Business of the House

Part of Deaths of Homeless People – in the House of Commons at 11:43 am on 20th December 2018.

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Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 11:43 am, 20th December 2018

I thank the Leader of the House for her business statement. It is a very interesting business statement, but before turning to it may I ask this question of the Leader of the House? She confirmed in replying to me on the draft Markets in Financial Instruments (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018 that if a “reasonable request” was made for a debate, she would allow it. I thought I had made a reasonable request last week, but it appears to have been pushed through without a debate in a deferred Division. I also ask her to look at the question of statutory instruments. This issue was raised by the shadow Chancellor, who says that sometimes statutory instruments do not seem to have a named Minister. I am not sure that that is the correct way to proceed as there are wide-ranging powers. Will the Leader of the House look at the statutory instruments, so that we do not have a “To whom it may concern” on them?

I also asked about the draft Universal Credit (Managed Migration) Regulations 2018. Given that the new Secretary of State said yesterday when speaking to the Select Committee on Work and Pensions that she was not going to follow the prescribed time limit, may I ask that the Government withdraw this now, pending the results of the pilot scheme, to stop the full transition?

And where is the NHS 10-year plan? The Prime Minister did not answer that question yesterday in response to Dr Wollaston.

Turning to the business, we have a debate on Wednesday, on Thursday and possibly on Friday. It cannot have been difficult to give us the following week’s business, too. I can do it: Monday 14 January, continuation of the debate on the European Union withdrawal Act; Tuesday 15 January, debate on the European withdrawal Act, and the meaningful vote. The Prime Minister said in her statement this week:

“I can confirm today that we intend to return to the meaningful vote debate in the week commencing 7 January and hold the vote the following week.”—[Official Report, 17 December 2018;
Vol. 651, c. 528.]

I hope she is true to her word and we do not have to rely on lip-readers. I ask the Leader of the House if this will be a new motion on a new deal or the old deal with an explanatory note. Do those hon. and right hon. Members who have already spoken get to speak again, and do those who did not speak before get to speak first now?

The Prime Minister pulled the meaningful vote, saying she had heard from hon. Members, but she had not because there were still two days of debate left—and former Ministers were among those waiting to speak—so let’s slay that unicorn. She had not heard from the House in a vote: it was just what the Government thought the House was going to do. I had not realised that the Government had additional powers of telepathy; I wonder if that is in “Erskine May”. I know the Prime Minister wants the Opposition to help her with her deal, so let’s slay that unicorn. The Prime Minister went to the EU with her red lines and her negotiating position. She cannot expect hon. Members now to come to her aid when she did not even consult us on her red lines in the first place. We in the Opposition were gagged.

What do businesses say? A Bristol-based online retailer said that, unless there is a Christmas Brexit miracle, he will move part of his business to Germany in January because of impending tariffs. The Institute of Directors said that business leaders were “tearing their hair out” at the current state of negotiations, and that

“the last thing businesses needed today was more uncertainty”.

The British Chambers of Commerce called on politicians to “redouble efforts” to stop a no-deal Brexit. The Cabinet is split on a managed no-deal and, it seems, on a second referendum.

I have a Christmas quiz, so fingers on buzzers. Who said this:

The Conservative Party is suffering something like a nervous breakdown. To watch the Tories in the Commons is to watch a group that has lost much of its self discipline. Members openly insult each other, the leader has only just survived a vote of confidence, and the pro-Brexit European Research Group of backbenchers appears to have its own whipping system and policy platform”?

No, it was not the Leader of the Opposition, but Lord Finkelstein, writing yesterday in The Times.

Yesterday the Prime Minister was like a pantomime dame. The Government are like “Whacky Races”, or perhaps the spin-off, “The Perils of Penelope Pitstop”, with the Prime Minister as Penelope Pitstop, stopping off at EU capitals and being pursued by the Ant Hill Mob—the no-dealers, chasing unicorns. The Prime Minister has phoned all her friends and taken away all the answers, right and wrong, by pulling the vote, and she has failed to ask the audience. Can the Leader of the House guarantee that there will be a vote in the week commencing 14 January, just as the Prime Minister has stated in Parliament?

I too welcome the new procedure guide—many Members will have been accosted by the Chairman of Ways and Means as he handed them out in Portcullis House. I want to mention the colleagues who worked so hard on it, particularly Joanna Dodd. Thank you to Joanna and all her colleagues.

I want to thank you, Mr Speaker, and everyone who works in your office for all their support—they are the epitome of grace under pressure. I also thank the Deputy Speakers and all the House staff. Let us remember that it is the Clerk’s last Christmas in post. I thank the Serjeant at Arms; Phil and his team of doorkeepers; the House of Commons Library; the official reporters; the catering and cleaning staff; the postal workers; the police officers who provide additional security and back-up for the doorkeepers; and all the security officers on the estate.

We too sadly say goodbye and good luck to our three extremely experienced House staff who are leaving in January. Brendon Mulvihill has been with the House Service for 36 years, as head office keeper and head of service delivery. Les Stockwell is a service delivery manager with 42 years of experience. Noel Kirby has 41 years as a service delivery manger. Together, they have supported the House through 10 general elections. Les, you have been very helpful to me personally. I hope that they will all come back and see the House that they built, passing on their advice and support of this unique place, helping us to do our work for our constituents, understanding that this is a workplace, not just a visitor attraction.

I also want to mention MP4 and their latest release, which is quite significant because all the money raised goes to the charity Crisis. I also thank the Opposition Chief Whip and his office, and of course my staff. I wish all right hon. and hon. Members a peaceful Christmas and all good wishes for 2019.