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Political and Constitutional Reform

Volume 590: debated on Tuesday 6 January 2015

2. What steps he is taking to ensure that the residents of Birmingham benefit from the Government's political and constitutional reform proposals. (906784)

A happy new year to you Mr Speaker and to colleagues.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have led the negotiations for a city deal and a local growth deal with Birmingham. The city deal has already delivered almost 3,000 apprenticeships in the city and established the Institute of Translational Medicine, which opens in the summer. The growth deal invests a third of a billion pounds in road, rail and metro improvements, including links from the black country to the new HS2 station, as well as investing in skills and industrial facilities.

England cannot succeed through London and the south-east alone. A new devolution settlement is essential. The Minister will know that Birmingham and the west midlands are ambitious to make progress, but does he understand the sense of disappointment that progress thus far has not been what was hoped for and, crucially, that, at the very moment we are talking about greater control over our finances, the Government are cutting in excess of half a billion pounds—the biggest cuts in local government history—from Birmingham city council?

The leader of Birmingham city council warmly welcomed the growth deal and said that it was a great step forward for Birmingham. The city deals have been welcomed by leaders across the political spectrum and across the country as far more ambitious than anything that has been done for decades. Of course every council across the country needs to make savings. I understand from what the Opposition were saying yesterday that they would go further than that. The hon. Gentleman should be clear that Birmingham is on the rise. The economic prospects and the performance of Birmingham have turned around. In the previous Parliament, the number of net private sector jobs contracted; it is now increasing in Birmingham. That is good news.

Order. By the content of his answer, the Minister has opened matters a bit beyond Birmingham and we might even stretch to Wiltshire. I call James Gray.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the political and constitutional reforms that would most benefit the people of Birmingham, as well as the people in North Wiltshire and elsewhere in England, would be the early introduction of English votes on English matters?

I do agree with my hon. Friend. It is right that we correct an anomaly. That should happen as well as the devolution of power within England, which this Government have been pioneering.

The Political and Constitutional Committee has just issued a report on voter registration. Some 56% of young people in Birmingham are not on the electoral register, and only 44% actually vote. What more can the Deputy Prime Minister do to get those young people on the register in Birmingham and voting?

The hon. Gentleman knows this area; we have debated it before. It is incumbent on all of us to encourage people to vote. Now that we have individual electoral registration, it is easier than ever before for young people to register; they just need to go to the website. Over the next few months, we need to encourage all citizens, especially young people, to exercise that right.

We are talking about devolving power to local people, but money is power. When my constituents find out that the central Government block grant for Birmingham is £640 per person when a combined grant for Leicestershire is £240 per person, the reform they will call for is fairer funding for rural areas.

Right across the country, we take the view that local people can be the best judges of how they spend the money. It should not be decided in Whitehall. Whether the money is spent in rural areas or in cities, we are pioneering a programme of getting money out of Whitehall and into the hands of local people.

The best way to make constitutional change is for it to be led by the people and not by politicians. There is now wide support for a people-led constitutional convention. I know that the Deputy Prime Minister agrees with that. When will the Conservatives join the growing consent for such a convention?

The difference between this Government and the previous one is that we have got on with devolution whereas they just talked about it. The Labour leader of Greater Manchester said that this Government have achieved more in their four years in office than the previous Government did in 13 years, so this should not be kicked into the long grass; we should continue with the programme on which we have embarked.