New session of Parliament: live blog

Last updated: 22 May 2024

Full Fact’s rolling live blog of political fact checks

17 April 2024, 5.08pm

Did the government’s smoking ban bill only pass ‘thanks to Labour’?

Last night MPs in the Commons voted to give a second reading to the Tobacco and Vapes Bill—legislation that will ban tobacco products from being sold to people born on or after 1 January 2009.

Following the vote, Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting MP claimed “it was only thanks to Labour MPs that this bill passed”.

Mr Streeting appears to have been referring to the fact that had the 160 Labour MPs who voted in favour of the bill instead voted against it, all other things being equal the bill would not have passed.

However, as others have noted, had Labour MPs abstained—another way they could have withheld support—the bill would still have been passed. More Conservative MPs voted for the bill than voted against it, and more MPs who are not Conservative or Labour voted for the bill than voted against it, too.

In all, 178 Conservative MPs voted for the bill, as well as 160 Labour MPs, 31 SNP MPs, five Liberal Democrat MPs and six MPs from other parties or who sit as independents.

57 Conservative MPs voted against the bill, alongside nine MPs from other parties.

A total of 195 MPs (excluding the Speaker and Deputy Speakers, who do not vote on legislation) did not vote on the bill, including 106 Conservative MPs and 40 Labour MPs.

For more on how MPs’ votes are counted (including why there are some slight discrepancies in some tallies), see this page on the Parliament website.

17 April 2024, 4.53pm

Flights to Rwanda are promised by ‘spring’—but when is spring?

Speaking about the government’s Safety of Rwanda Bill on Sky News this morning, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Laura Trott MP said: “We will be ready for flights to take off in the spring, when the legislation passes.”

Asked what this meant in terms of dates, Ms Trott replied: “Well there’s lots of definitions of spring, but we’re hoping to get them up and running as quickly as possible.”

According to the Met Office there are two definitions of spring: astronomical and meteorological. The first refers to the position of earth’s orbit in relation to the sun. This year astronomical spring runs from Wednesday 20 March to Thursday 20 June.

Meteorological seasons are set according to the calendar, and each lasts three months. By this measure, spring always begins on 1 March and ends on 31 May. 

In order to fit with one of these definitions of spring, therefore, Rwanda flights would have to take off no later than 20 June. 

Meanwhile the website of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich says the start of spring can also be calculated using phenology—the study of seasonal changes in plants and animals.

It states: “In reality there are no hard and fast criteria to determine the start of each season; the onset of spring, for instance, could be the date on which the first daffodil flowers or the first birds make their nests. The dates of these are not only extremely difficult to determine but also vary quite dramatically through the United Kingdom, let alone the rest of the world.”

A spokesperson for the Home Office declined to comment on the timing of spring but said: “We have robust operational plans in place to get flights off the ground to Rwanda.”

17 April 2024, 1.59pm

Did Sir Keir Starmer say he would put taxes up?

We’ve looked at another claim from today’s Prime Minister’s Questions. The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told The Sun he would put taxes up.

Mr Sunak said: “A few weeks ago he finally admitted it to The Sun. What would he say he would do? I quote, he said ‘we would put up taxes’.”

While it’s true Mr Starmer did say Labour would increase taxes during a video interview with The Sun last month, Mr Sunak’s comment is missing context. In fact, Mr Starmer specified in the interview that Labour would raise taxes in relation to certain “loopholes”, and went on to say his party didn’t want tax increases for working people. 

Sir Keir said: “We are going to put up taxes, we’ve already said that, in relation to VAT on private schools, non-dom tax status, some of the loopholes that we’ve identified.” He continued: “We’ve argued that National Insurance shouldn’t go up. We do not want to see increases in tax for working people, we think they’ve been overly burdened already.” 

17 April 2024, 1.55pm

How does National Insurance relate to pensions and NHS spending?

At today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer claimed abolishing National Insurance would require the government to “either cut [the] state pension or the NHS that National Insurance funds”, or “put up income tax”. 

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves MP also posted on X (formerly Twitter): “The Prime Minister cannot say how he will pay for his £46 billion unfunded promise to scrap National Insurance.

“He can either cut state pensions or the NHS or raise income tax - which one is it?”

The relationship between National Insurance contributions (NICs) and funding for the NHS and state pensions is more complicated than these comments imply, however.

As we wrote last month, revenue from NICs is notionally set aside from other tax revenue for the purposes of NHS and social security spending.

But general tax revenue is also used to pay for these things. So in practice the amount the government raises through National Insurance doesn’t necessarily determine how much is spent on the NHS or the state pension.

We can’t say how any potential future move to abolish National Insurance entirely might be funded. Rishi Sunak did not directly respond to Mr Starmer’s questions on the topic, and the chancellor Jeremy Hunt has separately said abolishing National Insurance is unlikely to happen “any time soon”.

But it’s not necessarily quite as simple as saying reducing National Insurance would mean the government would either have to cut pensions or the NHS, or raise income tax.

15 April 2024, 5.03pm

Liberal Democrats and BBC Breakfast make waiting list errors

Last week BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty stated that 620,000 more people were waiting for NHS elective care compared to when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak took office, but that isn’t quite right. The figure refers to cases, not people, and doesn’t account for some missing data.

Actually, as of January 2024, there were around 300,000 more individual people in England waiting for non-emergency treatment than in October 2022. Read our full fact check here.

The Liberal Democrats also made a similar mistake last week. They claimed that there were “7.5 million people stuck on NHS waiting lists”, but again that figure refers to cases, not people.

When counting individual people, there are an estimated 6.3 million waiting as of February 2024. This is because one person can be waiting for multiple treatments.

We’ve fact checked similar claims before from senior politicians and public figures, including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Olney and BBC News journalist Laura Kuenssberg. We’ve also seen Liberal Democrat campaign leaflets confuse cases and people on the NHS waiting list before.

We contacted the Liberal Democrats’ press office and have not received a response, but since getting in touch the Facebook post seems to have been deleted.

10 April 2024, 4.39pm

‘Pay-per-mile’ claim from London mayoral race: fact checked

Last week a number of Full Fact’s supporters in London received leaflets from Conservative party mayoral candidate Susan Hall AM claiming that Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is “planning to introduce a pay-per-mile scheme” for motorists in the capital.

We believe the format of the leaflet, which appears similar to a parking charge notice, is deceptive campaigning, and raised these concerns on X (formerly Twitter) on Monday. However the claim on the leaflets also needs context.

Mr Khan has repeatedly ruled out bringing in a pay-per-mile scheme while he is mayor, but the Conservatives have argued that commitment can’t be trusted, pointing out that Mr Khan and Transport for London have previously talked about the potential for pay-per-mile charging to be introduced in the future. 

While it’s impossible to say whether any politician will end up honouring a specific pledge—we often say we can’t fact check the future—we’ve looked here at the evidence from the two parties.

2 April 2024, 1.24pm

Prime Minister’s claim about ‘tax cut’ for workers doesn’t account for threshold freezes

In an interview on BBC Radio Newcastle [2:21:30] this morning the Prime Minister claimed that “an average person in work is getting a tax cut of around £900”.

This figure refers specifically to savings from recently announced reductions to employee National Insurance contributions (NICs). On 6 April the main rate of NICs will be lowered from 10% to 8%, having been previously reduced from 12% to 10% in January.

£900 a year is the amount an employee on the average full-time salary (about £35,000) will save in NICs due to the combined four percentage point reduction.

But, as we’ve said before, Mr Sunak’s claim that workers are receiving a “tax cut of £900” misses important context. Ongoing freezes to the threshold at which people begin paying National Insurance contributions and income tax mean the savings for someone on the average salary are substantially smaller.

Once the impact of all tax changes are factored in, the Institute for Fiscal Studies says the average worker only stands to save £340 in 2024/25 while those earning less than £26,000 a year will actually be worse off. 

The IFS adds: “By 2027–28, after another three years of real-terms cuts to tax thresholds, the net effect of income tax and NICs changes since 2021 for the average full-time earner will be a tax cut of £140 per year”.

26 March 2024, 5.34pm

PM’s claim about number of ‘deported’ migrants fact checked

With the House of Commons about to break for the Easter recess, we took a look at a claim from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at last week’s Prime Minister’s Questions. 

Responding to a question from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer on the government’s Rwanda policy, Mr Sunak claimed the government had “deported 24,000 illegal migrants”. This figure appears to be out of date, and needs context.

The Home Office says the Prime Minister’s figure appears to be based on ad-hoc data on the number of enforced and voluntary returns in 2023. More recent official figures show the number was actually 25,646. 

But only a minority of these returns meet the official definition of “deportation” and many were people leaving the UK of their own accord, independently of the authorities. 

Read the full fact check here

20 March 2024, 4.56pm

Telegraph article wrong to claim there’s ‘no National Insurance fund’

Last week we wrote about competing claims from senior Labour and Conservative politicians over what National Insurance contributions (NICs) are used for.

In an article published on 14 March covering some of these claims, the Daily Telegraph stated: “Contrary to popular belief, there is no National Insurance fund that is used to pay for pensions and the health service.”

This isn’t technically correct. While it's true that NICs don't entirely fund the welfare system and the NHS, there is a National Insurance Fund (NIF), the contents of which are formally separate from other tax revenue, and used to pay for social security benefits.

NICs are collected by His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. A portion of this revenue is paid directly to the NHS, with the remainder paid into this fund.

That being said, the level of the NIF does not determine the amount spent on social security payments, and can be topped up by general taxation if it doesn’t cover social security payments in a given year. So while there is a separate National Insurance Fund, its existence doesn’t have any meaningful effect on how much money is spent on benefits and the NHS.

We’ve contacted the Telegraph for comment.

19 March 2024, 4.33pm

Lib Dem leaflets confuse cases and people on the NHS waiting list

Readers have sent us leaflets from the Liberal Democrat candidates for St Neots and Mid Cambridgeshire, and Bicester and Woodstock, which say that “7.7 million people are on the NHS waiting list”. 

As we’ve often said before, this isn’t quite right. 

We’re not quite sure when the leaflets were printed, but the latest data on waits for non-emergency care with NHS England—which is what people usually mean by “the NHS waiting list”—shows that about 6.3 million people were waiting at the end of January.

Between them, these people were waiting for about 7.6 million courses of treatment. There have never been more than about 6.5 million individuals on this waiting list, but because some people are awaiting treatment for more than one thing, the number of cases involving them is always higher.

NHS England did not publish regular data on the number of people on the waiting list until last November. Now these figures are available, however, we think they should be used correctly.

The number of people and cases on the waiting list are both extremely high in the latest data, having fallen below the record levels reached in late 2023.

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