Business Questions 17 November 2016

On Thursday 17 November 2016, as Shadow Leader of the House, I started Business questions by calling for the Government to announce the forthcoming business.


Below is my speech in full:


I thank the Leader of the House for the information he gave, particularly on the Strathclyde report. Obviously, we will wait to see what it says when he places a copy of it in the Library, but I understand that problems may remain despite the report’s contents.


We have heard nothing from the Leader of the House about the dates for the next recess and the next terms. We appear to stop at 9 February—then there is radio silence; there is absolutely nothing after that. Is there any business? Are we on an election footing? Who knows? Even if the Government do not have plans, the staff and Members, and their families, all have to plan for Easter and summer. We might want to go to see Dippy the dinosaur, who is leaving the Natural History Museum and going on tour—there are rumours he might end up in 1,600 Pennsylvania Avenue in January 2017. The Prime Minister knows what it is like to talk to the winner of the votes of the Electoral College—not the popular vote—in the US presidential election. She made the call and heard, as the rest of us do when we try to make an appointment with our doctor or we are talking to our banks, “Thank you for holding. You are ninth in the queue.”


In the Prime Minister’s first foreign policy speech, at the Lord Mayor’s banquet, she said that globalisation—and liberalism, a dirty word—


“in its current form has left too many people behind”.


What we say is that people have been left behind by the past six wasted years of this Government. They have been left behind by: austerity measures; freezes on wages; zero-hours contracts, which now extend to lecturers; current childcare provision; cuts in grants to local authorities, which have decimated local services and caused the closures of libraries; the bedroom tax, which has now been ruled in two cases to be unreasonable; and the reduction in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs staff, which has stopped us addressing tax evasion and tax avoidance schemes, and therefore stopped money flowing into the Treasury coffers. Will the Leader of the House give us a debate in Government time to analyse how people have been affected by their policies in the past six years?

May we also have a debate on the sustainability and transformation plans in the NHS? We have had an Opposition debate, but we need a debate in Government time. The British Medical Association and the King’s Fund have added their voices, saying that the plans are not transparent and there is no legal or clinical accountability. Clinicians, patients and the public should be involved, or we will all be left behind by the new NHS plans. I do not know whether you have heard, Mr Deputy Speaker, but they are called STP footprints—that reminds me of Dippy the dinosaur. STPs will form a group with clinical commissioning groups, local authorities and goodness knows how many other people, adding another tier of bureaucracy. We have had a reorganisation of the NHS, under the Health and Social Care Act 2012, and it cost £3 billion. Is this another one? Where are patient care and patient safety in this? These plans need to be made public immediately.


May we have a debate on reaffirming the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law? A judge made an analysis of a case in a lecture to students, and the comments about that are extremely threatening. An hon. Member said:


“If judges dip their toes in political waters by making speeches outside the courtroom, they are asking to get splashed back.”


If anyone says something the Government do not like, they are trolled and trashed. Judges give speeches outside the courtroom all the time. Lord Denning and Lord Scarman did so in the Hamlyn lectures. Lord Bingham did so in the Sir David Williams lectures in Cambridge, and he produced a book called “The Rule of Law”. As I have done before in this House, I encourage all hon. Members to read that book. The situation is a far cry from the Youth Parliament last week, which wanted to debate a better, kinder democracy.


And now to Brexit. The Prime Minister yesterday said that our democracy is underpinned by the freedom of the press. However, No. 10 does not like the fact that the press have said that Whitehall is struggling to cope and that there is no plan for exiting the Union. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on whether there is a plan and whether extra civil servants are required for the 500 projects that relate to leaving the EU? The Leader of the House was the longest-serving Minister for Europe, and he has built very good relationships. He is best placed to be there to negotiate with friends rather than out of secrecy and fear. He must be despairing of the right hon. Members for North Somerset (Dr Fox), for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), who are like “Three Men in a Boat”, only without the oars. The sequel to that is “Three Men on the Bummel”. Bummel is a German word, so let me explain what it means. Jerome K. Jerome—who was, incidentally, born in Walsall—described it as a:


“journey, long or short, without an end; the only thing regulating it being the necessity of getting back within a given time to the point from which one started”.


That seems to describe the Government’s policy on exiting the Union. The British people are being left behind by this Government.