Business Questions 21 March 2019

The Prime Minister should have given Parliament broad heads of agreement right at the start, so that she could understand what Parliament wanted. Secretaries of State have resigned—we are now on our third Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Ministers have resigned. This is a crisis of the Government’s own making, and the Cabinet is divided.

You can read my speech in full below:

The Leader of the House read out the business for next week, but that is not really next week’s business, is it, since she will come back to the House with some emergency business motions? This is a contempt of democracy and parliamentary democracy. The Prime Minister said she would come back to the House with a meaningful vote—it will actually be meaningful vote 4, because she pulled the vote in December, when Parliament should have had the chance to debate a meaningful vote but did not.

How will the Prime Minister negotiate with the EU if she does not know the will of the House? What was the point of the statement yesterday, other than to set up a hostile environment between the Prime Minister and the House? The Leader of the House says that the House will not sit next Friday, and that there will be further business. Will she confirm to the House, honestly, whether we will sit on Friday, and whether we will debate the statutory instrument that extends the date of us leaving the EU?

Last week I asked about dates for Opposition day debates, and the Leader of the House said that there was “incredibly important” business for the week ahead. Opposition days are incredibly important business, and they are central to our democracy. On Monday, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) raised a point of order, and you responded, Mr Speaker, by saying that “colleagues would think that it was a democratic and seemly thing to do to ensure that the principal Opposition party had the requisite allocation of days”.

That is why we take great exception to the Prime Minister’s comments that we are not interested in other matters.

Week after week I have stood at the Dispatch Box and asked the Leader of the House not just for Opposition days, but for statements and debates on local government, the NHS, social care, education, and cuts to our police services. My colleagues have asked for urgent questions on issues that affect our country. It is not us in Parliament who are contemplating our navels—I have never heard such unparliamentary language about hard-working colleagues from all sides of the House. We sit on Select Committees and Delegated Legislation Committees—that is what we do.

Let us remind ourselves: the Government had Lancaster House, Mansion House, Florence and Berlin. Each time we begged the Prime Minister for clarity on the negotiations, and each time she said nothing—“I don’t want to give a running commentary; Brexit means Brexit”. She should have given us broad heads of agreement right at the start, so that she could understand what Parliament wanted. The Chequers agreement was put to the Cabinet in July, but the Leader of the House and some of her pals preferred to have pizza parties instead of supporting their Prime Minister. Secretaries of State have resigned—we are now on our third Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Ministers have resigned. This is a crisis of the Government’s own making, and the Cabinet is divided.

Last week, bizarrely, I was in the Lobby with the Prime Minister, but the Leader of the House and seven of her colleagues were in another Lobby—they voted against the Government’s own motion. That included the Brexit Secretary, who wound up the debate by saying: “It is time to put forward an extension that is realistic.”

He then voted to reject his own argument. Does the Leader of the House agree with Cabinet responsibility, and could we have a debate about what it means? It is no good her rounding on her colleagues in Cabinet, and then rounding on my colleagues in the Chamber, saying that she does not agree with them.

Let me again raise something that is not about contemplating our navels. Interserve, which employs 45,000 staff in the UK and works on £2 billion of Government contracts, has been put into administration. Tussell data shows that Interserve was handed public contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds in the run-up to its collapse, despite announcing a series of profit warnings—[Interruption.] It is not funny; it is people’s lives. The Government are failing to ensure the viability of their outsourcing contracts.

Last July the Public Accounts Committee described the NHS’s outsourcing to Capita as a “shambles”, and the National Audit Office found that the £495 million contract to provide recruitment for the British Army had been beset by problems. The probation service has been described as “in crisis” since it was partly outsourced. That is what the public are tired of. A third of Government spending goes on external contractors and suppliers.

When can the House have proper scrutiny of the failure of Government outsourcing contracts?

Last week, the Leader said that children should be in school. Some 1.4 million children and young people took part in the school strike against climate change. They disagree with her. I do, too. This is about education and citizenship. What to do to influence decision makers is vital. This is what 16-year-old Greta Thunberg said:

“You cheat when you can because all that matters is to win…We need to start co-operating and sharing the remaining resources of this planet in a fair way.”

While the Government have sat contemplating, they could have invested in the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon and in solar power, ended the cuts to feed-in tariffs and initiated a scrappage scheme for diesel cars. That is going to affect climate change.

I want to mention the funeral service of our dear colleague Paul Flynn tomorrow. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has managed to secure a service in St Mary Undercroft. We thank the chaplain, Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin, and you, Mr Speaker, for indicating that you will be there.

On the second anniversary of his death, we remember PC Keith Palmer and those who died on Westminster Bridge. We think of the amazing people who protect us and who give their lives up to do so.

I, too, want to echo the words of Prime Minister Ardern. It is up to all of us to reject racism and hatred of anyone who is different. To the people of New Zealand, we are you and you are us. Rest in peace.