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Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 16th July 2009.

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Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 11:30 am, 16th July 2009

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the business of the House. Perhaps she can tell us at what time the House will meet on Tuesday, as it often meets earlier than normal on the last day.

First, will the Leader of the House explain why such an absurd number of written ministerial statements have been published today? There are no fewer than 53 on today's Order Paper, which means that we have had 90 published this week. Does she agree that we have the right to accuse her of rather taking the mickey? We know full well that the whole process is designed to dump everything on us at the last minute before the recess and so forestall Members' ability to hold the Government to account.

One of today's statements is from the Communities Secretary outlining the Government's flawed and highly unpopular plans on eco-towns. Will the Leader of the House make time available for a full debate on the proposals as soon as the House returns? I can tell her and the House that a delegation from Leicestershire is even now delivering a petition to Downing street with the signatures of 15,000 local people who have registered their implacable opposition to the development of Pennbury eco-town. We are relieved that the Co-op scheme to desecrate green fields will not be on the shortlist, but does she appreciate the depth of anger about the proposals over the past few months?

I note that amidst all these written statements, there is not one on Equitable Life. Last week, the right hon. and learned Lady once again ducked my question about whether we will have a full oral statement, before we rise, on how the Government intend to compensate policyholders. Given that the policyholders have been waiting nine long years for the Government to act on their plight, does she accept that it would be a total insult to them if there were not a full, oral update in this Chamber? Will she confirm that that will definitely happen?

Does the right hon. and learned Lady intend to abide by the spirit of Mr. Speaker's statement on 2 July that Ministers should

"ensure that the backlog of written questions that remain unanswered is cleared before the recess"?-[ Hansard, 2 July 2009; Vol. 495, c. 496.]

Does she not agree that it would be completely unacceptable for the Government to pump out a whole raft of new announcements before the recess without properly responding to the scrutiny by Members of previous announcements? Will she guarantee that those questions will be answered?

The right hon. and learned Lady will know that I wrote to her, and all members of the House of Commons Commission, to ask whether we might introduce a new system during the recess of having what has been described as a "virtual statement" from a Minister. The swine flu outbreak is bound to require further comment over the summer. Might we allow the Secretary of State to make a formal statement online and then allow the Opposition to ask questions that are then given a formal response? That could be a very simple and sensible innovation that allows formal scrutiny without the excessive mechanism of recalling Parliament.

May we also have a debate on how the Government intend to pay for their scheme to "build Britain's future", as they call it? Last month, the Prime Minister published his grand national plan, but unlike any other major announcement on Government policy, there has been no parallel publication of an impact assessment. Will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm when it will be published, or is it simply that the whole of the Prime Minister's so-called future plan is completely uncosted?

The Leader of the House has always been a champion of greater equality, so may I take this opportunity to welcome her reappointment of Sir Treasure-I mean, Sir Trevor Phillips, although "treasure" is perhaps a better description-in his post for a second term as chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission? However, this week it was briefed from her office that she wants to bring more northerners on to the boards of Government quangos and to break the monopoly of southern, white men. Given her wish to be an equalities role model, that puts her in a slightly difficult situation: she benefited from a private education, she hails from the aristocracy and she is a product of the south. It is a great relief, however, that at least she is a woman-and a champion one at that.

Mr. Speaker, I wish you, the right hon. and learned Lady, all hon. Members and the staff who serve us a restful and revitalising summer break.

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