Business Questions 6 September 2018

At the first Business Questions after the Summer Recess, I raised with the Leader of the House the chaos of the roll-out of universal credit. A Resolution Foundation report published this week states that low-paid working families will be affected. I asked the Leader if she can say that the Department for Work and Pensions is in a state of preparedness for the roll-out so that people do not suffer?

You can read my speech in full below: 

I thank the Leader of the House for outlining the business for next week, but it is somewhat surprising that it is so light. In the week commencing 8 October we have business only for Monday and Tuesday, so will the Leader of the House confirm whether Wednesday and Thursday have been cancelled? I do not know whether she heard the Solicitor General on “Westminster Hour” on 5 August, when he said that there was a fair amount of information to get through and that we would have to look at recesses. Now, the hon. and learned Gentleman is a very capable, able and assiduous Minister. Will the Leader of the House indicate whether the Government are considering cancelling recesses and, if so, which ones, because we do need to plan? As one newspaper put it, in a pithy headline, “Christmas is cancelled”.

I agree with the Leader of the House about the debate on proxy voting, which has been scheduled for next Thursday, but does she know about new research, published by the shadow Secretary of State for Health, revealing that nearly half of England’s maternity units were closed to new mothers at some point in 2017, up on previous years? The most commonly reported reasons for closures were capacity and staffing issues. The latest estimate from the Royal College of Midwives is that NHS England has a shortage of 3,500 midwives. May we have a debate on that?

The Leader of the House has said several times that she will be able to provide extra sitting days for private Members’ Bills. Will she announce the next sitting days?

The Boundary Commission has sent its report to the Minister for the Cabinet Office. The Government should have laid it immediately—we all got the email yesterday. In the interests of transparency, will the Leader of the House say when it will be published and when we can have a debate on it?

The Leader of the House has been admonishing lots of people, among them Michel Barnier, warning that “the European Commission needs to take it very…seriously. They need to stop all of this rhetoric around ‘we don’t like it, we don’t approve it’”, but that is what some Conservative Members have been saying. They all turned up to the Prime Minister’s house party, but little does the poor beleaguered Prime Minister know they are now playing a different game, and it is called Chuck Chequers. Or are they playing Chaos? The Secretary of State for International Trade said last Sunday that he did not believe the Chancellor’s prediction of the effect on the economy of no deal. There is no solution to the Irish border, but an hon. Member weighs in and says his solution is that people should be inspected just as they were in the troubles. That is deeply disturbing. The people of Ireland chose peace, not to be divided. Or what about the former Minister advising people to invest in gold to shield them from a no deal Brexit at the same time as advocating one? Some people cannot even buy school uniforms, let alone invest in gold.

I do not know whether the Leader of the House has seen the poll of 44 Tory marginals, according to which three quarters of people are dissatisfied with Ministers’ handling of Brexit. It is not just Tory marginal that are dissatisfied; it is the whole country. It is chaos. We are now told that the Budget might be at a different time. Will she confirm whether the Budget will be in October or whether, as some Treasury sources have indicated, it will be in December? Have there been discussions about a change in date? Will it in fact be an autumn/winter Budget?

There is more chaos with the roll-out of universal credit. I do not know whether the Leader of the House has seen the Resolution Foundation report published this week, but low-paid working families will be affected. Can she say whether the Department for Work and Pensions is in a state of preparedness for roll-out so that people do not suffer?

No sooner were our backs turned than the Members’ Centre was renamed the “Customer Services Hub”. Members are not customers. We are trying to do our work. We are sometimes chucked out of Committee Rooms because there are not enough rooms for Select Committees. The centre offered privacy, but now we cannot have it. Will the Leader of the House please look into that?

Will the Leader of the House and other hon. Members join me and my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), who chairs the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art, in opposing the relocation of the Emmeline Pankhurst memorial from Victoria Tower gardens to Regent’s park? The planning application has been made to Westminster Council, and all Members should object. It is right that the memorial overlooks Parliament. This in the week when Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who was overlooked in the Nobel citation despite also being part of the discovery of pulsars, is donating money to encourage women in physics to overcome unconscious bias. We may have come a long way, but, to paraphrase Robert Frost, there are many miles to go before we sleep.