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Devolution: England

Volume 594: debated on Tuesday 24 March 2015

This Government have a proud record of devolving power from central Government to the cities, towns and counties of this country: we passed the Localism Act 2011; we have initiated and negotiated 28 city deals; we are devolving at least £12 billion of central resources to local places through growth deals; and, with the Greater Manchester agreement, and agreements with other cities to follow, there is now unstoppable momentum to continue that success.

I am grateful for that answer. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the constitutional reform priority should be to ensure a fair and balanced devolution settlement for every part of the UK and to introduce English votes for English laws?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why the Leader of the House has made it very clear that the return of a Conservative Government will correct that injustice and there will indeed be English votes for English laws.

As well as English votes for English laws and, indeed, devolution to our great cities, can my right hon. Friend assure me that a future Conservative Government will devolve more authority on service delivery to the great counties of England, which have a strong track record of democratic delivery? I welcome the growth deal from which West Sussex has benefited.

Indeed I will. My hon. Friend was a distinguished leader of one such county. It is clear that the success of the city deals has introduced a model that other capable authorities can take up. I encourage all our county leaders to prepare their plans to take powers from central Government and to be in charge of those budgets that were previously tied up in Whitehall.

The devolution proposals for Greater Manchester have been widely welcomed, but the proposal to appoint an interim mayor with no executive powers is less welcome. Does the Minister agree that it should be a priority to arrange for primary legislation so that Greater Manchester can have an elected mayor?

I do think there should be an elected mayor for Manchester—that is exactly what has been agreed with every one of the Greater Manchester authorities. One of the consequences of the agreement with Greater Manchester is that it will have a directly elected mayor who will be a hugely important national and international figure, as befits that great city.

Devolution of power and responsibility to Wales required an Act of Parliament and a referendum of the people, yet Manchester and elsewhere are seeing ad hoc devolution that heralds the break up of the NHS. Is it not time to do this properly, rather than play a political game in the run-up to an election?

I am very surprised that the hon. Gentleman seems to be against the devolution that has been welcomed right across the country and that has led to the leaders of Cardiff approaching the Government to request a city deal. I will visit Cardiff later this week to begin negotiations. They will be very concerned to hear that the hon. Gentleman is against it.

The population of Essex is more than double that of Cornwall, and the population of the six counties of the east of England is considerably greater than that of Wales, so may we have devolution to the powerhouse of the six counties of the east of England?

Through the Government’s programme over the past few years, we have devolved—and we will complete the devolution of—£12 billion of resources that were previously administered by Ministers and officials in Whitehall to Essex and other great counties. That is work in progress, but I agree with my hon. Friend that we can and should go further.

The progress we have made in England has been significant. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have also concluded a city deal with Glasgow. Some of the reflections I have heard from Scotland state that the Scottish Government have been a rather centralising Government and that they will look to the model of decentralisation that we have pursued in England to try to save them from that over-centralisation.