This week in Westminster there were a series of late night divisions in the House of Commons. On Monday, Labour MPs voted against New Clause 2 of the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill which called for reviving the prerogative powers to dissolve Parliament and to call a new Parliament, in effect giving the Executive (ministers) of the UK Government powers to dissolve Parliament thus not involving MPs, and Labour MPs abstained on 3rd Reading.
On Tuesday Labour MPs voted for the Official Opposition Reasoned Amendment to the Second Reading of the Health and Social Care Levy Bill, which stated that “the UK Government failed to set out a plan to fix the crisis in social care, improve pay and conditions for social care workers, or clear the backlog of NHS waiting lists by the end of this Parliament, while breaking the Prime Minister’s promise that no one will have to sell their home to pay for care because it lacks a guarantee that Parliament will vote on a social care plan before spending the money it raises, and because it breaks the UK Government’s promise not to increase National Insurance, raising taxes on employment that will disproportionately hit working families, young people, those on low and middle incomes and businesses trying to create more jobs in the wider economy whilst leaving income from other sources untouched” Labour MPs voted against Second Reading. Labour MPs abstained on Amendment 4 tabled by the SNP, voted for New Clause 3, which required the Chancellor to review the revenue of this Act and lay a report before the House after 6 months of the Act being enacted and every 12 months thereafter, voted for New Clause 5 which required the Chancellor to review the equality impact of the Act and lay reports as in the timeframe set out in New Clause 3, and voted against Third Reading. Unfortunately, we lost all votes.
On Wednesday Labour was granted Opposition Day debates. The first called on the UK Government to end its planned cut to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits which from the end of September 2021 will reduce support for many hard working families by £1040 a year. It is unconscionable that while we are still struggling with the financial effects of the pandemic the Government choose to cut essential support from hard working families up and down the country. It is shameful that the very workers who got us through this crisis are in the firing line for over £1000 cut to their income every year. The £20 uplift in Universal Credit is what enables some families to put food on the table. There is now near-universal opposition to these plans – the UK Tory Government cannot claim to be supporting working people while they persist with this damaging policy.
The second called for a joint committee of the Lords and Commons for the remainder of the Parliamentary session to consider UK Government policy on Afghanistan from the Doha Agreement signed on February 2020 to the conclusion of Operation Pitting on 27th August 2021. The committee would have powers to investigate the accuracy of intelligence assessments during this period and the consequent decisions made by ministers, plus the eligibility and policy of the ARAP scheme. The committee would be required to publish its report not later than 31st March 2022. Unfortunately, we lost the vote on each debate.
On Tuesday afternoon I chaired a series of debates in Westminster Hall beginning with a 90 minute debate on reducing the fire risk in high rise social housing. The debate was led by Andy Slaughter, Labour MP Hammersmith. Andy spoke about the human tragedy of Grenfell Tower, as the world woke up on the morning of 14th June 2017 to the horrifying images of people being killed in their own homes. Four years later the scale and depth of this tragedy are only now being explored. Interim investigations such as the Hackitt Report have provided some clues, but the UK Government has been slow to legislate. Andy referred to Daniel Hewitt’s distressing documentary “Surviving Squalor: Britain’s Housing Shame” which was on ITV last Sunday night. Andy also focused on the causes of fire in social housing, especially electrical fires, and asked why more is not being done to prevent them. UK Government minister Luke Hall stated that his Government had provided £5 billion grant funding to support remediation of unsafe cladding on high rise buildings over 18 metres high in England. Stephen Doughty, Labour MP Cardiff South and Penarth, asked the minister for clarity on the amount and the date when the Welsh Government will receive the funding Consequentials, because the £5 billion fund was announced in February 2021, and they need to move forward with their plans. Andy wound up the debate by calling for a holistic approach looking at buildings below 18 metres, too; examining other defects in other buildings, schools, care homes, hotels; adequate law and enforcement; and to champion social housing.
The second debate was led by Alexander Stafford, Conservative MP Rother Valley, about decarbonising the UK and the role of shipping emissions, and highlighted that in the year of COP26 the role of shipping carbon dioxide and hydrogen can play in ensuring a prosperous and environmentally sustainable future for British Industry. The Committee on Climate Change advocates more ambition and support for as many potential Carbon Capture Utilisation and Utilisation technologies (CCUS) clusters as possible all over the UK. Alexander mentioned the UK projects. The UK Government minister Michael Tomlinson stated that the debate was timely in that it is London International Shipping Week, and that the UK Government had made huge progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 13% between 2018 and 2019, but must go further to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. He spoke about the UK Government Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy published in March 2021, the launch of phase 1 of CCUS cluster sequencing in May, and the summer publication of the UK’s first ever hydrogen strategy which will put the UK at the forefront of the race to develop low carbon hydrogen, driving innovation, jobs and investment to scale up the technology. The minister recognised the importance of non-pipeline transportation and shipping for decarbonisation of the broader economy and stated that the UK Government is working with devolved Administrations to understand how best to incorporate non-pipeline transportation and shipping within a UK carbon dioxide network.
The last debate was about real fur sales and was led by Christian Wakeford, Conservative MP Bury South, who opened his remarks by stating the huge support for Fur Free Britain campaign, whose petition has been signed by more than 1 million, and led by the Humane Society International UK. In 2000 the House banned fur farming in England, which was enacted by Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in 2002. More than 100 MPs from across the House (of which I am one) have signed Christian’s letter to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs last month calling on the UK Government to ban the import and sale of animal fur. Christian mentioned Tracey Crouch, Conservative MP Chatham and Aylesford, and her Early Day Motion on the same issue, and Tracey intervened to thank Christian for the mention, and stated that 140 MPs signed her EDM during the last session and it has been signed by the highest number in this session. There were over 20 MPs attending the debate in the hope of speaking or intervening in support of this very important matter. Unfortunately, the debate was scheduled for only 60 minutes, but many did succeed in speaking to add their support to ban fur sales.
I am honoured to be part of the team from the Panel of Chairs that has been chosen to oversee the passage of the committee stage of the Elections Bill through the House over the next 6 weeks. Firstly, on Monday, I chaired the Programme Sub-committee, when the UK Government’s minster’s draft resolution – containing the timings and the witnesses which will be invited to give evidence – is debated and accepted. Then on Wednesday and Thursday I chaired the Evidence sessions, when the minister, opposition spokesperson, SNP spokesperson, and the members of the Elections Bill committee, had the opportunity to ask relevant, in scope, scrutinising, questions of each witness who appeared before the committee. We heard from 22 witnesses, during 9 sessions over two days. My thanks to the team of House of Commons clerks, who serve the committee chairs, for all their assistance. Next week the committee will meet again to consider clause by clause scrutiny of the Elections Bill.
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