With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short statement. The business for Thursday 31 January will now be:
Motion to approve the Fourth Report of the Committee of Standards and Privileges, Session 2007-08, on the conduct of Mr. Derek Conway (HC 280), followed by a topical debate on the Holocaust memorial day, followed by the remaining stages of the National Insurance Contributions Bill.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for making this short statement about the altered business on Thursday. I note that we did not have a topical debate last week, when we had a debate on Members’ pay. This week, this extra debate has been inserted, and it is not time-limited, as I understand it. Will the right hon. Lady set out her policy on when topical debates will and will not take place?
The right hon. Lady will be aware that topical debates take place in Government time. I made the decision last week to give the House as much time as possible to discuss the important questions raised by the Senior Salaries Review Body report on Members’ pay and allowances. I made the decision on that day. We made the decision on the business for this Thursday last week. The decision that the topic for the debate would be the Holocaust memorial day was made first thing on Monday. Thereafter, we received the report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, and that will be the first order of business on Thursday. It will come before the topical debate, and we hope that the House will have ample opportunity to debate the Committee’s report. When that debate ends, we will move on to the topical debate and then to the National Insurance Contributions Bill. We hope that the House will have the opportunity to do justice to all those issues.
We welcome the statement, and we think that the Leader of the House is right to have the Committee on Standards and Privileges business on Thursday, when it can be debated without appearing to conflict with the matters that we have already determined should have priority today and tomorrow. I should, however, like to follow the question raised by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) by requesting that, in future, the assumption should be that there will be a topical debate unless there is agreement across the House that that should be changed.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that topical debates take place in Government time, and that we will decide how to allocate that time. As he knows, the topical debate procedure is still in its early stages, and we shall review it in due course to see how it is working. This Thursday, the topical debate will take place after the House has had an opportunity to discuss the report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges.
On a point of clarification, will the Leader of the House explain whether the moment of interruption will be later than normal on Thursday because of the extra business that the Government and the House feel it is appropriate to deal with on that day? It is important that the amount of time available for debate in this House should not be limited. The national insurance contributions legislation is important, so will the moment of interruption be later to take account of the time spent on the earlier business?
The hon. Gentleman will know that there will be four items of business, and the moment of interruption will be at the normal time. Obviously, depending on how the debates proceed during Thursday, and through discussions with the usual channels, we will try to ensure that the right time is available for each of the debates. We have done what people expect to be done in these circumstances: if a report about a Member is issued, the House must have an opportunity to debate and take any appropriate decision about it as early as possible. We did not want to scrap either the topical debate or consideration of the National Insurance Contributions Bill, which had already been tabled as the business for the day. We hope that we will have the opportunity fully to debate all those issues; otherwise, we shall just have to keep an eye on things as they proceed. There should be enough time to debate all those matters.