HC Deb 29 July 1997 vol 299 cc136-7
6. Mr. Cousins

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions whether it remains the policy of the Government to work towards the objective of a democratically elected regional government for the north; and through what stages they intend to reach that objective. [9353]

Mr. Caborn

It remains our aim that the people should be able to decide, region by region, whether they want directly elected regional government, but that is a long-term goal. In the meantime, we are committed to supporting regional chambers established by local authorities.

Mr. Cousins

Does my hon. Friend agree that many of us in the north want to set a course towards democratic regional government and regard the proposed regional development agency as very welcome but only the first step? Does he further agree that there must be a regional representative body to accompany the agency and that when the Lord Chancellor said at the weekend that there was no evidence of demand in the north for regional government, he was not speaking for the Government as a whole?

Mr. Caborn

Our position on democratic accountability is laid out clearly in the manifesto and we have made it clear that regional chambers, based around local authorities, will be the first step towards that long-term objective. To the best of my knowledge, the Lord Chancellor was not speaking on behalf of the Government when he expressed his personal opinions in a wide-ranging article in the Observer. The manifesto commits us to regional chambers and, in the long term, to elected regional assemblies.

Mr. Forth

As well as considering devolution within England, have the Government given any thought to devolution to England? Is it not time that thought was given to an English Parliament or Assembly to follow the precedent that the Government are setting for Scotland and Wales? When will the people of England have a proper voice in the matter?

Mr. Caborn

The right hon. Gentleman is the last person who should lecture us on democracy. We have to dismantle the wholly undemocratic quangoland that he and his Government set up. We shall address the longer-term issues when we have sorted out all that lot.