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There is a related point, is there not? If members of the public wish to express a view, one of the few ways in which they can do so is to have it articulated by their representative Member in this place. If we
reduce the opportunities for Back Benchers to participate, we reduce the publics ability to communicate with other right hon. and hon. Members through their elected representative.
Mr. Harper: My right hon. and learned Friend makes a good point. A lot of debates in this House, many of which will be affected by the motions on the Order Paper, are complex. They involve Members of Parliament being given the opportunity to relate the experiences of constituents, particularly with regard to how we ensure accountability for regional business. Our constituents will want to make sure that we have a proper ability to do that. Those issues need to be teased out in full.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is all the more important that Back Benchers get adequate time to debate the matter, given that the majority of Back Benchers on the Modernisation Committee, on which I sit, voted against regional select committees? The vote was only tied because the Deputy Leader of the House, who was the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader of the House at the time, voted with the Government, allowing the Leader of the House to use her casting vote. If just non-payroll, Back-Bench MPs had voted, the proposition would have fallen at the Modernisation Committee stage. Does that not make it all the more important that Back Benchers get adequate time to debate the matter?
Mr. Harper: My hon. Friend makes a range of good points in his brief intervention. On his first point, we have already highlighted the procedural absurdity, or unwelcomeness, of the Leader of the House using her casting vote as Chairman of the Modernisation Committee to push the proposal through against the wishes of the Committee. There is another problem; my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) highlighted the fact that a PPS served in the Committee and, indeed, enabled the Chairman to use her casting vote. Both positions are unwelcome.
Mr. Gummer: Has my hon. Friend noticed that the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House have found all this incredibly amusing, and have laughed at it, not realising how serious the matter is? Is that not typical, coming from the first Leader of the House to have the party to which she belongs on the notice outside her office? She is the only person in the House who refers to herself officially by the party to which she belongs.
Mr. Harper: My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. When the Leader of the House was appointed to her position, a number of voices were raised in the House about the undesirability of the deputy leader of a party holding the position of Leader of the House and chairman of the party, for the reason identified by a number of Members who have contributed to the debate. The Leader of the House is of course a member of the Government and a partisan politician, but she is also responsible to all Members on both sides of the House; she has that responsibility, too. It is a challenge for herperhaps a challenge to which she has not risenproperly to combine the role of deputy leader of the Labour party and her role in the House. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will move on.
Mr. Harper: I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and am sorry that I did not move on quickly enough to save you from rising from your seat. I will take that point, and hopefully will not test your patience again.
Let me come back to the business motion and the time available to us. It is clear from the papers made available to the House on the Table that the motions have significant financial implications that are not at all straightforward. The Leader of the House may say that the issues are clear, but I say that they are not. The Management Board presented a paper to the House about the potential costs. I have already said that the potential cost of just the regional Select Committees and regional Grand Committees meeting a relatively limited number of times each year is £1.3 milliona charge on the taxpayer.
A whole range of underlying assumptions about those costs are set out in the fairly complex paper. Each of those assumptions might need to be tested, but under the terms of the business motion, we are not to be given the opportunity to come close to testing those assumptions, so that we could get an idea of the costs to the taxpayer of the motions on the Order Paper. We in the House are charged with the proper expenditure of public funds; the money, of course, does not come from us, but from taxpayers generally. We will not be able to undertake that responsibility properly in the limited time available.
In an intervention, I briefly mentioned the issue of the way in which the time is split between the groups of motions. Although the Speakers Conference motion may not be as controversial as the others, it touches on some incredibly important issues that could affect the electoral system, the way in which the House of Commons is composed and the extent to which the House of Commons is felt to be representative. That debate has been allocated only one hour, which indicates that, in the view of the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House, it is less important than the other debates. However, the questions of whether Mr. Speaker shall have his conference set up and of the terms of reference may make the motion the most important on the Order Paper, but it may not be given proper time for debate.
I want to mention one or two issues pertaining to the time available for the debate on regional Committees. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) drew attention to the fact that the party balance in the regions differs from the balance in the House and that the balance in each region is different. We should have proper discussion about whether it is appropriate for the regional Select Committees to reflect the balance of party opinion in the House, as opposed to in a region, and whether Members from outside a region should be on that regions Select Committee. The nature of the argument will be different for each region. Given that the proposal is to set up eight such Committees, it does not seem possible to discuss that properly and to allow Members from each region to participateeach region will be affectedin the time available.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire drew attention to the amendments on the Order Paper; there are a number of amendments on the
motion on regional Select Committees, including an amendment on whether London should be included. There is a big debate to be had on that, but there is also concern about whether the mover of the amendment will even get the opportunity to be called to speak.
Mr. Bone: Would it not have been more helpful if, in the programme motion, every regional Select Committee had had its own individual motion? The House might want a regional Grand Committee for certain regions but not for others. As drafted, however, it is a take-it-or-leave-it motion, and we cannot debate separately every individual Select Committee.
Mr. Harper: My hon. Friend makes a very good point, because there may be differences in regional opinion. I forget which hon. Member mentioned this point, but it may have been the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) who said that, after all, members of the public in the north-east were given the opportunity to pronounce on the regional accountability of the regional development agencies, and they said very clearly that they did not want a regional assembly. If this House were given the time in the business motion to debate the Select Committees on a regional basis, it might come to different conclusions, but, sadly, the terms of the motion are so limited that we will not have the opportunity to have that debate. And we are certainly not going to have the opportunity to have it during the debate on this business motion.
Simon Hughes: I rise to add one very simple point. Eight regions are being debated, but even if there were only one speech with a five-minute limit from every main party, not including the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor), by definition, that would mean 15 minutes per region, and the debate would amount to two hours without any participation by hon. Members from any of the affected regions.
Mr. Harper: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, demonstrating that if Members from all regions in this House, representing all parties in this House, are to have a proper opportunity to contribute to the debate, we will need a lot longer than one and a half hours. It behoves the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House, in their capacity as guardians of the interests of the whole House, to listen to the debate so far. I have been listening very carefully, as have you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and as did Mr. Speaker, and I have yet to hear from anyone, other than from the Deputy Leader of the House, any support for the business motion and the way in which the Government have chosen to arrange business. I therefore repeat the suggestion from my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) that the Government take this opportunity to listen to the mood of the House and amend the business motion to allow a proper opportunity to have a debate on the substance of the motion that does this House justice.
Simon Hughes: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understood that the motion on which we were voting was that the Question be now put, and that we had not yet had a vote on the motionon the business and on the timetable. I presume that you are just about to put it.
That, at this days sitting, the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on:
(1) the Motions in the name of Ms Harriet Harman relating to Regional Accountability, Regional Select Committees, Pay for Chairmen of Select Committees and Regional Grand Committees, not later than one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the first such Motion;
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