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Devolution Deal

Volume 599: debated on Monday 14 September 2015

May I wish Shanah Tovah to all Members, and to those in the wider community, who are celebrating the Jewish new year? May I also say how relieved I am to see that an Opposition Front Bench team willing to serve has turned up today?

This one-nation Government are determined to devolve power to every part of the country—town and country. In response to our invitation, 38 areas have submitted proposals for devolved powers and budgets. We will work with every area over the coming months to negotiate transformational devolution deals.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer on this most auspicious day.

North Devon District Council and other local authorities in Devon and Somerset have submitted an expression of interest to the Government for combined authority status—a move that I welcome. Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming it? Does he agree that granting greater regional powers is in the spirit of greater devolution for people in the south-west?

I do welcome it. I read the proposals from councils and businesses in Devon and Somerset. One of the benefits of devolved funding would be that infrastructure decisions were increasingly made locally. I know that the north Devon link road is close to my hon. Friend’s heart. In fact, I heard him talk about it on Radio Devon, and so confident is he that this investment will be made that he has invited Her Majesty the Queen to come and open it next year. That is the kind of positive thinking we need.

On the devolution deal, does the Secretary of State take a view on what these new authorities should call themselves? “Combined west midlands authority” is rather a mouthful, and I would much rather have “Greater Birmingham”.

I think the nuance with which the hon. Lady asked her question answers it for her. It is better for local people to make these decisions rather than for a Secretary of State to determine them. It is very good that the authorities across the west midlands are coming together and working so well.

The great county of Hampshire has submitted a compelling bid for devolution. Does the Secretary of State agree that further devolution could be pivotal in unlocking further economic potential in the southern powerhouse as well as the northern powerhouse?

I do agree. “Powerhouse” is an apt description, because the economy of the south and the part of Hampshire that my right hon. Friend represents is really firing on all cylinders. I remember launching the growth deal there, where the new centre for 5G technology is up and running, creating many thousands of jobs.

When the Minister brags about devolution proposals for local government, why does he not do the decent thing and say to local government that the coalition Government and this one have taken up to 40% off local authorities? Pay that money back, and then you can start work.

During the recess I had a very cordial and constructive meeting with the leader of the hon. Gentleman’s local authority in Derbyshire, and the one accord that we had is that the progress that the coalition Government made in transferring powers from London and Westminster to the regions has been one of the contributory factors to the revival of the regions.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the recent announcement of the historic devolution deal for Cornwall is a clear demonstration of this Government’s commitment not only to the devolution agenda but to a one nation approach to our economy?

It certainly is. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and to his colleagues in Cornwall who were absolutely instrumental in securing that deal. I was delighted to travel down there with the Prime Minister to celebrate it, and indeed to do so over a pint of Tribute with him that very evening.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Opposition Front Benchers. Let me say this: we are ready, willing and able to take the fight to Ministers and eventually to drive them out of office.

The country is far too centralised, and there is clearly, because politics is not working, a political imperative on all of us to seek proper devolution. Devolution tied to spending cuts simply does not work.

It is great that the Government heeded, belatedly, the call to allow some more refugees into our country—we welcome that. Local government and devolved local government came up to the mark straight away, with over 60 councils immediately coming forward. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with local councils about how to deal with this incredibly important matter? Will the Government now hold the national summit that we have been calling for?

I welcome the shadow Secretary of State to his post. Members will recall that he was once Parliamentary Private Secretary to Peter Mandelson, and Tony Blair once said that his project would not be complete until Labour learned to love Peter Mandelson. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will update us on how that is progressing.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for devolution. I have found it possible to work on the most cordial terms with Labour authority leaders as well as Conservatives up and down the country, and I hope we will have a constructive working relationship.

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Home Secretary and I chaired a Cabinet Committee meeting on Syria at which the Local Government Association was represented. This morning I spoke to the head of the LGA and, indeed, the Labour leader of Blackpool Council, who told me that local government collectively was working very well with central Government to make sure that we deliver the commitment that has been given.

In terms of loving people, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has a long way to go to encourage people to love him.

When the Government indicated that funding would be made available to local councils to help refugees and resolve the refugee problems, it was clear that only a one-year financial deal was on offer. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that the Chancellor will provide enough money over the five years of this Parliament to help councils to deal with the crisis, because the current financial offer is simply inadequate?

That is not the case. The one-year commitment is what is allowed under the official development assistance rules. The point of including our local government colleagues in the ministerial group designing the approach is to make sure that every aspect of the funding required is addressed. We will do that consensually with local government.