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 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 11:32 am, 12th March 2009

Perhaps I may start by thanking the hon. Gentleman for the correction that he has made in respect of Lord Myners. The hon. Gentleman has acted appropriately: he said something, it was pointed out that it was wrong, and he has come to the House at the next opportunity to put it right. I thank him for that, and I think that he has done exactly right.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the debate on the economy. Since the credit crunch began to take effect as a result of the global financial crisis, this House has had the benefit of constant accountability on the economy through oral statements, Bills, questions raised with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister, and topical debates. It is for the Opposition to choose the subject of an Opposition day debate, and for next week's they have chosen the economy. It is for the Government to determine which Minister to put forward.

The Liaison Committee's report pays tribute to, or at least acknowledges, the Government's concern to provide greater accountability to the House. As for regional Committees, we think that it is important that the massive agencies with big regional reach which are making a huge difference in every region by injecting capital and improving skills, are properly accountable to the House. The spate of what I would call misleading points of order implied that there was something untoward about the first set of regional Committee meetings. That is absolutely wrong: the normal process is that, when members of a Committee are selected— [ Interruption. ] It is not the case that they did not turn up. When members of a Committee are selected, it is for the most senior to arrange with the Clerks when the meeting should be held. Most of the meetings have been held this week: some will be held today, and the remaining one or two will be held next week.

The regional Committees will go ahead with their work of holding regional agencies to account for the hundreds of millions of pounds that they spend, and I suggest to Opposition Members that they join that work. They too should be concerned about the Highways Agency, the Learning and Skills Council and the strategic health authorities, all of whose actions should be scrutinised at regional level as well as on the Floor of the House.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the encampment in Parliament square. There will be Justice questions next week, and I suggest that he raise the matter then, when will hear what the plans are to deal with it.

The hon. Gentleman raised the point about the shameful demonstrations in Luton, something that I think everyone in the House is concerned about. The local people wanted to welcome the troops back, and I think that we all agree that the counter-demonstrations were deplorable. I think that we all feel struck by the contrast between the freedom of speech that allows people to demonstrate and the conditions in those countries where our soldiers are fighting for democracy, freedom of speech, peace and security, both in the region and in the world.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the accountability of the Department for Communities and Local Government for local spending. Obviously, the Department wants to answer parliamentary questions and be accountable for its spending. There is no attempt not to be open about what we regard a very important programme of ensuring that the police work for greater security. We also work with local communities to ensure that we prevent radicalism and extremism.

The hon. Gentleman asked for my view on the Welfare Reform Bill. I have always thought that it is a bad thing for a child to be brought up in a house where no one works. That is not just a question of income: it is important for children to see their parents getting up and going out to work every day. That is how children learn that they, too, will be in the world of work when they grow up, not simply expecting to live off benefits. So not only is the work that arose originally from the new deal for lone parents—which involves more help, more child care and more training for lone parents to get into work—good for their household budgets, but it is good for the children to see that people go out to work, rather than live off benefits.

The hon. Gentleman made some sideways remarks about me and the rumours of suggested manoeuvrings and all the points made by the shadow Foreign Secretary. When hon. Members stand at the Dispatch Box, it is important that they speak honestly and truthfully and that they do not mislead the House. The hon. Gentleman has raised this issue for a number of consecutive weeks, but there is not one shred of truth—not one iota of truth—in any of the suggestions that have been circulated in the newspapers. Although we cannot stop the newspapers reporting them, he can at least respect what I tell him about that and not continue to make those accusations from the Dispatch Box. And, yes, I am wearing my stilettos today.

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