Business Questions 2 November 2017

Posted on November 2nd, 2017

Here is my speech at Business Questions this week:

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business up to 17 November, and I think most people know that the Budget is on 22 November.

I note the Leader of the House’s statement on the sexual harassment allegations. There is a commitment on behalf of the Labour party to find a common process that will deal with these serious issues, but also retain the rights of MPs as employers of their own staff. In your email yesterday, Mr Speaker, you reminded people that there is a confidential, anonymous helpline—24/7—for all staff on the estate. It is run by an organisation that has nothing to do with political parties and nothing to do with the House authorities. It gives advice on a free, confidential basis, and it signposts people to other agencies.

Any new process must put the complainants at the heart of it, which is why it is important for the House not to invent or impose a process—we cannot just take one out of our handbags and put it on the table—that does not have the confidence of complainants or is unable to deal with the issues that arise. In 2016, there were 163 calls, and I believe it is important to analyse the type of calls to see whether those who made them feel that their concerns have been addressed. There should perhaps be an anonymous survey on that, and I would extend that to a staff survey—a survey of every single person working in the House—so that we know what the issues are, and people do not feel that they have to stand back or not deal with them. I also suggest that we co-opt Bex Bailey, who has bravely spoken out this week. Mr Speaker, you asked the parties to publish their policies and processes, and I can confirm that the Labour party will be sending you our policies today.

There will be a House process, a party process and, if necessary, MPs as employers can make the grievance procedure part of their contracts, so if we are to get to the bottom of this, I think we need to look at those three different routes. However, a change of culture will take longer, and that must be done by education and training. Every Member and every employee should go on an equality training course. For new MPs, that could be part of the induction process, and existing Members and staff should also undertake the training, which can be provided by outside organisations. Will the Leader of the House confirm that there will be additional resources for the House, and will she ensure, in particular, that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has the resources to support such education and training? We know what to do when there is a fire, and we should know what to do about other issues.

In the anniversary of the week when 95 theses were hammered to the door of a church, the Government have finally hammered out the list of 58 sectors. The Labour party would settle for them giving the impact assessments to the Exiting the European Union Committee. That was set out in the motion, but it has not been done. A Select Committee cannot produce a report unless it has all the information before it. Members have a right on behalf of the whole country to have that information, and to make sense of and correct some of the misinformation that came out during the referendum. This is so serious—the sectors make up 88% of our economy. Despite the request, the Government only provided the sector list on 30 October—two days before our Opposition day debate—and again they have refused to vote either in favour or against the motion. They have not even enacted the motion.

Last night the Minister said that Members of the Government are first and foremost parliamentarians, but they do not want to listen to Parliament. He said,

“in the cool light of tomorrow, we will revisit exactly what was said in Hansard.”

In the cool light of today, the Minister got up this morning and said, “in due course”. Will the Leader of the House please explain the time limit for “in due course”? It cannot possibly be the 12 weeks that she suggested for Backbench Business Committee debates or Opposition day debates.

When I was a member of the Health Committee we heard in private powerful testimony from young people about their experiences of mental health services, and that was used to inform our report. May I ask the Leader of the House for a debate on the CQC report on the review of children and young people’s mental health services? The CQC found that mental health care is funded, commissioned and provided by many different organisations that do not always work together in a joined-up way, and that the system as a whole is complex and fragmented. I hope that the Government will support the Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) which will be debated tomorrow. It is on Seni’s law. Seni Lewis died in a mental health unit, and the Bill aims to prevent the disproportionate use of force against mental health patients. Young people should be provided with the appropriate professional care; it is not a matter for the police.

Mental health was a topic of debate in the Youth Parliament last year, and as the Leader of the House said, Members of the Youth Parliament will be back on 10 November—it is hard to believe that it is their 18th year. I am sure they will be keen for us to vote for the Bill presented tomorrow by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) on votes for 16-year-olds, as that was also on their list of debates. I will have to explain to them what a resolution of the House is. When is a resolution not a resolution? Is it binding or effective? Is there a resolution on the Humble Address? Is it a Back-Bench resolution or a resolution by the Opposition? I will have to explain that and I cannot—I am having difficulty doing that.

Finally, we lost two of our colleagues, Candy Atherton and Frank Doran. I first met Frank in 1987 when he came to the House, and we send our love to Joan Ruddock who was also a Member of this House. Frank played a big part in the life of this House, and it is a shock to us all because they were both so young.

Next weekend as we go to our Remembrance Day services, we should all remember people who died in 2017: Keith Palmer who died on the estate, the eight people who died on London Bridge, and the 22 brilliant and talented young people who died in the Manchester attack. We also, of course, stand with New York. We will remember them. We will remember them.