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Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:37 am on 3rd March 2016.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 10:37 am, 3rd March 2016

There have been two fire alarms in the Palace this week, and on both occasions there was great confusion among Members and members of the public. May I urge the Leader of the House to initiate a review of those arrangements as soon as possible?

Last week I asked whether the Leader of the House plans to delay the Queen’s Speech until after the EU Referendum. He refused to answer, which is of course usual, but we all now know that the Government intend to extend this Session beyond 23 June. We know that not because the Leader of the House has told the House, but because Downing Street has told The Times. I know that, as a Brexiteer, the Leader of the House is not allowed to see Government papers any more, but one would think that the Government would at least allow him to know when the recess dates will be. So come on, just tell us: will the Queen’s Speech be after 23 June, will there be a Whitsun half-term recess, will the House sit during the week of the referendum, and will he give us the dates through to the end of the year? Before he goes all pompous about this—oh no, it is too late for that—I just say to him that Members from across the House, and, for that matter, the staff who work in this building, all want answers to these questions.

The terrible news about the article in The Times is that Downing Street has also said that there is going to be reshuffle after the referendum and that the Leader of the House tops the list of those who are going to be sacked. I, for one, am beginning to feel very, very sorry for him, so I have been searching the job pages for him. Sadly, the only thing that seemed even vaguely suitable was working as an unpaid voluntary intern for Ben Howlett, but unfortunately he says in the job description that he wants somebody who is a “good team player”, so that rules out the Leader of the House. All the other jobs say they want someone with a good sense of humour—need I say more? He need not worry though: I am sure the Prime Minister will give him a glowing reference.

The previous Parliament was the zombie Parliament—for months on end the House had no proper business—and now we have the return of the living dead. They walk among us, they look like Ministers, and they are paid like Ministers, but they are doomed. They hate the Prime Minister; they think he is damaging the economy and putting our security at risk. Frankly, the only thing that is keeping them in the Government is the £23,570.89 in extra salary they will get come 23 June.

How do the Government intend to fill the business between now and then? Here are my suggestions. One: I have married a lot of people in my time—to one another, as a vicar, that is—but it has always seemed wrong to me that marriage certificates include the names of the fathers of the bride and groom but not the mothers. Even the Prime Minister says that he wants to change this, but apparently he has written to one of our Members saying there is not enough time. Well, there is clearly now going to be enough time to do it in this Session. My hon. Friend Christina Rees has a handy private Member’s Bill to be considered tomorrow: why do not the Government adopt it or help it into Committee so that it can be amended?

Two: I am delighted that the Government are no longer going to water down freedom of information, but should we not extend it to private companies engaged on public sector contracts? How much did the Government’s preposterous review cost? The Leader of the House might as well tell us now, because he knows full well that if he does not we are going to put in a freedom of information request and he will have to tell us in the end anyway.

Three: I am glad that Adele did so well at the Brits last week, but tickets to see her live are now selling on the secondary market for up to £24,000. This market pretends to support the arts, but actually it just leeches off them. The Business Department’s review of the ticket resale market closed on 20 November. When is it going to be published, and when will the Government legislate to put an end to this pernicious, parasitical secondary market?

The hon. Members for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and for Salisbury (John Glen) and I have long been calling for a parliamentary inquiry into concussion in sport. This week, more than 70 doctors and health experts have written to the Government calling for a ban on tackling in school rugby games. I do not want youngsters wrapped in cotton wool, but given that it is

12 years since the West Bromwich Albion footballer Jeff Astle died of chronic traumatic encephalopathy brought on by heading the ball, five years since 14-year-old Ben Robinson died of second impact syndrome, and Will Smith’s new film “Concussion” shows how the NFL failed to protect its players and ended up with a legal bill of $1 billion, is it not time that we set up a proper parliamentary inquiry to make sure that we get all the facts out there?

Next week sees the 100th anniversary of Harold Wilson’s birth. He gave women, for the first time, control over their own property and their bodies; he abolished the death penalty; he decriminalised homosexuality; he introduced the first race relations Act; and he won the referendum to stay in Europe. He ended censorship and created the Open University and the Arts Council. For that matter, under him we won the Eurovision song contest—I know the Leader of the House is obsessed with this—three times: three times more than we have ever won it under the Tories. Is it not outrageous that we have a louring statue of Mrs Thatcher, who made my constituents’ lives miserable, but just a bust of Harold Wilson, who made this country a civilised society?