HC Deb 01 March 1999 vol 326 cc734-6
34. Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central)

What proposals she plans to put forward for reviving the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs. [72129]

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett)

The Government have invited the Modernisation Committee to consider reviving and adapting the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs. The aim is to provide a forum in which the affairs of particular regions can be debated. I hope that the Modernisation Committee will come up with specific proposals soon, although, clearly, they will not command universal support.

Ms Winterton

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will inquiries by the Committee be considered by the whole House, particularly inquiries into issues such as the distribution of European structural funds, which would affect not only areas such as South Yorkshire in the English region of Yorkshire and Humberside, but Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

Mrs. Beckett

I see no reason why European structural funds could not be debated by a regional Standing Committee, but, as my hon. Friend will appreciate, if the wish is to look more widely at how those funds are handled throughout the United Kingdom, that might not be the proper remit of such a Committee. It could, however, form one of the ways in which some of those matters can be reviewed.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

Does the right hon. Lady think that, if such a Standing Committee were formed, it would consider transport matters, and strategic transport matters in particular? Further to that, does she think that the Committee would consider the absolute refusal of Ministers with responsibility for transport to visit the most difficult transport problem in the south-east—the A3 at Hindhead?

Mrs. Beckett

I suspect that many areas would compete for that description, but I have suggested to the Modernisation Committee that a Committee of that type should determine for itself what are the issues on which it should focus and to which it should give the highest priority. No doubt, the right hon. Lady's case is one which it would take into account.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I assure the President of the Council that we welcome the re-examination of the validity and value of the Standing Committee, but do the Government intend to examine the advantages of devolution to our business in other respects? Do they intend to put a proposition to the Modernisation Committee, or the Procedure Committee, or do they intend to propose other ways in which the House can take advantage of the so-called devolution benefit?

Mrs. Beckett

As the hon. Gentleman may know, the Procedure Committee is now considering the impact and aftermath of devolution, on which I shall give evidence to it tomorrow. That, however, is only one context in which the House is considering the variety of ways and forums in which we can raise the many issues that are of concern to Members throughout the House. What we are trying to do is find time to expand our capacity for debate.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

As my right hon. Friend will know, many of us in the regions will welcome the provision of extra parliamentary time to examine the problems. Is she also aware—I am sure that she is—that the Select Committee responsible not only for transport and the environment but for regional affairs makes it its business to examine transport problems in considerable detail? That Committee would probably have a little to say if there were any question of changing existing responsibilities.

Mrs. Beckett

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her courtesy, and for her reminder to the House. I do not think that any of us wishes to encroach on the work of existing Select Committees; we wish merely to provide space in which matters can be aired that cannot easily be aired at present.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Agenda 2000 will give the Government more responsibility in the administration of European Union structural funds. Can the right hon. Lady assure us that those of us in regions that might lose out dramatically under Agenda 2000 will be given a chance to review the position, and that a specific mechanism and procedures will be established if there is not to be a Standing Committee on Regional Affairs?

Mrs. Beckett

I cannot undertake to provide a specific mechanism and procedures relating to Agenda 2000, but such matters can be raised in a variety of ways in the House—for instance, in the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody)—and I am sure that will continue.

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