Alan Duncan asks if Harriet Harman feels “appreciated” by the Prime Minister

April 25, 2009 at 6:30 pm Leave a comment

by Tony Grew

At their weekly Commons tete-a-tete on Thursday, the Leader of the House and her Shadow, Alan Duncan, clashed over the supposed “leak” of Budget information and the Prime Minister’s “deeply weird” appearance on YouTube.

Gordon Brown released a video message outlining his proposals for the reform of MPs’ expenses (see video above).

Mr Duncan said:

“On Tuesday, the Prime Minister published his proposals for reforming our system of expenses.

“If I may be a little personal, may I ask whether the right hon. and learned Lady feels sufficiently appreciated by the Prime Minister?

“Does she feel that she can still be the guardian of Parliament’s voice in the Cabinet?

“Is it not clear that she was completely bypassed by No. 10 and then bounced into making a written ministerial statement, as the presentable face of Government, after the Prime Minister’s deeply weird statement on YouTube?

“Is it really true that No. 10 has said that Labour Members who do not vote for the Prime Minister’s proposals will be deselected?

“How can she possibly defend his barmy plan for an automatic daily allowance, for which no receipts will need to be presented, as an improvement on what we have already?”

Mr Duncan also asked for a debate on “the guarding of Budget secrets.

“By yesterday morning, we were already aware of several of the Chancellor’s headline schemes, including the car scrappage and HomeBuy initiatives. Is there to be an inquiry into these indiscretions?

“Obviously, it is unthinkable that Ministers would ever have passed those details to journalists themselves, but will the Leader of the House deplore such leaks and urge an investigation?”

Since taking over as Shadow Leader earlier this year, it has become something of a tradition for Mr Duncan to make a joke, or at times a bad pun, at the expense of Ms Harman.

This week he took St George’s Day as his theme.

“I hope that I am not too much of a dragon against this maiden in distress.

“In the spirit of St. George, will she now renew her pledge to fight for the rights of this House, the freedoms of the country, and the power of MPs to scrutinise and hold to account an unsuitable and arrogant executive?”

The Leader of the House outlined some of the complications around expenses for MPs.

“Many Members have constituencies that are far away from Westminster, which inevitably involves extra cost. We do not want only those who can afford to pay the cost of living away from home to represent far-flung constituencies.

“I hope that there is general agreement on that point.

“It is important for us to say that, because sometimes the public do not recognise that that would be the result of not assisting with the extra costs incurred in representing far-flung constituencies.

“First, none of us wants that to happen. Secondly, we all want the public to have confidence in the way in which the House goes about its work and the way in which public money is spent.

“Thirdly, it is evident that the public do not have that confidence, and, fourthly, we need to do something about that.

“Fifthly, I hope that we still agree that it is important to involve an independent element. I hope that the Prime Minister’s asking the Committee on Standards in Public Life to look at the matter will assist the House. I thank Sir Christopher Kelly for agreeing to take on that work, which he has started today.”

Sir Nicholas Winterton asked if the proposed per diem payment would apply to MPs “carrying out duties with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Inter-Parliamentary Union or the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or other parliamentary duties, but who still have to maintain accommodation in London.”

He said “no mention has been made” of how MPs will pay for the accommodation that they have to maintain during the summer recess, when no per diem will be paid.

“This really is absolute nonsense. As many people have said, the proposal appears to have been decided after writing a few notes on the back of an envelope.”

Ms Harman said that the criteria for the per diem payment should involve CPA or IPU duties.

“In relation to that, we need to ensure that parliamentary duties are properly defined.

“As far as the recess is concerned, the proposal is that the new scheme would be introduced in July and that the flat-rate daily payments would depend on the days attended. Because there would be fewer such days between July and 12 October, owing to the recess, there would have to be transitional arrangements.”

Lib Dem spokesman David Heath asked for a debate on broadband. He said there was concern, particularly in rural areas, that the extra investment announced in the Budget “will not lead to Britain having the broadband speed that it will need to be truly competitive in the future.”

Ms Harman told the House that Lord Carter, a Business minister, “is in the process of producing his second report on the matter.

“The post-recovery economy must be green and family-friendly, with a big emphasis on high skills and digital communications, and that is why investment in broadband is central to our proposals.”

Ms Harman rejected the St George’s Day theme of the Shadow Leader in favour of Shakespeare’s birthday, also on April 23rd.

“I shall call on the Shakespearean wisdom of the Deputy Leader of the House (Chris Bryant) from his days in the National Youth Theatre. He has mentioned a character whom I have never heard of, Autolycus, who might have been describing the hon. Gentleman (Mr Duncan) when he referred to “a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles.””

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