|One down, eight to go.
22 Nov 2008
This column does not normally record my activities in Parliament. If they are significant, they will be reported in the serious papers. If they are scandalous, they will appear in the tabloids.
But, earlier this month, I had a minor triumph which constituents are entitled to know about. This fell neither into the significant nor scandalous category and therefore passed unnoticed.
Eight years ago, the Government established a Committee of the English Regions. At the time, speaking from the front bench on behalf of my Party, I predicted that this was an unnecessary measure and urged the House to oppose it. In my view, there is no appetite for a regional dimension. If I talk about Wessex to my constituents, they think about Edward and Sophie – not a tier of government.
I was put in my place by the Leader of the House, who told me that “such a forum will add usefully to the procedures of the House.”
So useful was the Committee that it has not met since April 2003. Indeed, so insignificant is its contribution to the good governance of the country that, in this Parliament, the Government has not even bothered to appoint it.
Week after week, for the past three and a half years, a Committee on which I sit has invited the Government to nominate members to this committee, and each week nominations were there none.
I dislike clutter, and am a committed de-regulator.
Might, I suggested to the Government, this committee be abolished and laid to rest? I would be happy to deliver an appropriate tribute over its grave – necessarily a short tribute, because of its modest achievements. This pill was too bitter for the Government to swallow.
Two weeks ago, there was a window of opportunity. There was to be a debate and some resolutions on Select Committees; I tabled an amendment to delete the Committee of the English Regions and spoke powerfully to it. It was a short speech, as, in an affront to democracy, the Government had guillotined the debate. Not a voice was raised in defence of the Committee of the Regions, and, as the vote drew near, I asked the Government if they would accept my amendment. No, I was told; the Minister thought the committee might yet serve a useful purpose. I contacted my friends in the Labour Party, who shared my view about the efficacy of this, and the Government faced the possibility of defeat in the lobbies.
At the crucial moment, they withdrew their opposition and my amendment was carried, unopposed.
My elation was short-lived. In the next vote, the Government set up 8 new regional committees to replace the single English Committee of the Regions I had just abolished.
In eight years time, if not before, I anticipate that these too will meet a similar fate.
I am polishing my amendment in anticipation.