Last Friday was one of the occasional ‘sitting Fridays’ when I remain in Westminster rather than come home to carry out constituency business. We don’t debate government business on a Friday; instead backbenchers have the chance to bring forward legislation.
But it’s very difficult for a backbench bill to make progress without the support of the government. That’s because the government controls the parliamentary timetable, and if they don’t want a backbench bill to succeed, they simply won’t allocate time for it to complete the parliamentary process. Usually, therefore, it’s not a good use of my time to stay for Friday business, as sooner or later the government will block the bills being debated.
But last Friday was different. The first bill, to tighten up the regulation of private landlords, was introduced by Labour MP Karen Buck, but the government decided to support it. This bill will give more protection to tenants if landlords don’t maintain property in decent condition. Meanwhile, the third bill on the agenda, introduced by Labour MP Geoffrey Robinson, which would require people to opt out of the organ donor register rather than opt in (so called ‘presumed consent’), was also supported by the government. The problem was the second bill, sandwiched in between these two, introduced by Tory MP Tim Loughton, to legalise opposite sex civil partnerships. We had heard rumours that the government wanted to block this bill (I’ve no idea why), and that might mean they’d hold up all the business on Friday, and we wouldn’t get Karen’s or Geoffrey’s bills through either. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face! But ministers can be stupidly stubborn.
Anyway, to stop this happening, you need 100 MPs to force a vote so the government can’t delay the business, which was why I and other colleagues had stayed in London last Friday. In the event, the government backed off, and there were no votes, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, and it did mean I was able to meet up with the Leonard Cheshire Can Do group from Manchester, who were visiting Westminster on Friday afternoon – it was great to welcome them to parliament.
Then it was back to Manchester on Saturday to attend Rehoboth for Families Trafford Black History Month celebrations. Thanks for the lovely warm welcome!
This week in parliament has been dominated by the budget, and 4 days of debate that follow it. Despite Tory claims that austerity is over, it was a budget that won’t do much for people in Stretford and Urmston who are struggling to manage. Tax cuts help richer earners more than those on low incomes, the money for the NHS had been announced before, there was nothing for frontline policing, despite the shocking pressures on the police, and the ultimate insult was the chancellor’s announcement of money for schools so they could afford a few ‘little extras’. From my conversations with headteachers round here, I know schools are already having to cut teaching assistant posts or ask parents to pay for equipment. Those aren’t ‘little extras’ that can be paid for out of the pathetic pocket money awarded by the chancellor.
There was also a fair amount of media coverage this week of Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes’ car crash appearance before the Home Affairs select committee, of which I’m a member, on Tuesday. We asked her about how EU citizens would prove their right to be here, or to work in the UK, if Brexit happens without a deal in March 2019. Her contradictory and confusing answers won’t have done anything to reassure EU citizens who may have lived in the UK for years, or the businesses that employ them. Later in the week, things became even more confused when the Home Secretary contradicted the Immigration Minister’s contradictions. With only 5 months to go till exit day and no deal in sight, this is a Brexit shambles.
Finally, for constituents who’ve been following my campaign for better protection for home buyers, you’ll be pleased to hear my formal application for a full debate on the subject received a very positive response when I appeared before the Backbench Business committee. I’m hoping that time will be allocated for a debate in parliament before Christmas. This campaign was sparked off by residents who’d moved into new homes in Woodsend, built by Persimmon, and were shocked by the shoddy workmanship. The situation was made even worse when the company failed to rectify the defects – while awarding its chief executive a £75 million bonus.
I first raised this in parliament a few months ago, and since then, I’ve been inundated with examples of poor quality building and appalling customer service from up and down the country. So I was delighted, but not surprised, to receive cross-party support for my application. If you’ve had a bad experience buying a new home, I’d be very pleased to hear from you. I hope my debate will help to tighten up the law in this area – and, as Karen Buck has shown with her bill on bad landlords last Friday, it’s even possible the government will be sympathetic!