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.
On this programme - as election campaigning gets underway,
questions about election expenses from 2015.
The Commons unites to condemn the detention, torture and
killing of gay men in Chechnya.
There are calls for the Government to act to make sure food prices
don't go up after Brexit.
And, find out what this Conservative has been
doing in the bathroom and why it's going to land him in a whole heap of
trouble when he gets home.
To my horror, I found...
A plastic container of Olay anti-wrinkle,
But first, and SNP MP is demanding the Government urgently explain
whether or not the police investigation into Conservative
MPs' election expenses swayed a decision to call an early
14 police forces have sent files to the Crown Prosecution
Service in relation to allegations of breached spending limits in the
2015 general election.
Pete Wishart wanted to know more before this year's election
campaign got into full swing.
Before we rise, Mr Speaker, we have to have
an urgent statement on the status of all these Conservative Members
of Parliament who are currently under
police investigation for electoral fraud.
It seems that there might be up to two dozen Conservative MPs
facing the possibility of being prosecuted while we are in the
middle of an election campaign.
The public, I believe, deserves to know
what happened under these circumstances and will it be
possible for them to continue as candidates in this general
election if that was to pass?
Now, there are a lot of people who suspect that with the
first charging decision to be made on the 20th of May, that this is
the real reason for the snap election,
and we need to hear from the Government if this played any
feature in its deciding and determining the state
of the election.
I would like to hear from the Leader of the House of Commons
on this issue.
The honourable gentleman made a serious point to me
about the police investigations.
I want to reiterate, Mr Speaker, what
the Prime Minister said yesterday -
that we stand behind all our candidates at the forthcoming
election, who will be out campaigning for a strong and stable
government in the national interest.
A number of police forces have conducted investigations and many
have been dropped.
Now, it's right these matters are investigated
properly, but the battle bus was directed by
the National Party, as was the case with other
political parties, and we are confident
that individual colleagues acted properly.
The Shadow Leader of the Commons turned to the electoral
campaign and the reasons given by Theresa May for calling an
The Prime Minister wants stability and to strengthen her hand
in the negotiations, but blames the opposition
parties for calling a general election.
But it is her dithering and confusion and watching her back.
Firstly, what an allegedly arrogant statement, that she should
presume to know the outcome of an election.
Secondly, what has her Government been doing for the last
Thirdly, can the Leader of the House confirm that if the
Government wins, that we are not entering into a rolling programme of
snap elections during negotiations?
I think all of us in the House, whatever political perspective we
bring to these matters, want to see public services of a kind in which
we can all take pride, in which we think work effectively
for our constituents, who are vulnerable
and in need of help.
It is the belief of this Government and this party that
the foundation for effective public services has to be a strong
and growing economy.
And the plans put forward by the right honourable
gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, would render any
such chaotic Government incapable of funding public services, because
they would have bankrupted the British economy, raised taxes
on ordinary working families and piled yet more public debt
onto the next generation, a betrayal of young people.
A Conservative asked about Government Bills that wouldn't now
become law because of the early election, including a Bill to
bolster security in jails and crack down on the use of drugs and mobile
phones in prisons.
Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Prison and Courts
Bill has now been abandoned for this Parliament and will have to start
its passage again through the House in the next Parliament?
And can he tell us which Bills will be going
through the rather grubby process of the wash up, which is a rather
unsatisfactory way to pass laws?
The Bills that were introduced to this
House quite late in the current Parliamentary session, and which
received carry-over motions, so that they could be debated in what
would have been the third session of the current Parliament,
will fall, including the Prisons and Courts Bill.
I referred in my statement to some of those measures that we will
be addressing during the wash-up period next week.
There are, as my right honourable friend knows,
discussions going on through the usual channels
about how to handle particular pieces of legislation,
and I don't want to prejudice what the outcome of those
discussions will be.
A leading Brexiteer, who is standing down at the election,
reflected on the task ahead for MPs.
The next Parliament has a very difficult task.
The Government has to implement the will of the
people, as expressed on the 23rd of June last year.
The Opposition has to scrutinise the Government in a
constructive, but nevertheless, relentless way, to ensure that we
get the best deal.
But finally, can I just paraphrase Nancy Astor...
I shall miss this House, I shall miss
this House more than the House will miss me.
Now, Britain must deliver the strongest possible siren message
over the brutal persecution of gay men in Chechnya,
a Foreign Office Minister has said.
Sir Alan Duncan, who was the first openly gay
Conservative MP, said the reported torture and killing was the and
Conservative MP, said the reported torture and killing was beyond
contempt and pledged to raise the issue
with allies in Europe and the Commonwealth.
The arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of over
100 men in Chechnya, because of their sexual orientation,
is of deep concern to the UK.
Credible reports suggesting that at least four people
have been killed and many have been tortured are particularly shocking.
Statements by the regional government in Chechnya, which appear
to condone and incite violence against LGBT people are
The question had been raised by a Labour MP.
We are talking here about detention, we're
talking about beatings, we are talking about abuse,
electric shock treatments, and I do not say this
lightly, Mr Speaker, but some have described gay
And, Mr Speaker, the Guardian's Shaun Walker I think expressed
really the horrors that we are seeing.
He described the situation of an individual, at least once a day,
captors attached metal clamps and sent powerful electric
shocks through his body.
If he managed not to scream, others would join in, beating him
with sticks or metal rods and demanding to know
the names of other gay men that he knew in Chechnya.
So, if we have any doubts, Mr Speaker,
of the brutality of this regime towards the LGBT community, we
need not have them.
So, he asked, what had the British government done to put
pressure on the Russian or Chechen governments?
We in the Government fully condemn this.
We do use all engagement with Russia to make
our voice clear.
I did so personally with the Deputy Foreign Minister of
Russia, when I met him two or three weeks ago, Vladimir Titov.
We spoke on general human rights matters, but also Chechnya.
And may I say, Mr Speaker, that I hope this House
will be fully united in giving the strongest possible siren message
to Russia, and to Chechnya in particular, that this kind of
activity is beyond contempt and not
acceptable in the world in which we live.
It is nothing short of officially-sanctioned policy from
the Chechnyan authorities, but the Russian government, who bears
ultimate responsibility for its citizens' safety, appears to be
looking the other way.
And that is scarcely any better.
We do need and we are speaking today with a strong
and unified voice, but it does seem to me
that whilst I applaud, of course, the right honourable
gentleman's raising this matter as the Deputy Foreign
Secretary, I do think that it needs to be escalated,
and as a result of the urgent question today, I hope that we will
get an undertaking from the Government
that it will be raised at a much higher political level.
It seems to me that this is a matter that the Prime Minister really
should take an initiative on and she should call in the
Russian Ambassador and demand some answers.
This reminds us we are phenominally lucky in this
This reminds us we are phenomenally lucky in this
country, those of us who are gay, in particular gay
because I remember meeting in Russia in 2009
a lesbian activist who was 83 years old.
I asked her how she got away with it, and she said, "Well I think
President Putin thinks that women don't have sex after the age of 80!
How wrong can you be?" she said.
But the serious point here is that we
should of course pay tribute to those people
who are standing up and are at risk of their own lives,
and I'm glad that the Government is acting to try and do that.
But isn't this all part of a piece?
President Putin appointed Kadyrov as president in Chechnya.
He then got elected with 98% of the vote, that
doesn't of course seem at all bizarre, does it?
But he and Putin have both repeatedly abused human rights.
They've used violence to excess, they've always resorted to
violence when there is another opportunity of providing a
Whether we like it or not, Kadyrov actually has the fundamental
support, in some terms, of his nation, as a region of the
So, how do we undermine that is also about investment and
also about foreign aid, in tackling human rights across the world.
So, will the Deputy Foreign Minister commit now,
here on the floor of the House, in fighting for human rights,
LGBTI and other rights, in places like Chechnya, to ensuring
that his foreign aid budget doesn't change after the general election?
Well, I think we should all commit to
fighting prejudice wherever we find it and I hope that when we
stand in the election on June 8th, that
will be part of all of the views we hold as we present
ourselves to the electorate.
Sir Alan Duncan.
The Government has a debt of honour to give all elderly
British citizens living abroad an annual rise in their pensions,
according to a long-standing campaigner on the rights of expats.
Around one million UK pensioners are now resident in overseas
locations, many in sunny retirement destinations
such as Spain, France and the Caribbean.
More than half of them don't receive yearly increases
in their state pensions.
In a debate, Sir Roger Gale read from a
letter he'd recently received from a 91-year-old British
citizen living in Canada.
I was brought up to believe that Britain was a fair country.
It's a disgrace. It has to end.
It's terrible to meet pensioners over here who say they
have to come back to Britain because they can't manage.
And Joe Lewis, a 90-year-old, who also lives in
Canada and has recently lost his wife, will be moving back to the
United Kingdom as he can no longer cope with his frozen pension.
The MP said the UK Government had done
deals with certain countries, meaning some expats did receive
rises in their pensions.
So this leads, Mr Deputy Speaker, to the
ludicrous situation where a British pensioner
living on one side of the Niagara Falls in Canada
receives a frozen pension, while another living just a mile
across the Falls in the United States has a pension rate
up-rated every year.
Additionally, some Caribbean islands enjoy up-rated
pensions, while other small countries and overseas territories
Mr Deputy Speaker, we are now, and I trust that we will
remain, in Government.
And so we should have the opportunity to
finally address and put to rest a debt of honour that must be paid.
The vast majority of frozen pensioners live in the Commonwealth.
Around 250,000 of those affected live in Australia and
almost 150,000 in Canada.
These people are not immune from the effects of inflation,
yet are forced to cope with their rising cost of
living on a static income.
As you can imagine, this has a major impact
upon their lives.
But the reality is that these 550,000 British citizens,
British citizens, the same as every one of us here, the same as all of
our constituents who are UK citizens, they do not have an MP.
They do not have a single person who is directly representing them
and fighting their cause.
We, as a country, have always prided ourselves
on being a caring country.
We are one of the highest net providers of foreign
aid in the world, and rightly so.
We must, however, ask the question as to why we do not
feel the need to adequately support our own pensioners who have
An increasing number of modern countries operate pensions in
line with inflation to pensioners living overseas, regardless of
where they reside.
Today, we must consider why the UK is not doing the same.
Despite those pleas, the Minister said the cost of giving all UK
pensioners overseas an annual up-rating was too high.
But I think it's reasonable to say that the
decision to move abroad, for most people, is a voluntary one
and remains a personal choice, dependent
on the circumstance of the individual.
It's a voluntary choice to live abroad.
Those who are eligible for a UK state pension can
have their pension paid wherever they choose to live.
The rules governing the uprating of pensions
are straightforward, widely publicised and have been the
same for many years.
The Government's position remains consistent with
that of every Government for the last 70 years,
and the annual cost of changing the long-standing policy
will soon be an extra ?500 million which the Government
believes cannot be justified.
Now it was back in 2015 that the car-maker Volkswagen
was found to have installed what are known
as defeat devices in its diesel models,
so that they would pass emission tests.
The matter has been under investigation by the transport
committee, who have interviewed the company's top UK executive,
Paul Willis, twice.
Compensation for UK customers is a critical issue, and
Mr Willis was full of apologies on behalf of the company
when he first gave evidence to us in 2015.
Since then, as I've said, his tune has
In fact, it is now VW's position, stated to us by
Mr Willis to the committee a short time ago, that the company has done
nothing wrong in the UK, or indeed in the rest of Europe,
and he told us that because the company has done nothing
wrong, no compensation is due.
Well, this, Mr Chairman, is treating the
UK with contempt.
Let me remind honourable members of the current
position in other countries in relation to compensation.
In the US, Volkswagen has agreed to provide
each owner with between $5000-10,000.
A deal agreed in Canada will give owners between $4000-6000.
And here, nothing, nothing at all.
Owners who have had their cars fixed have reported problems.
I am receiving, almost daily, numerous communications from
members of the public, who report that their vehicle has been impaired
since they had the fix applied.
Many people have told me of the stress of
suddenly finding their vehicle was not working after the measure
was applied, and there are instances of the vehicle going into limp mode
or a state where the vehicle would not go above a certain speed,
and in one case, this was on a motorway,
the other cars having to swerve to avoid a collision.
In many instances where concerns were raised, the customers
were told it was a coincidence and they were asked to pay hundreds or
even thousands of pounds for the fault created
by the so-called fix to be investigated and put right.
This morning, I got an e-mail from a constituent
on this very subject, who has a diesel vehicle.
Neil says in his e-mail, "For the past two
decades, I've driven a diesel car, on the advice that this type of fuel
was the best environmental choice.
I am now in a position of being considered
the demon of the roads oweing to thepollution, in particular
nitrogen oxide released by these cars.
This is due to the car company's fraud use
of pollution-cheating systems."
He goes on to say, "I would like to be sure that I will
not be the one who ends up footing the bill to change my polluting
diesel," and asks if there are any UK schemes being planned to help
people who are the victims of the scam.
The Government continues to challenge Volkswagen's
unacceptable view that they do not need to compensate British motorists
that have been affected by the manipulation emissions test.
Ruskin said that endurance is nobler than
strength, and my enduring determination to ensure that we not
only closely monitor the progress of Volkswagen's implementation
of technical upgrades,
and overseeing that they appropriately
deal with the issues and complaints related to those changes, that we
will press to for them to do what they should
have done all along.
Admitted their failure, and offered recompense for it.
It is, in the end, as straightforward as that.
The Transport Minister, John Hayes.
You're watching Thursday in Parliament, with me,
Labour says food prices are on the rise and is warning
things will get worse if there is a bad Brexit deal.
The accusation came at environment questions, but the
Minister rejected the claim, saying the amount the poorest households
were spending had been stable for a decade.
A Labour MP began by quoting figures from the Office
for National Statistics, or ONS.
The ONS are reporting a surge in food prices that is likely
to continue to rise.
Children are returning to school after the Easter holidays hungry.
Elderly are being admitted to hospital for
malnourishment, and still this Government refuse to properly
measure the levels of hunger and food poverty in our country.
Isn't it true that because they refuse to
measure it, because then they would have to admit some culpability?
Now, the honourable lady is wrong.
We do mention it.
We have a long-standing living cost of food survey
which has run for many, many years, and which include a measure for
household spending among the 20% poorest households.
I can tell her that household spending in those
poorest households has remained steady, at around 16%, for at
least a decade.
Contrary to what the Minister said earlier, recent
inflation figures revealed that food prices are rising at the fastest
pace in three years, adding ?21 to the average household
shopping bill in the last three months alone.
When will the Secretary of State get a
grip on this soaring cost of living affecting millions of families?
Well, as I pointed out earlier, the question
that was raised, we saw the biggest spike in food prices in 2008,
because of energy prices then.
Food prices fell by around 7% between 2014-16.
It is true that they have seen a modest increase over the last
12 months of 1.3%.
It is quite common in food processing plants for
70% of the employees to be EU migrants.
It is not clear where their staff are going to come
from in the future.
Is the Minister committed to defending this sector
in the Brexit negotiations to come, and so avoiding price rises from
this driver as well?
Well, I can reassure the honourable gentleman
that I've had regular meetings with food processors.
Indeed, just two days ago, I had a meeting with the
new president of the Food and Drink Federation
and this is an issue raised by them.
It is the case that around 30%, according to ONS, of
employees in the food processing sector are from other European
But I would simply say this, the Prime Minister has been
very clear that she wants to safeguard and protect the rights of
EU citizens that are here and that she would expect that to be
reciprocated as well, and that could be agreed early
in the negotiations.
Does the Minister recognise that it's absolutely crucial that the
needs of the agricultural sector are placed at the heart of
Because isn't it clear that if the Government doesn't get
its act together, a bad Brexit deal is going to leave British farmers
and food producers facing the double whammy of cheap food imports and
tariffs on their exports?
I would simply say to the honourable lady
that access to the UK market is incredibly important for European
countries as well.
While we export around ?11 billion of food and drink
to the European Union, we import some ?28 billion worth of food
from the EU.
That is why farming unions across the EU are telling their
governments that they must have a free trade agreement with the UK.
The Environment Minister, George Eustace.
MPs have approved a motion cancelling the Manchester Gorton
by-election which was due to be held on May the 4th.
The seat became vacant following the death of
veteran Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman earlier this year.
The Leader of the Commons said the planned vote had
been overtaken by the decision to hold an early general election on
June the 8th.
The motion therefore requests you, Mr Speaker, to convey
to the clerk of the Crown and the desire of this house,
that he issued a writ of supersedeas to the writ issued on
Tuesday the 28th of March for the by-election.
This will put beyond any doubt the authority of the act
of the returning officer to cancel the by-election process that is
I understand that this approach is supported by
other political parties in the House, as it avoids unnecessary
expense and uncertainties that the candidates involved.
Finally, a Conservative MP is probably going to be in some
hot water when he arrives home, after a tactless comment about his
wife and her beauty secrets.
During environment questions, Sir Henry Bellingham
attempted to make a point about micro beads, small bits of
plastic found in many bathroom and beauty products which cause
environmental damage when they work their way
into the seas and oceans life.
Sir Henry explained he'd been doing some investigating of his own.
I was recently rummaging through my wife's collection of shampoos and to
A plastic, a plastic container of Olay, anti-wrinkle
Complete with exfoliating micro beads.
Now obviously neither Secretary of State
nor her Minister would ever have need to use such
a product, but will she get on the telephone to Procter
Gamble and tell him that selling
this sort of product at the moment is completely outrageous and it
should be withdrawn from the market at once?
The pursuits of the honourable gentleman are truly extraordinary!
Mr Speaker, what I find extraordinary is that
Lady Bellingham is a flawless picture and would even need these
products, so I'm sure that, I'm sure that my honourable friend will be
buying flowers later today to make up for this!
Therese Coffey suggesting a way for Sir Henry Bellingham to avoid some
marital hot water when he gets home.
And that's it from me for now, but do join me
on Friday night at 11 for a full round-up of what's been
another quite extraordinary week here at Westminster, as campaigning
gets underway for June's surprise general election.
But for now, from me, goodbye.