The government suffered a huge blow to its planned changes to the welfare system on Wednesday night when the House of Lords voted three times against means testing of benefits for cancer patients and young disabled people. In the commons chamber, I congratulated the Labour, crossbench and the tiny band of Liberal Democrat peers for standing up for decency and fairness and blocking these shocking plans. I urged the leader of the House not to use parliamentary time to reverse the votes and instead have a debate on fairness to remind the Liberal Democrats in the coalition just why they entered politics in the first place.
At business questions on Thursday, I raised the issue of fat cat salaries following the prime minister’s New Year tour of TV studios and his announcement that shareholders’ votes on executive pay would be binding. But in November the prime minister announced that his idea to address exorbitant boardroom pay was to appoint more women to boards. In October he told us the solution was boards asking themselves ‘is this the right thing to do’.
Over the last year we have had plenty of press releases from No. 10: yet FTSE 100 bosses put their own salaries up by a staggering 49 per cent while last year average earnings went up by just 1.4 per cent. Instead of the prime minister touring TV studios once a month, I asked the Leader of the House explain to him that if he is serious about dealing with fat cat salaries we need action not more press releases and asked him to tell us when we are going to get it.
I also called on the leader of the House to have a word with the chancellor and enquire when we can expect to see a response from the treasury to Will Hutton’s report on fair pay in the public sector. In June 2010 the chancellor announced in yet another press release that this was an ‘important review’ and it would pay ‘a crucial role’ in developing government policy. But it has all gone very quiet since, with not so much as a whisper from the government since the report was published ten months ago.
Following a year in which the issue of lobbying engulfed more than one minister, the cabinet office promised in November that the government would be publishing proposals to clamp down on the access lobbyists have to government by ‘the end of the month’.
Since then we have had a Bell Pottinger executive boasting of the access he can get his clients to the top of government and now one of the prime minister’s top aides, has signed up to another lobbying firm. What we haven’t had is this much promised consultation.
The last time the leader of the House was asked about this – at the beginning of December – he told the House the government would be publishing proposals ‘in a few weeks’. Given this consultation is now long overdue I asked if the cabinet office minister would return to the House to explain what has gone wrong? I’m not holding my breath!
Angela Eagle is MP for Wallasey and shadow leader of the Commons