10 JULY 2008 No. 11
REGIONAL COMMITTEES NEED TO CLOSE ACCOUNTABILITY GAP
In a report published today, the Modernisation Committee recommends the creation of regional select committees and grand committees within the House of Commons, to provide "regular, robust scrutiny" of RDAs and other regional bodies.
The Committee believes that Regional Development Agencies must be the chief focus for scrutiny because of their significant budgets and the central role they play in co-ordinating the economic and strategic activity of each region. Although RDAs and other bodies have a central line of accountability to Ministers, who are in turn accountable to Parliament, the Committee believes that more should be done to monitor the delivery of services in the regions, to complement national lines of accountability.
MPs may also take account of the activities of other agencies and bodies working at regional level, such as Strategic Health Authorities, Learning and Skills Councils and others. However, the report does not prescribe a list of organisations.
The report recommends that one select and one grand committee should be established for each of the administrative regions in England except London. Arrangements for London are likely to be somewhat different, due to the office of the Mayor of London and London Assembly. These should be considered in the light of experience with the other committees.
The report recommends that the regional select committees should have the following features:
A relatively small membership of up to ten, reflecting the political composition of the House of Commons (thus some members may be nominated from outside the relevant region);
Power to travel within the UK, with each committee meeting mostly within its region;
Positive working relationships and regular liaison with departmental select committees and with local authorities to co-ordinate activities, develop local knowledge and avoid duplication;
Less frequent meetings than departmental select committees in the interests of establishing proportionate scrutiny and facilitating Members' attendance and involvement.
One of the regional select committee chairman should sit on the Liaison Committee, made up of the chairmen of all select committees.
In addition, the report recommends that there should be up to two regional grand committee meetings in each session, either in Westminster or in the relevant region, to involve a wider range of MPs. Meetings of Grand Committees could also provide for the questioning of Regional Ministers, as could the introduction of a new rota system in Westminster Hall.
The Committee recommends that these arrangements should be implemented on a temporary basis until the end of the present Parliament, followed by a review to decide their future.
Modernisation Committee Chairman Harriet Harman said:
"The Governance of Britain Green Paper identified an accountability gap at regional level and invited the Modernisation Committee to inquire into how it could be addressed.
The Committee proposes both select committees and grand committees for each region to provide an effective and proportionate approach to filling this accountability gap.
The existing select committees have built up a strong reputation for robust and effective scrutiny of government policy over the years since their creation. Our proposals would be the single greatest expansion of this system since 1979".
1. In July 2007, proposals for improved democratic scrutiny and delivery of public services in the English regions were put forward in The Governance of Britain Green Paper, which followed the appointment of ministers for the English regions for the first time. The Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons was asked to give the proposal further consideration.
2. The Committee's inquiry sought evidence on possible models of accountability, the role of the House of Commons, and the resources needed.
3. The report focuses on new structures within the House of Commons to improve regional accountability and scrutiny in parliament. It is not the Modernisation Committee's remit to comment on local scrutiny arrangements: reform of these would be for other select committees to consider.
4. The report recommends regional select committees as the most effective way to provide a focus and consistency of effort. However, because select committees would involve only a minority of MPs in each region, the Committee concludes that up to two regional grand committee meetings should also take place in each session for each of the eight regions. These should consist of all MPs from a given region (as well as any members of the regional select committee who represent seats outside the region), and would take the form of a general debate or series of short debates, with questions to the Regional Minister to ensure his or her accountability to Parliament.