Business Question 27 October 2016

On Thursday 27 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 speech in full:


I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business.


I am sure that the Leader of the House, and you, Mr Speaker, will join me in paying tribute to Jimmy Perry, who sadly died last week. He is one of the great Britons who brought fun into our lives. He was the writer and creator of “Dad’s Army”, and he also won an award for the theme song. I am sure, Mr Speaker, that we are a similar sort of age; I grew up watching this brilliantly written and acted series. The BBC, when left alone to be creative, fulfils its Reithian mandate to educate, entertain and inform.


You will recall, Mr Speaker, that the programme had some memorable catchphrases, and it struck me that we could hear those catchphrases ringing around No. 10. We could hear the cry of, “Don’t panic, don’t panic!” or, as the Prime Minister slaps down her recalcitrant and wayward colleagues, we could hear her muttering, “Stupid boys”. When we ask the Government’s position on Brexit, we hear the infamous, “Don’t tell them, Pike”.


May we have a debate on the great repeal Bill? Will it have just one clause or a series of clauses? Will it enact the whole of EU law into UK law? Will there be no enactment of EU law, with each item brought in through secondary legislation? The Prime Minister says that she wants us to be a fully independent sovereign nation. I thought that we were, because we passed the bedroom tax, reorganised the national health service and gave taxpayers’ money to free schools—all that was done over here, not in Europe, in the past six years.


Labour Members respect the result of the referendum, but we want to do what is in the best interests of the British people, including keeping them safe, because organised crime and terrorism know no boundaries. ​The Prime Minister said on Monday that she wants co-operation on our shared security interests with Europe. May we therefore have a debate in Government time—the European Scrutiny Committee has also asked for this—on whether we opt into or out of the new Europol regulations? The Government will need to make a decision shortly, so we need to debate this before they do so.


I want to raise a fairly parochial matter: the closure of the New Art Gallery and libraries in Walsall. I invite the Leader of the House to visit the gallery—and you, Mr Speaker: perhaps on one of your outreach visits you can see what an incredible space it is, with art and culture free for everybody, of all nationalities. I plead with the Leader of the House to make representations to the Chancellor, who has recently signalled a change in his austerity policies, on providing a proper settlement for local authorities so that Walsall and others can fulfil their statutory duty under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. Sixteen thousand children in Walsall live in poverty, and many of them cannot afford books or the internet. We want to give them opportunities and aspiration.


Next week could see a strike at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, under a female Prime Minister and against the background of a report from the World Economic Forum that puts the UK in 20th position on the gender equality gap. Bizarrely, the commission has created 22 posts at deputy director level or above, and two additional executive directors have been appointed at a cost of £250,000 or more. Consultants who were brought in to implement the restructure cost the commission £240,000 last year alone, yet lower-paid staff face compulsory redundancies, and a 25% cut is planned to the commission’s budget. We need an urgent debate on why that body, which looks at discrimination and is so vital at this time, is cutting staff when, according to the World Economic Forum report, it will take 170 years to close the gender pay gap if we carry on at the current rate.


The Prime Minister says that she wants to remove the European Communities Act 1972 from the statute book, but I would be grateful if the Leader of the House could tell her that she cannot do that—all that she can do is repeal it. In any event, the Act is printed on vellum, so it will last 5,000 years. On that issue, will the Leader of the House meet me to discuss how a vote won in the House in 1999 and earlier this year can be overturned by a Committee of the House? This is not a Wallonian moment; it is about respecting the democracy and sovereignty of this House.