Apart from a short exchange on a point of order yesterday, this is my first formal encounter with the right hon. and learned Lady. May I say to her and the House that I am delighted to have been appointed her shadow? I have always held a dangerously romantic affection for the House of Commons, and it looks as though my teenage years spent reading Hansard and "Erskine May" under the duvet might now finally pay off.
I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will allow me while I hold this position to work towards three principal objectives: to explore all ways of making Parliament work better for Britain; to help overcome the low reputation of Parliament in the eyes of much of the press and the public; and to take an understanding of Parliament and our democracy into schools, so that younger people can overcome their instinctive derision for politicians. As shadow Leader of the House, one must work on many levels. One must be able to work on a non-partisan basis of trust as well as take part in vigorous exchanges of political difference. I undertake to do both.
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us a debate on Holocaust memorial day; I hope as many Members as possible will participate in it. Given the Government's complete change of heart yesterday about disclosing expenses, in the event that the House passes today's motions, will the Leader of the House confirm that she will continue to take further steps to ensure that we as MPs are open and accountable for all the expenses that we claim from taxpayers' money?
The UK's relationship with India is potentially one of our most crucial strategic alliances. Yesterday, however, we learned that senior Indian officials have officially complained about the "condescending" and "totally tactless" behaviour of the Foreign Secretary during his visit there last week. Given that the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has also been in India this week, may we inquire whether he has been sent there to clear up the damage caused by the Foreign Secretary's visit—or is he there to make things worse? May we have a debate on the relationship between India and the United Kingdom, to remind the Foreign Secretary of the immense value that the whole House places on our continued friendship with a country that will become more powerful and prominent in world affairs?
In their national security strategy, the Government have highlighted the probability of a pandemic influenza outbreak and the risks associated with it. Yet despite that danger, the Government have consistently denied Members the opportunity to raise their concerns about the matter in the House, even though we have been requesting time to debate it for well over two years. Given the importance of that risk, may we have a debate on it in Government time?
Yesterday, we saw the release of the latest figures which show unemployment racing towards 2 million, and most forecasters predict that this year it will burst through 3 million. Today, the value of sterling is at its lowest point for nearly 25 years. The exchange rate is the price tag put on our country's value by the rest of the world, and it is plummeting. Why, if this is a global phenomenon, is Britain in so much worse a position than other countries across the globe? It is increasingly difficult to persuade the Government to debate the future of the economy in Government time. Only last week, we had to drag Ministers to the House to explain the announcement of their loans guarantee scheme. Given that the Prime Minister is so keen on telling everyone how brilliant he is, the Government's reticence on the economy seems rather strange. In the interests of recognising the saviour of the world's achievements over the past few months, may we now have a full debate in Government time on the state of the British economy and how we can escape from the Government's mishandling of our livelihoods?
Finally, did the Leader of the House see this morning's headline which says, "What planet are they on?" Ministers have been seeing strange things—green shoots, booming houses and flickering lights at the end of imaginary tunnels. Has the right hon. and learned Lady had any similar hallucinations, and will she now come down to earth and speak of economic reality instead of the fantasy of Government headlines?
Copy and paste this code on your website