HC Deb 05 March 2002 vol 381 cc147-8
9. Mr. Anthony D. Wright (Great Yarmouth)

What progress he has made on proposals for elected regional Government in England. [36652]

The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Nick Raynsford)

We are making good progress. A White Paper on regional governance will be presented to Parliament by the Deputy Prime Minister as soon as it is ready. It will set out the Government's plans for taking forward our manifesto commitment on elected regional government.

Mr. Wright

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, but I wished for a date to be given. There is lively debate in the regions on the pros and cons of regional government. Can my right hon. Friend tell us in broad terms what benefits he believes will flow to the regions that adopt the regional assembly approach? Furthermore, will the option for regional assemblies be open only to those areas that have unitary rather than two-tier government?

Mr. Raynsford

As my hon. Friend rightly points out, a debate is taking place, with different views emerging in various parts of the country. It is our view that people should have the opportunity, through a referendum, to determine the appropriate outcome in their region. A number of regions feel strongly that there would be benefits in having an elected regional assembly to give greater regional focus to economic development and related policies and to introduce a proper democratic framework to govern the activity of organisations that are accountable only to Ministers or are unelected quangos. Those regions perceive clear benefits in having an elected regional assembly.

As the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead), has already made clear, we will in our White Paper spell out the specific arrangements for the relationship of local government to elected regional assemblies where those are proposed.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the considerable need to review regional boundaries? The south-east Dorset conurbation, for example, has no road or rail communications worth talking about with the proposed regional seat of government. The Highways Agency now deals with this under a central southern region, shown on all its maps. Is the right hon. Gentleman now considering a central southern region?

Mr. Raynsford

The hon. Gentleman has been around a long time and knows from experience that debates on boundaries are almost guaranteed to generate a long, protracted and not terribly productive outcome. For that reason, the Government have formed the view that it is right to work in the first instance on the basis of the government regions, as defined for the Government offices, which will provide sound building blocks. However, the hon. Gentleman will have to wait for the publication of the White Paper to see in detail how we propose to take forward the boundary arrangements for elected regional authorities.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

If voting in the referendum for regional government dictates the end of the county council tier, what implications will that have in any future reorganisation of local government? Would not a further referendum have to be held before a future Government could get rid of county councils?

Mr. Raynsford

As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary made clear earlier, there is no agenda for the abolition of county councils, but we recognise the need to look at the relationship of local government to elected regional assemblies, where people determine through referendums that they want an elected regional assembly in their area. The precise way in which that will be handled will be spelt out in the White Paper.

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