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Bill read the Third time, and passed.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),

Road Traffic

Question agreed to.

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Regional Ministers

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Ms Diana R. Johnson.]

10.14 pm

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to introduce this important debate on the role of regional Ministers. When the announcement was made in summer last year, I was quite pleased with the concept of regional Ministers. Not everybody agreed with me, but I felt that it was a good idea, because inevitably one sometimes has to deal with issues that are not specific to one’s own constituency, but involve many other parts of the region in which one’s constituency is situated. In our case, one of those problems is, of course, flooding. Regrettably, Shrewsbury floods regularly, but it is not alone: many communities all along the River Severn are affected. I thought that having a regional Minister would give me the opportunity to work with other Members of Parliament and the Minister responsible as a team to lobby the Government more effectively on a cross-party basis.

With that in mind, I immediately—on 2 August last year—sent a letter of congratulation to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Byrne) in which I invited him to Shrewsbury. I have sent repeated letters and e-mails and made telephone calls asking him please to fulfil his role as the Minister for the West Midlands and come to Shrewsbury.

At this point, I have to say something nice about the Labour party: my experience of meeting Ministers has been very good. When I wanted to see the former Prime Minister, the opportunity arose straight away, and I could take constituents to see him. The same is true of the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence. Labour Ministers have been most accommodating about meeting me, so why has it been so difficult for me to meet the regional Minister—the Minister responsible for the west midlands and, ultimately, for Shrewsbury?

On 3 August, in The Birmingham Post, the Minister for the West Midlands was quoted saying that he wanted to

for the west midlands. That was a good idea. The hon. Gentleman has a business background, as do I, and I think that the first thing a Minister should do in such a role is set about producing an action plan, in order to lobby on the region’s behalf. However, I have spoken to the chief executives and the leaders of Shropshire county council and Shrewsbury and Atcham borough council and been told that nobody in either council has had any interaction with the Minister for the West Midlands. I put it to the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), how can one have a 150-day consultation to decide the priorities of the west midlands without any interaction with the chief executives and leaders of the councils of Shropshire, which is one of the most important counties—my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) will agree with me that it is the most important county—in the west midlands?

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The Minister for the West Midlands has not even come to Shropshire to discuss those issues. Regrettably, on the one occasion that he did come to the county, he did not inform me of his visit. He came in the week we all expected a general election—on 1 November—and he was photographed in the Shrewsbury Chronicle with the Labour candidate and Labour councillors.

Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): My hon. Friend is making an important and cogent speech. I wrote to the Minister for the West Midlands and for Borders and Immigration on 13 November, inviting him to Worcestershire to explore an issue relevant to both the hats he wears. I have had no reply to that letter. However, last Saturday he was in Worcester addressing a seminar of the Worcester Labour party. A pattern may be emerging.

Daniel Kawczynski: I absolutely concur with my hon. Friend. I believe that the announcement of regional Ministers was yet more Labour spin. They are an opportunity for the Labour Government to have a regional Labour party co-ordinator or Labour party supremo, who will ensure that everything is done for the Labour constituencies and that as much publicity as possible is generated in Labour marginals in the west midlands and other regions. From now on, I shall be watching like a hawk and asking many questions about our regional Minister—where he is going and who he is meeting—so that the role of regional Minister does not become political but becomes what it is meant to be.

I know that you, Mr. Speaker, and many others feel passionately about the scrutiny that takes place in the House. We Back Benchers have a responsibility to provide that scrutiny, and our constituents feel passionately that we must hold the Government to account. Regrettably, none of the procedures allowing us formally to scrutinise the regional Minister has been put in place. We were promised regional Select Committees and regional questions, but they have not been introduced. Seven or eight months down the line, there are no mechanisms in place for holding a regional Minister to account in the Chamber. How on earth can we hold Ministers to account if no safety mechanisms have been put in place, and if it is extremely difficult to get hold of the Ministers?

We should have quarterly meetings with the regional Minister. We were not called to see him when he took up his position. When I was in business, when someone became a manager of a company, the first thing that they did was call in their sales force, set out objectives, and get to know the team on a professional and personal basis. None of us has had a team meeting. Many hon. Members present hold west midlands seats; we have not had a single meeting in the House of Commons with the regional Minister to discuss the priorities for the west midlands.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way to me in my capacity as shadow Minister with responsibility for Birmingham; I have a specific interest in the issue. He is making an extremely important point—

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Mr. Speaker: Order. This is an Adjournment debate, and shadow Ministers do not get called in Adjournment debates. This is a Back Bencher’s debate. The hon. Gentleman can speak as a Back Bencher, if he wishes.

Daniel Kawczynski: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to mention Birmingham. Shropshire Members are concerned about the fact that Birmingham always gets priority in the west midlands. The Minister for the West Midlands represents a Birmingham seat—Birmingham, Hodge Hill. The BBC’s politics website tells us what his priorities are, and they all seem to be focused on Birmingham. When will Shropshire get a look-in?

Mr. Mitchell: My hon. Friend makes an important point. He will have noticed that no fewer than 14 Conservative Members from the west midlands are attending this important debate. We in Birmingham cannot flush the regional Minister out, either. To try to find out what he was doing, I tabled a question asking

I received a response that can only be described as insulting. I was told:

That is not an acceptable answer, and I will table more questions. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that we want to see the Minister doing the job with which he was charged, and we want him to be accountable to the House and the west midlands.

Daniel Kawczynski: I concur with my hon. Friend. I want meetings to be held, at least quarterly, for all west midlands Members of Parliament, in which we can scrutinise the Minister and get to know him on a professional and personal basis.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Will my hon. Friend allow me to intervene?

Daniel Kawczynski: Yes, very quickly. This is the last intervention that I will take.

Mr. Leigh: The Minister for the East Midlands is equally invisible. Perhaps a pattern is emerging. Could the posts possibly be just a gimmick, and not a reality?

Daniel Kawczynski: Regrettably, I concur with my hon. Friend. There was a great fanfare when the role was announced, but given the lack of scrutiny Committees and regional questions, I fear that the Government are not serious about introducing the role properly. I genuinely want us all to work on a cross-party basis. All the west midlands Members of Parliament and the Minister for the West Midlands should meet in the region, and hold public meetings from time to time, so that members of the public can see us working together on a cross-party basis, debating the priorities for the west midlands. I am sure that it would help us to engage more with members of the public, rather than deciding the priorities of the west midlands in secret meetings in the House or according to the Minister’s own agenda.

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Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, especially after his appeal for a debate on a cross-party basis. Which of the departmental question days would he sacrifice for regional questions? Will he inform the House, to guide the Government?

Daniel Kawczynski: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it is not my responsibility to define the appropriate time. The Government announced regional Ministers, and as he knows, it is the responsibility of the Government to find the appropriate time.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Daniel Kawczynski: In a moment.

The Minister for the West Midlands has been described as the most important man in the west midlands by BBC Politics. If he is indeed the most important man in the west midlands, by golly, I want him in Shropshire, and I want him to understand the key issues affecting Shropshire. That is why I feel so angry that he has not been to Shropshire in an official capacity and he is not interacting with my council.

I give way to my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson).

Mr. Paterson: I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Will he make the simple point to the Minister on the Front Bench, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), that he is not the Minister for the West Midlands, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Byrne)? The Minister for the West Midlands is not interacting with this cross-party debate in the House of Commons to discuss his ministerial role.

Daniel Kawczynski: Indeed. When I was interviewed, I tried to raise the point with The Birmingham Post and to say how concerned I was about the matter and that I would call a debate. In reply, the Minister said in the major Birmingham newspaper that he would welcome such a debate because he would want to highlight my shortcomings as an MP—[Hon. Members: “Short?”] The Minister said he would discuss my shortcomings as an MP and suggest that Shrewsbury would be better off represented by a Labour politician. Nobody feels more passionately about Shrewsbury than I do, and I will continue to fight for the people of Shrewsbury with all my heart and passion for as long as they allow me to do so. Having refused to see me for the past six months, what does the Minister for the West Midlands know of my shortcomings?

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me the opportunity of holding this debate, which has finally given me the chance to scrutinise the Minister. This is Parliament in action. A Member of Parliament cannot get hold of the Minister, who repeatedly refuses to reply to letters, phone calls and e-mails, so I am grateful to you for allowing me to highlight my concerns on the record.

Because the Minister knew that the debate was to take place, by some strange, lucky coincidence I finally managed to have a meeting with him yesterday—[Hon.
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Members: “Ah!”]—in the Pugin Room for half an hour over a cup of tea. [Hon. Members: “ Who paid?”] I do not recall; I think that the Minister paid for the tea. As a result of that meeting, the Minister promised to come to Shrewsbury and meet all the Members of Parliament from Shropshire, as well as our county council and all the district councils in order to evaluate the priorities of Shropshire and to work closely with us. My hon. Friends will be displeased with what I am about to say. I found the Minister to be a charming man, clearly professional, highly educated, and one of those rare entities in the Labour party—somebody who has been in business. I was impressed with that, because he spoke as a business man, with that sense of professionalism. I was fuming before he arrived, but when he left after half an hour I was somewhat pacified and much more relaxed. I very much hope that he will fulfil his obligation—

Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): Where is he?

Daniel Kawczynski: I ask, please, for no barracking from my own side.

I hope that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill will now play his role, be an effective Minister for the West Midlands and help me look after Shropshire. I quite like him as an individual; I think that he has been let down by the system. Frankly, the Government are not treating the role of regional Ministers properly and I want to hear from the Under-Secretary about the concrete steps that he will take to make sure that we, as Members of Parliament in the west midlands, can hold the Minister responsible to account.

10.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda): I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing this debate. I have often taken part in Adjournment debates and usually there are only a couple of us here. It is terrific that at least a dozen of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues are here with him. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for ringing me at my constituency office as well as at the Department on Friday. He said that he wanted this to be a moderate, measured and positive debate, with no knocking. I am delighted to hear of the new relationship that he has forged with his regional Minister in the past 24 hours. Long may that continue.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): Why is he not here?

Mr. Dhanda: Part of the reason may be that although the focus of the points made by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham was on the west midlands and his regional Minister, the title of his debate is about the role of regional Ministers. That is why I am here—to talk about the role across the board, and not just in respect of that specific regional Minister.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the Government have long been committed to strengthening regional and local institutions, in Shrewsbury and
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elsewhere—whether through our modernisation of local government so that it is better able to lead and provide key services for the communities that it serves, or through creating regional development agencies to improve regional economic performance and to ensure that every part of our country benefits from the sustained economic growth that we have seen in recent years. Regional Ministers are a further example of that commitment to devolution and decentralisation.

The plan to have a Minister for each of the nine English regions was announced last June. The remit for each of my nine colleagues is to be both an advocate for the region and a representative of central Government in the region. That is an important new development in the Government’s empowerment of the English regions, and a further recognition that not every decision can or should be taken within a mile of Westminster. Having regional Ministers complements the Government’s approach to local freedoms and flexibilities set out in last year’s local government White Paper. It is also in accord with the recommendations of the review of sub-national economic development. That will improve the effectiveness of regional governance and regional economic performance in particular. The hon. Gentleman will want me to get on to the issue of governance and accountability, not least to answer some of the questions raised in interventions; I shall try to get to that bit as quickly as I can.

Regional Ministers are already contributing to the leadership of their regions and influencing Whitehall on their regions’ behalf. In the west midlands, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Byrne) is doing an excellent job representing the region in Government and Government in the region. He is working closely with local government and other civic leaders to ensure that people in the region have access to good-quality jobs and affordable homes.

I hear what the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said about Shropshire. I am pleased to hear that my hon. Friend will be visiting, and that he met the hon. Gentleman for half an hour. I am sure that that will be the first of many meetings. My hon. Friend is providing leadership of the implementation of the sub-national review in the west midlands and has taken an active interest in the renewal of Birmingham New Street station—a project of regional and national importance, and one that is important to all of us.

Similarly, in my own region and constituency the support and influence of the Minister for the South West, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), was a great help when we had flooding problems similar to those that the hon. Gentleman experienced. I am almost afraid to mention the word “flooding” tonight, because I fear that very many of my own constituents are concerned for their homes at the moment. The system has been a help around the country, where regional Ministers have been able to engage with such difficulties and to support local constituency Members of Parliament.

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