Highlights of proceedings in Parliament on Thursday 24 November, presented by Keith Macdougall.
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Hello and welcome to Thursday In Parliament,
our look at the best of the day in the Commons and the Lords.
On this programme:
The Commons Speaker thanks the Leader of the House for a moving
speech following the jailing of the man who murdered Jo Cox.
The power and beauty of those words
clearly will resonate with all of us.
Peers calls for better sex and relationship
education in schools.
The ignorance of the menstrual cycle and basic biology
is very, very striking.
And why those mass walks through the division lobbies
in Parliament just have to stay.
For members of the opposition, it gives an opportunity
for team-building, which is extremely important.
But first, the Cabinet Minister, David Lidington, has made
a moving plea in the Commons for the country to come together
and turn its back on extremism, following the sentencing this week
of the man who murdered Jo Cox.
On Wednesday, Thomas Mair was found guilty at the Old Bailey
of murdering the West Yorkshire Member of Parliament
in June this year.
Evidence gathered by the police had shown Mair to be obsessed
with the Nazis and with ideas of white supremacy.
Mair was sent to prison for the rest of his life for the murder.
I hope we can all agree that perhaps the best tribute that we here,
whatever our party politics, can pay to Jo and her memory
is to recommit ourselves, whether as constituency members
or holders of various offices, to do all that lies within our power
to ensure that this country remains a place where people of different
ethnic origins and different faiths can live together in mutual respect,
goodwill and harmony, and can celebrate together
our common citizenship and our shared institutions
and values and traditions.
And that we will also continue unflinchingly to stand for the truth
that it is through parliamentary democracy that we can seek to secure
change and find a better future for those who sent us here,
rather than through violence or extremism.
I thank the Leader of the House for what he has just said.
The power and beauty of those words
clearly will resonate with all of us.
And I'd like to thank MP4 for organising and playing
in memory of Jo Cox.
The members for Cardiff West, East Yorkshire,
Perth and North Perthshire and Ian Cawsey, who is a former member,
spent a lot of time last Thursday organising the song for Jo,
which I think is coming out in January.
Her love, values and example lives on in all of us.
Governments are not just about fixing the roof.
We are about transforming lives.
Let us dedicate ourselves to that task in her memory.
Thomas Mair was heard to shout "Britain First!"
as he attacked Jo Cox.
Can we have a debate about whether Britain First
should be proscribed as a terrorist organisation
and banned from standing in democratic elections?
I can't offer an immediate debate.
As the honourable lady probably knows,
the Home Office brings forward orders for the proscription
of particular organisations,
but must do so on the basis of evidence.
There have been cases in the past where organisations that have been
so proscribed have gone to the courts and successfully
won a judicial review to say that the evidence on which
that action had been taken was not sufficient.
So I will make sure that her proposal is reported
to my right honourable friend, the Home Secretary,
but there has to be clear evidence of terrorist involvement
for the terrorist proscription to be applied.
Former military chiefs say it's time
to shield British servicemen and women from what they call
unfounded and spurious claims of abuse.
They object to the multiple legal claims
being lodged against the armed forces,
claims that have arisen from conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In a Lords debate, a former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Richard,
urged the Government to opt out of human rights laws
in future conflicts.
While a senior lawyer warned against retreating
from the UK's moral obligations.
I am proud to have served the Queen and country.
It now distresses me, as it plainly distresses
lots of others to see how today,
often years after valiant service in conflicts abroad,
our forces are subject to apparently endless claims
and allegations of misconduct.
Not only is this upsetting,
it affects our nation's combat capabilities -
it damages morale, recruitment and indeed our fighting strength.
Every service man and woman, of whatever rank,
should not be exposed in operations to the fear of, let alone belated
mental trauma from contemporary legislation, even that which has
brought strength and validity to human rights protection.
A leading QC recalled the case in 2002 of Baha Mousa,
an Iraqi who died while in the custody of British soldiers.
The killing of Baha Mousa was a terrible, terrible
blot on our reputation.
He was a man with a young family,
found in the wrong place at the wrong time.
He was a receptionist in a hotel.
And he was beaten to death, unfortunately, by British forces.
Without the Human Rights Act, which forced the Government to hold
an enquiry, there would have been no investigation,
no accountability and no justice.
She said the UK should not retreat from its legal obligations.
As a nation, we seek to uphold our values against
those intent on destroying them.
If we compromise, we lose our moral standing and betray the trust
of those we seek to protect.
Hypocrisy doesn't win wars, and nor does it win hearts and minds.
Another former army chief was highly critical of the Government.
At the heart of the issue here is the willingness
of government ministers and officials to believe
the fallacious allegations of Iraqis and Afghanis,
themselves manipulated by unscrupulous and commercially
driven lawyers, rather than to have confidence in the Armed Forces'
chain of command and the tried and tested process of investigation
and judicial disposal.
We must be prepared to derogate
from the European Convention on Human Rights.
I applaud the Government's stated intention to do this,
but I'm keen to see the details of their strategy.
Like other noble Lords, I wish to know when and what
circumstances will it apply?
Is it automatic, or dependent on a parliamentary consensus that
may not be forthcoming on the day?
I think clarity on this issue now is vital.
Secondly, as the noble and learned Lord Brown proposes,
the Government should reassert the primacy of the Geneva Convention
in regulating and guiding the actions
of our Armed Forces in conflict.
What we are not suggesting is that the Armed Forces
should somehow be freed from the constraints
of the rule of law.
The degree of necessity and level of acceptable risk
are often difficult judgments.
And, sometimes, those judgments will turn out, in hindsight,
to have been wrong.
If the decisions were made negligently, then those
responsible for them should be called to account.
And legal routes for doing so have long existed.
But if every judgment is to be second-guessed at the courts,
then the result will be caution and even risk aversion.
History has amply demonstrated both of these tendencies are themselves
damaging and dangerous in the long run.
The Defence Minister explained the Government's plan to derogate
from the European Convention on Human Rights.
Let me be clear here.
There is no question of a blanket opt out from the ECHR.
If and when a derogation is made, it could only be made from certain
articles of the convention, and it would have to be fully
justified by the circumstances pertaining at the time.
Where justified, in the light of circumstances, it could serve
to limit some of the types of opportunistic ECHR-based claims
that we have seen and would reflect what we consider to be the right
balance between these rights and the law of armed conflict.
And he said the armed forces were at all times subject to
the UK law and the Geneva Convention would still apply.
Back in the Commons, there was a call for the Government
to reverse cutbacks in public health provision.
The demand was made in a general debate by the chair
of the Health committee, the Conservative Dr Sarah Wollaston.
She reminded MPs of Theresa May's pledge to reduce the gap
in life expectancy between the richest and the poorest.
She said it was disappointing to see reductions in public health budgets.
When we look at what is happening, in public health, we have seen
from a survey by the Association of Directors of Public Health,
who surveyed their members in February this year,
that what this is affecting, those cuts to public health budgets,
is around areas like weight management, drugs,
smoking cessation and alcohol.
These are all key determinants that we need to tackle.
In my own area, part of which covers Torbay,
cuts to council budgets for public health of around ?345,000
are resulting in the decommissioning of healthy lifestyle services.
The future of substance misuse services is in jeopardy,
when some local authorities are facing huge cuts
to public health budgets.
With no actual statutory obligation to provide these services,
and it is really something that we need to be addressing
when we're talking about health inequalities.
Premature mortality rates are 20% higher in Scotland
than in England and Wales.
Even after deprivation is accounted for, and the premature mortality
rate in Glasgow is 30% higher than in equally deprived areas
like Liverpool and Manchester.
The former has been dubbed the Scottish effect,
the latter the Glasgow fact.
Both account for approximately 5,000 extra unexplained deaths
per year in Scotland.
That's 5,000 people dying prematurely, dying needlessly
over and above normal inequalities and health.
In the UK, between 1.3 million and 2.5 million years of lives
are lost as a result of health inequality in England.
Many children never reach their potential
throughout their lives, and one of the reasons
is because of a lack of healthy relationships in their early years.
Relationship breakdown is a significant driver of poverty
and health inequality.
A comprehensive cross Department or strategy to combat health
inequality must include measures to strengthen healthy
relationships and to combat relationship break down,
which is at epidemic levels in our country.
Our dental and oral health has and continues to be
the Cinderella of Health Service provision in this country.
It's seen as nice to have, something to be tackled
after the good ship NHS returns to calmer waters.
Only due to much-needed extra funding once the financial black
holes elsewhere in the NHS have been plucked.
Such inequality in dental and oral health is plain wrong.
An unspoken injustice in today's society.
Tackling it cannot and should not be, year after year,
kicked down the road like the proverbial can.
We must focus on key determinants
such as obesity, smoking, suicide and alcohol.
This is the core business of the challenge we face.
That is why we are working closely with our partners in the NHS,
PHE, local government and schools to deliver
the childhood obesity plan.
It has been raised by many today.
I would like to assure the House that delivery of this
plan has started.
We have consulted on the soft drink industry levy
and launched a broader sugar reduction programme.
These measures will have a positive impact on low income
groups in particular, who are disproportionately affected.
The debate on health inequalities.
You're watching our round-up of the day
in the Commons and the Lords.
Still to come.
Should sex education be made compulsory in schools?
Labour's demanding to know what the Government's doing
to mitigate rising food prices in the wake of the UK's
decision to leave the EU.
The fall in the value of the pound has made imports more expensive.
At Environment Questions Labour said that was already having an impact
on the food industry and on shoppers.
The pound has fallen, the cost of imports has risen.
Brexit is costing the wine industry 430 million more in imports alone.
From Marmitegate to the Toblerone Gap we've had rising prices
across the food industry as customers are paying more
for food, while those working in farming and food production have
been hit even harder and it's getting worse.
What is the Secretary of State is doing to mitigate against this?
The honourable lady will be aware that we have an incredibly thriving
food and farming sector that employs one in eight of us.
It is worth over ?100 billion each year to our economy.
Our food innovation is second to none.
We produce more new food products every year than France
and Germany combined.
Food inflation is low.
It continues to be low.
And we are seeing a very thriving sector improving with exports up
this year and we are doing everything we can to create
a sustainable environment for the future.
The reality is food is inflating at 5%.
This is on her watch, her responsibility, her crisis,
and people are struggling now.
The call from the sector is that they need security.
Security of labour, security in the market, security in trade,
security in knowing the plans for leaving the EU for the sector.
Labour can give confidence today to the sector.
We have a clear plan so why will the Secretary of State
not share her plan?
Is it because there isn't one?
Mr Speaker, that was rather nonsense, if I may say so.
In fact food inflation, food prices have been dropping.
They peaked in 2008.
Food prices do move up and down but the point that she is making
about the resilience of the food and drinks
sector, is extraordinary.
Our exports this year are well up on last year.
We are seeing booming growth in our food production sector.
We are doing everything we can on food innovation,
and getting young people into apprenticeships in increasingly
high technology jobs.
This is a very well organised sector with great potential.
Many of the agricultural workforce are a seasonal workforce from other
EU states who take advantage of the single market's
free movement policy.
Given this can the Minister provide a guarantee to rural
businesses in my constituency and beyond that these seasonal
workers who come to Scotland for produce picking and food
and fish processing will still be able to work
here after the UK has left the EU?
My right honourable friends are aware of the issues.
It is not an issue unique to her constituency and she will
recognise that this will be part of the ongoing discussions
within our Government and of course with the EU.
The great British breakfast cereal Weetabix is made in the Kettering
constituency and the wheat in Weetabix is grown on farms
within a 15 mile radius.
What proportion of the nation's food do we grow ourselves
and what proportion would the Minister like to
see us grow ourselves?
The honourable gentleman will be aware that of the food that we can
produce in this country we produce around 74% of the food
that we consume.
If you include foods that we are unable to grow
here clearly the percentage is slightly lower.
But we have got a commitment to have a vibrant profitable
We want to grow more, we want to sell more,
and we want to import less.
And if we achieve all of that we will see our
self-sufficiency improve over time.
Food and drink production has flourished under my right honourable
As we have just heard record levels of hard cheese and sour grapes
are emanating from that side of the chamber and in my own
constituency the Hogs Back Brewery, a successful microbrewery,
is doing a roaring trade.
Can I invite my right honourable friend to join me for a knees up
in my brewery, something the other side of the House
could never organise?
Yes, absolutely I'd be delighted to do that.
Some of the amazing products, taking gin out to the Chinese
for example was a great experience.
Looking at the beers that the Vietnamese are drinking
from the United Kingdom already, looking at market access,
greater exports, seeing just yesterday a taste
of Cheltenham beers.
And my right honourable friend is right to raise his own
constituents' produce and I would be delighted to share a knees
up with him any time.
Andrea Leadsom - with the promise of a good night out.
The issue of whether sex and relationship education should be
taught as a compulsory subject in secondary schools in England
continues to cause controversy.
Last year the then Education Secretary Nicky Morgan turned down
the call of four Commons committees for the subject to be
given statutory status.
A Labour peer put down a question asking if a Minister planned to make
it part of the national curriculum.
She said in the three years up to 2015 5,500 sexual
offences were reported to the police by UK schools,
and that was probably just the tip of the iceberg.
With many boys learning about sex from online pornography and some
schools failing in their legal obligation to keep girls safe does
the noble lord the Minister agree with me there has to be a whole
school approach on a statutory basis
with Ofsted including this subject in its inspections?
I agree entirely with the noble lady that it is unacceptable for pupils
to learn about sex from pornography rather than from an age appropriate
programme in schools.
And the whole school approach is appropriate and of course Ofsted
do have a vital role to play.
They take an interest in all school provision particularly how schools
are providing spiritual, moral and cultural development
for their pupils.
He may be aware that in Scotland sex and relationship education is part
of the curriculum and every young person receives that entitlement.
Indeed there is a syllabus from key stage two right through.
Perhaps in his active review he might look at lessons that can be
learned from Scotland.
What is absolutely shocking is the very few number of girls who,
even though when ovulation occurs, the ignorance of the menstrual
cycle and basic biology is very, very striking.
Is this not another example of the narrowness of the curriculum
in schools which actually prevents a wider education generally
and which is very important in these matters?
I am fully aware of the programme that the noble Lord refers
to at Imperial College and I know it is a very valued one by schools
who participate in it.
I am a bit shocked to hear what he said.
Of course these matters should be taught in science.
But clearly this is something that is unacceptable
and we need to look at further.
Does he agree it is important that education is not just to be
about sex and sexuality but sex and relationships,
and should such education therefore include wholesome friendships
and relationships between the sexes, the importance, as we have already
discussed, of guarding against abuse and the vital need for young people
to have a healthy self identity?
On the last point I commend the work of the Bishop
of Gloucester on her work on body
image amongst children.
The last time noble Lords had an opportunity to consider this
question was in February this year, a question from my noble
friend Baroness Massey, and on that occasion the Minister
replied, and I quote, We have asked leading headteachers
and practitioners to produce an action plan for improving PSHE.
We will continue to keep the status of the subject under review and work
with those experts to identify further steps that we can take
to ensure, my emphasis, that all pupils receive high-quality
age-appropriate PSHE and sex and relationships education.
My Lords, the Minister who gave that reply has since moved on.
Indeed she is now leader of your Lordships' House.
But the question of PSHE has not moved on.
Can the noble Lord say firstly what happened to the action plan
and secondly can he say how he plans to ensure that all schools
inform their pupils of the crucial issues involved in the subject
so that they are adequately prepared for adult life?
What I have said and what I can say to the noble Lord
is I think our thinking has moved on somewhat further,
which I think may please him and many peers present today
and I hope to make a statement about this shortly.
The Ayes have it.
The Ayes have it!
The famous phrase used by the Commons Speaker whenever
a vote in the chamber is decided.
But do we need quite so much tradition when MPs
take part in votes?
At Westminster the politicians use the time-honoured method of walking
through what are called the division lobbies.
It means a Commons vote can take a full 15 minutes.
Other parliaments use quicker, more modern systems,
such as electronic voting, definitely a shorter process.
An SNP MP said continuing to troop through division lobbies
wasn't terribly sensible.
During the Higher Education Bill
Report Stage on Monday we spent nearly an hour trooping
through the division lobbies.
Has the commission ever made a calculation of the cost
to the taxpayer of that dead time in terms of staff,
security and utilities?
And if we are to be decanted as part of a restoration process surely that
presents an opportunity to at the very least
pilot electronic voting, as we're not going to replicate
every last detail of where we are now.
I thank him for those two questions, I think.
Just in terms of the time that it takes for members to vote,
he may not be aware that, I think back in 1997,
this House did consider substantial changes to the way we voted and I'm
afraid the House voted to keep things exactly as they were.
In relation to the restoration and renewal issue, I do hope that
by perhaps early next year in this place we will have a substantive
debate on it and I think that would be the opportunity for him
to raise that particular point.
Does he agree the current system affords members an opportunity
to nobble ministers when they are bereft
of their heavies and spin doctors?
Indeed it is true that when trooping through the division lobbies
there are opportunities to lobby ministers but clearly those
opportunities are more frequent for members of Government
than they are for members of the Opposition.
Does he not agree though that for members of the Opposition that
is an opportunity for team building which is extremely important.
Will he do everything he can to keep this at the bottom of this in tray?
I thank the honourable lady for her intervention and of course
it gives me the opportunity to underline how important,
particularly for her party, the opportunities for team building
in the lobby must be.
And that's it.
But do join me for the Week in Parliament, when we take a look
a move to try to stop election fraud and we take a reflective look at how
the Chancellor Philip Hammond performed in the Commons this week.
But for now, from me, Keith Macdougall, goodbye.