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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 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 11:30 am, 16th July 2009

The hon. Gentleman asked about Equitable Life. I shall not repeat what I said in response to the shadow Leader of the House, except to say that there will be a written ministerial statement about Equitable Life before the House rises. Treasury Ministers answered questions from hon. Members about the issue at some length during Treasury questions only this week.

The hon. Gentleman took rather a gloomy view about the prospects of the Committee whose establishment we want the House to support and which will operate under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend Dr. Wright. It will consider opportunities for members of the public to place matters on the agenda of the House and bring them forward for debate. It will also consider whether we can make progress on how we appoint the Chairs and members of Select Committees and look at the important question of the allocation of both Government and non-Government business.

I urge Mr. Heath to have faith and confidence that we are determined that the matter should be put before the House before it rises. We will seek an opportunity for such a debate; having made the proposal, we would like the House to have an opportunity to put it through. We have put the matter before the House on a number of occasions. There was all-party agreement and we sought to address the issues put forward in amendments when we first tabled the motion. We accepted all amendments, but that is still not good enough for some Members, who want a debate. Even when their amendments are accepted, that is up to Members: they are perfectly entitled to insist on a debate, however annoying everybody else might find it.

We will therefore find time for that debate to take place before the House rises, because the Committee will have work to do during the summer. I detected a note of scepticism in the voice of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome; I do not know whether it is just that he needs a holiday, but he sounded a bit irascible and unlike his normal, avuncular self. I reassure him that we intend to get there on this issue, and we will.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the Defence Committee's report. There will be a general debate this afternoon. As he will know, we originally scheduled the topic of climate change in advance of the Copenhagen conference for the general debate and had planned a shorter, topical debate on defence. However, because of the importance of that issue, particularly given our troops in Afghanistan, we have made defence the topic of the full, general debate this afternoon. Obviously, there can be an initial response to the Select Committee's report then, and there will be a further opportunity to respond to the Committee's report not only by action during the summer recess, but in the debate when we get back to the House in October.

The hon. Gentleman talked about water charges. The Deputy Leader of the House has reminded me that there was an all-party group meeting, which many hon. Members attended, including her.

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