Business Questions 8 February 2018

At Business Questions on 8 February 2018, 2 days after the centenary of women getting the vote, I said that the test of a Government’s commitment is ‘deeds, not words’. I asked the Leader of the House to explain why former military wives and WASPI women are losing out on their pension credits, called for equal pay for equal work, and raised the House of Commons research which found that 86% of austerity falls on women.

Here is my speech in full:

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business and ask again about the date that we will rise in July. Obviously, people need to plan their lives.

I know that the Government are focused on Brexit, but will the Leader of the House explain the European Research Group? Does she know whether it will be publishing any sectoral analysis or impact assessments, or is it another secret society operating around the House that only a few people can join? The Government should publish the list of ministerial responsibilities. Maybe then they will know what they are doing in sending junior Ministers out to debates and to answer urgent questions, instead of Secretaries of State. Also, when will the Data Protection Bill be debated in this place?

If this is not ideological, I do not know what is: the Secretary of State was warned at the time, so why was the east coast railway line, which returned £1 billion to the Treasury and had a 91% satisfaction rating, privatised in the first place? So far, the cost of forfeiting that contract is £2.2 billion, and the shadow Secretary of State for Transport has said that another £380 million would be added to the bail-out. Rightly, the National Audit Office has launched an investigation. Will the Leader of the House please write to me to say what the costs associated with this debacle are so far, and will she say whether the Secretary of State made that decision against advice?

An inquiry is ongoing into the east coast railway, and now an inspector has been sent into Northamptonshire County Council. Surrey, which benefited from a midnight visit by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to No. 11 Downing Street, is also in difficulties. The leader of Northamptonshire County Council said that she had been warning since 2013-14 that the council “couldn’t cope with the levels of cuts” it was facing. An inspector is being sent in to do what? The council leader has explained that the cuts are the cause and the fact of the inspection also stifles any further discussion. As the Minister said, it “would be inappropriate for the Government to comment while the inspection is under way”. So, will the Leader of the House write to me, letting us know how long the inspection will take before the inspector reports, and what the inspector’s terms of reference are?

Is the Leader of the House aware of any statement by the Government on the misuse of statistics? Sir David Norgrove, Chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, said the Prime Minister was misusing the statistics on waiting times by comparing different things. In England, she uses time from decision to admit to time of admission to another part of the health service. In Wales, she quotes the entire time patients wait from arrival, including decision to admit, to actual admission. When will that be corrected? The Government’s statement said that they accept the UKSA assessment, but their assessment of this target still stands. That is bizarre. When will the correction be published, in response to Sir David’s comments?

Let us acknowledge that the oldest language in Europe was celebrated this week in the Welsh Grand Committee. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] However, more delay by the Government: the Women and Equalities Committee report, “Building for Equality: Disability and the Built Environment”, was published in April 2017, but there has been no Government response. In a written answer, the Minister for Employment referred back to an earlier answer. That earlier answer says “shortly”—but that was on 9 November. This issue affects blind people. When will the Government respond, and when will they take people with disabilities seriously?

I join the Leader of the House in celebrating the fact that women got the vote. They said, “Deeds, not words”—the cry celebrating women over a certain age and with property getting the vote. The test of a Government’s commitment is deeds, not words. So, will the Leader of the House explain why former military wives are losing out on their pension credits because they reached pension age before the rules changed? Deeds, not words, on WASPI women. Deeds, not words, on the House of Commons research that found that 86% of austerity falls on women. Cuts have cost women £79 billion compared with £13 billion for men. Deeds, not words, on equal pay for equal work. The Leader of the Opposition has done his deeds, because our shadow Cabinet is 50% made up of women. That cannot be said of the Cabinet.

We could not take part in the photo in Central Lobby because the members of the shadow Cabinet were at the Museum of London, and I would encourage everyone to visit the suffragettes exhibition there. A loaf of bread had been preserved since the day when one of the suffragettes came out of prison and held it aloft to prove that she had been on hunger strike. It is an amazing thing to see. The deeds of the suffragettes allow our words to resound, as we strive for equality.