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Alan Duncan excoriates Harriet Harman

Alan Duncan The love affair between Shadow Leader of the House of Commons and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Harriet Harman seems to be well and truly over. Or perhaps this is just the latest twist in a romantic story that trumps anything in classic English literature. 

Business of the House Questions came around again yesterday. Mr Duncan was in bullish form:

"I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business. Her response to me last week about the encampment and the harassment by protesters in Parliament square was, I am sorry to say, painfully inadequate. When will she undertake to give a full report to the House so that we can cut through the bureaucratic nonsense governing the issue and remove what has become a permanent embarrassment to British democracy?

May we have an urgent debate on the NHS? Yesterday we heard from the Health Secretary the miserable tale of Stafford hospital. Will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm to the House that the same senior management who were so devastatingly criticised by the Healthcare Commission on Tuesday saw their salaries doubled in 2008, and that one has been appointed to a Government watchdog? Is it not the clearest possible demonstration of Labour’s priorities towards the health service that while they spent their time lining the pockets of a failed management team, there were patients lining the walls of a filthy accident and emergency ward who were dying of neglect?

Lying behind this is, I sense, a growing problem with how health trusts and other public bodies are treating correspondence from Members of Parliament. Too often, Members’ letters about a constituent are fobbed off by being sidelined into a complaints procedure designed for another purpose, and also by hiding behind data protection. Can the right hon. and learned Lady confirm that when an MP writes to a chief executive they should receive a letter back from that chief executive, that getting a letter from an MP should be regarded as a priority, and that any failure to treat an MP’s letter properly should be a disciplinary offence, even resulting in dismissal?

We are still waiting for the Government’s long-delayed strategic review of reserve forces. We all have reservists in our constituencies. When will we get an announcement, and can the Leader confirm that it will be a full oral statement?

Today 144 further education colleges have their building programmes frozen, and this morning the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon), the Minister responsible for further education—or should I say, the Minister requiring further education?—offered no reassurance that the Government would prevent those colleges from going bankrupt. May we have an urgent debate to discuss the future of those institutions, which offer vital training to the rapidly rising number of people facing unemployment?

For the umpteenth time, may we ask for a debate and action on Equitable Life? Today the Public Administration Committee has slammed the Government for their callous betrayal of Equitable Life policyholders. It says that the Government have denied them justice. This is a truly scandalous state of affairs in which an unprincipled Government would rather see them all dead than compensated. When will the Government act properly on what the ombudsman has recommended?

On a number of occasions I have raised the farce of Regional Select Committees. The North East Committee has five Labour members, four of whom are Parliamentary Private Secretaries, and the other a long-serving Back Bencher. I am advised that when they met, they picked one of the PPSs as Chairman, and that the only member not in hock to the Government has now decided to resign. Is this true, and may we have a further debate so that we can give the Leader of the House the opportunity to admit her mistake and abolish those Committees?

Yesterday the scarlet-haired Solicitor-General, who has no experience of economic affairs, claimed that we would soon see “green shoots” in the British economy. As a barrister she was known as the “towering inferno”; yesterday, it seems, she finally went up in flames. Is that not the most crass statement that any politician could have made, on the day when it was announced that more than 2 million people are unemployed?

May we have a statement on the Prime Minister’s recent visit to Washington? It seems that the DVDs that President Obama gave the Prime Minister—rather like the Prime Minister himself—do not work in the UK. We are told that one of them was “Psycho” and the other “Gone with the Wind”.

So those are our requests for debate: there is a rotting encampment outside Parliament; there are failed NHS managers with bloated pay packets; the fate of our reserve forces is left dangling; FE colleges are collapsing; Equitable Life pensioners are betrayed; dysfunctional Select Committees are set up; we have a dysfunctional Government; and the Solicitor-General insults the unemployed. How can the Leader of the House defend any of that, without hanging her head in shame and apologising?"

Mr Duncan should remember that Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Tom Greeves


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