I called for a debate on the Public Accounts Committee report which states that Government funding reductions, totalling nearly 50%, have placed local authorities under real strain. Funding cuts have reduced public services such as libraries, waste collection and bus services. Our high streets are dying. Marks & Spencer and Poundworld are leaving Walsall town centre.
You can read my speech below:
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business, which I think takes us up to the recess, and for the two Opposition days. I suppose it is too cheeky and too early to ask for the Easter recess dates, but perhaps the Leader of the House could say when the next Queen’s Speech will be.
Given that Defence Question Time was moved, without the courtesy of letting business managers know, from its slot after the NATO summit and the publication of the modernising defence programme reports, may we have a debate on the summit and the reports? Or should we ring the Secretary of State for Defence so that he can ask Siri?
We now have a third option for the post-Brexit arrangement, although there was no clue in the Prime Minister’s statement on Monday as to what it is and how it will work. It will be an interesting house party tomorrow—I assume the Leader of the House will also be there—and they may end up playing Cluedo. It will be a Cabinet Minister, in the dining room, with the White Paper. [Interruption.] Those who have played it will know. Presumably, one side will take Sharpies to redact it and the other side will take highlighters to accept the good parts.
Yet again, the House is the last to know about the business. On Monday, a journalist tweeted about the publication of the White Paper, saying that
“it looks like the White Paper has been pencilled in for July 12th, the very day that Donald Trump arrives in the UK.”
Again, the courtesies to the House are not being followed. None of the Opposition business managers knew when the White Paper was going to be published. Will the Leader of the House confirm when it will be published and may we have a statement on it? Might I suggest the 23 July, when it seems there is a spare slot for a general debate? It would be possible to debate the White Paper then.
It is not clear how this third way will affect the Irish border and what will happen in respect of alignment. The Prime Minister is yet to visit the border; perhaps the away-day party could go there en masse. I met a farmer at the farmers market in Parliament last week, and he told me that his farm straddles the north and the Republic; what will happen to him? The Prime Minister said on Monday: “In a no-deal situation, it will of course be up to the United Kingdom to determine what it does in relation to the border in Northern Ireland.”—
That is not correct: there is more than one party on either side of the border and more than one party in the negotiations.
The Leader of the House congratulated the NHS on its 70th anniversary, and we do, too. It was the courage of Nye Bevan and the determination of a Labour Government that saw the birth of the NHS, which has completely transformed social justice in this country.
Why did the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care not come to the House to give a list of the 17 operations that are to be cancelled? I am sure that Members have read that list. I have had carpal tunnel syndrome—what would have happened to me? Would I not have been allowed to have that operation? Would I have had to ask for it? The Secretary of State is hiding behind the head of NHS England. May we have a statement from him on another step to privatisation and to explain the reasons why those 17 operations are on that list? Perhaps he could extend the consultation period over the summer.
While the Conservatives are dining at the Hurlingham Club, the country is falling apart on their watch. I am not going to go over the urgent question on universal credit, but suffice it to say that, as the National Audit Office said, the Government’s flagship universal credit programme has not delivered value for money, and it is impossible to know whether it will help to get people off benefits and into work. We need a proper debate so that we can find out who said what to whom and who understood what about the report. We need that debate, so may we have it as soon as possible?
What about a debate on the Public Accounts Committee report that said:
“After seven years of government funding reductions totalling nearly 50% and rising demand for services, local authorities are under real strain. Key services that support vulnerable people, such as social care and housing, are now under enormous pressure.” Funding cuts have reduced public services such as libraries, waste collection and bus services. Our high streets are dying. Marks & Spencer and Poundworld are leaving Walsall town centre. High street names are either closing stores, or they are in administration.
What about students? Again, I raise the plight of our poor students. The House of Commons Library provided my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) with some analysis that showed that the Government are causing more debt to students because of their use of the retail price index to apply interest to their student loans. Switching to CPI would result in £16,000 less interest being added over 30 years. We need a statement on what the Government will do to alleviate this debt.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) told me that there will be a memorial event in the Piper Alpha memorial garden in Hazelhead park on Friday evening. It is the 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha explosion. The names of the 167 people who died in that explosion will be read out. Frank Doran, the former Labour MP for Aberdeen North, was assiduous in fighting for improved safety standards in the North sea.
I want to thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing the Library to use Speaker’s House last Monday. There was a fantastic celebration of 200 years of the Library, and fantastic memorabilia were on display. I thank Penny Young and all her staff for the fabulous work that they put in there. I also thank other Members of the House: EqualiTeas has recorded 107,000 people taking part and 3,000 tea parties—that is an average of 4.5 tea parties per constituency. The pack was brilliant. David Clark, the head of education and engagement, and his team of Michelle, Rob, Beryl, Emma and Charles should be congratulated. It is an excellent and inspiring way to engage the public in celebrating Parliament and equality.