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Business of the House

Volume 547: debated on Tuesday 3 July 2012

Mr Speaker, I should like to make a short business statement. The business for this Thursday will now be proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill, followed by a debate on two motions relating to professional standards in the banking industry. I shall make my usual business statement on Thursday.

I welcome that statement from the Leader of the House. Can he tell us how long he expects the debates to last?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her welcome for the statement. The plan is to table a business motion today which will appear on the Order Paper tomorrow. The debate will be the main business on Thursday, and we plan to bring it to a conclusion at 5.15 pm to allow time for debate before 6 pm.

Order. I remind the House that questions on the statement must relate to the statement itself, and thus only to the implications of the change in business. They must not extend to the arrangement of business more widely, and certainly not to the issues of substance that will be the subject of the debate on Thursday. I hope that that is helpful to the House.

Will the Leader of the House ensure that on Thursday it will be in order to debate banking competition and the structure of the state banks, so that we can have a proper debate on banking?

The question of whether a speech would be in order would be a matter for you in the Chair, Mr Speaker. My right hon. Friend will be able to see the two motions which we hope to table today and which, in that event, will be on the Order Paper tomorrow. I am sure that, if he catches your eye on Thursday, he will be able to couch his speech in such a way as to remain in order.

I said that there will be debates at 5.15 pm; I meant votes.

As a direct result of the announcement made by the Leader of the House, we will lose the opportunity on Thursday to debate a motion selected by the Backbench Business Committee about VAT and ambulance services. Can the Leader of the House tell me when time will be made available for that debate? Has he a date in mind, and how much time will be provided?

I very much regret the inconvenience to the House and to Members who were planning to take part in Thursday’s debate on the two motions proposed by the Backbench Business Committee. I intend to find time for one of those two debates between now and the summer recess if possible. I hope to be able to say more on Thursday.

The other motion tabled for that day is in the name of members of the Public Administration Committee, and invites the House to give its opinion of our recommendation that the adviser on ministerial interests should be able to instigate his own inquiries instead of having to wait for a referral from the Prime Minister. Given that this is a very topical issue and that the Government have yet to respond to our latest report, may I ask my right hon. Friend to find time for that debate, not least because I am sure he would not want the impression to be given that the Government were reluctant to debate the issue?

The subject that my hon. Friend has raised is indeed important, but my own view—without any disrespect—is that the crisis in the banking industry is even more important, and that it is entirely right for the House to find time to debate it. I can tell my hon. Friend that we plan to honour our commitment to the Backbench Business Committee to find at least 27 days for debate on the Floor of the House in each Session. I hope to say a little more about the time available, but the Committee already has half a day next Wednesday, and I hope that it will also have the last day before the House rises, so it is not the case that it has been totally starved of time.

The debate on banking is of course very important, and the House understands that. It is only regrettable that it happens to be a Back-Bench day that it is replacing. Will the Leader of the House not only undertake to look into that, but guarantee that both the important debates that have had to be postponed will be held before the House rises for the summer recess?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her comments. At the meeting of the Backbench Business Committee this morning, representations were made to her for a debate on the banking industry, so there is an appetite for that. In response to her request to make good the two half days, as I have said the Committee already has a half day earmarked for sittings motions next Wednesday, and I hope it will also have the last day before we rise for the recess. I will use my best endeavours to find another half day between now and the time the House rises. I cannot go further than that at this time.

This is an outrage, Mr Speaker. This is the Executive imposing their will on Back-Bench time. I invite the Leader of the House to change his decision, as there is some irrelevant business on Monday and we could hold this debate in Executive time then.

Far from there being irrelevant business on Monday, it is business that I think is so important that it warrants two days of debate. The issue we will be debating on Thursday is also very important. It arose since the last business questions, and there is a debate in the country about the banking industry. I think it is important that this House should also be part of that debate, which is why we have rearranged the business.

Will the motions on Thursday require that the Joint Committee operate according to the rules of the primary Chamber, namely the House of Commons, as opposed to the House of Lords, and will there be an opportunity for a free vote on who gets to chair the Committee?

The issue of who will chair a Joint Committee, if it is set up, would be a matter for that Committee. The hon. Gentleman will be able to see the motions when they appear on the Order Paper, and they will include the two alternatives: the inquiry that has been proposed by the Opposition, and the Joint Committee that has been proposed by the Government. They will both be put before the House.

The Leader of the House’s statement makes it clear that the Government are going to ever greater lengths to avoid a full judge-led inquiry. By the time this House votes at 5.15 pm on Thursday, the Treasury Committee will have held three sessions on the LIBOR scandal, and it is also halfway through an inquiry into governance in the banking industry. If the Leader of the House wants Parliament to do the job, why not let the Select Committee do it, instead of involving the Lords?

The right hon. Gentleman has begun to engage in a debate that might take place on Thursday, but it goes slightly beyond the scope of the business statement. I hope that in the debate members of the Treasury Committee—including, perhaps, the Chair of the Committee—might express their views on the proposition we will have put before the House.

I want to add my support to the Chairman of the Public Administration Committee, the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), and to emphasise that there is support for his view on both sides of the House and the Select Committee. This issue is about devolving powers from the Prime Minister, which would be a significant constitutional change, and it deserves the House’s full attention.

It is indeed an important matter, and I think I am right in saying that the Chairs of all the Select Committees have added their names to the proposal, so it does have all-party support. I gently say to the hon. Gentleman, however, that in the 13 years before the last election, the Labour party consistently failed to give the Prime Minister’s adviser the freedom which is now advocated.

Presenting just these two options does not necessarily represent the views of all Members. Many will want to have an immediate inquiry by the Treasury Committee, to enable a longer-term inquiry to take place. If that were to happen, we could address the immediate issues and have recommendations about the immediate legislative changes needed to address, in particular, confidence in the City, but then also have a longer-term inquiry that could report back in due course.

The motions we put down tomorrow for debate on Thursday will be amendable, although whether any amendment is chosen is a matter for the Speaker.

I am glad the Leader of the House remembered to inform us that there will be votes on Thursday. Will the Government parties be whipping on the issue, given its importance and the need for consensus?

Issues of whipping are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in the House yesterday, but the Government made their views on this issue known then.

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. Yesterday, we were promised one motion, but today we are being told that there will be two, which apparently, given what he has just said, will be rival motions. As has been mentioned, many people see a case for a parliamentary inquiry that will inform amendments to the Financial Services Bill and also see the need for a wider judicial inquiry to get to the bottom of this problem. This “strokery” of good key business being made a casualty of today’s announcement and of rival motions will frustrate Parliament in doing the job it needs to do in response to this crisis.

I say to the hon. Gentleman that there is a disagreement between the two sides of the House as to the best way forward. The right way to resolve that disagreement is to have a debate and then have a vote on the two alternative propositions. That is how this House makes a decision.