Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:34 am on 22nd January 2009.

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party 11:34 am, 22nd January 2009

I warmly welcome the shadow Leader of the House to his new position and pay tribute to the work done by his predecessor, Mrs. May. I agree with his enunciation of the principles that he is going to stand by as shadow Leader of the House, and I look forward to working with him on them.

The hon. Gentleman welcomed the fact that we have chosen Holocaust memorial day as the subject of next week's topical debate. Last year's debate was one of the best attended, most heartfelt and important topical debates on a Thursday that we have had. As the fallout from Gaza affects all communities in this country and everybody has heartfelt concern about it, on Holocaust memorial day we will particularly reflect on the increased anti-Semitic attacks that there have been on the Jewish community and synagogues in this country. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the Holocaust memorial day topical debate. Any time that he wants to suggest a topical debate, I would be more than happy to hear his suggestions. That is an offer that I made to him when we met privately at his request. I was very grateful to him for offering me a man-to-man chat, and I am happy to have one of those chats with him on any occasion.

On freedom of information, we have had no change of heart. We want there to be clear rules, robust audit and proper transparency so that the public can know how much MPs spend and can have that information every year. I urge the hon. Gentleman not to get on his moral high ground against me on the question of transparency, because I have been perusing the transparency on his website. I have had trouble as Leader of the House with my own website, because somebody hacked into it and put all sorts of things on it which I had not said. I think that he has been having the same problem, because on his website—I am sure that he could not have written this himself—it says:

"Alan Duncan has been a pivotal influence in the fortunes of the Conservative Party in Britain for well over ten years."

I am sure that he will want to correct that. When it comes to transparency, he has been busy putting that sort of thing on his website but has failed to mention his financial interests in oil companies. I really do think that he should put his website where his mouth is.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of relations between India and the United Kingdom, and he made an important point. Our relations with India are important: it is a global player that is important to our economy. There are strong relations between the Prime Minister and his Indian counterpart, and with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There are close links between the communities of Indian origin in this country and those in India, as well as the important relations that the Foreign Secretary and Foreign Office Ministers have. I will consider the hon. Gentleman's suggestion as the subject for a future topical debate.

I will discuss with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health whether we ought to have a debate on the question of the protection in place for flu epidemics.

The hon. Gentleman raised the worrying issue of the rise in unemployment, and as the Prime Minister said to the House yesterday, when someone becomes unemployed it is not only a devastating blow for them, but of concern to everyone, and it is of great concern to this House and the Government. That is why we have been determined to take action to recapitalise the banks, to have a funded loan guarantee scheme, to have a fiscal stimulus into the economy and to ensure that we bring forward capital infrastructure projects. We will never say, "Let the recession take its course," or that unemployment is a price worth paying. As far as the opportunity for the House to debate the economy is concerned, we are not backward in coming forward to ensure that it can debate the economy. Every week, we need to have substantive debates, statements and questions, and we make sure that that is the case.

I shall conclude by saying that the hon. Gentleman brings a dash of sartorial elegance to his Front-Bench team, who are otherwise sometimes a bit drab; drab he is not. On a personal note, I would just like to say that I really love his watch. I understand that he was given it by the Sultan of Oman. It is absolutely lovely. Also, I really like the cufflinks that he is wearing today; are those the ones that the Sultan gave him? They are absolutely great.

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