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Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:38 am on 6th December 2018.

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Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 10:38 am, 6th December 2018

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. I note that there is only one week to go and we do not have the business for the final week. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the House will definitely rise on 20 December and return on 7 January? She will know that there are discussions, not quite about Christmas being cancelled, but about the day that the House rises.

I have raised this issue previously and my hon. Friend Thangam Debbonaire has asked very nicely a number of times: when will the immigration White Paper be published?

It has been a momentous week, not least for you, Mr Speaker, because you were in the Chair for 14 hours on Tuesday. I suppose some could argue that it kept you out of mischief. I wish to comment on the proceedings because we need to separate them out from the debate on the deal. The Solicitor General said on television that this was a “complete diversion” and a

“concocted parliamentary parlour game that should be stopped”.

The Attorney General said that it was time we all

“grew up and got real.”—[Official Report, 3 December 2018;
Vol. 650, c. 563.]

The Leader of the House’s comment on the radio that we would “live to regret” the vote was slightly threatening and she described the vote as “incredibly disappointing”. It was not disappointing; it was an inevitable consequence of the process and the Government’s failure to comply. It is quite surprising, because the Law Officers would expect everybody to comply with a court order. There was an order from this House and the Government failed to comply. The Government should have known better. The process is set down in the procedure and all Opposition parties were united. It was the will of the House to ask for the advice, which we have finally got, but the Government initially refused to give it. They could have given it, but regrettably chose to test the procedures of Parliament, and those procedures were then engaged. This shambolic Government will go down in history as the first Government to be held in contempt of Parliament. All that was within their control. Will the Leader of the House now accept that it was the Government’s own stubbornness that put them in that position?

On Monday, the Attorney General undertook to send you a letter, Mr Speaker. He said that he would be writing to you that evening. My hon. Friend Jim McMahon then asked whether we could all have a copy. Will the Leader of the House say what was in that letter and whether it has been published? [Interruption.] The Leader of the House should check Hansard, because he did say that he was going to write to Mr Speaker.

Will the Leader of the House correct the record? Last week, she said that there was an economic assessment of the draft agreement, but in fact the cross-departmental Treasury analysis was based on the Chequers plan, not the agreement. While we are at it, I am working my way through the agreement and I wonder whether the Leader of the House could take away the idea that its formatting might be done differently. If Members look at page 132, they will see that it is blank, apart from the title. There are lots of white spaces on the pages, so perhaps it would be a smaller and easier-to-read agreement if all the space were taken up. Do have a look at it.

I have now reached the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, so it is helpful that the legal advice has been released and can be read in conjunction with it. It is right that Members should have all the information before them if we are to make this momentous decision.

The Leader of the House will know that we are apparently paying £39 billion to the EU, but I should point out that, according to article 53, on access to relevant networks, information systems and databases, the UK will have to reimburse the Union for facilitating that access. That requirement goes through the agreement in a number of places, so is the Leader of the House expecting the Chancellor to make a supplementary financial statement? If so, when?

Will the Leader of the House confirm that she is actually asking Members to back the deal? I say that because Labour Whips have tweeted that she did not actually ask Members to back the deal; she asked them to “focus” on the deal. Could she definitively say that she also backs the Prime Minister’s deal?

It is chaos. It seems the Treasury is in chaos. This is a comment that was made: “I embrace chaos. I’m a thrill seeker”. That was not the Gilet Jaunes; it was the Chief Secretary to the Treasury who was overheard saying that. It might be chaos and thrill seeking that has caused the Treasury not to provide the local government settlement for 2019-20. It has been cancelled. It was due to be announced today. Will the Leader of the House say when the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will make an oral statement to the House?

We are also missing the NHS 10-year plan and I am not sure what is happening about the police settlement either. Almost 80 leaders of Labour councils have written to the Secretary of State asking that any funding cuts—the figure of £1.3 billion has been mentioned—be cancelled at an absolute minimum and saying that to press on blindly with further cuts at a time when local government is on the brink of collapse would be hugely irresponsible—a bit like the Government not complying with the order to provide the legal advice. Or is it only the few in Northamptonshire who get a bail-out without an oral statement?

There is more chaos and thrill, but now in the Department for Education. As the shadow Secretary of State said—at the time, there was not a higher education Minister in place, but there is now—the student loan book, which was worth £3.5 billion, has been sold for £1.7 billion in upfront cash. The Office for Budget Responsibility said that this does not strengthen public finances. Can we have an urgent statement on the student loan book sell-off?

I want to pay tribute to Toby Jessel, who sadly died on Tuesday. He was my first MP. My hon. Friend Paul Flynn tells a funny story about how Toby Jessel was wearing this bright green and red tie one day. While he was speaking to the House, they found something sticking out of his trousers, which led the TV commentator to say it was his tie. I was a Labour candidate in Twickenham in 1987, and both Toby and his wife Eira Heath were wonderful and kind to me. It was my first outing. He was irrepressible and a gifted pianist.

Monday is Human Rights Day. The Attorney General said on Monday that the European convention on human rights is protected by the Belfast agreement, so there is no divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. I am sure that the ECHR is also embedded in our laws in perpetuity. I look forward to celebrating Hanukkah in Speaker’s House later, and I wish you and Sally a very happy anniversary tomorrow, Mr Speaker.