Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:18 am on 4th July 2019.

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Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 11:18 am, 4th July 2019

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. He announced the Northern Ireland Bill for Monday. As I understand it, the Bill will be published only later today. Despite a motion allowing amendments, there will be a window of only about half an hour for hon. Members to table amendments. This is a really important Bill, and the Opposition were happy to work with the Government to ensure that they get certainty on the Bill. Will the Leader of the House have discussions with the usual channels to ensure that we get scrutiny of this important Bill? We have always approached Northern Ireland on a cross-party basis, so I ask him to please think again.

Last week, I raised the issue of a debate on the Cox report, and the Gemma White inquiry is coming up. Can the Leader of the House update us on when the House is likely to be able to consider that motion?

I know that the Leader of the House is interested in tweeting: perhaps he could tweet a clarification. Last week, I raised the issue of the Government’s Value Added Tax (Reduced Rate) (Energy-Saving Materials) Order 2019, and he said that it was an EU requirement under its regulations. In his answer to a parliamentary question in 2018, when he was a Treasury Minister, he said that

“it is right that Member States have flexibility in applying VAT on different products”.

Will he look again at whether it is possible for VAT to be changed on those materials, especially given the Prime Minister’s commitment to reduce emissions to zero by 2050? The Leader of the House said that it was not something that he would necessarily have brought forward, so I ask him again whether the Government have any plans to scrap VAT in this important area.

Perhaps the Leader of the House could also tweet the answer to this question. Who said that

“in a disruptive no-deal exit there will be a hit to the exchequer of about £90bn.”?

It was his right hon. Friend and former Treasury colleague, the Chancellor. I do not remember seeing no deal on the ballot paper. We did not get the sectoral analysis until we asked for it in the Chamber. The Leader of the House may say “It’s the will of the people”, but the people did not have the full information when they made their decision. I do not know whether he is aware of the message from the other place about the amazing cross-party support for a motion to set up a Joint Committee to consider a no-deal Brexit, which passed by 245 votes to 99. We all praise Select Committees, and this would be an important Select Committee because it would be a Joint Committee of both Houses. The motion would require the Select Committee to report by 30 September. As I am sure the Leader of the House knows, the first Council meeting will take place on 17 October, which is why it is important for us to have a discussion to decide whether we will sit through the conference recess and whether conferences will go ahead or Members will be here. It is an important time for the EU, so perhaps he will consider having a statement next week on those issues.

The Leader of the House wrote a lovely article in “Red Box” saying that he sees

“a large part of my role as promoting parliament—to do what I can to ensure that people trust and understand its vital role”.

Does he agree with a former Leader of the House, now a Government Whip in the Lords, Lord Young, who has said that he views with alarm the promises made by Tory leadership candidates? The shadow Chancellor has costed those pledges, and the total for Boris Johnson is £57 billion and for the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr Hunt it is £43.4 billion—more than £100 billion in total. Paul Johnson from the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that both candidates were misleading people by implying that the Treasury’s Brexit war chest would fund their spending pledges and that if they intended to borrow more, they had not said how much. It is making Parliament look absurd that the candidates can make those pledges to win their election. The people one of them will govern will not even have a say. What can the Leader of the House do to stop candidates misleading people?

It took an urgent question for the House to talk about what happened with Serco. A screaming headline in The Law Society Gazette reads, “Serco subsidiary to pay £19.2m for lying to MoJ about tagging profits”. This is absolutely appalling. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Paul Maynard, was very helpful earlier—he is a very helpful Minister—but I think that we need a statement in Government time.

I invite the Leader of the House to visit the all-party parliamentary group on legal aid next Monday, when we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949, along with young legal aid lawyers. I am surprised that there are any left, but it will be good to see them there. The Leader of the House will know, I am sure, that since 2010 the number of cases assisted by legal aid has dropped from 900,000 to 15,000. This is about the rule of law and access to justice. If the Leader of the House could ensure that the Government will automatically fund legal aid for the families of victims of terrorist atrocities—a subject that I raised with him last week—that would be a nice way of celebrating the anniversary of the Act.

I know that you, Mr Speaker, went to see Richard Ratcliffe when he was on hunger strike. I saw “Speaker Bear” sitting on his chair. Both Richard and Nazanin have now ended their hunger strike. I said to Richard that I would raise Nazanin’s case from the Dispatch Box every week until she was freed. Will the Leader of the House please make representations, as the Foreign Secretary seems to have gone missing and is making promises that he cannot keep? I know that great things are in store for the Leader of the House, not least because he has a wonderful mentor in Sir John Hayes. Will he please stand in for the Foreign Secretary and raise the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe? She is innocent, and she must be freed.

Earlier this week, Mr Speaker, you mentioned the loss of two of the House’s leading black and minority ethnic officials, Kamal El-Hajji and, of course, our own Speaker’s Chaplain, the Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin. Kamal was the first person with a BME background to be appointed to the role of Serjeant at Arms, and the Rev. Rose is now the Church of England’s first black female bishop. We are sorry that she could not be the Bishop of London, and I know that she was trying to be a Canon of Westminster, but I think that was taken away from her. She has been a great comfort to everyone on the parliamentary estate. She has been here during debates, and she has talked to us one to one. She has been a reassuring presence, and we are grateful for both her presence and her prayers. We wish the two of them well in their future endeavours.