Previous Section Index Home Page

Those are just two examples, but in every other region regional Ministers are helping to galvanise regional institutions and to improve the delivery of local public services. The appointment of regional
15 Jan 2008 : Column 906
Ministers as regional champions also creates a new opportunity to strengthen the regional voice within Government. They channel regional and local views into central Government policy development at the most senior levels.

Peter Luff rose—

Mr. MacShane rose—

Mr. Dhanda: I will give way briefly to my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), but if I give way again after that, I would rather do so to the hon. Gentleman whose debate this is, because we are very short of time.

Mr. MacShane: I am deeply grateful to my hon. Friend. I fully accept and support all his arguments; the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) has also made powerful arguments. Is not the concept of Her Majesty appointing a Minister that he or she is accountable and has to explain his or her duties to Parliament? [Hon. Members: “Then where is he?”] No—the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham has raised an important point in a non-partisan way. Will my hon. Friend indicate if there is any thinking as to whether at any stage these Ministers might be accountable here?

Mr. Dhanda: Indeed. I am coming to the issue of accountability to Parliament, which is the thrust of Members’ questions, and rightly so.

Last summer’s floods and foot and mouth outbreaks are good examples of regional Ministers’ role out in the constituencies. Regional Ministers representing the worst affected regions were in close touch with the relevant Ministers and agencies to ensure a concerted, coherent response in the immediate aftermath. As well as individual representations, that work is co-ordinated through a regional Ministers network jointly chaired by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government—my Department—and the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

The role of regional Ministers is described in the Green Paper “The Governance of Britain”, published on 3 July. They will: be a visible presence in the region; provide leadership in relation to specific issues; promote national policies regionally; maintain close relationships with relevant regional stakeholders such as regional development agencies; promote achievement of the Government’s regional economic performance objectives; and advise my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on the approval of regional strategies and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform on RDA board appointments.

Peter Luff: The hon. Gentleman is making a case, but it is literally incredible. The Minister for the West Midlands added nothing to the debate about flooding in the west midlands. His Cabinet colleagues and Ministers in other Departments did, but he did nothing whatever. He does not even reply to letters from
15 Jan 2008 : Column 907
Members. He is not accountable and he is adding no value. The system that the hon. Gentleman is describing does not exist in practice, and I wish that he would realise that.

Mr. Dhanda: I think that the hon. Gentleman is being unfair. I do not personally like hon. Members in any part of this House talking in those terms about others who are not here to defend themselves.

Hon. Members: They should be here.

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let me get one thing straight for the record. It is not the case that any particular Minister should be here. It is the Government’s right to put up a Minister to answer the Adjournment debate. There is a Minister here, everything is in order, and it has been good-natured so far.

Peter Luff rose—

Mr. Speaker: We should remember that we are eating into an hon. Member’s time.

Peter Luff: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was accused of attacking an hon. Member in his absence. I was not doing that; I was attacking the system, not the individual.

Mr. Speaker: That is clear.

Mr. Dhanda: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. That has cleared that up.

Daniel Kawczynski: I shall make only one intervention. I know that the Minister is coming to the important point raised by the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) about accountability in this House. But one day the Minister will find himself a Member of Parliament under a Conservative Administration, and when we are in office I am sure that he will want the same effective access to a regional Minister that he has at the moment under a Labour Government. Will he assure me that shire counties, particularly those with Conservative local authorities and Conservative MPs, will not face a second-class service from regional Ministers compared with that enjoyed by our Labour colleagues?

Mr. Dhanda: As the Member representing Gloucester, in a shire county, I can say that we have had a good response and good support from our regional Minister, and I believe that that is the case in the other regions as well.

The Government have not sought to micro-manage the role of regional Ministers. It is for regional Ministers to decide how they can contribute most
15 Jan 2008 : Column 908
effectively to their region. I know that all regional Ministers have had an extensive series of visits and meetings with key players in their region, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman’s meeting yesterday will prove useful for him and for what happens in his county. My hon. Friend the Minister for the West Midlands has visited 14 constituencies since he was appointed. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the North East has visited 20 constituencies, and he finds time to be the deputy Chief Whip as well, so it important to mention him. Regional Ministers have used their knowledge, combined with their own substantial experience of their region, to develop their priorities and their own regional style.

Parliamentary accountability of regional Ministers has been the subject of some speculation. In “The Governance of Britain” we make clear the Government’s view that regional Ministers should be accountable through parliamentary questions and scrutiny by parliamentary Committee. In common with last year’s Communities and Local Government Committee report on regional government, the Government believe that one means of achieving such scrutiny could be the establishment of nine regional select committees. Furthermore, in the sub-national review, we also made clear our support for greater parliamentary scrutiny of regional institutions and regional economic policy. That process too could be Committee-based, on either the Select Committee or the Standing Committee model. I would be interested to hear the views of the hon. Gentleman, and those of Members throughout the House, as to the best way of doing that.

The Government have made clear their position on greater scrutiny of regional institutions. The exact details are now a matter for Parliament, and I hope that hon. Members who are genuinely interested in this debate will take the opportunity to articulate their views. I welcome the Modernisation Committee’s announcement in October of its inquiry into regional accountability. The Government will be submitting their evidence in due course. I have no doubt that the Modernisation Committee will also consider whether there should be any changes to the current position on parliamentary questions put to regional Ministers, which are at present answered on their behalf by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, although such questions do go through a process of being seen by regional Ministers as well. I look forward to the Committee's inquiry—

The motion having been made after Ten o’clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at sixteen minutes to Eleven o’clock.

    Index Home Page