Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:38 am on 10th December 2020.

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Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 11:38 am, 10th December 2020

Yes—thank you.

I do not think there has ever been a time like this when it comes to the usual courtesies that help the working of this House, respect democracy and respect the Opposition. This is absolutely chaotic: we knew more about the menu for the dinner yesterday than we did about the business of the House for the forthcoming week.

I ask the Leader of the House, for the fourth time, when he expects the current parliamentary Session to end and when the House will rise for the Christmas recess. He mentioned the recess Adjournment debate, but that is not the same. This is an incredible discourtesy to the staff of the House, who, as Mr Speaker pointed out, have worked so hard to keep us going. They need to prepare. They need to check on childcare; there are all sorts of arrangements they need to make. When I asked the Leader of the House a fortnight ago, he said that he would be announcing the recess in the normal manner, but these are not normal times. We have a confluence of events—covid and Brexit—all coming at the same time.

This uncertainty is not good for the House, but it is also not good for businesses. Listen to the Food and Drink Federation’s chief executive, who said at the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee:

“How on earth can traders prepare in this environment?”

We were promised frictionless trade, but what we got was lorry parks, red tape, forms and a border in the Irish sea. The Government reneged on the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, then on Monday asked the troops to vote for something, only to change their mind on Tuesday. The arch-Brexiter Sir Jim Ratcliffe does not care about sovereignty—he is taking his business to Germany. When will the Prime Minister come back to the House and explain exactly what is going on? Can he do that on Monday?

Where is the vaccine Minister? I know he was sitting with the Secretary of State for Health at one point, but we have not heard anything from him. The vaccine tsar has resigned. She has appointed her deputy and then given out money to friends of the Government. Nobody has come to the House to tell us what is happening about the roll-out of the vaccine and the criteria that are going to be used. Why is the vaccine Minister so silent?

I do not know whether the Leader of the House has seen it, but on Monday the Procedure Committee published its report, “Procedure under coronavirus restrictions”. He will know about the motion on the 24th. The Committee has asked for that to be tabled again and for it to be done in a proper fashion, given the conditions. It also recommended that Members cannot decide to put their name on the call list and then withdraw it—hence collapsing the business, as they did on the 24th. Those are two important recommendations that need to be debated. Most importantly, on Standing Order No. 47, the Committee asks for no injury time to be added in debates with a very short time limit of five minutes or less, because that helps the Speaker and the Deputy Speakers to organise business and it is fair to hon. Members. When will the Leader of the House bring forward a motion on all those recommendations?

I thank the Leader of the House for placing the letter in the Library about the International Development Committee. It is important now to amend Standing Orders because the two Select Committees—the IDC and the Foreign Affairs Committee—are doing different things. The DFID Committee, which has been in existence since 1969, did not have a Department to shadow until very recently. It is now looking across different Government Departments, so the Standing Orders should reflect a change of name. This is about transparency and accountability with regard to public money. When will the Standing Orders be amended?

Today is Human Rights Day. Her Majesty’s Opposition are proud that people of this country were the framers of the declaration on human rights, which then became the convention on human rights, which then became the Human Rights Act 1998. The Lord Chancellor needs to come here and explain the article where he says that judges can influence policy. They cannot.

How is the Lord Chancellor telling the judges what to do? If he reads their judgments, he will see that they are very careful not to interfere with policy. Then he says that the Government do not have preconceived ideas. Well, actually it was in their manifesto, and Minister after Minister has come to the Dispatch Box to say that they are going to repeal the Human Rights Act. So what is the point of the review?

This issue goes all the way back to Magna Carta. It is about the rights and obligations of our citizens, and it must not be changed. There is a letter co-ordinated by 140 well-known organisations who said, “Please don’t touch it.” This is a sad next chapter to our island story—that we do not respect all the rights from Magna Carta onwards, which I know the Leader of the House is very keen on.

Now, Mr Speaker, we say goodbye and thank you to Eric Hepburn. You and I and David Lidington were in the Chamber when PC Keith Palmer was murdered and Eric came to the House and explained what was happening. He has also been part of the change. We thank him for all his work and wish him well in the future.

The Leader of the House will have seen, I am sure, Elika and Gabriella lighting a candle for their parents, Anousheh and Nazanin. Each day that we have the covid virus is a day that they are separated from their parents, and Luke Symons’s parents are in Cardiff and his family are in Yemen. I ask again that something be done so that they can be released before Christmas.

Finally, I want to wish everyone in the Jewish community a happy Hanukkah, as they light the first Hanukkah candle.