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Back-bench Business Debates

Oral Answers to Questions — Leader of the House – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 3rd March 2016.

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Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering 9:30 am, 3rd March 2016

If he will make it his policy to protect the time available for Back-Bench business debates on the Floor of the House.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

It is for the Backbench Business Committee to schedule the business for the days allocated to it in each Session, and for the Chair to manage the debates when they take place.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

This afternoon or perhaps late this morning there will be a debate on gangs and serious youth violence, which is an extremely important topic. The Leader of the House will know that this debate was scheduled for an earlier day, but because of urgent questions, statements and other business overrunning for legitimate reasons, there was no time left for that important debate to take place. That situation could have been avoided had the Leader of the House allocated that debate protected time. Using that experience, will he look to protect Back-Bench business on future heavy business days?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

As I have said to the Chair of the Committee in recent weeks, I keep that under careful review. It is certainly the case that the gangs debate moved to today because of a number of other parliamentary events that took place on that day. However, the Backbench Business Committee has been able to bring the debate back to the House shortly afterwards. and as there are no urgent questions or statements today, there should be a full day available for today’s important debates. I will keep the matter under review, but I will need to be persuaded that things are going badly wrong before we could countenance a change to the way things work at present.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

Surely the Leader of the House will agree with me that it is not just Back-Bench business and debates that are affected, but the rights and privileges of Back Benchers. Is he aware that very often the Opposition get squeezed by Front Benchers, with all their privileges, acting as Back Benchers as well, so it is much more competitive for us? Will he also bear in mind the fact that after my point of order to the Speaker, we had better behaviour from the Leader of the House and his Front-Bench colleagues at business questions, but after one week they have reverted to type?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that Members on his Front Bench, particularly on this occasion, go on for much too long? That view might not command agreement on the Opposition Benches, but it certainly does on the Government Benches.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Will my right hon. Friend consider the fact that when Back-Bench business debates are scheduled in this House, Members on all sides take the opportunity to come along to participate? We on the Backbench Business Committee try to arrange for 15 speakers, and if the debate gets squeezed and pushed to another day, that is very unacceptable to Back Benchers who have made the time to speak on important subjects?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Of course, that is an important point. That is why I say we will keep the matter under review. This is the first occasion that it has happened in recent times. Clearly, if it becomes a regular feature, we may have to think again, but I do not want to manage processes unnecessarily. We need to see whether there is genuinely a longer-term issue.