Business Questions 23 February 2017

Parliament returned after the February Recess and I stood at the Despatch Box at Business Questions where 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 confirming that he will still be here for business questions, even though he is such a talented former Minister for Europe that I think his talents should be deployed elsewhere.


I am still going to ask for the date of the recess. The Deputy Leader of the House is very keen to know when he will be able to go on holiday, because he will need to respond to the pre-summer recess Adjournment debate and he needs to order a new tie.


Following a point of order by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson), the Leader of the House kindly mentioned the year of the relevant legislation. I have asked the Library about it and it is called the Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) (Elected Representatives) Order 2002, which enables the processing and disclosure of sensitive data to elected representatives. The Library was very helpful and I am sure that if hon. Members want a copy, it will provide one.


This is a photo-opportunity Prime Minister and Government—all photos and no substance or any thought for the British people. Not content with being the first to visit the United States, when she should have been networking in Europe, the Prime Minister then photo-bombed the House of Lords, in the company of the Leader of the House—no wonder we cannot get the recess date. Instead of photo-bombing, the Prime Minister needs to focus on what is going on in her own Cabinet. She may have got up off the sofa to sit at the Cabinet table, but she needs to hold a discussion with her Cabinet members, because they are completely out of control.


The Prime Minister needs to think about our young people, because they are our future. Just before the Christmas recess, the Government snuck out a statement on removing the cap on tuition fees, so students will face a tuition fee rise in perpetuity. A Labour Government, by the way, would have reduced fees and kept the cap. Yesterday the Prime Minister talked about children and their aspirations, but this generation is saddled with debts of £44,000 each before they even start out in life. There are two statutory instruments that are a tax on aspiration, so could the Leader of the House please schedule a debate—similar to that which we had in ​2010—on this disgraceful increase in tuition fees by statutory instrument? We want to debate and scrutinise those SIs and vote on them.


The Prime Minister mentioned the Great Get Together, which has been organised to remember our colleague Jo Cox. The Prime Minister said that we should recognise the things that unite us, but at the same time the Government are presiding over the decimation of the staff at the Equality and Human Rights Commission. People have been handed redundancy notices via email and the Government are cutting the very organisation that can help people and communities to trust each other. It is there to help eradicate racism, misogyny and anti-Semitism—there has been a rise in hate crime—just as all of us try to do, including you, Mr Speaker. Could we have a debate on early-day motion 944, tabled by the Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens)?


The Government are not interested in education. Many Members of all parties, including the hon. Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham), who raised the issue yesterday after meeting headteachers, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who raised concerns about the aspirations of boys, are alarmed at the new funding formula cuts to our schools. The Prime Minister said that the Government were looking at a new formula—she said, “It is a consultation”. Will the Leader of the House guarantee that there will be a statement immediately following the consultation? When will the consultation come to an end?


The Government are not interested in businesses. What a lesson in disorganisation and chaos we have had on business rates. For every £1 generated by local businesses on the high street, 70p goes back to the local economy. Most businesses on the high street pay more in business rates than in corporation tax. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy says that he will look into the short-term and long-term effects of business rates. He should have done that before he introduced the policy. A loophole that was missed by the Treasury will allow online multinationals to see a fall in their business rates while a small independent bookshop sees a rise. Will the Leader of the House ensure that there is a full impact assessment of the proposals before they are enacted?


Which other disorganised and chaotic Government would get away with the Secretary of State for Health saying, as he did on the BBC last week, that performance ​in the some parts of the NHS is “completely unacceptable” and then doing absolutely nothing about it? Yesterday, the Prime Minister mentioned Mid Staffs, but she forgot to mention that Sir Robert Francis, who led the inquiry, said earlier this month that the NHS was facing an “existential crisis”, with a “disconnect” between what the Government were saying and people’s experiences on the ground. May we have a statement on the Government’s plan of action to restore the NHS and listen to clinicians and staff? A 10-point plan would do.


When the City of London warns that the loss of banking jobs to the EU threatens financial stability, the Government need to listen and to be transparent with the British people about those warnings.


My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and I heard yesterday that, for people working in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge, once their contracts are over, that will be it—their funding will come to an end and there will be no more jobs.


Education is a mess; health is a mess; businesses are under threat; a judge says that the Government are making slow progress on allowing civil partnerships for heterosexual couples; and research funding is ending. Who are this Government serving?


Someone who has served this House well is my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), although he is not in his seat at the minute. He had a birthday during the recess and is now 85. I am sure the whole House will join me in belatedly wishing him a happy birthday and in looking forward to the documentary on his life: “Nature of The Beast”.