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Business of the House

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 15),

Question agreed to.

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Select Committees (Membership)

7.1 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): I beg to move,

The House will recall that the Government brought forward proposals on 15 June to increase the membership of the Defence, Justice and Treasury Committees from 11 to 16 members and of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee from 13 to 14 members. These proposals were offered in good faith, with the intention of securing proper representation for smaller parties on certain Select Committees. However, they were resisted by the elected Select Committee Chairs, who tabled amendments to remove the increases to 16 and to provide, as an alternative, a power for the Committee of Selection to increase the size of no more than three Committees by no more than two members.

The proposal was also strongly resisted during the debate on the business of the House motion by the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) on the ground that it did not provide for Plaid Cymru to be represented on the Welsh Affairs Committee. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) also expressed reservations about the proposed motion.

We therefore undertook not to move the original motion, but to consult further and come back with new proposals. The membership of departmental Select Committees, including the party composition of the Committees, is for the Committee of Selection to propose and for the House as a whole to approve. The purpose of these changes in the maximum membership is to give the Committee greater latitude to accommodate smaller parties on the Committees concerned while still broadly reflecting the composition of the House.

The Government accept the view, expressed by the Wright Committee and the Liaison Committee, that smaller Committees are generally preferable. However, the Wright Committee also acknowledged the desirability of ensuring that smaller parties were properly represented. There is a clear tension between these two objectives, and I hope that the House can agree that these proposals represent a fair compromise between the two.

I especially wish to express my thanks to my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury for making efforts to secure a swift and satisfactory conclusion to negotiations.

In order to reflect our commitment to the Wright reforms, we propose that the changes should be limited to the current Parliament. No doubt the issue will need to be revisited anyway in the next Parliament, depending
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on the composition of the House. I hope that the House will be able to agree to the motion this evening so that the Committee of Selection can nominate members and the Committees can get on with their work.

7.4 pm

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster Central) (Lab): I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for tabling this motion proposing changes to the maximum number of members of Select Committees. As I think that this is the first time that we have faced each other at the Dispatch Box, I also take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment as Deputy Leader of the House.

The report on rebuilding the House identified the importance of the inclusion of the minor parties and independents on Select Committees and we are grateful for the work that has been done through the usual channels to address that issue. It is now right for the House to consider the motion so that the minor parties and independents can be accommodated on those Committees, thereby ensuring their participation.

7.5 pm

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): It is a pity that we have to have this motion, because it departs so markedly from the Wright Committee recommendation that, in the interests of working effectively and not making too many claims on the pool of available Members, Committees should have nine or, at most, 11 members. The elected Chairs of Committees have a strong view that we should not be departing from the Wright recommendations. Of course, when we saw the motion to increase Committee membership to 16, we thought it hard to imagine a more dramatic departure from what Wright recommended.

There has been a continuous process of modification which later led to the proposal that a series of Committees should have two extra members. That was then further modified to a motion in which only one Committee had two extra members and a number had one extra member. That was further modified on Monday night when I asked the Leader of the House to include the provision that it would apply only for this Parliament, which has been claimed as a success by my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House. I genuinely welcome the willingness of the Leader of the House, his deputy and the Patronage Secretary to try to resolve this matter. However, the view of Committee Chairs is that this matter could have been resolved within existing allocations had parties been prepared to make adjustments to meet the needs of minority parties.

In fact, the Conservative party has done that, because the penultimate stage of the discussions involved an additional Conservative Member to match the fact that there was an additional Opposition Member represented by the addition of a minority party Member. Committee Chairs are generally in favour of minority party Members being on Select Committees, and I look forward to having the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) on my Committee, as I understand he intends to be. He will be a very good Member to have on the Justice Committee. However, had the Labour party been prepared to give up one or two places on Committees, we might not be where we are now. None the less, I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member the
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Deputy Leader of the House has reasserted the importance of the Wright recommendation, and I hope that we will eventually return to the principle that we keep Committees reasonably small, with members fully involved in their work.

7.7 pm

Mr Heath: I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Ms Winterton) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) for their comments. I am pleased that we are able to apply a good dollop of common sense to what was required in order to ensure that all parties can play their proper parts in the workings of this House. I commend this motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Business of the House




Dunstable Northern Bypass

7.8 pm

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): It gives me pleasure to present a petition calling for a Dunstable Northern bypass. The petition was organised by Dunstable town council and others.

The petition reads:


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A5 to M1 Link

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. -( Mr Vara .)

7.9 pm

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): I am grateful to Mr Speaker for giving me the chance to raise with the Minister responsible for roads the vital need for the A5 to M1 link. When I made my maiden speech, on 2 July 2001, I stressed the urgent need for a bypass for Dunstable, Houghton Regis and the surrounding villages. I also stressed its importance to Leighton Buzzard as a business location. The need for a bypass in Dunstable is not new; indeed, the first mention of congestion in the town that I have been told about is in a 1924 newspaper article that talked about the traffic bottleneck in Dunstable. My predecessor, Sir David Madel, who was the Member for South West Bedfordshire for 31 years, from 1970 to 2001, also campaigned for a bypass for Dunstable throughout his time in Parliament.

Not long after my election, I presented another petition to the House, signed by 25,000 of my constituents-more than elected me in 2001-calling for the urgent need for a bypass to be addressed. I was therefore delighted when, in July 2003, the then Secretary of State for Transport-now the shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling)-announced to the House that he was

one of which was

I asked him when the Dunstable northern bypass would be built. In reply, he said:

I was therefore hugely disappointed when, at the end of the Parliament after which the then Secretary of State announced that the Dunstable northern bypass would be built, not a shovel had hit the ground.

It is a huge source of concern to me how long it takes for a new road to be built in this country. I understand that other European countries are able to build roads much more quickly. I understand that there is a much shorter delay between the announcement of a road being built and its completion in many of our competing neighbouring countries. One consequence of delay is that the cost escalates hugely, making even more demands on the public purse. The cost of the A5 to M1 link has virtually tripled since the first estimates back in 2003. I have spoken in the past of the near-Zimbabwean levels of inflation on major roads contracts. I understand that the Department insists on open book accounting, yet I cannot help believing that there must be cheaper ways for such roads to be built. I suggest that we need to take an urgent look at how genuine the competition is between road builders, to ensure that the Department and the taxpayer get real value for money in building new roads.

Sometimes I am tempted to think that the area that I represent has become, if not the land that time forgot, then the land that successive Governments have forgotten
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to build the necessary infrastructure in. In the north of Bedfordshire, the county town of Bedford seems to have all the bypasses that it needs. I had not even heard of the village of Ridgmont, to the north of my constituency, until I was told that it was to receive its own much- needed bypass. As I will demonstrate shortly, the need for a bypass to the north of Dunstable is overwhelming for the residents of Dunstable, Houghton Regis and the surrounding villages, but a bypass is also essential for Leighton Buzzard.

Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire) (Con): My hon. Friend mentioned the village of Ridgmont. The bypass there has been gratefully received. Ridgmont is a village, and there are other villages in my constituency that will benefit hugely from the A5 to M1 link. Those villages will suffer from a lack of connectivity if the road to which he has referred is not built. Does he agree that it is imperative that the road should be built, not just for his constituency, but for the whole of Bedfordshire?

Andrew Selous: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support. The road will also benefit major towns such as Aylesbury, in providing fast direct access to the national motorway network.

I do not want Ministers or officials at the Department for Transport to think for one moment that the Luton-Dunstable busway will provide the answers to the problems of congestion, retail decline and lack of business growth in Dunstable and Houghton Regis. It will not. The only hope to secure economic regeneration to provide much needed jobs for my constituents and to provide much needed local housing is for the A5 to M1 link to be built urgently.

The need for the A5 to M1 link can be demonstrated by many examples of life in Dunstable. Dunstable high street has 56 empty shops in it because of the length of time it takes for shoppers to get into and out of the town centre. Some reductions in business rates have been granted as a result, which obviously means a loss of revenue to the Exchequer. During recent times of economic growth, every other area of Bedfordshire increased its level of employment between 2001 and 2008, but in South Bedfordshire there was a loss of 1,850 jobs-overwhelmingly due to congestion. Those figures are taken from the annual business inquiry data provided by the Central Bedfordshire council.

Major employers have closed down and left the area over the years and have not been replaced by sufficient numbers of new employers to provide the jobs that my constituents need today. Many of my constituents are forced to travel out of the area to find work, thus making congestion even worse.

Congestion is bad both for travellers going north-south on the A5 through Dunstable as well as for travellers heading east-west on the A505 through Dunstable. One story from a local shopkeeper illustrates this well. A customer was travelling east on the A505 along West street, trying to get to a shop in the Quadrant shopping centre in the middle of Dunstable. He was stuck in traffic as so often happens; he rang the shop keeper who left his shop, crossed the middle of Dunstable, gave him the goods as he was stuck in traffic in his car. That customer then turned round in the road, and drove out
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of Dunstable never to come and shop in the town again. How can the shopkeepers of the town I am proud to represent make a living when they are faced with an infrastructure deficit as bad as that?

The economic benefits of building this road have been estimated by both the Highways Agency and the East of England to be very significant. Central Bedfordshire council, with its private sector developers, also intends to build the Woodside industrial estate connection road from the new junction 11A, which will not require Department for Transport funds.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I support everything he says. Does he accept that what he is suggesting will also bring enormous benefits to the town of Luton, especially when the bypass right across north Luton is built?

Andrew Selous: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I am grateful for the support from him and from Luton borough council on this matter.

This road will greatly ease congestion in Dunstable and lead to much lower pollution levels and a better quality of life for those who live and work in the town centre. Dunstable and Houghton Regis will once again become towns that people can easily get in and out of to do business, shop, see their friends and socialise. This will greatly help all the shops in the town, as well as attracting many new employers to the area and persuading existing employers to expand their operations locally.

The improvement in air quality in the town centre should be significant and GPs from my own practice in central Dunstable tell me that levels of asthma among children living near the heavily congested A5, which runs through the centre of Dunstable as the town's high street, are much higher than for children who live further away.

It has been estimated by the Highways Agency that the total economic benefits are in the region of £684 million, against the cost of £135 million. The Highways Agency says that there will be £263 million-worth of economic benefits for business users and £302 million-worth of benefits for consumers, while a study commissioned by the East of England and carried out by the consultants W. S. Atkins said there would also be a further £190 million of wider economic benefit. All those figures are at 2002 prices, following the Department for Transport's guidance to enable common comparisons to be made. It is also estimated that the road will bring 5,750 extra jobs to be created through the release of new employment land, and I understand that a proposed rail freight depot at Sundon, creating a further 1,100 to 1,800 jobs, is also not likely to happen unless the A5 to M1 link is built.

I am very conscious that a string of figures can seem very dry and technical, but the fact is that this new road has the potential to change the lives of my constituents for the better. Let us think of the mother in Dunstable who told me recently that her 18-year-old son had knocked on the door of every employer in the town to be told there was no job for him locally. I believe that this road will make a difference for that young man, as well as for very many others.

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