HC Deb 19 April 1993 vol 223 cc18-20
37. Mr. Pickthall

To ask the Lord President of the Council what representations he has received on the subject of the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs.

38. Mr. Mudie

To ask the Lord President of the Council what representations he has received proposing matters to be referred to the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs as provided by Standing Order No. 100.

Mr. Newton

I have received one letter about the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs and the matter has been raised occasionally at business questions.

Mr. Pickthall

As the Scots and the Welsh rightly have Select Committees and Grand Committees to discuss their affairs, is not unacceptable that the one Committee in which English regional affairs could and should be discussed has not met since 1978? Now that every English region is suffering from industrial decline and infrastructural and unemployment problems, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that every Member of the House who represents an English constituency would welcome the opportunity of speaking and participating in that Committee?

Mr. Newton

As the hon. Gentleman himself acknowledged, once the Committee had been set up—the Standing Order providing for that having been put in place in the mid-1970s—it rapidly fell into virtually total disuse and has met only twice since the 1975–76 Session, which suggests that no one has seen any great merit in its proceedings. As I have said on a number of occasions, I for one am not persuaded that it would be right to undertake meetings in the way the hon. Gentleman would wish. I have been trying to ensure proper opportunities for debate on the Floor of the House on matters such as tourism and on other subjects raised under this head.

Mr. Harris

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that a number of Conservative Members would very much welcome an opportunity to pursue our regional interests in just such a Committee, especially Members who represent the south-west in view of the iniquitous water charges imposed by South West Water, to mention just one subject that we should like to examine in detail in such a Committee?

Mr. Newton

I note my hon. Friend's support for one particular aspect of this request and I hope that it was clear that my phrasing did not absolutely rule out consideration of this matter. However, I am certainly not at present persuaded of the case for it.

Mrs. Beckett

Will the Lord President reconsider that answer? He referred to the relatively small number of occasions on which the Committee was convened in the 1970s, but if he studies -the record he will find that it was extremely well attended. Twenty, thirty and even sixty Members were in attendance to discuss issues of exactly the kind that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) has mentioned. I think that there would be a strong welcome on both sides of the House for such a move.

Mr. Newton

I admit that I have not researched the attendance at those meetings, but as membership of the Committee consists of all hon. Members with English constituencies, plus five others nominated by the Committee of Selection, the attendance figures that the right hon. Lady has given were rather low.

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