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12 Nov 2008 : Column 810

Regional Accountability

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Before I call the Leader of the House, I should say that Mr. Speaker’s selection of amendments has been published and is available to all Members. I do not intend to read out those amendments. All questions on the motions and amendments selected for Division will be put at the end of the debate.

2.48 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): I beg to move motion 3,

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this we will consider the following:

Amendment (c) in line 3, leave out from ‘282)’ to ‘opportunities’ in line 10 and insert—

Amendment ((a) in line 6, after ‘(Cm 7376)’, insert—

Motion 4— Regional Select Committees

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Amendment (a), in line 16, at end insert—

Amendment (b), in line 18, after ‘members’, insert—

Amendment (c) in line 20, at end, insert—

Amendment (d) in line 31, leave out from ‘appointed’ to end of line 33.

Motion 5— Pay for Chairmen of Select Committees

Motion 6— Pay for Chairmen of Select Committees

Motion 7— Regional Grand Committees

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Amendment ((a), in line 1, after ‘made’, insert

Amendment ((b), in line 13 at end insert—

Amendment (c), in line 15 leave out from ‘region’ to end of line 18.

Ms Harman: Today, I bring to the House the Government’s proposals on regional accountability, to put in place an effective and visible improvement in the scrutiny and democratic accountability of the public agencies and public policies that operate in the English regions. The reality is that in every region in England there are important public agencies, with budgets of billions of pounds. The decisions that they make, and how they put those decisions into practice, shape the future of the regions and profoundly affect those who live and work in them.

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At regional level, those agencies are much bigger than—and are beyond the accountability of—any local authority in the region. The regional development agencies, the strategic health authorities, the Learning and Skills Council and the Highways Agency are big regional beasts. Their regional directors and chief executives are regional “masters of the universe”, with huge budgets. However, they are public bodies spending public money in the public interest, and it is right that they should be publicly accountable through this House to the region that they serve. Both in Parliament and within Government it has been recognised that there is the problem of an “accountability gap” in the regions; now we are seeking to do something about it.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): What part of “no” does the Leader of the House not understand following the referendum result in the north-east on elected regional government? Does she not understand that the people of England do not want to be balkanised and regionalised at their own expense?

Ms Harman: We are not proposing to the House what was proposed in the north-east.

Mr. Redwood rose—

Ms Harman: If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, I can get on and explain what our proposals are.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The right hon. and learned Lady is talking about accountability to the regions. She knows how unhappy many of us in the south-west are about the composition of the south-west regional Select Committee. Will she give me a guarantee that no hon. Member from outside the region will sit on that Committee and that every county in the south-west will be represented on it?

Ms Harman: On the composition of the Select Committees, about which I hope to develop an argument if I can proceed with my comments, I can say that they will be Committees of the House and their composition will reflect that of the House.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): Speaking as Member of Parliament for a constituency in the north-east, does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that big organisations often set priorities that my constituents neither have any involvement in nor feel that they are a part of, and they believe that through a Select Committee—through me—they have a chance of being heard?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend points to the exact problem, and now we are doing something about it.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): May I take the Leader of the House back to the central question asked by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath)? Would not the membership of all these regional Committees have a Government majority, which would inevitably mean that many regions would need to have Members drafted on to them from outside those regions?

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