Business Questions 26 October 2017

Here is my speech at Business Questions this week:

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business. I am delighted that she has given us the business up until 17 November—even though one week is comprised of two days of Back-Bench business, with the other days in recess—and that we have two days of debate on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill on 14 and 15 November. Will she confirm that we will have all eight days of the Committee of the whole House before the Christmas recess?

I am pleased that the Leader of the House raised Opposition day debates, but sadly I received her note only this morning. I think it was embargoed until 10.30 am. I checked with the Library just before coming into the Chamber. It does not appear to have a copy, so I am not sure that the statement has actually been published, and I am not even sure that you have seen a copy, Mr Speaker. I have concerns about this. As the Leader of the House said, Ministers will make a statement no more than 12 weeks after the passing of an Opposition day resolution. Will she please say whether Ministers will actually be attending in the Chamber? I had understood that that was the purpose of wind-ups.

The Leader of the House seems to have two tiers of resolutions of the House. There is one tier for resolutions of the House on Opposition days and another for all the other resolutions of the House. Will she say what discussions she has had with the Clerks and even Mr Speaker about these two tiers of resolutions, and do the Standing Orders need to be amended?

The last paragraph of the Leader of the House’s statement says:

“This is in line with suggestions made by Members across the House”.

There has been absolutely no discussion with business managers on our side and I do not think that that is acceptable. This is no way to treat the House. This is rapidly becoming like “House of Games”—a combination of “House of Cards” and “Game of Thrones”. The Government should get their house in order and deal with the democracy of why we are here. We are elected as representatives to speak on behalf of our constituents.

The Leader of the House might want to correct what she said to the House last week. She said that discussions about the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill were starting in the other place, but discussions there were none. My friends in the other place have said that they were simply told that the Bill would start in that House. There was a First Reading and then the Bill was published. That cannot possibly be right. It must be profoundly against the democracy of our country for a First Reading to take place and for no one to have sight of the Bill until the next day. Will the Leader of the House confirm that that process will not be used again?​

All Members have received a letter about R and R. It is welcome that there will be a debate in December, but this means a delay of 18 months—the report was published in 2016—just to get to a position of a final option. This approach actually takes options away from Members, because it says that when the delivery authority comes back to the House, Members will just be able to vote yes or no. That cannot be acceptable. I see no reason why the three options cannot be placed before the House alongside setting up the delivery authority.

Will the Leader of the House write to me to let me know how many consultants there have been? What are the costs of the people who have been employed while the Government have delayed making a decision? If we follow one of the options set out in her letter with regard to State Opening, will she really be asking our Gracious Sovereign to attend a building site? Will hard hats be available for all of us?

In a week when a Government Whip has raised the spectre of Lenin and McCarthy stalking our fiercely independent world-class universities, we have now been told that his real inspiration was Lennon and McCartney, because he wants to be a “Paperback Writer”—he is writing a book. If he is writing a book, should he be writing on Whips’ headed paper? He should have been clear about the information that he wanted, and he could have found all of it out for himself if he had just looked on the universities’ websites.

Four years ago, students—the sort of students who are apparently being brainwashed by their universities—who were economics undergraduates at the University of Manchester and others around the world formed the Post-Crash Economics Society. They criticised university courses for doing little to explain why economists had failed to warn people about the global financial crisis, for focusing too heavily on training students for City jobs, and for not teaching alternative economic theories such as those of Keynes and, yes, even Marx. I am afraid that the Leader of the House is on her own. This was not a nice letter, because all those who received it found it menacing and threatening—[Interruption.] That is including the Prime Minister, as she too has distanced herself. We seem to be seeing a return of the nasty party.

Continuing that theme, let me add that nearly three months after the employment tribunal fees policy was struck down by the Supreme Court, the Government have only now revealed plans for refunds, the first phase of which will take place when officials start to write to 1,000 people. That was also hidden in a written statement. Will the Leader of the House tell us when the former Justice Secretary will apologise for acting unlawfully, and when all claimants will receive their refunds, including interest? Will she also explain why the Government are to press ahead with the reform of legal aid fees that are paid in criminal cases, despite the fact that 97% of the submissions to a consultation opposed the plan? People have said that the decision is reckless and could place justice in jeopardy. It might well be open to challenge if it is made against the evidence and no valid reasons are given.

And so to Brexit. The National Farmers Union says that no deal would have severe effects for UK farmers and growers, 71.4% of whose exports go to the EU. This week, UK business leaders wrote to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union asking him to establish, quickly, a Brexit transition deal that—in their ​words—mirrors existing arrangements, because otherwise we are at risk of losing jobs and investment. In her Florence speech, the Prime Minister referred to an implementation period, but if in March 2019 there is no deal, what will the Government be implementing? Yesterday, before 12 pm, the Secretary of State told a Select Committee that there would be a vote on a deal after March 2019. After 12 pm, he said that he expected and intended that there would be a vote before March 2019. If that is the way in which the Government are negotiating, no wonder we are stuck. They must remember that they are negotiating with friends, not enemies. We worked with these people on the common causes of growth strategies, climate change, tax avoidance, and the health and wellbeing and peace and security of our nations.

Finally, we say goodbye to Fats Domino and thank him, wherever he is, for all those wonderful songs. We send congratulations to the new Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. The Leader of the Opposition said at the time of the election, “Do it for us,” and she did.