- Posted by: Valerie Vaz MP
- Category: News
We are breaking records again, with the longest time without a Queen’s Speech. This is a bizarre state of affairs. I do not know of any other Government being run like this, particularly as there have been only five years since 1900 in which a Queen’s Speech has not taken place. It feels like the Government do not want to or cannot get their legislative agenda through Parliament.
You can read my speech in full below:
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business, and I wonder whether the portrait of Baroness Thatcher will be taken out of her room and put on display. Baroness Thatcher was a scientist, and we know that the science is right on climate change.
I thank the Leader of the House for the Opposition half-day next week. With debates on the Wild Animals in Circuses (No.2) Bill and on the 25th anniversary of the death of John Smith—the most amazing Labour leader and possible Prime Minister that we could not have—it feels like Opposition week, and we are grateful for those debates. Is the Leader of the House able to provide us with any further information on Whitsun or even summer recess dates? Of course, we also need an updated version of the list of ministerial responsibilities.
The business is quite light. I previously asked the Leader of the House whether we could have a debate on the Non-contentious Probate (Fees) Order 2018, so that we can have proper scrutiny of it. The mum of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) is a probate lawyer, so she is quite keen to see the order debated.
We are breaking records again, with the longest time without a Queen’s Speech. I do not know whether the Leader of the House has raised this at Cabinet meetings, but can she confirm whether the Queen’s Speech will be in June or September, as some people have mooted? The Prime Minister’s spokesperson has said that there is “no specific date” for a new Session. This is a bizarre state of affairs. I do not know of any other Government being run like this, particularly as there have been only five years since 1900 in which a Queen’s Speech has not taken place. It feels like the Government do not want to or cannot get their legislative agenda through Parliament. When is the withdrawal agreement likely to be debated again? Will that be an ordinary debate or part of a new Queen’s Speech?
We list the Prime Minister’s engagements, and I wonder whether we should now list her dinner engagements too. There was ladies’ night this week, and someone donated £135,000. That is £19,285.71 for each of the Cabinet Ministers there. The previous donation by that donor was ruled impermissible by the Electoral Commission, but I understand that she now has leave to remain and is on the electoral register. Two former Home Secretaries and the Immigration Minister were at the event, and I hope there is no link between the two.
While Ministers were having dinner with the donor, the Department for Work and Pensions was sending misleading letters to GPs and doctors stating that their patients do not need a fit note any more when they have been found fit to work. The lack of clarity about when GPs should issue fit notes could put patients’ finances and health at risk. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova), who is the shadow disabilities Minister, raised a point of order because the Secretary of State said that the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners have signed off these letters, when in fact they have not. They put out a letter yesterday saying that they have not. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State on exactly what the status is of these letters to GPs, and will they be withdrawn or updated?
While Ministers were having dinner with the donor, schools and teachers were having to pick up the costs of Government cuts. An NASUWT poll has found that two out of three teachers add their own cash to squeezed school budgets by paying for classroom stationery. That is the reality: it is not the Opposition who are saying it; that is the reality from teachers on the ground. May we have a statement on why teachers and staff in schools are using their own money to keep schools running? The Government will say that they have had record investment, but that is clearly not the case on the ground.
While Ministers were having dinner with the donor, the Government were failing criminal barristers across the country. Some 95% of members of the Criminal Bar Association have threatened to begin walking out of trials and are refusing to take on new work over a pay dispute with the Crown Prosecution Service, and 84.2% of respondents to a Criminal Bar Association poll said that they were in effect working for less than the minimum wage, while the workload has increased over the past five years. May we have a statement on the criminal barristers’ pay dispute? After all, it is about the very foundation of our society.
The current Secretary of State for Transport, who was previously at the Ministry of Justice, oversaw all those cuts to the legal system, and he is the one, as we heard in the urgent question, paying out £50 million of public money, on top of the £33 million out-of-court settlement with Eurotunnel. I think we could ask schools what they could do with that money. When will we get a statement on the accountability for this waste of public money?
Last week, the Leader of the House wished everyone well in the local elections, but she did not say that there are no district or borough elections in Northamptonshire because the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has cancelled them. The seven district and borough councils would have been holding elections, but apparently the Secretary of State said that people might get confused when they move to the unitary authorities, so they will not get any elections until 2020. With no vote until 2020, people will not get a vote on the 5% increase in the council tax.
I want to take this opportunity to thank those councillors who are standing down in Walsall South: Keith Chambers, who was a councillor for Bentley and Darlaston North; Allah Ditta, for Palfrey, who may be back as a councillor to serve his community; and Eileen Russell, for St Matthews. Eileen was a teacher, and every time I go canvassing with her I find that she had taught practically everybody in St Matthews.
I do not know, Madam Deputy Speaker, whether you know the significance of 29 May. That is the date beyond which the Prime Minister has to serve to ensure she is not the shortest serving Prime Minister in modern times. Just for the record, the month of May is walking month. We have been warned.