As Shadow Leader of the House I raised various issues with the Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom MP, at Business Questions including why the Government are refusing to schedule debates. My speech is below:
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the—oh, do I call it business? I am not quite sure. Quite frankly, I and other Opposition Members are appalled, saddened and bewildered in equal measure. We have asked the good citizens of this country to vote for us, and they have. As we are in a parliamentary democracy, they have given their consent to be governed, to enable MPs to form a Government, pass legislation, and hold Ministers to account. We have not been allowed to do that. This is not the end of term where we have no lessons and a light timetable, or where we are spending our time singing or whistling; it is a time of critical importance to this country, and the clock is ticking. We have been back for 31 days and in that time we have had only seven votes. Calling it a “zombie Parliament” makes it sound amusing, but this is serious. It is a threat to our parliamentary democracy.
Why does it take a Standing Order No. 24 application, as we had on contaminated blood, before a debate is scheduled, and then a concession by the Government, immediately before the debate, on an inquiry? Statutory instruments on tuition fees and personal independence payments were prayed against, and no debate was granted. Again last week, I raised the statutory instrument that enacts a 6.1% interest rate on university student loans, and asked for a debate. The Leader of the House said to one of her hon. Friends that
“the mood of many colleagues has been heard, and I am quite sure that the Department for Education is considering this matter.”—[Official Report, 6 July 2017; Vol. 626, c. 1346.]
Will she confirm when and how the Government will be considering the matter, and make a statement on these regulations, or at least give us time to debate it so that the Minister can come and explain why the most punitive interest rate is being applied to students?
To make matters worse, last week the same debate was scheduled on the Gibb report on two successive days until that was pointed out to the Government. This week, we also see two debates on the same subject—one in Westminster Hall yesterday, and then another on Monday, on the abuse and intimidation of candidates. While this is an important topic in the week that Viscount St Davids will be sentenced—we will hear today—on his abuse of Gina Miller, will the same debate be going ahead, or is it a mistake? Could we have an Opposition day on Monday instead?
The Leader of the House gave me no answer about whether there will be a summer Finance Bill. I do not know whether the Finance Bill will be in the autumn and the Budget will then be in the spring. Who knows, but it sounds to me like chaos, so can we have an answer?
Why has the Leader of the House not responded to requests for an Opposition day? The last one was on 23 February, granted to the Democratic Unionist party, but the official Opposition have not been granted one since January—to be precise, 25 January. Why no Opposition day? Why not let us debate and vote on an issue that is relevant to our constituents, who only a month ago told us what they thought? I thought the Leader of the House believed in sovereignty—that is what she campaigned on. The Opposition do, so let Parliament be sovereign and let us have a debate on a votable motion.
The Leader of the House said in June that the elongated Session would provide space to consider
“a domestic agenda which aims to tackle the social injustices in our country.”
So why has she allocated private Members’ Bill days for only one year of a two-year Session—13 dates? When will she say when the Opposition days will be for the first year of the Session, and when will we have the dates for the second year of the Session? Will she tell us her definition of what a Session is? If it is two years, we are therefore entitled to double the number of Opposition days.
On Tuesday, following the Taylor review, the Prime Minister said:
“We may not agree on everything, but through debate and discussion—the hallmarks of our Parliamentary democracy—ideas can be clarified and improved and a better way forward found.”
The Opposition agree, so why does the Prime Minister say that we need debate while Government representatives do everything they can to stifle debate? Is she an outsourced Prime Minister, completely detached from what is going on here? She can be heard in No. 10 singing the song “Heartbreaker”:
“Why do you have to be a heartbreaker,
When I was bein’ what you want me to be?
Suddenly everything I ever wanted has passed me by”.
I should have sung it rather than spoken it.
Finally, will you and the Leader of the House join me, Mr Deputy Speaker, in wishing everyone in the Black country a very happy Black Country Day? It is part of a month-long festival in Dudley, Walsall, Sandwell and Wolverhampton, and I invite everyone to come to Walsall.