Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:35 am on 17th September 2015.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 10:35 am, 17th September 2015

As you mentioned earlier, Mr Speaker, our Order Paper today pays tribute to four Members of the House who lost their lives in the service of their country a century ago. It is a sad fact that the first of them, Captain Harold Cawley, was not the only Cawley son to be killed—all three brothers died, two of them as Members of this House. Their shields stand here as a permanent reminder of the personal tragedy of war. I often think that we are not really worthy.

I thank the Leader of the House for his response. I pay enormously warm tribute to my irrepressible predecessor, my hon. Friend Ms Eagle. I think she will be a very difficult act to follow.

I gather it has been rumoured that I turned down the job of shadow Defence Secretary because I wanted this country to invade Russia. I can assure the House that I have absolutely no intention, either in that job or this job, of invading Russia. In fact, the way things are going I do not suppose we would be able to invade Alderney.

Besides, I could not honestly think of a better job than this one, up against Chris Grayling. I confess that I have been wondering how exactly I should deal with him. Some have suggested that I should be quite aggressive and angry—and that is just his Back Benchers. I have decided instead to smother him with my love. I might even take him on a bonding session in a B and B, though obviously it would have to be one that accepts same-sex couples, and I am not sure he would like that very much. Let us see if all of us, together, can warm the cockles of his heart and even raise a little smile—it is just peeking out there now, I see.

Last Friday we had a very moving debate on the Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill. Eighty-seven Members put in to speak—the highest number ever. On Monday we had the Trade Union Bill, on which 67 Members wanted to speak, and on Tuesday we had the statutory instrument implementing the single largest cash change announced in the Budget. In each of these debates, dozens of Members were unable to speak because of the lack of time. In the case of the statutory instrument, the measure will lead to millions of families losing over £1,000 a year as a result of cuts to tax credits and gaining £200 a year, at most, from the so-called national living wage. Yet the Leader of the House allowed a mere 90 minutes for that measure when he could have provided for a full day’s debate before we took the statutory instrument itself.

I think the right hon. Gentleman is a decent man—[Interruption.] Yes, I do, honestly. I know he was a member of the SDP, but then I was very briefly a Tory in my exceedingly misspent youth, so I believe there is much rejoicing in heaven when a single sinner repenteth.

In all seriousness, I ask the Leader of the House, given the circumstances, to make provision for fuller debates so that Back Benchers can have a real crack of the whip. He has announced today a single day for the Second Reading debate on the Immigration Bill, but we have no idea what is in it and I am not sure whether it has even been published yet. Maybe it was published an hour ago, but it has certainly not been possible for anybody to scrutinise it yet. We know one thing for certain: this is the most contested subject in British politics today. Our constituents would expect many Members to take part in that debate, not just a smattering. Would it not be far better to have a two-day Second Reading debate on that Bill? If the right hon. Gentleman were to provide that, he would be the darling of the House.

As the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made clear on Tuesday, matters in Northern Ireland are at an extremely critical stage. Let me make one thing absolutely clear, as my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker, the shadow Secretary of State, made clear earlier this week: we stand four-square behind the principle of consent and a bipartisan approach to the peace process in Northern Ireland. We will do everything we can to help the Government ensure that the peace process remains on track. We are about to enter a three-week recess, though, so how will the Government ensure that all parties are kept abreast of developments? If necessary, will the Leader of the House, with your consent, Mr Speaker, recall the House?

The Leader of the House has said that he will bring his new proposals on English-only votes to the House before the end of October, but the House of Lords has now called for a Joint Committee to consider the implications of what we consider, and it clearly considers, to be half-baked plans to add four more stages to every Bill as it goes through this House. Can the Leader of the House recall any occasion when such a request from their lordships has ever been refused? Will he set up the Joint Committee as a matter of urgency and before we debate the matter in this House?

As you know, Mr Speaker, we have PQs, PMQs and WMSs, but I wonder whether the Leader of the House will allow us to set up MPAs—ministerial parliamentary apologies. Obviously, we would have to start with the Prime Minister, who could apologise to all the people of

Yorkshire. The Leader of the House would obviously have to apologise to the people of Moss Side, about whom he was very rude a few years ago, and the Minister without Portfolio, the Mayor of London, would have to put in a daily—possibly an hourly—appearance.

The Prime Minister could also apologise for breaking his promise to the British people. In April he said he would not cut child tax credits. He said it on television programmes time and again, but this week he forced his Members to go through the Division Lobby to do precisely that. That is the kind of chicanery that undermines trust in politics. Surely the least the Prime Minister can do is to come to this House to apologise.

I hope that, between us, the Leader of the House and I, and all of us together, can help restore the Commons as a place of serious intellectual inquiry, with tough but fair scrutiny, proper respect for political difference and genuine open-minded debate. And maybe the Leader of the House will smile.