HC Deb 19 May 2004 vol 421 cc967-9
5. Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab)

What effects a directly elected assembly for the north-west will have on business. [173983]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott)

Improving the economic performance of the region will be at the heart of the objectives of an elected regional assembly in the north-west. If the three northern regions improve their productivity to the current southern region average, they will be nearly £35 billion a year better off—and most of that increase will be in the north-west, which is the largest region of the three. A directly elected assembly for the north-west will put responsibilities for releasing that potential in the hands of the people of the region, not the civil servants in Whitehall.

Mrs. Ellman

Does my right hon. Friend agree that good transport links are essential for successful businesses? Although there are significant transport powers in the proposed assemblies, can he offer any strengthened powers so that good transport can be developed for successful business in the north-west and elsewhere?

The Deputy Prime' Minister

My hon. Friend makes a major point on the importance of transport and economic development. Certainly the regions will play a major part in decisions on transport infrastructure, but she will also realise that in the north-west alone there are two passenger transport executives, which have a considerable influence on transport investment in the regions. The Secretary of State for Transport has already made it clear to the House that he thinks that more of those decisions should be taken in the regions. That will no doubt be reflected in the Bill that we will introduce.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con)

We do not have any oyster bars in the north-west of England, but we have a number of other businesses. I spoke this morning to the chairman of the CBI in the north-west, Damien Waters, who is very concerned that the costs of the regional assembly will be borne by his members. They have seen what has happened in Scotland, with the fiasco of the palace that is being built costing 10 times more than was estimated, and the same has happened in Wales, with the building costing much more than was estimated in the White Paper. Why should those business people trust what this Government are saying about the costs of the new regional assemblies?

The Deputy Prime Minister

I think that the hon. Gentleman looks more like a kipper than an oyster. I note what he says about the costs of the assemblies, but does that mean that his party is now committed to abolishing the Scottish Parliament? Does it mean that it is committed to abolishing the Welsh Assembly? It promised to do that, but has now changed its mind. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the cost, is he also concerned that his Front-Bench team are committed to abolishing the regional development agencies that will make a real difference to economic development?

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con)

No one believes the right hon. Gentleman's bluster. He is talking a load of cod. He is talking about investment in transport, but an extra layer of politicians and bureaucrats with no new money and no new powers, as Jeff Rooker has said in the House of Lords, will mean that there will not be the resources to improve transport. How does the right hon. Gentleman explain the fact that business is overwhelmingly opposed to elected regional assemblies? The Lancashire chamber of commerce has voted against them, as has the Manchester chamber of commerce. The Hull chamber of commerce, in the right hon. Gentleman's own constituency, has voted against elected regional assemblies. How does he explain that?

The Deputy Prime Minister

I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that at the hearings that we have been holding, the chambers of commerce and the CBI have been expressing views that have changed from those that the hon. Gentleman suggests they held early on in the debate—[Interruption.] Well, reference has already been made to Newcastle'sThe Journal, which has said that business is quite clearly moving towards a more favourable position. At the end of the day, however, the people will make the decision—we are giving them that right. The hon. Gentleman spends so much time complaining about the hearings, but we are there explaining to people what we are intending to do. All the polls show that those hearings are having an effect in raising awareness, although we must wait to see what the vote is. The hon. Gentleman should not spend all his time asking stupid questions here on the cost of the hearings—questions with a total cost of £7,000, which is the same as the cost of one hearing with 200 people. We prefer to consult the people, and at the end of the day, they will make the decision.

Forward to