|Sir George presses Leader of the House on business in Parliament
15 Oct 2009
Below is the exchange between Sir George and the Leader of the House at Business Questions.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?
The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): The business for the week commencing 19 October will be:
Monday 19 October—Opposition day (18th allotted day). There will be a full day’s debate entitled “Economic Recovery and Welfare” on an Opposition motion.
Tuesday 20 October—Second Reading of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill.
Wednesday 21 October—Opposition day (19th allotted day). There will be debates on Equitable Life and climate change. Both debates will arise on a Liberal Democrat motion.
Thursday 22 October—Topical debate (subject to be announced), followed by a motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee to which the Government have replied. Details will be given in the Official Report.
[The details are as follows: The 1st to the 6th, the 8th to the 11th, the 13th to the 23rd, and the 31st reports of the Committee of Public Accounts of Session 2008-09, and the Treasury Minutes of these reports (CM 7568, 7622 and 7636. ]
The provisional business for the week commencing 26 October will include:
Monday 26 October—Remaining stages of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill [ Lords] (day 1).
Tuesday 27 October—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill [ Lords], followed by Opposition day (unallotted half-day). There will be a half-day debate on an Opposition motion in the name of the minority parties (subject to be announced).
Wednesday 28 October—Opposition day (20th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion (subject to be announced).
Thursday 29 October—Topical debate (subject to be announced), followed by general debate on the social care Green Paper.
The House will wish to know that on Wednesday 11 November at 11 o’clock in Westminster Abbey, there will be a Service of Commemoration to mark the passing of the first world war generation. Given the significance of this occasion, I propose to bring forward a motion to change the start of House business on 11 November. Instead of beginning at 11.30, as it usually is on Wednesdays, the beginning of House business will be at 2.30 pm.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 22 and 29 October will be:
Thursday 22 October—A debate on the report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on the Licensing Act 2003.
Thursday 29 October—A debate on the report from the Energy and Climate Change Committee on UK offshore oil and gas.
Sir George Young: I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) for doing the job before me in a challenging time for Parliament. Along with the Leader of the House, he transformed this weekly session into a lively event. I look forward to working with her in a constructive cross-party manner on some occasions, and holding her firmly to account on others.
On the special arrangements for 11 November, can the Leader of the House confirm that Prime Minister’s questions will be at 3 pm on that day and that the House will continue to sit until 10 pm? Can she confirm that the Minister who will reply to the imminent debate on defence will have an answer to the question on cuts in Territorial Army training that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) put to the Prime Minister yesterday, with a less than satisfactory response?
When will the Chancellor present his pre-Budget report? In 2007, it was on 9 October. When he does so, will he be as open with the public about the tough decisions that lie ahead of us on public spending as my party was at our conference last week, and will he confirm that there will be 9 per cent. cuts in departmental cash limits as recently revealed? Can the Leader of the House also give an indication of when the parliamentary calendar for next year will be published? The arrangements around Easter will be of more than usual interest.
On Tuesday, the Leader of the House announced the Second Reading of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. Why was the Joint Committee of both Houses obliged by the Government to rush through the pre-legislative scrutiny of that Bill and complete its work in July last year? Why did the Government dither for 15 months before giving the Bill a Second Reading date? They now plan to push this important Bill through in the dying months of this Parliament. Is that the proper way to treat constitutional reform?
May we have an urgent debate on press freedom? The whole House is concerned about the injunction placed on The Guardian earlier this week, preventing it from publishing details of a parliamentary question. Will the Leader of the House give us a debate in Government time so that hon. Members can express their concerns that the freedoms won by John Wilkes should not be eroded?
May we have an urgent statement on the Government’s legislative programme, which appears to be in chaos? On 21 September, the Government closed their consultation on the 11 Bills in the draft programme—a consultation that cost £80,000 last year, and on which this year there was no debate. Just a week later, at the Labour party conference, the Prime Minister announced at least six new legislative commitments that were not in the draft programme. How does the Leader of the House propose to shoehorn these additional commitments into the remaining months, and do not they make a mockery of having a consultation with the public in the first place?
Finally, may we have a debate on early-day motion 2033?
[That this House is concerned at reports that growing numbers of Returning Officers are considering postponing the counting of votes cast on the day of the General Election until the day after polling; believes that in the 21st century it would be a regressive move not to announce
constituency results as early as possible; further believes that public confidence in the results could be undermined by delays in the counting of ballot papers and that fewer voters would be able to watch the results being announced if this were done on a Friday afternoon; and calls on local authorities throughout the United Kingdom to ensure that all ballot papers are counted immediately after the close of polls on General Election night, as has been the practice in previous General Elections.]
The early-day motion refers to general election night—an event that I hope will take place as soon as possible. It has attracted 126 signatures in three days and is a burning issue in the blogosphere. The gruelling marathon of election night specials, along with the imperative of not delaying the count, is as intrinsic to our democratic process as voting itself and an even older tradition than a Dimbleby presenting the coverage. Will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate so that the House can ensure that that tradition is not lost and that as many counts as possible take place when the polls close?
Ms Harman: I warmly welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new role as shadow Leader of the House. Over the years he has always made the proceedings in the House the focus of his attention. He has been shadow Leader of the House before—indeed, I am the third Leader of the House that he has shadowed. He has also served with distinction as Chair of the Committee on Standards and Privileges. I look forward to working with him and I agree that the relationship between the Leader of the House and her shadow is a special relationship, and it is in the interests of the House that we work together.
I also pay tribute to the former shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan). It was very sad that he was sacked and rusticated out of the shadow Cabinet. It looks like he was sacked for drinking champagne, which he, like most people, probably thought was in the job description of a member of the Tory party, rather than an offence. Anyway, I hope that he finds his way back into the shadow Cabinet, if not before the general election, after it.
I confirm that Prime Minister’s questions will take place on Wednesday 11 November and that the House will sit until 10 pm. The right hon. Gentleman is right, therefore, that all business will be shifted back on that day. He also asked about Territorial Army training, which was addressed not only in the statement made by the Prime Minister to the House yesterday, but in Prime Minister’s questions, and there will be a full day’s debate on defence this afternoon. I am sure, therefore, that those issues can be aired with Defence Ministers at that point.
The right hon. Gentleman asked, too, about public spending, and there will be a debate on the economy next week. No doubt, the Economic Ministers leading for the Government in that debate will make it clear that, although there are encouraging signs of recovery, the economy remains fragile, and that although the recession is abating, we are not yet out of the woods. To pull the plugs, therefore, on important capital investment and support for people who become unemployed will not, I am sure, be part of the agenda to be set out next Monday.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the parliamentary calendar. I know that hon. Members are anxious to hear about this so that they can make their plans to be in their constituencies, working hard on behalf of their constituents and making appointments with them. That is why it is important that I bring the parliamentary calendar before the House as soon as I can. He also asked about the Constitutional Renewal Bill. I place on the record my thanks to hon. Members, in this House and the Lords, who served on the Joint Committee of both Houses that considered and conducted important pre-legislative scrutiny of that Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about press freedom in respect of reports of proceedings of this House. That is an issue of great importance and concerns rights and democracy in this country. It is about more than just press freedom; it is about the importance of this House doing its job, and about people in this country knowing what we have said in this House. It remains the case, as it should, that the Speaker, or whoever is in the Chair, decides what can be said in this House. What is said in this House has absolute privilege. The only control comes from the Chair, which is exercised judicially, and always has been. What is said in this House can be reported. So long as it is fair and truthful, it can, and must, be reported by newspapers and other media outside. It should not be subject to rulings by the courts. This House decides its own proceedings, subject only to rulings by the Chair and qualified privilege in respect of truthfulness and fairness. Subject to that only, the proceedings of this House can be reported, and cannot be impinged upon by the courts. That is our responsibility.
Obviously, it is difficult to defend that, in respect of this House, if the House is not aware that our proceedings have been the subject of an injunction and prevented from publication. The House, the Table Office and the Ministry of Justice were not aware that there was an injunction on reporting proceedings in this House. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice is liaising on the matter with myself and the Speaker. I assure the House, and people in this country, that we will continue doing our business. We will make absolutely sure that it is reported and that it is not for the courts to stop that.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the Queen’s Speech. We set forth, earlier in the year, the draft legislative programme and those Bills in the pipeline at that time. We published the draft legislative programme so that people could comment on them. It is of course the case that, as the work of the Government and public debate proceed, Bills will come forward and be added later, and there is no dishonour in doing that. If a Bill on fiscal responsibility or on a national social care service is added after the draft legislative programme, it is not because it was planned at the time and held back, but because it was planned after the draft legislative programme was published. I would like to thank everybody who took part in the consultation on the draft legislative programme and remind the House that the Queen’s Speech will be on 18 November.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the campaign to save general election night. There is an early-day motion on that, which hon. Members have signed, but the count is, first and foremost, a matter for the Electoral Commission.