HC Deb 11 April 2000 vol 348 cc289-338

[Relevant document: The unnumbered Paper from the Leader of the House, entitled "Regional Standing Committee".]

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

I beg to move, That Standing Order No. 117 shall be repealed, and that the following Standing Order shall be made: 117.—(1) There shall be a standing committee called the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs, which shall consider any matter relating to regional affairs in England which may be referred to it. (2) The Committee shall consist of thirteen Members representing English constituencies nominated by the Committee of Selection; and in nominating such Members, the Committee of Selection shall—

  1. (a) have regard to the qualifications of the Members nominated and to the composition of the House; and
  2. (b) have power to discharge Members from time to time, and to appoint others in substitution.
(3) Any Member of the House representing an English constituency, though not nominated to the Committee, may take part in its proceedings, but may not make any Motion, vote or be counted in the quorum; provided that a Minister of the Crown who is a Member of this House but not nominated to the Committee may make a Motion as specified in paragraph (10) below. (4) The quorum of the Committee shall be three. (5) Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 88 (Meetings of standing committees) shall not apply to the Committee; except that the proviso to that paragraph shall apply to any sitting at Westminster. (6) A Motion may be made in the House by a Minister of the Crown to specify (or to vary) any or all of the following:
  1. (a) the matter or matters to be referred to the Committee;
  2. (b) the period to be allotted to proceedings on such matters;
  3. (c) when and where (within England) the Committee shall meet;
  4. (d) the hours for the commencement and conclusion of any sitting;
  5. (e) any days when the Committee shall meet at Westminster at Ten o'clock;
and such Motion may be moved at any time; and the Question thereon shall be put forthwith and may be decided at any hour, though opposed.
(7) Where any order made under paragraph (6) above makes no provision for the period to be allotted to the proceedings on any matter or matters which have been referred to the Committee for consideration at a particular sitting, those proceedings shall be brought to a conclusion no later than three hours after their commencement. (8) At the commencement of business at any sitting of the Committee, the Chairman may permit Ministers of the Crown, being Members of the House, to make statements on any matter or matters referred to the Committee for consideration at that sitting, and may then permit members of the Committee to ask questions thereon. (9) No question on a statement by a Minister of the Crown shall be taken after the expiry of a period of one hour from the commencement of the first such statement, except that the Chairman may, at his discretion, allow such questions to be taken for a further period not exceeding half an hour. (10) The Committee shall, following any such statements and questions, consider each matter referred to it on a motion 'That the Committee has considered the matter'; the Chairman shall put the Question necessary to dispose of the proceedings on each matter at the time, or after the period, specified in accordance with paragraph (6) or paragraph (7) of this Order, and the Committee shall thereupon report to the House that it has considered the matter or matters without any further Question being put. (11) Any period allocated to the consideration of any matter or matters shall include any time spent on statements by Ministers of the Crown and questions thereon, except when otherwise provided by any Order of the House made in accordance with paragraph (6) above.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

I remind the House that Madam Speaker has selected amendments (a) and (b), which stand in the name of the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) and his right hon. and hon. Friends. There will be a joint debate on the main motion and the two amendments. Decisions on the amendments will be taken when the debate ends.

Mrs. Beckett

I propose to be brief in moving the motion because the proposal that it enshrines is perfectly straightforward and simple and because the procedure that it suggests is already extremely familiar to the House. The Standing Orders already contain provision for a Standing Committee on Regional Affairs, to debate primarily matters that are of concern to Members who sit for English constituencies. The Standing Order was decided and placed on, so to speak, the statute book of the House in the context of previous moves—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I ask right hon. and hon. Members who are not staying for the debate to leave the Chamber quickly and quietly.

Mrs. Beckett

The Standing Order was decided in the context of previous moves to introduce devolution for Scotland and Wales. It means that the House has already debated and decided the issue of principle.

The Standing Order ceased to be used after 1979 but it has never been removed from the statute book of the House. In consequence, it remains part of our potential procedures. However, since it was carried, many of our procedures have changed. That is why the motion brings the Standing Order up to date, as I see it, using today's procedures. I hope that this will make the Standing Order both more flexible and more useful to the House.

It will be apparent already to hon. Members on both sides of the House that the model that has been used is that of the European Scrutiny Committee. The Government believe that that is an effective model both in informing Members and in calling Ministers to account.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend will explain something to me. Many of us believe, certainly in terms of regional affairs debates, that there is an argument for bringing in civil servants, in a Select Committee mode, and taking evidence from them. At a regional level, they are critically important in the taking of decisions under the new structures that we have set up. When my right hon. Friend was considering these matters and the tabling of the motion, did she consider a procedure whereby that would be possible?

Mrs. Beckett

Yes, I did, and I accept my hon. Friend's point. It is a matter that the House may consider again in future. That is a point that I intended to make at the end of my remarks. However, it seemed to me that the important thing was to create or to revive a potential forum for debates for Members who sit for English constituencies, and to do so in a framework in which the priority would be for Members to have a capacity for statements to be made by Ministers and for questions to be put to them. It seemed also that that was the model of the European Scrutiny Committee. My hon. Friend will know that it is widely valued across the House as a model that works effectively.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

My right hon. Friend will know that the Select Committee looking at matters concerning the environment and transport also has an involvement in regional affairs. How will the new Committee and the Select Committee work together?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend makes a very important point, which is part of the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). The Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs does indeed have the capacity to which my hon. Friend refers. To that extent, there is less of a gap in the House's capacity to look at issues such as that of regional civil servants.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) is an expert, and is well aware that the Select Committee shadows the entire work of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. It is not possible for it to specialise in matters that have a regional context and edge, and it is possible only for members of the Select Committee to take part in its debates. That seemed to me the most powerful argument in favour of us using afresh a Standing Order which—I remind the House—has already been agreed by the House. The proposed Committee will be the only forum available to all hon. Members who represent English constituencies, and it will be available only to those hon. Members.

There is also the thought that, as in the European Scrutiny Committees, the presence of a relatively small core membership could lead to the build-up of expertise in regional matters. That, too, would be valuable to the House.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

I am a member of European Standing Committee A, and regularly attend other Standing Committees on European matters. It is obvious to me that the right hon. Lady does not attend those meetings often. I can tell the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) that civil servants are present at those meetings, and that they spend their time frantically scribbling notes to Ministers who cannot answer questions because they have mugged up on the issue at hand only half an hour before the sitting.

Mrs. Beckett

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I think that he cannot have been listening to the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Workington asked. He asked about taking evidence from civil servants, and that is not the point that the hon. Gentleman is making.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

I accept the Leader of the House's point that all hon. Members with English constituencies will be able to speak at sittings of the Committee, but only 13 will be allowed to vote. Does the right hon. Lady not see a difficulty, in that the tiny core of Committee members—we do not know from what regions they will be drawn—will not be able to vote in a way that allows them to represent the interests of all the regions of the country?

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. and learned Gentleman may not have scrutinised the Standing Order as closely as he might have. It is not envisaged that the Committee will take the sort of decisions to which he refers. The Committee will give hon. Members with English constituencies an opportunity to scrutinise issues that are of concern to them.

As I mentioned a few moments ago, before I took one or two interventions, the Standing Order includes provision for ministerial statements to be made to the Committee, and that such statements can be followed by questions, when that is thought to be helpful and for the guidance of the Committee. Hon. Members of all parties will recognise that there is nothing like knowing that questions will be faced, in the House or in Committee, to concentrate ministerial attention on an issue. I repeat that all hon. Members will have the opportunity to debate matters that might be referred to the Committee.

The indicators from the regional development agencies highlight some of the subjects that are likely to be discussed in the proposed forum. Those subjects include economic development, social regeneration, employment and sustainable development skills. All those matters arouse particular concerns among hon. Members who represent English seats, and the forum will allow the matters to be aired in more detail than would be possible in other circumstances. Although there is a core membership of the Committee, Members representing any English seat will be entitled to attend and participate.

There are, of course, alternatives, such as the sittings in Westminster Hall, which provide a fresh opportunity for scrutiny. There is no doubt that that provides a potential forum for debates that highlight the affairs of the English regions. It is not solely a forum for Members who represent English constituencies. It is an experimental forum, but it was intended from the outset to provide more time for the discussion of Select Committee reports and specialist debates on, say, foreign affairs. It would be to lose some of the opportunities provided by the forum in Westminster Hall were we to seek to dominate that by matters that arose solely in the context of English constituencies.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

I am listening carefully to what the right hon. Lady is saying. I know that we will have some time to discuss the merits and demerits of the proposal in the hours ahead. In the meantime, will the right hon. Lady say whether the proposal comes from the Procedure Committee, which must presumably have looked at it, or from the so-called Modernisation Committee? If not, what is its provenance?

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly aware of its provenance. I made it plain in my earlier remarks that the proposal has come from the Government. It was aired in the Modernisation Committee, because it was thought to be a matter that might find common ground on both sides of the House. Given that much concern has been expressed across the House about the insufficient opportunities for debates for those who represent English constituencies, and only English constituencies, the Government thought that Conservative Members as well as Labour Members might appreciate the opportunity for those debates to be extended.

We shall shortly have the opportunity to test whether Conservative Members meant anything that they said about wanting opportunities for debate specifically for Members representing English constituencies, or whether they simply wanted to complain about the lack of those opportunities—all mouth and no delivery, to coin a phrase.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

I believe that the right hon. Lady said earlier that ministerial statements would be made to this Standing Committee. Were such statements made in the 1970s, when the Committee was previously in existence? Is it not right and proper that ministerial statements should be made in the House, and not to a limited Standing Committee?

Mrs. Beckett

No, that was not the procedure when the Committee was first set up. That is one of the reasons why we are moving an amendment to the existing Standing Order, which is thought to be somewhat inflexible. At that time, the House did not have the kind of procedures that it has today. The House did not have anything like the number of Committees that it has today. The House did not operate in forums in which it was possible or likely that Ministers would make statements. We do all those things in the proceedings of the House today. As I understand it, those procedures have developed because the House, as a whole, thought that they offered additional and more varied opportunities for scrutiny.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

My right hon. Friend rightly said that the proposal was aired in the Modernisation Committee. Would it not be true to say that one of the reservations that the Modernisation Committee had about launching the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs was that hon. Members, myself included, did not want to launch it at the same time as Westminster Hall? We wanted to allow that to get established before launching this Standing Committee, which is exactly what the Government have done.

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend is correct. There were those who felt that it was not a good idea to launch two experiments, as they saw it, at the same time. Others, as it transpired, saw the proposal as some kind of pro-European plot. So it became apparent that it was not necessarily all that likely that the proposal would command common ground.

Let me return to the point that perhaps was behind the intervention from the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray). When it became clear that there would not necessarily be all-party support for a move along these lines, I withdrew it from the Modernisation Committee because it is an all-party Committee which seeks to proceed by consensus. I made it plain at that point that, because this was a decision that the House had already made, the Government might seek to move forward on the proposal in another context, and that is precisely what we are doing tonight.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

I will, but after that I propose to end my remarks, which I had already almost concluded.

Mr. McLoughlin

The right hon. Lady says that statements could be made to the Committee. What will be the mechanism for notifying Members of what the statements will be on? What kind of notice will she give Members that a statement is to be made?

Mrs. Beckett

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, especially in view of the honourable position that he holds in the House, is more than well aware of how such procedures work. It is intended that they should proceed by discussion across the House in the ordinary way. We would give as much notice as we reasonably could of issues that could be aired.

The reason for having a core membership is not merely so that members can build up a wide expertise in regional affairs rather than just in a particular region but so that they can begin to form views about what issues have not yet been aired. Should the House decide to set up such a Committee, I hope that that is something on which there would rapidly develop common ground. That is the way in which many of our affairs work and it is something—

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

I am sorry. The hon. Gentleman knows that I would readily give way to him, but I am about to conclude my remarks. I do not wish to detain the House unnecessarily about a straightforward and simple proposal. I propose—

Mr. Bercow

In one sentence

Mrs. Beckett

Oh, all right, in one sentence.

Mr. Bercow

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way. What is the rationale behind the first part of subsection (9) of the proposed standing order?

Mrs. Beckett

Without finding paragraph (9) immediately, I should simply say that the whole idea behind the proposal is to create an additional forum for the House. I do not intend to search for subsection (9) now.

The Government recognise that, in the aftermath of devolution to Scotland and Wales, which is an issue that has been debated extensively in the House and has long been decided, there is a call for a forum specifically for Members who sit for English constituencies. The Government recognise the validity of such a call. Or perhaps I should say that the Government thought that they recognised the validity of such a call, but we shall judge tonight whether that call was valid or was in fact merely an excuse for people to complain.

The Government are perfectly prepared to extend the opportunities available to those Members who sit for English constituencies to air specific concerns that arise in their constituencies and to make that forum one that can provide not merely for debate but for extended scrutiny of Ministers, and the opportunity to seek ministerial statements and to question Ministers on those statements. We believe that such a forum will add usefully to the procedures of the House and to the opportunities available to Members to hold the Government to account. Conservative Members continually complain that they lack sufficient of those opportunities. We should judge whether they really mean it by how they vote tonight.

10.34 pm
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

The good news about the motion before the House tonight is that the Government have at last recognised that post-devolution there are some unresolved questions relating to England. The Leader of the House confirmed that in her remarks. The bad news is that the Government have come up with the wrong answer. I want to explain why the proposal before us is, first, inconsistent with the Government's manifesto commitments for devolution in England; secondly, an inadequate response to the so-called West Lothian question; and, thirdly, one that cuts across the work of existing institutions of the House, especially the Select Committees and the recently established Westminster Hall.

The proposal for this new Standing Committee has not been put to the House with the approval of the Select Committees on Modernisation or on Procedure—the preferred way of changing how the House works—but comes from the Government.

A year ago, the Modernisation Committee reflected on this proposition, which had been put to it by the Leader of the House. After discussion, the Government decided—rightly—not to pursue it, so we heard no more for nearly a year. The week before last, in a great hurry, the proposition was taken off its dusty shelf by the Government, following some adverse press coverage of the Government's lack of progress in setting up regional assemblies.

The proposal appeared on the Order Paper shortly after the Prime Minister gave a speech on Britishness on 28 March. His speech generated some adverse comment: PM rules out home rule for the regions…the move will be seen as a bruising rebuff to regions such as the North East and North West. That was in the Daily Mail on 29 March. [Interruption.] I thought that the Daily Mail was most important to the present Labour party.

How about The Times? On 29 March, it stated: Blair back-pedals on regional assemblies … Tony Blair rebuffed John Prescott's demands for the creation of regional assemblies in England yesterday. On the next day—30 March—the Leader of the House announced the initiative at business questions. That is the background.

The motion is not a considered response by the House as to how its procedures might be improved. It does not fit into a coherent philosophy of devolution; it is a political gesture, made by the Government to head off criticism of yet another of their ill-considered constitutional changes.

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

The right hon. Gentleman is twisting history somewhat. He should acknowledge the arguments that were primarily about the fact that the House was trying to achieve a consensus on the establishment, in Westminster Hall, of a Chamber in which such issues could be debated—as my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) has just pointed out. That is why the proposal was made.

Sir George Young

I am not sure whether the hon. Lady sustained her initial accusation that I had twisted history. However, she was able to insert her interpretation of events into my speech. I hope that she can catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

There are three reasons for my view that this proposal is not the best way forward. First, the new Committee would sit uneasily with other institutions of the House, especially the Select Committees and Westminster Hall. Since 1978—the last time that the Standing Committee met—there have been major changes in the operation both of the Government and of the House, which dramatically weaken the case for the Standing Committee.

We have a major Department—the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions—which has responsibility for English regional affairs. That Department is shadowed by an active and effective Select Committee—as one would expect of a Committee chaired by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody).

The DETR annual report for 1999 on regional responsibility lists the Department's achievements in 1998 as follows: Royal Assent for the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998; the establishment of eight RDAs on 14 December; and the appointment of the chairmen, members and chief executives of the RDAs. The work in progress included the further development of RDAs; encouraging the development of voluntary regional chambers in each region; contributing to the development of the new assisted areas map; and improving relationships with Government offices.

That major Department of State has responsibility for regional affairs. Within it, there is a Minister with responsibility for the English regions—I am delighted that the Minister for Local Government and the Regions, is in the Chamber tonight. There is also an Under-Secretary with responsibility for the regions, namely the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Ms Hughes).

The House monitors the Government and holds them to account on regional matters through a Select Committee. That is exactly what the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee has been doing. It produced reports on regional air services on 25 July 1998, regional Eurostar services on 26 January 1999 and regional development agencies on 25 May 1999. It must remain the principal means of monitoring the Government on regional affairs.

We also have other departmental Select Committees that cover other subjects. For example, if the House wanted to examine agriculture in the south-west, fishing in the north-west or the motor industry in the north-east, those subjects come under other Select Committees. The proposal for a Standing Committee on Regional Affairs risks short-circuiting the existing Select Committees, assuming, of course, that the House could find Members to take an active part on it, given the difficulty that confronts many Committees in maintaining a quorum and a good turnout.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The right hon. Gentleman has missed a crucial point. Any Member of the House of the Commons—not only members of the Select Committee—will under this proposal be able to ask detailed questions of Ministers and secure answers. He simply does not understand that point, but it is why the change is so important.

Sir George Young

If the hon. Gentleman considers the way the agenda is constructed, he will find that the Government, not the Committee members, will set it. I shall refer shortly to Westminster Hall, which is an appropriate forum for some of these issues.

Mr. Garnier

I wish to follow up the point made by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). All sorts of Members representing English constituencies may be able to go to the Committee, question Ministers and make speeches, but, whatever the views expressed by those attending, the Government will be able to pack the vote. They will have the majority on the Committee.

Sir George Young

Indeed, and the majority will reflect not the balance within England, but that within the United Kingdom as a whole. I shall discuss the relevant amendment shortly

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)rose—

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)


Sir George Young

I want to make a bit of progress, and then I shall give way.

The agenda of the Standing Committee, unlike that of a Select Committee, will be dominated by the Government and not by its members. The House may have considered paragraph (6) of the motion. The matters referred to the Committee, the period for discussion and the location and the duration of the discussion will all be decided by the Government. The normal powers available to a Select Committee will not be available to the Standing Committee, which is further evidence of the Government's ability to talk the language of devolution, but to retain central control.

The House is familiar with the debate about Westminster Hall. One of the concerns about establishing a forum that did not meet in the Chamber but that potentially had a large membership was that it might shift the centre of gravity away from the Chamber and take Members out of it. The jury is out on that issue because Westminster Hall is still an experiment. However, a Standing Committee on Regional Affairs must accentuate that risk.

Dr. Ladyman

I wanted the right hon. Gentleman to give way before he moved too far away from his remarks on Select Committees. Does he not accept that those of us who sit on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee are not able to proselytise on behalf of our own regions? The advantage of the Standing Committee is that we shall be able to represent our regional interests on it.

Sir George Young

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to what has just been said, he would have found out that he will not have that freedom. He can proselytise on any subject only if the Government decide that it is a subject that the Committee can discuss. The whole terms of trade are weighted in favour of the Government, not the House.

Mr. Leigh

On the point that the voting in the Committee will reflect party strength in the United Kingdom as a whole and not just England, does my right hon. Friend recognise that the project may be considered by some to be an embryo—if an inadequate one—for an English Parliament? If that is so, does he accept that it is a rare case where an early abortion of the project would be a great kindness?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend has used rather violent language. We should not make progress with the Standing Committee for the reasons that I have set out, and its membership is one of them. If the proposal is being sold to English Members as an English solution of some sort, the Committee should reflect the balance in the House of Members from England and not the United Kingdom. I shall say a word shortly about the amendment that addresses that problem.

The Procedure Committee suggested that the Grand Committees should be suspended while we wait to see what happens with Westminster Hall. Its Chairman may catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If his Committee wanted the existing Grand Committees to be suspended, it is difficult to see that it would want a new one to be established.

Westminster Hall already provides opportunities for debates on English regional matters, answered by Ministers. Subjects for debate included, on 16 January, shipbuilding on the Clyde; on 14 March, housing in Norfolk; on 21 March, housing in Hampshire; on 22 March, NHS provision in Oxfordshire and the economy of the east midlands; on 29 March, the Diamond Synchrotron and science in the north west; and, on 4 April, prospects for shipbuilding and related industries on the River Tyne. All those subjects are chosen by Members of the House and the Speaker, not by the Government.

Mrs. Beckett

I gently remind the right hon. Gentleman that although as a member of the Modernisation Committee, which recommended the experiment in Westminster Hall, he rightly and honourably voted for that proposal, the vast bulk of the Members sitting behind him voted against it, and now apparently will vote against this one. Where does that leave their claim to want a forum for English Members?

Sir George Young

The proposal for Westminster Hall came to the House from the Modernisation Committee, which approved it. This proposal has not come from the Modernisation Committee with the approval of a Committee of the House; it has come directly from the Government.

As I said earlier, my first reason for believing that this proposal is not the best way forward is that it does not make sense within our rules and procedures. Last May, the Procedure Committee published an excellent report entitled "The Procedural Consequences of Devolution". This proposition was not one of its proposals, nor indeed did it feature in the Government's response.

That brings me to my second reason. The motion in no way responds to the imbalance created by devolution. The House should tonight be implementing the Procedure Committee's unanimous recommendation that Madam Speaker should identify Bills that apply only to one part of the UK. That would begin to be a coherent response to the English question, as it would open up the way to a new procedure for English or English and Welsh Bills.

"The Procedural Consequences of Devolution", which we debated on 21 October, contained key paragraphs—23 to 27—which responded to the current inequity that affects English MPs and our constituents better than the proposal before the House. Paragraph 25 began: However, the current Standing Orders do not deal satisfactorily with legislation relating exclusively to England, Northern Ireland or Scotland … No provision at all is made for Bills relating exclusively to England.

The next paragraph took the argument a stage further. It said: The main point of principle to be considered is whether it is appropriate to retain special procedures for Bills relating exclusively to one of the constituent countries of the UK, as currently apply to Bills relating exclusively to Scotland or Wales. On balance, we believe it is.

That led the Committee to its recommendation in paragraph 27, which said: We recommend that the provision allowing the Speaker to certify Bills as relating exclusively to Scotland be transferred to a new Standing Order and adapted so that the Speaker may certify that a Bill relates exclusively to one of the constituent parts of the UK. That was the unanimous view of a Committee consisting of nine Labour MPs, three Conservatives and two Liberal Democrats. That is what we should be debating this evening.

That recommendation was rejected by the Government, who in their response asserted: If…it were possible to identify some bills as relating exclusively to England, it is not clear what benefit this would have for the House. The whole debate on the West Lothian question had gone straight over their head. It is not that they disagreed with the solution; they had not even seen the problem. The unanimous recommendation of the Procedure Committee would pave the way for the solution proposed by my party to the West Lothian question, and if the Government had tabled that as a motion today, they would have had our support.

The Standing Order would not allow the Committee to deal with Second Readings. The Procedure Committee also recommended that the Standing Order be lifted which requires Standing Committees to reflect party strength, so that the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs could reflect party strength in the constituent part of the UK. Again, the Government have not accepted that. The Government's proposal will perpetuate the inequity rather than solve it. An amendment has been tabled which would require the balance in the Committee to reflect the position in England rather than that in the UK. That strikes me as an amendment worth supporting if we are to have the Committee, but we do not believe that the Committee is the right answer to the post-devolution issues that concern many hon. Members.

My third and last reason is that the proposition does not even fit the Government's agenda. Here we are, approaching the end of this Parliament, and the sad epitaph to the bold claims about regional devolution that we heard from Labour Members a few years ago is this Standing Committee. Elected regional assemblies have disappeared and, as a sop, we are to have a Standing Committee on Regional Affairs. The commitment to hold referendums on regional assemblies has gone the same way as the commitment to hold a referendum on electoral change.

Mr. William Cash (Stone)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, to deal with the question of Scotland and Wales—especially Scotland and the West Lothian question—it is necessary to adjust the Standing Orders to ensure that those who will otherwise vote twice are not allowed to do so?

Sir George Young

That was indeed the logic of the unanimous recommendation of the Procedure Committee that was put to the House last year.

At the general election, the Labour party pledged legislation to allow the people, region by region, to decide in a referendum whether they want directly elected regional government. The Home Secretary has also promised that devolution to Scotland and Wales, to Greater London and to the English regions, greater responsibility to local authorities, far better accountability for quangos, will decentralise and devolve power across Britain and give people a say where one is denied today. Regional government was intended to break up Britain and create a Europe of the regions. As Labour argued before the election: The regional chambers would become each region's voice in Europe and would co-ordinate regional bids for EU funding. Despite that initial enthusiasm, Labour's attitude appears to have cooled. The Minister for Local Government and the Regions recently described regional government as a "diversion", claiming that few of her north-east constituents were interested. That was reported in The Guardian on 4 August.

It appears that the motion we are debating is all that remains of the Government's bold pledge to devolve power to the regions. As is so often the case with the Labour Government, they are all mouth and no delivery. We do not support the idea of regional assemblies, and my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton) will explain why. They would be wasteful and bureaucratic and they do not attract significant support in the country. In my part of the country, when people talk of Wessex, they mean Sophie and Edward, not a regional assembly.

What Labour Members really want is elected regional assemblies, especially in the north-east, to which decision making is devolved from Westminster. However, the motion pulls in the opposite direction. The Campaign for Yorkshire's background paper states: The Campaign for Yorkshire is not asking for yet another body, but looking for the RDA to be made into an elected assembly. The Local Government Association's letter about the proposal states: though we welcome greater scrutiny of RDAs by Parliament, the Association favours increased scrutiny by the region itself. If the RDAs are to be a genuine step towards increased decision making in the English regions, the Committee must recognise that RDAs should ultimately be accountable to regional interests themselves. The motion is yet another example of the Government thrashing around in a constitutional vacuum, starting a reform that they have no idea how to finish, responding to some bad press with an ill-thought-through response. We do not believe that it should be supported and I invite my hon. Friends to register their opposition in the Lobby.

10.54 pm
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I beg to move amendment (a), in paragraph (2), leave out "thirteen" and insert "twenty-four".

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

With this it will be convenient to consider amendment (b), in paragraph (2)(a), leave out "composition of the House" and insert— party representation of Members of the House sitting for English constituencies".

Mr. Tyler

The motion is a curious proposition and, as has been made clear by hon. Members on both sides, its paternity is odd. The Standing Committee on Regional Affairs has been in abeyance for 20 years and we do not appear to have managed too badly without it.

Already, inquiries have been made of the Leader of the House about the function that this child is to perform. What is its purpose? Government Members have already suggested that a body with some of the characteristics of a Select Committee would be more appropriate than a Standing Committee; but, as the Chairman of the appropriate Committee has also already pointed out, to set up such a Committee would entail duplication. Already there is doubt about the purpose of the exercise.

I hope that all hon. Members have taken the trouble to read the Order Paper and the amendments. The House is now debating a series of amendments starting, obviously, with amendment (a). We will then debate amendment (b). I hope that later we will have an opportunity to consider some of the other issues.

I have some sympathy with the point of view of the Conservative spokesman, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young).

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Tyler

With due respect, I have hardly started. I know that it was said of Mr. Gladstone that he was an old man in a hurry, but will the hon. Gentleman please be a little bit patient? I wish to be as brief as possible, as others want to speak, so I do not intend to take a lot of interventions.

As the Conservative spokesman made clear, the aspirations of many parts of the country, including my own, for some form of real devolution are to be denied this evening with a sop—a stopgap. I know that that will cause disappointment in all parts of the House. It looks as though old Labour has produced a knee-jerk response to those aspirations. As it has burned its fingers in Cardiff, Edinburgh and now London, real devolution is being put on the back burner and we are to be fobbed off with yet another Committee—a puppet Committee with a built-in Government majority.

I do not believe that that is what people want. The Prime Minister promised, not just at the general election but more recently, that we would have more accountable regional government. This is not regional government. It does not even bring regional administration under the control of the House or any other elected body. For that reason, we must study the proposition carefully. It may be just a modest improvement. If so, perhaps it has some merit, but it is certainly not what it is cracked up to be by the Leader of the House or anyone else.

Amendment (a) would expand the core membership of the Committee so that at least a sufficient number of members would not only attend meetings, but vote there, to give the Committee a more effective role in scrutinising Government policy and practice at regional level. Our suggestion is that the number should be 24.

More important still, it would be a constitutional absurdity if the calculation of the Committee membership by party were based on representation in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and even London. We therefore suggest in our second amendment that party representation should reflect party balance in England, if that is to be the agenda for the Committee. It would be totally illogical for those who represent Scottish constituencies effectively to determine representation on the Committee. The Government have clearly made a ludicrous blunder.

Mrs. Beckett

As the hon. Gentleman suggests that a ludicrous blunder has been committed, I should inform him that it has been calculated not by me, but by the relevant authorities, that his proposal would mean an extra seat for the Conservatives and one fewer for the Liberal Democrats.

Mr. Tyler

I have no problem with that. The argument of simple party advantage is ludicrous. I well recall the Labour protest when the Conservatives in the previous Parliament insisted on putting English Members on the Scottish Grand Committee. That was ludicrous then, and the proposal now is ludicrous. I hope that we will see no double standards from Labour Members who objected at that time.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way.

Mr. Tyler

No, I will not.

The motion reflects a subtle but extremely important difference in the way in which the Committee is to be managed, compared with 25 years ago: a Minister of the Crown will take all the major initiatives in deciding what comes before the Committee, where it meets, when it meets and so on. In our view, that is inappropriate. If the Committee is to be an effective organ of scrutiny that will make the Government accountable, the Chair of the Committee should have that role, and he or she should be an Opposition Member. Surely that is the right approach. I hope that hon. Members will re-examine the motion.

The proposal's greatest defect is the lack of a timetable. It is as though the Committee is intended to act for ever and a day as a substitute for effective regional scrutiny of the regional administration of national government. That is why we have proposed a sunset clause. Although Standing Orders cease at the end of every Parliament and the motion will therefore be effective for only a short time, I hope that the Government will not pretend that it is a permanent solution to the democratic deficit in the regions of England.

The motion is not a substitute for effective regional government. Anyone who claims it is such a substitute misunderstands the Government's proposition completely.

Mr. Bercow

The hon. Gentleman referred to the proposed Chairman of the Committee. Does he believe that the Chairman should be plucked from the Speaker's Panel or appointed in some other, unspecified way?

Mr. Tyler

If we are considering a Standing Committee, the Chair must be a member of the Speaker's Panel. It includes Opposition Members, so that is not a major problem. If the initiative, the agenda, the timing, the location and the business are in the hands of the Government rather than the Chair and the Committee, the Committee will not be an effective organ of scrutiny for all Back Benchers and all parties.

I represent Cornwall, which we do not regard as part of England, but I am prepared to make an exception for the purpose of our discussion. My constituents are entitled to know that the Committee will be an effective scrutineer of regional and local government.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Tyler

No, I want to complete my remarks. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] I spoke in the Chamber at 1.10 this morning; I do not believe that anyone wants to hear me speak at length this evening.

Mr. Bercow

We want Tyler.

Mr. Tyler

The hon. Gentleman can have Wat Tyler if he likes.

Hon. Members on the Treasury Bench want to buy off parts of England that have a perfectly reasonable aspiration in the aftermath of devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—we hope that devolved government will resume in due course in Northern Ireland. The motion is simply a stopgap and must be treated as such. It may have short-term merits, but only if it is greatly improved by our amendments.

11.2 pm

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

I have listened to the hon. Member for Truro—

Mr. Tyler

North Cornwall.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I am obviously thinking of the previous Parliament.

I tried to intervene on the hon. Gentleman early in his speech because in his opening sentence, he suggested that things had worked perfectly well without the Committee for which we have pressed. I remind him that his part of the world is applying for objective 1 status. That suggests that there are major problems in Cornwall. Twenty years of Thatcherism and all that that entailed have left a legacy that the hon. Gentleman does not enjoy. He should therefore have been at the forefront of those who required the Government to table the motion that has been presented this evening.

I welcome the motion. We have asked for it for 20 years; we have finally got it. In 1979, when I was first elected, the first debates in which I participated were about regional affairs. We had to argue with the Government through the usual channels for those debates. They were repeatedly refused. We asked for the establishment of a Standing Committee on Regional Affairs immediately after the election in 1979. Our request was refused. Over the following year and every year, the issue was repeatedly raised in Labour party conferences up and down the country and in trade union conferences. If the truth be known, Tory Back Benchers wanted a Standing Committee on Regional Affairs just as much as we did. I am looking at one now—the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). In the early 1980s he attended meetings of the textile group of Members of Parliament to ask for such a Committee to be established.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I hesitate to counter what the hon. Gentleman says, but it would be appropriate to quote chapter and verse, such as a date and a relevant Hansard column. Although I participated in the Committee under the old Standing Order, which I much prefer to the Standing Order that we are debating, it is wrong to introduce the motion as we are still involved in the Westminster Hall experiment. We should see whether it succeeds. I have the honour to chair Westminster Hall and I must tell the House that I am trying to create some atmosphere and make it work.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The hon. Gentleman is a weather vane. Clearly he has completely changed his position over the past 20 years.

Mr. Winterton


Mr. Campbell-Savours

I remember those occasions.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) must not shout across the Chamber.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Those matters were discussed by the Paper and Board Federation because we were concerned about the impact of energy prices on the paper and board industry. We argued that we needed a mechanism in the House of Commons whereby we could debate such issues intensely with Ministers, but that was not provided. In the 1980s, we repeatedly made requests through the usual channels for a structure to be set up, but we never got what we wanted. This time we have got it, and I thank my right hon. Friend for that.

Let me tell the House why the Committee will work. Many of my hon. Friends may not have had the opportunity or have needed to attend European Standing Committees. They are perhaps the best in terms of holding Ministers to account.

Mr. Paterson

Oh come on!

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Oh yes, those Committees are excellent as they sort out the good Ministers from the bad. In the previous Parliament, I was leading in Committee for the Opposition and a Minister said, "Do you realise, Dale, that I had to get up at 4 o'clock this morning to prepare for this because I do not want to muck it up? When I go before the Committee, I want to be sure that I have done my homework." They provide the only mechanism that I have seen in the House of Commons that subjects Ministers to persistent questioning on issues of which they often have little notice. Ministers are held fully to account, which is why I want this structure to be created.

Ministers will have to be fully briefed and able to reply if they are to appear before the Committee on issues that relate directly to our constituencies. The danger is that they will look inadequate if they do not answer detailed questions. Nothing keeps Ministers on their toes more than the need to impress a Committee, particularly when they are live on the box.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)

Although I do not agree, let us accept the hon. Gentleman's point about the effectiveness of European Standing Committees. Is not there a significant difference here because the European Scrutiny Committee, not the Government, decides whether an issue is appropriate for debate? In the new Standing Committee, issues will be debated at the behest of Ministers. If they do not want to be interrogated in the way that he describes, they can purposely avoid that by not putting certain issues down for consideration.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Within the structure that we are establishing, it is inconceivable that Ministers would be able to find some way of avoiding giving detailed answers to questions about the northern region or the north-west region. The Government will announce the business of the Committee for a particular day, for a particular region and probably for a particular Department. It could be Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, northern region, Department of Trade and Industry, north-west region, lottery matters covered by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, south-west region, or whatever.

I presume that when those items go on to the agenda, Members—if they are inclined to do what I intend to do—will give Ministers notice in detail of the questions that they mean to ask, so that there is no excuse for those Ministers to give half-baked answers. Then, during the questioning session that will open the proceedings, they will ask their questions, receive live answers and follow them up, as can be done under the European Committee structure that we have already established. Members can ask supplementaries repeatedly, and press Ministers into a corner in order to exploit fully the issues that they are raising.

Mr. Pike

I am sure my hon. Friend does not believe for a moment that, once the Committee has been established, Conservative Members will not press weekly at business questions for issues to be debated in it.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I am absolutely sure that they will. Every Thursday afternoon they will ask for items to be discussed in the Committee. Having begun by meeting perhaps once a week or once every two weeks, the Committee may well meet two or three times a week, depending on the nature and scale of demand from members of all parties. The Tories, if they are wise, will be just like us, and use the new structure to hold Ministers to account. I think that they are mad to reject it.

Dr. Ladyman

Let me ask my hon. Friend a question to which I genuinely do not know the answer. What would stop an individual Member tabling a parliamentary question asking the Government when they intended to debate a particular subject in the Committee, and what would stop the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee making recommendations to the Government, if it so wished? Whether the Government accepted them would be another matter.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Everything that my hon. Friend has said is possible, and I am sure that Conservative Members will find ways of ensuring that it is possible. They will exploit the system in exactly the same way. There must be Conservative Members who know in their hearts that this is the very structure that they want in order to secure regional accountability.

Mr. Bercow

Given what the hon. Gentleman has just said about the scope for taxing interrogation, can he explain why, in paragraph (9) of the proposed standing order, the period for ministerial statements is unlimited, but the period for questioning of those ministerial statements is strictly limited? There is an incompatibility there.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The procedure has worked perfectly well under the European scrutiny arrangements; and these are early days. It may well be that, in the end, most of the proceedings in the Committee are dominated by questions. We may well find that in a year's time, or in two years' time—depending on the scale of the great success of this procedural change—Members want more time in which to ask questions. I will be in the Lobby with the Tories if they want to table a motion to that effect: I have no problem at all with it, and nor have my colleagues on the Front Bench.

Mrs. Beckett

Having now found paragraph (9), which I must admit was not present in my memory, I can assist my hon. Friend, and respond to the concern raised by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow).

The whole point of the procedure, which is modelled on that of the European Scrutiny Committee, is to prevent Ministers from monopolising the Committee by making overlong statements, but to allow the Chairman the facility to extend the period of questioning should the Chairman conclude that the Committee has not had sufficient opportunity to press a Minister. That is what happens in the European Scrutiny Committee, and that is the reason for our proposing this procedure.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

That is a very sensible response to the question asked by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow). He should go away and consider the whole procedure again. He is one of the Members who will be able to use it, because, as we know, he is a questioner. He, along with some of his hon. Friends, will be able to exploit the procedure—and I hope that they will, because we all want Ministers to be held to account.

Mr. Gray

The hon. Gentleman talks about persistent and demanding scrutiny of Ministers. Has he seen the official record of the recent meeting of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, where Lord Sainsbury was reduced to a quivering jelly by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody)?

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I am sure, then, that the hon. Gentleman will look forward to many similar occasions with other Ministers, if he gets his way. We accept that. Indeed, Ministers accept it.

I draw attention to one or two issues that I should like to raise in the Committee. It is not only about the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. It will cover other Departments.

Mrs. Dunwoody

What concerns me is not that we should follow the European Standing Committee—

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Where my hon. Friend was very good.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I enjoyed it. It was an interesting and useful sitting because we could keep a Minister there for more than an hour, forcing him to answer questions. One thing worries me. Given the number of English Members who would have the right to come along and to question the Minister, rightly, how long would each one get to put trenchant and important questions? How many answers would they receive?

Mr. Campbell-Savours

During a sitting of European Standing Committee B that dealt with agricultural matters, my hon. Friend always seemed to secure answers to the repeated questions that she asked; it was particularly the case on European matters. She was very able to do so. I do not see any problem arising. Anyhow, it is not as if the Committee will meet only once. As I say, it may meet regularly every week on a number of occasions. I hope that it does. I hope that Members take advantage of it.

Mr. Paterson

The hon. Gentleman should listen to his colleague, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). She makes the very good point about the one hour available on European Standing Committees. The most that I have ever achieved is three questions to a Minister, interspersed with other questions from other Members.

If the hon. Gentleman had been at the Select Committee on Agriculture this morning and heard his colleague, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), going on and on and on and on at Baroness Hayman, the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, he would have seen what persistent questioning means. A Select Committee is a far more effective format for grilling an ineffective Minister than a Standing Committee, as we see with the European model.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

We are splitting hairs. [HON. MEMBERS: "We are not."] I am sorry. I think that we are. The Committees provide adequate opportunity for Members to question Ministers. It might be true that, in the proceedings this morning, the Minister was pressed, but there is one advantage that Standing Committees do have; I suppose it applies to Select Committees, too. If they are very clever, a group of Back Benchers will get together and ambush a Minister. That is the real art.

I saw that happen once. It was during a very well attended sitting—I am sure that the hon. Member for Macclesfield will remember the day. Mr. Oppenheim was the Minister. He was answering questions during the run-up to Maastricht. There was a big sitting in Committee Room 12. The proceedings had to be transferred to that Room because so many people wanted to speak. Does the hon. Gentleman remember the ambush? Did it work? It did. That is why the new procedure will work. [HON. MEMBERS: "It did not work."] It did. You got the ambush in. I was there. I witnessed it. We sat back and said nothing. Your people did the job against your own Ministers.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman could not be referring to my people because my people are not in the Chamber.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should never have made that remark. The people of the hon. Member for Macclesfield ambushed his own Minister and it worked very well.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I shall. I like these exchanges.

Mr. Evans

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the 13 core Members should reflect the political make-up of the English regions, or of the whole House of Commons?

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I have not given the matter a thought. I am leaving that to Liberal Democrat Members, who have tabled an amendment on it. I shall look to my Whips for a bit of guidance on how I should vote on it, because it is not the issue that is concerning me. I am interested in the principle.

Mr. Tyler

The hon. Gentleman will have to vote soon on our amendment.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I am going to ask my Whips which way to vote—I am very honest about that. When I am ignorant about something, they invariably give me very good guidance.

When the new regional structure and the north-west regional development agency—in the north-west of England—were established, there was much argument about whether Cumbria should be covered by it. Many of us wanted to be included in the northern region. I do not want to re-open old arguments, but the reality is that there was a very heated discussion. Although that structure is now working quite well, at that time we believed that we were not being listened to. If we had had in place the structure proposed in the motion, what a field day I would have had. Ministers would have been pilloried in that Committee and driven into a corner, to reveal the true reasons why the decision had been taken. That is only one example of a situation in which I believe that the proposed structure would have operated better.

A decision was then taken, at a regional level, without the intervention of Ministers, on where the regional development agency's offices in Cumbria were to be located. It was small matter for people in Westminster, but it was very important for us in Cumbria. I wanted the offices in Cockermouth, but the agency wanted them in Penrith. The agency won, but why? It won because there was no accountability and no process by which I could influence events. When I tried to influence events in informal proceedings, it turned out to be a complete and total waste of time. I want a structure whereby I can hold a Minister to account on a decision of that nature because I am elected and I am accountable, just as every other hon. Member is. We have to find a way of ensuring that our voices are heard and that we can question Ministers on those issues.

Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives)

The hon. Gentleman said earlier that anything is possible, and he mentioned the definition of "regions". Surely that issue really is at the heart of the proposal and the factor determining whether the emperor has any clothes at all. Do regions as defined by central Government exist other than as part of the diseased mind of a bureaucratic and centralised Government? Does he agree that the fundamental issue in the debate is the possibility of identifying regions that are based on real community identities?

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the debate on which region Cumbria should be in, and I remember the debate well. However, surely he does not believe for a minute that that issue—which was a great one for him—matters at all to his constituents. They do not recognise the north-west as an entity—it does not exist. They recognise their own county and city, and those are what make them what they are. They also recognise the fact that they are English. That is the issue that needs to be addressed. We are talking about rights for English Members to represent their constituents here in this House.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Those who are taking administrative decisions within the county of Cumbria recognise the north-west regional authority as the entity that is responsible for the region's future. There is no problem about that—we accept the north-west as an administrative entity. However, the hon. Gentleman is raising issues that we are not addressing in this debate.

There is an argument about the impact of the strength of the pound. [Interruption.] At Question Time, I have heard Tory Members and Labour Members, including me, repeatedly asking questions about the impact of sterling's high value on industry in the regions, particularly in the north of England and in Scotland. I think that it is perfectly reasonable that we should have a structure whereby we are able to bring in even Treasury Ministers, so that we can ask them questions and to justify their policy on the current value of the pound in relation to the euro. I should like to see Treasury Ministers put under pressure by answering questions on those issues. Hands up any hon. Member who does not agree with me. Surely they would all want to ask Treasury Ministers these highly important questions.

Mr. Paterson

Where does it say in the motion that the Committee will have the power to call anyone? The Government will decide who goes before the Committee. That is the critical difference between a Select Committee and the way in which the proposed Committee will be constituted. There is no power whatever—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Interventions must be brief.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

When the hon. Gentleman asks on the Floor of the House for a debate on his part of the country on a matter relating to the currency, he requests or requires the attendance of a particular Minister to make a statement to that Committee.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

Last week, the Scottish Grand Committee heard a statement on the Budget and debated the strength of the pound and its impact on the Scottish economy. In spite of the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a member of that Committee, we had no Treasury Minister replying to us.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I am sorry for the hon. Gentleman; he should have exercised his influence. There is a special Committee for Members to exercise influence over a Labour Government, and we have provided them with the opportunities to do so.

Mr. Evans

The hon. Gentleman says that, during business questions Back-Bench Members ask the Leader of the House for debates. I am an assiduous attender of business questions, and the Leader of the House says time and again, "This would be a subject for Westminster Hall." Surely what the hon. Gentleman is asking for is already served by the Select Committees and by Westminster Hall.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

That is one option; we are now offering another way to secure such a debate. The incidence of the hon. Gentleman's success should now double.

Mr. Evans

Twice zero is zero.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will get it in the end.

I am worried about the disparity between property prices in the north and the south. The people in the south have a huge advantage over my constituents. A terraced house in London costs £500,000 to £1 million. A terraced house in my constituency might cost between £20,000 and £40,000. When there is property price inflation, the people in the south benefit, yet it is my constituents in the north of England who are putting their backs into the use of equipment and machinery and generating the wealth that keeps the country working.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman may wish to discuss these matters when the Committee is set up, but he will not dwell on property prices.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The powerhouse of the nation is to be found in the industrial areas in terms of generating wealth. I am worried about the disparities that arise when the product of that wealth does not go to those people. I want to see Ministers questioned on these matters, and this proposal is exactly the structure in which that can be done.

I am not a member of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee. I am on two Committees—I cannot take on any more work in that sense. However, when the issue of property prices in the north of England arises on the agenda of the Regional Affairs Committee, I will turn up, along with the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), to question Ministers on these matters. I will see the hon. Gentleman there.

11.30 pm
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I shall be brief. It is always most entertaining to listen to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). I was looking at him closely as he addressed the House and I do not think for a moment that he believed half of what he was saying, but he made a good case and I am sure that he pleased his right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench.

I shall vote against the motion, because it has not been properly thought out. I shall not cover the same ground as my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House, who said that the measure was a sop to Labour's comments before the general election and in their early days in government about establishing regional government subject to referendums throughout the United Kingdom. My only observation on that is that the cost of government under this Administration has increased by £1 billion. That takes account of devolved government in Scotland and the huge cost of the Parliament building, as well, no doubt, as the Assembly building in Cardiff, which the First Secretary of Wales has fortunately put a stop to, albeit only for the time being.

If the Leader of the House wanted to pursue the idea of a Standing Committee on Regional Affairs, I am saddened that she did not resurrect the old Standing Order No. 117, which gave Members from the various parts of the United Kingdom an opportunity on a proper equal basis to participate in open debate about matters relating to their area. I took part in debates on more than one occasion. The hon. Member for Workington was seeking historically to put words into my mouth. Of course I was concerned about the north-west of the United Kingdom, but I did not ask for such a procedure to be set up. I have always believed that we can have proper debates on the Floor of the House of Commons, as we have done on many occasions on so-called regional affairs, ranging widely over all matters of concern to a particular area.

Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central)

I recognise that the hon. Gentleman was in the House at the time and I was not, but is not one reason why the Standing Committee under the old Standing Order No. 117 died that it had no core membership that could drive it on and ensure that the pace of business was maintained? Are not the Government right to introduce a core membership in the new Standing Order to ensure that that defect does not recur?

Mr. Winterton

I greatly respect the hon. Gentleman, not only because I have heard him speak fervently and with great knowledge many times, not just about his constituency, but about the whole of his area of the United Kingdom. However, I do not agree with him. The proposals that we are debating provide for a core membership, but I suspect that it will be a controlled core membership that will reflect the party in government. I am inclined to support the views expressed by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, who wanted a wider membership of the Committee, increasing it from 13 to 24, and a Chairman from the Opposition parties. I have the honour to serve on the Chairmen's Panel and Madam Speaker normally appoints two Chairmen to a Standing Committee, one from the Government party and one from the Opposition party, to ensure a balance. As the hon. Member for North Cornwall—and the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) who is a leading member of the Chairmen's Panel and who is in his place—will know, once a Chairman is appointed, he or she does not take part in any further progress on a Bill. In the case of a close balance in the House, such dual appointments mean that one party is not disadvantaged in relation to the other.

Mr. Cash

In reference to this matter, does my hon. Friend agree with the proposition made by the Liaison Committee recently that the Whips should be precluded from exercising influence on the core membership? For that matter, why not have free votes in the Committee, if we are to have one at all?

Mr. Winterton

I shall come on to that point, if my hon. Friend will wait a moment, because I wish to return to the question posed by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins). Core membership is a disadvantage because core members would not necessarily know much about the subject of any particular debate. For example, the hon. Member for Workington, coming as he does from Cumbria, would not know much about what was going on in south Manchester or north Cheshire. Indeed, I am grateful to the Deputy Prime Minister because he now knows where the Poynton bypass and the Manchester airport east and west link roads are located. Whenever I ask him a question, he thinks that it will be about that issue. My message for the hon. Gentleman is that if one perseveres in the Chamber, one can get one's point across and make the representations that he appears to believe can be made only in a Standing Committee on Regional Affairs.

There would be an inequality in the activities of such a Committee, and a core membership would not be to the advantage of the Committee or the debate. As the Leader of the House will know, any Member from the region in question who wished to participate in the Standing Committee under the old Standing Order No. 117 system could do so, attending on an equal basis. Those Committees did not have a core membership who could attend and vote every time. Under the new proposals, some Members would be able to attend, speak and ask questions, but they would have no vote. The Committee would have little authority. I regret that, because if we are to have another Committee it should have purpose and authority. The proposed new Committee would have no standing at all.

Mr. Bercow

Was not it also fanciful for the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) to envisage quivering Ministers being dragged before the Committee, when in truth—as he would readily see if he studied paragraph (6) of the proposed new Standing Order—it is Ministers who will call the shots?

Mr. Winterton

I would have hoped that the Leader of the House might have clarified that point.

Mrs. Beckett

If either hon. Gentleman looked back at the original Standing Order, they would see that those provisions precisely mirror the Standing Order that already exists.

Mr. Winterton

With the amendments that are proposed, I am not sure that the structure proposed by the Leader of the House will work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) mentioned the splendid report from the Liaison Committee, which is the Committee of Select Committee Chairmen. Those experienced and authoritative hon. Members are concerned with holding the Government of the day to account, and about how hon. Members are appointed to Select Committees. Those appointments should not be done by the comfortable mechanism of the usual channels—I have had experience of tame hon. Members being appointed to Select Committees, as the Leader of the House knows.

Appointments to Select Committees should be made by a special committee of the Liaison Committee. That would improve the House's integrity. Those appointed would be committed to the subjects in which the Committees specialise and could add their experience.

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)

I am Chairman of the Selection Committee and a member of the Speaker's Panel, and I am having trouble with the hon. Gentleman's contribution on both counts. As for the latter, it does not matter to which party a Standing Committee Chairman belongs, as all Chairmen do the job objectively. Hon. Members of all parties have felt the rough of my tongue, and that of the hon. Gentleman.

The Selection Committee works in a straightforward manner. There are no nuances or nonsenses—at least, not since I have been its Chairman, although I understand that the hon. Gentleman had a rough time in that post under a previous Government. I do not understand what he is talking about.

Mr. Winterton

I have the highest regard for my colleague on the Chairmen's Panel, who is also an additional Deputy Speaker for Westminster Hall sittings. In no way am I impugning his chairmanship of the Selection Committee when I say, however, that influences have been brought to bear—and even rules created—in the past, of which the House knew nothing. In that way, the reappointment or otherwise of hon. Members to Select Committees was influenced—but I do not want to go over all that again.

The excellent Liaison Committee report was compiled under the splendid Chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon). It picks up a number of matters that have been dealt with by the Procedure Committee, which I have the honour to Chair. I do not want to talk about how the House debates Government expenditure, although the Government's reply on such matters was disappointing.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) talked about the Procedure Committee report on the procedural consequences of devolution. I want to be as brief as possible, so I shall not cover the ground that he covered in his excellent opening presentation. The all-party Committee put forward ways of recognising what has happened to Wales and Scotland since devolution. After a great deal of mature consideration and evidence-taking, we did not recommend a Standing Committee on Regional Affairs.

Mr. Evans

Post-devolution, the Scots have their Parliament and the Welsh have their Assembly. Both bodies are directly elected. If we are to have this sop of a Standing Committee on Regional Affairs, is there any logical reason why the core membership should not reflect the political make-up of those representing English constituencies, rather than including the other regions of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Winterton

Again, I am bound to refer to amendment (b), tabled by the Liberal Democrats, which was selected. It seeks to leave out "composition of the House" in line 10, and insert party representation of Members of the House sitting for English constituencies … My view, which I understood my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire to put forward on behalf of the Conservative Opposition, is that we are sympathetic to the amendment. If there is a Division, I hope, as he indicated, that we will vote for it. It is the right move if we are to be fair to England. Incidentally, I have not, overtly or tacitly, promoted an English Parliament, because I am a strong Unionist who believes in the union of the United Kingdom—England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. I am hoping against hope that the damage done by devolution will not be irretrievable, and that there is a real purpose for the United Kingdom as a whole.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

If we accept amendment (b), should we not, by logical extension, apply that principle to the regional Select Committees of Scotland and Wales? Is there any prospect, therefore, that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) will be relieved of the need to attend the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs?

Mr. Winterton

I am sure that my hon. Friends the Members for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) and for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) find it neither inconvenient nor burdensome to attend the meetings of these valuable Committees which play a vital part in the integrity of the United Kingdom, and truly reflect in this House the needs of all those countries comprising the United Kingdom.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I cannot imagine a Scottish Committee being a burden to anyone.

Mr. Winterton

I know that you do not, Mr. Deputy Speaker, nor would you even have dreamt of it. I was merely responding to the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West, who implied that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham found their attendance and involvement with those Committees somewhat inconvenient and burdensome. I do not believe that they are and repeat that they are a vital part of the function of the House in maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Leigh

The analogy between the Select Committee and this proposed Committee is not a correct one. A Select Committee is there to hold the Executive to account and to study the subject. The proposed Committee is about righting an imbalance following devolution. Therefore, it is absurd that the proposed Committee should have a membership drawn from the entire United Kingdom. A Select Committee is quite different; it could be argued that we should all sit on the Scottish Affairs Committee if we wanted to, but this is different. That is why the proposed Committee is a logical absurdity.

Mr. Winterton

I do not support what is proposed on the Order Paper tonight and has been promoted by the Leader of the House. I come back to the views expressed by my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House. The Procedure Committee, comprising as it does a majority of Labour Members, with two Liberal Democrats and three Conservatives, made proposals after proper mature thought, consideration and evidence taking that dealt as adequately as we could at this time with the procedural consequences of devolution.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury)

Is it not right to observe that even during this debate, an hon. Member who represents a Scottish seat has, as is right, contributed to a debate that is solely related to English matters? He has now left his place. I was somewhat hesitant to make that point, given Mr. Deputy Speaker's intervention.

Mr. Winterton

My hon. Friend highlights the fact that you are an overlord of this Chamber this evening, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and you come from north of Hadrian's wall. I can only say that I am delighted to see you in the Chair and you are ensuring that we have a meaningful, positive and robust debate tonight.

Will the Minister who replies consider some of the observations that have been made from the Conservative Benches and the two amendments that have been tabled by the Liberal Democrats and selected for debate? I believe that they make a better balance. Will the Leader of the House say whether she thinks that the extension of the House in Westminster Hall is not also an appropriate forum for meaningful debate on regional matters? Of course, there was an important debate the other day in Westminster Hall on the Diamond Synchrotron, which is highly controversial. Any hon. Member from the north-west could attend on an equal basis.

Mrs. Ann Winterton

Or from anywhere else.

Mr. Winterton

Or from anywhere else, as my hon. Friend says. Does the Leader of the House not believe that that forum is ideal for the sort of debate that is to be transferred to the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs? I am sure that she has said so in various debates that we have had on modernisation.

Mrs. Beckett

Of course I accept that there may be occasions when Westminster Hall might be thought to be a suitable forum, assuming that the experiment continues. I do not rule it out, especially perhaps for matters that by their nature transcend more than one region. However, I would be reluctant to see Westminster Hall dominated by such debates, which I fear could happen if it were the sole forum. I am certain that, should such debates draw a large participation from Members representing Scottish and Welsh constituencies—there is no reason why they should not, as the forum is open to all Members of the House—we would not have addressed in any way the need for a forum for hon. Members who sit for English constituencies. It may be that Conservative Members have decided that they no longer feel that that is a matter of concern; I believe that it is.

Mr. Winterton

I am grateful for that constructive intervention. It is important that the House properly explores the motion that the Government have put on the Order Paper to amend substantially Standing Order No. 117. But will she give me, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire and other Conservative Members an assurance that she will take seriously our concerns? Last autumn, we debated the Procedure Committee's recommendation relating to the procedural consequences of devolution, taken with other matters that have subsequently arisen in respect of a further report from the Procedure Committee about how we debate financial matters and estimates in the House, together with the far-reaching recommendations to shift the balance of the Liaison Committee. If she indicates that she will take those matters seriously, I shall be slightly more sympathetic to the motion.

Mrs. Beckett

I always take seriously recommendations such as those to which the hon. Gentleman referred—he listed a series of reports and recommendations—although that does not mean that we can accept all of them.

It is possible that my remarks did not include a point that I had intended to make—perhaps because I took 10 interventions. I had intended to say that I do not suggest that our proposals are set in stone nor that, over time, the House might not agree on ways to amend and improve them. I merely point out that they seem to be a worthwhile first shot.

Mr. Winterton

Again, I am grateful to the Leader of the House. However, I hope that, when her hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office replies to the debate, he will take on board and respond not only to many of the matters that have been legitimately and properly raised, but to some of the severe reservations expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire.

Under paragraph (6)(c), a Minister of the Crown can specify when and where (within England) the Committee shall meet. Can the right hon. Lady really be serious about that provision? Committees already find it difficult to obtain, or maintain, a quorum, and the proposed Committee could take a large number of people away from the House—because the motion states that it can meet away from the House—when other important business is taking place here. Bearing those points in mind, will she pay some attention to my serious concern—shared by other Chairmen of Select Committees—as to the inability of Committees to maintain a quorum when we are doing important business on behalf of the House?

It was premature to table the motion. The right hon. Lady said that the Modernisation Committee had not pursued the matter a year ago because of the Westminster Hall experiment. Although I make no bones about the fact that I am trying to make that experiment a success, it is none the less an experiment. We do not know whether it will survive. Do we need a further experiment that might complicate the way that the House is run and hinder Members in undertaking all the jobs that they want to do on behalf of the House, the country and their constituents?

The matter is serious. It did not receive adequate thought before the motion was tabled for debate tonight. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire and other hon. Members have done us a service in raising important issues that cause us concern.

11.58 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I welcome what is perhaps a timid and faltering step towards the scrutiny of our regional government.

We should realise that we already have regional government. Planning conferences have been set up. There are regional development agencies and the Government offices. Regional chambers are being developed, although their role is somewhat ambiguous. They are supposed to exercise scrutiny, but most of their members are substantial providers in the regions. However regional government has been established, we need to provide for effective scrutiny of it. The measure is not ideal, but it is a first step, so we should welcome it.

It has been suggested that there could be a clash with the work of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs. There need be no clash. That Select Committee has a work load that is probably impossible. In the past two months, the Committee has met three times a week. It oversees a huge number of non-governmental organisations, but we are not able to scrutinise them all. There are more than 30 that we have still not examined in this Parliament. Members have referred a huge list of topics to us for our consideration and the members of the Committee want to consider them. Its work load is substantial.

The Select Committee considered regional development agencies when the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998 went through the House, and we examined them again last year. We should re-examine them, but it is difficult to envisage how the Committee could scrutinise each of the agencies in the English regions. That is an almost impossible task for us to perform. Two issues are involved. The first is the way in which the agencies are developing nationally and the other is the regional policies that each pursues. It is high time that we found a way to scrutinise them. Ideally, that would be done by Members of Parliament from the relevant regions, and this proposal is a small step in that direction.

The House should grasp this opportunity. It amazes me that the Opposition are likely to vote against more scrutiny in Parliament; that is crazy. I also find it odd that they are worried about voting. How many votes have they won so far in this Parliament? It is not their voting power that is significant. I should have thought that they would want to extract guarantees through the usual channels so that they could at least have some say on the debates to be held and on when they are held. However, they are demanding the right to vote and, presumably, to lose regularly, and it does not matter whether they lose on the basis of the votes of English Members or of those from the United Kingdom as a whole—they will still lose.

Liberal Members have asked who will chair the Committee. As I understand it, if the Chairman is a member of the Chairman's Panel, he will vote according to precedent. He would not exercise judgment in the party political sense. What will happen if someone chairing the Committee behaves as if he were the Chairman of a Select Committee? My experience in the previous Parliament as the Chairman of a Select Committee with a majority of Members from other parties is that, in many ways, the Chairman is constrained by the Committee's members. I do not think that worrying greatly about who chairs the new Committee is the crucial issue. I advise the Conservative party to get stuck into scrutiny. It should certainly get stuck into scrutiny of regional affairs and it should use the usual channels to ensure that it receives a fair amount of the time available for debate.

I will not follow my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) in listing all the subjects that I would like to be scrutinised in the north-west. It is a long and substantial list, and the sooner that we get to it, the better.

I am reluctant to speak on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), but I give one assurance to the House for us both because we jointly chair the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs. The new procedure will not in any way curtail or intimidate the activities of that Committee.

We should now move forward, accepting that the proposal is very limited. We should grasp the opportunity and demand that the Committee is used vigorously in the next few months. The Government could undertake that there will be at least one meeting in each of the English regions before July. We could then assess whether the Committee's powers were adequate or whether we needed to demand further powers.

12.4 am

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)

I am saddened by the way in which many Labour Members will unquestioningly support any proposal that seeks to remove the power of scrutiny from this Chamber. They will send that power anywhere, provided that the Chamber is not seen to be the place where the Government are held to account. However well intentioned their views on this matter may be, they are failing their constituents and themselves; by following the Government's lead on a range of constitutional issues, they are slowly consigning Parliament and themselves to eventual oblivion.

My constituents send me to this Chamber to hold the Government to account, and that is the prime job that every Member of the House is sent here to do. The Select Committee procedures are effective, and we should concentrate on those in seeking to modernise and improve the House, rather than usurp or seek to replicate powers that already exist and are effectively used by those Committees.

The whole question of regionalism is abject nonsense. The regions exist only in the minds of the politically correct and the political elite; they do not exist in the minds of my electors in Cheadle. They know not what the north-west is, and I suspect that they care less.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)


Mr. Day

I shall give way in a moment.

Despite the fact that my electors have been part of Greater Manchester since 1974, they still vociferously defend their Cheshire identity. I heard a Liberal Democrat Member—I cannot remember which one—say from a sedentary position that we must have smaller units that people identify with. I am amazed that that hon. Member does not know that those units exist: they are counties and cities. They are where the English identity rests and what it is all about.

If hon. Members are concerned about making up any deficit in our role, as English Members of Parliament, of serving our constituents, they should redress the political deficit that England has suffered since the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly were set up. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), I very much believe in the union of the United Kingdom. I know that the Government do not because the constitutional changes that they have introduced have greatly damaged the long-term survival of what I know as my country—the United Kingdom.

Although I accept that the Scottish people wanted their own Parliament—I do not accept that the Welsh wanted their Assembly, but they got it—that should not have gone ahead without thought being given to how to redress the problems caused for England. If we are to save the United Kingdom, the issue of English rights must be addressed. It will not be solved by setting up a nonsense Committee, which in effect will remove power from where it should be and from where we should be seen to be acting on behalf of constituents—this Chamber.

Mr. Bercow

I entirely agree with the thrust of my hon. Friend's remarks. Surely the whole purpose of the proposed Committee is simply to lend parliamentary legitimacy to regionalism, to give credence to the idea that we suffer from under-government and need more government and to underscore the notion of a bloated European Union chessboard on which this country is nothing but an insignificant pawn.

Mr. Day

My hon. Friend is right. Regionalism makes sense only within the concept of a European federal state of regions, and I reject that concept. I am wholeheartedly happy to be part of the European Union and to enjoy the benefits of friendship and trade, but I do not want a European super-state to be created. Nor do I want the rights of the House of Commons to control and question the Government of the United Kingdom to be removed to any significant extent to any so-called region, for that would undermine the whole concept of the United Kingdom to which I am wedded, and the whole reason for the existence of Parliament.

Serious issues lie at the heart of the Government's proposals. If hon. Members want to know what the people of this country think about where they come from and who they are, they should speak not to people who are involved in politics or to members of their own party, but to their own people, the people whom they represent, and to people who are active in industry. Incidentally, industry in my area is not desperate for a regional assembly in the north-west, nor are my electors: when I mention the prospect of such an assembly to them, they are horrified at the thought of yet another tier of politicians, who might be even worse than I am. That is the way in which the public regard the body politic: they want fewer politicians, not more.

Tonight, I shall, with great enthusiasm, vote against this ridiculous proposal.

12.12 am
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

I shall not attempt to follow that performance by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day), who appears to be arguing in favour of home rule for Cheshire and against regional or even national government. Do his constituents not shop or go to the theatre in Manchester? Do they not use the facilities of the whole region? Do they not go to Trafford Park to shop? Do they not think regionally in any way? The hon. Gentleman appears to be curiously insulated from reality.

Mr. Day

The hon. Gentleman might be surprised to learn that many of my constituents shop as far afield as London. It does not mean that they want to be part of Greater London.

Mr. Mitchell

It might make more sense if, on their way down, they stopped at Meadowhall, where things are much cheaper.

The debate should not be prolonged unnecessarily. All I want to do is sincerely welcome the proposals laid before the House by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. In my view, the Committee should have been re-established years ago, before devolution took place. Devolution is not necessarily a spur to the action, but it adds to the arguments in its favour. It is right that we should have the power to discuss regional issues in our own way and in our own format. With or without devolution, we need such a forum.

Like it or not, we are all regionalists now. Life is lived more widely than the small constituency, village, town or even city. Manchester was once a powerful, but narrow, focal point; now, with modern transport such as the motor car, it is a focus for the entire region. Development must be handled on a regional basis. What Scotland now has creates competition for development and public spending—a competition in which the English regions need to be able to have their say and put their case if they are to compete effectively with Scotland.

Let us take the civilised parts of the country: the northern region is foremost among those demanding regional devolution. I have no doubt that regional devolution would be carried in a referendum in the north-east, and polls reveal that there is also demand in the north-west, Yorkshire and Humberside.

Mr. Day

indicated dissent.

Mr. Mitchell

If there is no demand for some form of regional devolution, why have those three regions already created their own regional assemblies? Demand is stirring, rising and becoming more important.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mitchell

No, I shall not give way for now.

The position taken by the two Opposition parties is extraordinary. I should have thought that the Liberals wanted devolution all round, but they are quibbling about a minute step towards that. I know that the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) does not want devolution. He wants home rule for Cornwall—an even smaller unit. Just as the Liberals reacted to the problems of home rule in Ireland by calling for home rule all round, so they should logically react to devolution to Scotland and Wales by calling for devolution all round.

Mr. Tyler

Does the hon. Gentleman understand that home rule means rule at home, not here in the House of Commons? Devolution means delegation of responsibilities to the people who will be affected by those decisions.

Mr. Mitchell

Does the Liberal party not want that? Does it not want regional devolution? Why is it quibbling about this small step on the way?

I intend to turn now to the Conservatives, so let us hear something of their views.

Mr. Grieve

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Is he aware that a poll taken throughout the United Kingdom for The Scotsman less than three weeks ago, which particularly addressed the question of devolution in the regions, showed that there had been a marked decline—10 percentage points—in support for regional devolution within England since the last general election? How does that square with his statement that there is massive demand in the regions?

Mr. Mitchell

The demand is emerging in the three northernmost regions: true north—the real Britain, in my view. The hon. Gentleman should study the poll in The Economist in March last year, which showed a demand for regional government in all those regions. He should also examine the surveys carried out for the Kilbrandon commission in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which showed a stronger degree of regional feeling, a stronger sense of deprivation, a stronger feeling of isolation from London and a feeling that there was a lack of concern in London about their issues in the three northern regions than in Scotland.

Mr. Grieve

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mitchell

Once is enough.

The Conservatives' position on devolution is confused. They argued against it in the case of Scotland, then they accepted it. They are engaging in the same process of arguing against advances. That is conservatism as defined by Woodrow Wilson—do nothing and ask your grandmother.

Mr. Grieve

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. The reason for accepting devolution in Scotland is that we accept that that is what the Scottish electorate wanted. The problem that the hon. Gentleman must face when he deals with regions such as the north-east is that devolution may be desired by some people in certain parts of those regions, but, 20 miles outside a town like Newcastle, the prospect of being governed from Newcastle and dominated by the urban centre is completely rejected.

Mr. Mitchell

The hon. Gentleman is merely quibbling. There are differences in Scotland about where the country should be governed from. There are some who do not like government from Edinburgh. Every region must have a centre—a focal point—and it is easy enough to define one in most of the regions of this country. I am referring particularly to the three northern regions, where regional feeling is strongest.

The Tory party opposes devolution and then accepts it, just as it will eventually accept regional devolution in England. The party is staggering around for a response to devolution to Scotland. One response proposed by a substantial body of Conservatives is that there should be a Parliament for England. It is a fairly asinine idea, so it is not surprising that it comes from the Opposition, but that would effectively be like an elephant in a cuckoo's nest.

What we want is regional devolution, with elected regional assemblies and regional government in those areas that want it. It is possible to move towards devolution as Spain has done, on the basis of variable geometry, with regions taking the powers that they want to establish those regions and governing themselves in their own way.

The three regions of the north would almost certainly want devolution and the maximum powers. My view is that what Scotland has, we want in Yorkshire and Humberside and in the other two northern regions. It is only fair that we should have it. We are in a competitive situation. Life is increasingly lived on a regional basis. Those regions have severe economic problems. By any measurement of the strength of the regional economies, whether in terms of unemployment, average wages or gross domestic product per capita, the three regions are behind the rest of the country.

There was an interesting survey in the Financial Times yesterday about our competitive disadvantage. In the knowledge-based sector, all three regions lagged behind the rest of the country and Scotland, which has the power to handle its affairs. When such deficiencies exist, it is important to mobilise the synergy of democratic involvement to fight them.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

How does the motion grant the Regional Committee the means to resolve the problems to which the hon. Gentleman refers? The hon. Gentleman's comments are off the subject; they are about other matters. It would be helpful if he tackled the motion.

Mr. Mitchell

I hate to disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but the issues that I have raised could and should be discussed in the Regional Committee established on the basis of the motion. Why are Yorkshire and Humberside and the whole northern region disadvantaged? That is a prime subject for discussion. What can be done about it? I want to go further than the motion—I want elected regional assemblies. The motion is a step on the way.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Like the Scottish Grand Committee.

Mr. Mitchell

Yes. Why should the English regions not have a similar Committee? I support any step along the way, and I am in favour of the ultimate solution of devolved regions with elected regional assemblies.

I do not want to prolong my remarks, or make an angry speech. However, it is incredible that the Opposition are so intent on looking a gift horse in the mouth. The motion establishes an important forum in which we can discuss issues that are important in the regions. We do not currently do that. We can hold Ministers to account by means of that forum, and impress on them the importance of regional issues. Let us accept it with gibbering gratitude.

12.22 am
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

Long before Standing Orders or the United Kingdom existed, there was a Parliament for England, which was sited on this spot. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) pushes that point aside. The Parliament was a body corporate; anything that happened in the north-east, the north-west, the south-east or the west midlands affected us all. The House and taxation are the means whereby funds are sent and transferred to tackle grievances and anxieties. When the hon. Gentleman fights for money for Grimsby, I have an interest because it may be at the expense or to the disadvantage of my area. Money for Grimsby may also benefit my area if it opens up shipping lanes and so on.

We are considering what happens in this ancient Chamber; we are considering this England. Everything that happens here touches every hon. Member who represents England. When we became a United Kingdom, the body corporate reached out. That means that what harms another area harms me. Parliament should therefore act as judge and arbitrator; that was the theory.

The constitution has been broken down in the past three years. A motion has been tabled in the name of the Leader of the House—it proposes a new Standing Order. Standing Orders form the constitution of the House. It may seem a trite observation that is easy to dismiss, but we regulate our business through Standing Orders. They are determined not by general elections, but by Parliament as a body. To make our system work and to understand why it works, we seek agreement. When we have profoundly different beliefs and views about the conduct of the world outside, the way in which we treat each other is governed through Standing Orders. The conventions of the House are administered accordingly and Standing Orders are developed.

The motion is different—there is no attempt to tackle anxieties. I felt sorry for the Leader of the House because she has never appeared so nervous. She has never been so badly informed. She did not know the meaning of paragraph (9) and was unable to refer in detail to the purpose of the Committee or what is behind it. Is it a new substitute for regional government? Of course it cannot be within the terms of the Standing Order, as the hon. Member for Great Grimsby so ably showed with his interpretation of where he wants it to go. However, we are dealing not with where he wants it to go, but with the matter before us. That will bind the conduct of the House.

On devolution, how does one meet the imbalance with Scotland? Everything that the Government have done has been tentative. There have been advances here and reverses there, but the truth is that this is the Parliament of England as well as of the United Kingdom and every English Member sits in it. There is no need to divide ourselves on the issue; we can sit and talk here. I have heard a lot of guff about callings to account. We know what determines the business of the House and of the country—a majority vote. That is why one is always sensitive about Standing Orders. However, I cannot remember such a near total abrogation of due process.

There has been no consultation, as was pointed out by the Procedure Committee. [Interruption.] The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, huffs, but he is brand new in the House, having served for no more than three years. [Interruption.] I understand that he has in fact served for seven; forgive me. We are continuing the debate about how we do our business and the proposal has been plonked on us. We are being told that a majority will operate tonight on a three-line Whip—[Interruption.] Oh, it is a two-line Whip. Now we have it.

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman says that the proposal has been plonked before the House without consultation. I first put a proposal before the Modernisation Committee almost a year ago.

Mr. Evans

It was rejected.

Mrs. Beckett

The Modernisation Committee, of which the hon. Gentleman is not a member, did not reject the proposal. It became clear that a consensus was unlikely. I respected that and withdrew the proposal from that forum, recognising that that was not the right way to proceed. However, I made it plain to the Committee that the Government reserved the right to bring it back before the House for judgment in the proper way. In that sense, those words have been before the House for anyone to comment on and for any observations to be made for about a year. It is not right for the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) to say that there has been no consultation and that the proposal has been introduced out of the blue.

Mr. Shepherd

I am saying that we saw no detail in the Modernisation Committee, as the right hon. Lady well knows. We never had a proposed Standing Order before us. We were told about a concept, along the lines of that raised by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, which was our fear. For the first time, we are confronted with a peripatetic House that presumably may journey to any part of England. [Interruption.] That is what it says in the Standing Order. What will that do? We were elected to sit and argue in Parliament—[Interruption.]

Mr. Stephen O'Brien

Read it!

Mr. Shepherd

Labour Members have not bothered to read the Standing Order. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has manifestly failed to do so.

There has been much discussion of regional development agencies and chambers of commerce, but the proposal is not a substitute for the West Lothian question, the Scottish question or the English question. Nor is it about Parliament; it deals with the management of how English Members discuss the business of England. The membership of the Committee will be based on membership of the United Kingdom Parliament rather than of an English Parliament. We know what happened in the past and we should not forget it. A Committee was set up in the 1970s to try to perform that function and I understand that a couple of votes were lost there. It was never heard of again because Labour had an uncertain majority, which may be the case after the next election. The proposal amounts to a temporary expedient to provide today's answer to the West Lothian question, but it is not a substantial answer.

That returns us to the fact that the proposal has been imposed by the Leader of the House. Being Leader of the House means more than just being a member of the Labour Cabinet, or of the Cabinet of the governing party; it means reaching out beyond the interests of the Government. As all Members who have been here for any time know, the right hon. Lady represents the House. That is slightly different from being a Labour partisan—or, as I should say in deference to the right hon. Lady, a new Labour Cabinet Minister. In a sense, she represents us all.

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady when she interrupts to explain things better, because we need such explanations; but she is now taking all the wider dimensions represented by all sides back to the Cabinet table. She makes representations on our behalf, but she is not doing so on this occasion; she is saying that she must bring the matter back to the House and that she must be the engine for the mobilisation of what we are now told is a two-line Whip. [Interruption.] I have just been informed across the Floor that it is a two-line Whip. Previously, I was happy to accept that it was a three-line Whip.

In any event, on a Whip, the Government with the largest majority for a very long time—the largest majority for a century, I believe—are forcing through a measure that is not necessary in terms of the business of the House. It should be rejected on that basis alone. Moreover, it does not meet the criteria specified by the three Labour speakers for it to provide a substitute for regional government.

The population of the west midlands is 5.1 million, that of Scotland is 4.9 million, and we have skewed our constitution in a way that forces us to determine that the great bulk of the money comes from England. The transfer payments are made, yet there can be no proper discussion on the basis of the old body corporate—where what affects you affects me—and the Treasury must make the balancing judgment about the needs of us all, as a body corporate—as an England united, or, formerly, a United Kingdom united.

I believe that the proposal should be rejected until there has been better consideration of the issues.

12.32 am
Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

In most ways I am exceedingly glad to follow the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), for whom I have immense respect. I am sad not to be able to agree with him tonight. In fact, I felt that in his peroration he was advancing the strongest possible argument for setting up the Committee—and that is just the kind of issue that I would like to discuss in the Committee itself.

I wholly welcome the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, in the sense that I welcome the fact that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This is only a small step for Parliament. I am reminded of an observation by one of the great managing directors of General Motors, who said, "If the pace of change outside the organisation exceeds the pace of change inside it, the end is nigh." As I listened to the debate tonight, I reflected on how difficult it is to change anything in this place. How many words have been wasted on what is really a very small step indeed?

Of course we can quibble about whether the Committee has the right powers, and whether it has been set up in the right way. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills said that the objective of all of us was to proceed by consensus, and of course it is; but if there is no consensus, can we not proceed at all? Is it not possible for us to change anything without a full consensus?

I applaud my right hon. Friend for taking this initiative. I am among those who, for the last 15 years or so, have pleaded for it, often through the usual channels. We talk of "all mouth and no delivery"; I spent 10 years being all delivery and no mouth. But when I was Opposition Chief Whip, we as a shadow Cabinet pressed the Government to set up this Committee again, although we made no progress whatever. We asked for that because, as English Members, we felt that there were not enough ways in which we could advance the argument for our regions.

I want regional government. I am a committed devolver and decentraliser, despite the problems that my party is having with Scotland, Wales and London. That has not diminished my enthusiasm for devolving and decentralising. I see the proposal as a small step on the road to regional government.

Power has gone to regions. Whether Opposition Members recognise it or not, Government offices and regional development agencies are spending huge amounts of money. Those powerful civil servants and appointees are not accountable to anyone in the regions. That is what the clamour is for.

Mr. Grieve

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foster

Just a moment.

The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) said that there was no demand for regional government. Oddly enough, in the north-east the chamber of commerce and the CBI are clamouring for regional government because they see the need to control both the government of the north-east and the regional development agency.

I do not want to prolong the debate. I would have preferred not to speak, except that I wanted to welcome the Leader of the House's initiative. We will press for the Committee to grow organically. We want it to have more powers. I should like the Chairman to have the power to determine a private notice question, which can come from an individual Member. I do not like the idea of Ministers wholly determining the agenda and the procedures, but I welcome the proposal. We can make it work, make it grow and make it into a positive idea.

12.37 am
Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)

It has been an interesting, but extraordinary debate, which we should not have had at this time of the night. It is interesting that it has been sidelined to this late hour.

Conservative Members have touched on the nature of what England is about. Last week, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins) suspected that the change in timing reflected the fact that regionalism was not a priority for the Government. Why have we not held the debate in prime time, or is it the latest chapter in the sorry tale of the Deputy Prime Minister's flagship regional policy?

The Deputy Prime Minister's regional policy was only recently panned in a report from the Cabinet Office performance and innovation unit. It said that a proliferation of initiatives by individual Whitehall departments had created a "very substantial bureaucratic burden for those on the ground…Too much time is spent negotiating the system rather than delivering. That resulted in the parachuting in of Lord Falconer to take the reins from the Deputy Prime Minister under the guise of regional co-ordination units.

Regionalism has led to much criticism among regional development agencies themselves. Then there has been a distinct cooling-off of the Government's commitment to regional assemblies. Now, as has been shown tonight, the situation is completely confused by the proposal to set up yet another Committee. It is a classic example of, "If in doubt, set up a Committee." It attempts to paper over the severe cracks in regional policy and the Government's back tracking fast from regional government assemblies—much to the annoyance of many regionalophile Labour Members—by offering them an inadequate sop in the form of yet another talking-shop committee.

The proposal is little short of a panic, knee-jerk, rearguard action to try to address the substantial imbalance inflicted on the way in which we govern the UK and hold our institutions accountable after devolution to Scotland and Wales, which has created a Frankenstein of fragmenting nationalism, as always leaving England short changed, having paid most of the bills. On that, the proposal again patently fails. It is, regardless, not proposed that the Committee should deal with real legislation.

Is it not odd that the Leader of the House has today proposed establishing the Committee, although the proposal did not come from the Modernisation Committee or the Procedure Committee and was not a manifesto commitment?

The right hon. Lady gave a pitiful performance, leaving us completely confused about what the Committee should do. She failed dismally to deal with the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) on the Committee's interaction with the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee. She failed to tell us what the Committee would actually do. In answer to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) on the Committee's provenance, she said that the matter had been "aired" in the Modernisation Committee. If it has been aired in the Modernisation Committee, it left that Committee in a very damp condition.

The right hon. Lady has yet again made excuses for the Government's sidelining of the convention to make ministerial statements in this Chamber. She had no idea at all of the effect of paragraph (9) of the proposed standing order on ministerial statements.

The proposal is a rather desperate measure that has come out of the blue. It is a desperate throw back—back 22 years, to be precise—to a Committee that last sat in 1978. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) said, time has moved on, and that Committee has been replaced by the Select Committee system. In that system, hon. Members are able to call for witnesses and evidence on any manner of subject that could even loosely be said to be relevant to the regions.

The Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee itself has discussed numerous subjects, ranging from town and country parks, regional development agencies, housing and planning, the integrated transport White Paper and the future of United Kingdom shipping, to name only a few. All those matters have been dealt with by that Select Committee using the current Committee structure.

We understand that the regional Standing Committee would expect to draw on the experience of Select Committee members, such as those on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee. Will the regional Committee rank over that Select Committee? Will it make Select Committees redundant?

The Committee's structure is wrong. It fails singularly to address the issue of the English deficit. It is supposed to be a Standing Committee on English regional affairs, yet its composition of 13 members is to reflect the composition of the whole House, to include Scottish, Welsh and Ulster Members. Surely that will only compound the unfairness by which English Members are now excluded from speaking and voting on many policy and expenditure matters north and west of the borders, whereas Scottish and Welsh Members have lost no power to speak and vote on matters affecting exclusively England. The Committee will simply further institutionalise that injustice.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire said, the Committee is 22 years out of date also because of the innovation of the Westminster Hall experiment—about which we have heard so much today. Westminster Hall enables all hon. Members not only to raise issues affecting their particular region, all the regions or no region, but to have a Minister attend and reply to the debate on those issues. Regardless of whether we believe that the experiment is working, that is supposed to be the principle behind it.

In the past month, I myself have participated in three debates in Westminster Hall—on housing in London, the economy of the east midlands and the effect on regeneration of banking closures in Norfolk. Interestingly, all those debates were replied to by DETR Ministers.

Is not the proposal a threat to the Westminster Hall system, and does it not present a prospect of serious overlap? We shall have yet more talk, but yet less delivery.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Loughton

I shall not give way, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.

The motion includes a procedure for matters to be put by a Minister before the House for approval, but it does not include a formal mechanism for the Committee to contribute to that process. It is not clear in the motion whether the Committee should have an informal input into that process, or whether such matters will be decided through the usual channels. As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) pointed out, the proposals limit Ministers' talking or scrutiny time to just one hour. It took the Leader of the House over an hour to work out what the clause meant. Under the terms of the clause, she would have been out of time.

Mrs. Beckett

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the Standing Order, he will see that it has a number of sections. The hon. Member for Buckingham hoped to catch me out on the terms of paragraph (9). He did so—I freely concede it. There is no need for the hon. Gentleman to make such a meal of it. I am perfectly aware of what the Standing Order means.

Mr. Loughton

We may have touched a raw nerve, but it did not take an hour and a quarter to remember. It was easy to look at the Order Paper and refer to the top of page 1436 to see what it meant. The matter is not clear, because the whole ethos and purpose of the Committee is wholly confused. It is confused in the Government's mind, and it is not clear to other hon. Members, who are being confronted with it out of the blue this evening.

The proposals for the Standing Committee pose more questions than they attempt to answer. I have asked how the Committee relates to the Select Committee structure, and whether it will usurp their role. How does the Committee relate to Westminster Hall? Is it an admission that the second Chamber has failed? We are not entirely sure what the Liberal Democrats are trying to achieve, but we have some sympathy with their second amendment, which would restrict Committee Members to English Members only. Surely we should support that.

Is this proposal a genuine attempt to attack the culture of cronyism that riddles regional development agencies and regional assemblies and the political affiliations of RDA board members? Will the Committee introduce new mechanisms of accountability for vetting appointments to those boards? Will the Committee vet the RDA annual reports? What will its role be in the relationships between the RDAs and the regional assemblies? Are these assemblies now a dead project? They were referred to by the Minister for Local Government and the Regions as purely a "diversion", but are they now dead? Perhaps the Leader of the House could tell us.

It is inevitable that if the Committee is to work under those structures, it will take considerable powers away from the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Has anyone told the right hon. Gentleman? Did anyone mention it to him before he went off to Japan?

Will the Committee have any influence on the way in which RDA money is spent? Which regions should get the biggest hand-outs from central Government? Will the Committee further blur the lines of democratic accountability? Will the Committee promote the artificial regional identity that we have seen? Is the Committee simply a further mechanism for softening up an England of the regions, fit for a European federation of the regions?

What will the Committee do to help repair the yawning north-south divide—revealed yet again by today's report by the International Chamber of Commerce—where London and the south-east are performing well, on a par with the most dynamic economies in the world, but where Wales, the north-east of England, Yorkshire and the Humber area are no more competitive than Hungary or Chile?

The Standing Committee on Regional Affairs is a bad resurrection. A Government who are always crowing about modernisation are now desperately harking back 22 years to cobble together a feeble remedy to problems that are of their own making. The proposal does nothing to restrain the Frankenstein of devolution that has been created in Scotland and Wales, and it does nothing to address the English imbalance. It adds insult to injury by diluting English influence on the English regions when we have diminishing influence on Scottish and Welsh affairs. The proposal does nothing to add accountability or coherence to the Government's creation of artificial regional structures.

Above all, the proposal is yet another insult to the integrity of this House of Commons and to this Chamber, where all Members have equal rights to voice their concerns for their constituencies, their regions, all the regions or the whole United Kingdom—an interesting concept about which we hear little from the Government today.

The proposal is an anachronism; another new Labour invertebrate that talks much and delivers little. It dilutes ministerial accountability yet further. It is a throwback that should be thrown back. It is a thoroughly bad idea, and we shall be voting against it.

12.50 am
The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping)

At the least, we have had a lively, interesting and stimulating debate. A range of views have been expressed, with no consensus apparent. We have had an opportunity to discuss at great length an issue that has concerned many of my hon. Friends for many years. If the enthusiasm, activity and tension that have been evident in the Chamber tonight go forward to the new regional Committee—if the House agrees—it will be a good Committee to serve on. Hon. Members will be only too well aware of the recent pressures on parliamentary time on the Floor of the House, and the effect this pressure has had on our working hours. In the present Session we have sat on numerous occasions after 10.30 pm. A number of factors have contributed to this. The major one is that the Government have a very large legislative programme.—[Official Report, 9 June 1975; Vol. 893, c. 165.] [HON. MEMBERS: "Whose fault is that?"] The House might be amused to hear that those words are quoted from the debate in June 1975. Nothing has changed since then. As was said back in 1975 and again in the House tonight, our proposals are very modest. They are the single step that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) talked about.

We want to revive Standing Order No. 117. Perhaps in the longer term that small step can be a move forward to develop and deliver our policies on the regions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Never."] Conservative Members shout "Never." They have demanded an opportunity to hold Ministers to account, but they do not want to do so in Westminster Hall; they want to do so here on the Floor of the House, as the hon. Members for Cheadle (Mr. Day) and for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) have said. The Conservatives have learned nothing from their period in opposition. They know that that is not possible.

We are keen to take forward our legislative proposals and to give hon. Members opportunities to raise issues for debate in Westminster Hall, in the Select Committees and now in the new Regional Affairs Committee, but Conservative Members do not want those opportunities. They complain, but they have no real solutions. There has been a lot of whingeing and a lot of talk about how they want to represent their people and their neighbourhoods, but the Conservatives are interested in doing that only on the Floor of the House.

The shadow Leader of the House points his finger, but he well knows that time is at a premium. With this small step, we are trying to give hon. Members an opportunity to raise issues that affect people in their communities. That is an idea that rings bells with some of my hon. Friends. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) talked about the importance of the European Scrutiny Committee and how it can be used to scrutinise Ministers. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), who is the distinguished Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, clearly told the House that there was no conflict of interest. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) spoke movingly about the focus on regional affairs and the need to do more and to respond to the voices from the north.

There have been some genuine, principled objections to our proposals and some objections of a more practical nature. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) and his colleagues support the principle of the move forward in general terms, but they do not think that it goes far enough. They want a great deal more to be done. Their two amendments are practical suggestions that would make minor modifications.

Dr. Ladyman

Since my hon. Friend is dealing with practical concerns, can he assure me that he will use his influence to try to ensure that the core membership of the Committee is fairly distributed geographically across England? Some of us who represent deprived areas in the south-east wish to ensure that the voice of the south-east is clearly heard on the Committee.

Mr. Tipping

Much has been made of the Standing Orders tonight and my hon. Friend will see that paragraph (2) of the proposed Standing Order requires the Committee of Selection to take those points into account.

The point at issue with the Liberal Democrats is that they would like a larger core membership of 24, but there is not much difference between us. A smaller core membership of 13 would be efficient, and a larger Committee would lead to problems. The hon. Member for North Cornwall also mentioned amendment (b), but the Liberal Democrats' proposal would lead to a possible reduction in the number of members that they would have on the Committee. It appears not to matter to them, but I am keen that other voices are heard in the regional Committee.

Mr. Evans

If Scots, Welsh and Northern Ireland Members are not allowed to sit and speak on that Committee, surely its political make-up should reflect the political make-up of the English Members, not the entire House of Commons. That is only logical.

Mr. Tipping

The hon. Gentleman should have listened to the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), who has some eccentric opinions but pointed out that one of his eccentricities was that he sat on the Scottish Grand Committee, as an English MP.

The Liberal Democrats will know, because they study such matters closely, that the Standing Orders of the House are constantly reviewed. The difference between us is not great and we will come back and review the issue. It may even be, in the course of time, that we will move towards the Liberal Democrats' position, if the present system does not work.

The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) argued out of principle that we should not proceed with our proposals. He raised the English question and argued that our proposals did not solve the devolution deficit. I say bluntly that they are not designed to do so. Our small, modest proposals would give Back Benchers the opportunity to raise regional issues—real issues that affect their people and communities. Other Members mentioned an English Parliament, but he mentioned a special procedure whereby only English Members could discuss and vote on English matters. I have studied the matter carefully, but I cannot find one issue on which that situation would arise. It may arise in time as devolution develops, and we may have to revisit the issue.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

If the Minister is fair to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), he will agree that the matter has been considered in depth by the Procedure Committee and recommendations were made in its report, which was debated in the autumn. The matter is serious and the Committee, which has a majority of Labour Members, felt that the current system was wrong and that we should move towards the proposition that my right hon. Friend advocated.

Mr. Tipping

The hon. Member makes a serious point. He raised it earlier in the debate and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House replied seriously to him. I repeat, if he can define and identify particular English issues, we would be interested in taking the discussion further. However, my right hon. Friend said that we might have to return to the matter. I strongly believe that devolution will affect how the House approaches its business. We need to be able to adapt and change. That is the British way, the parliamentary way: we have evolved and developed.

This is a small step forward. It is a chance to discuss real and important issues affecting our families, regions, people and neighbourhoods. I am astonished that the Opposition do not see the opportunities that the Committee will give them.

I conclude by noting that, regardless of what the Government do or propose in the way of putting Ministers on the line for questioning, the Opposition whinge. They ignore our offers and, perhaps most importantly, they bungle the chances that we give them.

I hope that my hon. Friends will back the Government tonight and support the way forward for all the regions of England.

Mr. Tyler

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: (b), in paragraph (2)(a), leave out "composition of the House" and insert— party representation of Members of the House sitting for English constituencies"—[Mr. Tyler.]

The House divided: Ayes 130, Noes 190.

Division No. 161] [1.2 am
Amess, David Harris, Dr Evan
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Harvey, Nick
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Heald, Oliver
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Baldly, Tony Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Ballard, Jackie Horam, John
Beith, Rt Hon A J Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Bercow, John Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Beresford, Sir Paul Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Boswell, Tim Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Jenkin, Bernard
Brazier, Julian Key, Robert
Breed, Colin King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Kirkwood, Archy
Browning, Mrs Angela Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Burstow, Paul Leigh, Edward
Butterfill, John Letwin, Oliver
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Cash, William Loughton, Tim
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Luff, Peter
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Clappison, James McIntosh, Miss Anne
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Maclean, Rt Hon David
Collins, Tim McLoughlin, Patrick
Cran, James Madel, Sir David
Curry, Rt Hon David Moore, Michael
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Moss, Malcolm
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Nicholls, Patrick
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Norman, Archie
Day, Stephen O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Duncan, Alan Page, Richard
Duncan Smith, Iain Paice, James
Evans, Nigel Paterson, Owen
Faber, David Pickles, Eric
Fabricant, Michael Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Fearn, Ronnie Prior, David
Flight, Howard Randall, John
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Redwood, Rt Hon John
Fox, Dr Liam Robathan, Andrew
Fraser, Christopher Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Gale, Roger Ruffley, David
Garnier, Edward Russell, Bob (Colchester)
George, Andrew (St Ives) Sanders, Adrian
Gibb, Nick Sayeed, Jonathan
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Shepherd, Richard
Gray, James Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Green, Damian Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Greenway, John Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Grieve, Dominic Spicer, Sir Michael
Gummer, Rt Hon John Spring, Richard
Hammond, Philip Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Hancock, Mike Steen, Anthony
Stunell, Andrew Walter, Robert
Swayne, Desmond Waterson, Nigel
Syms, Robert Whitney, Sir Raymond
Tapsell, Sir Peter Whittingdale, John
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton) Wilkinson, John
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Wilshire, David
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Tonge, Dr Jenny Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Townend, John Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Tredinnick, David
Trend, Michael Tellers for the Ayes:
Tyler, Paul Mr. Tom Brake and
Tyrie, Andrew Mr. Don Foster.
Abbott, Ms Diane Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Ellman, Mrs Louise
Allen, Graham Ennis, Jeff
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Etherington, Bill
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Field, Rt Hon Frank
Atkins, Charlotte Fisher, Mark
Banks, Tony Flint, Caroline
Barnes, Harry Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Foulkes, George
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Fyfe, Maria
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Gardiner, Barry
Bennett, Andrew F Gibson, Dr Ian
Benton, Joe Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Betts, Clive Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Blackman, Liz Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Blears, Ms Hazel Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Borrow, David Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Hanson, David
Bradshaw, Ben Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Healey, John
Browne, Desmond Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Burden, Richard Hepburn, Stephen
Burgon, Colin Heppell, John
Butler, Mrs Christine Hill, Keith
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Hood, Jimmy
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hope, Phil
Cann, Jamie Hoyle, Lindsay
Caplin, Ivor Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Chisholm, Malcolm Humble, Mrs Joan
Clapham, Michael Hurst, Alan
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Jamieson, David
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Jenkins, Brian
Clelland, David Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Colman, Tony
Connarty, Michael Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Cousins, Jim Keeble, Ms Sally
Cox, Tom Kemp, Fraser
Crausby, David Khabra, Piara S
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Kidney, David
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland) Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Kumar, Dr Ashok
Dalyell, Tam Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Darvill, Keith Lepper, David
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Leslie, Christopher
Davidson, Ian Levitt, Tom
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Dean, Mrs Janet Lock, David
Denham, John Love, Andrew
Dismore, Andrew McAllion, John
Dobbin, Jim McAvoy, Thomas
Donohoe, Brian H McCabe, Steve
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) McDonnell, John
McFall, John Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McGuire, Mrs Anne Savidge, Malcolm
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Sawford, Phil
Mackinlay, Andrew Shipley, Ms Debra
McNamara, Kevin Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McNulty, Tony Skinner, Dennis
MacShane, Denis Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Mactaggart, Fiona Smith, Angela (Basildon)
McWalter, Tony Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Mallaber, Judy
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Spellar, John
Martlew, Eric Squire, Ms Rachel
Maxton, John Stevenson, George
Miller, Andrew Stinchcombe, Paul
Mitchell, Austin Stoate, Dr Howard
Moran, Ms Margaret Stringer, Graham
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Mountford, Kali Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Naysmith, Dr Doug Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Norris, Dan Temple-Morris, Peter
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Organ, Mrs Diana Timms, Stephen
Osborne, Ms Sandra Tipping, Paddy
Pendry, Tom Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Perham, Ms Linda Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Pickthall, Colin Vis, Dr Rudi
Pike, Peter L Watts, David
Plaskitt, James White, Brian
Pond, Chris Whitehead, Dr Alan
Pope, Greg Wicks, Malcolm
Pound, Stephen Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Woodward, Shaun
Prosser, Gwyn Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Purchase, Ken
Rapson, Syd Tellers for the Noes:
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) Mr. Don Touhig and
Roche, Mrs Barbara Mr. Jim Dowd.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 187, Noes 130.

Division No. 162] [1.13 am
Abbott, Ms Diane Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Campbell-Savours, Dale
Allen, Graham Cann, Jamie
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Caplin, Ivor
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Atkins, Charlotte Chisholm, Malcolm
Banks, Tony Clapham, Michael
Barnes, Harry Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Bennett, Andrew F Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Benton, Joe Clelland, David
Betts, Clive Coaker, Vernon
Blackman, Liz Coffey, Ms Ann
Blears, Ms Hazel Colman, Tony
Connarty, Michael
Borrow, David Cousins, Jim
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Cox, Tom
Bradshaw, Ben Crausby, David
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Browne, Desmond Dalyell, Tam
Burden, Richard Darvill, Keith
Burgon, Colin Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Butler, Mrs Christine Davidson, Ian
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) McNulty, Tony
Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H) MacShane, Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
Dean, Mrs Janet McWalter, Tony
Denham, John Mallaber, Judy
Dismore, Andrew Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Dobbin, Jim Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Donohoe, Brian H Martlew, Eric
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Maxton, John
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Miller, Andrew
Ellman, Mrs Louise Mitchell, Austin
Ennis, Jeff Moran, Ms Margaret
Etherington, Bill Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Field, Rt Hon Frank
Fisher, Mark Mountford, Kali
Flint, Caroline Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Naysmith, Dr Doug
Foulkes, George Norris, Dan
Fyfe, Maria O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Gardiner, Barry Organ, Mrs Diana
Gibson, Dr Ian Osborne, Ms Sandra
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Perham, Ms Linda
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Pickthall, Colin
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Pike, Peter L
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Plaskitt, James
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Pond, Chris
Hanson, David Pope, Greg
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Pound, Stephen
Healey, John Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Prosser, Gwyn
Hepburn, Stephen Purchase, Ken
Heppell, John Rapson, Syd
Hill Keith Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Hood, Jimmy Roche, Mrs Barbara
Hope, Phil Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Hoyle, Lindsay Savidge, Malcolm
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Shipley, Ms Debra
Humble, Mrs Joan Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Hurst, Alan Skinner, Dennis
Iddon, Dr Brian Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Illsley, Eric Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Spellar, John
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW) Squire, Ms Rachel
Stevenson, George
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Stinchcombe, Paul
Keeble, Ms Sally Stoate, Dr Howard
Kemp, Fraser Stringer, Graham
Khabra, Piara S Stuart, Ms Gisela
Kidney, David Sutcliffe, Gerry
Kilfoyle, Peter Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Kumar, Dr Ashok Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Temple-Morris, Peter
Lepper, David Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Leslie, Christopher Timms, Stephen
Levitt, Tom Tipping, Paddy
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Vis, Dr Rudi
Lock, David Watts, David
Love, Andrew White, Brian
McAllion, John Whitehead, Dr Alan
McAvoy, Thomas Wicks, Malcolm
McCabe, Steve Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
McDonnell, John Woodward, Shaun
McFall, John Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Tellers for the Ayes:
Mackinlay, Andrew Mr. Don Touhig and
McNamara, Kevin Mr. Jim Dowd.
Amess, David Kirkwood, Archy
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Baldry, Tony Leigh, Edward
Ballard, Jackie Letwin, Oliver
Beith, Rt Hon A J Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Bercow, John Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Beresford, Sir Paul Loughton, Tim
Boswell, Tim Luff, Peter
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia McIntosh, Miss Anne
Brake, Tom Maclean, Rt Hon David
Brazier, Julian McLoughlin, Patrick
Breed, Colin Madel, Sir David
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Moore, Michael
Browning, Mrs Angela Moss, Malcolm
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Nicholls, Patrick
Burstow, Paul Norman, Archie
Butterfill, John O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Page, Richard
Paice, James
Cash, William Paterson, Owen
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Pickles, Eric
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Clappison, James Prior, David
Collins, Tim Randall, John
Cran, James Redwood, Rt Hon John
Curry, Rt Hon David Rendel, David
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Robathan, Andrew
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Ruffley, David
Day, Stephen Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Duncan, Alan Sanders, Adrian
Duncan Smith, Iain Sayeed, Jonathan
Evans, Nigel Shepherd, Richard
Faber, David Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Fabricant, Michael Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Fearn, Ronnie Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Flight, Howard Spicer, Sir Michael
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Spring, Richard
Foster, Don (Bath) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Fox, Dr Liam Steen, Anthony
Fraser, Christopher Stunell, Andrew
Gale, Roger Swayne, Desmond
Garnier, Edward Syms, Robert
Gibb, Nick Tapsell, Sir Peter
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Gray, James Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Green, Damian Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Greenway, John Tonge, Dr Jenny
Grieve, Dominic Townend, John
Gummer, Rt Hon John Tredinnick, David
Hammond, Philip Trend, Michael
Hancock, Mike Tyler, Paul
Harris, Dr Evan Tyrie, Andrew
Harvey, Nick Walter, Robert
Heald, Oliver Waterson, Nigel
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Whitney, Sir Raymond
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Whittingdale, John
Horam, John Wilkinson, John
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Wilshire, David
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jenkin, Bernard Tellers for the Noes:
Key, Robert Mr. Peter Atkinson and
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Ordered, That Standing Order No. 117 shall be repealed, and that the following Standing Order shall be made: 117.—(1) There shall be a standing committee called the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs, which shall consider any matter relating to regional affairs in England which may be referred to it. (2) The Committee shall consist of thirteen Members representing English constituencies nominated by the Committee of Selection; and in nominating such Members, the Committee of Selection shall—

  1. (a) have regard to the qualifications of the Members nominated and to the composition of the House; and
  2. (b) have power to discharge Members from time to time, and to appoint others in substitution.
(3) Any Member of the House representing an English constituency, though not nominated to the Committee, may take part in its proceedings, but may not make any Motion, vote or be counted in the quorum; provided that a Minister of the Crown who is a Member of this House but not nominated to the Committee may make a Motion as specified in paragraph (10) below. (4) The quorum of the Committee shall be three. (5) Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 88 (Meetings of standing committees) shall not apply to the Committee; except that the proviso to that paragraph shall apply to any sitting at Westminster. (6) A Motion may be made in the House by a Minister of the Crown to specify (or to vary) any or all of the following:
  1. (a) the matter or matters to be referred to the Committee;
  2. (b) the period to be allotted to proceedings on such matters;
  3. (c) when and where (within England) the Committee shall meet;
  4. (d) the hours for the commencement and conclusion of any sitting;
  5. (e) any days when the Committee shall meet at Westminster at Ten o'clock;
and such Motion may be moved at any time; and the Question thereon shall be put forthwith and may be decided at any hour, though opposed.
(7) Where any order made under paragraph (6) above makes no provision for the period to be allotted to the proceedings on any matter or matters which have been referred to the Committee for consideration at a particular sitting, those proceedings shall be brought to a conclusion no later than three hours after their commencement. (8) At the commencement of business at any sitting of the Committee, the Chairman may permit Ministers of the Crown, being Members of the House, to make statements on any matter or matters referred to the Committee for consideration at that sitting, and may then permit members of the Committee to ask questions thereon. (9) No question on a statement by a Minister of the Crown shall be taken after the expiry of a period of one hour from the commencement of the first such statement, except that the Chairman may, at his discretion, allow such questions to be taken for a further period not exceeding half an hour. (10) The Committee shall, following any such statements and questions, consider each matter referred to it on a motion 'That the Committee has considered the matter'; the Chairman shall put the Question necessary to dispose of the proceedings on each matter at the time, or after the period, specified in accordance with paragraph (6) or paragraph (7) of this Order, and the Committee shall thereupon report to the House that it has considered the matter or matters without any further Question being put. (11) Any period allocated to the consideration of any matter or matters shall include any time spent on statements by Ministers of the Crown and questions thereon, except when otherwise provided by any Order of the House made in accordance with paragraph (6) above.

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