Previous Section Index Home Page

10.38 pm

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): May I say what a great pleasure it is to take part in this debate? These debates about London matter. For many years I have regarded myself as somebody who is from Middlesex rather than London, and I still do so, but I have to respect the fact that London is now something a bit bigger. When considering these Committees-I understand that we are considering who will sit on the London Committee-I want to know the regionality of the proposed members in the context of the historic counties. I am thinking hard about that. The area represented by the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), who is present, is probably in the historic county of Middlesex, although I do not know whether she regards it as such. The constituency of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) is a little more difficult for me; I do not know whether anyone can help me with the regionality of Islington.

Robert Neill: If it is of any assistance to my hon. Friend, I understand that Islington was originally in the historic shrieval county of Middlesex but was subsequently incorporated into the London county council area by a London county council Act back in the 1880s.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I know that the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) will understand when I say that we do not want a dewy-eyed, romantic debate about- [ Interruption. ] Order. The House does not want a dewy-eyed, romantic debate about geography. We are focusing, and I know that he will now focus his remarks not on geographical areas, but upon the particular qualities of the Members proposed for the Committee.

Mr. Randall: I apologise to you profusely, Mr. Speaker. It is a fault of mine to be dewy-eyed from time to time when I think about the glory of Middlesex and when I think of metroland. However, I will move on.

In today's world, sadly, the county shires have gone and we are talking about London boroughs. That is not exactly a forward move, in my opinion, but it has happened. The hon. Member for Islington, North sometimes represents some of the more interesting republics of the world, such as Cuba, but he is a very good Member of the House. I see him on the list of Committee members and think, "That's rather good." He is an interesting choice, because I know a little about how these Committees are selected by those wonderful people called the Whips. I know that you have a great respect for them yourself, Mr. Speaker. Indeed, I know that that would have been one of your ambitions had you not been called to higher office. [ Laughter. ]

14 Dec 2009 : Column 755

Mr. Speaker: Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that that was his ambition for me, but we will not go further into that.

Mr. Randall: I have many ambitions for you, Mr. Speaker. Unfortunately, because of your high office and despite your being a resident of London, I cannot put forward a manuscript amendment to put you on the Committee.

Mr. McLoughlin: Before my hon. Friend finishes singing the praises of the hon. Member for Islington, North, will he remind the House that, along with the hon. Gentleman, he was one of those who robustly opposed the former Prime Minister regarding his war on Iraq?

Mr. Randall: I hate to bring politics into this debate. My right hon. Friend reminds me of the point that I was making about the hon. Member for Islington, North, who could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as one of the usual suspects or one of the Whips' narks. I therefore regard his appointment as rather interesting and something that I should like to support.

Let me return to the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North, for whom I also have a great deal of respect. Years ago, we sat on the Committee that considered the Bill that became the Greater London Authority Act 1999. What a fantastic Committee that was to serve on, for many happy hours. Sadly, many of the other hon. Members on that Committee have now gone or passed away. The hon. Lady sat through many of those Committee sittings, as is the wont of Government Members who are not able to speak. Perhaps she would speak more on this London Committee; she is a great expert on housing in London. I respect her for that, so hers is a very useful appointment to the Committee.

The hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford)-my wife was born in Eltham-and I have crossed swords on various things. He was on the Transport Committee with me, which was very interesting. I have to say though that we differ about the expansion of Heathrow. As my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) said, Heathrow expansion is a very important matter for the whole of London.

I know that the Whips want to do the job properly-we always do. We want to make sure that democracy is seen to be done in the fullest and best way. I looked down the list of members and just when I thought I was getting cynical, just when I began to think that the Committee would be full of people who were for the third runway at Heathrow, I saw the name of the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter). He and I are old friends. Back in '97, he stood against me in a by-election. What a charming man he was-he let me win. I am sure he did so out of the goodness of his heart, and if it comes to a vote I might find it difficult in my heart to say that the man who let me come into this place to serve my Uxbridge constituents might not be allowed to be on the Committee.

Since the hon. Gentleman ceased to be a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department for Transport, he has been a redoubtable opponent of the third runway. Maybe-just maybe-there is some balance in the list.

14 Dec 2009 : Column 756

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): I am sure that my hon. Friend comes to the debate with clean hands, but perhaps not dry hands, because behind the scenes he plays a part in the selection process. One of the criticisms we have faced from the Government Benches is that there have been no nominations from the Opposition. Can my hon. Friend tell the House, therefore, how it is that the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) appears on the list?

Mr. Randall: My right hon. Friend raises an interesting point that I would have come to later. Presumably, the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) has been put on by the Government Whips, and the Committee of Selection has put his name forward. I do not know, but perhaps it is something we should explore. In fact, I see the hon. Gentleman poised like a crouching tiger, so he may want to raise that point.

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): It was a novel approach. No Whips were involved. I volunteered.

Mr. Randall: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman-my erstwhile Friend. I wonder whether Members on both sides of the House realise how easy it is to get on one of these Committees. All they have to do is volunteer. I am not sure about our side, because as you know, Mr. Speaker, we are not keen on this Committee, for the reasons my hon. Friend the Member for Putney gave. I do not want to go down that line, but the Committee does seem a complete waste of time.

Mr. Robathan: It does indeed seem a complete waste of time, but it seems likely that the Chairman of the Committee will be paid an extra salary, or is that not the case? If it is the case, should not any Member put forward for the Committee abstain from voting, because there will be a conflict of interest?

Mr. Randall: My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. From the look on the faces of those on the Government Benches, I am afraid he is incorrect. The role of Chairman will not be a paid position, and the House welcomes that. My hon. Friend and I go back a long way-

Mr. Robathan: How long?

Mr. Randall: A very long way, but I think he is wrong on this point. Everybody has a right to vote on the motion.

Stephen Hammond: As a relative newcomer to the House, I listened intently to my hon. Friend's words about procedure and about some of the Members who will serve on the Committee. He made the point that Government members of Select Committees usually stay silent. Given that the Committee will be made up of Government appointees and volunteers, will it be a silent Committee?

Mr. Randall: Is it not sad to find such cynicism? As you know as a former member of the Chairmen's Panel, Mr. Speaker, before you reached your great position, it is accepted on Standing Committees that Government members will be quiet, and on a Select Committee
14 Dec 2009 : Column 757
Government members will do very much as they are told. I cannot see the proposed Committee being any different.

Mr. Pelling: I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman's sarcasm, but does he not think that if what he describes is how the House conducts its affairs, there is something rotten about this place?

Mr. Randall: Even more cynicism. [Interruption.] As an excellent voice behind me says, perhaps that cynicism could be removed by an election, letting the people of this country decide what they want.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): It may be lost on the hon. Gentleman that we have just had an election in this country, and his party lost severely. What part of the new Tory one-party project did the people of Glasgow, North-East misunderstand?

Mr. Randall: Don't you just love the Scots, Mr. Speaker? Marvellous. I could, although I am sure you would tell me off for this-

Jim Sheridan: Answer the question.

Mr. Randall: We have had national elections, European elections and a few others. Remind me where the Labour party came in the European elections.

Hon. Members: Bottom!

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is being led astray, and I know that he would not want to be led astray. He will want to return to the list, with a number of whose members he has dealt, but there are at least one or two whom he has not yet mentioned. He may have further suggestions and he needs to come on to them.

Mr. Randall: I am incredibly grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, as always. I was led astray. I have some Scottish blood in me. When I heard the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan), I thought I must continue the argument, but I will not. I will get back to the point.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Let me help my hon. Friend, who is making an interesting contribution. I came here to vote against the names proposed because I think they are the wrong people for the wrong Committee. He seems to be praising them. Will he give me some arguments so that I can vote against them?

Mr. Randall: I am not here to upset people on the other side of the House. When it comes to general elections, there may be many arguments why the people on the list will not be suitable for re-election, but this debate is not about re-election. This is not about how they have let the country down, how the country is in a very bad way and all the rest of it. This is about serving on a regional Select Committee-a Select Committee that we think is a complete waste of time.

14 Dec 2009 : Column 758

However, Mr. Speaker, you entreated me to mention some other names. One of the things that I would like to ask the Government is why they have omitted some of the stars on their Benches. The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) is a shining example of somebody who could speak endlessly for the Select Committee. I come in on many a Friday, and I am just amazed by his elocution and his ability to talk about not very much. That might make him a very worthy member of the Select Committee.

I have now seen enter the Chamber and sit on the Labour Benches somebody of whom I genuinely want to speak highly. I do not think that it would be fair for me to say- [ Interruption. ] I shall name him, but my hon. Friends should control themselves.

Mr. Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con): It's Denis.

Mr. Randall: No. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), my constituency neighbour, is genuinely free-minded. He is far devolved from me in politics. He is a little to the right of me, I think, and he would not let me join the Campaign group, because he said that I was too left wing. The reason why he has not been suggested for the Committee may not be that he rebels against the Government; it may be that he spends a lot of time doing other things in his constituency and, rather like me, feels that this Regional Select Committee might be a waste of his time.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Randall: Why not?

David T.C. Davies: My hon. Friend just mentioned the importance of the Members listed in the motion working hard in their constituencies. If this Regional Select Committee is set up, it may well, like the Welsh Affairs Committee on which I have the pleasure of serving, spend some of its time on visits abroad, taking Members away from their constituency. Does my hon. Friend think that a good or bad thing?

Mr. Randall: I am absolutely sure that this Select Committee will not venture far. It may not even cross the M25. There are so many issues in London which we Conservatives want to discuss, albeit it in another place and not in this forum, but even the Government, while they are setting up this Committee-

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Randall: Of course.

Mr. Chope: In discussing possible members of the Committee, why did my hon. Friend not refer to the hon. Member for Battersea (Martin Linton)? He has 30 years' experience of what has happened in Wandsworth council-delivering the lowest community charge or council tax in the country.

14 Dec 2009 : Column 759

Mr. Randall: The reason why I did not consider the hon. Gentleman is that he had nothing to do with delivering the lowest council tax, and if he had his way it would be put up.

Mr. Robathan: As we are considering possible members, does my hon. Friend recall that the definition of a cockney used to be that he or she was born within the sound of Bow bells? Can he think of anybody who has experience of bells ringing or bell towers who might add to the experience of the Committee?

Mr. Randall: My hon. Friend leads me up to a line that I shall not go down. I am not a sheep that will be led easily on these matters.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am very glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman is not going to go down that route, and there are two very good reasons why he should not. First, it would of course be constitutionally absurd for him to propose a member of Her Majesty's Government as a member of this Select Committee- [ Interruption. ] That is the position, I am telling the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway), for his benefit and that of the House. Secondly, the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) should not be proposing for membership of the Committee a Member representing a Lincolnshire constituency.

Mr. Randall: I would agree-

Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Randall: I think that I may have to.

Mr. Crabb: If we take the example of the Welsh Affairs Committee, on which, indeed, there are Members who represent constituencies outside the Principality, why could not Members from outside London sit on the London Committee?

Mr. Randall: Well, Mr. Speaker, I have to tell my hon. Friend that the reason nobody from outside London can sit on this Committee is that you, Sir, have spoken, and your word is law. If you, Sir, have made a pronouncement that this regional Select Committee for London shall never, ever have a member who sits outside London, then, whether it is constitutional or not, I would regard it as gospel.

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his helpful confirmation that he will accept the will of the Chair, but I think he really knows that I am gently encouraging him to concentrate on the people he would like to see as members of the Committee and not to spend an enormous amount of time dilating on the reasons why somebody should not be a member of the Committee.

Mr. Randall: I have to say, Mr. Speaker, how genuinely grateful I am for your guidance on these matters. The hour is getting late, and I feel that sometimes somebody like me, who is not used to public speaking, will benefit from your guidance.

Next Section Index Home Page