Skip to main content

Business of the House

Volume 719: debated on Wednesday 7 September 2022

I do not wish to detain the House for longer than is necessary, but, if you will indulge me, Madam Deputy Speaker, I want to pay a brief tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer). He is a great champion for this place and for Back-Bench Members in particular, and he took his responsibilities as Parliament’s representative in Government seriously. He was also rather good for morale. I hope that all Members will join me in thanking him for his service.

I should like to make a short business statement. The business for tomorrow, Thursday 8 September, will now be:

General debate on UK energy costs, followed by consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Social Security (Special Rules for End of Life) Bill [Lords].

I shall make a further business statement tomorrow in the usual way.

May I first welcome the new Leader of the House very warmly to her new role and join her in paying tribute to the right hon. Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer)? This is one of those unusual roles where the opposite numbers have to work together quite closely on a number of House issues. I look forward to working with her, but I also pay tribute to and put on record my thanks to the right hon. Gentleman, who I enjoyed working with.

I am very much looking forward to hearing the details of the widely trailed energy plan, but may I ask the Leader of the House why the Prime Minister seems to be swerving scrutiny by not making a ministerial statement, which she would have had to put forward to her opposite number 45 minutes in advance and which would have involved answering Members’ questions directly? Will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister to consider making a statement, so that that can be offered to Members? Shadow Ministers cannot be expected to properly scrutinise very significant policy changes if they have not had a chance to read them in advance. What briefings, if any, will Members or shadow Ministers receive in advance of this very significant announcement, which they would have been given with a ministerial statement?

Members reading speculation about what might or might not be announced in the media is not good enough and Mr Speaker did ask the new Prime Minister, I think quite firmly this morning, if she would make sure that statements are always made to the House first, rather than being briefed?

I am getting nods from the Deputy Leader of the House—quite right. We agree on this, so will the Leader of the House remind the Prime Minister of what Mr Speaker said to her today?

Finally, Labour has been calling on the Government for action on energy bills for months. I asked for a recall in August so that we could pass legislation as soon as possible, adopting Labour’s plan to freeze the energy price cap and ensure the burden of paying for it fell on the big oil and gas companies through a windfall tax. The Prime Minister ruled that out this morning. Why is she asking working people to pay the price instead?

May I start by thanking the hon. Lady for her very kind remarks about my predecessor? It is absolutely right that this House has time to debate these critical issues. Many colleagues will have been speaking to constituency businesses, as well as ordinary constituents, to understand the particular issues they are facing and what they think the solutions should be to the extreme problems the country is facing.

I have, as the hon. Lady would expect, already raised the matter of getting information in a timely way for Members with the lead Department, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It is incredibly important that Members are able to scrutinise the solutions in a timely way, as well as, I hope, raise concerns and matters their constituents have asked to be pressed to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. That I have carried out and I hope to provide further assurance on that as we continue.

The hon. Lady raises the Prime Minister’s commitment to ensuring that things are brought to this House. In Prime Minister’s questions just a short while ago, I think she reiterated her determination to do that. I would also say that although the House has not been sitting across the summer, Ministers have not been idle. I pay tribute in particular to the former Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), working with colleagues to ensure that whichever candidate won the leadership contest would have up to date information, given the volatility of the economy at the moment, to be able to make decisions. In the course of my duties, I will always do my best to ensure information is given to this House in the correct manner.

I support what my right hon. Friend said about her predecessor, both in his capacity as Leader of the House and in his previous role as Government Chief Whip. I also take this opportunity to welcome her to this particular role, which I know she will hugely enjoy as a fantastic Member of this House. It is a great privilege to be Leader of the House and I know she will do the job very well.

May I just follow up on one of the questions asked by the shadow Leader of the House? My right hon. Friend did not explicitly say it, but I think she is indicating that tomorrow’s debate is the vehicle for the Government to announce their energy proposals. Assuming that is the case, Members will obviously want to scrutinise them. May I therefore ask, not just for the Opposition but for all Members, what information will be available to Members? Obviously, if we are to take part in a debate we need to have information. What information will be made available and when will it be available for Members? Presumably, it will have to be available, given that it is a debate, before the commencement of the debate, and not, as would be usual for a statement, after the Minister introducing the debate has sat down. It would be helpful for the House if she could confirm that for us this afternoon.

I have raised these matters with the lead Department. I am expecting other Members of the House to also place this on record. It is important that we get these things right. I think the vehicle of a debate tomorrow has been chosen to enable Members to have some time to be able to talk about the experiences their constituents are going through, make further suggestions to the Government and get certain things on record. Obviously, a Minister will also respond to the debate. Clearly, if announcements are made, as much advance time about proposals that we can give Members in the proper way is very important. I assure all Members that we have made that case to BEIS.

I, too, welcome the right hon. Lady to her place as Leader of the House and pay my own tribute to her predecessor, the right hon. Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), both in his role as Leader of the House and as Chief Whip—probably more of my dealings with him were in that role.

I echo the comments of others in making a plea for information to be available as quickly as possible, so that Members have the opportunity to contribute properly to the debate tomorrow. I also ask a simple question: will the Prime Minister be leading on the debate tomorrow? If not, who will?

Subject to events, my understanding is that the Prime Minister will open the debate and the new Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will close it. Again, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks.

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to her new position and the announcement of a debate tomorrow on energy costs. However, that debate will replace a Backbench Business debate on the running of the House of Commons, which was called for by the Administration Committee of which I am a member. Will my right hon. Friend use her best offices to ensure that that debate is rescheduled as soon as possible, notwithstanding that the timing of Backbench Business debates are a little beyond her control?

I apologise to Members who were looking forward to taking part in that debate. I have spoken with the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee and the Member in whose name the debate stood. Clearly, my part in this is to make sure that that Committee has time on the Floor of the House. I have undertaken to ensure that time is allocated in good time for the Committee to make a decision about what debates it wants to bring forward.

I welcome the right hon. Lady to her new role. It is no use crying over spilt milk, but all this is already slower than it should be when our constituents needed action over recess. Maybe it is me being a bit thick, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I do not quite understand what decisions we are taking tomorrow. We are having a general debate but we do not know what the policy is yet, so we do not know what we are generally debating. That general debate will, I assume, be on a neutral motion, so what exactly would be the action that we are taking tomorrow?

The debate is an opportunity for all Members to raise their specific concerns. Many Members will have been talking to their constituents about particular things that they want to see. It is an opportunity for them to raise those issues tomorrow. Clearly, those opening and closing the debate will be putting forward measures that the Government want to bring forward. It will not be the only opportunity for the House to scrutinise the measures, but that is the purpose of the debate tomorrow.

I also welcome the right hon. Lady to her new role and echo her words about her predecessor, the right hon. Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer).

I understand from my Whip that the business of this week and the following week had been agreed with both leadership candidates during the summer break, but we have seen a lot of chopping and changing this week. That does not inspire confidence in where the Government are going and the certainty of all of us in this place about the agenda. Will the Leader of the House assure us that, under her leadership, we will see no more chopping and changing of the business of the House?

I will say two things. First, I very much understand my role as being hon. Members’ representative in Government, and I will do everything in my power—I hope Members have confidence in how I have conducted myself prior to this role—to work in a constructive, positive way and with all the courtesies that the House would expect.

I also have a role in this Government to ensure that Whitehall and we in this place move at the speed at which our constituents need us to. I therefore make no apology for bringing forward tomorrow’s debate. It is important that Members of the House are able to raise these important issues, and I will do everything I can to give as much notice as I can of any changes to our legislative programme.

Further to hon. Members’ comments, I welcome the Leader of the House to her new position. She said that she wishes to be our representative in Government. Can she therefore understand the frustration of many of us that the press is briefing that the business for Monday—the Bill of Rights—has been shelved? Will she do the House the courtesy of telling us whether it has been shelved? If it is happening because the new Home Secretary said that the Government needed to be honest for the legislation to do what they want it to do, the Government needed to commit to leaving the European Court of Human Rights. So will the Bill be brought back with our leaving the European Court of Human Rights—yes or no?

I will make a further business statement tomorrow in the usual way. I ask Members to recognise that we are in very volatile times economically. We will need to do things swiftly. Members have been asking for things to happen swiftly on these matters and we will do that. I will make a business statement tomorrow in the usual way and I will answer the very understandable questions that hon. Members wish to raise.

This is not good enough; the country deserves better. The Government’s energy plan is said to involve £100 billion-plus of expenditure. That will involve very complex arrangements. A general debate is good, but when will we see the economic event that the Government have been promising for a while? The country really needs to get a grip of the Government’s energy plans now.

As I said, a lot of work has been going on throughout the summer not only in Whitehall, but with energy companies and other stakeholders. Proposals are very advanced. Those will be brought to the House tomorrow, as we would expect, but we feel that it is very important to give all Members of the House the ability and the time to raise issues that their constituents have raised with them. However, that will not be the only moment for the House to scrutinise policies that are being introduced on the specific issues of the cost of living and business costs as well as the wider programme related to growth.

I welcome the Leader of the House to her place; she has been very competent in previous roles, so I look forward to that level of competency going forward. However, a key aspect is that we will get to see, on the publication of the agenda tonight, the content of what we will debate. We would expect that for any other form of Bill, legislative process or debate. We can get a general debate through the Backbench Business Committee or on an Opposition day. We need something more concrete. Our constituents need concrete things about which I can go and tell them tomorrow morning, “This is what we are doing to help you.” My constituents do not want to hear me just talk; they want action.

I reiterate that we have made that very clear to the lead Department. Again, this is a debate that will give all Members of the House the chance to contribute and help to raise issues that they and their constituents are concerned about. This will also not be the only opportunity that Members get to help to shape that legislation.

On behalf of my party, I also welcome the right hon. Lady to her position as Leader of the House and I look forward to her contribution. She will be aware that the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), visited Northern Ireland in the past month to get the process in place for the moneys that were coming through for each and every household across Northern Ireland. Decisions were made with the then Chancellor and the Minister for the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Leader of the House will know that the Northern Ireland Assembly is not meeting. With that in mind, will we get an indication tomorrow from the Prime Minister or the Minister responsible of how Northern Ireland’s households will be allocated the money? That would be helpful for us in this process. We are ever mindful that the Assembly is not working, and the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is very much part of our thoughts.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very kind remarks. I understand that we will spend a lot of quality time together—such is his reputation. I assure him that the proposals that are introduced will be UK-wide.