The business for the next week is as follows:
Monday 20 March—Second Reading of the Prisons and Courts Bill.
Tuesday 21 March—Remaining stages of the Intellectual Property (Unjustified Threats) Bill [Lords] followed by a general debate on fuel poverty.
Wednesday 22 March—Remaining stages of the Pension Schemes Bill [Lords] followed by a general debate on exiting the European Union and global trade.
Thursday 23 March—Debate on a motion on compensation for Equitable Life policyholders followed by debate on a motion on the Social Mobility Commission state of the nation report. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 24 March—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 27 March will include:
Monday 27 March—Remaining stages of the Bus Services Bill [Lords].
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 27 and 30 March will be:
Monday 27 March—Debate on an e-petition relating to badger culling.
Thursday 30 March—Debate relating to the future of local and regional news providers.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for next week. Can he confirm or deny rumours that the Queen’s Speech will be on 17 May?
I would like to wish everyone a very happy St Patrick’s day for tomorrow. I do not know whether you know, Mr Speaker, but it traditionally marks an interruption to Lenten fasting. Perhaps the Leader of the House or even the Chief Whip will say, “Salt and vinegar crisps all round” just to cheer up the troops.
This has been a week of delay, incompetence and confusion. The big six energy companies have raised their prices and consumers have been overpaying. In response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), in which he stated that E.ON raised its prices by 14% and SSE by 8%, the Minister said:
“It has been reported by Ofgem that there is no reason to increase prices…The time is up for these companies.”—[Official Report, 14 March 2017; Vol. 623, c. 177.]
What does the Minister do? Instead of acting, he publishes a Green Paper. The Government must take a leaf out of the 2015 Labour manifesto and step in to put a cap on prices now—no more delay. In contrast with the obsession about how someone eats a bacon sandwich, it was a popular and costed policy. May we have a debate on what powers the Government will use to protect consumers immediately?
Speaking of manifestos, it is because the Government got away with it before—they said no top-down reorganisation of the NHS but they did it; they said in coalition no increase in tuition fees but they did it—that they thought they could do it again. There is a real piece of work to be done on national insurance contributions. Bizarrely, the Government instigated the Taylor review, which is due in June, having already put the policy through. They should have given businesses the time to plan for the increase. It is very hard for small businesses to find extra money suddenly. Instead of coming to the Chamber, the Prime Minister took to the podium in Brussels to announce that the policy had been deferred. The Chancellor came to the Chamber on Wednesday. The Chancellor seems to have fallen down his own black hole—tell that to Stephen Hawking.
What of the confusion and chaos that is Brexit? As more and more Select Committee reports are published, may we have a timetable of when and how they will be debated? The Government seem to be fixated on an unamended Bill going through Parliament, rather than preparing the country for what is to follow. The Foreign Affairs Committee report on the implications of no deal said that the Government refused to give evidence, saying it would be nothing more than an exercise in guesswork. However, the Committee’s report stated:
“The consequences of such a failure are far from ‘an exercise in guesswork’. They are, in scope if not in detail, largely predictable—and, in…evidence…have been predicted.”
The report recommended that each Department should
“produce a ‘no deal’ plan…setting out proposals to mitigate…risks.”
Will the Leader of the House tell us whether that will happen, and whether those plans will be reported to the House? Pages 97 and 98 of the report “Brexit: trade in goods”, published by the other place, remind us that
“The EU is, by a significant margin, the UK’s biggest trading partner… Many UK businesses cannot easily substitute their imports from the EU with UK products.”
What help will businesses be given to secure those new suppliers—or are the Government abandoning small businesses?
Let me now raise the issue of the west midlands leaflet. Apparently, a leaflet produced by another candidate for the post of west midlands mayor—a member of the same party—suggested that Siôn Simon did not have any experience. In fact, Siôn Simon is a former Member of Parliament, a former Minister and a Member of the European Parliament, so he is quite experienced enough to take the west midlands forward after Brexit.
Women are not just for International Women’s Day, but for life. We are currently celebrating women’s history month as we continue to tell “herstory”. On 21 March, in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Room, there will be a lecture on Constance Markievicz, who was the first woman to be elected to Parliament but did not take her seat. International Anti-discrimination Day falls on the same date. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on “Race in the workplace: The McGregor-Smith Review”? Staff at the Equality and Human Rights Commission are being sacked, but it is that organisation that should be implementing the recommendations of the report, which states:
“If BME talent is fully utilised, the economy could receive a £24 billion boost.”
That would fill the £2 billion hole in the Budget.
Not only is it good for the economy to use all the talents, but using all the talents is the right thing to do for the common good, in a good society.
Let me begin by joining the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) in wishing everyone, particularly our colleagues from Northern Ireland and colleagues with Irish ancestry, a happy St Patrick’s day for tomorrow. It is one of those occasions which, whatever the divisions in Northern Ireland, tends to bring all sides together in a common celebration.
The hon. Lady asked whether I could confirm or deny a possible date for the Queen’s Speech. I am afraid that the answer is no.
The Government have made very clear that we are pressing ahead with the Taylor review, which will be a very important study of and report on the way in which digital technology is changing our notions of employment. I am sure that Matthew Taylor will produce a number of specific and challenging recommendations, which the Government will want to take seriously.
The hon. Lady asked about exit from the EU. There is provision in our arrangements for debates on Select Committee reports, which from time to time are chosen either by the Backbench Business Committee or the Liaison Committee in the time that is allotted to them. I do not think that the hon. Lady can fault the willingness of Ministers—and, in particular, the willingness of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union—to appear before the House and before Select Committees to answer the questions that Members quite reasonably ask. Detailed work is taking place, not only in my right hon. Friend’s Department but throughout Whitehall, to examine the potential impact of various possible outcomes of the negotiations on the different sectors of our economy, and it is obviously sensible for us to consult those sectors closely about possible scenarios.
I am happy to join the hon. Lady in celebrating women’s history month. I hope that, as well as a celebration of the achievements of people such as Constance Markievicz and Nancy Astor, there will be a proper salute to the two women Prime Ministers of this country.
I completely agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of harnessing all the talent and energy of our fellow citizens from the black minority ethnic communities. While it is in part down to having the right sort of equalities and anti-discrimination legislation, I hope that the House acknowledges that getting it right also means encouraging people from those communities to believe that everything is possible for them in our country. I am heartened by having seen in the time that I have been in this place ever more men and women from our black and other minority communities playing a leading role in mainstream life in my constituency and nationally, whether in business, the media, the arts, the professions or politics at both local and national level.
I do not blame the hon. Lady for wanting to try to find something nice to say about the Labour candidate for the west midlands mayoral election, but while I am the first to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of people who serve in the European Parliament, I think that in respect of having executive authority for the midlands engine—one of the real heartlands of our national economic life—the commercial experience of Andy Street puts him head and shoulders above his competition.
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:
Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act 2017
European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017.