Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:07 am on 22nd October 2015.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 11:07 am, 22nd October 2015

I, too, pay tribute to Michael Meacher. To be honest, few Members can have had such an impact as he had in his years as Environment Minister. He was an indefatigable stalwart who battled away in the intellectual trenches of politics for nearly five decades in this place. In his last speech in this House, he delivered an absolutely excoriating attack on the Government’s economic policy, and he ended with the words:

“So much for the Government’s…‘long-term plan.’”—[Hansard, 4 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 819.]

Our thoughts warmly go out to his family and to all those who knew him well.

May we have a debate about how we celebrate anniversaries in this House? Yesterday, we completely ignored Trafalgar day, despite it being the 210th anniversary of one of the United Kingdom’s greatest naval triumphs.

This Sunday, St Crispin’s day, will see the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt at which several hon. Members of this House fought, though not, contrary to rumour, Mr Rees-Mogg. The Speaker, Thomas Chaucer, brought along 12 men at arms and 37 archers. I think that you, Mr Speaker, might feel that you need them for your press conferences. Next year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

It was an immense pleasure this week to see the band of the Brigade of Gurkhas beat the retreat in the Speaker’s Court in proper recognition of their 200 years of valour and 13 Victoria Crosses that they have won, but should we not in Parliament do better at recognising these important national milestones?

Talking of beating the retreat, when will the Government beat the retreat on the cuts to tax credits? I can offer them two opportunities coming up very soon. There will be a vote in this House on Tuesday and another on Thursday. Before the Leader of the House gives us a whole load of tripe about financial privilege in the Lords, may I remind him that this is all his fault—his personal fault? The Government could perfectly easily have introduced these cuts in a Bill. That would have been a money Bill, which you, Mr Speaker, would have certificated as a money Bill and which we would have been able to look at line by line, but the Lords would not have been able to look at it because it was a money Bill. But oh no, the Leader of the House is too clever by half. He decided that a statutory instrument was best, so there would be just one-and-a-half hour’s debate on it and no amendments allowed. Unfortunately, the only downside—oh dear!—is that it has to go to the Lords. So he has been hoist on his own petard. In the end, every single one of us here knows that some way or other the Government will beat the retreat. Tory Back Benchers want him to retreat, and even TheSpectator today says that they have lost sight of the human factor, so retreat the Government will. Will the Leader of the House just tell us when it will happen? I promise that we will not crow.

I warmly congratulate Mr Alex Newton on being appointed the new editor of Hansard and pay tribute to the retiring editor, Lorraine Sutherland, who had to cope with John Prescott’s contributions in this House. Members will know that Hansard is not exactly a verbatim record—thank goodness. It corrects repetitions and mistakes, so may I suggest that Hansard starts by re-examining the Prime Minister’s remarks yesterday. He said that he was “delighted” to be bringing in the tax credit cuts. Delighted! He cannot possibly have meant that. There must surely be a heart in this man.

On steel, the Prime Minister said:

“We will do everything we can to help”.—[Hansard, 20 October 2015; Vol. 600, c. 956.]

What he actually meant to say was, “We will do absolutely nothing to help.” He also said yesterday that the Government intend to relax the Sunday trading laws. When will that be debated and when will it be tabled? What Bill will it be in? I ask that simply because many of us on the Labour Benches, and I suspect on the Government Benches too, want to keep Sunday special.

I thank the Leader of the House for granting extra time for psychoactive substances this week—sorry, I mean the Psychoactive Substances Bill. I noticed last week that the Leader of the House did not answer a single question that I asked, so I warn him to take notes today, as, from now on, I will be writing to him after each session for answers to any questions that remain unanswered.

On 25 November, we shall have the autumn statement together with the comprehensive spending review. It is surely incumbent on us to scrutinise public spending diligently, including public spending cuts. Will the Leader of the House set aside three full days for a proper debate about the implications of the Government’s cuts? Of course the deficit must come down. We have to live within our means, but we will oppose any measures that are unfair, counterproductive or false economies.

You will know, Mr Speaker, that the Public Accounts Committee published a special report this week on the conduct of the Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People when he was a member of that Committee in the last Parliament and leaked a draft report to Wonga. The matter stands committed to the Privileges Committee for a decision on whether it is gross contempt of the House—or at least it would if the Government had set up the Privileges Committee. Will the Leader of the House tell us why it has not yet been set up? Is it because the Prime Minister knew perfectly well that the issue was coming along the track? When the noble Lord Touhig was found to have asked for a draft copy of a Select Committee report some years ago, he immediately resigned as a Parliamentary Private Secretary pending the decision of the then Standards and Privileges Committee, which later suspended him from the House. Will the Leader of the House explain why the Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People has not done the same?

With the opening of the new Bond movie next week, will Ministers celebrate the British film industry by auditioning for the next film? I can just see the Health Secretary, who will doubtless be playing Dr No. The Home Secretary will make a cameo appearance in her steel-tipped kitten heels as Rosa Klebb, and I can just imagine the Culture Secretary jumping across roofs in a fine exhibition of parkour on Her Majesty’s secret service. The Chancellor would look very fetching as Miss Moneypenny, and I gather that he is quite a cunning linguist—that is from “Tomorrow Never Dies”, Mr Speaker—and the Mayor of London’s career is surely proof positive that you only live twice. As for the villain running an evil media empire, intent on world domination—well, Members can pick their own. I note from the press that the spectre of dismissal is hanging over the Leader of the House, but perhaps he can take a quantum of solace in the fact that it would be the Work and Pensions Secretary who would get the part of the smooth-pated Oddjob, who comes to a grisly electrocuted end.