Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:32 am on 12th March 2009.

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Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 11:32 am, 12th March 2009

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the future business. First, I have been asked by the noble Lord Myners, the Minister responsible for the City, to state that contrary to what I said last week in this House he receives no pension from NatWest bank and no entitlement from the Royal Bank of Scotland Group. I am happy to offer that correction today. Yesterday—[Hon. Members: "An apology?"] I am very happy to call it an apology if that is what the House wishes.

Yesterday, in response to a question from my hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Winterton, the Prime Minister said that the Government would be

"happy to debate the economy at any time in this House".—[ Hansard, 11 March 2009; Vol. 489, c. 292.]

It has taken some time. The embarrassing truth for the Government is that, during this period of national crisis, there have been just two debates in Government time on the economy since October—one after the pre-Budget debate last autumn, which was demanded by the shadow Chancellor and thankfully granted by you, Mr. Speaker, and one, as is customary, after the Queen's Speech. Now, at last, after extensive pressure, the Government have been shamed into holding a debate on Tuesday 31 March. We will none the less proceed with our Opposition day debate on the economy next Wednesday. Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Chancellor will be at both debates?

May we have a statement from the Government on the purpose of Select Committees? Yesterday, the Liaison Committee published its annual report into the work of Select Committees, which stated that the already over-stretched state of the Committee machinery was being exacerbated by Committees' being too large and by the establishment of too many Committees. Will the Government once again explain why they have just created a further eight new Committees, at least two of which, as we learned from points of order on Tuesday, did not even manage to hold their first meeting as they were supposed to? Does that not speak eloquently of the total uselessness of regional Select Committees?

May we have an opportunity to debate the issues surrounding protests in a democracy? There is still no indication from the Government about what they plan to do about the vulgar encampment and constant megaphone bellowing in Parliament square, which is a permanent national embarrassment. When can we expect such a debate or statement? Rather more importantly, will the Leader of the House join me and others in condemning the ignorance of those protesters in Luton who did everything they could to spoil what should have been a day dedicated to honouring the British soldiers who have put their lives on their line to do their duty under threat abroad?

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is obstructing the publication of details about where money has been spent on the preventing violent extremism pathfinder fund, even though the details were published for last year. Ministers are accountable to Parliament, especially on the spending of money. This appears to be unacceptable behaviour from the Secretary of State and brings her and this place into disrepute. Will the Leader of the House convey to the Secretary of State the displeasure of the House and seek a full apology from her along with the information to which hon. Members are fully entitled?

Does the Leader of the House think that she has given enough time for the Welfare Reform Bill on Report, given the ferocity of the amendments that have been tabled to it by her Back Benchers? On Monday, the Department for Work and Pensions was subjected to the attentions of some furious protesters, including an organisation known as Feminist Fightback. Given that the Leader of the House has been pictured before wearing a T-shirt bearing the inscription "This is what a feminist looks like", might we assume that she, too, took part in that protest?

Even though, perhaps surprisingly, that event was not covered by the Daily Mirror, in the course of this week the Leader of the House has been. May I congratulate her on being the centrefold of that newspaper on Monday? In the past, she has said that she thinks that Prime Ministers' wives ought to buy their clothes at Primark; now, she says that she "loves stilettos" and that she shops in Primark herself. I am more Savile Row, I have to admit— [ Interruption. ] But not stilettos. Might we conclude that this is preparation for her becoming Prime Minister?

When the right hon. and learned Lady was asked what attracts her to other politicians, she answered:

"I prefer men"— that is a very good start—

"with big...brains".

Could it be that I have found favour with her at last?

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