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Regional Select Committee (London)

Volume 494: debated on Thursday 25 June 2009

I beg to move,

That Standing Order No. 152F be amended by inserting after paragraph (1) the following new paragraph:

(1A) A select committee shall be appointed for London, to examine the Government’s regional policies for London and the Government’s relationship with the Greater London Authority and regional bodies.

The establishment of Regional Select Committees has been the topic of extensive debate and consideration in this House, and this is a planned addition to those Committees that are already up and running on an experimental basis for the remainder of this Parliament. The background is that in November 2008, the House decided to put in place an effective and visible improvement in the scrutiny and democratic accountability of the public agencies and public policies that operate in the eight English regions outside London.

In Scotland and Wales, and in every region in England there are important public agencies spending billions of pounds. These are public bodies spending public money in the public interest, and it is right that they should be publicly accountable, through this House, to the region they serve.

Does the Leader of the House not understand that many Members of Parliament, on both sides of the House, who represent seats in the capital—as we both do—feel that this Committee will be a ludicrous talking shop? We already have full scrutiny by 33 local authorities, the Greater London assembly and the Mayor. In one sense, we also have scrutiny by the Government office for London, which still exists, more than nine years into the mayoralty. What purpose can a Select Committee really have?

As I shall say as I proceed with my comments, although there are different levels of accountability—the London boroughs, the Mayor and the London assembly—there is also an accountability gap, which this Select Committee is necessary to fill. To put it honestly, it was the Conservatives who thought there should be no London-wide accountability at all and abolished the Greater London council. This Government brought accountability back to London through the London assembly, and strengthened it still further with the Mayor. We still think there is an accountability gap, which the Select Committee is necessary to fill.

I will give way to the hon. Lady, who was no doubt in the vanguard of plans to abolish the GLC.

I think most Conservatives are still pleased that the GLC went. Will the right hon. and learned Lady please list those bodies in London that are not already scrutinised by the Greater London authority—other than the Government office for London, which should of course be scrutinised by the relevant Department—that this Regional Select Committee should consider?

If the hon. Lady will bear with me, that is exactly what I intend to do as I set out the case for a Regional Select Committee for London.

As I have said, when public bodies spend public money in the public interest, they need to be publicly accountable through this House to the region they serve. In the face of a global economic crisis affecting every region, the work of Regional Select Committees is even more important so that we can ensure that public policy to take action to protect businesses and jobs is effective, and so that we can be sure that taxpayers’ money is being used in the most effective way. Without Regional Select Committees, there is an accountability gap at regional level.

I will. However, I know that the hon. Lady’s party is refusing to take part in any of the Regional Select Committees, so it will not surprise me—although it will be disappointing—if she, too, joins the voices against a Regional Select Committee for London.

The right hon. and learned Lady entirely anticipates my view. Will she explain why the accountability gap cannot be filled by using the existing bodies, rather than creating yet another Committee, as too many cooks are the best way to ensure that real accountability fails?

If the hon. Lady will let me get on with my speech, I shall answer that question.

On 12 November 2008, the House agreed that there should be a Regional Select Committee for each of the administrative regions in England, except for London. London has been treated differently because London has different governance from the other regions, including different levels of accountability to elected representatives. I point out to London Members that Wales and Scotland also have Select Committees and Grand Committees in addition to their devolved Assemblies.

They also have Welsh questions and Scottish questions, so why not fill the accountability gap with London questions?

If a London Grand Committee is established in addition, it will certainly be possible to hold the Minister for London to account. Indeed, it is possible for all London Members to ask questions of Government Ministers about London issues—whether those Ministers are in the Home Office or the Department of Health—and they do.

We took the view that the different governance arrangements in London warranted further consideration in the light of the experience of the other Regional Select Committees. We felt that that consideration and further consultation should take place before we came to the House with this proposal. Before and during the debate, Members, as well as those outside the House, made representations to me for a London Select Committee and I committed to bringing forward proposals to the House, following further consultation.

I welcome this initiative. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is important that a Regional Select Committee should not attempt to cover the same ground as the Greater London authority, which has an important scrutiny role in relation to the Mayor? London has some very definite regional characteristics relating to its public services and labour market, and it is very important that we should be able not just to question the Minister, but to do some in-depth work to investigate these problems and to make representations about regional interests.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Select Committee needs to fill that accountability gap. Of course, we support the work of the London boroughs and they should be working actively on the economy and employment issues that she mentioned. We set up the Greater London authority and we brought forward the legislation for a Mayor for London. Far from undermining their roles, we want to strengthen accountability in London. There remains a gap, and the Select Committee will fill it.

I will press on with my speech, if I may.

Since March 2009, Regional Select Committees have been undertaking their work. Following the agreement of the House, all the Committees have been set up, they have members and they have selected Chairs. All have announced their first inquiries. All are considering some aspect of the recession’s effect on the regional economy, and the response of Government and agencies to that. They have completed the written evidence stages and are now hearing oral evidence. By the summer recess, the Committees will have held some 20 public evidence sessions.

One important aspect of the work of these Committees is their capacity to take evidence from a wide range of stakeholders in the specific region, achieving important locally focused engagement. Meetings have taken place across the English regions under the purview of the Regional Select Committees—for example, in Barnsley, Liverpool, Reading, Gateshead and Swindon.

Many regional organisations, such as the regional branches of the Federation of Small Businesses, the regional organisation of the CBI, the citizens advice bureaux and the learning and skills councils, together with representatives of industry and banking, have appeared before the Regional Select Committees to offer their expert opinions on how their region is coping with the downturn, the effectiveness of public policy in the region and what is needed to support the recovery in that region. Key Government agencies with a role in delivering the Government response to the recession, such as the regional development agencies and Government offices, and regional Ministers, have also contributed to the investigations undertaken by the Committees.

We look forward to the reports from the Regional Select Committees in the coming weeks and months, and to considering how the relevant lessons learned from across the country can help to ensure effective accountability of both policy and spending in the face of the current economic difficulties and that, for the people in each region, the necessary effective action is delivered.

In the light of the experience of the Committees, it is now right to bring forward the motion to establish a Select Committee for London. We propose that the London Select Committee should have the same powers and composition as those of the other Select Committees for the regions. As I said, there are different governance arrangements in London, such as an elected Mayor and the London assembly. Some of the regional bodies, such as Transport for London and the London Development Agency, are accountable to the Mayor and subject to scrutiny from the assembly. However, there are many important areas of national policy on public services that impact on London—including health, and crime reduction—and are the responsibility of Ministers as well as the London boroughs.

The Government retain considerable responsibility for delivery by many key agencies and non-departmental public bodies operating in London, including NHS London, the learning and skills council, Jobcentre Plus and Her Majesty’s Courts Service and Prison Service. Although we acknowledge the differences between London and other regions, London should not be denied the opportunity afforded to other regions to hold such bodies to account, on Londoners’ behalf, through their Members of Parliament.

A very good example of that is the current review of acute stroke and major trauma services going on within NHS London, in which the boroughs are advancing different positions. It is a regional issue that is below the radar of the Select Committee on Health, but is it not an ideal example of how a London Committee could do some value-added work to hold NHS London to account and check whether those proposals are indeed in the interests of Londoners?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. As a Member of Parliament for a London constituency, I know that there are issues on which London MPs, working through a Select Committee, could achieve greater accountability on my constituents’ behalf. Health issues, for example, inevitably cross constituency boundaries. They do not fall within the purview of the London boroughs and are not the responsibility of the assembly. On their own, they would justify the work of a Regional Select Committee, so I strongly agree with my hon. Friend.

The motion has been subject to consultation with hon. Members, the Mayor of London and his office, the London assembly and the London boroughs, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for London, whom I am glad to see is here for the debate. It is clear that there is no consensus about the value of a London Select Committee, even though it would not duplicate the scrutiny that already exists. Instead, it would complement that scrutiny by focusing on the impact of Government policies in London, including the work of the Government office for London and the regional bodies.

The motion establishes the Committee only for the lifetime of this Parliament. At the end of that time, there would be an opportunity to review the London Committee—if we set it up, which I hope we will—and all the other Regional Committees to see how they have worked. Opposition Members are being intransigent if they are not prepared to allow the Regional Select Committees to be established even on an experimental basis until the end of the Parliament.

I hope that hon. Members will reflect on the matter and support a Regional Select Committee to hold Government organisations to account on behalf of Londoners. I commend the motion to the House.

The motion returns us to a subject—the establishment of Regional Select Committees—that the House has debated at some length already. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) is no longer in his place, but we heard his concerns about how these proposals are being rolled out. I do not want to reprise the earlier debate about establishing Regional Select Committees across the rest of the country, as I want to focus on London, but I shall give a brief rundown of the various concerns expressed.

The first concern was that Regional Select Committees would cost a lot of money and that there were better alternatives. Secondly, concerns were expressed about their composition and the fact that there was no mechanism allowing MPs not from a particular region to be on that region’s Committee. The same concern has been expressed in respect of London, but people were worried above all that the Regional Select Committees’ work would duplicate the important work done by the 41 Select Committees that already exist. We have similar concerns about a London Regional Select Committee.

The Leader of the House said that the objective was to fill an accountability gap. We all recognise London’s unique devolution settlement, and we agreed that there was an accountability gap in other parts of the country, but we did not believe that that problem could be solved by setting up a new Regional Select Committee to go alongside the unaccountable regional development agencies, regional assemblies and all the other quangos that we have at regional level. We believe that the solution is to make sure that all the decisions taken by those bodies should be taken further down in local government. Regional Select Committees would not then have to look at those matters, as they would be scrutinised and decided at a much more local level than is currently the case.

As the Leader of the House said, London has a unique devolution settlement. We are now on our second directly elected Mayor, and the London assembly has its own elected members. They must feel that the move to set up a London Regional Select Committee is a vote of no confidence by Ministers in the assembly’s ability to scrutinise London and its Mayor.

We have spent the past few weeks in an intense debate about how to strengthen the scrutiny role of Members of Parliament and this Chamber. I fail to understand how the hon. Lady’s objections to the proposed Committee square with the desire of her party leaders to ensure that Members of Parliament can be more active in holding Ministers and those who run public services to account.

I suppose that I have two responses to that. First, Back Benchers can hold Ministers to account: as an Opposition Back Bencher, I think that I can hold Ministers to account on London issues such as Heathrow as well as anyone. Secondly, although the hon. Lady is right that we need more accountability, why can we not get that through having London questions? Why spend several hundred thousand pounds on a Regional Select Committee for London when, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) said, people want not another talking shop but direct and immediate representation, with hon. Members being able to ask questions and get answers? Surely we should be trying that first to see whether it works.

An example was given earlier about health and London’s stroke services. Does my hon. Friend agree that the people best placed to scrutinise such matters would be the health committees of the London boroughs? They deal with such matters daily, in liaison with Members of Parliament. Surely they would be best placed to scrutinise what is going on.

The hon. Lady mentioned having a London Question Time, but she will be aware that in such sessions a Member asking a question gets only one supplementary, and that only two or three supplementary questions will be asked from around the House on any particular matter. A good contrast to illustrate the point is provided by the Liaison Committee’s questioning of the Prime Minister. Instead of the half-hour bun fight that we have on Wednesday afternoons, the Liaison Committee gets the Prime Minister for two and a half hours, which means that we can develop themes in great detail and question him at length. We simply could not do the same in a London Question Time.

Approximately 60-plus MPs will not be able to be part of any London Regional Select Committee because it will have only nine members. A London MP who does not belong to that Regional Select Committee will not have the same opportunities as would be provided by a London Question Time.

If the objective is to scrutinise policy as it affects London, that is already fulfilled by existing Select Committees, as some of the reports undertaken over the past five years or so demonstrate. For example, the Transport Committee has produced reports on the London congestion charge and the performance of London Underground, while the Culture, Media and Sport Committee has done one on the London Olympics. The former Education and Skills Committee did a report on skills in London, while the Home Affairs Committee has produced a report on counter-terrorism and community relations in the aftermath of the London bombings. Only a couple of weeks ago, we were in this Chamber debating the report from the Home Affairs Committee on knife crime that had a clear resonance for London. There is nothing to prevent Select Committees from looking at London issues where they are of real importance, and they do that already.

Does not the intervention by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) illustrate the Government’s wrong-headed approach to the proposal for a London Regional Select Committee? Mention has been made of having a London Question Time, but should not any concern about scrutiny be addressed by the London assembly, which should ensure that its structures and procedures in that regard are robust? If scrutiny in areas such as health needs to be improved, should that not be devolved to the London boroughs?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is another option for tackling the problem that the Government say exists, but is not the Mayor already accountable to Parliament? He is directly accountable to Londoners, of course, and he is also scrutinised by the London assembly, but he is also summoned here regularly to be held to account by Select Committees. Even the previous Mayor was up in front of Select Committees seven times in eight years, when he was asked about a whole range of issues. The new Mayor has been in place for just over a year, but in that short period he has already appeared before five Select Committees. Clearly, therefore, MPs can scrutinise what the Mayor is doing through topical investigations by existing Select Committees, and they can also question him directly.

People in city hall will probably look at this debate and feel that it is a little top down. A lot of debate goes on here about issues that really matter to London, and yet the assembly and the Mayor must wonder why they cannot summon MPs. For example, we voted here about post office closures after Londoners had made it clear that they wanted the closure programme to end. The Mayor and London assembly must wonder why they cannot summon MPs and relevant Ministers about such matters, or why the Secretary of State for Transport cannot be summoned to explain the decision to go ahead with the expansion of Heathrow, even though it goes against what Londoners want.

Why are Ministers trying to undermine the London assembly? As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) says, one of the options should be further to strengthen the London assembly, but we hear no discussion of that—everything is top-down.

One of the arguments that the hon. Lady makes about a London Committee is based on the inaccurate information she has just given about post office closures across London. If we had had the opportunity to scrutinise such proposals as a London-wide body, we might have had more success in protecting post offices. Is she seriously saying that as a London Member of Parliament she does not want a say on strategic issues that involve a number of Departments, and possibly the Mayor and city hall as well, and to come up with reports to try to guide the Government and the Mayor in the direction the people we represent want us to take?

The hon. Gentleman seeks to create a mish-mash of democracy where MPs would be attempting slightly to play the role of London assembly members. London assembly members are unable ultimately to scrutinise all the matters that affect London, but what we need to do is make the existing structure work better. Those are not my words but those of London Councils when they were consulted. The Leader of the House was right when she said that there had not been consensus. London Councils said:

“In principle London Councils believes that increased local accountability can be better achieved by broadening the scope of existing scrutiny mechanisms”.

Apparently, that view was ignored; yet again, top-down management from the Government.

I shall draw my comments to a close. Ministers must realise that the electorate’s concern right now is not just about the quality of government, and its quantity—of course there is too much of that; a plethora of unaccountable regional government tiers has been set up. There is also concern about the quality of our democracy.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. One of the things I have tried to get the Leader of the House to do is to hold an annual debate on London, just as we have a debate on Wales on St. David’s day. Would that not be another way for us to raise London issues and put our concerns on record, rather than having the costs and administration of a new Committee?

My hon. Friend is quite right. That would be yet another option for ensuring that London MPs could hold to account people who are taking decisions that affect Londoners, but of course it is probably too good an idea to be considered by the Government because they are so wedded to their costly, duplicative and interfering Regional Select Committee approach that they seem hell-bent on taking it no matter how much it costs and how ineffective it will be.

I feel entitled to participate in the debate because I was born in Putney and was a great supporter of the abolition of the Greater London council. Does my hon. Friend think that underlying the motion is the Government’s state of denial, because they were defeated in the recent London mayoral election?

I did not want to make the debate excessively political because I think that at heart the approach is structurally wrong for accountability whichever Mayor and whichever Government are in power. However, my hon. Friend is right to touch on that point. What concerns me about the proposals is that they feel like the politicisation of Select Committees, which have always been independent of the Executive. That has always been their biggest strength.

It feels to me as though the Leader of the House, like so many of her Cabinet colleagues, is merely shifting the deckchairs on the Labour Government Titanic. The biggest danger is that the proposals could undermine the effectiveness of our local devolution in London, through the Mayor and the London assembly. As my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) said, Londoners had their say in the mayoral election last year. Now, like the rest of the country, we want to have our say about the accountability gap, which is real, but a general election will fill that gap, not a London Regional Select Committee. We have elected our Mayor, now we want the chance to elect new MPs and a Prime Minister who actually has a real mandate.

I certainly welcome the proposals, which are long overdue. We should have considered them six months ago when the other Regional Select Committees were being proposed. It is a regrettable oversight that the London Committee was not proposed at the time, and I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House for listening to the representations made by my hon. Friends and me that London should be included in the programme of Regional Committees.

The Opposition put a false dichotomy. From my point of view, the more we scrutinise the activities of the Government and Government bodies, the better. I see no objection to a London Question Time; it is a good idea. I see no objection to an annual debate on London; that is a good idea, too. Indeed, when I was first elected, we used to have an annual debate on policing in London—usually on a Friday morning, but it was welcome nevertheless. However, there is no reason why, having accepted and indeed agreed with those propositions, we should not also have a Select Committee for London, because there is no doubt that there is a significant accountability gap for various bodies for which the Government are responsible.

Can the hon. Gentleman envisage the London Select Committee, were it to be in place, considering a matter that had been devolved to the London assembly and reaching a different conclusion from the assembly? There would thus be two separate bodies with different conclusions about how a policy should be set, or how a matter should be resolved. What would be the pecking order between the London Select Committee and the London assembly?

It would be most unlikely that the Select Committee would want to look at something that was entirely devolved to the London assembly, although we might find that there were areas of joint or overlapping responsibility. Of course, it is possible to come to a different conclusion, but that does not necessarily mean that different conclusions should not be reached or considered. Think-tanks in the outside world come to different conclusions. There is nothing wrong with that; it helps to inform debate and, ultimately, leads to better decision making when different points of view are expressed after detailed consideration.

The hon. Lady is right; there may be different conclusions. For example, there are significant overlapping responsibilities on housing policy. There are the Mayor’s responsibilities. He has just published his draft housing strategy, with which I profoundly disagree, signally on the abolition of targets for affordable homes. The boroughs have housing policies, some of which are in conflict with the Mayor because the boroughs are trying to negotiate different numbers. There is the Government’s overarching strategy to try to provide decent, affordable homes for the people of London. The role of the Homes and Communities Agency, a central Government body, is vital in that operation. Indeed, a round of negotiations is going on between my borough and the HCA to try to get the money needed to support some of the regeneration schemes, which have run into the sand for reasons that I will not go into now. It would be helpful if a London Select Committee could call Mr. Bob Kerslake to discuss the policies of his agency towards London. It has actually been very difficult for us to get hold of him to discuss some of the issues.

Earlier, I mentioned the NHS London consultation, which has just closed, on proposals for acute trauma and stroke services—if we can call it consultation, and I have been quite critical of it. The proposals were of major interest in each of our boroughs, which have advanced different positions. For example, there are proposals for four major trauma units. The fourth will be at either the Royal Free or St. Mary’s, and there are significant differences across London about which should be chosen. Indeed, some people argue whether four is the right number.

Similarly, in relation to stroke services, there is a strong argument about whether the eight places selected are the right ones for hyper-units and, again, whether eight is the right number. The best way of dealing with that issue would be to call Ruth Carnall and the other people at the top of NHS London who are involved to give evidence to a London Select Committee and answer those very detailed questions.

The hon. Gentleman and I are as one on the importance of stroke services and major trauma centres, but he has not explained why a London Select Committee will be more effective in highlighting those issues than the Greater London assembly, which his Government created.

Because the NHS is a central Government service—I would have thought that that answer was self-evident. The NHS is accountable to the House, like the Government, but it is only indirectly accountable to the GLA and the London assembly. Borough scrutiny committees will of course examine health issues, but only from the perspective of their individual borough. The hon. Lady will know that Barnet, which we represent, has formed a particular view, but that is very different from Hammersmith’s view. How can those differences of view be reconciled except through an overarching inquiry by a pan-London Select Committee of the House that scrutinises officials and holds them to account? Such a Committee will be able to call officials such as Ruth Carnall and the medical experts who have been giving opinions as part of the consultation. Indeed, they could be held to account for the appalling way in which the consultation has been conducted.

One advantage that the GLA would have over a London Select Committee when scrutinising such matters is that its members would have been elected by Londoners, whereas I understand that a London Select Committee could have members from all over the country.

I hope that would be very unlikely. If the motion on membership of the Committee included a plethora of non-London Members, I for one would not vote for it, and I doubt that the hon. Lady would either. I, like her, have certainly been elected by Londoners.

May I dig a little deeper into the Select Committee’s role that the hon. Gentleman envisages? Following the ongoing consultation on stroke and trauma, is he suggesting that after the strategic health authority’s board reaches a conclusion, it could be overruled by the Select Committee? In such circumstances, would the SHA have a role as the body that should make decisions about London health, or would it be subservient to the London Committee?

The hon. Lady knows that that is not the constitutional position. Members of the House are not the Executive, but the legislature. In that context, London’s SHA is part of government and must be held to account for the decisions that it makes. It would not be for the Select Committee to overrule the SHA, but it would be able to express its views and opinions to influence the debate and the decision-making process. The ultimate decision would be taken by Health Ministers and the SHA, but it would be the job of London Members—collectively, through the Select Committee—to inform the debate.

The hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) talked about post office closures in response to an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford). I have no axe to grind because I was one of the rebels on post office closure, but it is important to bear it in mind that responsibility for post offices lay with Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Ministers at that time. The London Committee could have held BERR Ministers to account and discussed policies on post office closures with them, and then the Committee could have formed a view. That could not have been achieved in any other way except through the much wider debate on post office closures, which was very difficult to participate in because many Members wished to speak.

My hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) talked about employment policy. We all accept that London’s economy is different from the rest of the country’s. London faces challenging economic circumstances and, in the light of what has happened in the City, the problems facing its labour market are completely different from those in other parts of the country. Neither the Treasury Committee nor the Work and Pensions Committee is holding an inquiry into London’s job market, but the London Committee would probably want to examine the way in which Government policy affects London’s labour market in the City and throughout the wider city. To pick up the point made by the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson), such an inquiry could involve working with the London Development Agency and the GLA, but given that economic policy is a matter for central Government, a London Committee should hold central Government Ministers to account on their policy for London.

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting case. He says that economic policy in London is fairly and squarely a matter for the House, so he must be unaware of the huge amount of work being done under the Mayor’s auspices in city hall to determine what can be done to help Londoners and London’s economy to navigate their way through the recession. His suggestion sounds like an absolute duplication of what the London assembly and the Mayor are trying to deliver for London.

I do not think that the hon. Lady was listening to what I said. I was giving an example of complementary responsibility. I cited the NHS to illustrate something that is central Government’s responsibility, but I was picking up the point made by the hon. Member for Upminster and setting out an area of overlap. I fully accept that the GLA and the Mayor’s office are examining some of these policies, but responsibility for the economy lies with Treasury Ministers, and we can hold Ministers to account through the Select Committee process in a way that the GLA cannot. That is why it is important that we establish the Committee although, of course, there would be no reason why the Committee could not take account of work carried out elsewhere. We must, however, recognise where the responsibility lies.

I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I think that he is forgetting to whom he is accountable. If we asked any owner of a small shop whether they would prefer money to be spent on a Regional Committee that reports on the recession in London, but duplicates all the work of the Mayor and the GLA, or spent on directly supporting shops, they would probably go for the latter. He talks about this as though it is an interest point and a study programme, but we are meant to be representing our constituents and working alongside other tiers of government. He suggests going far beyond that with a structure that will be sheer duplication and will cost taxpayers money that they cannot afford.

I disagree with the hon. Lady. The same would be true if we asked anyone whether they would like money spent on one thing rather than another. Given the reputation of the House in the outside world, people would probably suggest abolishing the lot of us and spending the money on something else, but that is not really the answer to the point. We are trying to develop effective scrutiny.

I see that time is running out, so I shall draw my remarks to a close. I believe that the proposed Committee will be a valuable addition to the scrutiny of policy affecting London and Londoners.

Hon. Members will be familiar with the background to the setting up of Regional Select Committees and the crucial vote on their composition, which was won with a Cabinet Minister’s casting vote. The Leader of the House knows that my party does not object in principle to the establishment of Regional Committees or the London Committee, but we object to the composition agreed by the Government. We also have doubts about the ability of Regional Committees and the London Committee to do their job of holding Government agencies and quangos to account.

The process cannot work without real consultation—my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) gave an example of a complete lack of consultation during business questions—or when Members in a region are not represented in the right proportion on a Regional Select Committee. I acknowledge that the London Committee will be one of the few—if not the only—Regional Committee whose membership, albeit completely by chance, reflects the proportion of MPs in the region. The process certainly cannot work effectively if, as is the case on other Regional Committees, a Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary is holding that Minister to account. That is not a way of ensuring that regional quangos and other bodies are scrutinised effectively, as it clearly involves a significant conflict of interest. The Leader of the House talks about Opposition intransigence, but she would do better to consider whether there is intransigence on the part of the Government and an unwillingness to be flexible about the composition of the Regional Committees. The Liberal Democrats therefore cannot agree to the establishment of the London Regional Committee. As I have stated, I acknowledge that the composition of the London Committee would roughly reflect the number of MPs of different parties across London, but that has happened by accident, rather than design.

The second reason why we have serious reservations about the establishment of the London Select Committee is that we, like the Government, wanted a transfer of powers when the Greater London authority was set up. Indeed, we wanted a more significant transfer of powers to the Mayor and the London assembly than there has been. In many ways, that would have done away with the need for a Regional Select Committee, because the Mayor and the assembly would have held more powers, so the scrutiny role would have been undertaken by the assembly. It would have had a wider range of powers and responsibilities to consider, so there would have been even less demand for a London Regional Select Committee. However, I accept that certain areas of Government policy would remain within the remit or control of the national Government, rather than the London government. Hon. Members have referred to health; there is no reason why significant health powers could not be delivered at a London region level, rather than provided by national Government locally in London. If so, it would have made sense for the assembly to conduct scrutiny at that London level.

We have the same concerns as others do about the duplication that is taking place. When the London assembly and the Mayor’s powers were set up, the expectation was that the Government office for London would go, but its powers and budget seem to have increased, rather than decreased. There is no end in sight to the duplication that arises as a result of the Government office for London remaining in place after the creation of the assembly and of the London Mayor’s powers.

If there is an issue relating to scrutiny, by all means let us look at whether the assembly needs additional powers; it could also propose additional powers itself. There may be issues to do with the extent to which it carries out its scrutiny role, particularly as regards the London Development Agency and the £100 million that may or may not be missing. If there are issues, I am sure that they can be addressed. Other hon. Members have made sensible suggestions about having a London Question Time or an annual debate in the House about London.

Members who have been in the House as long as I have, or roughly as long, will know that in earlier years, but not so much in the past couple of years, we had a series of one-and-a-half-hour Adjournment debates on London issues, on subjects such as the police or health. That seems to have died down, partly, I suspect, as a result of the transfer of powers to the London assembly and the Mayor. London Members do not feel quite as engaged, or that they have as much responsibility, as they did prior to the implementation of the Greater London Authority Act 1999. However, there are other ways in which we can boost scrutiny, and give Members greater oversight of the matters that are still of interest to them in London, without setting up a London Regional Select Committee.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the scrutiny role, and to the role of powers. It is not clear whether the London Select Committee would have any powers at all, or whether it would simply be a scrutiny body. It is difficult to see how it could influence decision making in this place, in the London assembly, or in any other public body, unless it had powers. However, if it had powers it would be creating duplication, as he rightly said.

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. My assumption is that the London Select Committee would have the same powers as every other Select Committee; in other words, it would have the power to make recommendations and to bring Ministers to appear before it. However, in practice, as we Members all know, if the Government, or possibly the Mayor or the London assembly, choose to disregard those recommendations, there is nothing that we Members can do about it, apart from draw attention to it in debate and so on. I agree that that is a valid point to which Ministers need to respond.

To conclude, there are no guarantees about the London Select Committee’s composition, and there is not clarity about what scrutiny it will provide that is not provided by the London assembly. Until that clarity is there, the proposal cannot be allowed to proceed.

Question put.


That Standing Order No. 152F be amended by inserting after paragraph (1) the following new paragraph:

(1A) A select committee shall be appointed for London, to examine the Government’s regional policies for London and the Government’s relationship with the Greater London Authority and regional bodies.