Business Questions 22 November 2018

I asked the Leader of the House for a debate on the visit to the United Kingdom by the United Nations rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, so we can hear what the Government has to say about his damning report.

Below is my speech in full:

I thank the Leader of the House for the short business statement. Again, the date for the Easter recess has not been fixed. I remind the Leader of the House that Easter is on 21 April, so it cannot be beyond the Government’s capability to work out the recess dates around that. Will she also say what the position is on the sitting days for consideration of private Members’ Bills?

There is nothing but a general debate on two of the days next week. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Prime Minister will make a statement following the special summit of the EU on 25 November, whether it has been postponed or not, as I understand that the Prime Minister is also meeting Jean-Claude Juncker?

I want to correct the record. Last week’s Official Report makes ghastly reading. The Leader of the House said that she wanted to see some evidence, but obviously she was not in the Chamber—she was discussing the deal at No. 10—when a number of points of order were raised about when Parliament would be told about the deal. There was genuine disbelief from hon. Members of all parties that there was a suggestion of a press conference at 9 pm. When I raised that in a point of order, a journalist emailed saying, “We need to have our dinner—why are you saying 9? We have been told that the deal will be announced at 7.” That is one piece of evidence. The second is that the Government ended the business early so that there was no opportunity for the Prime Minister to come to the House and make a statement that day. There were no discussions through the usual channels about the Prime Minister making a statement to the House first. I read the ministerial code into the record last week and it clearly says that important statements must be made in the House first. We are not a vassal Parliament with an overbearing, non-accountable Executive.

Last week, I also asked the Leader of the House about the provision of the legal advice on the proposed withdrawal agreement. That does not have a 12-week deadline. In her evidence to the Select Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs on Monday, she said that the Government will seek to do that whenever possible while not undermining either the law or long-standing constitutional conventions. We are not asking for legal advice every day. We are just asking for the legal advice on this most important issue that confronts our country—these are extraordinary circumstances. The House has resolved on a Humble Address calling for the advice to be published. We do not want a position statement; we want the advice to be published.

Curiously, the Leader of the House seems to want to abide by some conventions but not others. Will she abide by the convention of collective Cabinet responsibility? The Cabinet agreed the deal last Wednesday, but by the weekend the Leader of the House and the gang of five were meeting to say that they were going to make amendments to the agreement. May I ask how that is going? Will the Leader of the House be abiding by the convention of Cabinet responsibility, or will the gang of five be tabling lashings of amendments?

I ask that because the Procedure Committee’s eighth report of Session 2017-19, “Motions under section 13(1) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018”, calls for a bespoke business of the House order and amendments to the motion to be decided on first. Will the Leader of the House confirm whether the Government have responded to the Procedure Committee’s report, and if not, when they will respond? On that note, will she say when the meaningful vote on the deal will take place, and whether we are going to have a debate before the vote?

On the home front, the Government conceded on our amendments to the Finance Bill. The Opposition made a powerful case, which was clearly so compelling that the Government accepted our amendments. Given that those proposals were in our manifesto, there is a serious point to be raised: are the Opposition in a confidence and supply agreement with the Government? Should the Government not step aside and either let the Opposition govern or have a general election?

The Leader of the House mentioned two general debates. Could we have a debate on the visit to the United Kingdom by Philip Alston, the United Nations rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights? His report is very succinct. If we have a debate, we can hear what the Government have to say about it, and other parties can also put their views.

The London Eye was finally lit up in suffragette colours yesterday. Hon. Members—men and women from across the House—went to the Terrace as we celebrated the centenary of some women getting the vote. Let us remember that on the Opposition side, our parliamentary party is made up of 45% women. That is more than all the other parties put together. [Interruption.] Our positive action—[Interruption.] Let me just finish. So our positive action—[Interruption.] Ooh, very sensitive! Our positive action is like a pyramid; we have a solid base. We, too, had two female leaders, and I can say to the House that they were not acting—they were doing it for real. However, it is good to celebrate a House that represents the full diversity of our country.

Finally, I want to send Harry Leslie Smith our good wishes for a speedy recovery. Harry is a political commentator and outspoken campaigner against austerity and the privatisation of the NHS. He is a former RAF pilot and a veteran of the second world war. He is in hospital, and we wish him a speedy recovery.