HC Deb 18 November 1997 vol 301 cc132-4
3. Mr. Connarty

What representations he has received regarding the structure and functions of the proposed regional development agencies.[14843]

The Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning (Mr. Richard Caborn)

We have received around 1,500 responses to the issues paper on regional development agencies, which we published on 11 June. I have today placed in the Library of the House a list of those responses, and copies are available for inspection at my Department's library.

Mr. Connarty

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that these matters were high on the agenda of the recent conference of the Yorkshire Tourist Board, at which I spoke? Is he aware of the excitement with which tourist operators particularly view the prospects for the proposed regional development agencies? Will he ensure that the best of our private enterprises are allowed to operate on and with these regional development agencies within the guidelines set by the Government?

Mr. Caborn

I welcome my hon. Friend's comments, which are reflected in the 1,500 responses that we have received. There has been detailed dialogue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I think that my hon. Friend will find that the White Paper reflects those responses and reacts to the very positive mood of the private sector in the regions.

Mr. Hogg

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a great deal of concern that the regional development agencies may be used as a basis for regional government? Will he please confirm that that is not the Government's intention? With regard to Lincolnshire, will he accept that it is best grouped with Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk rather than with the east midlands counties of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire?

Mr. Caborn

I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman realises that we won the general election on 1 May, and that we won it on the basis of our manifesto, which spells out very clearly the Government's devolution strategy. We have embarked upon that strategy, which has been endorsed by Scotland and Wales—and London will be given the opportunity to do the same.

As to the English regions, we have said that we will start with regional development agencies that will address the economic deficit—which is the legacy that the previous Administration left to those regions. We shall then continue, through indirectly elected regional chambers, to a position when, in the fulness of time, the people in the regions will be given the opportunity to say that they want to have directly elected regional assemblies. That is the position spelled out in Labour's manifesto—and I remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we won the election.

Mr. Cunliffe

How soon can the Minister place on a fast track regional government for the north-west region? Does he accept that limited self-rule is imperative and that there is unanimity among the Confederation of British Industry, all employers federations, local government, trade unions and Members of Parliament about the need to get it off the ground as quickly as possible? Is it really necessary to hold a local referendum before we do that?

Mr. Caborn

The simple answer for my hon. Friend is the same as that which I gave to the right hon. and learned Gentleman: we have made a commitment to the British people and we will live by the contract in our manifesto. If my hon. Friend waits to see the White Paper that will be published later this month or in early December, I think that he will find answers to the many questions raised by his colleagues in the north-west.

Sir Norman Fowler

As to the democratic deficit to which he alluded, will the Minister confirm that regional development agencies are simply appointed bodies or quangos? Taking up the point raised by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe), will the Minister confirm specifically whether he is planning to have any elected regional assemblies in operation in the course of this Parliament?

Mr. Caborn

My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister made it perfectly clear on the record a few weeks ago that there will be no directly elected regional assemblies until after the next general election. That is the position. Quite honestly, we do not need any lectures from Conservative Members about establishing quangos—we are in the process of rationalising them, thank you very much.

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