The Telegraph 2024-02-22 04:30:28

Lindsay Hoyle on brink after Labour Gaza vote walkout

Sir Lindsay Hoyle is fighting to keep his job as House of Commons Speaker after chaotic scenes broke out in Parliament on Wednesday during a debate on Gaza.

Tory and SNP MPs have launched an attempt to oust him, with 33 MPs putting their names to a motion of no confidence so far, and more expected to do so.

Sir Lindsay was accused of favouring Labour, the party he represented as an MP for two decades, by agreeing to put its position on the Israel-Gaza conflict to a vote.

He took the decision despite the House of Commons clerk explicitly warning him that the approach broke with a convention for such opposition day debates.

By Wednesday evening, 33 MPs put their names to a so-called early day motion instigated by Will Wragg, the Tory MP and vice-chairman of the 1922 committee, which effectively urged Sir Lindsay to go.

In the Commons, Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the House, said the Speaker had “hijacked” the debate and “undermined the confidence” of the House.

Stephen Flynn, the SNP leader in the Commons, told Sir Lindsay he would “take significant convincing that your position is not now intolerable”.

The backlash led to heated scenes not witnessed in the Commons for years, with SNP and Tory MPs eventually walking out in protest over how the votes were being handled.

Simon Hart, the Government’s Chief Whip, is understood to have repeatedly warned Sir Lindsay against allowing the Labour amendment.

The Speaker ended up giving an emotional apology, saying he regretted how his decisions had panned out and promising to meet party leaders to provide reassurances.

He said: “I thought I was doing the right thing and the best thing, and I regret it, and I apologise for how it’s ended up.”

The Telegraph can reveal that Sir Keir personally lobbied Sir Lindsay to choose Labour’s amendment for a vote. 

The Labour leader visited him on Wednesday to plead his case, raising fresh questions about the degree to which the Labour sought to lean on the Speaker as the decision on votes was being made.

The political danger for Sir Lindsay has not passed. There is no formal mechanism to oust a Speaker, but the scale of concern among MPs has been a critical factor for past departures.

At the heart of the row is an allegation – vehemently denied by the Speaker’s team – that he agreed to a vote being held on Labour’s Gaza position because of political bias.

Sir Lindsay’s allies said he made the decision because of concerns about MPs’ security and a genuinely held belief that all parties should have their positions put to votes.

The day of drama in the Commons was triggered by an SNP attempt to split Labour MPs with a motion calling for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza.

To head off the rebellion, Labour tabled its own amendment. That wording called for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” but made clear that a longer ceasefire was reliant on Hamas giving back hostages taken in their Oct 7 attack.

The Government also tabled its own amendment, calling for steps to be taken towards a “permanent sustainable ceasefire”.

It was up to Sir Lindsay, who has been Speaker since 2019, to decide whether a vote should be held on the Labour amendment.

Doing so was likely to have political benefits for the Labour leadership, since it would be easier to whip Labour MPs to back their amendment and abstain on the SNP position.

But there was fury from SNP and Tory figures when Sir Lindsay announced that the Labour amendment would indeed be voted on, despite that breaking convention for how opposition days work in the Commons.

A letter written by Tom Goldsmith, the Commons Clerk, was then published, revealing that the official felt “compelled to point out that long-established conventions are not being followed in this case”.

Sir Lindsay eventually publicly apologised, expressing regret at the way the situation had played out. He said: “I do take responsibility for my actions, and that’s why I want to meet with the key players who have been involved.”

There were shouts of “resign” as he made the statement.

In the hour before the apology, chaotic scenes had played out in the Commons.

Ms Mordaunt announced that the Government was withdrawing its amendment in protest at how the debate had been handled.

She said: “I fear that this most grave matter that we’re discussing today and this afternoon has become a political row within the Labour Party and that regrettably Mr Speaker has inserted himself into that row with today’s decision and undermined the confidence of this House in being able to rely on its long-established standing orders to govern its debates.”

The Government’s decision to withdraw its own amendment meant that the Labour amendment was likely to pass, thereby changing the wording of the SNP’s own position. That further inflamed SNP tensions.

Mr Flynn had demanded Sir Lindsay come to the Commons to explain his thinking. Then SNP and Tory MPs marched out of the Commons in protest at the situation.

It remains unclear whether Sir Lindsay’s public apology has done enough to placate critics.

The SNP’s Commons leader said after the apology: “Mr Speaker, whilst I acknowledge your apology, the reality is that you were warned by the clerks of the House that your decision could lead to the SNP not having a vote on our very own opposition day. As a result, we have seen the SNP opposition day turn into a Labour Party opposition day.

“I’m afraid that that is treating myself and my colleagues in the Scottish National Party with complete and utter contempt. I will take significant convincing that your position is not now intolerable.”

In the end, the Labour amendment was passed without a vote being triggered. The SNP motion fell.

How the day unfolded
Commons in chaos as Lindsay Hoyle badly misreads the mood of Parliament

Read more

Much now hangs on how many MPs choose to go public calling for Sir Lindsay to go. Mr Wragg’s motion read simply that “this House has no confidence in Mr Speaker”. Sixteen of the MPs who signed it were Tories, and 17 represented the SNP.

It is possible for more MPs to add their names to the no confidence motion in the days ahead. It is not binding, but acts as a reflection of the mood of the Commons, made up of 650 MPs.

Allies of Sir Lindsay have expressed confidence he will remain in the role and see off the rebellion.

Some MPs expressed exasperation that votes on differing party positions on Gaza, which did not have any binding impact on government policy, could descend into such heated scenes. 

Thousands of pro-ceasefire protesters had gathered outside Parliament on Wednesday evening.

John McDonnell, the Left-wing Labour MP and former shadow chancellor who has been calling for a ceasefire for months, said: “It’s absolute chaos, isn’t it? I don’t think it’s done anyone any good, to be frank. We came here today thinking we would have a serious debate about what’s happening in Gaza.

“What’s happened now, it’s just degenerated into, I think, damage to everyone – including Parliament itself.”

King says public support has reduced him to tears as he returns to work

The King has said the messages and cards he has received since his cancer diagnosis have reduced him to tears as he returned to his audiences with the Prime Minister for the first time this year.

He told Rishi Sunak: “I’ve had so many messages and cards, you can’t believe it. They’ve reduced me to tears, most of them.”

When Mr Sunak told the monarch that it was “wonderful to see you looking so well”, he joked in reply that it was “all done by mirrors”.

Photographs and footage of the first minute of the Buckingham Palace audience show the King appearing to be in good health, if a little croaky-voiced.

The photographs are the first official images of the King at work since his diagnosis. He has postponed all public-facing duties, but is continuing with behind-the-scenes work on his red boxes of state papers.

Usually, the meeting is held entirely in private, but the monarch and his aides are mindful of the public’s interest in his health as he undergoes treatment.

Shaking hands with the King before walking to sit down, Mr Sunak said: “Well, we’re all behind you, the country’s behind you.” 

Addressing the monarch’s diagnosis, he added: “It’s also nice to see the spotlight that it’s shone on the work that charities do in this area.” The King replied: “I hear there’s been a lot more potential interest in those wonderful cancer charities, many of which I’ve been patron of for years.”

The Prime Minister was introduced into the Private Audience Room by Lieutenant Commander Will Thornton of the Fleet Air Arm, who is the King’s new equerry

The Palace does not generally permit photographs of the audience, traditionally considered a private meeting in which Prime Ministers can unburden themselves to the monarch and seek advice.

The King will have had much to discuss with Mr Sunak after a long break from official audiences over Christmas and early this year. Their conversation may have covered this week’s intervention by the Prince of Wales, who called for an end to fighting in Gaza.

The last in-person audience for the King and Mr Sunak was on Dec 13, which was listed in the court circular as being held at Buckingham Palace shortly after a meeting of the Privy Council.

Mr Sunak telephoned the King shortly after his cancer diagnosis was announced to express his sympathy and best wishes.

Their official audiences had been due to resume on Wednesday, but the palace had been wary of confirming the King’s schedule too far in advance as he undergoes treatment.

Aides are working on a week-by-week basis as the King, like any other patient, learns how he has responded to the treatment. Downing Street and Buckingham Palace have been keen to emphasise that official duties are continuing.

On Feb 7, asked whether Mr Sunak would travel to Sandringham, in Norfolk, for his discussions with the King, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We don’t in general, and we are not going to, get into the habit of commenting on the PM’s conversations with the King.

“But we have agreed with the Palace in this specific instance to confirm that they will be speaking on the phone later.”

The King and Queen have been based at Sandringham since his diagnosis was made public. The King has been seen walking to church on Sundays since his illness was announced. 

He has also been photographed on several occasions travelling by car between Buckingham Palace and Clarence House while in London for treatment.

His most recent ordinary public engagement was on Dec 14, when he attended the Royal Courts of Justice to thank those who work in the judicial system, meet students, view an exhibition on female judges and hear about the work of voluntary magistrates.

Since then, he has appeared in the court circular only a handful of times, including the prizegiving for a school at Sandringham.

The King is now at Windsor, where he will be close to the Prince and Princess of Wales and their three young children, who are back at Adelaide Cottage having spent time together in Norfolk over half-term.

Prince Harry gave an interview with US breakfast television, intended to be about the Invictus Games, in which he said his father’s illness could lead to a reconciliation between them.

Two-year-old who fell into Leicester river named as Xielo Maruziva

A two-year-old boy missing for almost a week after falling into a river has been named by police.

“Bundle of joy” Xielo Maruziva was pictured and named by Leicestershire Police as the search for the boy entered its fourth day.

The toddler fell from a footbridge into the River Soar in the Aylestone Meadows nature reserve in Leicester just after 5pm on Sunday.

Four days of searches involving four police forces, specialist divers, drones, helicopters and thermal imaging cameras have yet to yield any results.

The child’s father said: “Xielo is a bundle of joy to us. He is a charming and creative little boy and has just started at nursery. He loves cuddles, playing with his toys and going to the park.”

He added: “As a family, we have been completely devastated over the past few days as the search for Xielo continues. It is hard to describe the pain and suffering we are going through.”

Detectives on Tuesday said they obtained video footage that appeared to show the boy’s fall from Packhorse Bridge, which is around 15ft (4.5 metres) high.

This week the force revealed a father had jumped into the river to try and rescue Xielo after the fall. A major search involving specialist divers, drones, helicopters and four police forces continues.

Xielo’s mother added: “Xielo is a cheeky, funny, friendly, smart, caring and independent little boy. He never fails to make me laugh or smile and always loves a cuddle and some kisses.

“Xielo loves playing with his toys and watching cartoons including Bino and Fino.

“Me, his dad and the whole family are so heartbroken at what has happened. We thank everyone who has supported us and helped us during this time. We are extremely grateful for this.

“All we want is for Xielo to be found as soon as possible. Thank you.”

Assistant Chief Constable Michaela Kerr, said: “As we now enter the fourth day of the search for the missing boy specialist officers continue to provide full support to the family and our thoughts very much remain with them.

“I would also like to add that following the appeal we issued on Monday evening for witnesses, we have had a large number of  responses and have identified a number of people who were in the area at the time who have provided us with information.”

Civil servant denies telling ex-Post Office chairman to stall compensation payments

The senior civil servant at the heart of the Post Office row has denied she told the organisation’s former chairman to stall compensation after she was named for the first time.

Sarah Munby had been accused by Henry Staunton, the former Post Office chairman, of telling him that “now was not the time for dealing with long-term issues,” which he took as an instruction to put payments on the back burner.

On Wednesday afternoon, she hit back, saying: “It is not true that I made any instruction… to delay compensation payments.”

In an extraordinary move, she made public a four-page long memo on her memory of the meeting with Mr Staunton when she was permanent secretary at the business department.

“I am able to give you the very strongest reassurance… that I did not at any point suggest to Mr Staunton, or imply to him in any way whatsoever, that there should be delay to compensation payments for postmasters,” she wrote.

“I did not believe they [compensation payments] should be delayed and no minister ever asked me to seek delays.”

She also revealed that Mr Staunton had suggested closing several Post Office branches to save money, and that he was in favour of pay rises for senior executives.

Sources close to Mr Staunton still insist he understood from the conversation that “long-term issues” included the compensation payments to victims of the Horizon scandal.

However, they admit that his notes were not verbatim.

The source said: “This was a note that Mr Staunton sent himself subsequent to the conversation. It was never intended to be verbatim.”

They added: “The two big levers which the board had to improve the financial position of the Post Office were the Horizon Replacement system and the compensation for sub-postmasters.

“That was the context in which the conversation took place and can not be understood in any other way.”

On Monday, Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary, told MPs there was “no evidence” to support Mr Staunton’s claim and accused him of spreading “made-up anecdotes”.

But in the Commons on Wednesday, Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, declined to repeat her allegation that Mr Staunton had been telling lies.

Meetings ‘not about compensation’

In a note outlining her position, Ms Munby, now permanent secretary at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, said: “It is not true that I made any instruction, either explicitly or implicitly, to Mr Staunton to in any way delay compensation payments. I did not.

“Neither Mr Staunton’s note, nor the contemporaneous note that my office made, suggest otherwise. In fact, no mention of delaying compensation appears in either note…

“Mr Staunton originally said that there had been a direct instruction. Since he located the file note, this seems to have moved to a suggestion of some sort of implied instruction. Such a claim is also not in any way supported by the notes and did not take place.”

Ms Munby said the meetings were to discuss Post Office operational funding, not compensation funding. She said these two areas of spending were separately ringfenced, and it was factually wrong to suggest that cuts to compensation would have improved the Post Office’s financial position.

She said Mr Staunton had never raised with her or anyone else any of these claims at any point in the last year, until his Sunday Times interview.

Further notes released on Wednesday evening, which were undated but are understood to have been written immediately after the meeting, read: “Henry noted he has never seen a corporation challenged on so many fronts (eg the network, parcel biz etc), don’t have luxury of prioritisation as every issue is a big one!

“SM (Sarah Munby) agreed that challenge is significant and that politics around POL [Post Office Limited] make this an even trickier problem to solve, the timing of agreeing a longer-term solution this way is also very difficult.”

The memo also stated that Munby had “flagged” that the relationship with the Treasury was “difficult” and that “their [the Treasury’s] view will always lean towards the ‘begging bowl’ type scenario, a dynamic worsened by horizon/inquiry costs.”

‘Sub-postmasters deserve the truth’

The Liberal Democrats called for a Cabinet Office investigation into whether Ms Badenoch broke the Ministerial Code by claiming in Parliament on Monday that Mr Staunton’s comments were “completely false”.

According to a note written after the January 2023 meeting by Mr Staunton and shared with The Times, Mr Staunton alleges that Ms Munby told him she understood the “huge commercial challenge” of the financial position facing the Post Office.

Ms Munby warned him that “politicians do not necessarily like to confront reality,” he said.

His memo recorded Ms Munby as saying that the Post Office needed to know that, in the run-up to the election, there was no appetite to “rip off the band-aid [a US term for sticking plaster]”.

“Now was not the time for dealing with long-term issues,” the memo said, and added that the Post Office needed a plan to “hobble” up to the election.

On Monday, Ms Badenoch denied he had been told to stall payments, saying there was “no evidence” to support the claim and accused him of spreading “made-up anecdotes”.

She insisted the Government had done “everything it can” to speed up payments to those wrongfully prosecuted.

Daisy Cooper, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the Business Secretary could have potentially broken  article 1.3c of the Ministerial Code, which sets out that “Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister”.

“Time and again Conservative ministers have undermined the integrity of our politics,” said Ms Cooper. “Now, this row embroiling Kemi Badenoch raises a whole series of new questions to which we urgently need answers.

“If Badenoch misled Parliament then she clearly breached the Ministerial Code.

“Sub-postmasters, who are at the heart of this whole scandal, deserve justice, financial redress and the truth.”

‘Confused’ pensioner with Alzheimer’s died after being pushed in bank queue, court hears

A “confused” pensioner with Alzheimer’s disease died after she was pushed over in a bank by a 26-year-old who was angry she had held up the queue, a court has heard.

Myra Coutinho-Lopez, 82, was a regular customer at Lloyds Bank in Howardsgate, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, and was well-known to the staff, but sometimes became confused because of her illness, Luton Crown Court heard.

She died on Dec 16 2021, 10 days after she had been pushed to the floor of the bank by Courtney Richman, after the 26-year-old had a “catastrophic loss of temper”, the court heard.

Mrs Coutinho-Lopez had gone to the bank on Monday Dec 6, but had forgotten she had already withdrawn money on the previous Friday, prosecutor Martin Mulgrew told the jury.

“Mrs Coutinho-Lopez became worried and asked the cashier to show her the balance,” he said.

Another member of staff also came over to try to reassure her, he said, and a queue formed.

‘Move out of the way’

The court heard that one customer, Courtney Richman, said: “There is nothing they can do. Move out of the way.”

It was alleged that Ms Richman became more angry and added: “Hurry up – people don’t have all day.”

Another customer, who had been using a cash machine, offered to help the elderly woman. As she walked the 82-year-old away, Ms Richman is alleged to have said “oh thank God”, and sarcastically applauded.

When Mrs Coutinho-Lopez passed Ms Richman in the queue she told her: “Don’t speak to me like that – you are very rude.” She swung her handbag and struck the defendant, the court heard.

Mr Mulgrew said: “The defendant reacted in a wholly inappropriate and unreasonably violent manner. She angrily pushed Mrs Coutinho-Lopez forcefully to the floor of the bank. She struck the floor with some force.”

He went on: “The red mist descended on this defendant and she reacted in a wholly inappropriate fashion to this vulnerable old lady.”

Mrs Coutinho-Lopez suffered fractures of her left upper arm and thigh bone and bruising to her left upper arm, wrist, the tops of her fingers, and around her rib cage.

As well as Alzheimer’s, she suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“If you push an 82-year-old woman to the floor of a bank there is going to be some risk,” said Mr Mulgrew.

“The prosecution say she unlawfully assaulted her and as a result of the fractures fatty substances were released in her body that caused damage to her lungs and brain,” he said.

In a prepared statement at the police station, Ms Richman said Mrs Coutinho-Lopez was being rude and directed her anger towards her and hit her. She said: “I was shocked and instinctively pushed her away. I feared she was going to assault me. I used open palms.”

Ms Richman denies manslaughter and another charge of inflicting grievous bodily harm.

The trial continues.

Lyle’s Golden Syrup ‘throwing away history’ with rebrand, says founder’s descendant

The rebranding of Lyle’s Golden Syrup has been derided as “feeble and woolly” by a descendant of the company’s founder who insisted “don’t junk a classic”.

Alexander Linklater, whose great-great-great grandfather Abram Lyle designed the original dark green and gold packaging of a dead lion being swarmed by bees in 1883, questioned why its makers had decided to “throw away 141 years of proven branding”.

Tate & Lyle Sugars, which owns Lyle’s Golden Syrup, have replaced the logo to show a rather abstract lion’s face with a single bee flying around its mane to try and appeal to a “21st-century audience”.

Lyle’s original artwork references the Old Testament story of Samson tearing apart an attacking lion with his bare hands.

On his return, Samson finds that a swarm of bees have created a hive with honey inside the carcass, which Samson gathers for himself and his parents.

The packaging features the Biblical quotation from the story “Out of the strong came forth sweetness”.

It is the world’s oldest unchanged brand packaging, and holds a Guinness World Record, having remained almost identical since 1883.

Tate and Lyle rolled out the rebrand across the full product range, excluding the classic tin, which retains its original illustration.

Mr Linklater, a 55-year-old journalist and biographer, urged the company: “Don’t junk a time-proven classic design.”

He told The Telegraph: “They are changing something that is both very distinctive and familiar to something generic and woolly.

“It was Britain’s oldest brand. The rebranding is a move away from what was a real piece of commercial history.”

“I do not think the feeble woolly-shaped lion is very good. Why throw away 140 years of proven branding?”

Mr Linklater disclosed how his ancestor detested his partner Henry Tate with the pair only being able to merge their companies after Lyle’s death.

He said “nothing remains” today of his great-great-grandfather’s original business, following the Second World War where subsequent death duties had wiped out the company’s liquid assets.

Lyle was a deeply religious lifelong teetotaler of “ frightening temper and fierce morality”, Mr Linklater said, and had been brought up in poverty in the industrial town of Greenock before he moved to London.

Lyle, a Presbyterian, died in 1891 from pneumonia with thousands lining the streets in Greenock at his funeral where he had been provost, Mr Linklater added.

On Tuesday, Tate & Lyle Sugars faced criticism from Church of England members who claimed the rebrand “eradicates” the Christian messaging in its logo.

Tate & Lyle Sugars apologised for the upset caused and said religion played “no part” in the decision to change the branding.

James Whiteley, brand director for Lyle’s Golden Syrup, said: “We’re excited to unveil a fresh redesign for the Lyle’s Golden Syrup brand.

“While we’ll continue to honour our original branding with the heritage tin, consumers need to see brands moving with the times and meeting their current needs.

“Our fresh, contemporary design brings Lyle’s into the modern day, appealing to the everyday British household while still feeling nostalgic and authentically Lyle’s.

“We’re confident that the fresh new design will make it easier for consumers to discover Lyle’s as an affordable, everyday treat while re-establishing the brand as the go-to syrup brand for the modern UK family, featuring the same delicious taste that makes you feel Absolutely Golden.”

Grant Shapps defends UK’s nuclear capability after Trident missile failure

Grant Shapps has been forced to defend the UK’s nuclear capability as “beyond doubt” after a failed missile test.

The Defence Secretary issued a written statement to Parliament on Wednesday after it emerged that a Trident nuclear missile misfired.

He said that the UK’s “resolve and capability to use its nuclear weapons, should we ever need to do so, remains beyond doubt”.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the dummy missile crashed into the ocean off the coast of Florida, near HMS Vanguard, the submarine that launched it.

It is now the second misfire in a row and it is understood that circumstances specifically relating to the test on Jan 30 were the result of the failure.

‘Ultimate security insurance policy’

Mr Shapps’s statement also said: “Our continuous at-sea deterrence posture has been maintained for nearly 55 years by generations of highly dedicated and professional submariners.

“We owe them, and their families, our thanks for their sacrifices and outstanding service, which is often out of sight but should never be out of mind.”

He added that the nuclear capability “deters the most extreme threats to our national security, keeping the UK and our Nato allies safe. It is the ultimate security insurance policy”.

The Defence Secretary’s reassurances were echoed by navy sources who insisted that Britain’s enemies should still see the UK as a “credible threat”.

Navy sources rejected the idea that the failure was worrying.

“Our enemies should still look at us and see us as a credible threat,” a Navy source told The Telegraph.

They added that the system had been tested more than 190 times. “The odds are in favour as the majority were successful,” they said, adding: “We have statistical evidence that this is a reliable system that would work should we need it.”

‘Anomaly’ was ‘event specific’

Both the Defence Secretary and Admiral Sir Ben Key, the First Sea Lord, were on board HMS Vanguard during the test firing.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed an “anomaly” that was “event specific”, but refused to provide further information on the grounds of national security.

A source close to Mr Shapps insisted the UK was “fully able” to use its nuclear deterrent if required and added that the Government had “no doubt in its effectiveness”.

“The anomaly which occurred during a recent test was specific to that event and we know has no implications for the wider deterrent system, Trident stockpile or our ability to fire in a real world situation,” they said.

Submarine passed all tests

Despite the failed launch, HMS Vanguard and her crew have been fully certified for patrol operations, having proven itself in the “demonstration and shake down operation” (DSDO).

HMS Vanguard had travelled to America after a period of deep maintenance.

As part of the DSDO process the 16,000-ton submarine has to go through a series of testing and exercises over a period of weeks and months to show it is able to go back out onto patrol.

The process culminates in firing. Defence sources stressed that the submarine had still passed all its tests and will now return to service. It comes after it was discovered during its refit last year that a nuclear engineer glued broken submarine bolts back together in an “unforgivable” error.

The unsatisfactory repairs to HMS Vanguard’s cooling pipes were discovered after a bolt fell off whilst being tightened during checks inside the reactor chamber.

The last time the UK fired a nuclear weapon was in June 2016, when a Trident II D5 missile veered off course while being tested off the coast of Florida.

John Healey, the shadow defence secretary, said: “Reports of a Trident test failure are concerning.

“The Defence Secretary will want to reassure Parliament that this test has no impact on the effectiveness of the UK’s deterrent operations.”