Business Questions 22 March 2018

At Business Questions I raised the Brexit transition deal with the Leader of the House. The Opposition were the first to call for sensible transitional arrangements to protect jobs and the economy, while the Government wasted time fighting among themselves and pursuing reckless red lines that have now gone green.

Below is my speech in full:

I thank the Leader of the House for stating the business in the final week before the Easter recess and for the Opposition-day debate next Wednesday. It seems, however, that we are only getting business for a week and a day, and I do not know what the House will be doing on 18, 19 and 20 April. This week has been like John Cage’s “4’33””—there have been no notes, and no votes. It is not as if the Government have not got any business. When will the Leader of the House schedule time for the debates on Report of the Trade Bill, the customs Bill and the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill?

My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) tabled an amendment to introduce a Magnitsky clause, but that was voted down by the Government in Committee. Now, it is apparently back in the Bill, so will the Leader of the House please confirm that the Government will work with the Opposition and ensure that that clause remains as strong as ever?

What news of the restoration and renewal Bill? The Leader of the House said that it was in the process of being drafted by parliamentary counsel, but will she state what the timeframe is? She will recall that the kitchen in the terrace café was out of action. I hope that was nothing to do with the fact that we are not being active in ensuring that the work gets done.

The Leader of the House will know that a point of order was made yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh). The Office for National Statistics has, yet again, had to reprimand the Prime Minister for using statistics in a misleading way—this time, on police funding. The Leader of the House wrote a letter on 19 February to my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) in which she repeated that inaccuracy. Will the Leader of the House apologise today for that inaccuracy or place a letter of apology in the Library?

I asked for a debate on the statutory instrument abolishing nursing bursaries for post-graduate nursing students in early-day motion 937. I asked on 22 February, 1 March, 8 March and 15 March—nothing. There is a tradition when statutory instruments are prayed against that we have a debate. If the Government do not want the regulations, they can just vote against them. They will affect returners and life-long learners: people who are committed to nursing. How can the Government deny them that opportunity and deny the Opposition the opportunity to vote against these retrograde regulations? The Leader of the House announced a general debate on Russia on Monday. I would be pleased to support any changes to business, so we can debate the statutory instrument, which will come into effect on Wednesday.

May we have an urgent debate on the allocation of a contract to a French company? The production of British passports is moving away from Gateshead to a French company. If the French can use the national security argument to keep their passport contract with their companies, so can we. Will the Leader of the House confirm why the Government did not use that argument, because this is a matter of national security?

Speaking of Europe, the Prime Minister will make a speech on Monday, on her return from discussions in Brussels. The Opposition were the first to call for sensible transitional arrangements to protect jobs and the economy, while the Government pursued reckless red lines that have now gone green: on no negotiation on future relationship until after transition, a concession; on the UK to pull out of the common fisheries policy as soon as we are out of the EU, a concession—or is it a dead haddock?—and on continuing to pay into the EU until 2064, a concession.

The shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has visited the Sweden-Norway border and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. I asked last week whether the Prime Minister had visited the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Will the Leader of the House say whether the Prime Minister has plans to do so, given that crucial negotiations on Ireland are taking place next week?

The UK has to abide by EU jurisdiction—we heard the Attorney General say so—during the transition period. That, too, is a concession. If the Government want the jurisdiction of our courts, they have to get their own house in order. I suggest that the Leader of the House and all members of the Government read the book by the Secret Barrister, who states:

“Walk into any court in the land, speak to any lawyer, ask any judge and you will be treated to uniform complaints of court deadlines being repeatedly missed, cases arriving underprepared, evidence lost, disclosures of evidence not being made, victims made to feel marginalised and millions of pounds of public money wasted.”

Cuts to the Ministry of Justice will amount to almost 40%. That is nearly half the Department. When can we have an urgent debate on the cuts to our world-class, excellent legal service?

Today, we remember two anniversaries. Johnathan Ball would have been 28, and Tim Parry would have been 37. Both died in Warrington 25 years ago this week. A generation of children have grown up with over 20 years of peace, which has made the island of Ireland a thriving place to live, work and enjoy the culture. What plans are there to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement?

Canon Pat Browne reminded us yesterday at mass that there will be a service at 12 noon in Westminster Hall, which I will join the Leader of the House in attending. At 2 pm and 6 pm in St Mary Undercroft, there will be ecumenical services to remember PC Keith Palmer, Andreea Christea, Aysha Frade, Leslie Rhodes and Kurt Cochrane, who were killed on this day a year ago. From the Doorkeepers, the police and security services, and the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), none of us in the Chamber can forget that day. Those services will help us to remember and give thanks for the lives of those who died and to give thanks for those who keep us safe, so that we can do our work for the good of the country.