By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter
Business Questions – as in Business of the House, rather than commerce – is becoming a good session of the House to watch. For Labour, the hyper-partisan Angela Eagle always seems to want to provoke Sir George Young. But Sir George is unflappable. The latest example came on Thursday. Ms Eagle used her questions, which are supposed to concern the business of the week, to jump on the News International bandwagon:
"The Culture Secretary came to the House yesterday to try to explain himself. He failed. He said on Tuesday evening that now was not the time for knee-jerk reactions. On Wednesday morning, he kicked out his special adviser. The Culture Secretary may have thrown his aide to the wall, but the ministerial code is crystal clear: the Secretary of State is responsible for the conduct of his special advisers. Will the Leader of the House now answer the following questions, which the Culture Secretary conspicuously failed to answer yesterday?"
Sir George made a simply but effective point:
"On special advisers, the hon. Lady rehearsed a number of issues that were raised yesterday. I cannot remember which Minister resigned when Damian McBride had to leave No. 10 Downing street."
Sir George also defended the Government from Chris Bryant, a skilled parliamentarian, who decided to compare this Parliament to those run in totalitarian conditions hundreds of years ago:
"Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): In 1628, the Government were in the midst of a “clustershambles” and they decided to prorogue Parliament immediately, so that there could be no further criticism of them. It would seem that the Leader of the House is, in effect, going to do that on behalf of Her Majesty on Tuesday. May I suggest that it would be much better to provide a whole week of Back-Bench business, so that all the matters that I am sure Government Members would like to debate, such as why the European Commission is demanding an increase of 7% in its budget, and all the issues that Opposition Members would like to discuss, such as the double-dip recession, can be put not only to Ministers, but to the Prime Minister, who will be avoiding Prime Minister’s questions for another two weeks?
Sir George Young: The previous Prime Minister was absent at Prime Minister’s questions roughly twice as often as the current Prime Minister, who has spent more time answering his questions than almost any other Prime Minister. It seems to me perfectly reasonable, once Parliament has discharged the legislative programme, for the House to prorogue and then start a new Session. There will be an interval of perhaps three sitting days between the end of this Session and the beginning of the next one, which is roughly in line with what happened previously—[Interruption.] I just say to the hon. Gentleman, who is chattering incessantly from a sedentary position, that when he was Deputy Leader of the House he did not introduce a Backbench Business Committee. The freedom that he is now asking us to give to the House was one that he denied Parliament in the previous Parliament."
Finally, Sir George batted away a daft attack on NHS spending:
"Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): I thank the Leader of the House for his help over this Session. Perhaps he could help me once more in finding the £500 million missing from the NHS budget. In the 2011-12 budget, £900 million was saved; £400 million has gone back into the 2012-13 budget. May we have an urgent statement, debate or just a letter to say where the £500 million has disappeared to?
Sir George Young: I would be surprised if that had disappeared. I would expect it to be reinvested in the NHS, but I am sure that I can generate a letter from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to explain the accounting procedures to which the hon. Lady has just referred and to give her the reassurance that the money that Parliament has voted to the NHS will indeed be applied to the NHS."
The full session can be read in Hansard here.