Business Questions 19 January 2017

At Business Questions I raised various issues with the Leader of the House, Rt Hon David Lidington MP. My speech is below:


I thank the Leader of the House for his statement, but we still do not appear to have a date for the summer recess. I ask him to think carefully about that and perhaps come back with it next week, possibly with dates for Prorogation and the state opening as well.


Mr Speaker, may I wish you a very happy birthday? I am afraid that the House cannot sing to you. As a tennis fan, I do not know whether your presents included new balls, but we all know how well you handle a racquet—both outside and inside the Chamber. I also wish a happy birthday to Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin. She was an inspired choice as Speaker’s Chaplain and provides great pastoral support for MPs. Perhaps the Leader of the House will join me in challenging you both to a doubles match for charity.


Sadly, this House is losing MPs, including a former Prime Minister, but I point out that many hon. Members have made an incredible contribution and that things can be done from the Back Benches. My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) amended the Finance Bill, highlighting gender-based pricing. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on stalking, and, with the help of the other place and the Government, has extended the maximum sentence for stalking to 10 years. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), when speaking about the loss of her baby, reminded us that we should allow coroners in England to investigate stillbirths so that errors in care can be addressed.


Many other hon. Members from across the House do great work, which is why many of us cannot understand why the Prime Minister refused to come and tell the House and its elected representatives about a major policy announcement that affects the whole country. The 12 points of principle are Government policy initiatives and should have been 12 paragraphs in a White Paper. The right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) said last week that his pleasure


“is magnified when I address the Chair and you, Sir, are occupying it.”


I wish he would say that to the Prime Minister. The 12 objectives should have been set out in a White Paper last September, which would have ended the speculation and uncertainty that have engulfed us for the past six months. However, we still need clarity on several issues, so I can see why the Prime Minister did not want to be questioned about them.


I welcome objective 4, which is about maintaining the common travel area with Ireland. The Prime Minister said that the devolved Administrations will be consulted, but, given the elections in Northern Ireland, will the Leader of the House confirm who from Northern Ireland will be sitting on the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations)? Gibraltar voted 96% to remain. What consultation do the Government intend to have with Gibraltar, and how, before Spain plants its flag? Spain has already threatened to plant its flag in Gibraltar.


The Prime Minister talks of a global Britain, yet principle 5 sets out the Government’s proposals to keep the world out. She said:


“And because we will no longer be members of the Single Market, we will not be required to contribute huge sums to the EU budget.”


In principle 10 she wants the UK to continue to be the best place for science and innovation, forgetting that in 2013 the UK received €8.8 billion, the fourth largest share in the EU, for research and development, with the private sector receiving £1.4 billion. And that is just one sector. We give but we get something back.


As we await the Supreme Court judgement on a point of law on 24 January—next Tuesday—let us remind the people that the judges are on their side, upholding the rule of law and holding the Executive to account. Can the Leader of the House confirm that, whatever Bill comes out after the judgment, it will not be a cynical, one-line Bill, as suggested by Government counsel? The Prime Minister wants to do this for our children and grandchildren, but our children between the ages of 18 and 24 voted overwhelmingly, 75%, to remain in the EU. They already feel let down.


As we remember Martin Luther King Day this week and Holocaust Memorial Day next week, let us remember the words of Martin Luther King and Elie Wiesel, a holocaust survivor who sadly died last year. And let us remember that the European Union was formed for nations to come together in peace, not hatred. We must remember that we are interdependent: we do not live in isolation, whether as individuals, countries or nations. Our constituents want justice—economic and social justice—both here and in Europe. In the months and years ahead, let those, too, be our guiding principles.