MPs praise Chris Bryant’s performance as Deputy Commons Leader

June 11, 2009 at 4:55 pm Leave a comment


by Tony Grew

The Shadow Leader of the House of Commons has led tributes to Chris Bryant, who was promoted to a junior post in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office earlier this week.

At Business Questions Alan Duncan told MPs:

“I welcome the hon. Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) as her new Deputy Leader of the House, and express the appreciation of Opposition Members for the manner in which her predecessor, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who is now an Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, conducted himself in that position.

“His grasp of detail and his approach to the House was respected and appreciated—and his mastery of Spanish, I understand, makes him well suited to his new job as Minister for Latin America. And French, we are told. On his moving, we thus say a friendly adios—and au revoir, too.”

Harriet Harman, the Leader of the House, said she agreed that he was “a brilliant Deputy Leader—and he does not only speak Spanish; I believe that he also speaks French, German and Italian.”

David Heath, the Lib Dem business manager, also paid tribute.

“He entertained us in the debate on the idea of a dissolution yesterday evening, despite having been reshuffled to the Foreign Office,” he said.

“My only regret is that the Leader of the House was not able to join us for that debate as well.

“One would have thought that the Dissolution of the House was a business of the House matter—but it seems that as far as the Cabinet was concerned, it was a matter for Wales, and Wales only.

“In any case, the Leader of the House has survived in the Cabinet—she is one of the few Members who have done so—and we are glad about that.”

Mr Duncan attacked the new ‘super-department’ created in the reshuffle.

Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Department for Universities, Innovation and Skills were merged to create the new Department for Business, Innovation and Skills with Lord Mandelson as Secretary of State with the additional title of First Secretary of State.

“May we have a statement—or even a debate—on the legitimacy, remit, structure and organisation of the new department?” Mr Duncan asked.

“As we have just heard in parliamentary questions, the recent reshuffle that the Prime Minister was forced into staging has to be seen as one of the most shambolic in political history, with 11 Ministers resigning from the Government in the course of seven days.

“Worse still, civil servants in the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills returned to their desks after lunch to find that their Department had been abolished, and subsumed into the empire of “he who must now be named the First Secretary”.

“This new super-Department has 11 Ministers, over half of whom are non-elected peers—no doubt exactly what the Government have in mind as they discuss their latest schemes for democratic renewal.

“Now that Lord Mandelson is Secretary of State for almost everything—including outer space—and has become the de facto Deputy Prime Minister, is the Leader of the House still in favour of her earlier proposal that he should be able to answer questions in the House of Commons?”

Mr Duncan has made humour his trademark in shadowing Ms Harman, and this week he referred to claims by the former Minister for Europe Caroline Flint that the Prime Minister uses women ministers as “window-dressing.”

“Is the Leader of the House concerned about the fact that since she has become Minister for Women and Equality, the number of women in the Cabinet has actually decreased?” he asked.

“Although we know that she could never be dismissed as mere window-dressing—indeed, if she were, I would immediately become the window cleaner—may I take this opportunity to reiterate my support for any bid that she might yet make to become Britain’s second woman Prime Minister?

“I echo the comment made on The Guardian website this week:

“I’d like to see Harriet Harman as Labour’s candidate for PM at the next election. She’d be just like Margaret Thatcher—a female party leader who convinces millions to vote Tory.”

Ms Harman replied:

“We make no apology for putting supporting business and tackling the economic crisis at the centre of Government action.

“That is a priority for this country and the biggest challenge for Government. We make no apology for reconfiguring the machinery of government to be focused effectively on that task.”

She thanked Mr Duncan for his “continued attention” to the issue of women in politics.

“It is important that women in politics make sure that we deliver for women in this country,” she said.

“Politics is not about us as politicians; it is about what we as women and men working together can do in respect of the lives of women and men in this country.

“That is why I hope that Members on both sides will be prepared to support extra maternity pay and leave, more flexible working for balancing work and family responsibilities, ending pay discrimination against women and having more women in the House of Commons.”

David Heath pointed out that the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills was created “only two years ago in a great splash of publicity” but has disappeared “in order to gratify Lord Mandelson.”

“It cannot be right for government to be conducted in this way, without recourse to Parliament, without any parliamentary opportunity to debate the practicalities and cost-benefit analysis of such changes,” he said.

“I invite the Leader of the House to give the House the opportunity to discuss how government is arranged, because such changes cannot be made on a whim. There are costs involved and practical consequences, and we should have the opportunity to debate them.”


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