Business Questions 24 November 2016

Below is my speech in full:


I thank the Leader of the House for those words. He shows what a great parliamentarian he is, and I associate myself absolutely with everything he said about those who have brought the murderer to justice.


I need to ask the Leader of the House again, because he has not mentioned this, about the dates for the recess after February. The Prime Minister has said that she will trigger article 50 in March, so we need to know whether we will be away in recess and if we will have a debate. What is the mechanism? Will the Prime Minister make an announcement on the steps of Downing Street, or will she make a phone call? She relinquished the presidency of the EU by telephone. May we know what the mechanism is? The British people need to know the framework. The Government might not want to show their position, but according to a Library note, as soon as article 50 is triggered, the European Council will draw up a negotiating mandate—the guidelines—without the UK’s participation.


The Ministry of Justice is a troubled Department. Hardly 24 hours have gone by since the autumn statement and we have the first concession. It turns out that the figures in the Government’s proposals for whiplash reform are out of date and will be updated during the implementation process. The consultation apparently referred to the 12th edition of the judicial guidelines as the basis for the figures instead of the more generous position in the 13th edition, which significantly increases the guideline damages for whiplash. That is what happens when the Government have a policy and then find the evidence for it, rather than implementing evidence-based policy. It takes a riot and a breakdown before money is given to the prison service, despite numerous calls for that.


The Department of Health is a troubled Department. I do not know whether any representations have made by the Health Secretary, but he is nowhere to be seen. Last Friday, every former Health Secretary from the past 20 years signed an open letter to the Government urging them to honour the pledge to ensure that there is parity of esteem for mental health, but there was no money for that in the autumn statement. Will the Leader of the House tell us what the response was to that letter, and could he place it in the Library?


Could we also have a statement on the crisis in cancer diagnosis? According to Cancer Research UK, there are long waits for test results, even though getting an early diagnosis is vital for treatment. There is a shortage of consultants, radiologists and endoscopists. Some Members of the House are undergoing treatment for cancer; we wish all of them and their families well. We wish everyone who is touched by cancer a speedy recovery.


The autumn statement was a statement for the elite. The Chancellor said that the Oxford and Cambridge expressway would become


“a transformational tech corridor, drawing on the world-class research strengths of our two best-known universities.”—[Official Report, 23 November 2016; Vol. 617, c. 904.]


Again, that elitism is not based on evidence, because the 2017 university league tables put Oxford and Cambridge third and fourth. Imperial is first and the London School of Economics is second. Cardiff is fifth, and King’s, Warwick, University College London, Queen Mary and Edinburgh are in the top 10. May we have a statement on what will be available for the other universities that do not have the historic wealth of Oxford and Cambridge?


In a previous outing at the Dispatch Box, I asked for money for local government. Local government is in desperate need, but the money has now gone to unelected local enterprise partnerships rather than elected local authorities. The Minister responsible for the northern powerhouse, the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), has said that areas with directly elected mayors will have the “main share of funding”—that is power in the hands of one person. May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to another letter? It is from county councils, mainly of the same party as the Government, which have said that funding should not be made on an


“arbitrary prioritisation of specific governance models”.


Everyone on the Labour Benches agrees that money should flow according to need.


This was not an autumn statement for women, so may we have a debate on its impact on women? Women are not satisfied by a passing reference to Pemberley; we want more. Increasing the personal tax allowance will do nothing to help those earning too little to pay income tax, 65% of whom are women. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) has already said that the £3 million for women’s charities is just the balance from the £15 million raised under the tampon tax, £12 million of which has already been given away by the previous Chancellor.


Despite 74 written parliamentary questions on social care in November, there was no extra money for social care—indeed, there was no mention of money for social care—in the autumn statement. Cuts to social care hit women especially hard because the majority of those needing care and of those providing it, paid or unpaid, are women. “Just about managing” is of the Government’s making—it is home-made jam.


Finally, tomorrow is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. I thank MP4 for organising an event and playing in memory of Jo Cox. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight), the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and Ian Cawsey, a former Member, spent a lot of time last Thursday recording “A Song for Jo”, which I think is coming out in January. Her love, values and example live on in all of us. Government is not just about fixing the roof; we are about transforming lives. Let us dedicate ourselves to that task in her memory.