20/04/2017 Thursday in Parliament


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20/04/2017

Highlights of proceedings in Parliament on Thursday 20 April, presented by Alicia McCarthy.


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Hello there and welcome to Thursday in Parliament.

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On this programme - as election campaigning gets underway,

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questions about election expenses from 2015.

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The Commons unites to condemn the detention, torture and

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killing of gay men in Chechnya.

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There are calls for the Government to act to make sure food prices

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don't go up after Brexit.

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And, find out what this Conservative has been

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doing in the bathroom and why it's going to land him in a whole heap of

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trouble when he gets home.

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To my horror, I found...

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LAUGHTER.

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A plastic container of Olay anti-wrinkle,

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anti-ageing lotion...

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But first, and SNP MP is demanding the Government urgently explain

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whether or not the police investigation into Conservative

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MPs' election expenses swayed a decision to call an early

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general election.

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14 police forces have sent files to the Crown Prosecution

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Service in relation to allegations of breached spending limits in the

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2015 general election.

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Pete Wishart wanted to know more before this year's election

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campaign got into full swing.

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Before we rise, Mr Speaker, we have to have

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an urgent statement on the status of all these Conservative Members

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of Parliament who are currently under

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police investigation for electoral fraud.

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It seems that there might be up to two dozen Conservative MPs

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facing the possibility of being prosecuted while we are in the

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middle of an election campaign.

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The public, I believe, deserves to know

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what happened under these circumstances and will it be

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possible for them to continue as candidates in this general

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election if that was to pass?

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Now, there are a lot of people who suspect that with the

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first charging decision to be made on the 20th of May, that this is

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the real reason for the snap election,

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and we need to hear from the Government if this played any

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feature in its deciding and determining the state

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of the election.

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I would like to hear from the Leader of the House of Commons

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on this issue.

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The honourable gentleman made a serious point to me

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about the police investigations.

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I want to reiterate, Mr Speaker, what

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the Prime Minister said yesterday -

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that we stand behind all our candidates at the forthcoming

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election, who will be out campaigning for a strong and stable

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government in the national interest.

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A number of police forces have conducted investigations and many

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have been dropped.

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Now, it's right these matters are investigated

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properly, but the battle bus was directed by

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the National Party, as was the case with other

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political parties, and we are confident

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that individual colleagues acted properly.

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The Shadow Leader of the Commons turned to the electoral

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campaign and the reasons given by Theresa May for calling an

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early election.

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The Prime Minister wants stability and to strengthen her hand

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in the negotiations, but blames the opposition

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parties for calling a general election.

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But it is her dithering and confusion and watching her back.

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Firstly, what an allegedly arrogant statement, that she should

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presume to know the outcome of an election.

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Secondly, what has her Government been doing for the last

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nine months?

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Thirdly, can the Leader of the House confirm that if the

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Government wins, that we are not entering into a rolling programme of

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snap elections during negotiations?

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I think all of us in the House, whatever political perspective we

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bring to these matters, want to see public services of a kind in which

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we can all take pride, in which we think work effectively

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for our constituents, who are vulnerable

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and in need of help.

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It is the belief of this Government and this party that

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the foundation for effective public services has to be a strong

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and growing economy.

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And the plans put forward by the right honourable

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gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, would render any

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such chaotic Government incapable of funding public services, because

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they would have bankrupted the British economy, raised taxes

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on ordinary working families and piled yet more public debt

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onto the next generation, a betrayal of young people.

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A Conservative asked about Government Bills that wouldn't now

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become law because of the early election, including a Bill to

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bolster security in jails and crack down on the use of drugs and mobile

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phones in prisons.

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Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Prison and Courts

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Bill has now been abandoned for this Parliament and will have to start

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its passage again through the House in the next Parliament?

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And can he tell us which Bills will be going

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through the rather grubby process of the wash up, which is a rather

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unsatisfactory way to pass laws?

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The Bills that were introduced to this

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House quite late in the current Parliamentary session, and which

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received carry-over motions, so that they could be debated in what

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would have been the third session of the current Parliament,

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will fall, including the Prisons and Courts Bill.

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I referred in my statement to some of those measures that we will

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be addressing during the wash-up period next week.

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There are, as my right honourable friend knows,

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discussions going on through the usual channels

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about how to handle particular pieces of legislation,

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and I don't want to prejudice what the outcome of those

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discussions will be.

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A leading Brexiteer, who is standing down at the election,

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reflected on the task ahead for MPs.

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The next Parliament has a very difficult task.

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The Government has to implement the will of the

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people, as expressed on the 23rd of June last year.

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The Opposition has to scrutinise the Government in a

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constructive, but nevertheless, relentless way, to ensure that we

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get the best deal.

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But finally, can I just paraphrase Nancy Astor...

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I shall miss this House, I shall miss

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this House more than the House will miss me.

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Gisela Stuart.

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Now, Britain must deliver the strongest possible siren message

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over the brutal persecution of gay men in Chechnya,

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a Foreign Office Minister has said.

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Sir Alan Duncan, who was the first openly gay

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Conservative MP, said the reported torture and killing was the and

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Conservative MP, said the reported torture and killing was beyond

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contempt and pledged to raise the issue

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with allies in Europe and the Commonwealth.

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The arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of over

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100 men in Chechnya, because of their sexual orientation,

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is of deep concern to the UK.

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Credible reports suggesting that at least four people

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have been killed and many have been tortured are particularly shocking.

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Statements by the regional government in Chechnya, which appear

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to condone and incite violence against LGBT people are

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utterly despicable.

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The question had been raised by a Labour MP.

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We are talking here about detention, we're

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talking about beatings, we are talking about abuse,

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electric shock treatments, and I do not say this

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lightly, Mr Speaker, but some have described gay

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concentration camps.

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And, Mr Speaker, the Guardian's Shaun Walker I think expressed

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really the horrors that we are seeing.

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He described the situation of an individual, at least once a day,

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captors attached metal clamps and sent powerful electric

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shocks through his body.

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If he managed not to scream, others would join in, beating him

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with sticks or metal rods and demanding to know

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the names of other gay men that he knew in Chechnya.

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So, if we have any doubts, Mr Speaker,

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of the brutality of this regime towards the LGBT community, we

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need not have them.

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So, he asked, what had the British government done to put

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pressure on the Russian or Chechen governments?

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We in the Government fully condemn this.

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We do use all engagement with Russia to make

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our voice clear.

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I did so personally with the Deputy Foreign Minister of

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Russia, when I met him two or three weeks ago, Vladimir Titov.

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We spoke on general human rights matters, but also Chechnya.

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And may I say, Mr Speaker, that I hope this House

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will be fully united in giving the strongest possible siren message

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to Russia, and to Chechnya in particular, that this kind of

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activity is beyond contempt and not

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acceptable in the world in which we live.

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It is nothing short of officially-sanctioned policy from

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the Chechnyan authorities, but the Russian government, who bears

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ultimate responsibility for its citizens' safety, appears to be

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looking the other way.

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And that is scarcely any better.

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We do need and we are speaking today with a strong

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and unified voice, but it does seem to me

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that whilst I applaud, of course, the right honourable

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gentleman's raising this matter as the Deputy Foreign

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Secretary, I do think that it needs to be escalated,

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and as a result of the urgent question today, I hope that we will

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get an undertaking from the Government

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that it will be raised at a much higher political level.

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It seems to me that this is a matter that the Prime Minister really

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should take an initiative on and she should call in the

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Russian Ambassador and demand some answers.

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This reminds us we are phenominally lucky in this

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This reminds us we are phenomenally lucky in this

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country, those of us who are gay, in particular gay

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because I remember meeting in Russia in 2009

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a lesbian activist who was 83 years old.

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I asked her how she got away with it, and she said, "Well I think

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President Putin thinks that women don't have sex after the age of 80!

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How wrong can you be?" she said.

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But the serious point here is that we

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should of course pay tribute to those people

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who are standing up and are at risk of their own lives,

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and I'm glad that the Government is acting to try and do that.

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But isn't this all part of a piece?

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President Putin appointed Kadyrov as president in Chechnya.

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He then got elected with 98% of the vote, that

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doesn't of course seem at all bizarre, does it?

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But he and Putin have both repeatedly abused human rights.

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They've used violence to excess, they've always resorted to

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violence when there is another opportunity of providing a

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peaceful means.

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Whether we like it or not, Kadyrov actually has the fundamental

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support, in some terms, of his nation, as a region of the

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Russian Federation.

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So, how do we undermine that is also about investment and

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also about foreign aid, in tackling human rights across the world.

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So, will the Deputy Foreign Minister commit now,

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here on the floor of the House, in fighting for human rights,

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LGBTI and other rights, in places like Chechnya, to ensuring

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that his foreign aid budget doesn't change after the general election?

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Well, I think we should all commit to

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fighting prejudice wherever we find it and I hope that when we

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stand in the election on June 8th, that

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will be part of all of the views we hold as we present

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ourselves to the electorate.

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Sir Alan Duncan.

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The Government has a debt of honour to give all elderly

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British citizens living abroad an annual rise in their pensions,

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according to a long-standing campaigner on the rights of expats.

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Around one million UK pensioners are now resident in overseas

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locations, many in sunny retirement destinations

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such as Spain, France and the Caribbean.

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More than half of them don't receive yearly increases

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in their state pensions.

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In a debate, Sir Roger Gale read from a

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letter he'd recently received from a 91-year-old British

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citizen living in Canada.

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I was brought up to believe that Britain was a fair country.

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It's a disgrace. It has to end.

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It's terrible to meet pensioners over here who say they

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have to come back to Britain because they can't manage.

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And Joe Lewis, a 90-year-old, who also lives in

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Canada and has recently lost his wife, will be moving back to the

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United Kingdom as he can no longer cope with his frozen pension.

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The MP said the UK Government had done

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deals with certain countries, meaning some expats did receive

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rises in their pensions.

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So this leads, Mr Deputy Speaker, to the

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ludicrous situation where a British pensioner

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living on one side of the Niagara Falls in Canada

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receives a frozen pension, while another living just a mile

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across the Falls in the United States has a pension rate

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up-rated every year.

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Additionally, some Caribbean islands enjoy up-rated

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pensions, while other small countries and overseas territories

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do not.

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Mr Deputy Speaker, we are now, and I trust that we will

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remain, in Government.

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And so we should have the opportunity to

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finally address and put to rest a debt of honour that must be paid.

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The vast majority of frozen pensioners live in the Commonwealth.

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Around 250,000 of those affected live in Australia and

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almost 150,000 in Canada.

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These people are not immune from the effects of inflation,

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yet are forced to cope with their rising cost of

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living on a static income.

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As you can imagine, this has a major impact

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upon their lives.

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But the reality is that these 550,000 British citizens,

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British citizens, the same as every one of us here, the same as all of

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our constituents who are UK citizens, they do not have an MP.

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They do not have a single person who is directly representing them

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and fighting their cause.

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We, as a country, have always prided ourselves

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on being a caring country.

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We are one of the highest net providers of foreign

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aid in the world, and rightly so.

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We must, however, ask the question as to why we do not

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feel the need to adequately support our own pensioners who have

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retired abroad?

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An increasing number of modern countries operate pensions in

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line with inflation to pensioners living overseas, regardless of

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where they reside.

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Today, we must consider why the UK is not doing the same.

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Despite those pleas, the Minister said the cost of giving all UK

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pensioners overseas an annual up-rating was too high.

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But I think it's reasonable to say that the

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decision to move abroad, for most people, is a voluntary one

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and remains a personal choice, dependent

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on the circumstance of the individual.

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It's a voluntary choice to live abroad.

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Those who are eligible for a UK state pension can

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have their pension paid wherever they choose to live.

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The rules governing the uprating of pensions

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are straightforward, widely publicised and have been the

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same for many years.

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The Government's position remains consistent with

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that of every Government for the last 70 years,

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and the annual cost of changing the long-standing policy

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will soon be an extra ?500 million which the Government

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believes cannot be justified.

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Now it was back in 2015 that the car-maker Volkswagen

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was found to have installed what are known

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as defeat devices in its diesel models,

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so that they would pass emission tests.

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The matter has been under investigation by the transport

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committee, who have interviewed the company's top UK executive,

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Paul Willis, twice.

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Compensation for UK customers is a critical issue, and

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Mr Willis was full of apologies on behalf of the company

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when he first gave evidence to us in 2015.

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Since then, as I've said, his tune has

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changed dramatically.

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In fact, it is now VW's position, stated to us by

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Mr Willis to the committee a short time ago, that the company has done

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nothing wrong in the UK, or indeed in the rest of Europe,

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and he told us that because the company has done nothing

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wrong, no compensation is due.

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Well, this, Mr Chairman, is treating the

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UK with contempt.

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Let me remind honourable members of the current

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position in other countries in relation to compensation.

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In the US, Volkswagen has agreed to provide

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each owner with between $5000-10,000.

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A deal agreed in Canada will give owners between $4000-6000.

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And here, nothing, nothing at all.

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Owners who have had their cars fixed have reported problems.

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I am receiving, almost daily, numerous communications from

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members of the public, who report that their vehicle has been impaired

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since they had the fix applied.

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Many people have told me of the stress of

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suddenly finding their vehicle was not working after the measure

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was applied, and there are instances of the vehicle going into limp mode

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or a state where the vehicle would not go above a certain speed,

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and in one case, this was on a motorway,

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the other cars having to swerve to avoid a collision.

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In many instances where concerns were raised, the customers

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were told it was a coincidence and they were asked to pay hundreds or

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even thousands of pounds for the fault created

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by the so-called fix to be investigated and put right.

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This morning, I got an e-mail from a constituent

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on this very subject, who has a diesel vehicle.

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Neil says in his e-mail, "For the past two

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decades, I've driven a diesel car, on the advice that this type of fuel

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was the best environmental choice.

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I am now in a position of being considered

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the demon of the roads oweing to thepollution, in particular

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nitrogen oxide released by these cars.

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This is due to the car company's fraud use

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of pollution-cheating systems."

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He goes on to say, "I would like to be sure that I will

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not be the one who ends up footing the bill to change my polluting

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diesel," and asks if there are any UK schemes being planned to help

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people who are the victims of the scam.

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The Government continues to challenge Volkswagen's

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unacceptable view that they do not need to compensate British motorists

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that have been affected by the manipulation emissions test.

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Ruskin said that endurance is nobler than

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strength, and my enduring determination to ensure that we not

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only closely monitor the progress of Volkswagen's implementation

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of technical upgrades,

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and overseeing that they appropriately

0:18:520:18:53

deal with the issues and complaints related to those changes, that we

0:18:530:18:56

will press to for them to do what they should

0:18:560:18:58

have done all along.

0:18:580:18:59

Admitted their failure, and offered recompense for it.

0:18:590:19:01

It is, in the end, as straightforward as that.

0:19:010:19:04

The Transport Minister, John Hayes.

0:19:040:19:09

You're watching Thursday in Parliament, with me,

0:19:090:19:13

Alicia McCarthy.

0:19:130:19:19

Labour says food prices are on the rise and is warning

0:19:190:19:22

things will get worse if there is a bad Brexit deal.

0:19:220:19:26

The accusation came at environment questions, but the

0:19:260:19:32

Minister rejected the claim, saying the amount the poorest households

0:19:320:19:37

were spending had been stable for a decade.

0:19:370:19:39

A Labour MP began by quoting figures from the Office

0:19:390:19:41

for National Statistics, or ONS.

0:19:410:19:42

The ONS are reporting a surge in food prices that is likely

0:19:420:19:45

to continue to rise.

0:19:450:19:47

Children are returning to school after the Easter holidays hungry.

0:19:470:19:51

Elderly are being admitted to hospital for

0:19:510:19:52

malnourishment, and still this Government refuse to properly

0:19:520:19:54

measure the levels of hunger and food poverty in our country.

0:19:540:19:57

Isn't it true that because they refuse to

0:19:570:20:00

measure it, because then they would have to admit some culpability?

0:20:000:20:09

Now, the honourable lady is wrong.

0:20:090:20:12

We do mention it.

0:20:120:20:16

We have a long-standing living cost of food survey

0:20:160:20:21

which has run for many, many years, and which include a measure for

0:20:210:20:27

household spending among the 20% poorest households.

0:20:270:20:29

I can tell her that household spending in those

0:20:290:20:31

poorest households has remained steady, at around 16%, for at

0:20:310:20:33

least a decade.

0:20:330:20:34

Contrary to what the Minister said earlier, recent

0:20:340:20:36

inflation figures revealed that food prices are rising at the fastest

0:20:360:20:39

pace in three years, adding ?21 to the average household

0:20:390:20:41

shopping bill in the last three months alone.

0:20:410:20:43

When will the Secretary of State get a

0:20:430:20:45

grip on this soaring cost of living affecting millions of families?

0:20:450:20:48

Well, as I pointed out earlier, the question

0:20:480:20:50

that was raised, we saw the biggest spike in food prices in 2008,

0:20:500:20:53

because of energy prices then.

0:20:530:20:54

Food prices fell by around 7% between 2014-16.

0:20:540:20:56

It is true that they have seen a modest increase over the last

0:20:560:20:59

12 months of 1.3%.

0:20:590:21:06

It is quite common in food processing plants for

0:21:060:21:11

70% of the employees to be EU migrants.

0:21:110:21:13

It is not clear where their staff are going to come

0:21:130:21:16

from in the future.

0:21:160:21:23

Is the Minister committed to defending this sector

0:21:230:21:26

in the Brexit negotiations to come, and so avoiding price rises from

0:21:260:21:35

this driver as well?

0:21:350:21:36

Well, I can reassure the honourable gentleman

0:21:360:21:38

that I've had regular meetings with food processors.

0:21:380:21:40

Indeed, just two days ago, I had a meeting with the

0:21:400:21:42

new president of the Food and Drink Federation

0:21:420:21:44

and this is an issue raised by them.

0:21:440:21:46

It is the case that around 30%, according to ONS, of

0:21:460:21:49

employees in the food processing sector are from other European

0:21:490:21:51

Union countries.

0:21:510:21:52

But I would simply say this, the Prime Minister has been

0:21:520:21:55

very clear that she wants to safeguard and protect the rights of

0:21:550:21:58

EU citizens that are here and that she would expect that to be

0:21:580:22:01

reciprocated as well, and that could be agreed early

0:22:010:22:03

in the negotiations.

0:22:030:22:04

Does the Minister recognise that it's absolutely crucial that the

0:22:040:22:06

needs of the agricultural sector are placed at the heart of

0:22:060:22:09

Brexit negotiations?

0:22:090:22:10

Because isn't it clear that if the Government doesn't get

0:22:100:22:12

its act together, a bad Brexit deal is going to leave British farmers

0:22:120:22:16

and food producers facing the double whammy of cheap food imports and

0:22:160:22:22

tariffs on their exports?

0:22:220:22:25

I would simply say to the honourable lady

0:22:250:22:27

that access to the UK market is incredibly important for European

0:22:270:22:30

countries as well.

0:22:300:22:32

While we export around ?11 billion of food and drink

0:22:320:22:34

to the European Union, we import some ?28 billion worth of food

0:22:340:22:37

from the EU.

0:22:370:22:38

That is why farming unions across the EU are telling their

0:22:380:22:41

governments that they must have a free trade agreement with the UK.

0:22:410:22:44

The Environment Minister, George Eustace.

0:22:440:22:52

MPs have approved a motion cancelling the Manchester Gorton

0:22:520:22:54

by-election which was due to be held on May the 4th.

0:22:540:22:57

The seat became vacant following the death of

0:22:570:23:06

veteran Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman earlier this year.

0:23:060:23:08

The Leader of the Commons said the planned vote had

0:23:080:23:11

been overtaken by the decision to hold an early general election on

0:23:110:23:14

June the 8th.

0:23:140:23:15

The motion therefore requests you, Mr Speaker, to convey

0:23:150:23:17

to the clerk of the Crown and the desire of this house,

0:23:170:23:20

that he issued a writ of supersedeas to the writ issued on

0:23:200:23:23

Tuesday the 28th of March for the by-election.

0:23:230:23:24

This will put beyond any doubt the authority of the act

0:23:240:23:27

of the returning officer to cancel the by-election process that is

0:23:270:23:30

currently underway.

0:23:300:23:31

I understand that this approach is supported by

0:23:310:23:33

other political parties in the House, as it avoids unnecessary

0:23:330:23:35

expense and uncertainties that the candidates involved.

0:23:350:23:45

David Lidington.

0:23:470:23:48

Finally, a Conservative MP is probably going to be in some

0:23:480:23:50

hot water when he arrives home, after a tactless comment about his

0:23:500:23:53

wife and her beauty secrets.

0:23:530:23:55

During environment questions, Sir Henry Bellingham

0:23:550:23:56

attempted to make a point about micro beads, small bits of

0:23:560:23:59

plastic found in many bathroom and beauty products which cause

0:23:590:24:04

environmental damage when they work their way

0:24:040:24:06

into the seas and oceans life.

0:24:060:24:08

Sir Henry explained he'd been doing some investigating of his own.

0:24:080:24:18

I was recently rummaging through my wife's collection of shampoos and to

0:24:190:24:22

my horror...

0:24:220:24:23

LAUGHTER.

0:24:230:24:24

A plastic, a plastic container of Olay, anti-wrinkle

0:24:240:24:26

anti-ageing lotion...

0:24:260:24:27

Complete with exfoliating micro beads.

0:24:270:24:28

Now obviously neither Secretary of State

0:24:280:24:30

nor her Minister would ever have need to use such

0:24:300:24:32

a product, but will she get on the telephone to Procter

0:24:320:24:35

Gamble and tell him that selling

0:24:350:24:36

this sort of product at the moment is completely outrageous and it

0:24:360:24:39

should be withdrawn from the market at once?

0:24:390:24:47

The pursuits of the honourable gentleman are truly extraordinary!

0:24:470:24:57

Minister?

0:25:000:25:04

Mr Speaker, what I find extraordinary is that

0:25:040:25:10

Lady Bellingham is a flawless picture and would even need these

0:25:100:25:13

products, so I'm sure that, I'm sure that my honourable friend will be

0:25:130:25:16

buying flowers later today to make up for this!

0:25:160:25:18

Therese Coffey suggesting a way for Sir Henry Bellingham to avoid some

0:25:180:25:21

marital hot water when he gets home.

0:25:210:25:22

And that's it from me for now, but do join me

0:25:220:25:25

on Friday night at 11 for a full round-up of what's been

0:25:250:25:28

another quite extraordinary week here at Westminster, as campaigning

0:25:280:25:30

gets underway for June's surprise general election.

0:25:300:25:32

But for now, from me, goodbye.

0:25:320:25:42