The Liberal Democrats yesterday accused the Government of abusing the opportunity to provide decent regional accountability by imposing its parliamentary majority on new regional Select Committees, even in areas where they have the fewest MPs.
Shadow Leader of the House, Simon Hughes MP, challenged the proposed make up of the new committees in a House of Commons debate, as MPs voted in their favour yesterday. The need for the Committees to reflect voting patterns was, he said, a "central obligation" of devolution and something the Government had "failed to grasp".
Simon illustrated the problems with the proposal by highlighting the situation in the south-west region:
"At the last election, Labour won 13 seats, we won 16 and Conservatives won 22, so Labour has the least number of seats, but it is now being proposed that, instead of the regional assembly, Labour colleagues will dominate a Committee representing an area of that size. By definition, that means that Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members cannot be chosen to represent Somerset, Cornwall, Devon, Gloucestershire and the other areas - it cannot happen. The people of those regions and the organisations of those counties will look to a Select Committee to look after their interests, but that cannot be done because, as anyone in the House knows, the interests of Cornwall might be different from those of Gloucestershire."
An amendment proposed by Simon which stated that the make-up of the committees should be proportionate to the number of MPs from each party in the region was defeated by just two votes. A further Lib Dem amendment that would have restricted membership of the committees to MPs from the region was also defeated.
Another Lib Dem speaker in the debate, Andrew George MP, described as absurd the idea that Labour MPs from outside the south-west would be 'dragooned' into sitting on the committee for that region.
On another aspect of the proposals, Simon criticised the idea that Chairmen of regional committees should receive the same amount of pay as those of UK-wide committees, instead arguing:
"Eight new Committees are proposed, so we suggested that the Chairmen should be paid an eighth of what the other Chairmen are paid...If that is not accepted...at least to start with, those posts should not be remunerated. Otherwise, we will just be accused of creating more jobs at public expense."
The latter suggestion was subsequently approved by the House in an amendment to the motion.
A vote on the overall proposal to adopt the new set of committees was passed, despite Liberal Democrat and Conservative opposition.
Simon Hughes' full speech here
Read Andrew George's full speech here