Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:23 am on 11th April 2019.

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Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 11:23 am, 11th April 2019

I thank the Leader of the House for the Opposition day debate—I was going to point out that it is 150 days since we last had one, so I thank her for that. Will she supply us with a new list of ministerial responsibilities, as there have been a number of resignations and appointments?

I do not know whether the Leader of the House wishes to correct the record. She said that a no-deal Brexit would not be nearly as bad as many would like to think. Did she receive the 14-page memo from the Cabinet Secretary and head of the civil service, Sir Mark Sedwill, who said that a no-deal scenario would be catastrophic for the country? Luckily we are not going down that route. She also said that all the Prime Minister had to do was persuade the German Chancellor to re-open the withdrawal agreement and remove the Irish backstop, and then a deal could be secured. However, a spokesperson for No. 10 said that the EU was clear that that was not going to be possible. Can the Leader of the House confirm what exactly is Government policy?

On Monday, the Leader of the House made a business statement about the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill, yet she did not vote with her colleagues. I was warmly welcomed by both the Government and the Opposition Chief Whips, but the absentees included the Leader of the House, the Attorney General, the Secretary of State for International Trade, and the Secretary of State for Transport. Was the Leader of the House at an alternative Cabinet meeting, and was the Prime Minister invited to that alt-Cab?

I am pleased that the Leader of the House set out a number of statutory instruments for consideration, but could I ask for some more motions to be debated on the Floor of the House? For example, the Opposition have tabled early-day motion 2190 on higher education.

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Higher Education (Registration Fees) (England) Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 543), dated 11 March 2019, a copy of which was laid before this House on 12 March 2019, be annulled.]

It seeks to annul statutory instrument 543, which sets out the fees for higher education providers. Universities UK has concerns about those fee increases, and as the SI came into force on 6 April 2019, it is still within the praying period. The European Statutory Instruments Committee disagreed with the Government and recommended that the European University Institute regulations should be debated on the Floor of the House. Those regulations enable our withdrawal from the European University Institute, of which we have been a member since 1976. Academics are up in arms about the fact that we have to withdraw from it.

I have raised previously the Non-contentious Probate (Fees) Order 2018, which is actually very contentious and is found under Future Business B. Can the Leader of the House assure us that there will be a debate on the Floor of the House, and that it will not be pushed through by the Government? Mr Speaker, yesterday you granted an urgent question to my hon. Friend Cat Smith on Voter ID Pilots. Can the Leader of the House confirm that every study that has been applied for will come to the House for debate as it is important to have that parliamentary scrutiny?

Last week we were—quite rightly—concerned about the gender pay gap. When will the Government tackle the huge differentials in the pay system between executive and employee pay? The managing director of Waterstones, James Daunt, is paid a salary of £1.6 million, while nearly 1,900 of his employees do not even receive the real living wage. The chief executive officer of Centrica, which owns British Gas, is paid 72 times the salary of an employee in the lower quartile of its salary range. The people at the base of the pyramid are the wealth creators. The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, chaired by my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves, recommends that the Government send a strong signal on pay reform by giving the regulator the powers and remit to ensure the highest standards of engagement with shareholders and other stakeholders, particularly employees.

For the first time, Parliament will not be sitting to wish my hon. Friend Ian Mearns a happy birthday, which falls on Easter Sunday. I also want to send the wishes of the whole House to our gracious sovereign, who will also have a birthday on that day. She said:

“over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.”

This week we all celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement. I pay tribute to John Hume, who won the Nobel peace prize, the Martin Luther King prize and the Ghandi peace prize for starting the peace process. You will recall, Mr Speaker, that the agreement was put to the people of Ireland in a confirmatory vote. Given the divisions at this time in our country, the words of John Hume are important. He said:

“Difference is the essence of humanity. Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace: respect for diversity.”

I, too, welcome my hon. Friend Ruth Jones to this place and we look forward to her maiden speech. If her acceptance speech when she won the seat is anything to go by, it will be absolutely fantastic, as will be her contribution to this House.

I welcome Sarah Davies as the new Clerk Assistant. To Sarah there is no such thing as a stupid question. I thank Liam Laurence Smyth and Paul Evans. As the Clerk of the House said, they have covered many jobs to make the work of this House seamless.

Mr Speaker, you are an internet sensation. Apparently in Europe they think you can only say four words—order, order, ayes and noes—but they do like you. I thank you, the Deputy Speakers and your office for their unfailing courtesy and kindness. I also thank: the Serjeant at Arms for all his work; Phil and his team of Doorkeepers; the House of Commons Library; the Official Reporters; the Vote Office, who have had to work overtime to print amendments; the catering and cleaning staff; the postal workers; the police officers; and all the security officers on the estate. Our staff and the staff of all the political parties are unseen, but they have worked incredibly hard. Mr Speaker, not a single person has complained about working extra time to enable us to do our work. We thank them all. I wish everyone a happy and peaceful Easter.