Regional Select Committees (Membership)
Business of the House
David Heath (Somerton and Frome, Liberal Democrat)
I am most grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will soon reach the end of my opening and introductory remarks on the subject. I was hoping to point out to the House that the structure before us and the membership that we are appointing have come about as a result of a decision in the Modernisation Committee taken on the basis of the casting vote of the Leader of the House—a Minister of the Crown—because she was unable to secure the support of any other party. We are being asked to consider a structure that has no nominations from these Benches, no nominations from the Conservatives, and no nominations from Plaid Cymru, from the Scottish Nationalists or from independent Members of the House, because only the Labour party believed in the way these Committees were to be set up. We argued that they should be set up on a different basis. We argued—the Deputy Leader of the House was sensible and honest enough to say that this was a difference between us, which we have and will continue to have—that the people nominated to serve on these Select Committees should represent the political will of the regions they serve.
In one sense that is a political argument insofar as we wanted to reflect the political outcome of elections, but it is also an argument in favour of accountability. Without it, we cannot reflect the regions in the appointment of Members of this House to the Committees. Let us look at the most glaring examples. Some aspects disadvantage the Labour party: in some regions, there is an argument for having more Labour Members than are proposed in the motions. That would apply in several regions, but let me start with the south-west, as it is my region and I know it best, but also because it provides the most glaring example of the inadequacy of the Government's proposals.
The Government propose having five Labour Members in order to give the Labour party a majority in the south-west region and the west country, but does Labour represent the majority of seats in the west country? No. Does it represent the second largest party in the region? No. It is the third party in the south-west with just 13 seats in comparison with the Liberal Democrats' 16 seats and the Conservatives' 22. If the composition of the south-west region were properly arrived at, there would be four Conservatives, three Liberal Democrats and two Labour Members, yet we are to have five Labour Members, all serving mainly city constituencies, so they are not even capable of properly representing the different areas in the south-west.
As was mentioned earlier, if we were to appoint a Liberal Democrat on the south-west regional Committee, he or she would have to come from Cornwall—if Cornwall were to be represented at all. Somerset might well not be represented because there are three Liberal Democrats there. What is absolutely certain is that for Cornwall to be represented, there would be no representation for the constituencies of Somerset and Frome, Taunton, Yeovil, Mid-Dorset and North Poole, Bristol, West, Northavon, Cheltenham, Bath, North Devon, Torbay or Teignbridge. None of the Members from those constituencies could possibly serve on the Committee in order for Cornwall to be represented at all because of the five Liberal Democrat Members in that county. This is not a structure that can command any respect or credibility in the south-west.