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Regional Government

Volume 407: debated on Wednesday 18 June 2003

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What representations he has received concerning the case for a referendum on regional government in Yorkshire. [119750]

On Monday 16 June, I announced that Yorkshire and Humberside would be one of the first regions to move toward a referendum for an elected assembly. Our soundings exercise shows that there is a high level of interest in the referendum across all groups and interests in the Yorkshire and Humberside region.

If the Yorkshire and Humberside assembly is to have effective powers to plan integrated public transport throughout the region and perhaps to initiate measures such as a region-wide concessionary fare pass for pensioners, will there be a continuing need for separate passenger transport authorities in west and south Yorkshire?

There is no intention of changing the passenger transport authorities at this stage—I think that they are doing quite a good job. Of course, the regional dimension of transport is important. We would give an assembly, especially an elected assembly, the opportunity to make decisions on transport in the regions, and in the context of a region, rather than only with regard to an area covered by a passenger transport authority. A passenger transport authority not only plans for the area for which it is responsible, but has responsibility for delivery. I am sure that there will be a close working relationship between the bodies.

May I crave your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and add my congratulations to the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Corby (Phil Hope), on his arrival to the Front Bench? After his time with me on the Public Accounts Committee, I was unsurprised by his characteristically good opening performance.

The Deputy Prime Minister's idea of a good response is 833 people in favour of a referendum out of 5 million people in Yorkshire and Humberside. If a referendum is a good idea when 833 people want one, why is it a bad idea when 1.7 million people want one?

The right hon. Gentleman keeps referring to 8,000. As I think we made clear in our exchanges yesterday, that does not represent the total number of people who expressed a point of view. There were 50,000 people overall. Responses on petitions, for example, which may include thousands or hundreds of signatures, were considered as one response. We have had exchanges on the subject before. I justified the decision to the House on the basis that the three northern areas have shown an overwhelming interest in a referendum. We intend to give them that opportunity. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the one county council in our Yorkshire area—the Tory North Yorkshire county council—also wanted the referendum. I am happy to agree to that.

I am interested that the right hon. Gentleman returns to the principle of the block vote in his calculation of who supports his idea and I look forward to meeting him on the hustings. BBC "Look North", not known as a Tory front organisation, particularly as his son works for it, carried out a survey this week of 5,000 people—five times the number of people who responded to the right hon. Gentleman in Yorkshire—and nine out of 10 thought that regional assemblies were a bad idea. Why does he still insist on spending millions of pounds of public money and disrupting perfectly good local government to pursue his obsession with this daft idea?

The same BBC carried out a poll that said that 72 per cent. wanted a referendum. I am prepared to accept that. There will be a referendum and by God I look forward to debating that with the right hon. Gentleman.