Business Questions 28 March 2019

The Government is still yet to appoint a new Minister for Disabled People. There has been a high turnover of Ministers – seven since 2010. 13.9 million disabled people in the UK need a Minister who will champion their needs.

You can read my speech in full below:

I thank the Leader of the House for the statement, which we received only about two minutes before I came to the Chamber. I am not sure how much discussion there was with the usual channels; certainly, the business managers have not seen the content of the motion. I would like further clarity on behalf of the whole House on whether this is in fact meaningful vote 3. I understand what the Leader of the House said about complying with the Speaker’s ruling—I do not know whether you, Mr Speaker, have had any discussions about the motion or whether this is in fact meaningful vote 3. I understand that the Government have to comply with what the EU has said, but we need more clarity on what exactly this motion is about and whether it is the meaningful vote, the agreement or the full package.

Again, I do not think this is the way to conduct business in the House on such an important matter. The Leader of the House has given the times, but only just, and there are people who have to make adjustments—I am talking not about Members but about the staff of this House, such as the doorkeepers, and all the civil servants.

I want to say thank you. There was a new process yesterday, and staff—the Clerks and all the staff of the House—rose to the occasion. It went very smoothly; we voted in the correct Lobbies, and we voted on the green sheets, which made a nice change from the pink sheets. I thank staff for working late to get the result to us on time, and we waited patiently for that. Yesterday was interesting: it was not just about process—to me, it was a confluence of process and principle. We know that the House can do that, and we know that it can be a modernising place.

Yesterday, the Leader of the House will have heard Opposition calls for an Opposition day. When will the next Opposition day be? This is a two-year Session.

I am not sure whether the Leader of the House was in the House yesterday when my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) made a point of order about the Minister for Disabled People. I do not think one has been appointed. The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), stepped up today for the urgent question, but I do not think he is the Minister for Disabled People. There are 13.9 million disabled people who need a Minister who will champion their needs. I do not know whether the Leader of the House is aware that we have had seven since 2010.

There are also a number of other vacancies. The right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) and the hon. Members for Winchester (Steve Brine) and for Watford (Richard Harrington) have all resigned their positions. Those were key roles, dealing with the middle east and north Africa, public health and primary care, and business and industry. A number of Parliamentary Private Secretaries have also resigned. It is about time that we had an updated list of ministerial responsibilities. I wonder whether the Leader of the House could provide one.

The Leader of the House will be aware of the survey carried out by Sir John Curtice for the independent agency NatCen Social Research. He was one of the few people who correctly called the result of the election. He found that 85% of those who voted remain and 80% of those who voted leave in 2016 think the Government have handled Brexit badly. Among our voters, just 7% believe that the Government have handled Brexit well. The Government keep saying to us, “This is the mandate from the people,” but all hon. Members know that the Government have had no problem U-turning on their manifesto commitments. I will give two examples: the means test on winter fuel payments and, just four days after the manifesto was published, the U-turn on the so-called dementia tax.

Yesterday, during Prime Minister’s question time the Prime Minister said: “We have a deal that cancels our EU membership fee”.

That is not strictly correct, because the withdrawal agreement is littered with references to how we will have to pay into the EU to secure benefits. For example, page 51 of the March 2019 agreement mentions communications infrastructure.

Earlier this month the European Parliament voted to guarantee funding for UK students who are already on the Erasmus+ programme, and in the event of a no-deal Brexit it promised to continue supporting European students who are on that scheme in the UK. There are 17,000 students in the UK who planned to study in Europe under Erasmus+, and they still face uncertainty about whether they can do that in September. Where is the Government’s commitment to our future, and to those students who want to work in the EU? May we have a statement from the Secretary of State about whether funding for those students will be guaranteed?

I have heard nothing in any statement about revelations in The Guardian that the Government have spent £12 million on a penthouse for the trade envoy. May we have a statement on whether that public money has been properly spent? Will we spend that sort of money in all countries where we have a trade envoy? When will the Government respond to the report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, chaired by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), which concluded that more than 3 million Europeans living in Britain could be left in legal limbo after Brexit? The Committee proposed amendments to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill. May we have a statement from the Government about whether those people will be protected, and a timetable for the progress of key legislation that needs to pass through Parliament before exit day?

Monday 25 March was International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and it is vital that we remember that history and treat everyone equally. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) said yesterday during Prime Minister’s questions that 15 Conservative councillors who had been suspended for posting racist or Islamophobic content online have been let back into the Conservative party. Some of those members referred to people as “cavemen” and to Saudis as “sand peasants”, and they compared Asian people to dogs. A man puts on an England shirt, scores a goal, and is racially abused: we stand with Raheem Sterling.