Business Questions 30 November 2017

During Business Questions I raised a constituent who has been penalised in her Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment and called for parity of esteem in PIP assessments; and called for a statement to set how the Government are dealing with errors in the payment of employment and support allowance.

Here is my speech at Business Questions this week:

I thank the Leader of the House for updating the House on the forthcoming business. Can she say when the Report stage and Third Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will come before the House, and will she publish the motion on restoration and renewal before Christmas? I am pleased to say that the subject of the Opposition-day debate will be universal credit.

I also wanted to thank Mr Speaker for granting the debate on Yemen, as one of the two hon. Members who were born in Yemen—the other being my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). We have very happy memories of that country. One of the abiding memories at Christmas time was of Father Christmas arriving on a camel. In providing the debate, Mr Speaker has given the gift of life and hope to those suffering people in Yemen.

I thank the Leader of the House for indicating that the List of Ministers’ Interests will be updated shortly. I am just not clear what the word “shortly” means. Section 7.5 of the ministerial code states that
“a statement covering relevant Ministers’ interests will be published twice yearly.” That was honoured in 2016, but we have seen anything yet.

The Leader of the House mentioned 22 December and mentioned everyone a merry Christmas, but will she ensure, by writing to all the Departments, that there will not be a plethora of statements published on 21 December? It would be difficult to put forward our constituents’ views or to question Ministers then. There was an urgent question on the forensic services. The Minister described it as a serious matter. Indeed it is, but the written statement was published the day before the Budget.

Transparency and accountability are the watchwords of our democracy, so perhaps the Leader of the House will explain why there is no general “amendment to the law” resolution. There have been only five occasions when that has not happened at such a time. In 1929, it happened immediately before a general election. On the other occasions, in 1974, 1997, 2010 and July 2017, it happened immediately after a general election. “Erskine May” points out that:

“On occasions, and in particular when it has been necessary to proceed rapidly with a Finance Bill in anticipation of a dissolution of Parliament, the ‘Amendment of the law’ resolution has been omitted.”

Will the Leader of the House update us on the Government’s thinking on why there is not a chance for the Opposition parties to put forward our alternative case? We have had listening chances before, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) found out when she tabled an amendment to the Finance Bill to ensure that the tampon tax was put through. This is about democracy. The Leader of the House and I have had a debate about how Parliament is being rigged. The Government have rigged Committees so that they have a majority on them, when they do not command one in Parliament.

Turning from treating Parliament with contempt to an actual contempt of the House, I know that people are not out on the streets of Northampton or Walsall chanting, “What do we want? Sectoral analysis. When do we want it? Now!” They have elected us to deal with that, and on behalf of those constituents, we want to see those sectoral analyses. The motion was very clear. It said that the impact assessments and the analyses of those 58 important sectors should be handed to the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union—we are not asking for them to be published—so that the Select Committee can look at them in private session, as Select Committees do all the time. That is what we want. How can the Committee possibly hold an inquiry without the evidence? Parliament is sovereign, as people often like to tell us, and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has to listen to Parliament. Our sovereign Parliament has instructed him to give up those papers.

The Leader of the House has alluded to a number of anniversaries. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) reminded us at Prime Minister’s Question Time that Sunday is disability day. I know that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is making a statement after business questions, and I hope that he will address the Government’s assertion that there is parity of esteem between physical conditions and mental health. A constituent of mine has been penalised in her personal independence payment assessment while her mother is going through cancer treatment. She may not get her PIP because of her mental health condition. Will the Leader of the House please ensure that there is parity of esteem in PIP assessments?

I hope the statement will also set out how the Government are dealing with errors in the payment of employment and support allowance, because 75,000 people have been affected but only 1,000 have been contacted. It is good that the Secretary of State is coming to the House, because the Chancellor’s financial statement—all 8,000 words of it—did not mention the words “disability” or “people with disabilities” once. People with disabilities and their families are set to lose £5,500 a year by 2022 because of existing tax and benefit changes. It was a flatlining Budget from a flatlining Government.

Tomorrow is World AIDS Day. Diana, Princess of Wales, did much to dispel the myths around AIDS and I echo the words of the Leader of the Opposition in congratulating her younger son, Prince Harry, and Meghan Markle on their engagement. It is fitting that they have chosen a visit to Nottingham Contemporary, a gallery that will be hosting a Terrence Higgins Trust World AIDS Day charity fair, as their first public event. We wish them as long and happy a life together as Prince Harry’s grandparents are celebrating, and we congratulate Prince Philip on his new honour as he and the Queen celebrate their 70 years together.

Finally, it is St Andrew’s day—one of the patron saints of our United Kingdom—and we wish everyone called Andrew a very happy day.