Business Questions 14 June 2018

I asked the Leader of the House when the Government will publish its White Paper setting out its negotiating position with the European Union. There has been no information about the content or the title of the White Paper.

You can read my speech below:

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for the tribute to Sir David. We are used to using the “Sir” after his name, but now we will have to move it to before.

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. I am glad that we are having another Opposition day, and pleased that she thinks the Opposition can fill in the gaps in the Business of the House.

I have a gentle reminder to the Leader of the House. She may want to let the House know when we will have an updated draft of the list of ministerial responsibilities, as there has been a change in Home Secretary and another resignation by a Minister. We also have a Foreign Secretary who says that negotiations are in meltdown; that the Government lack guts; and that he wants the leader of another country to negotiate—that sounds like no confidence in the Prime Minister. We then have a Brexit Secretary who threatened to resign until he got his backstop—I thought we only had backstops in rounders. She may want to keep the list of ministerial responsibilities in draft form.

The Government said that the White Paper sets out their negotiating position, but there is no White Paper. The House of Commons Library has confirmed that no one has any information about the content or the title of the White Paper, except that it will be published after the meeting of the European Council on 28 and 29 June, which therefore means that it will be in July. It is like the emperor’s new clothes: the Government are strutting about saying that we are negotiating, but there is nothing in it. When will the White Paper be published with content?

Will the Leader of the House confirm whether the subcommittees looking at the customs agreement, or a customs partnership, are still meeting? I ask that because she will know that the amendment that was agreed yesterday referred to a customs arrangement, so it seems that there is a name but no content.

The Prime Minister said at Prime Minister’s Question Time that the Government have a position and that it needs parliamentary support. That is not the constitutional role of Parliament as I understand it. The previous Prime Minister, David Cameron, understood the role of Parliament. On 29 August 2013, he said with regard to military action that, even without a motion, it was very clear that “the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that, and the government will act accordingly.” So Parliament can direct the Government; this is a parliamentary democracy.

What is going on in the rest of the country? This week is Carers Week, and many hon. Members attended the event in the Attlee Suite. There are 6.5 million carers in the UK, saving the economy £132 billion a year. When can we have a debate on the future of social care funding? I congratulate the founders of John’s Campaign, who have been fighting since 2014 for the right of carers to stay with people with dementia. Nicci Gerrard’s father, Dr John Gerrard, had dementia; his family faced restricted visiting hours and he deteriorated. Together with Julia Jones and Francis Wheen, they presented the chief nursing officer for England with a book of pledges by NHS acute trusts that allowed unrestricted visiting hours. It reminds me of the words of Margaret Mead, who said:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” They should be congratulated on their personal efforts.

Will the Leader of the House schedule a debate on students? There were 146 student suicides in 2016—the highest in records going back to 2001. Perhaps she could combine it with a debate on the report on tuition fees by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, which found that the student loan book will grow to over £1 trillion over the next 25 years. Interest rates are set to rise to set to rise to 6.3%, but the Committee has suggested that they should be at the same rate—1.5%—that the Government use when they borrow. The report says that the system of fees and loans is “deeply unfair”. For instance, nurses will pay back £19,000 more than lawyers.

May we have a debate on our early-day motion 1383 that we tabled on 12 June, praying against the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (Cooperation and Information Sharing) Regulations 2018, which seek to hand over large amounts of student data to various unaccountable organisations.

As the Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, have said, today marks the first anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire. We remember the 72 people who lost their lives, the survivors and the families.

This Saturday is the second anniversary of the death of our dear friend and colleague Jo Cox. We know that a number of our colleagues in this House are facing threats to their lives, and we stand by them.

As England play Tunisia on Monday, I hope that the House will join me in remembering three generations of Walsall football club fans—Joel Richards aged 19, his uncle Adrian Evans and his grandfather Patrick Evans—who died in the attack in Tunisia three years ago.

On a happier note, there is still time to arrange an EqualiTeas event, to remind us of the journey that women have taken from behind the grille to the Floor of the House.