Business of the House

Part of Whorlton Hall – in the House of Commons at 11:03 am on 23rd May 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 11:03 am, 23rd May 2019

I thank the hon. Gentleman for stepping up and giving us the forthcoming business. I do not know what I have done wrong, but it seems there is some sort of relationship with my hon. Friend Ian Mearns, who have got two extra Back-Bench days; I am obviously going to ask for our Opposition day back.

I, too, want to place on record my thanks to Andrea Leadsom, whom I have shadowed for I think nearly two years. She has made a huge contribution in pulling together new policies on bullying, harassment and sexual harassment, with the establishment of the independent complaints and grievance scheme, and in working with all colleagues across the House and across parties to ensure the system for the first proxy votes for our colleagues has been put in place.

The right hon. Lady’s commitment to the restoration and renewal programme culminated in the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill, which passed its Second Reading on Tuesday. I want to place on record my thanks to my hon. Friend Christian Matheson and my right hon. Friend Mark Tami, who made a wonderful debut at the Dispatch Box, for opening and closing the debate for the Her Majesty’s Opposition; I had a long-standing personal commitment, which involved wearing a hat. I also want to thank the deputy Prime Minister, Mr Lidington, who has also enabled us to get to this place on restoration and renewal. The non-execs are always going on at us that we and our staff do not do the fire safety and safety training, so I encourage all Members to do that, and also—as the outgoing Leader of the House would say —the training on the behaviour code.

We are in “Brexit paralysis”—the words of a Government Minister. The Government have had three years, with five major speeches and red lines which never changed, and that have brought us to this position. Yesterday, the Prime Minister told the House that the Second Reading of the withdrawal agreement Bill would be in the week commencing 3 June; we now hear it is not, so in less than 24 hours the Prime Minister has broken her word. This is yet another broken promise by the Prime Minister on Brexit. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm why the Bill is not coming forward for its Second Reading as promised, and when is it likely to do so? Why is the Prime Minister incapable of keeping her word? Will it actually be published on 24 May, as the Prime Minister told the Commons yesterday, or will this be another broken promise? Why did the Prime Minister raise the issue of EU election purdah, when last week the Leader of the House said that there was no such issue and that the Government had received advice to that effect? Will the Bill be published in draft form so that hon. Members can amend it? When will it receive its First Reading? How long will we have to debate it, and how many days will it be in Committee, if it achieves its Second Reading?

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Prime Minister has become part of the problem? Even Ministers in her Cabinet know that she must go. Yet again, she has put her own political survival ahead of the national interest. It is clear that she does not command a majority for her approach to Brexit, and she has failed to accept that political reality. The Prime Minister has failed in the central policy of her Government, and the continuation of the current political situation leaves our country without the leadership it needs. The country cannot continue without an effective Government, and a fresh approach to leadership is clearly required.

It is not just with Brexit that there is paralysis—there is paralysis everywhere else. British Steel is among the UK’s most important manufacturers. It is one of Network Rail’s largest suppliers, and 95% of rails are supplied by the Scunthorpe plant. More importantly, this is about the lives of nearly 4,500 people and their families, mainly in Scunthorpe but also at the Teesside plants, and there are as many as 20,000 more people in the supply chain. This issue will not just affect people now—it will affect future generations. My hon. Friend Nic Dakin asked whether the company is a good steward for that vital business, and the Government are in paralysis, which will affect future generations.

In the run-up to International Children’s Day on 1 June, two alarming reports have highlighted that the Government are failing in their duty to protect the most vulnerable children. The report by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, is entitled “Who are they? Where are they? Children locked up”, and for the first time it gathers together all the data about children living in children’s homes, youth justice settings, mental health wards, and other residential placements. In England, 1,465 children were detained in 2018, and the report found that an additional 211 children were locked away and their whereabouts in the system is invisible.

In 2016 the Health Committee, of which I was a member, produced a report on this issue, but no action has been taken. A Care Quality Commission report published this week found that 62 people are living in segregation in mental health settings, and 20 of those are children or young people. In 16 cases people had spent more than a year in isolation, with children and young people staying for up to two and a half years. The Minister said earlier that the Government are setting up a taskforce. Will he come to the House and update it on what is going on?

Human Rights Watch has said that the Government are breaching their international duty to keep people from hunger by pursuing “cruel and harmful polices” with no regard for the impact on children living in poverty. The United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, published his final report, stating that child poverty in Britain today is

“not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster.”

If the Government are challenging that, why can we not have a debate in Government time to consider those statistics and hear about their next steps? Those are independent reports.

This week we heard harrowing testimony about the London attacks, and about the heroic actions of doctors and nurses, and of people helping each other, including Ignacio Echeverría, who went towards the attackers with his skateboard trying to save lives. It is also the second anniversary of the Manchester bombings and those young people who went to a concert. At a concert, and on a Saturday night out, that loss of innocent lives will never be forgotten.

Finally, Philippa, thank you very much, and good luck.