Business Questions 7 February 2019

I asked for confirmation that the motion the Government intends to bring back next week on Brexit will be amendable and voteable on, and that the Prime Minister will make a statement if she fails to bring a revised deal back to the House on Wednesday 13 February 2019.

You can read my speech below:

I am not sure who was eating pizza yesterday at 3.29 pm when the House rose, but I thank the Leader of the House for the business—as I keep saying every week, I think I should thank her, but I am not sure, because there is nothing for the week after, apart from Brexit SIs.

On Wednesday, there will be a general debate, so I am going to ask the Leader of the House if we can have an Opposition day; we certainly deserve one and we could have had one yesterday. But I also want to pay tribute because next Wednesday we are all going to pay tribute to Sir David Natzler, Clerk of the House, and thank him for his 43 years of public service. We welcome the news that our Gracious Sovereign has agreed to the appointment of Dr John Benger as the 51st Clerk of the House. I know that Dr Benger’s commitment and that of all the senior Clerks will continue the good work of Sir David in bringing Parliament into the 21st century.

I agree with the Leader of the House: on 29 January, the Prime Minister said: “if we have not brought a revised deal back to this House by Wednesday 13 February, we will make a statement and, again, table an amendable motion for debate the next day.”

The Leader of the House has not quite confirmed this—she could have mentioned it in the business statement. Could she say whether the Prime Minister will be coming back on Wednesday to make a statement? Will this motion be amendable and voteable on?

I am not sure what happens when the Prime Minister is away because they get up to all sorts of Brexit chaos. On zero tariffs, we had the Secretary of State for International Trade saying first that he was going to lay an SI, then he didn’t, then he said he was going to discuss it with the Cabinet, then he decided he wasn’t going to lay the SI, then he suggested it was going to be added to the Trade Bill. This is the Trade Bill that gives powers to Ministers but there is no policy framework set out in that. The Business Secretary said he would not welcome zero tariffs for all industries, so the two Secretaries of State are saying two different things. Can we have clarity? Which Secretary of State is right? The shadow Secretary of State for International Trade said: “the Secretary of State appears not to understand the basic logic of trade” negotiations. “If you have already reduced all your tariffs to zero you have nothing to negotiate with.” Which Secretary of State is right? Could we have a statement from both, or either, on what exactly the Government policy is?

Mr Speaker, I was here earlier and listened to the urgent question you granted on the SI on mobile roaming. I think there is a change in policy because the SI has been laid and the Government impact assessment says that, unless there is a deal, the UK Government cannot unilaterally guarantee surcharge-free roaming for UK consumers travelling to the EU without exposing UK operators to the risk of being obliged to provide roaming services at a loss. So this Government are listening to the mobile phone operators, not to the consumers. I do not recall seeing that on the side of the bus. This is the important bit because there is a slight change of policy. Given that the SI comes into effect the day after exit day, or the day after it is made, can the Leader of the House ensure that the SI is debated on the Floor of the House, and can she guarantee that, if there is no deal, mobile phone operators cannot instigate charges immediately?

It is Time to Talk Day. Everyone should be able to have a conversation about mental health. A YouGov survey for the Prince’s Trust has found that the number of young people in the UK who say they do not believe that life is worth living has doubled in the last decade. In the first analysis of its kind, a study published in the journal Psychiatry Research found that young people were three to four times more likely to have depression at 18 if they had been exposed to dirtier air at the age of 12. For their sakes, we must act on air quality, which even in Walsall South is over the limit. And may I just ask if the Leader of the House could ask the ministerial cars not to keep their engines running—not to idle while they are waiting for Ministers? This is alarming as 75% of mental health problems begin in childhood or adolescence.

On Monday, we celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Both Rosalind Franklin and Jocelyn Bell Burnell made important contributions to science and they were not awarded Nobel prizes, even though they did the work. It is LGBT History Month and those of us who were councillors in 1988 remember section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, under which we could not publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality. That was repealed in 2003. At the same time, members of Sinn Féin had to have their voices dubbed by actors when they were interviewed. We have moved on since then, which is why I agreed with the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, when he said: “The EU itself is first and foremost a peace project”, and guaranteed the peace process and the Good Friday agreement. Over the last 21 years, a generation of young people have lived in peace in Ireland. There is a special place in heaven for those who want to promote peace—blessed are the peacemakers.

I do not know whether you know this, Mr Speaker, but there is a space on the Government Benches for the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes). He is not in his place because he is at the palace, receiving his knighthood. It is a fantastic story because he started life on a council estate in Woolwich and will now become a knight of the realm. We wish him and his family a very happy day.