food that we can

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produce in this country we produce around 74% of the food

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that we consume.

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If you include foods that we are unable to grow

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here clearly the percentage is slightly lower.

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But we have got a commitment to have a vibrant profitable

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farming industry.

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We want to grow more, we want to sell more,

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and we want to import less.

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And if we achieve all of that we will see our

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self-sufficiency improve over time.

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Food and drink production has flourished under my right honourable

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friend's leadership.

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As we have just heard record levels of hard cheese and sour grapes

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are emanating from that side of the chamber and in my own

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constituency the Hogs Back Brewery, a successful microbrewery,

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is doing a roaring trade.

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Can I invite my right honourable friend to join me for a knees up

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in my brewery, something the other side of the House

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could never organise?

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Yes, absolutely I'd be delighted to do that.

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Some of the amazing products, taking gin out to the Chinese

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for example was a great experience.

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Looking at the beers that the Vietnamese are drinking

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from the United Kingdom already, looking at market access,

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greater exports, seeing just yesterday a taste

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of Cheltenham beers.

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And my right honourable friend is right to raise his own

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constituents' produce and I would be delighted to share a knees

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up with him any time.

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Andrea Leadsom - with the promise of a good night out.

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The issue of whether sex and relationship education should be

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taught as a compulsory subject in secondary schools in England

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continues to cause controversy.

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Last year the then Education Secretary Nicky Morgan turned down

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the call of four Commons committees for the subject to be

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given statutory status.

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A Labour peer put down a question asking if a Minister planned to make

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it part of the national curriculum.

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She said in the three years up to 2015 5,500 sexual

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offences were reported to the police by UK schools,

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and that was probably just the tip of the iceberg.

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With many boys learning about sex from online pornography and some

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schools failing in their legal obligation to keep girls safe does

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the noble lord the Minister agree with me there has to be a whole

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school approach on a statutory basis

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with Ofsted including this subject in its inspections?

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I agree entirely with the noble lady that it is unacceptable for pupils

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to learn about sex from pornography rather than from an age appropriate

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programme in schools.

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And the whole school approach is appropriate and of course Ofsted

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do have a vital role to play.

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They take an interest in all school provision particularly how schools

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are providing spiritual, moral and cultural development

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for their pupils.

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He may be aware that in Scotland sex and relationship education is part

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of the curriculum and every young person receives that entitlement.

0:20:290:20:31

Indeed there is a syllabus from key stage two right through.

0:20:310:20:34

Perhaps in his active review he might look at lessons that can be

0:20:340:20:37

learned from Scotland.

0:20:370:20:38

What is absolutely shocking is the very few number of girls who,

0:20:380:20:41

even though when ovulation occurs, the ignorance of the menstrual

0:20:410:20:43

cycle and basic biology is very, very striking.

0:20:430:20:45

Is this not another example of the narrowness of the curriculum

0:20:450:20:48

in schools which actually prevents a wider education generally

0:20:480:20:51

and which is very important in these matters?

0:20:510:20:56

I am fully aware of the programme that the noble Lord refers

0:20:560:21:00

to at Imperial College and I know it is a very valued one by schools

0:21:000:21:04

who participate in it.

0:21:040:21:05

I am a bit shocked to hear what he said.

0:21:050:21:08

Of course these matters should be taught in science.

0:21:080:21:11

But clearly this is something that is unacceptable

0:21:110:21:14

and we need to look at further.

0:21:140:21:19

Does he agree it is important that education is not just to be

0:21:190:21:23

about sex and sexuality but sex and relationships,

0:21:230:21:26

and should such education therefore include wholesome friendships

0:21:260:21:31

and relationships between the sexes, the importance, as we have already

0:21:310:21:34

discussed, of guarding against abuse and the vital need for young people

0:21:340:21:37

to have a healthy self identity?

0:21:380:21:42

On the last point I commend the work of the Bishop

0:21:420:21:45

of Gloucester on her work on body

0:21:450:21:46

image amongst children.

0:21:460:21:48

The last time noble Lords had an opportunity to consider this

0:21:480:21:52

question was in February this year, a question from my noble

0:21:520:21:55

friend Baroness Massey, and on that occasion the Minister

0:21:550:21:58

replied, and I quote, We have asked leading headteachers

0:21:580:22:08

and practitioners to produce an action plan for improving PSHE.

0:22:110:22:13

We will continue to keep the status of the subject under review and work

0:22:130:22:17

with those experts to identify further steps that we can take

0:22:170:22:19

to ensure, my emphasis, that all pupils receive high-quality

0:22:190:22:22

age-appropriate PSHE and sex and relationships education.

0:22:220:22:23

My Lords, the Minister who gave that reply has since moved on.

0:22:230:22:26

Indeed she is now leader of your Lordships' House.

0:22:260:22:28

But the question of PSHE has not moved on.

0:22:280:22:31

Can the noble Lord say firstly what happened to the action plan

0:22:310:22:33

and secondly can he say how he plans to ensure that all schools

0:22:330:22:37

inform their pupils of the crucial issues involved in the subject

0:22:370:22:40

so that they are adequately prepared for adult life?

0:22:400:22:42

What I have said and what I can say to the noble Lord

0:22:420:22:46

is I think our thinking has moved on somewhat further,

0:22:460:22:50

which I think may please him and many peers present today

0:22:500:22:57

and I hope to make a statement about this shortly.

0:22:570:23:00

Lord Nash.

0:23:000:23:03

The Ayes have it.

0:23:030:23:04

The Ayes have it!

0:23:040:23:05

The famous phrase used by the Commons Speaker whenever

0:23:050:23:08

a vote in the chamber is decided.

0:23:080:23:10

But do we need quite so much tradition when MPs

0:23:100:23:12

take part in votes?

0:23:120:23:16

At Westminster the politicians use the time-honoured method of walking

0:23:160:23:19

through what are called the division lobbies.

0:23:190:23:21

It means a Commons vote can take a full 15 minutes.

0:23:210:23:24

Other parliaments use quicker, more modern systems,

0:23:240:23:27

such as electronic voting, definitely a shorter process.

0:23:270:23:31

An SNP MP said continuing to troop through division lobbies

0:23:310:23:39

wasn't terribly sensible.

0:23:390:23:41

During the Higher Education Bill

0:23:410:23:43

Report Stage on Monday we spent nearly an hour trooping

0:23:430:23:45

through the division lobbies.

0:23:450:23:46

Has the commission ever made a calculation of the cost

0:23:460:23:49

to the taxpayer of that dead time in terms of staff,

0:23:490:23:51

security and utilities?

0:23:510:23:52

And if we are to be decanted as part of a restoration process surely that

0:23:520:23:56

presents an opportunity to at the very least

0:23:560:23:58

pilot electronic voting, as we're not going to replicate

0:23:580:24:00

every last detail of where we are now.

0:24:000:24:03

I thank him for those two questions, I think.

0:24:030:24:05

Just in terms of the time that it takes for members to vote,

0:24:050:24:08

he may not be aware that, I think back in 1997,

0:24:080:24:11

this House did consider substantial changes to the way we voted and I'm

0:24:110:24:17

afraid the House voted to keep things exactly as they were.

0:24:170:24:22

In relation to the restoration and renewal issue, I do hope that

0:24:220:24:29

by perhaps early next year in this place we will have a substantive

0:24:290:24:33

debate on it and I think that would be the opportunity for him

0:24:330:24:36

to raise that particular point.

0:24:360:24:40

Does he agree the current system affords members an opportunity

0:24:400:24:42

to nobble ministers when they are bereft

0:24:420:24:45

of their heavies and spin doctors?

0:24:450:24:51

Indeed it is true that when trooping through the division lobbies

0:24:510:24:54

there are opportunities to lobby ministers but clearly those

0:24:540:25:01

opportunities are more frequent for members of Government

0:25:010:25:03

than they are for members of the Opposition.

0:25:030:25:07

Does he not agree though that for members of the Opposition that

0:25:070:25:10

is an opportunity for team building which is extremely important.

0:25:100:25:15

Will he do everything he can to keep this at the bottom of this in tray?

0:25:150:25:22

I thank the honourable lady for her intervention and of course

0:25:220:25:25

it gives me the opportunity to underline how important,

0:25:250:25:27

particularly for her party, the opportunities for team building

0:25:270:25:29

in the lobby must be.

0:25:290:25:33

Tom Brake.

0:25:330:25:34

And that's it.

0:25:340:25:35

But do join me for the Week in Parliament, when we take a look

0:25:350:25:39

a move to try to stop election fraud and we take a reflective look at how

0:25:390:25:43

the Chancellor Philip Hammond performed in the Commons this week.

0:25:430:25:45

But for now, from me, Keith Macdougall, goodbye.

0:25:450:25:55

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