Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:36 am on 8th May 2014.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 10:36 am, 8th May 2014

I thank the Leader of the House for what looks to be the last business statement before the end of this Session. Will he confirm that the House now looks likely to prorogue more than a week before the recess date that he originally announced?

The horrific kidnap of nearly 300 schoolgirls by a terrorist group in Nigeria has rightly been condemned by leaders across the international community. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement from the Foreign Secretary so that he can tell us what support the UK Government are offering to help locate and rescue these young women?

On Tuesday, the Business Secretary told the House that he will not “rule out intervention” on Pfizer’s attempted takeover of AstraZeneca, which may threaten UK jobs in the strategically important pharmaceutical sector, but the Prime Minister seems to be a cheerleader for it. At Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, he failed to tell the House whether he would work with the Opposition to deliver a public interest test. That would need only secondary legislation, so perhaps the Leader of the House could tell us now: will the Government work with us to introduce such a test quickly so that the UK can safeguard its strategic interests in this sector, which is so crucial both to our research and development and our science base? Will he arrange for the Business Secretary to come to the House so that he can tell us exactly what the Government’s position now is on this crucial issue?

Coalition chaos on AstraZeneca is just the tip of the iceberg according to a report published yesterday by the Institute for Government. It warns that the Government are in danger of seizing up altogether as the election approaches. Some of us think that they already have. There are now credible complaints that civil service impartiality is being compromised by the partisan and inappropriate demands for policy advice from warring coalition parties. To provide reassurance and transparency, will the Leader of the House tell us whether he supports the Institute for Government’s sensible calls for the publication of civil service engagement rules for this final year so that we can have both clarity and oversight of the Government’s behaviour? Does he also agree with the institute that:

“The access that the two coalition parties will have to the civil service in the pre-election period strengthens the case for offering more extensive civil service support to the Opposition”?

The Government’s habit of believing that policy delivery ends with sending out the press release just gets worse. In November 2011, the Department for Work and Pensions said:

“Over one million people will be claiming Universal Credit by April 2014”.

But when April 2014 arrived, fewer than 4,000 people were on a pale imitation of the proposed regime.

In July 2007, the current Leader of the House said in a press release that there would be no top-down reorganisations of the NHS, but four years into this Government, what do we have? We have a disastrous and expensive top-down reorganisation of the NHS. This week, we have learned that the much trumpeted NHS better care fund has been delayed, after a Whitehall review declared that it would not work, would not help balance the budget and would not bring about the promised revolution in patient care. Is not the truth that the better care fund was a knee-jerk reaction to Labour’s policy on the integration of health and social care, and that the Government’s own legislation is standing in the way of proper integration? Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement from the Health Secretary so that he can urgently clarify the status of the better care fund?

There are now just two weeks to go until the local and European elections. The Conservative party has frantically been trying to paint the Leader of the Opposition as a mixture of Karl Marx and Hugo Chávez, the UK Independence party has been hiring eastern Europeans to deliver its anti-immigration leaflets, and the Deputy Prime Minister appears to have resorted to backing a report that calls for the legalisation of cannabis. I suppose mind-altering drugs are the only thing that might persuade people to vote for him. At his campaign launch on Monday, he was reduced to pleading with his activists to shout from the rooftops about Liberal Democrat achievements. I think they might be safer on the roof than they would be on the doorstep.

What about those Liberal Democrat achievements? The Deputy Prime Minister promised to scrap tuition fees, but he trebled them. He promised he would not raise VAT, but he raised it. He promised fair taxes, but he gave tax breaks to millionaires while everyone else pays more. This week, scientists have discovered a new dinosaur with a very long nose, and they have named it Pinocchio rex. I think maybe they should just have called it Nick.