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Political and Constitutional Reform

Volume 560: debated on Tuesday 26 March 2013

5. What his plans are for constitutional and political reform for the remainder of the present Parliament. (149759)

The Government continue to work on political and constitutional reform, particularly devolving more powers from Whitehall to our cities and regions. Work also continues on the implementation of individual electoral registration and developing proposals on recall and lobbying reform.

As the hon. Gentleman may know, we are still reflecting on exactly how to proceed on lobbying, but we will do so. I cannot give him a precise date for when we will come forward with our proposals after the consultation, which provided a lot of feedback, but we will do so in due course.

The European convention on human rights offers basic human rights protections for 60 million people in this country and is critical to the devolution settlement. Will the Deputy Prime Minister therefore echo calls from the Opposition to resist the radical right behind him, and to keep the Human Rights Act and the United Kingdom as a proud signatory to the convention?

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, there is a difference of opinion among the coalition parties on the status of the Human Rights Act and the ECHR which it incorporates. I have always been very clear that I think that the rights and protections in the Act are very valuable for all British citizens, and I will continue to defend them.

The Deputy Prime Minister’s answer a moment ago included the words “cities” and “regions”. What is he doing about islands?

The mere fact that the answer mentioned cities and regions does not mean that we are not also concerned about islands. I very much hope that by the end of this Parliament we will see a discernable shift of power and decision-making authority from Whitehall to all parts of the United Kingdom, whether islands, counties, cities or regions.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that decentralising power to local communities is not only good for our democracy and political system, but provides an opportunity to unlock economic growth locally across the country?

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. Not only has political power been centralised for far too long, but so has the way in which we run our economy. The Labour Government over-relied on one sector—financial services—in 1 square mile of the City of London, ignoring the needs and economic potential of 100,000 square miles across the country. We must devolve political decision making and ensure that our economy is also more decentralised.

The Deputy Prime Minister will be aware that the document “The Coalition: our programme for government” states:

“We will fund 200 all-postal primaries over this Parliament”.

Will the Deputy Prime Minister inform the House of the progress on this promise and whether any pressure has been brought to bear on him by the Prime Minister, who may regret having primaries to select some of his Members of Parliament, bearing in mind how independently minded some of them have been recently?

We will make an announcement on that component of the constitutional and political reform programme in the coalition agreement in due course. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it was slightly in abeyance as long as the debate about the boundary changes was still a live issue. As that has now been settled for the time being—if not satisfactorily in everyone’s opinion—we will of course return to the issue of all-postal primaries and make our views clear.