Page last updated at 20:14 GMT, Wednesday, 12 November 2008

MPs support regional committees

Houses of Parliament
Critics say the cost of the committees outweigh the benefits

MPs have backed government plans to set up new select committees for English regions despite widespread concerns over their cost and political make-up.

A rebel amendment calling for those MPs chairing the committees not to be paid over and above their basic Westminster salary was passed by two votes.

Ministers believe the eight committees will improve regional accountability.

But one Labour MP argued the new bodies would increase ministerial patronage and threaten Parliament's independence.

'Accountability gap'

The government carried the vote to establish the committees, which are estimated will cost about 2m, by a majority of 30.

The committees for the East Midlands, east, north east, north west, south east, south west, West Midlands and Yorkshire and Humber are likely to begin operating at the start of next year.

Commons leader Harriet Harman said the committees would "plug the accountability gap" and improve the scrutiny of regional health and economic development bodies with huge annual budgets.

It really is very unhealthy this growth of the payroll vote
Andrew Mackinlay, Labour MP

But Andrew Mackinlay, Labour MP for Thurrock, said he was concerned about the growth of government patronage and the implications for Parliament's independence of the new committees.

Current select committee chairmen are paid 14,000 a year on top of their annual parliamentary salary.

It was "bonkers" that chairmen of the new committees should be paid the same as existing committee chairmen since the new committees would not be meeting nearly as regularly, Mr Mackinlay said.

"It really is very unhealthy this growth of the payroll vote and the patronage which goes with it," he said.


Opposition MPs raised concerns that the committees would be "packed" with government appointees, some from outside the regions they would be scrutinising.

Shadow commons leader Theresa May said she feared that they would duplicate the work of existing select committees.

"They are being introduced by government for its own ends, not in the interests of this House," she said.

But a Lib Dem amendment calling for only MPs from the regions concerned to sit on the relevant committees was defeated.

Neil Turner, Labour MP for Wigan, said he backed the committees as they would improve the decision-making of regional bodies.

"It is easy to look at the cost and not at what the benefit could be."

Each select committee will have nine members based on their party's overall proportion of MPs. Plans for a similar committee for London are due to be put forward next year.

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