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Smith Commission

Volume 589: debated on Thursday 4 December 2014

6. What the implications are of the Smith commission report for further discussions of devolution in the House. (906423)

9. What the implications are of the Smith commission report for further discussions of devolution in the House. (906426)

10. What the implications are of the Smith commission report for further discussions of devolution in the House. (906427)

The Government are committed to publishing draft clauses based on the Smith commission report by 25 January 2015. I will report to the House in due course on further progress in relation to the devolution of powers within the United Kingdom, and on the consequences for England.

As the House considers the report, there will be much talk about how combined city authorities can become the vehicles for devolution in England. That will make it increasingly necessary for authorities to come together in the west midlands, where there is still no agreement. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the position of shire counties and rural areas is fully taken into account, so that everyone in England has an opportunity to benefit?

That is an extremely important point, and, as a north Yorkshire Member of Parliament, I am certainly very conscious of it. There is a huge opportunity for local authorities to take up the challenge that has been taken up by Manchester, and to reach the same agreement with the Chancellor. However, this does not only involve metropolitan areas or conurbations; there are also major opportunities for county councils and rural authorities in general to make such plans, and we should encourage them to do so.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on delivering the Smith commission’s conclusions into legislation, but does he share my worry that the voice of rural communities such as North Yorkshire county council, and indeed the moneys for transport infrastructure and other projects, may well be adversely affected if the plans for the city region and the northern powerhouse go ahead in the form that I fear that they may take?

It is of course important for the whole concept of the northern powerhouse to work for people throughout the north of England and for rural as well as urban areas to benefit from it. Given the locations of our constituencies, my hon. Friend and I will both be very insistent that that should happen. It is certainly possible for the whole of the north to benefit from the uplift in prosperity, skills, transport infrastructure and superfast broadband, because the Government have put together a stronger set of measures for the north of England than any other Government in recent decades.

I am sure my right hon. Friend is well aware that my constituents are very keen on English votes for English laws. How will he implement that, and how does the Smith commission recommend that it—as well as devo-max in Scotland—should be implemented in a way that will not lead to a break-up of the Union?

The Government will shortly publish a Command Paper setting out the options for what have become known as English votes for English laws, as well as plans for further decentralisation within England. I hope to publish it before Christmas, and will seek to make a statement in the House, following which we shall all be able to consider together how to proceed with those plans.

May I ask the Leader of the House how far he intends to take the logic of English votes for English laws, given that with the devolution to Greater Manchester I will no longer be able to vote, as a Greater Manchester MP, on many of those issues, but will be able to vote on those same issues in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency?

I have invited the Opposition to present their own proposals, but they have refused to take part in any discussions with the Cabinet Committee. I wrote last week to the deputy leader of the Labour party to ask it to present its proposals that we could publish in the Command Paper I have just been talking about. I have not yet had any positive response to that. The hon. Gentleman might want to encourage that response. It is very important of course that whatever solution we arrive at is fair to all parts of the United Kingdom, but that includes being fair to the voters of England as well as to the rest of the UK.