I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. I am looking forward to attending the sitting of the Youth Parliament next week. May I take this opportunity to remember the sacrifice of our armed forces as we approach Remembrance Sunday? We all wear our poppies with pride.
This morning, the Public Accounts Committee has published a devastating report on the Government’s flagship benefit reform, citing a shocking failure to manage it and predicting that the Department for Work and Pensions will have to write off a substantial part of the £425 million it has already spent. It seems that the blame game for this costly fiasco has already started. This morning we learn of a wholly improper attempt to lean on members of an independent Select Committee of this House by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and his parliamentary team to try to put the blame on the Permanent Secretary. Can we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about these very serious allegations?
While the majority face a cost of living crisis, it has been reported in the Daily Mirror today that the Prime Minister has cut his own household bills by nearly £400 a year while refusing to support our motion yesterday for an energy price freeze for everyone else. That tells us everything about who he is standing up for. Will the Leader of the House now confirm how much less the Prime Minister is paying on his home as a result of the top-rate tax cut?
“bogged down in a morass of competition law”,
following the Government’s botched, £3 billion top-down reorganisation. Given that the Leader of the House had his fingerprints all over that one, does he agree with that analysis?
The Leader of the House must also have felt a sense of déjà vu as he was forced into a humiliating climb-down on the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill in the Lords this week. Perhaps he is trying to patent a new way of doing Bills. First Reading—outcry; Second Reading—lose the argument but stubbornly refuse to listen; go to the Lords—hit the emergency pause button and say that he will do all the things he should have done before he published the Bill in the first place. This is just like what happened on the Health and Social Care Bill. Everyone who will be affected by the lobbying Bill opposes it. Just like on the health Bill, he cannot make the case for his proposals because there is no case for them; and just like on the health Bill, he is disguising his true intentions because he knows he has no public support. Will the Leader of the House tell us how he intends to use the next six weeks to “listen, pause and reflect” on the lobbying Bill, and will he commit now to making the substantial changes that this sinister gagging Bill needs? Better still, why does he not just scrap it and start again?
We all know that the Prime Minister does not seem to like answering questions from the Opposition very much during his Wednesday outings. Yesterday, he told three of my hon. Friends that he did not have the answers to hand. He did not know the total number of people in the country on zero-hours contacts; he did not know how many of his so-called new private sector jobs involved zero-hours contracts; and he decided that the appropriate way to respond to a question about the rights of pregnant women not to be sacked was to have a cheap shot at trade union general secretaries. Is it not time we renamed Prime Minister’s questions “I’m sorry I haven’t a clue”?
This week, the Government were forced by the courts to keep the independent living fund up and running, and they lost yet another vote in the other place on the Energy Bill, despite stuffing the Chamber with their friends. They have also now lost two terror suspects: one escaped in a black cab, the other dressed as a woman. And on Monday, the Communities Secretary welcomed a report that called for sheep and cows to replace council lawnmowers. I know that I call this Government Orwellian, but I was not suggesting a production of “Animal Farm”.
Last week, we discovered that there had been a 50% rise in the number of special advisers, despite the coalition agreement promising to cut them. We also discovered that the Deputy Prime Minister had 19 special advisers, costing over £1 million a year. This week, despite the uproar, the Deputy Prime Minister decided that the best thing to do was to hire another one, to do his PR. We have had the famous five, and we have had the magnificent seven. Even the Messiah only had 12! What on earth does the Deputy Prime Minister need 20 for? Does the Leader of the House agree that the Deputy Prime Minister is not the Messiah—he’s a very naughty boy?