42. Mr. Paul Clarke (Gillingham)
When the regional Standing Committee will hold its first meeting. 
§ The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett)
I expect the regional Standing Committee to be established and I hope it will meet before the end of the Session.
Bearing in mind the wide-ranging performances within our regions—I know that mine, in the south-east, is doing good work—will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Committee will have a free hand to look into issues; particularly local economic regeneration issues, which are so important in a number of parts of the south-east?
§ Mrs. Beckett
My hon. Friend may recall that it is intended that the Committee will take business on a motion proposed by a Minister, but he is right to identify issues such as economic development in the regions as being among those that we anticipate the Committee will want to consider, along with issues such as transport strategies, tourism, sport and culture.
§ Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)
Will the President of the Council confirm that the Government do not see the Committee as in any way a substitute for genuine devolution to the regions? The Committee may be helpful in allowing Members of Parliament to assess what is going on in the regions, but given the lack of progress in accountable regional government and accountable democracy in the regions—as opposed to simply regionalising Government agencies—will she confirm the Government's intentions?
§ Mrs. Beckett
The Government have always made it plain that we recognise the importance of the development of regional strategies. The hon. Gentleman says—perhaps a little unfairly—that there has been a lack of progress. However, this Government set up the regional development agencies, which I understand the Conservative party proposes to abolish. The hon. Gentleman will know that representatives of local authorities work alongside people from the business community and the wider community. He will also know that there are many ideas floating around about how else regional strategies can be pursued, and how there could be other regional representation. However, he will also 800 know that the Government are anxious that any further move in this direction be taken at the wish of the people of a particular region, rather than as a top-down move.
§ Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)
Is the inadequate regional Standing Committee the Government's response to the West Lothian question? How will it be constituted?
§ Mrs. Beckett
No, it is not the response to the West Lothian question. We have long argued, as did the Conservatives in the days when they were in favour of devolution, that there is no need for a different settlement in this place, and that those who are returned as MPs to Westminster should operate as MPs in Westminster.
It is intended that 13 people will make up the core group of the Committee's membership, and, we hope, will build up expertise on regional affairs in general—but it would of course be possible for any Member who represents an English constituency to attend.