Last week following the Taylor review, the Prime Minister said that “through debate and discussion – the hallmarks of our Parliamentary democracy – ideas can be clarified and improved and a better way forward found’.
But following a year of failure that ended in her government losing its majority, Theresa May is doing everything she can to stifle debate in Parliament. Since the election there have been just four debates on Government legislation, offering MPs a total of just under 13 hours in which to have their say.
The Government’s claim that it had taken the decision to hold a ‘rare two-year Parliamentary session’ to ‘give MPs the time to consider crucial legislation’ is laughable. The truth is buried in the House of Commons order paper: the Government has quietly announced that they plan to string out a year’s worth of debate on Private Members’ Bills across the two year session. This sets an ominous precedent that they will now look to try the same trick with Opposition Day debates and Backbench Business, stifling opportunities for real scrutiny.
Clearly the Government is hoping these details escape public notice and the Prime Minister limps to the safety of the summer recess. But our constituents elected us in the expectation that in Parliament we can raise and debate the issues that affect them, scrutinise and pass legislation and hold the government to account.
We have already been denied debates on subjects that affect tens of thousands of our constituents. Two weeks ago I called for scrutiny of a Government decision that would enact a 6.1% interest rate on university student loans, only to be asked to take it on trust that ‘the Department for Education is considering this matter’. In April debates were scheduled on Personal Independence Payments and the Tuition Fee Regulations and then withdrawn.
That’s why I have secured today’s emergency debate on the scheduling of Parliamentary business by the Leader of the House. It sounds extraordinary to describe the Government’s stifling of Parliamentary debate and scrutiny as an “emergency”, but otherwise we are set to reach September having gone eight months without an opposition day debate, without working select committees and with few opportunities to debate the EU deal just over the horizon.
This last point is worth stressing – the Government’s Repeal Bill will hand it enormous power to amend legislation following Brexit in the expectation that it will leave massive holes in our own laws. The Lords Constitution Committee has already raised concerns that this will allow sweeping changes without Parliament’s consent, and we should be doubly concerned given the Government’s attitude of silencing MPs.
The former Chancellor George Osborne has described Theresa May as a “dead woman walking”. It’s not a turn of phrase that I like, but it is the case that the country is saddled with a zombie government.