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Mr. Curry: The right hon. Gentleman will have observed the London elections and noted the turnout. He will also have noted the turnout at the referendum on whether to have a London assembly and the turnouts in Scotland and Wales even with the relatively substantial powers of the Parliament and the Assembly. What does he think the turnout would be for the Yorkshire and Humber regional assembly, on the basis of the powers set out in the White Paper, at the second set of elections to that assembly? Would it be above or below 10 per cent?
Mr. Raynsford: The turnout at the recent election in Londonthe first re-election of the Greater London authorityshowed an increase on the turnout at the previous such election. That may or may not support my case, but it certainly does not support the right hon. Gentleman's. We have a genuine and serious issue in encouraging turnout and participation in the democratic process, not just for the GLA or the Scottish Parliament, but for English local authorities and, indeed, for the British Parliament. The 59 per cent. turnout at the last general election is not something about which any of us can feel comfortable, so we have issues to address, but the intelligent and serious debate that I looked forward to having with him when he spoke on this subject for the Conservative party is very much the way forward; the current mindless opposition to proposals for regional devolution is not.
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): In answer to the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), the Minister said that the powers on offer to the English regions are broadly similar to the powers given to the Greater London authority. I have to tell the Minister that that is completely incorrect. The GLA's powers over transport in relation to the roads that the Highways Agency used to maintain in the capital, buses, the London underground and the police are completely and utterly different. If he is now saying that those powers will be included in the draft powers Bill, that is a major statement, but if he is trying to say that the powers are broadly similar, he is simply incorrect.
The hon. Gentleman served on the Committee that considered the Greater London Authority Bill and he has taken a close interest in this issue, but I remind him that the powers in relation to economic development, the oversight of the regional development agency, strategic planning, public health and supporting the overall development of culture in the
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area are all broadly comparable. I entirely accept that transport is an exception because London has its own unique transport body, Transport for London. That is not replicated in the English regions, but, under our proposals, they will have rather greater powers than the GLA in relation to housing capital allocations. Yes, there are some differences, which is why I used the words "broadly comparable", but I rest my case on the fact that, in terms of broad comparability, we are talking about strategic powers to govern the whole region, not becoming involved in day-to-day service delivery, which rests with the local authorities. We have followed that model both in London and the English regions.
Mr. Jenkin: The reason why my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) is not here is that, when she put herself forward for this debate, it was expected that the Deputy Prime Minister might come to answer for his policy. He did not have the courage to do so.
Mr. Raynsford: That is particularly cheap. The Deputy Prime Minister has never had the slightest hesitation in speaking in the House and elsewhere in defence of his policy, but he is not always able to attend every debate. We work as a team, and I have spoken frequently on this subject and will continue to do so. I was simply observing the absence of the hon. Lady.
Do the Conservatives want more powers to be devolved to elected regional assemblies or are they totally opposed to regional devolution? Answer comes there none. That is a classic illustration of the confusion at the heart of the Conservative party, and I fear that we will not get any clarification.
Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab): Was my right hon. Friend struck, as I was, by the complete absence from the speech of the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) of any plan by his party to regenerate or empower the regions, and by the fact that he proposed no strategy whatsoever?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: the Conservatives have nothing to offer. Indeed, they have an appalling track record in the line that they have adopted on devolution over the past seven years. They have got it wrong every single time that an important constitutional and democratic advance has been made in this country over the past seven years. They opposed devolution to Scotland. They were wrong. They eventually had to change their minds. They opposed devolution to Wales. They were wrong. They eventually had to change their minds. They opposed devolution to London. They were wrong. They eventually had to change their minds. Today, we have witnessed another U-turn, prompted by the rather sharp question from the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). They previously opposed holding referendums in the north, but they now say that they want them. With such an appalling track record for changing their tune, who would trust what they have to say about any proposal for devolution?
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Mr. Clifton-Brown: May I ask the Minister about something for which he is responsible and about which he is supposed to be talking today, which is not Opposition policy? On 5 May 2004, he gave me an answer that shows that the maximum chamber budget is £2.5 million in the north-west and that the rest of the budgets are somewhat less than £2 million. Will he say something about the elected regional assemblies' budgets? Are we talking about that sort of sum? He has almost spent such a sum on the campaign, let alone all the parliamentary time and political trouble that we are having. If the budgets will be of that order, what on earth are we all doing?
Mr. Raynsford: If the hon. Gentleman had read the White Paper and the literature that we have been publishing as part of the "Your Say" campaign, he would know that the money that will be deployed by the elected regional assemblies will be approximately £300 million for the north-east, approximately £700 million for Yorkshire and Humber and approximately £1.1 billion for the north-west. Those are the direct spending figures. In addition, there will be considerable influence over other matters. We are talking of substantial sums. He is wrong to draw a comparison with the current chambers, which are voluntary associations and supported by the Government to perform co-ordination functions in relation to regional strategic planning and to the work of the regional development agencies. Those roles are very different from that of elected regional assemblies.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am glad that the Minister gave those figures, because they are still tiny in comparison with what the Government offices for the regions control. Will he say something about the relationship between the elected regional assemblies and the Government offices? Will the assemblies have any control over those budgets, or will they still be controlled directly from Westminster?
Mr. Raynsford: As has been explained on many occasions, some of the functions will transfer from the Government offices, but it is implicit in our proposals that service delivery should essentially remain a local functionthe responsibility of local authoritiesand it is right and proper that expenditure on items such as education should continue to be local. The amounts discharged by regional bodies will not be vast in relation to the overall sums spent in the regions, because much of that will be spent by local authorities. My understanding of the Conservatives' position is that they do not want powers to be taken from local authorities and handed to elected regional assemblies. We do not either. That is why we are distinguishing the strategic role of elected regional assemblies from the service delivery role of local authorities. The inevitable consequence is that large sums will continue to be spent in the regions by local authorities that are not within the remit of the regional assembly.
I am glad that the Minister confirms my assertion that less than 2 per cent. of public money will be spent by regional assemblies. Will he also confirm that that money will be ring-fenced and subject to Government targets, as is stated in the White Paper
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unless he is changing that as well? Will he also bear it in mind that the alternative policy to setting up regional assemblies, which represent centralisation within the regions, is for Whitehall to give some of its powers back to local government, which is where people really feel those powers belong?
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