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10.19 pm

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): I intend to challenge the Government's motion, but I think it might be a good idea first to establish, briefly, the Select Committee's purpose, so that we can assess whether its proposed members will be able to do a good job.

In June, when we first discussed this topic on the Floor of the House, the Leader of the House spoke of an accountability gap. I think that many Members-certainly Conservative Members-felt that there was an accountability gap in democracy in Britain, but that it had less to do with the London Committee than with a Prime Minister who refused to call a general election.

The Leader of the House seemed to feel that, although we had a Mayor of London, a London assembly, a Government office for London and a plethora of London Members of Parliament, that was somehow not enough. She clearly feared that some issues, such as Heathrow, might slip through the net and not be debated properly. She clearly also feared that the work of, I think, 41 other Select Committees would not be sufficient, and that we would therefore need a further Select Committee to examine London issues in particular.

That is interesting, because London issues have already been examined by many Select Committees, as is clear from the many Select Committee reports on London that have been produced over the past five years. Leafing through them, I spotted a report on the congestion charge by the Transport Committee, which I understand also recently examined the London underground. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee conducted a special inquiry into the London Olympics. The Education and Skills Committee, when it still existed, looked into skills in London. I am sure that many Members were concerned to read the report of the Home Affairs Committee-

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The motion relates simply to membership of the Committee. It was not intended to lead to a debate on whether the Committee should exist
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in the first place. The issue before the House is not whether we should have a Committee, but who should be on it. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Before I respond to the point of order, let me say that I am a bit worried about the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt). I am concerned about his health. I do not want him to erupt, but I am concerned that he might pop. Anyone would think that some Members had had an exceptionally good dinner.

What I want to say to the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore)- [Interruption.] Order. Members should want to hear what I am going to say to the hon. Member for Hendon. What I want to say to the hon. Member for Hendon is that he is, of course, correct-that is indeed the thrust and the limit of the motion before us-but, as he knows, I am a person of generous spirit. [Interruption.] Order. It is perfectly legitimate for the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) to make some opening remarks by way of background, and I know that she now intends swiftly to focus on the narrow terms of the motion.

Justine Greening: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Of course, I did not intend to dwell for too long on some of the other Select Committee reports, which deal with issues such as knife crime.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Before the House can make up its mind about whether individual Members are right for the Select Committee, surely we should know whether they have been on other Select Committees that have dealt with London matters.

Justine Greening: That is a good point. I am sure that investigation would reveal first whether those Members had been on those Select Committees, and secondly whether they had participated. I think that many London Members confronted by this limited group of names will wonder why they have been left out. For example, why should we not have London questions, given that we have Welsh questions and Scottish questions?

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Members listed on the Order Paper have been appointed to an entirely superfluous body which will merely duplicate and triplicate work that is already being done perfectly adequately elsewhere?

Justine Greening: My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Barbara Keeley: It appears to be being suggested that there are restrictions in respect of the names that can be put forward. It is open for Opposition Members to put forward other names, however, and I hope that they do so.

Justine Greening: Another problem is that this is costly. It is a cost that the taxpayer cannot afford, yet many Members who represent London constituencies are excluded. We could have London questions. Many of us would be willing to give that a go. We could all participate in that. We could also have a London annual
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debate-I understand that we used to have one-in which, again, all Members representing London seats could participate.

Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that not many of our constituents have knocked on our doors saying they want an extra layer of government to be brought in?

Justine Greening: That is right. Throughout the country, people's concern is about not the quantity of government, but the quality.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): Although I agree with the hon. Lady on the efficacy of the motion, will she not at least concede that tonight's debate is about who is to serve on this Committee, that the two Members proposed are both exemplary London Members, and that we should vote for them to serve on it?

Justine Greening: No, I do not agree at all, and I shall come on to why I have a problem with the names that the House has been presented with later on-or, rather, very shortly, Mr. Speaker.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): Is not the nub of the issue what my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) said, which is simply that, regardless of who we put on to the Committee, its purpose is to scrutinise regional bodies, but a lot of London's regional bodies report to the Mayor and there is already scrutiny of the Mayor, so this is complete duplication?

Justine Greening: Yes, it is complete duplication, and I think it is worse than that, because we have a London assembly, and this London Select Committee is a direct vote of no confidence-

Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Further to your answer to the recent point of order, I note that the hon. Lady has still not got around to talking about the people named on the Order Paper. Surely she should do so straight away.

Mr. Speaker: I feel absolutely confident that the hon. Gentleman is not seeking to do the work of the Chair. I know that he is a very courteous fellow, and that he recognises both what are his responsibilities and what are not. I have noted what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I shall go about the business in a proper manner.

Justine Greening: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As I was saying, one of the worst aspects of the motion is that it is a direct vote of no confidence by Ministers and the Government in the London assembly that they set up. Ultimately, as my-

Mr. Speaker: Order. I apologise for interrupting the eloquence of the hon. Lady's flow, but I am afraid that we really cannot go into that matter tonight for the simple reason that it has already been considered and decided by the House. The only matter to be determined tonight in respect of this motion is the list of names of people to be appointed, upon which I know the hon. Lady will now immediately focus.

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Justine Greening: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me such a brilliant introduction to the next part of my remarks, because our final objection to the motion is that, at its heart, it is interfering, and that brings me on to the matter of the Members who are proposed.

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I am sure that my hon. Friend is about to make a very similar point to this, but the London assembly is deliberately designed to give a clear distribution of representation across the whole of London, so that all London boroughs, whose relationship with the Mayor as the strategic authority is crucial to the delivery of London-wide services, are fairly represented, whereas the list of Members proposed indicates a very tight geographical distribution and-

Mr. Speaker: Order. I shall be charitable to the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) by concluding that he merely did not hear my ruling of a few moments ago to the hon. Member for Putney, because if he had heard it, I know that as he is a lawyer and an obedient sort of fellow, he would not have made a disorderly point of the kind that he has just made.

Justine Greening: My hon. Friend refers to the fact that one of the problems with this Select Committee is that it does not necessarily have to have Members representing London committees on it, nor does it have to have any kind of composition that reflects London's seats or the London assembly.

Barbara Keeley rose-

Justine Greening: I want to make some progress, but I will give way.

Barbara Keeley: I should point out that only London Members have been nominated this evening.

Justine Greening: The Deputy Leader of the House is, of course, right on this occasion, but it is instructive to consider the constituencies that these Members represent and make the comparison with the London assembly members who have been elected by those communities. The hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) is not from the same party as the London assembly member for London West Central. The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) is not from the same party as the London assembly member that Londoners elected to represent Merton and Wandsworth. The hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter) is not from the same party as the London assembly member-

Barbara Keeley rose-

Justine Greening: I shall give way.

Barbara Keeley: It seems as though the hon. Lady would really like to nominate some Members from her party, and I invite her to do so. If she wants to balance out the list, she should name some names.

Justine Greening: Conservative Members know exactly how to raise London issues in this Chamber. We raise them every day that the House sits, in oral questions, in
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Westminster Hall debates, in Adjournment debates and whenever else we get the chance-we do not need a London Select Committee in order to hold Ministers to account.

I was talking about the constituencies that these Members represent-I can see that you find that interesting, Mr. Speaker-but I now want to discuss my concerns as to whether these Members have really reflected the wishes of Londoners when they have had the chance to represent them. One cannot help but reflect on our post office closure debate earlier last year. Londoners were extremely concerned and troubled about this matter -[Interruption.] I shall tell Labour Members what it has to do with this. Several of these Members actually voted to shut post offices when they had the chance, and I think that many Londoners would be concerned to see the ruling party put them on a Select Committee that is meant to scrutinise London issues on their behalf.

Another major issue of concern to my constituents is Heathrow. Several of the MPs being proposed for membership of this Committee voted to expand the airport when they had the chance to do so. Again, that went against the direct wishes of millions of Londoners-these Londoners voted in the Mayor, who would stand up for them on that issue. We have concerns about whether these MPs truly are the right ones to serve on a London Committee.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): I note that some of those named on the Order Paper are not here tonight. Will my hon. Friend consider-if this were possible in your eyes, Mr. Speaker-tabling a manuscript amendment to nominate the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), for example, who is here and who takes an active interest in proceedings? Obviously he would be better than those, such as the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), who have not bothered to turn up.

Justine Greening: My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. I think that most people would be concerned if the hon. Member for Hendon were on a Select Committee, because his questions might be longer than the actual evidence given to it.

I was looking through the résumés of some of those proposed. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) is in the Chamber tonight. It may be that he is, once again, attending the Pugwash conference-he went to the one in Canada last year. We have some concerns and we are not convinced that this is the right way to go.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) makes a very good point. Would it be in order to table a manuscript amendment that only people attending this debate could serve on the Committee?

Mr. Speaker: I do not want to disappoint the right hon. Gentleman-or perhaps I do-but I fear that rather than responding directly to his observation, I must say that it was not a point of order, as he, as a very experienced Member, knows. It was, however, an interesting point of debate.

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Justine Greening: I shall start to conclude my comments, because I know, from talking to them in the Lobby earlier, that many other Members want the chance to express their concerns. Suffice it to say that this just is not good enough. The Select Committee will be in place for the term of this Parliament. It could only be a matter of days, hopefully, but it is more likely to be just a matter of months before this Parliament finishes. Even this Prime Minister will have to call an election eventually. There is simply no time for a Select Committee, even if a full set of members is nominated to serve on it, to conduct any meaningful inquiries.

Barbara Keeley: There has been a lot of support for the work of the parliamentary reform Committee, which had much less time than that.

Justine Greening: I simply do not agree with the Deputy Leader of the House. I think that we need to take these issues case by case. The reality is that this will be another talking shop that costs taxpayers more money at the time that they can least afford it. It will have members who many people outside this House will feel have not, when it came to the crunch on key London issues that mattered to them, had a track record of scrutinising this Government.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): My hon. Friend talks about the election, and obviously Boris Johnson was elected as Mayor for London. Is not the concern that the genie of devolved government has got out of the bottle and that that genie is now blue, in the form of Boris Johnson? The problem is that the Government want to put that genie back in the bottle, but they cannot do that and so we have a costly, expensive, waste-of-time exercise in the form of this Committee.

Justine Greening: My hon. Friend is right, of course. That is the ultimate accountability gap that the Government have a problem with. It is not about accountability between this House and the Mayor, but the fact that Londoners voted for the wrong Mayor from the wrong party, in Ministers' opinion. They need to understand that there is an accountability gap, but that the only way in which it will be closed is if their Prime Minister has the guts finally to call an election and to give not just Londoners but the whole of this country the chance to vote them out and to vote in a Government who will do some work on people's behalf. What we get with this Government is pure private interest.

10.37 pm

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): I certainly agree that it is time for a general election, and the Prime Minister should call one rather than trying to do any more in the dying days of this Parliament, so that the country can get on and make the Government accountable.

On the specific issue of the regional Select Committee and its members, it is important to recognise the background. Yet again, the Government, through their majority, are imposing reform and accountability on this House rather than building consensus for that reform. The Government's failure to engage with other
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parties to build cross-party consensus in introducing regional Committees has undermined the prospect of their being successful and their legitimacy.

It would be a success if the Government withdrew the motion, engaged with the other parties and came forward with proper reforms of accountability that engage the whole House. If there is a Division, the Liberal Democrats will vote against the motion, not specifically because of the proposed members of the Committee, but in protest at the way in which the Government have handled the regional Select Committee process.

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