Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:31 am on 31st January 2013.

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Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Leader of the House of Commons 10:31 am, 31st January 2013

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House. I think she asked one question relating specifically to future business.

Of course, it is absolutely our intention and that of my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary that the House should be regularly and appropriately informed about our engagement in Mali and in north-west Africa. On the issue of a statement or an urgent question, the circumstances were that EU agreement had not yet been reached on the EU training mission, and in my colleague’s mind was the intention to update the House in the light of the EU training mission as well as the bilateral agreements that were entered into. I make no bones about that—it was absolutely fine for the urgent question to be responded to and we will keep the House informed. I cannot promise an oral statement in every case, for reasons of the progress of business, but I am sure we will keep the House fully informed through a combination of written ministerial statements, oral statements and answers to questions.

The hon. Lady asked a number of questions. It is interesting—the Leader of the Opposition made almost exactly the same point yesterday—that the Opposition try to argue that the economy requires the Government to spend more money, but complain, at one and the same time, that the Government are borrowing too much. They cannot have it both ways. They have to decide. Not only does their position represent utter confusion on the part of the Labour party, but, to be frank, it carries no credibility outside Parliament—that is the essential point. As the Prime Minister rightly said, the public will not trust the people who crashed the car last and put them back in the driving seat. It is not going to happen.

I listened to yesterday’s debate on Europe, but did not hear the confusion regarding the Labour party’s position remotely clarified. As far as I can see, the Opposition’s position now is that they are not in favour of an in/out referendum today, but they might be at some point in the future; yet, at the same time, they manage to be opposed to the idea of making a future commitment to the public that a new settlement with Europe should be the subject of a referendum. If they, like us, do not want a referendum now, why can they not just agree with us that there should be a referendum in the future on the basis that the public have the right to decide on the character of the settlement that we seek to negotiate with Europe?

On the question of powers in Europe, the Foreign Secretary has made it clear that, through the review of competences, we are looking at that negotiation with specific objectives for the return of powers. The hon. Lady and the Leader of the Opposition talk about returning powers, but the shadow Foreign Secretary has said that the Opposition are talking not about repatriation but about reform and a flow of powers to and back from Europe. I thought that the Opposition had just agreed to the referendum lock on powers to Europe, yet they seem to be reopening that question. There is utter confusion on their part.

Finally, the hon. Lady referred to collective ministerial responsibility. It was my happy duty to lead from the Dispatch Box on the debate on the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill. She was very kind about that. In fact, she was so kind that she did not observe that, although I was defending a sticky wicket—though I did make the odd stroke here and there—John Thurso, who is not in his place, took the bails off my stumps later on. He was rather good—I give him credit for that.

The point is—the hon. Lady has to give the Government credit for this—that the mid-term review shows that we are very clear about where we are going and we are doing it together as a coalition. We have entered into not only a coalition but a mid-term review. We understand that we have a collective responsibility. I wish that the shadow Leader of the House and her colleagues would stand at the Dispatch Box and take either collective or individual responsibility for the mess they left this country in—for the debt and the six-and-a-half per cent. collapse in the economy. The reduction in GDP was not 0.1% but 6.3%. It was a bust like we had never seen before, after her then leader had promised that there would be no more boom and bust.