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MP assembly embarrassment

PUBLISHED: 11:07 09 September 2009 | UPDATED: 14:57 03 July 2010

A so-called 'grand committee' meeting of regional MPs turned in to an embarrassing no-show yesterday when only 13 of the region's 55 MPs turned up.

Bedford Borough Hall was supposed to be the setting for the first session of the new parliamentary grand committee giving local MPs the chance to put questions to regional minister Barbara Follett.

A so-called 'grand committee' meeting of regional MPs turned in to an embarrassing no-show yesterday when only 13 of the region's 55 MPs turned up.

Bedford Borough Hall was supposed to be the setting for the first session of the new parliamentary grand committee giving local MPs the chance to put questions to regional minister Barbara Follett.

But the meeting was abandoned after only 20-minutes because the session could not muster the 17 MPs needed to make a quorum.

Instead Mrs Follett agreed to continue with an informal question and answer session centring on transport and housing - but none of what happened will be recorded on the official parliamentary record.

The meeting was attended by seven out of the region's 12 Labour MPs, two out of three Lib Dems, three Conservatives, and one independent.

Four ministers - Angela Smith, Claire Ward, Chris Mowle, and Bill Rammell - also missed the session. Ironically had they turned up the meeting could have gone ahead.

Among those there were Norwich South's Charles Clarke, Yarmouth's Tony Wright, and Waveney MP Bob Blizzard.

But no other Norfolk MPs went - with most opting to stay away from a session they viewed as a publicity stunt, while newly elected Norwich North MP Chloe Smith was not invited because she has yet to be officially sworn in.

Mr Clarke, who had hoped to forge an effective lobby for better strategic regional transport links, accused the Tories of playing politics because of their antipathy towards the regional concept.

"The idea of the assembly is worthwhile because decisions are taken regionally which affect us in Norfolk and I think parliamentary scrutiny is positive," he said. "I hope when we return to this other Norfolk MPs will attend.

"I think it was political, I think they've taken a view that they don't want to take part."

The official order of business had included five questions, with the first being from Mr Wright about upgrades to the A11 and A47.

Mr Wright said the session was a missed opportunity.

And Mr Blizzard, who revealed he has been made the deputy regional minister, said the assemly was a chance to press the government for commitments on a range of regional issues.

Andrew Mackinlay, Labour MP for Thurrock, said the session was a "crack-pot idea" which had been poorly thought out by the government.

And he bemoaned the fact that a dozen civil servants had been taken out of parliament for nothing.

"It was a charade and a nonsense, and a blow to the dignity of parliament," he said.

Conservative MP Andrew Lansley, who came late because he wanted to raise a constituency issue about housing targets, said he was not surprised so many MPs stayed away.

"I can entirely understand the point of view of many MPs that this is a completely irrelevant and pointless event," he said. "The minister has no power and no budget and the government sees the region as simply a mechanism by which they can disseminate government targets."

Barbara Follett, said despite the lack of attendance, the discussion had proved useful and was also a good chance for Go-East officials to meet MPs.

"I was terribly disappointed, MPs are not on holiday now, at least I hope they are not," Mrs Follett said. "It wasn't how we intended it to be, but I would like to continue to work on this."

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