HC Deb 29 July 1997 vol 299 cc135-6
5. Mr. Rhodri Morgan

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement on his consultations on devolution in London and the regions of England. [9352]

The Minister for London and Construction (Mr. Nick Raynsford)

As my right hon. and hon. Friends said, we have consulted on our proposals for setting up regional development agencies in England. Comments are invited by 5 September. As regards London, my right hon. Friend has today laid before the House copies of the Green Paper "New Leadership for London; the Government's proposals for a Greater London Authority". We shall consult on those proposals between now and 24 October.

Mr. Morgan

I welcome progress on this issue, because it shows that the contagion of devolutionary democracy has spread from the banks of the Taff to the banks of the Thames, and even to the Tyne.

Mr. Raynsford

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for welcoming the Government's response to the clear and legitimate wish of the people of England for effective action on more devolution and a more effective say over their local economies. We are interested in delivering for the people of London and the regions of England.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that that extra layer of unwanted and unwarranted bureaucracy, which will work alongside county councils, district councils, town councils and parish councils, will inevitably reopen the debate on unitary authorities?

Mr. Raynsford

As the hon. Gentleman will no doubt be aware, in our proposals for London we are sweeping away a large number of unaccountable quangos that were set up by the previous Government, and in their place we are creating a streamlined, slimline authority. That has been warmly welcomed by those people who understand the needs of London government.

Mr. Gunnell

In his announcement today, my hon. Friend proposed a new strategic authority for London with an elected mayor. That may be welcomed by the people in London who were distressed at the abolition of the Greater London council. When we discuss the regions, we shall consider the proposals for a new strategic authority. Will an elected person act as spokesperson for the entire region or will my hon. Friend recommend that English cities in the regions consider the possibility of an elected mayor? If so, how will that fit into the current system of unitary authorities?

Mr. Raynsford

As my hon. Friend will know, the framework that we propose for London includes a directly elected mayor working with a directly elected assembly. It is interesting to note that the Conservative party, having previously opposed that concept, has recently begun a somersault. In our proposals for the regions, we shall be keen to encourage democratic innovation. A Bill will be introduced in the other place to allow innovation in local government arrangements, including the possibility of directly elected mayors in English councils. The framework that we propose for regional development agencies will allow a good measure of discretion locally on how those arrangements can best work.

Sir Norman Fowler

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that, under his proposals, London will have not only a mayor, but a new Greater London authority with 32 members and a London regional development agency? Does that not create an unnecessary and expensive bureaucracy? Will he tell the House what new charges the Government are considering in order to finance that bureaucracy?

Mr. Raynsford

In today's Evening Standard, Simon Jenkins said that there is a clear need for the new mayor of London to be subject to a framework of democratic accountability. The Government are providing that in the form of the mayor and the assembly. We are streamlining the administration of London government and establishing a framework that will ensure that Londoners will be able to get better and most cost-effective services. There is no substance whatsoever in the allegation that charges will be substantial increased to pay for that. It will be a streamlined authority that will be cost-effective and will deliver value for money for Londoners.