I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting an urgent question on Tuesday to the Defence Secretary. As my right hon. Friend Mr Murphy said, we support the decision to send troops to Mali and neighbouring countries to help to train the Malian army, but the deployment of troops to conflict areas raises important issues on which Members wanted to question the Defence Secretary. It should not have taken an urgent question to force the Defence Secretary to the House. It is not the first time that an urgent question has been necessary to get the Defence Secretary to the Dispatch Box to answer questions on important matters concerning our armed services. Will the Leader of the House therefore undertake that in future, while our armed forces are deployed, the Defence Secretary will keep the House regularly updated without being forced to do so? Will the Leader of the House now agree to a general debate on the developing situation in north Africa?
Last Friday’s GDP figures were terrible. After two and a half years in government, the Chancellor has presided over a double-dip recession and a flatlining economy. Once again on the part-time Chancellor’s watch, the economy is contracting. We warned that the Government’s economic strategy—if one can call it that—was damaging the economy: they cut too far and too fast. The Deputy Prime Minister has popped up to attack his own Government’s record of cutting infrastructure expenditure. It is a bit late to be saying so, since his party voted for each and every cut. While the economy has nose-dived, the part-time Chancellor has been filling up his time with pizzas in Davos, and not one but two dinners with Rupert Murdoch. With all these dinners, I fear that the only thing now growing is the Chancellor’s waistline.
With bankers lining up to pay themselves massive bonuses over the forthcoming weeks, may we have an urgent statement from the Business Secretary on what the Government are going to do to stop this abuse?
We welcome the cross-party decision on Tuesday on the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill. The Conservative party’s attempt to gerrymander parliamentary boundaries was rejected by Members across the House from all political parties—an alternative coalition, one might call it. I welcome the fact that the Leader of the House has returned to his rightful role after subbing for the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Miss Smith in that debate, for reasons that were somewhat opaque. None the less, we enjoyed his performance on a sticky wicket.
The Leader of the House will have heard in Tuesday’s debate the clamour among those on the Conservative Back Benches to hear from the Deputy Prime Minister, who was strangely absent from the proceedings. It is not very often that the Leader of the House’s Back Benchers want to hear from the Liberal Democrat leader. Given the demand, will he arrange for the Deputy Prime Minister to make a statement? I think we would all enjoy that.
Relate tells us that January is the month in which couples are most likely to break up, so may I congratulate the coalition on managing to get through it? [Interruption.] Just—there is one day left.
Last weekend I was troubled to read not about coalition tensions but about tensions within the Conservative party. There was even the suggestion of a plot to depose the Prime Minister. I do not know where Adam Afriyie is today; perhaps the Chief Whip could tell us. The way things are going, we do not want to lose the Prime Minister and his chums, so may we have a debate on Government leadership to give the hon. Member for Windsor the opportunity to share with the House the qualities he thinks he has to lead the country?
I have been looking at the voting records in Hansard. What we have learned this week is that the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), managed to vote both for and against the Succession to the Crown Bill. She then failed to participate in the boundaries vote on any side, so engrossed was she in meeting Shami Chakrabarti from Liberty. She was not the only Conservative Minister to miss Tuesday’s crucial vote. In a brilliant whipping operation, the Foreign Secretary decided that he would rather have dinner in Washington than vote in the House. You would have thought, Mr Speaker, that the Cabinet was a dining society given the number of dinners that Ministers are having. Can’t vote, forgets to vote, can’t be bothered to turn up—what a shambles!