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Devolution of Powers

Volume 563: debated on Tuesday 4 June 2013

3. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on devolving power from Westminster and Whitehall. (157195)

5. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on devolving power from Westminster and Whitehall. (157197)

I regularly meet ministerial colleagues to discuss the Government’s work to devolve power to the most appropriate level, and we are achieving that through local enterprise partnerships, local government finance reforms, giving local authorities a general power of competence, and city deals. We have also accepted in full or in part 81 of Lord Heseltine’s 89 recommendations, which build on that work to decentralise power and drive growth. We have delivered a referendum in Wales, which resulted in the Assembly assuming primary law-making powers, and we established the Silk commission. In addition, the UK and Scottish Governments are working together to ensure the smooth implementation of the Scotland Act 2012, which represents the greatest devolution of fiscal powers from London in 300 years.

Although I recognise the importance of the city deal in delivering opportunities for growth, does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that devolving power to our county councils, such as Essex, can have an equally effective impact on developing local growth?

Devolution at all levels is a virtuous thing. The more we can devolve power and control over money and decision making from Whitehall to the town hall, and from the town hall to local areas, the better. One of the exciting insights of the Heseltine report, which we are determined to act on, is precisely to give local areas, led—not entirely, but in part—by the local enterprise partnerships in each area, a real opportunity to draw down powers and resources from Whitehall, which have been hoarded at the centre for so long.

I welcome what the Deputy Prime Minister has to say about devolving power to local government and the progress made to date. Does he agree that in the medium term we should be looking to local government to be self-financing—not only keeping and setting council tax, but keeping business rates as well? That would be the way towards real power and accountability.

As my hon. Friend knows, the coalition Government are introducing the biggest devolution of control over business rate revenues in a generation. Of course we cannot completely devolve it because that would mean that those areas that had the wealth locally to sustain themselves would be fine, and those that did not would not, so we need some kind of mechanism to make sure there is fairness in the system. However, the reforms, particularly of business rate revenues, that we have presided over are the biggest act of fiscal devolution in a very long time.

Beyond discussions on corporation tax, what conversations has the Deputy Prime Minister had with the Northern Ireland Executive regarding the devolution to it of further powers, including on telecommunications, broadcasting, motor taxation and other economic levers?

I have not personally been involved in detailed discussions on those issues, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is in continuous dialogue with the authorities in Northern Ireland about them.

Under measures in the draft Wales Bill, candidates for the Welsh Assembly can stand both on the regional list and the constituency list. Therefore, in places like Swansea West a Liberal Democrat candidate can have two lots of election expenses against the sitting Assembly Member. Will the Deputy Prime Minister make sure that that does not happen?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the north-east of England could benefit greatly from the kind of devolution he is working on? It would promote growth in the region, but he also needs to make sure that the rural areas of the north-east have a key decision-making role when that devolution happens.

I strongly agree, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the way in which he has championed his constituency, particularly on transport links which I know are a bone of contention there and in the region more generally. I also know he agrees with me that the north-east in particular has great natural strengths that could enable it to become not only a national but a European and world leader in renewable and offshore technologies. That is precisely why the industrial strategies of my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary have been devoting so much attention to that sector.

Some people in Wales are apparently in favour of devolving crime, policing and the justice system to the Welsh Assembly, but I am wholeheartedly opposed to that. Will the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that devolution is not a devolved responsibility?

It is no surprise to me to learn that the Labour party, once again, is somewhat forked-tongued in its commitment to further devolution to Wales: in Cardiff it talks a good game about further devolution of powers from London to Cardiff, yet here it continues to want to hoard powers. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Silk commission is in two parts, the first of which, on further fiscal powers, has already reported. We are determined to respond soon enough to that report, which was made on a cross-party basis. The second part of the Silk commission looks at the wider constitutional settlement, and it has not yet been completed.