Business Questions 7 December 2017

During Business Questions I called for an Urgent Debate on the state of poverty in the UK. Figures from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s “UK Poverty 2017” report state that nearly one in three disabled people are living in poverty, while 30% of children and 16% of pensioners live in relative poverty; that figure has risen by 3% in recent years.”

Here is my speech at Business Questions this week:

I thank the Leader of the House for updating us on the business for the next few weeks. It is more or less settled, subject, I suppose, to a few phone calls. Obviously, we were expecting a statement from the Prime Minister earlier this week.

We know the business for 11 January: the debate on restoration and renewal has been fixed. Can the Leader of the House update us on the rest of the business for that week? On the subject of R&R, does she agree that, given the recent legal action by Unite and the GMB, and given that more than £10 million was paid out last year to more than 250 working people who had been denied a job because their names had appeared on a blacklist, we should look carefully at any future bids for contracts to ensure that that illegal activity—which has ruined lives—does not take place again? Is the Leader of the House in a position to publish the motion on R&R before Christmas, so that Members can have a chance to amend it?

May I ask the Leader of the House to correct the record? The Chancellor—I notified him that I would raise this matter today—said in his Budget statement:

“We have heard a lot of talk recently from the Opposition about what they would do to crack down on tax avoidance…but the truth is that they did not.” —[Official Report, 22 November 2017; Vol. 631, c. 1054-5.]

He said that he was doing the job that Labour Governments had failed to do. That is totally incorrect. When I asked the House of Commons Library what Labour Governments had done, it supplied a list of the measures in 14 Budgets that Labour had implemented to protect our tax revenues. I will write to the Chancellor and the Leader of the House on the matter. I place that on the record. I will place it on my website as well. It is important to say that tax measures to protect our revenues were introduced. That is important because the deficit is the difference between what the Government spend and what they receive. If they are reducing the tax base and cutting jobs at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, it is hard to know where they will find the money, and that is why there have been cuts in public services and people are living in poverty.

Even as we acknowledge the 75th anniversary of the publication of the Beveridge report, the board of the Government’s Social Mobility Commission resigns en masse, including a highly respected Conservative former Secretary of State for Education, who is now in the other place. The board has said that

“the government seems unable to devote the necessary energy and focus to the social mobility agenda”.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s “UK Poverty 2017” report, published a few days later, nearly one in three disabled people are living in poverty, while 30% of children and 16% of pensioners live in relative poverty; that figure has risen by 3% in recent years. When will we have an urgent debate on the state of poverty in the UK, and when will there be new appointments to the board of the Social Mobility Commission?

Let me now turn to the invisible papers, as I call them. I have a few questions: who, what, where and why. We know who, because the motion was very clear: the Secretary of State had to give the papers to the Exiting the European Union Committee. What is in the papers? In October 2016, they were called assessments; in December 2016, they were sets of analyses. As for the “where”, it is highly bizarre. Members must make an appointment, and must arrive five minutes early. They will then be escorted by a Government official to a room where they can look at the papers. They cannot take mobile phones into the room; they must take notebooks. Presumably they will be given a stubby pencil, or perhaps a pen containing invisible ink. As I say, that is bizarre. We are elected representatives, and we are entitled to see the papers.

Then there is the “why”. If there is nothing in the papers, why are the Government so secretive? But there is a bigger “why”: why have the Government not conducted the impact assessments, given that Brexit is affecting 88% of our economy?

I join the Leader of the House in celebrating gay marriage in Australia, but, more importantly, Sunday is human rights day, and Amnesty International asks us to remember our actions that freed Albert Woodfox, who was held in the USA for over 43 years in solitary confinement, Phyoe Phyoe Aung in Burma, and Yecenia Armenta Graciano, who was detained and tortured in Mexico. They all said on their release that that was a result of the role played by Amnesty International.

You, Mr Speaker, yesterday launched in Speaker’s House Write for Rights with my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), chair of the all-party group on human rights. Amnesty International wants us to write for its Turkey director İdil Eser and chair Taner Kılıç and nine other Turkish human rights defenders.

I know the whole House will join me in thanking the Burgundy town of Avallon, which named one of its streets Rue Jo Cox, and there is a sign that reads “British MP. Killed for her convictions”. We condemn those who support her killer and his group, we stand with those who oppose them and, of course, we salute the silence breakers.

Finally, Mr Speaker, may I congratulate you and Sally on your wedding anniversary?