Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:02 am on 9th May 2019.

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Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 11:02 am, 9th May 2019

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business. I was going to ask her for the Whitsun recess dates, so I am pleased that she has announced them. May I ask for an update on when we are likely to get the list of ministerial responsibilities? I should also like to press her on the summer recess dates. The deputy Prime Minister said that he thought 2 July was the cut-off date for EU matters. It should not be beyond the House to provide those dates.

Members have often raised the issue of Ministers and other MPs visiting their constituencies without giving notice, and it has now happened to me. Amanda Milling kindly informed me that she was coming to my constituency, in fact getting me an invitation to launch a train—apparently there will be tea and sandwiches in one of my favourite places in the constituency, the New Art Gallery—but I had not even been invited, even though those events were taking place in my constituency. This is the second time that that has happened. The Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Mims Davies, kindly apologised to me when I was given notice of an event only two hours before she visited. Those Members were actually being quite helpful; it is just that something is going wrong with the offices and the invites. Will the Leader of the House please raise these courtesies and protocols with her colleagues? Members should be told about these visits, and indeed invited to the events.

I am pleased that the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill has been introduced. As we have all said, the skills and jobs should benefit all our constituencies throughout the country, not just a few property companies based here in London. We need to ensure that our constituents are involved. I say gently to the Leader of the House that I am sure the Clerk of the House practically faints when she mentions Notre Dame, because he would never allow people to be in this building if it was not safe. We know that people are constantly firefighting here every day, and no one would be allowed in the building if it was as unsafe as that.

Will the Leader of the House update us on when the withdrawal agreement Bill will be introduced? There has been some debate in the media about that. I do not think it was Faisal Islam who tweeted about it this time, but there has been some suggestion that it could be next Thursday, and I know that a Backbench debate has been scheduled for that day. Are the Government going to bring back the withdrawal agreement Bill next week?

We need certainty on that matter, because the right hon. Lady will have seen the research from the Incorporated Society of Musicians which shows that the uncertainty over Brexit is continuing to cause real damage to the music industry, which is a very important part of our GDP. The ISM has concerns about future work, mobility, visas, transportation of instruments and equipment, and health and social security. The research showed that 63 respondents cited difficulty in securing future work in the EU27 and EEA countries as the biggest issue that they faced because of Brexit. More than one in 10 respondents reported that offers of work had been withdrawn or cancelled with Brexit being given as the reason. May we have more certainty for that sector?

Many Members are trying on the captain’s hat, even though there is no vacancy for the captain of the ship, but as they look through the periscope, they will see that 200,000 nurses have left the NHS since 2010. If there is not a crisis, why are the Government having to recruit tens of thousands of nurses from overseas? It is because nurses are being driven out of the overstretched NHS owing to the lack of Government funding. Why are we seeing the first sustained fall in GP numbers in the UK in 50 years? Why are they leaving the profession? We also know that 30,000 ambulance staff have quit their jobs. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Health—when he takes off the captain’s hat—makes a statement on that crisis?

When the Home Secretary takes off the captain’s hat and looks through the periscope, he will see the crisis on our streets. The Prime Minister said yesterday that she had chaired a summit and a taskforce, and there will be a general debate on serious violence next week. I know that my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker wanted to raise this matter with the Leader of the House. Will she ensure that the Home Secretary comes to the House next week to report on the taskforce and to tell us exactly what is going to happen to stop people dying needlessly? Our police need their resources. Our criminal justice system also needs resources, and barristers are about to walk out on strike. It was no good the Leader of the House saying last week that it is up to the Justice Committee to respond when I raised the Criminal Bar Association’s strike. She cannot outsource responses to Select Committees; we need to know what the Government are doing.

The Leader of the House kindly said that she would get an answer to Opposition day motions within eight weeks, but exactly when will our climate emergency motion receive a response? The clue is in the word “emergency”. She will have seen the news about the effect of climate change on the unprecedented decline in biodiversity, and I will read out the whole thing so that people know what I mean. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services says that

“1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction”.

We need a response, and I understand that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs did not say when he would respond to our Opposition day motion.

May we have a debate in Government time on their flagship digital identification system Verify, which is failing its users? Only 3.9 million people have signed up, and it will affect those applying for universal credit most of all. Some 25 million users are expected by 2020.

I am pleased that the Backbench Business Committee agreed to a debate today, led by my hon. Friend Ian Murray, in tribute to John Smith, the former leader of the Labour party, as we approach the 25th anniversary of his death on 12 May. He served as an MP for 24 years, and I am sure that hon. Members will do him justice. I remember the image of Smith and Brown striding into the Commons to take the Government apart with their brilliant arguments. At this time, we think of his widow Elizabeth and his brilliant daughters Sarah, Jane and Catherine. He would have been pleased that today is also Europe Day, which marks peace and prosperity within Europe.

The Opposition also wishes Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor and all the babies born this week peace and prosperity for their futures.