Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells to hand back CBE with immediate effect in wake of Horizon scandal – UK politics live | Politics
Paula Vennells, the former Post Office boss, has announced that she is giving back her CBE in response to the controversy about the unsafe Horizon convictions. In a statement to PA Media she said:
I continue to support and focus on co-operating with the inquiry and expect to be giving evidence in the coming months.
I have so far maintained my silence as I considered it inappropriate to comment publicly while the inquiry remains ongoing and before I have provided my oral evidence.
I am, however, aware of the calls from sub-postmasters and others to return my CBE.
I have listened and I confirm that I return my CBE with immediate effect.
I am truly sorry for the devastation caused to the subpostmasters and their families, whose lives were torn apart by being wrongly accused and wrongly prosecuted as a result of the Horizon system.
I now intend to continue to focus on assisting the inquiry and will not make any further public comment until it has concluded.
The Scottish government is looking at “the idea of a pardon scheme” for sub-post office operators affected by the Horizon scandal, Angela Constance, the justice secretary has said. PA Media says:
The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) – the body tasked with assessing possible miscarriages of justice – has already sent seven such cases to the appeal court, two of which have resulted in overturned convictions, Constance said in Holyrood today.
But she added: “We are, however, looking at what more can be done. We are looking at the idea of a pardon scheme.”
In answer to Fergus Ewing, an SNP MSP, Constance said the government had “an open mind to the best way forward”, adding that the SCCRC had proactively sought out those who may have been wrongfully convicted in 2020.
Constance added that she is aware of the UK-wide compensation scheme which requires an appeal court to overturn a conviction before money can be paid out, and that she has written to UK justice secretary, Alex Chalk, to see “how best we can work together”.
Scottish Tory MSP Russell Findlay told MSPs that the first minister, Humza Yousaf, had not had any meetings relating to the Horizon scandal during his time as justice secretary.
Constance said she would work “collaboratively to ensure that everyone effected in Scotland can access justice and right a wrong where that has (been) done”.
But she went on to accuse Findlay of seeking to “overly politicise this matter when this problem has been in the making since 1999”.
Cameron praises Gordon Brown’s “brilliant” article in the Guardian today about the need to restart the Middle East peace process.
Here is the article.
And here is an extract. Brown says:
Recent events have also made it clear that the west – in particular the US – cannot now succeed in any peace initiative by acting on its own. It needs to work with the rest of the world, building the widest possible global coalition designed to isolate those most opposed today to a two-state solution: the murderous Hamas and the reactionary clique surrounding Benjamin Netanyahu.
The consequences of doing nothing are too painful to contemplate, not just for Gaza but for the peace of the entire region. One year from now, ceasefire or not, hundreds of thousands of displaced, starving and sick Palestinians could be stranded in overcrowded refugee camps besides rubble-strewn alleyways, hollowed-out buildings and bombed-out infrastructure with no end in sight, and the cycle of violence will threaten to escalate yet again to engulf the region, entrapping a new generation of disaffected young people, who will be easy fodder for recruitment into a Hamas 2.0.
Breakthroughs in geopolitics are rare, but in the least propitious of circumstances – as I argued to the Saudis and Israelis in 2008 – Kennedy and Khrushchev delivered the first ever nuclear test ban treaty, and Reagan and Gorbachev negotiated the biggest reduction of nuclear weapons in history. The year 2024 starts in deep gloom – but with visionary leadership, building upon the 2007-08 plan, there could be light at the end of a very dark tunnel that still threatens, unless we act, to turn pitch black.
As Patrick Wintour reports, David Cameron told the foreign affairs committee he thought South Africa was wrong to bring a case againt Israel at the international court of justice alleging genocide in Gaza.
David Cameron on South Africa genocide case at ICJ: “I don’t think it is helpful. I don’t agree with it. I don’t think it is right. I don’t think we should bandy around terms like genocide. It is for the courts to define genocide not states. Our view is that Israel has a right to defend itself.”
Bob Seely (Con) tells Cameron what he thinks Cameron is saying is that, although the Foreign Office lawyers are not saying Israel has definitely broken international law, he thinks they are telling Cameron that Israel would be vulnerable to a legal challenge on this.
Cameron accepts this. He says:
The advice has been so far, that they have the commitment, the capability and the compliance (ie, the stated intention to comply with international law, and the means to ensure this happens) but on lots of occasions that is under question.
Brendan O’Hara (SNP) asks if Cameron has been shown any evidence saying Israel has breached international law.
Cameron says he has seen evidence that is concerning. He has to take legal advice. He says he needs to do this to approve arms exports.
Q: Have you been given advice saying Israel has broken international law in the Gaza conflict?
Cameron says he is not a lawyer; it is not for him to give legal advice.
He says he sees lots of things where he needs to ask, is that in line with international law? Questions are put to the Israel. Based on that, he gets advice. And that decides what he will decide in relation to arms imports.
Q: Isn’t turning Gaza’s water supply off a breach of international law?
Cameron says they should turn the water back on.
Q: But is turning it off a breach of international law?
Cameron says he is not a lawyer. You do not need to be a lawyer to tell people to turn water on.
Alicia Kearns asks Sir Philip Barton to confirm that occupying powers have an obligation to provide water.
Barton says that is an legal matter. He presumes Kearns is correct.
Q: So that is a duty for an occupying power?
Yes, says Barton. But he says whether Israel is an occupying power is another matter.
Kearns asks Cameron about the legal advice he has received.
Cameron says the UK has not changed its arms exports
Q: So you have never had advice from a Foreign Office lawyer saying Israel is in breach of international law?
Cameron says he cannot recall every piece of paper put in front of him. He does not want to answer that question.
The reason for not answering this question, I cannot recall every single bit of paper that has been put in front of me.
I look at everything. Of course, there are a lot of things that have happened where you think surely that was something that shouldn’t have happened.
Q: But as PM you were willing to say other countries had broken international law.
Cameron says those were different cases.
Q: But the principle is the same.
Cameron says, if he is being asked if he is worried that Israel might have broken international law, he is willing to say he has been. He asks questions every day.
O’Hara tries again.
Q: Have you received legal advice saying Israel is in breach of international law?
Cameron says the short answer is no. But he says the process is not that simple. He says the questions always need exploration. He asks if that is a helpful answer.
No, says O’Hara.
UPDATE: Léonie Chao-Fong has more on this exchange on our Israel-Hamas live blog. She says Cameron acknowledged that he had seen things regarding the conflict that have been “deeply concerning”, but said it was not his job to make a “legal adjudication”. Cameron said:
Am I worried that Israel has taken action that might be in breach of international law, because this particular premises has been bombed, or whatever? Yes, of course.
Back at the foreign affairs committee, Alicia Kearns, the chair, asks Cameron if the UK has asked to see Israel’s targeting policy in Gaza.
Cameron says he has not seen it, or asked to see it. He says he does not think Israel would share that.
He says the Israelis say their collateral damage figures are similar to those in other equivalent conflicts.
Kearns says the UK normally operates on a collateral damage rate of 3%. She says, based on the 2014 Gaza conflict, Israel may be operating at a rate closer to 20%. She asks Cameron if he has asked the Israelis what their rate is in this conflict.
Cameron says he has been given figures. He says he always urges the Israelis to make those numbers lower.
The government has left the country “toothless” amid a crisis in NHS dental care access, Wes Streeting has claimed. As PA Media reports, Streeting made the claim as he opened a Labour debate on dentistry. PA says:
The shadow health secretary said the number of people now attempting DIY dentistry is a “moral outrage”, as he opened a Labour-led Commons debate on the lack of dental care available through the NHS.
Streeting also fired a warning shot towards opponents of Labour’s plans to fund dental reform by scrapping the non-domiciled tax status, claiming that the party would “quote their arguments back at them” in campaign leaflets during election year.
He told MPs: “Politics is about choices. Labour chooses to rescue NHS dentistry, not give the wealthiest a tax break. Labour’s plan is fully costed, fully funded and will make a real difference to people across the country. The Tories have left our country toothless, Labour will give our country its smile back and give its NHS back too.”
Streeting said tooth decay was “now the number one reason children aged six to 10 end up in hospital”, adding: “And we face the moral outrage of one in 10 Brits … saying they have been forced to attempt dentistry themselves because the NHS wasn’t there for them when they needed it. This is Dickensian. DIY dentistry in 21st century Britain. Is there any greater example of the decline this country has been subjected to under the Conservatives?”
He claimed Labour would fund NHS dentistry changes through scrapping the non-dom status in order to raise extra tax revenue.
The health secretary, Victoria Atkins, told MPs she was “determined to fix these issues” with NHS dentistry “so that anyone who needs to, can always see an NHS dentist no matter where they live in the country”.
She also said Labour’s plans to scrap the non-dom status could affect the number of foreign workers recruited to the NHS.
Atkins said: “As our economy grows, we on this side of the house want to attract the best and the brightest from around the world to work in our NHS, to work in our tech sector, to work in our life sciences industry, to work in our movie industry – which we may know just filmed Barbie this year – and many other industries that are thriving. Labour, however, apparently wants to shut the door through taxing such people on earnings they make outside the UK. I speak of course of the non-domiciled tax status.”
The health secretary, formerly a Treasury minister, said non-dom taxpayers paid £8bn in UK taxes on their UK earnings last year.
She added: “That is equivalent to more than 230,000 nurses. Labour wants to put that at risk and put the UK at a disadvantage in the highly paid, highly competitive, highly mobile international labour market.”
David Cameron says two Britons are still being held hostage in Gaza.
Asked if they are still alive, he says he does not want to say any more.
And he says there are other hostages who are “very connected to Britain”.
Asked how many British hostages have already been returned, Cameron says he does not have that figure.
Alicia Kearns (Con) says when the committee asked a similar question to an American diplomat, they could give a figure easily, and provide names too.
When pressed again, Cameron says he thinks there have been no British hostages who have been brought home. But there might be people released who are connected to Britain, he suggests.
Back at the foreign affairs committee, David Cameron says countries calling for a ceasefire in Gaza now need to explain how that would get rid of Hamas’s ability to fire more rockets at Israel.
The UK wants a “sustainable ceasefire”, he says. That would mean Hamas no longer being able to continue rocket attacks. He says he wants a sustainable ceasefire as soon as possible.
Alicia Kearns (Con) asks Cameron to confirm that the UK considers Israel an occupying power in Gaza.
Cameron says he would need to take legal advice on that.
Kearns says she thinks the Foreign Office does view Israel as the occupying power.
Sir Philip Barton, the permanent secretary, who is giving evidence with Cameron, says the Foreign Office refers to Gaza and the West Bank as occupied territories.
Cameron says there is an issue as to whether it is a military occupier. Whatever the de jure situation, Israel is the de facto occupier, he says.
But he stresses that he does not consider himself as giving a legal definition because he is not a lawyer.
Pupils are being given detentions after failing to complete online homework because their parents cannot afford the digital devices or broadband required, MPs have been told.
The Commons education select committee was told on Tuesday that the shift to online learning during Covid had not solved the problem of digital poverty for many families in England.
Elizabeth Anderson, the chief executive of the Learning Foundation and the Digital Poverty Alliance, said recent research by Deloitte had shown that one in five children still lack access to a device that’s suitable for learning.
The problem is likely to be compounded as parents struggling in the cost of living crisis are resorting to cutting off their broadband in order to try to save money, the committee was told.
The issue is likely to become even more critical as national examinations gradually move online, putting children who do not have proper access to a digital device with a keyboard – rather than just a smartphone – at a disadvantage, the committee heard.
Anderson told the MPs:
Whether it’s remote learning or homework, more and more the expectation is you cannot complete that with pen and paper, you can only complete that online. We regularly hear about children who are receiving regular detentions because their parents can’t afford to provide them with the tools they need to do that.
Cameron says he has set out five priorities for his time as foreign secretary: 1) supporting Ukraine; 2) a more stable Middle East; 3) enhancing UK security; 4) promoting international development; and 5) delivering jobs and prosperity.
Fabian Hamilton (Lab) asks what Cameron feels about the decision to cut the aid budget and merge the Deparment for International Development with the Foreign Office.
Cameron confirms that he was opposed to the decision to cut the aid budget. But he says he abides by collective responsibility. Politics is a team sport, he says. He says he was happy to accept this as part of agreeing to do the job.
UPDATE: Cameron said:
I said at the time I was disappointed when we went away from the 0.7% … but I said to the Prime Minister when he asked me to do this job that I would accept fully Cabinet collective responsibility and I will work with what we have now, and try to make sure we have the best possible joined-up policy of diplomacy and aid, and make the very most of the 0.5% we have.
Politics is a team enterprise, you can’t always get everything you want.
The hearing is starting.
Alicia Kearns (Con), the committee chair, says the session will run for two hours. They will spend the first hour on Gaza, she says. And then they will cover Ukraine, China, the Balkans, hostage taking, and other issues.
David Cameron says his overall aim is to enhance Britain’s security and to maximise chances for prosperity.
Q: Why did you take the job?
Cameron says it was because he believes in public service.
David Cameron, the foreign secretary, is about to give evidence to the Commons foreign affairs committee. This is what the committee has said in a news release about the subjects being discussed.
The committee is likely to explore Lord Cameron’s approach to the role; examine his broader vision and strategy for the UK’s foreign policy, as well as scrutinise his long-term priorities for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
The committee is also likely to discuss the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas and the UK’s engagement with the Middle East and north Africa. The committee may also examine the future of the UK’s relationship with China.