Business Question 13 October 2016

On the Thursday 13 October 2016, as Shadow Leader of the House, I started Business questions by calling for the Government to announce the forthcoming business.


Below is my full speech in full:


I thank the Leader of the House for his warm welcome and for the time he took to speak to me about this role. I also thank my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), for all his hard work in the two jobs that he undertook.


It is the first week back, and there is a crisis. This morning I received a text—an upgrade from an email—from a Jeremy, who says, “We want our Marmite back”, so will the Leader of the House do all he can to make sure that there is Marmite on the shelves? I say to Jeremy: “Cut back on the salt, and if you want to protest, do not sit on the floor and shave your beard!”


It is the first week back, and it has been a bad week for the Government. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s honeymoon period, most of which was in the Swiss Alps in the recess, came to an end as she faced her first Government defeat in the other place, which voted through new laws to compensate phone-hacking victims. Quite rightly in the age of legal aid cutbacks, victims should have access to justice and protected costs.


May we have a debate to clarify the policy of the Home Secretary’s proposals for firms to provide a list of foreign workers whom they employ? The Prime Minister said at Prime Minister’s Question Time said that that was not what was said, so why did more than 100 business leaders write an open letter to the Home Secretary, calling for the idea to be abandoned, saying that foreign workers should be “celebrated not demonised”? The Government may have back-tracked on the policy, just a week after it was outlined, but we need clarification that it is obsolete. If the Leader of the House went back to his alma mater, the University of Cambridge, he would know that the new Vice-Chancellor is, in fact, Canadian, so would he have to be reported to the Home Secretary? It is the anniversary of the battle of Hastings on Friday—it took place 950 years ago—so this reversal could be seen as one in the eye for the Home Secretary.


At the Conservatives’ annual conference, the Chancellor announced a U-turn on six years of Government policy. You will know, Mr Speaker, that at the time of the party conference, the pound fell—and it is still falling. Since last week, we have seen a loss of 6% against the dollar—usually a headline associated with the Labour party. The Chancellor also said that he is cancelling the plan of the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) to balance the nation’s books by 2020. Instead, the Government will invest their way out of the deficit and would now borrow to invest. That sounds remarkably like the Opposition’s policy. May we have statement immediately, before the autumn statement in November, on what is being done at the Treasury on the state of the pound?


So this Government are not the Government of business, not the Government of sound fiscal policy and not the Government of the vulnerable. The new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions now says that people with severe, lifelong conditions will no longer face those humiliating six-monthly reassessments—but only those claiming employment and support allowance; claimants of the personal independence payment will still be subject to those inappropriate assessments. Bizarrely, the former Work and Pensions Secretary, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), welcomed this “progressive” reform of the retesting regime, although he introduced the assessments and they were voted for by Conservative Members. May we have a debate in Government time on the state of the assessments and their removal, as called for by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams)?


This is our first week back after the conference recess, and there have been no votes. The first was scheduled for the Opposition day yesterday, but the Government conceded the Opposition’s motion, which basically asked for Parliament to be sovereign. We want our sovereignty back. That was all that was being asked for—making Parliament sovereign in any negotiations that affect the British people.


The referendum posed a simple question: in or out. It did not cover immigration, and it did not cover the single market. All that has to be negotiated and put to the British people through their elected representatives. The great repeal Bill, which will feature in the next Queen’s Speech, will deal only with the incorporation of EU laws in domestic law. May we have a debate in Government time on the framework of the negotiating stance, given that there are only five months—and 170 unanswered questions—before article 50 is invoked?


I know that the Leader of the House is keen to restore Parliament’s reputation. On Tuesday, he will have seen Parliament at her best—as will you, Mr Speaker, when you were in the Chair—and I am sure he will agree with me that it was incredible to see members of all parties present petitions as part of the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign for fair transitional arrangements, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley). My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) put the figure at roughly £2 billion. Given the strength of feeling among all our constituents throughout the United Kingdom, may we have a statement to do justice to the WASPI women?


May we also have a debate on the report “The Good Parliament” by Dr Sarah Childs, which recommends making Parliament user-friendly to men, women, families and those with disabilities, and could that debate be consolidated with the debate that is to be held on restoration and renewal?


You will have noted, Mr Speaker, that peace has broken out—in Colombia. I congratulate its President, Juan Manuel Santos, on a hard-won peace, and on his Nobel peace prize. We look forward to his visit on 1 November.


The Prime Minister said yesterday that she was speaking for the British people who voted to leave. Well, that amounts to just 51.9%, because 48.1% voted to remain and 28% did not vote at all. If the Prime Minister is representing only 51.9%, my colleagues—each and every one of them, with their talents and skills—are ready to serve all the British people.